The Need for Surprise, Variety and Uncertainty
Luke 4:12-22 Feb. 2, 2020
Rev. David J. Clark
I was telling someone the other day about one of my favorite restaurants. “Oh, you just have to go there.”
“What’s good there?” They asked.
“They have this mac and cheese with hot Cheetos on it.” I said.
“I don’t like hot Cheetos. What else do they have?” They asked.
What else? Who cares! “I don’t know, I get the same thing every time.”
“How do you know it’s a “good restaurant” if you get the same thing every time?”
How many of you get the same thing every time? How many of you drive the same way to work? Who reads the last page first so you know how it turns out? Who loves spoilers, to know what’s going to happen before you see the show? Have the same breakfast, go to the same news sources, keep participating in the same things? How many of you feel like, in one area of your life or another, you are in a rut?
There’s no shame in it. It happens to all of us. In our sermon series, we are talking about how faith helps us meet some of our basic needs. A couple of weeks ago we talked about our need for order and control. We have to have things just so in order to clear the chaos from our minds to feel safe and think well.
Today we talk about the converse. We also have a need for surprise, variety and even an amount of uncertainty. We have more capacity for it than we give ourselves credit for. I like change, I told someone. But only when it’s my idea. But the truth is, we are created in the image of a God who digs variety. We live in an infinitely interesting and complex universe. All the galaxies and planets and shapes and colors and life forms. God didn’t create robots but humans with free will, all of us unique.
God knows we get in ruts and make our lives about work and producing and being anxious. So we were given the sabbath. It’s okay that Sunday isn’t like the rest of the week. That you aren’t producing, that you take time to enjoy. You come to worship and have a chance to look inside and find the wisdom God has put in there, to not be in a hurry and anxious but to release prayers like a fist that opens up. You get to pass on a blessing to someone else, saying “The peace of Christ be with you.” We all need blessings. To be blessed and give it away. It’s okay that Sunday isn’t exactly like Monday it reminds us of how we can make Monday through Friday better.
Our faith reminds us that variety is the spice of life. We are to enjoy creation, to cultivate the capacity for wonder and awe. To some degree, we want to act like we know what’s what. We pretend like what’s happening is what we expect. I knew that. We erase wonder. Anne Lamott says that when we get to that attitude we are in trouble.
I remember seeing the northern lights in North Dakota. I stood there with my jaw on the ground, my buddy was a know it all. It is “merely aurora borealis, energy particles from the sun interacting with the magnetic fields of the earth.” He was more impressed with his knowledge than the amazing spectacle most people have never had a chance to see.
Our capacity for wonder opens our spirits. It humbles us. It makes us curious. It leads us deeper.
One of the ironies of faith is the temptation to substitute certainty for faith. But God is mystery. We get glimpses, and flashes of insight but God always remains bigger than any concept we have, always more than we can imagine, more loving, more gracious. More dimensions. There are more than 70 different metaphors for God in the Bible. God is mother, father, rock, wind, mother hen, fire, a woman who gets down on her knees searching for a lost coin, a shepherd who seeks a lost sheep, a river. More than one thing.
My seminary professor said we can apprehend God but never fully comprehend God. Faith presents us with paradoxes. Jesus fully God and fully human. In order to gain life, we must lose it. We find our true freedom by serving. It is not an easy faith, especially if you insist on being a binary thinker. Black and white–either this or that.
When we forget that, when religious people think they have it all figured out and insist on everyone doing things their way, they get weird and dangerous.
I’ve always agreed with Fredrich Beuchner who says doubt is the ants in the pants of faith. It keeps it alive and moving. Questioning, exploring. THat’s what helps us grow.
Faith isn’t about being certain as much as it is about taking a step and trusting. 2nd Corinthians Paul talks about how we walk by faith, not by sight. You know for certain, but you trust that there is something good, loving, within and around you that will sustain you.
Last week Rev. Megan Owens preached a beautiful sermon about going into the dark with faith, that liminal space where something new can emerge. Carrie Newcomer has a beautiful song about how it’s like walking in the dark woods with nothing but a flashlight. You can only see a step or two ahead, but that’s enough. You just keep going, trusting that you are going to be okay. As 2 Corinthians says, we walk by faith not by sight.
Paul says that the higher our need for certainty, the greater our immaturity. A pastor told about her grandson, “Lukas, who is five, likes to have things a certain way. As a great lover of Mickey Mouse, he prefers to have his milk in a Mickey cup, and he makes life very difficult if the Mickey cup is in the dishwasher – Ninja Turtles won’t do. Toy Story won’t do. Even Frozen won’t do – even though he knows all the words to “Let it Go.” Same thing with his clothes – Mickey shirts are preferable. Life is simply better with Mickey Mouse at every step of the way.
When we’re adults, Paul says, we put away childish things. We can drink as easily from a Ninja Turtle cup as a Mickey cup. We can tolerate gray areas in our lives; we can get along without having all the answers; we can live with uncertainty. We can live with the fact that for now we see through the glass darkly or dimly.”
I like what one person said about how the quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with. If everything always went according to your plans, you wouldn’t be as strong as you are now. You wouldn’t have built in that much adversity–the stuff that forces you to grow, to question how you think about things, to find out how strong you can be.
Today we give God thanks for of all things, the gift of uncertainty! For what it teaches us – to let go of what we cannot control; to step forward in faith. To summon the courage to face our challenges, and to live into the trust God’s grace that surrounds us every day.