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Speaking Differently – Wonder

Date: 12/06/2022/Speaker: Ps Pauline Ong

Speaking Differently: Wonder
Psalm 8
12 June 2022

This Sunday, we begin a new sermon series, Speaking Differently, where we will be looking at things from an other-centered perspective. This was inspired by Lynnette’s sermon last week, Unknown Tongues For An Unknown People. If you missed her sermon, I would encourage you to catch it on our Youtube channel.

I want to begin by asking you this question this morning.

Question 1 (Word Cloud)
What inspires wonder in you?

Usually it is something bigger than us – nature, God, the universe, stars, etc.

I realized recently it is actually not hard to experience wonder. But you and I must be willing to slow down, be present and pay attention to what’s going on around us. Wonder doesn’t necessarily come only in big dramatic moments. In fact, it’s in the little moments of life that wonder catches us when we pause and take notice.

Over the past week, I was on leave and I challenged myself to slow down, be present and pay attention to the little moments. A few times a day, I would consciously close my eyes and notice what’s going on around me — what am I hearing, smelling, feeling? I felt the wind on my face and pockets of wind running in between my fingers. I heard the sound of the waves lapping gently on the shore and the laughter of children. I noticed the presence of my family around me — just taking in the mundane moments of us eating together, playing games and chatting. It was in the ordinary moments that I sensed the extraordinary, and I was filled with gratitude, awe and wonder.

Who am I that God has blessed me this way? In some ways I can understand the psalmist and what they expressed in Psalm 8.

Psalm 8 is a great example of how one is filled with wonder when we recognize how small we are in proportion to the universe, yet how valued we are in God’s eyes. It provides a wonderful balanced perspective of who we are in light of who God is. This Psalm puts us in our place — it humbles us and yet uplifts us at the same time. More importantly, it helps us see ourselves and others through God’s eyes.

Psalm 8 begins with the psalmist looking up at the beautiful night skies in wonder and awe. And pondering why God would even bother with humans like us.

Psalm 8:3-9 (MSG)
I look up at your macro-skies, dark and enormous,
your handmade sky-jewelry,
Moon and stars mounted in their settings.
Then I look at my micro-self and wonder,
Why do you bother with us?
Why take a second look our way?
Yet we’ve so narrowly missed being gods,
bright with Eden’s dawn light.
You put us in charge of your handcrafted world,
repeated to us your Genesis-charge,
Made us stewards of sheep and cattle,
even animals out in the wild,
Birds flying and fish swimming,
whales singing in the ocean deeps.
9 GOD, brilliant Lord,
your name echoes around the world.

Yes, we are small and minute. Yet for some reason, in God’s eyes we are highly valued and loved. God not only lifted us up so we get to be called children of God. God even tasked us to take good care of the Earth and all living things that reside on Earth. Does that thought inspire wonder and awe in you? It should. Who are we that we should be put in charge of taking care of the world? Yet that’s how God sees us and what God hopes of us.

But the issue is we often don’t think very much about it. We don’t realize how precious we are to God, and we forget how precious the whole earth and every living thing is to God. So precious that God actually entrusted the care of the earth and all living things to us!

As stewards, we have been given responsibility to care for people, the cattle and wild animals, birds and the fish, even the whales singing in the ocean deeps.

Question 2 (Multiple Choice)
How well do you think we’ve been doing with this stewarding task & responsibility?

  1. Very well
  2. Quite well
  3. Average
  4. Not well
  5. Very badly

On a whole, I would say we haven’t been doing a very good job with this task and responsibility. Instead of caring for the Earth and all living things, we have exploited and extracted all we could — from the earth, from people, from Nature — for our own selfish interests. And this has been going on for generations. But we know this legacy of exploitation and extraction doesn’t align with God’s dream. In God’s order of things, nothing is created in vain and everything is treated with care.

God’s dream is Shalom. God longs for and is working toward wholeness and healing, toward justice and restoration for all created beings. Every person, every living being is precious in God’s eyes. And those of us who know we are beloved have been entrusted with the task of making sure they know that.

