Offertory: “What a Wonderful World” (G. Weiss) :: Kelly Ford, soloist; Susie Daugherty, pianist
Reader: Todd Maxwell
Preaching: Diana Booren
Offertory: “Hymns” (Arr. Maddux) :: Andi Gross, soloist; Susie Daugherty, pianist
Communion: “Rooftops” (Jesus Culture) :: The Rising Band; Andi Gross, soloist
Humans seem to be wired to seek out wonder. Some travel to find it, some scuba dive, or mountain climb. Some choose a career path that they hope will keep them on the edge of wonder, or some keep going back to the same places where they once felt some feeling of wonder. We’re wired for it. While the world is certainly full of wonders without our help, humans have made our own wonders as well for millennia. It seems we like to push the limits of what can be created, understood, and experienced. Most of us have heard about the 7 wonders of the world, but I’m guessing only a few of you could name many. The classic seven wonders of the world, the official list from the 3rd century, may not be what you expect. They were all man-made and found mostly in and around the Mediterranean world. The list included Colossus of Rhodes, Great Pyramid of Giza, Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Lighthouse of Alexandria, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus (I’m sure we all got that one), Statue of Zeus at Olympia, Temple of Artemis at Ephesus. The great pyramid is the only one still standing today, and only a few of these original 7 would likely still be considered wonders. Our standard has perhaps changed a bit. In fact, a Swiss company decided a few years ago that we needed a new list. They set up an internet voting system and tens of millions of people voted on the new 7 Wonders of the World. Many claim this was the largest international vote ever organized, but this decision about what are the most wonderful things was full of intrigue. Organized by a little-known businessman and film-maker, the voting sparked vicious rivalries across the world and brought up old hurts. The Vatican accused the organizers of ignoring Christian landmarks when selecting the choices, Jordan and Mexico launched national publicity campaigns to get citizens to vote for their country’s wonders, China took this opportunity to announce that they were still quite upset that the Great Wall had not been included on the original classic list, as it was around at that time. Apparently they’d been holding that grudge for about 1700 years. There were 21 original contenders for this new list that were narrowed down to the new seven wonders of the world…and since I know you’re now dying to know they are… The Great Wall of China. The Taj Mahal. Petra. The Colosseum. Christ the Redeemer. Chichén Itzá and Machu Picchu. And for nostalgia’s sake, they also made the great pyramids an honorary wonder. Very thoughtful, I think; we don’t want any more centuries of hurt feelings. So there you go, the seven, make that 8, wonders of the world.
These are all some of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. There’s even an itinerary that allows you to visit all of them in 30 days. Clearly there’s something about wonder, that draws us to it, if we let it. Now, we can ignore it, of course, keep our heads down and go through life without much wonder at all. But if we make space enough to let it in, we find that we yearn for wonder, mystery, things that take us beyond our normal existence. Wonder invites us to the limit of what can be held or contained, or rationalized or explained. It takes us to the edge of ourselves, of what we thought we knew opens up new horizons. We’re made to seek out wonder, and we find that in those moments we often feel a little closer to God. Afterall, God is the author of the wonders, even giving humans the potential to create our own.
As I first thought about the idea of wonder, I realized that I actually find myself starting questions with the phrase “I wonder…” quite a bit. With a preschooler at home, I try make an effort to instill a sense of curiosity in her and often pose questions that encourage her to wonder, to predict what might happen or think about things in a new way. But I’m not going to lie, it used to be easier. There was a time not so long ago that it seemed nearly everything was a wonder to her. I feel that slipping away, even as I work to hold onto it. I’m starting to have to bring my A game to show her something she finds truly fascinating, to get to that point where her eyes get wide. I did succeed just a few weeks ago, though I just lucked into it. I found a spot on the curb in our neighborhood that was literally crawling with roly polies. There were hundreds of them. I called her over and showed her and she exclaimed “Look at all the roly polies! It’s a whole flock of them!” Now, what is a group of roly polies if not a flock? A herd? A litter? We heard last week that there are no mysteries, thanks to Google, but I challenge anyone to find out what the official term is for a large group of roly polies.
