John 12:20-33 |:| Wonder with Abandon
Calvary Baptist Church of Denver; March 22, 2015 @ 10:30a
Worry is the roadblock to the life and imagination that comes from wonder. Worry is a common response to life’s events, I’d venture to say worry will forever be part of our lives. It’s how we respond to worry that can be a spiritual practice for us. Worry can be brought on by many things – unexpected news, a test or project coming up, a doctors visit, a meeting with a boss, an interview – and the list goes on and is unique to each of us.
What makes you worry might not be the things that make me worry, nonetheless worry is present in our lives. It creates in us tunnel vision and can lead us to a thought process that does not allow us to think creatively about our situation. I’m willing to say that teaching ourselves to practice wonder is the remedy for reducing the hold worry has on us.
This past week I spent a good bit of time in Chicago. To begin I was there for the pre-trip visit for our upcoming summer trip with Center for Student Missions. Then I remained in the city for the Progressive Youth Ministry Conference. In both there was a great deal of wonder that I was caught up in.
Wonderment about what the trip will hold for our 9th & 10th graders, about what the organizations we will serve with are doing to address the needs and concerns of their neighborhoods, about how God will breathe into our group and birth new relationships and dynamics. As the leader of the trip it can be easy to go to all the areas where worry knocks and to follow it down it’s limited perspective and options.
Will the students be safe, will they make good choices, will the leaders facilitate and guide well, have I ensured our getting there and getting back is taken care of, will we fundraise enough, was this a good idea … and in full disclosure those thoughts existed but thankfully they were noted and mentally checked off without removing the wonder I had around the trip to come.
At the conference we talked about church being in the public – meeting the concerns of our cities with the physical representation of God’s love and peace; we talked about the dangerous work of meeting students in their most vulnerable places and the risk of not responding in healthy/life-giving ways but the beauty it can hold when we realize we are on holy ground with our students when we do care for them well; we talked about needing to have the tough and awkward conversations in our churches more regularly so that they become easier to have; we talked about the need to learn what our context is and engage it more openly and without reservations. As I sat at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago my mind dared to dream of how we as a community here are doing those things, could be doing those things differently, need to be doing those things to begin with.
This work of living life together can produce plenty of opportunities to worry – do we have enough resources to fund our financial plans for our ministries, staff, and building; what will a change to the by-laws do and will this new ministry plan work; what will the feasibility team find out as they look into an offer on our property; are we living out our vision and mission for the church; do we have people to serve with our MMP’s and CMP’s; what will this new staff team be like – there is certainly plenty for us to worry about in doing this thing called life together, but I know I can’t imagine not doing it together. The blessings and joys of facing these experiences together allows for us to keep one another from the restrictive perspective that worry keeps us in and to come together to live into the vastness of God’s wonder and dream together the work we can continue to live out.
In our Gospel text today we see Jesus state that he is to die and declares what is required of those who wish to follow him. Jesus uses the image of how wheat has to die in order to give new life – by returning to the ground so that seeds can be planted to grow more wheat. It has to die in its current form to bring about new life.
In this text we see Jesus speaking to both disciple and gentile together – I can only imagine what they must have felt when they hear this prophet, priest, pastor of theirs state that he is to die and in order for them to follow him they must die to this life as well. Talk about news that provoke worry … but it can also provoke wonder.
As this group of disciples and gentiles wrestled with what this meant for their lives they had the choice to walk down the road of worry – faced with a limited mindset of what this meant for them or they could lean into the breadth of wonder and run with the ideas of what this could mean for them. The text then shares with us that a loud noise was heard by the crowds – some hearing it as a divine voice and others calling it thunder.
Jesus notes to those listening that the voice confirming his words was not for his benefit but for theirs. In our own lives when we are faced with decisions, experiences, instances that can produce worry wouldn’t it be grand if we heard the audible voice of God confirming the right option … or maybe hearing an audible voice from the Divine would just be something that provoke more worry.
In these moments of being presented with worry it sometimes feels like we need permission to wonder. Permission to know that by wondering we are not taking it any less serious but equally, and in some cases more so, when we free ourselves to be guided by the Spirit and grandly wonder.
As children we are taught that imagination is a great thing to have and we want to have our children creating stories and pretending they are doctors, lawyers, teachers, bankers, pastors …, poets, artists. We give them permission to view their lives from an unending journey of wonder. As we grow up though we are told that wonder has its place but that reality has no time for the naiveté of imagination.