As Pope Francis says, “We are stewards, not masters of the earth.” He says we tend to live rather selfish lifestyles, “marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable and frequently indifferent to the world around us, especially to the poorest of the poor…We see technical and economic questions dominating political debate, to the detriment of genuine concern for human beings. Men and women risk being reduced to mere cogs in a machine that treats them as items of consumption to be exploited.”
He says, “Each of us has a personal responsibility to care for creation, this precious gift which God has entrusted to us. This means, on the one hand, that nature is at our disposal, to enjoy and use properly. We need to love and respect nature, but instead we are often guided by the pride of dominating, possessing, manipulating, exploiting; we do not ‘preserve’ the Earth, we do not respect it, we do not consider it as a freely given gift to look after. Respect for the environment, however, means more than not destroying it; it also means using it for good purposes.”
Unfortunately, many Christians don’t think much about environmental issues because we don’t view it as an important faith-related concern. It took me some time to understand the connection between caring for our earth and how that is motivated by our faith. What if I told you that how we care for the earth and all living things directly impacts how others might be able to relate to God?

Psalm 19
The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech;
night after night they reveal knowledge.
3 They have no speech, they use no words;
no sound is heard from them.
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
their words to the ends of the world.

We are told that nature reveals God to humankind. And I’m sure you’ve experienced God in some way through nature. Many of us are privileged because we have the means to live in or travel to different parts of the world where we can enjoy beautiful scenery or be surrounded by majestic mountains. For us human beings, being in the beauty of nature is healing for our souls and it helps us reconnect with God.

The psalmist is right that the heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of God’s hands. We have experienced it for ourselves and it’s easy for us to understand what the psalmist is saying when we can breathe in fresh air and look up at a sky full of stars.

But this is not true for many people who live in parts of the world where the water is too unsafe to drink, air too polluted to breathe, and the sheer decay of the surrounding environment endangers them and their families. This dire situation is often due to exploitation and extraction by countries and corporations driven by profit and greed. And we can’t just point our fingers at them and say it’s their fault. We are complicit too as consumers when we continue to perpetuate the cycle of exploitation by buying and consuming mindlessly.

If we really believe that the earth reflects God’s glory, by not taking good care of it and allowing the Earth, as well as people, to become exploited — we’re essentially keeping people from experiencing the glory and goodness of God.

So do we take our task and responsibility as God’s stewards seriously?

We usually begin with ourselves as a frame of reference to make sense of the world around us. We use our own experiences and understandings to help us navigate situations and relate with others. It’s literally ‘self-centred’ – radiating from ourselves outwards. That’s usually how most of us try to make sense of the world. It’s the easiest and most automatic human response.

But the world, the universe is so much bigger than we can imagine. And we are but a small speck in this vast universe. Is it possible for us to enlarge and expand our perspective? Can we be God-centred and other-centered? It’s essential that we enlarge our perspective because our ‘self-centred’ approach is what feeds the exploitation and extraction mindset, whether we do so consciously or not.

The sense of wonder in life often comes when we slow down, take our heads out of our own little world and see things from a different and larger perspective.

Video by Devin Wright (4:43 min)

“You are unique because you can choose your story.
You can choose what the world can become, what your neighborhood can become. At the end of your vapor of a life, what story will you want to tell of your part in this divine cosmos?”

Our lives may be brief but they are meant to make a difference in our world. We are called to live out stories of fierce love that inspires wonder and awe in others that the God of the universe loves them too. We have been tasked to go out and love the world.

May we always remember we are nothing but dust. May we never forget that dust comes from the stars.

This mindset is not just about having a balanced perspective of ourselves. It’s also about having a deep sense of connection with God, and with everything around us. It’s humbling and uplifting at the same time. It’s about expanding our perspective so we are not only radiating from the self but we are increasingly God-centred and other-centred too.

Richard Rohr says he is convinced that “beneath the ugly manifestations of our present evils—political corruption, ecological devastation, warring against one another, hating each other based on race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation—the greatest dis-ease facing humanity right now is our profound and painful sense of disconnection.

Disconnection from God, certainly, but also from ourselves (our bodies), from each other, and from our world.”

This sense of isolation, or this ‘self-centred’ approach, is plunging us as a culture—as a species—into increasingly destructive behavior. If we want to reclaim wonder in our lives, reconnecting with God, with ourselves, with each other, and with the world is of paramount importance.

We know connection and relationship is so important to God that God chose to take on flesh in order to be Immanuel, God with us. And entered our broken world so we might learn what it means to love and be loved. We know this theoretically but this morning, my challenge to you is to strive to know this with all your heart, body, mind and soul.

So how can we reconnect with God, with ourselves, with others, and with the world? And through this reconnection, how can we enlarge our perspective and see ourselves and others, as well as all creation through God’s eyes?

HOW?

Let me offer a few suggestions.

I’ve adapted some of these suggestions from an article in Sojourners called “Your Tired Body. Our Exploited Earth. They’re Connected.” By Melody Zhang.

