Note: Resources mentioned near the end of the sermon are all linked off of eastmanfirst.com/lent
Have you ever found yourself awestruck?
My first semester of seminary was overwhelming. I felt lost, I felt overburdened with work, I’d chosen to take an extra class, cross-listed with the law school, and that now seemed like a mistake. At the time, it was all too much.
So often when starting something new, life is like that: overwhelming; feeling overburdened after the shine and excitement have worn off. And that was the case for me in late September of 2012, as I was about a month or so into my first semester of seminary.
On that day, we were learning about Exodus; specifically, the story of the people’s slavery and God’s deliverance through what we now call Passover. My professor spoke of this great deed of the Lord, this work of righteousness that endures forever. Then, he taught us a song in Hebrew. It’s a song that’s thousands of years old, handed down from generation to generation to recall this great work of salvation, this marvelous deed of the Lord.
I don’t know Hebrew. Just about all the Hebrew I know today is in that song. But there was something about singing that song that left me awestruck.
The idea of singing with the billions of humans who have come before me and sung that same song, praising the same God who still saves.
The idea of singing in the ancient language of the people of God, the one that connected me to those billions.
But also just the knowledge of God’s salvation, of God’s mighty acts, of God’s righteous deeds, of God’s works on behalf of humans.
Who are we that God is mindful of us? Who are we that God would choose to save us? I felt so small and yet so big because I knew that, even in my human state, God takes thought of me.
And feeling all that, I wept. I don’t often weep. But I did. Right there in class. Sitting next to my friend Tim. I couldn’t help myself.
I was awestruck.
Have you ever found yourself awestruck?
This Psalmist has. Let’s hear our scripture for this morning. It’s Psalm 111.
Have you ever found yourself awestruck?
Maybe at the birth of a child? I wept at the birth of both of my children, completely overcome in awe and wonder.
Maybe at your wedding? I wept then, too, completely overcome in awe and wonder.
Maybe at the wedding of a child? I haven’t experienced that yet, but I can imagine it being full of awe and wonder.
Maybe at some other occasion, when life swept you away in the awe of the majesty of the moment.
Those moments of majesty we can rightly call great works of the Lord, righteousness acts of God, wonderful deeds of our savior, just as this Psalm puts it.
After praising the Lord, the psalmist tells us that she is caught up in awe and wonder of how marvelous, how great, is our God. She says in verse 2, in an alternate translation: “Great are the deeds of the LORD, discovered by all who desire them.” The version we read a moment ago says “studied by all who delight in them,” but I like the idea of discovery leading to desire.
For we can all relate to times we’ve discovered something and it’s led to greater desire. Sometimes, it’s a new hobby, like when I discovered hunting. Sometimes, it’s when falling in love, like when I first fell in love with Dana. Regardless, we know that discovery of something we love leads to greater desire for it.
The Psalmist has discovered how wonderful the deeds of the Lord are. All the things God has done for the people. All the ways God has saved and provided for them. And who are they, mere humans, that God is mindful of them? Just like when I was in seminary that September day, the Psalmist is overcome by the reality that God would choose to care for her.
She is awestruck.
Have you ever found yourself awestruck? By your faith?
The Psalmist’s faith is what inspires, it’s what leaves her awestruck. It’s a faith that comes from a journey of discovery, leading her to desire God all the more. And the Psalmist tells us this fact: that discovery leading to desire is the beginning of wisdom. It leads her to revere God, which is another way of saying “the fear of the Lord.” That reverence is the beginning of wisdom.
So not only do we find the power of being awestruck by God leading to faith, but that faith is in fact the beginning of wisdom, for that faith is grounded in reverence of the God who would take thought for us, who would act on our behalf, who would save us. And that reverence grows, and the wisdom grows, as we desire God more and more because of what we have discovered that God has done; God’s saving works on our behalf.
Sometimes in life, moments like weddings and births leave us awestruck, in awe of what God has done. The love that’s on display at a wedding, the coming of age moment for our children as they get married, the miracle of birth, a phrase I didn’t understand and thought was overblown until I had my own. I can point to many other moments in life that have left me awestruck, mostly relating around my family, for it’s in my family that I most often encounter the face of God.
Think of your own families. What moments have left you awestruck?
And then there are moments of faith that have left me awestruck. There are moments outside, in nature, that create that feeling of awe and wonder. There are moments of reading scripture, or in prayer, that create that a deep and overwhelming sense of God’s abiding presence. We feel caught up, enraptured, by that presence. And that presence, that discovery of God so powerfully close among us, leads to greater desire. We want more of those experiences!
Think of your own faith. What moments have left you awestruck?
The Psalmist speaks to just those moments. Her faith is encouraged. Just like Charles Wesley says in one of my favorite hymns of his, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.” The very last phrase of that hymn says, “Lost in wonder, love and praise.” That’s where the psalmist is. She is lost in wonder love and praise.
She and Charles Wesley are because of what they know of God’s works for humans, specifically God’s salvation. The first verse of that hymn sums up Psalm 111: “Love divine, all loves excelling, joy of heaven, to earth come down; fix in us thy humble dwelling, all thy faithful mercies crown! Jesus, thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art; visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart.”
Charles Wesley is lost in wonder, love, and praise. So is the Psalmist.
They are left awestruck by their faith.
Have you ever found yourself awestruck? By your faith?
What if, what if, the answer is no?
Perhaps you’ve never known your faith to leave you awestruck. And so, as I ask that repetitive question, the answer comes back over and over again, no.
