Joe Neville

Psalm 133

Isaiah 5:1-7

Hebrews 11:29-12:2



Have a Wonder-Full Life

In a section of The New York Times recently, a woman (Johanna Hurwitz) wrote in about our "changing times."  She noticed that "Have a nice day" is no longer adequate. In one morning alone, three different people -- a woman behind the counter at the post office, a man in the dry-cleanings and a vendor selling her a sesame bagel -- concluded their transaction with "Have a wonderful day."

She went on to conclude, "I'll do my best"

Leave it to our culture to make experiencing "wonder" yet another chore to add on to our daily "Things to Do" list.  With every passing year, the more we can be found trying to regain a sense of spirituality in our busy, bustling, bursting-at-the-seams lives.  But we can't quite get it right.

Wonder, by its very nature, can’t be programmed into our Day-Timer.  Genuine wonder stops your heart, sucks away your breath, robs you of your speech, and freezes you in your tracks.  Genuine wonder strikes your psyche without warning and flattens your cool consciousness with a sucker punch.

In the last century we have let increasing cynicism and demystifying "scientism" erode our sense of wonder.  We have been content to relegate wonderment to the experiences of the young and naive.  It’s true that in youth we are much more alive to the wonders that surround us. Ever try to take a puppy for a walk?  It takes forever.  Not only does the puppy naturally resist the tug of the leash, but it must stop and pounce on every leaf on the sidewalk, investigate every stick in the path, track every bug that crawls along, and of course smell every inch of the earth.

All is new; all is wonderful.

While driving to the office, I heard a story about Jimmy McHugh and Dorothy Fields, prolific songwriters for decades.  It seems that one day, both writers experienced writer’s block and couldn’t form a note or write a lyric.  So, they decided to take a break and walk.  In walking they observed a young couple looking in the windows of Tiffanies jewelry store.  It was during the depression.  They seemed to be mesmerized, partly by the beautiful expensive bracelet in the window, but more entranced while looking in each other’s eyes.  While looking in her eyes and then back at the bracelet, oblivious to the depression, which dampened the reality of having that beautiful bracelet to share with her, he offered the most beautiful of gifts anyone can receive. The young man said to the woman, “Baby, I can’t give you anything but love.”

The two songwriters in overhearing this and struck by the simplicity, purity and wonder of true love, were stopped in their tracks.  They looked at each other and quickly jotted down these few words and raced back to their studio.  My friends from that brief moment of wonder and simplicity, they penned the song that I’m sure a large percentage of us have heard many times, ‘I Can’t Give you anything but love baby’.

All was new; all was wonderful!

In the 16th and 17th centuries, among the most prized pieces of furniture well-heeled families maintained were "wonder cabinets."  These were simply knickknack shelves, but dedicated to displaying collections of natural wonders.  These folks used to go, what they called, "marveling" in the world.  They would go "marveling" and come back with unique butterflies.  They would go "marveling" and come back with four-leaf clovers. They would go "marveling" and come back with shimmering seashells.  They would put the triumphs of their "marvelings" in their wonder cabinets.

They also went "marveling" in the realm of the human.  The "wonders" of nature sat in the wonder cabinets alongside human curiosities such as Egyptian hieroglyphs and even human "horns" for the marveling of all.  Wonder cabinets were like momentary museums to the miraculous, giving their owners the chance for a daily dose of wonderment and marveling.

What's in your wonder cabinet?  When is the last time you went "marveling"?

A genuine sense of wonder is born when we cultivate an openness to all that cannot be understood, which can scarcely be believed. Which, when gazing on such wonderful sights, we did not know what to say, or whether what appears before us is real.

Dr. Arthur Coliandro Senior pastor of the Marble Collegiate Church in New York City recalled a ‘Wonder Cabinet’ experience.  While on vacation, he was on the ocean in his motorboat not far from shore.  It was around dusk and the setting sun was casting a golden glow on the horizon, which was the Ocean.  Caught up in the wonder of this sight, he steered his boat in the direction of the sun and he revved up the motor to keep the beautiful sunset in view for as long as possible.  It was an interesting little journey because the faster he pursued, it the farther away it seemed to get.  Finally he looked back and realized that total darkness was behind him.  Night had fallen on shore and the lights from the cottages were faint dots.  In front of him was the golden glow of the sun and behind him was the darkness of night.  He finally stopped his chase and turned his boat to shore with only the faint lights to guide him.  After reaching the shore he slowly ascended to his cottage where his wife met him at the door.  He told her of the beautiful sunset and the fact that no matter how hard he tried to keep up, it continued to slip away from him.  She smiled and said, “I was watching you as you set out.  It was one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.  The ocean all around you was golden and you were this little dot in the midst of it.  I watched you skim over the water in the golden glow until you were barely visible. I thought to myself, He must have really been having a great time.”  Dr. Coliandro said, “Isn’t that interesting.  All I saw was the setting sun in front of me and the looming darkness behind me.  It’s amazing what we cannot see.  I was totally surrounded by that golden glow and didn’t know it.”

All was new; all was wonderful

Can your mind be blown by God's beauty? Blown away by God's bounty?  By God's bevy of blessings?

Just as in the natural world there are occasions and occupants that evoke a sense of wonder, there are in the spiritual world similar moments for examining and exclaiming over wonderment's.  In this week's text, the Hebrews' author collects in his wonder cabinet two types of faithfulness.  First he looks at the mighty works God was able to accomplish through the faithfulness of those such as Moses, Joshua and Rahab. This list of divine accomplishments through faithful followers is so extensive that the author finally gives up on producing an itemized list.

The other type of faithfulness our text speaks of is the faith kept by those persecuted, tortured and martyred. Truly such steadfast faithfulness is as awe-inspiring as the parting of the Red Sea, the collapsing walls of Jericho, or the deliverance of the land of Canaan into the hands of the Israelites. A martyr's faith is indeed a wonder.  Who can cease being amazed at what men and women can accomplish, can endure, can turn to triumph, when they live by faith and not by sight?

In the 16th century, Bibles were "chained" books -- literally chained to church walls and posts so that over-zealous parishioners would not make off with them.  They were often chained together with Fox's Book of Martyrs -- a grisly, gory, gruesome retelling in print and pictures, words and woodcuts of some of the most horrific tales of Christian martyrdom. (If the truth were told, it was actually Fox's sensational book more than the Bible that was in danger of being ripped off by eager readers.)  Fox's work was known as "Acts and Monuments," i.e., "Wonders of God," reminding readers that it was the enduring faith of martyrs, not the singular fate they suffered, which was the reason they were remembered and honored by the church.

Likewise, the author of Hebrews does not glory in the torments and deaths suffered by the martyrs he showcases.  Rather he displays them so we may wonder at their faithfulness. Can you wonder at the supernatural as well as the natural world?

WONDER ... to have such courage and stamina in the face of persecution.

WONDER ... to stand up for God when all the powers around you insist that you sit down.

WONDER ... to discover the experience of pain and deprivation less real than "the assurance of things hoped for" and "the conviction of things not seen" (11:1).

WONDER ... to realize that generations past, like a "great cloud of witnesses," surround us at all times with the testimony of their faithfulness.

There is wonder in the air all around us. But even though we are surrounded by this great cloud, we are blind to its beauty and power -- as blind to them as we are to the natural wonders and spiritual wonders that surround us.

When is the last time you went marveling?

Have a Wonder-full day.

Have a Wonder-full week.

Have a Wonder-full life.