Wonder by Allie Papke-Larson
Updated: Oct 29
This sermon was preached at LCM|Canterbury on October 18, 2020. You can also find the video of the sermon at the bottom of this post.
Grace and Peace to you all from our God who is creator, Jesus who is redeemer, Holy Spirit who is sustainer.
This evening I am going to ask you all to wonder with me about these texts we just read to wonder about our theology and faith. The Googled definition of “wonder” is:
As a noun:
1. a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable. "he had stood in front of it, observing the intricacy of the ironwork with the wonder of a child"
Or as a verb
1. desire or be curious to know something. "how many times have I written that, I wonder?"
2. feel doubt. "I wonder about such a marriage"
I hope you all feel free to use any of these definitions of wonder during my message this evening.
I need your openness to wonder today, because these texts for me, raised more questions than answers.
To begin, let's look at our text from Isaiah. This scripture filled me with a lot of wonder. Three things stood particularly: the first is over and over we are told that God is God, and that there is no other Lord. Over and over we are told “I am the Lord, there is no other.” And the second wonderment for me is how active God is in these verses and why God is active. We will know God is God because of what God does. God acts in ways including, but not limited to: subduing nations, opening doors, breaking down gates, summoning God’s people by name, strengthening God’s people, forming the light and creating darkness, bringing prosperity and creating disaster. It seems that even though all of these deeds are done by God for our learning and knowing who God is, we still may not “acknowledge God” or know God. It seems human recognition of who God is, and all that God does do, is not required in God being God. The third wonder comes from the end of these verses: “I am the Lord, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster.”
With these thoughts now voiced for our open, wondering minds: Knowing that God is God, and that God is God even when we cannot acknowledge who God is, and also thinking about those final verses ringing in our ears: “I form light and create darkness…” I am going to ask a few questions: What is God’s relationship with evil? Is it more terrifying to think that God created evil, or that God has nothing to do with evil? And is it more confusing to think about God creating evil or that evil found a way into the world and God let it slipped in? Or that evil somehow slipped by without God’s knowing?
It feels safe for me to talk about how God meets us in our suffering. Theology of the Cross, right? How the cracks are the way the light gets in, but it is much more uncomfortable thinking about God creating the darkness and cracks. This feels not far away from the common platitude that everything happens for a reason, or that punishment comes down like rain from God… these feel like easy cop-outs instead of sitting with suffering, or letting hard questions be asked. Instead of everything happening for a reason, what if we wonder what it would mean if God was the darkness as well as the light? God is God, after all, whether we acknowledge or know who God is or not, so we can feel comforted in that.
First I have to wonder, why do we often want to make God benign? Why would it help us as followers of Christ, if God had nothing to do with evil in the world? Why do we want to think that God would have nothing to do with evil and darkness, when it feels like there is so much of it…
One reason we might want to think or believe that God created only the beautiful, loving, graceful, and comforting parts of ourselves and the world and not also the cruel, dark, selfish, and evil parts of ourselves and the world, is because when those dangerous things inevitably come up, we don’t have to risk our faith and relationship with God or God’s goodness. Only our faith in each other and ourselves. It would not be God who hurt us or let us down, but our own sinful nature. Our relationship with God would remain safe and in its straight jacket, keeping our hearts safe, too. Or so we think, until something happens that shatters our illusion that humans alone create suffering… like a pandemic, perhaps? I wonder....
In Sam Smith’s Song “Too Good at Goodbye” he sings about heartbreak, or the fear of heartbreak which then creates a coldness, which creates the self-fulfilling heartbreak prophecy of ended relationship. He sings: “I know you’re thinking I’m heartless. I know you’re thinking I’m cold. I’m just protecting my innocence. I’m just protecting my soul.” I think this is what we do, sometimes, in our relationship with God. For fear of ruining our innocence and fear for hurting our souls, we put God into a box where our happy theology safely keeps God, and we are free to live with our own innocence and sin running amok. Only, we’re not protected. We lose that innocence every day through living into that self-fulfilling heartbreak prophecy of our own sinful nature, and we still feel as Smith sings: “left in the dirt.” We think we are protecting our faith by placing the weight of suffering on human shoulders only, but instead we may be crushing ourselves. What if God could carry that weight, instead? What if God, the God we read about in Isaiah, a God who “formed light and created darkness, made weal and created woe…” What if that God, our God, really was the only Lord, and they really could make goodness and badness... I wonder…
In the Gospel today, the Pharisees are told by Jesus we should give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor, and we should give to God what belongs to God… and, I wonder, what if EVERYTHING belongs to God? INCLUDING the good, the bad, and the ugly? What if it is ALL God’s, and we have foolishly believed that somehow we have claim over evil and sadness? What if the resurrection message this week is that you have NO claim over darkness, and NO claim over suffering? What if the resurrection message this week is telling you to let go of death and live your life without believing you live in sin? What if your self-fulfilling prophecy wasn’t one of heartbreak or innocence that is more like ignorance, but one of innocence FROM heartbreak? What would happen to our lives if we relinquish our perceived control over evil and let God claim it instead? I wonder…
A graduate of Augsburg University, Allie Papke-Larson has served as our Program Coordinator since July 2019. Beginning this academic year, she is preaching every third Sunday at LCM|Canterbury.