Why does it seem we lose the tendency to be filled with wonder as we age? As though we’re born with an innate sense of wonder as we take in the world around us, and then it starts to fade. Life gets busy, or hard, or who knows what. Our ability to be caught up in wonder diminishes, only to be awakened for the really big moments, not the everyday ones.
There’s this concept in business and ministry that vision leaks. When you cast a vision as a leader, you can imagine it as a bucket that is full to the top with this fresh, bubbling, life-giving vision and everybody’s feeling good. And you might be tempted to think that once it’s out there everybody knows the vision, everybody’s on board and you’re ready to ride off into the sunset together with everyone knowing where we’re headed. But the caution of this phrase, is that vision is something that has to be cast and recast again and again. If it’s a bucket, it leaks. The bucket has to be re-filled, otherwise, eventually, it disappears and we don’t see it anymore. We slowly lose sight of it amidst our normal everyday tasks, the things that sneak up and steal our attention, the unexpected things that push themselves to the top of our to-do list without warning. Before we know it, it just kind of vanished.
We can probably each think of instances when we’ve been overcome with a sense of wonder and you feel full to the brim of amazement…maybe gazing at some incredible vista, or a place that just makes you feel close to God, going on a retreat or mission trip or camp, or having some sort of mountaintop experience. We can name these moments, but we can’t really recreate the sense we felt. At the time it seemed that they would change everything, or at least change something. They made you feel something different that shifted your framework, your perspective, and you were sure that things would not be the same after that. Yet, often we find ourselves a few weeks after that moment, not all that different than we were before. If vision leaks, wonder leaks too. We easily lose sight of it. Even if we visited all the wonders of the world, we couldn’t hold onto that feeling forever. Think of the wonder of the world around us that God created. It’s astounding. Spiders weaving intricate webs, butterflies migrating across the globe. We see these everyday wonders, but we don’t really see them. What should be wonders become background.
Speaking of seeing things and not seeing things, scientists have recently discovered a new shape. Now when my husband Scott told me this, he said, “I know what you’re thinking…it seemed like the shape thing would have been locked down a while ago. Geometry is not exactly a cutting edge field at the moment.” But no, the new shape has been named a Scutoid. It’s been described as a column with one end loped off at an angle. I’m sure you can picture it. Luckily, we have an image. Mathematicians had never conceived of this shape until recently. But turns out, it’s everywhere. Especially in living things. It’s the shape cells take on as they bend. Some go so far as to say that complex life on earth might have never emerged without this shape. It’s in beetles, fruit flies, fish and all over humans. And all this time, right in front of us, and we never saw it.
As much as wonder seems to leak, as much as we miss it, as quickly as we go back to business as usual after a wonder-filled moment, the tension is that we’re made to crave some sense of wonder. We’re made to seek out things beyond ourselves, in the same sense that we’re made to seek out God. Sure, we can ignore it, but when we give it a little opening, we’re drawn to those moments and places where we truly feel amazed. And why wouldn’t we? Jesus says, “I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” Not just any life, but life filled with hope, possibility, joy, wonder. And those instances of wonder, they bring us to the edge of ourselves, and draw us closer to the one who made all that is wonderful. We’re made to seek out this abundant life that has been given to us.
In our scripture today Jesus invites the disciples to go up the mountain. Up on this mountain the amazing happens. The original “mountaintop experience” if you will. Moses and Elijah appear, and Jesus’ face is changed and became dazzling white. God speaks and it’s a whole big thing.
And then Peter, who always gets a bad rep, of course, pipes in. But really, most of the time Peter says what we’re truly thinking, am I right? We’re all like, oh Peter, come on…but seriously, what’s the answer to what he just asked. And all Peter says is essentially, “hey Jesus, this is great! Let’s stay here.” I can imagine him thinking “Things are so clear here. You know, these doubts I’ve been having about this whole following you thing, they’re gone up here. And those problems facing us back down the mountain, those problems are nothing up here. Let’s leave behind the long, dusty traveling from place to place, with nowhere to call home, let’s leave behind the press of the crowd day after day. This is the kind of feeling I’ve been looking for, this is the kind of wonder-filled faith that I’ve hoped for. How about we just stay and, you know, pitch some tents.”