  1. We need to start with our own bodies. The lifelong work of undoing extraction and exploitation begins within our own bodies, ourselves. We can resist extracting our poor bodies for productivity and profit by listening to our body’s needs for rest; we can seek out ways to move and work our whole bodies throughout the day in celebration that we were truly made to move and live in the world. Through full-bodied activities like gardening, making food, or creating things, we begin to restore the dignity and essentiality of embodied work in ourselves and extend this respect and dignity for other bodies who practice this for a living.
  2. We can be fully attentive and present in our everyday lives to what is around us, and the choices we make. When we take a walk or go outside, we can do our best to be fully there — to notice details in the little wonders of the earth and of every person we pass by, each created to reflect a slice of God’s full image. “Sustained attention blooms into care, which breeds real responsibility.”
    So as much as we can, we may try and live our lives with deliberate attention to everything: how and where we get our food, how we move around and get from place to place, whom we talk to and whom we might willfully ignore. Over time, we may finally become fully attuned and responsive to both the joys and cries of the little piece of earth that envelops us and to the cries of our neighbors, especially neighbors who don’t live or look like us. This kind of practice, over time, can build vital place, vital community.
  3. We can cultivate deep wells of spiritual disciplines to nurture a heart oriented towards care-fullness and cherishing of a vital community. It takes awareness and consciousness. We need to remember it is God’s spirit that is behind any meaningful restoration work that happens in ourselves and our communities. Form a regular practice of solitude, worship, and prayer to listen to where and how God is leading you and our community.
    Being fully attentive, present in our day-to-day lives, and making conscious choices helps us grow in our care and responsibility towards ourselves, others and the world.

Only then can we begin to look at people and situations beyond our ‘self-centred’ perspective and through a God-centred and other-centred perspective.

I like how Dallas Willard put it: “We don’t believe something by merely saying we believe it, or even when we believe that we believe it. We believe something when we act as if it were true.”

Question 3 (Open)
What is one thing you would like to commit to doing as a conscious follow-through action?

It can be a specific action such as something that contributes to environmental sustainability or the lifting up of human dignity, or the protection of animals, etc. Or even listening to your body’s need for rest. But whatever you choose, my hope is that our specific actions will be undergirded by our deepening awareness and spiritual practices. Don’t just do something because it’s a new fad. Educate yourself, slow down, be present, make conscious choices in your everyday life.

As a church, we are always thinking of ways to nurture spiritual practices together as a community. Practices that will help us slow down, be present with God and others, and hopefully help us make more conscious choices in our day-to-day life. If you can’t think of something specific you might like to commit to doing, I have a few suggestions for you.

Next month, as part of our After Church Events (ACE) program, we will be holding a series of different activities in this season.

The painting of the faith rock will give you an opportunity to reflect on your faith journey and the faith journey of our community. In July, the prayer rope making session introduces you to an ancient practice by the Orthodox Church. The tying of the rope is a tactile way of being present as we engage in prayer, and it is a spiritual practice that we can engage together in community. The making of kimchi is an activity that engages our full bodies and gives us an opportunity to learn something new and have fun together. You will hear more information during the announcements.

Whatever action you choose, I encourage you to keep at it. If you chose to listen to your body’s need for rest, then keep at it. Don’t just make it a one-off action. Cultivate a habit or practice along the way. On a deeper level, I hope the action you choose will contribute in some way to nurturing a God-centred and other-centred perspective in your life.

  1. How God sees us changes the way we see ourselves
  2. How God see us changes the way we see others – human dignity
  3. How God sees us changes the way we see all of creation – the Earth, nature, animals, all living beings and the environment

We have been given the responsibility of caring for all that God has created – the Earth and all living beings. We are called to be stewards, not exploiters.

As you take time to gaze on the beauty of God and contemplate on the wonder and love of God, my prayer is that you will:

  1. Regain your wonder of God – God for us, God alongside us, God within us – the One who enables, enfolds and enlivens all things.
  2. Recapture that love for self and others – a love that upholds human dignity.
  3. Realign your priorities and make conscious choices as one who takes responsibility and cares for the Earth and all living beings.
  4. Reclaim the right to choose your story, and rest for your body.

Remember you are unique because you can choose your story. You can choose what the world can become. At the end of your vapor of a life, what story will you want to tell of your part in this divine cosmos?

May it be a story of fierce love, conscious choices, wonder and awe that the God of the universe loves us, and has tasked us to go out and love the world.
Amen.