Not surprising that the enlightenments impact of the mind being superior to the heart or that rational is stronger than the spiritual has stuck around. It’s not that we don’t believe in imagination but have limited its reach and so when worry enters our experience is to lean to our minds to go through things from a what-information-is-present approach rather than stepping forward into our mind’s creative passageways to wonder our way through worry.
If this is how worry can limit our responses in our own individual lives it is understandable that it is what can happen in our institutions or systemic issues. What if we allowed ourselves to wonder about ending homelessness and found ways to not be stopped by the moments of worry but to be amazed at the creativity we can come up with to begin ending this systematic issue.
Some of you may have seen that the state of Utah has been giving free homes to people who are homeless in their state since 2005, and that it has saved the state money and reduced homelessness by 74%. That approach comes from the practice of wonder. Friends, how could we wonder about addressing the concerns of our very community with wonder instead of worry.
Our text tells us that we need to die to this life in order to live – what parts of our lives need to die in order to live out God’s Kingdom here on earth. Perhaps one of the things we need to have die is the holds worry can have on our lives. I don’t mean to say that we will be void of worry in but that the holds it has on our abilities to look broader and with the wonderment of the Holy Spirit will be less so.
If we could recapture the encouragement we give our children about dreaming & imagining about their lives & continue it in our youth and adult lives think of how the Kingdom of God could break through in new ways. What institutions in our lives need to die so that they don’t keep people from living out their beloved-ness?
To name a few, systemic poverty driven by capitalism. A healthcare system that doesn’t offer all persons, regardless of their socioeconomic status, holistic approaches to care. Politics fueled by finances rather than the voice and needs of the people. Institutional racism driven by the belief that we have solved racism in this country.
There are plenty of the things in our world that do not allow people to be treated with dignity or have their humanity honored. How do we let them die so that the worry of what might happen without them doesn’t keep us from deconstructing them? Leaning into the bonds of worry is easier and more predictable than leaning into wonder.
When we allow ourselves to be astonished by how we can respond to dilemmas, uncertainties, big decisions we risk the unknown of what could come about. Isn’t it worth the risk though? Studies show that when we allow ourselves to use our imagination our ability to empathize with others increases, it can enhance our memory, it can be a portal to self-discovery. Socrates said wisdom begins with wonder – oh to deepen our wisdom.
Think about what might have happened if the disciples had been consumed by worry – we might not have had the first church in Acts. Talk about a community built on wonder and thinking creatively about meeting the needs of their neighbors.
We today are not so different than those we read of in John’s gospel. We are reminded of Christ’s death as we are just a week away from Palm Sunday and Holy Week. We are also reminded that there are aspects of our individual, communal, and societal lives that need to die so that we can truly live. The question is whether we will allow death to happen or if we will keep new life of God’s Kingdom from coming to be.
In this season of lent as we continue to yearn towards Easter and move from one piece of life to another, perhaps we take on the spiritual practice of wonderment. When faced with a work or school dilemma dream about what the unexpected options might be, what options seem implausible then think of ways they could in fact be possible.
When we see people in need and are met with emotions of not being able to do anything big enough to make a systematic change allow yourself to ask what would it look like to eradicate this issue, who would be needed to make it happen, and who is willing to dream aloud with you.
When met with pain in our lives or in the lives of those we love and worry sets in take a deep, deep breath and think of something that brings you joy and how it could bring joy those hurting – then go and do it.
At dinner with family and friends speak aloud your dreams and imagine together what it would be like for them to be reality. When tucking in your children or grandchildren make up stories with them – tap into your imagination and create worlds of splendor. As you witness injustice lean into wonder and make whatever difference you can so that with each time you build upon the wonder and reach new levels of transformative action.
Allow the spiritual practice of wonder to move you from worry into action that builds the Kingdom of God. May the unjust systems in our world die to prophetic proclamation of peace incarnate.
Ravi Zacharias, author & poet, said “wonder knows that while you cannot look at the light, you cannot look at anything else without it. It is not exhausted by childhood, but finds its key there. It is a journey like walk through the woods over the usual obstacles and around the common distractions while the voice of direction leads, saying, ‘This is the way, walk ye in it.”
Let us allow the Spirit to direct us around the hindrances that keep us from wonder so that we might see the light of new creations. May the tunnel vision of worry die to the plethora of possibilities sparked by wonderment. Calvary, what could this communal life we live be like if we encouraged one another to use our imaginations, dream on a regular basis, and wonder ourselves into spiritual resurrection.
It’s a risky thing to wonder but what a great risk … may we begin today.