When wonder finds us, sweeps us up in a moment where we recognize that we’re approaching something magnificent. Those are the moments we want to bottle up and keep, the times we just want to stay and rest in what we’ve found, or what found us. We want to be able to get right back to that feeling when things get difficult or boring or when we feel stuck. But it’s hard to bottle wonder; wonder leaks.
Jesus doesn’t answer Peter. Now, I feel like most people know that when one person in a group tosses out an idea, like hey, we should do this, and then no one says anything, the answer is no, we’re not gonna do that. But I imagine Jesus hears Peter and kind of shakes his head, thinking of course we can’t stay. Most of life isn’t going to be like this, boys, up here on the mountain, the bright lights and booming voices of God that drown out everything else vying for our attention. No…we can’t stay and you guys are gonna have to learn how to live this life of faith at the bottom of the mountain–doubts, and dirty roads and all. That’s where real life is more often than not. In this life of discipleship there are more long journeys down dusty roads than there are mountaintops.
So what does that mean? That we’re stuck living a mostly wonder-less life with a few special moments thrown in if you’re lucky, or in the right place at the right time? And why did Jesus bring them up that mountain anyway? I mean, it says at the end of the passage that afterwards they kept silent and told no one. Did it even make a difference?
In that moment, the voice of God said, “this is my son, listen to him.” They can’t stay up there and God says they clearly have more to learn. It’s interesting that this moment of the transfiguration wasn’t really the culmination of Jesus’ teaching or ministry. It wasn’t the climax or the grand finale. It was a moment, among many, kind of towards the middle, and then life as they know it goes on, at least for a while.
Still, the moment was certainly special, and Peter wants to pitch a tent and stay. But he’s forgotten something; the voice saying “this is my son” There’s already a tent. “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The most literal translation of that Greek from the opening of John’s gospel is that the Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us. Among us, in our everyday mess and everyday wonder. They don’t need to be on the mountain to have a life filled with wonder, because in Jesus, the wonder of God is walking right back down the mountain with them. But it turns out that’s not an easy lesson for anyone to absorb; this idea there is as much wonder in the valleys as on the mountaintops. Perhaps the reason for the reminder from God: “listen to him.”
Jesus says, I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly. Not some imitation, but a magnificent, wonder-filled existence in relationship with the one who created you and all the wonders that might take your breath away. Jesus spends a long time trying to help us see it, telling us about this wonder-kingdom, about this abundant life, how to see and live in the world the way God intended, this kingdom of God. He talks about it nearly constantly. But when we look for wonder, I think often we look for something different. We’re looking for the transfiguration kind of moments to fill up our wonder-bucket, if you will. But Jesus doesn’t point to mountaintops, vistas, flashy worship experiences, marvels of nature. He talks about super everyday stuff: sheep, vineyards, money, weddings, families. I think he talks about these things so much, because he knows our tendency to miss it, to look for a glimpse of the kingdom only on the mountaintops and to miss this wonder manifest all around us.
He points to so many things. He says, look for it, this wonder-filled kingdom, when you see something like a seed, you know, something that starts off small, not that significant, but you’re just astounded by the way that it transforms and grows and bears fruit. Look for it when you watch yeast that transforms simple things like flour and water into something as delicious as freshly baked bread. Or when you have that feeling when you’ve lost something and you spend forever trying to find it and then finally, just when you’re about to give up, you find it and all is well. Jesus points to those moments, saying focus on those, because that’s where you’ll see it. That’s where you’ll find it. Author Francis Spufford says, “this kingdom, Jesus seems to be saying, is something that can only be glimpsed in comparisons…yet the world glints and winks and shines everywhere with the possibility of it.” Jesus never really mentions the transfiguration again, but he spends most of his ministry telling stories about the wonder of God and God’s kingdom, trying to help us grasp it, by talking about everyday life. Not something that we have to travel the world to find, but the life right in front of us. Wonder abounds, abundant life is all around. And perhaps this whole following Jesus thing, is learning how to see it. Learning to see the glory of God, the gifts of God, the grace of God, this world of divine wonder that is right before us. Because if we really saw the world that way and the people around us that way, it would change a lot of what we do, what we say, how we live.
