God is Wonder

A sermon based on Romans 5:1-5
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on May 22, 2016
by Rev. Scott Elliott

Once upon a time a chemistry professor figured out how to make experimental “knowledge in-a-pill” pills. And she told her freshman chemistry class about the experiment. After class a student came up and asked what kind of knowledge pills were available. The professor said: “Well, I have a pill for English Literature.” And then to the student’s surprise the professor went on to ask “You want to try it?” The freshman took the pill and swallowed it and instantly acquired new knowledge about English Literature.

“What else do you have?” he asked. “Well I have pills for art history, biology, and world history,” replied the pharmaceutical genius. The student asked for each of them, and after swallowing them had all sorts of new knowledge. Then the student asked: “Do you have a pill for math?” The professor said, “Wait just a moment,” went back to the storeroom, and returned with pill the size of a grapefruit and set it on the counter. “Here ya go, ” the prof beamed. “Woa!” the student balked, “I have to take that huge pill for math?” “Yes,” the professor replied, “I’m afraid math will always be hard to swallow.”

That story could have been told for high school or college students . . . and actually most of us not in school. We’d all like to be able to have instant or at least an easier way of accumulating knowledge and many of us have dreamed that math might somehow be made easier to swallow. But knowledge – and especially math– require time and effort and ability. Knowledge can never really come in a pill or in an instance because knowledge is always an accumulation of past and present gleanings of information, with a look toward not only the future promise of knowledge’s use, but the gleanings of additional knowledge to come. Knowledge is basically never ending.

And while knowledge does not come in pill form, knowledge does come to us through all manner of sources, books and classrooms and thinking and exchanging ideas are just a part of it. We learn by doing and re-doing and through encounters with others and creation. And . . . each experience in life gives us knowledge. All sorts of experiences, whether positive or negative, provide us knowledge– and help us grow as people.

At school and in church we deliberately attempt to have, and to provide, positive experiences and gain knowledge and grow in positive ways. Most of us in church come here with the intention of having, participating in, and providing positive experiences and knowledge here for both ourselves and others . . . and to give positive experiences when we leave, out there beyond the walls of the church. But we are always building on past and present gleanings of information, with a look toward not only the future promise of knowledge’s use, but the gleanings of additional knowledge to come.

We take it for granted, but every waking moment each of us adds to yesterday’s experiences the experiences of today – all in hopes of using the knowledge we gain to grow to a better self for sure, but also to help grow a better existence for others and creation. We seemed compelled, especially as children and youth, to learn, to wonder. We often call it curiosity, but it’s the same thing. We are born to wonder.
The students here today that we are recognizing are clearly doing this kind of wondering and building on acquired knowledge – most of the rest of us do that in less formal ways than schooling, but we do it all life long. And I am very appreciative of all the leaders and teachers in our Christian Education programs who help with religious knowledge, both with book learning and modeling how to be caring and compassionate and loving. You are ALL so wonder-full. I’ve yet to sit in on a class this year and not experience some very good teaching going on at all levels of our Christian Education program. It’s awesome. It is . . . wonder-full .

We embrace wonder here well at First Congregational UCC. We claim that we do not want anyone to check their brain at the door to this church. We encourage everyone to wonder! And really I think that a nutshell understanding of theology – the study of God– can be boiled down to a claim that God is actually that . . . wonder. Wonder in the noun-sense of the word, that which causes admiration and awe. But also wonder in the verb-sense, curiosity and the desire to know and be better as self and creation, as well as feelings of amazement and marvel. God is wonder. And wonder-full. And children and youth–and all the rest of us are full of wonder, aren’t we? In multiple senses too. We are curious and we wonder. We are amazing creations to wonder at.

All of that wonder can be understood to be the spark of God in us and around us, and gloriously connecting us with all the other wonders of creation. God is IN all the wonder. God is ALL the wonder.

And of course the most wonder-full thing of all is Love, and the Bible teaches God is that, the wonder of Love. And the Bible also teaches that we live and move and have our being in God, which means God is also the very wonder of life too.