Perhaps you’ve known a few moments like that, but it’s been a long time, or they’ve been very infrequent. Perhaps only once or twice. So, as I ask that repetitive question, the answer comes back in your hearts, no, not really, maybe once or twice.
So what if, this morning, this kind of awe, being “lost in wonder, love, and praise,” Is foreign to you?
It’s perfectly okay if that’s your reality. In fact, it’s perfectly normal.
I was always jealous of people who seemed to regularly become lost in wonder, love, and praise. I wanted that kind of faith, I wanted to be easily overcome by the Spirit, I wanted that sensitivity to God’s movement. In fact, part of why I left the faith for so long, why I was agnostic for several years, was because I found that my faith lacked in that way. I knew about God, I knew the tenets of the tradition that raised me, I understood intellectually, but I didn’t feel much; at least, not very often.
And then, God calling me back to faith and then calling me into ministry felt more like wrestling than like being lost in wonder, love, and praise. It felt more like Jacob’s ladder than Psalm 111. So I wouldn’t say that even that call back into faith caused me to be full of awe. It felt more akin to conviction than praise.
It wasn’t until that day in September, sitting in my Old Testament class in my first semester of seminary, that I found myself lost in wonder, love, and praise. In reflection, I came away with two thoughts. First, this feeling of being awestruck was new to my faith. And second, that I found myself awestruck this time because salvation had become real to me.
That last point, of salvation becoming real, is the key to understanding this scripture and to having a faith that leaves us lost in wonder, love, and praise; that leaves us awestruck.
We talk often in the South about being saved, about having a personal relationship with God, but it was at that moment, when I was 29 years old, that salvation became real and personal. And I was lost in wonder, love, and praise over it.
For Psalm 111 and Charles Wesley’s hymn, the most mighty, the most righteous, the most astounding act of God is salvation. God has chosen to take action on behalf of humans to rescue us from a life of slavery to sin and death and given us a new life marked by freedom in God’s love.
Salvation, the freedom God gives us in this life to live in God’s love, set free to simply go and be who God created us to be, given license to be the authentic selves God created us to be; that reality hit me hard that day and has never left.
For Psalm 111, for Charles Wesley’s hymn, for me, and for us today, the beginning of being awestruck, the beginning of finding ourselves lost in wonder, love, and praise, is in valuing our salvation.
What does your salvation mean to you?
If not much, or if you’ve never found the fact that you are saved to have caused you to be awestruck, lost in wonder, love, and praise, that’s okay. In fact, I’d say that’s the norm. Many of us get saved when we’re young, and many times that’s because we don’t want to go to hell. Saying that salvation is just about going to heaven cheapens salvation; in fact, it’s an insult to what God does through salvation. Being saved is about this life, too; in fact, in the Methodist Church we say it has more to do with this life than with the next.
But if we get saved at a young age, we don’t tend to think much of it. And yet, this primary salvific work of God is the key to having a faith that leaves us lost in wonder, love, and praise. If we want to feel awestruck more often in our faith, learning to appreciate our salvation is the first step.
And to learn that appreciation, we should go to God and pray, asking God to give us that appreciation, asking God to inspire within our hearts an awe and wonder about our salvation. That prayer might sound like Wesley’s second verse:
Breathe, o breathe, thy loving Spirit, into every troubled breast! Let us all in thee inherit, let us find thy second rest. Take away our bent to sinning; Alpha and Omega be; end of faith, as its beginning, set our hearts at liberty.”
Sometimes, it’s helpful to pray with someone else’s words. But sometimes, it’s helpful to pray just a simple prayer:
Lord, teach me how great my salvation is.
The beginning of being lost in wonder, love, and praise, the beginning of having a faith that leaves us awestruck, is in discovering the power of our salvation, of God’s salvation of all of us. This is one of those things that if we ask for this, if we ask to find ourselves dumbfounded by God’s works, God will provide. I have no doubt.
And so, we must go to God in routine and pray for this awareness, this appreciation. As we seek after God on a regular basis, we will gradually awaken to the mystery, the beauty, and the wonder of our salvation. Then, we will find ourselves more often lost in wonder, love, and praise.
But the key to that is routine. Establishing a regular, prayerful, routine. It’s easy after this sermon to say a quick prayer asking for a deeper appreciation of our salvation. But we need to cultivate relationship and that comes through regular, routine, interaction with God.
Lent is coming up and we’re going to spend lots of time talking about establishing a regular prayerful routine. For it’s through that regular interaction with God that we discover the great works of God, how much God has saved us over and over again. It’s then that we, like the Psalmist, find discovery leading to desire, leading to reverence of God, deepening our love.
To enter into that journey, I have launched three resources for cultivating a daily habit. And a fourth is on the way. These we will be referring to throughout Lent, but I encourage you today to get a head start. Use them to cultivate that daily habit. They are:
Praying the Psalms daily, just like last year, but starting the cycle over.
Reading scripture daily. I’ve posted four different daily reading plans that can be combined or taken one at a time.
Praying scripture using an easy process called Lectio Divina, outlined on the website.
Whatever we choose to do: pray the Psalms, pray scripture with Lectio Divina, or read a daily Bible reading plan, let us choose a daily habit. Let us make a daily habit of being with God through any of these means or others.
The beginning of freedom, the beginning of finding an appreciation for our salvation, the beginning of having a faith that leaves us awestruck, the beginning of being lost in wonder, love, and praise, the beginning indeed of wisdom, as the psalm says, is in a daily, routine, habit, of being with God.
Because to know God, to desire God, to delight in God, to discover God, requires that we spend regular time with God. Then, we will know the glory of our salvation. Then, we will discover ourselves lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Have you ever found yourself awestruck by your faith?
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.