The story today tells us that the disciples up on that mountain were weighed down by sleep. Perhaps they were truly tired from a long journey, or perhaps they were not just honestly expecting anything especially wonderful to happen. I mean, they do kind of seem to be surprised every time Jesus does something cool, don’t they? You’d think the disciples would start to be ready for some amazing things to happen, waiting for it, after all, there had been a lot of miracles so far. It’s kind of hard to believe that there are several mentions of the disciples being sleepy at critical moments in the gospels. But maybe it’s not that hard to believe. Would Jesus look at me and call me drowsy too? Barely awake to all the grace and wonder that is right before me? I’d like to think not always, but at times, absolutely. You’d think we too would learn to look with eyes wide open just waiting for the next way for God to show up in little and big ways. But too often, we don’t. Doesn’t Jesus say something about that too? “Having eyes, do you not see?” he asks in the gospels. He quotes the Old Testament then asking that question of how we can manage to miss so very much. “Having eyes, do you not see?” What are those things that weigh us down? What are the things that keep us from seeing? Busyness? Overcommitting? Worry? Perhaps the constant pull of technology in our pocket? What are the things that make you unable to recognize the wonder and the gifts all around you each day? Having eyes, what do we miss? And how do we learn to see it?
Let’s come back to the scutoid for a minute. Scientists have gone a long time without ever seeing or noticing this shape. Microscopes have been around for hundreds of years. They’ve looked at these cells for a long time, but never saw it. It’s easy to walk through life drowsy, with eyes that don’t see. Not expecting to find wonder except on the mountain top. But this shape was actually discovered using computer models of cells in curved tissue. They didn’t see the shape first; they predicted its existence. So at first, it was totally theoretical. And then, once they predicted that it might be there, they started seeing it everywhere. It was almost hard to imagine how they could have missed it before. Like when you’re thinking about a new car, and it seems like you’ve hardly ever seen it on the road, until you start thinking about it, and then all of a sudden you see 4 a day. Sometimes it seems hard to find wonder going from one day to another, pick-ups, drop offs, laundry, meetings. And maybe we won’t see it at first; our eyes might be out of practice. But maybe the first step is to start expecting it. To predict it. As we learn to seek the wonder of God all around us, perhaps the first step is a theoretical one, an experiment if you will, of training ourselves to expect to see it. And once we start expecting to see it, we find that all of a sudden it’s everywhere.
That moment on the mountain served to wake up the disciples. And we need moments like that sprinkled in to wake us up to the wonder all around us. We need some mountaintops, some breathtaking vistas, some modern marvels of ingenuity. We need them to wake us up. But we can’t rely on them. We can’t just bottle up the big faith moments and expect them to last through all the normal days. Afterall, wonder leaks. Instead, perhaps we need to train our minds and our hearts to expect this life to be full of wonder. Start predicting it, trusting in the promise that abundant life is ours, here and now and see where it shows up.
For early Christians, following Jesus was called the Way. Quakers simply call it “the Life.” In that anything less than a life spent thankful for the wonder of God all around us is really no life at all. The Life; earning to see it, to name it. Noticing the wonder-filled moments when they happen in the middle of dishes and to-do lists. Because the mountains and the oceans and the stars are certainly glorious, but so the relationships around us, sharing meals together, quiet summer nights, and discovering a flock of roly polies.
When those mountaintop moments find us, it’s a gift. It’s a time that wakes us up and reminds us that wonder is out there, it’s here, right on this earth, right in front of us, right beside us, should we choose to see. It reminds us of our life of faith as wonder-seekers–looking for and pointing out the wonder-ful, this God of wonders in our midst. But those mountaintop moments are the few moments to stir us from drowsiness, and spur us back into actively looking for the wonders of God all around us. The mountaintops are not the goal; they’re the call. Calling us back to this Way, this Life, this learning to see that God has indeed pitched a tent right in the middle of our wonder-ful world. Having eyes, can we learn to see it?
 John 10:10
 John 1:14
 Francis Spufford, Unapologetic
 Mark 8:18