God . . . Is . . . Wonder. And if theology were just that simple I suppose I could end the sermon now and we could get to the great fellowship feast below faster. But we humans in our wondering about God have all these explanations and definitions and even dogma to try and make the wonder earthbound and understandable, to help us gain knowledge and grow. There’s Glory in the unexplainable, but our drive to understand, our curiosity, keeps us explaining through theology and religion how to relate and to be better.

And that is not necessarily a bad thing, because while religion has been used to abuse and oppress, it is religion that tells us what abuse and oppression is. Our sense of love and wonder leads us to aim toward and seek the positive and the good, to try and be love and wonder-full. A consequence of which is that our religious knowledge not only calls us to love, but helps us sense and name abuse and oppression as not wonder-full, as lack-love actions to be avoided and stopped since they do not lead the actor or others or creation to betterment, to the positive, to the good, to God – rather they lead away from it.

And I am actually going to make this a shorter sermon since we have so much going on this morning, but bear with me as I try to apply all of this to the Trinity because it is Trinity Sunday!

Our Lectionary text today is supposedly a Trinity text and that is why it comes up in the Lectionary. But as I’ve mentioned before the Trinity is not in the Bible it is a doctrine created in the 3rd Century by a theologian and lawyer named Tertullian. He created it to help explain New Testament texts like this and traditions that name God as Father, Son and Holy Ghost because they appear to claim there are three gods not one God in Christian theology.

Monotheism requires there be One God, and Christians are always talking about Father, Son and Holy Ghost in one form or another. In fact at every baptism those three personas are critical words for the pastor to utter so that the Baptism will be recognized by other denominations. You’ll hear them later today.

Critics of Christianity in Tertullian’s day and even now claim we are not monotheistic because we name God in these three distinct ways. Tertullian’s Trinitarian model can be understood in a myriad ways to show that the Trinity is about claiming and naming different aspects we experience of the One God. Not unlike my pointing out that I am a father, a son and a Spiritual leader. I’m one person, but each of those aspects of me are experienced differently. Differing experiences of God can be named in a similar way, God the Father can be said to be the Creator of all that has unfolded. The presence of God in the past is what created today. And Christ can be heard to be the presence of God in this moment influencing us in the now. And the Holy Spirit can be understood as God in the future pulling us to our potential. God as past, present and future is not polytheistic, it is one God experienced in three different ways.

That’s the thrust of Tertullian’s point. We believe in One God and so we are monotheistic, even as we name experiences of God differently. I’ve mentioned this all before, but I want to overlay it onto knowledge . . . the wonder and the results of wonder.

I am going to circle back to what I said a few minutes ago that “We take it for granted, but every waking moment each of us adds to yesterday’s experiences the experiences of today – all in hopes of using the knowledge we gain to grow to a better self for sure, but also to help grow a better existence for others and creation.”

We spend a lot of time acknowledging that God is in things, and our feelings and in our acts, and I think we sometimes forget in our parsing the experiences out, is that God is in it all, including knowledge.

And using what I have briefly noted bout the Trinity we can even hear a Trinitarian overlay to knowledge, the past (Creator) is built on by the present (Christ) in hopes of the future (Spirit). And we are driven by these aspects to wonder and grow, to aim toward betterment. We humans have formed a way–schooling– to help facilitate it. And this morning we honor the school teachers and the students, we applaud you all and encourage you to continue to do the great work you are doing in answer to –whether thinking about it or not– the past, present and future aspects of God. All, ALL that wonder is God Which means that even in the secular world of schooling God’s at work woven in the very fabric of our being . . . All, ALL that wonder is God.

As we build on past and present gleanings of information, with a look toward not only the future promise of knowledge’s use, but the gleanings of additional knowledge to come and to continued growth for ours and others’ and the world’s betterment, we’d do well to thank God for the creating such a wonder-full thing as knowledge.

And we’d do well to thank our students and teachers and every other learner and knowledge disseminator for listening to and working with our Trinitarian God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost – Better known today as Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit.

The One God who is with us all the time and in all things, especially in knowledge and wonderment . . . and love. AMEN!