We modern, 21st century North Americans like logic and rational thinking. We like to analyse everything, to dissect, pull apart, and examine anything and everything.
In our scientific, fact-based, information-obsessed culture, we find it hard to deal with open-ended questions, or living with not knowing something, or encountering a real mystery or conundrum.
We sit uncomfortably with allowing intuition, or gut feeling, or personal anecdotal experiences to carry any weight or authority.
We undervalue the whole realm of mystery, of not knowing, of imagination and awe.
And yet, so much of life is mystery, when you think about it. Why do people do what they do? Who can explain that, exactly, and fully? Why does life happen in the way it does? These are big questions, having no pat, simple answers.
And even as we run around, busy with our tasks, striving after our rational pursuits, seeking to accomplish and accumulate what we logically think is of utmost importance, the mystery of life suddenly stops us in our tracks.
And we can do nothing more, than to behold, in awe and wonder, the mystery of life.
I recently had an encounter with this mystery of life.
Some of you know I have an identical twin brother, who lives now in the Ottawa area. Just last week, Martin my brother was in the area for Luther Hostel – a learning conference at the seminary in Waterloo. We don’t see each other too often, and so we had a good visit at our place one evening.
Two things about our visit completely astounded us.
The first thing: As Martin was putting to bed my two daughters, they were in the bathroom brushing their teeth. Martin stood in the hallway, his left arm raised and pointing to the bedrooms, in a kind of playful, soldier-like gesture, trying to hurry them up to bed.
I came up the stairs, and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. That’s the exact same thing I do with my girls hurrying them to bed many a night.
Second thing in the same evening: Martin was playing ‘Mario Kart’ Wii with the girls. As you may know, before doing the races, the players need to choose their character – Luigi, Toad, Peach, Bowser, Mario – from about 20 different characters in all. And, players need to choose their vehicle – from a number of different kinds of motorcycles and race cars.
Well, wouldn’t you know it, Martin chose Luigi, and the race car with the wide big wheels – the exact same character, and the exact same car, as I always do whenever I play Mario Kart with the girls. Luigi on the race car with the big wheels. Always. And he too, when he’s at home.
We were amazed.
Now I know we’re identical twins, and it’s logical to expect that we’d have the same preferences and mind-set and so on.
But because over the last 15 years or so, we haven’t been seeing each other too often on a regular basis, the fact that we would choose to do these same ordinary things, without prior conversation or planning, was just too bizarre.
We can try to rationalize and explain some things to a certain extent, but ultimately we run up against Mystery.
This is true about our lives of faith. Experiencing the nearness of God, growing in faith and love toward God and to neighbour, often happens outside of our own control, outside our ability to explain or understand fully.
But often we think, and act, the opposite – that we somehow on our own strength and understanding, need to be doing something frenetically in order to experience God or grow in faith and love. Going on retreats. Taking course work. Ardently defending certain doctrinal positions. Diving into frenetic efforts at leadership, or volunteer work. And believing somehow that these human strategies will grow us spiritually.
But just like the seed planted in the soil, as we read in the Gospel text this morning, we like the farmer in the parable sometimes just need to sleep, and to trust, while the seed quietly grows in the soil.
We have so little to do with God’s nearness to us, that we can, literally, just sleep. To simply give ourselves permission to go to sleep, snug and safe, resting like babies in our mother’s arms. What a picture of ultimate trust in God! Would that we learn more often how to seek refuge, and truly rest in God’s loving arms!
I think sleep is the most underrated and undervalued human activity. Our bodies heal while we sleep. With enough sleep, we regain a healthier more balanced perspective on life. We can make better decisions, and find the strength and courage we need to do what we need to do.
But not doing in a frenetic or anxious way. Rather doing out of a calm centre, out of a patient love, out of peaceful and confident conviction.
Back in the summer of 1992, Hurricane Andrew swept through areas around Miami, Florida, destroying or severely damaging some 117,000 houses. But strangely enough, in one devastated area littered with debris, 27 homes stood almost perfectly intact, seemingly untouched by the hurricane.
As it turned out, these 27 houses were built by Habitat for Humanity. And as you know, these homes often are built by volunteers, lay people learning on the job.
Now you’d think that of all the houses vulnerable to hurricane force winds, it would’ve been these 27 homes built by amateurs.
But surprisingly, the exact opposite was the case.
And the reason, they discovered, was that professional carpenters – conscious of costs, hours worked, contracts and such – would hurriedly put one nail every 45 centimetres.
The volunteers, on the other hand, who are seeing their work more as a labour of love for others, would’ve been less hurried, and impatient, and more caring about what they were doing. The volunteers tended to hammer a nail every 2 ½ centimetres.
Small thing. But it made a huge difference in the physical strength of the house.
See how both literally and figuratively, the power of love, of work done out of non-anxious, patient love for others, in the Spirit of Jesus, really ends up being the most enduring force, the most lasting legacy.
Our task and calling? To stand in awe at God’s creation, as we worship the Holy One in our midst. And to carry on the mission of Jesus, who promises to grow us in faith, and fervent love toward God and one another.