“Wonder – FULL!” a message by Dr. Bruce Havens Coral Isles Church, UCC October 30, 2022 Psalm 77 1I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. 2In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. 3I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. Selah 4You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. 5I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago. 6I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit: 7“Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? 8Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time? 9Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” Selah 10And I say, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” 11I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old. 12I will meditate on all your work, and muse on your mighty deeds. 13Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God? 14You are the God who works wonders; you have displayed your might among the peoples. 15With your strong arm you redeemed your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph. Selah 16When the waters saw you, O God, when the waters saw you, they were afraid; the very deep trembled. 17The clouds poured out water; the skies thundered; your arrows flashed on every side. 18The crash of your thunder was in the whirlwind; your lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. 19Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen. 20You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
Thanks to Jimmy Stewart we all know “It’s a Wonderful Life,” right? And all you have to do is listen to Satchmo sing the song and believe it is a “Wonderful World.” And everyone knows we all… “wonder, wonder, wonder, who – who wrote the book of love!”
The truth is the word “wonder” has many ways it can be used. If we say something is wonderful that’s good. If we wonder about something it may be because it is amazingly, awesomely cool or it may be a cause for confusion and concern: I wonder why he thought you should wear a plaid shirt with striped pants?
Did you ever watch the TV series, “Wonder Years?” I was initially attracted to it because I thought the title meant it was going to show me all the great things about being an adolescent. To that point in my young life I had found it not so much “wonder – full,” as more like, “I wonder where that zit came from?” Or, “I wonder why she won’t go out with me?” My wonder years were mostly wondering about why stuff was so weird or hard or whatever.
You would think that being older I would focus more on the “wonder – full” things about life like the beautiful, blue-green ocean, the wonderful taste of coffee first thing in the morning, and my wonderful wife, right? But truth is I find myself more in the other type of wondering: “I wonder why I came into this room?” “I wonder why those people believe that about that politician?” “I wonder when or if the Jaguars will ever win another football game?” Not exactly “wonderful” thoughts.
This all brings me to our Psalm this morning. When I read it as I was preparing I was struck by the use of the word “wonder.” It is used several times in a very specific way. It lifts up the “wonderful works of God.” All the ways God had intervened in the writer’s life and in the life of the people of Israel.
Now, it is true the writer doesn’t start out on a wonderful note. He is in a deep, deep funk. He starts out with:
I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. 2 In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out
without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. 3 I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints.
4 You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. 5 I consider the days of old and remember the years of long ago. 6 I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever and never again be favorable? 8 Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?”
Wow! Things are hard! God’s love? He ain’t feelin’ it! God’s wonders? Far from his mind to start with. But he makes a radical shift to celebrating all that God has done, all the “wonders” God has worked on behalf of his people. So this intrigued me. What is it that made that shift and what was it about the works of God the writer found so “wonderful?”
It is interesting because verse 10 seems to be a turning point. Our version says, “It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” Read it one way and it seems to be saying “the right hand of the Most High has changed my grief.” In other words, God has changed the writer from grieving to hope. Read it another way and it is saying, “I am grieved because the right hand of the Most High has changed.” In this way it means the Most High is no longer compassionate and kind. I tend to go with the first meaning because the verses that follow all seem to call to mind the ways God’s works have been wonderful. It reminds us how God saved them from slavery and oppression and injustice in Egypt.
11 I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old. 12 I will meditate on all your work and muse on your mighty deeds. 13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God? 14 You are the God who works wonders;
So for me this is still a time of wonders. Sure, I wonder about the security of our democracy at the hands of those who seem to be driven by hate and fear of anyone unlike themselves. I wonder about my health. I wonder about my children and their welfare. I wonder how people can believe some of the things they believe about God. But in the face of all of this I take comfort and strength in the words of this writer.
I believe much more in a God who does wonders, and who does mighty works than I do a God of punishment or hate. I believe in a God who has moved people to do wonderful, amazing things for good in the face of great evils in the past. I believe in a God who sent a son to show us how to live lives of faithfulness and loving justice. He showed the world the power of love to conquer evil, and injustice. And I believe in a God who, when Rome used its mighty power to unjustly execute many on a cross, including Jesus of Nazareth, thinking it would end the story there, God showed another way. God showed that evil, and injustice, and hatred cannot defeat the mighty power of God’s love. We call it resurrection. The Psalm writer might count it as one of the “wonders” of God.
We may wonder about it – how it works, if it happened, what is life like in resurrection mode – but God simply does what God does without explanation or excuses. Creates universes, gives life to all creatures in this particular world, calls a ragtag group of slaves his beloved and raised up a leader to bring them out of that suffering. And the story of the one we call God’s son reminds us of these things and more. It reminds us that even he suffered. It reminds us God did not stop doing mighty works or wonderful signs of love and life. And it gives me hope that God has not stopped yet. The other powerful point this Psalm makes to me is in the last two verses:
19Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen. 20You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.
What that tells me is that God’s mighty works and wonder – full ways are not always seen in miracles. In fact, they may be as unseen as God’s footsteps in the mighty waters. God led the people out of slavery and misery using two very human, very fallible people to do it – Moses and Aaron. One was a murderer and the other aided and abetted people in making false idols to dance around the minute the other was out of sight. You think God can’t work through you? You are too old, too arthritic, too poor, too rich, too whatever. God chooses some strange – and some “wonder – full” people to do mighty things and to do small things as well.
My prayer and hope for you and for me this morning is that we will turn to the wonders of God’s mighty works. I hope we will remember the wonder -full things God has done for this wonderful world, and for us to have wonderful lives and take heart. I hope I will find, and you will remember ways to find new strength, new hope, new enthusiasm to be part of God’s wonderful works, to put your efforts towards love instead of hate, towards doing good instead of evil, and seeking to forgive, to understand, to have compassion, and to find ways to build bridges to and with other people instead of burning bridges, and burning people.
It is a wonderful world. May you enjoy a wonderful life. And may we all sing and work and rejoice in the mighty power of God. AMEN.