1 Kings 18:20-39 | Psalm 96 | Galatians 1:1-12 | Luke 7:1-10
It occurs to me that to get our attention these days, things are either all or nothing, really bad or really good. The news tends toward the overly dramatic, creating sound bytes or headlines that grab our attention or get our adrenaline pumping. How often do we think or say “That’s horrible!” or “That’s amazing!” Perhaps like me, you’ve become a little numb to all the drama, especially when it’s mostly horrible. Maybe we’ve forgotten what it’s like or how to be amazed.
If we sort the information we receive into buckets we label either horrible or amazing, our “horrible” bucket is overflowing. Thanks to our ability to communicate instantly worldwide and distribute information nearly as quickly, we can know about almost anything anywhere, especially if it’s tragic. In the car in the mornings, I sometimes brace myself to listen to Morning Edition on NPR. I listen to the most recent bombings, conflicts, debates, crashes, market reports, and research–all in the matter of a few minutes. This past week there was a report released from the World Health Organization that in the past two years there have been 1,000 deaths in the Doctors Without Borders organization, 60% of which were intentional attacks on the medical facilities themselves. This statistic strikes particularly hard because we realize that the victims are medical professionals there to help the defenseless in the tumultuous and under-served regions…or are the defenseless themselves.
With this report lingering in my consciousness, I was looking forward in our church calendar, looking up readings in our lectionary for this next weekend’s Women’s Institute. We have lesser feasts that honor not only saints but also martyrs, those who have died in defense of the faith. Thursday and Friday this next week we commemorate martyrs of the church, people whose lives were cut short by others who were threatened by the faithful and their work, their mission to spread the gospel.
The way our minds work and make associations, I found myself making a connection between the victims of violence–those associated with Doctors Without Borders–and their desire to serve and heal those who otherwise wouldn’t have access to care. The techs, nurses, doctors, and others knew the risks of their assignment and went forth bravely, much like the fallen soldiers we remember on Monday. In this moment of connection, I get a sense of the courage, purpose, and determination that exists in the willingness to face whatever may come because there is something good at stake. There is liberty to defend. There is an orphaned child to be nursed in hope. There are traumatized men and women who need to be reminded that there is a future worth defending not just with military might but also with compassion. That good is worth our very life.
This connection, this bit of insight, doesn’t make the news less horrible, but it does allow me to contribute something unsaid yet understood toward the amazing side of things. The services contributed by Doctors Without Borders and other humanitarian organizations, let alone the services offered by our military are often, I’m sorry to say, taken for granted . . . until we meet someone or hear a story that reminds us how much is at stake when they commit to serve, especially in dangerous territory. Their willingness to serve, even to death, is truly amazing and worthy of every remembrance we can offer.
Another bit of news recently was something of a different nature, something that immediately came across as amazing: the laughing Chewbacca mom video that went viral on Facebook, watched by more than 151 million people. If you’re among the few that haven’t seen the video, I can tell you that it’s a phone video of a mom in her van in a Kohl’s parking lot. The mom wants to show off her birthday gift to her friends. She makes clear the gift is for herself and not her kids and then reveals her plastic Star Wars Chewbacca mask. The mask has this great feature that when you open your mouth or lower your jaw, it makes the Wookie talking sound. That doesn’t seem all that amazing, but what happens is that the woman gets tickled when she sees herself in the mask and hears the Wookie-speak. She laughs and laughs. Belly-shaking, tear-producing laughter. When she finally removes the mask, she wipes away her laughing tears and tells her viewers, “Have an incredible day; it’s the simple joys,” as she ends the recording laughing some more.
Her name is Candace, a mom squeezing in time to do something for herself before she picks up her kids from school. What’s amazing is that in just over a week, millions of people have laughed with her. For almost four minutes, they tasted her simple joy and were able to pause for a moment and delight in life. Not surprisingly, that’s something Candace intended. She also happens to be a worship leader and church volunteer in Texas and gives all thanks to God for the joy in her life. Maybe that’s what people tasted and shared so readily–so hungry are we for the amazingly good and joyful in life. Have we forgotten how simple it is to be joyful?
A willingness to serve and a joyful heart are undoubtedly significant ingredients in creating the amazing. With the upcoming music festival, I’m sure many will be amazed. Musicians pour their hearts and souls into hours of practice and rehearsal and attention to all the details that make for a memorable performance. (I’m sure Lynn might add that there’s sometimes blood, sweat, and tears, too.) I was listening to an interview with cellist Yo-Yo Ma the other day, and he shared that in his understanding of life, our role as humans is to participate fully, to show up and ask, “What can I do to help?” Because we often don’t know the answer, we’re in a vulnerable position. If we mean it, we’re asking selflessly, for a purpose greater than ourselves. If we mean it, we ask humbly because we’re not trying to prove anything. Yo-Yo Ma says later in the interview that we’re just showing that what we do makes us all better. Having an outlook that chooses joy and embodies hospitality, Yo-Yo Ma makes incredible music whether he plays solo or with others, music that inspires awe and wonder. That’s what he does to participate fully, to the benefit of us all.
A doctor’s service, a mother’s infectious laugh, a musician’s talent–however simple or profound–they are all amazing in their connection with others. Their dedication and joy reveals the beauty of what is readily available to us all when we reach beyond ourselves.
One man selflessly, vulnerably, and humbly sought out another’s help to heal his slave. Rather than ignore the slave or chalk it up as another tally in a list of horrible events, he recalled someone different, someone with power similar to but even greater than his own. For a moment he might have wondered, but so certain was the centurion in Jesus’ might and power, that he asked Jesus only to speak his word, and the centurion knew that it would be done.
Yet it was Jesus who was amazed.
To amaze someone doesn’t only mean to be surprised. It can mean to be filled with wonder. In our gospel today, the most amazing thing is not that the slave was healed–at a distance, even without a verbal command that we know of, as awesome as that is. What was most amazing–enough to amaze the Son of God–was the faith of one to come forward, respectfully and humbly, to petition on behalf of his slave. The faith of the centurion, one presumed to be an enemy to the Jews, amazed Jesus. Maybe in that moment when Jesus recognized the faith of the centurion, the truth of his heart, he recognized the opening of the hearts of those whom had previously seemed closed to following His way. Maybe Jesus was both surprised at the man’s turn toward God and filled with wonder at what it meant for the future of the God’s kingdom.
How often do we amaze the Divine?
How often do we move forward in the defense of our faith, in the defense of the good, for the benefit of our neighbor, a stranger, or our enemy? How often does our delight in God erupt as joy so as to transcend all barriers and kindle light and life and love where there had been an abundance of death and fear? My guess is that it happens way more often than we realize because we are preoccupied with protecting ourselves from what is horrible in this world. Being Christian, we didn’t sign up for a safe and easy way of life, nor did we sign up to be ignorant and oblivious. We signed up to follow Jesus, and today Jesus shows us that we are to be amazed–amazed at unexpected realizations, simple joys, beauty abundant, and the power of our faith in Christ. And all thanks be to God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we also signed up to be amazing.