I have always loved mysteries. Anyone else here enjoy mysteries—either reading or watching them? Scooby Doo is one of my favorites—“And I would’ve gotten away with it too if it wasn’t for those meddling kids and their dog.” I was an X-Files fan for a while. I loved the slogan, “The Truth Is Out There.” I super love the new Sherlock Holmes with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. I wonder if what we like best about mysteries is that we feel like we could solve any mystery if only we had the right clues, had the right information and put all the pieces together. In our society, we usually see mysteries as something we solve, like a puzzle, and then get on to the next mystery. Today I want to talk about a different kind of mystery and how experiencing mystery can help us live with more power.
When we talk about the mysteries of the universe, we begin to have a sense of this other kind of mystery. What are some of the mysteries of the universe? [Take suggestions from the congregation.] One of my favorite books awhile back was The Great Unknown: Seven Journeys to the Frontiers of Science, written by Marcus Du Sautoy from Cambridge. The ones he picks out are:
1. Chaos — there is a paradoxical order to the chaotic systems around us, and sometimes order comes out of chaos. Is there free will?
2. Matter — The nature of it, how it’s put together, how something that is mostly space in between atoms or molecules can feel solid to us. What is dark matter?
3. Quantum Physics — How the way the smallest things in the universe interact seem to defy our usual thinking
4. Universe — How big is it? What shape is it? Do we really live in a multiverse? Is the speed of light an unbreakable barrier? Is there anyone else out there?
5. Time — When did it begin? You’re supposed to laugh! Why does it only seem to run in one direction for us when the math says it goes both directions?
6. Consciousness — What is a mind? How does it begin? Where does it come from? Where is it in our brain? Are animals conscious? Are we in charge of anything?
7. Infinity —Can we make sense of things beyond us?With each of these mysteries, if we study or explore the mystery more, do we solve the mystery? Usually I think we just go deeper into the mystery—the more answers we find the more questions we have. It’s just as mysterious as before!
Take for example the mystery of Jesus that Paul talks about in our passage. For thousands of years, God had an exclusive relationship with the Hebrew people who later were called Jews. Nobody else received God’s promises, only the Jews. And then Jesus comes and as Paul writes in verse 6: “This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” Why would God change, seemingly overnight, to offer the whole world (including us) the Good News of God’s love? It’s a mystery!
Paul talks about another mystery in verse 10, “God’s intent was that now, through the church, the many-splendored wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms…” It’s a mystery because sometimes we in the church can be really flawed, but the power of sacrifice can change us.
In The Christian Leader, Don Ratzlaff retells a story from Ernest Gordon’s Miracle on the River Kwai, set in World War II. The Scottish soldiers, forced by their Japanese captors to labor on a jungle railroad, had degenerated to barbarous behavior, but one afternoon something happened:
A shovel was missing. The officer in charge became enraged. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced, or else. When nobody in the squadron budged, the officer got his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot….It was obvious the officer meant what he had said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer put away his gun, picked up a shovel, and beat the man to death. When it was over, the survivors picked up the [body] and carried it with them to the second tool check. This time, no shovel was missing. Indeed, there had been a miscount at the first check point.
The word spread like wildfire through the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others!...The incident had a profound effect….The men began to treat each other like brothers.
When the victorious Allies swept in, the survivors, human skeletons, lined up in front of their captors…(and instead of attacking their captors) insisted: “No more hatred. No more killing. Now what we need is forgiveness.”
For me, this points to the mystery that I found so shattering. Why would Jesus die for me? I know me pretty well, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t do it. But Jesus knows each of us—all the ways we fall short—and He still loves us, is still willing to go to the cross for us. As Max Lucado put it, “What makes a Christian a Christian is not perfection, but forgiveness.” This experience of forgiveness and sacrifice that we find in Jesus has the power to not just change us, but to change the world.
These are all mysteries—and we will never solve them. But God can reveal insights to us as we try to experience these mysteries in all their fullness. What does it mean for God to change His mind to include people who had no claim on Him? We can experience that mystery as we welcome people who have no reason to expect a welcome. When we help someone we do not know or invite someone who thinks they don’t belong, we experience this mystery of God. What does it mean that God reveals His many-splendored power and wisdom through us the church? We can experience this mystery by caring for others who may not be able to return the favor. We experience this mystery as we invest our talents, gifts and passions in the loving of others, so they might experience the same love, grace and forgiveness we have experienced. Where do we find the time and the energy? How can we possibly love the way Jesus loved? My friends, that too is a mystery. But I can promise you that as we live with the same kind of sacrificial love, the same kind of offering up of ourselves because we can—that mystery comes alive in us, comes alive with power. And so miraculously, we become part of the mystery as we live with Christ’s power in and through us. Other people will look at us and, not understanding how we can love like that, they begin to catch a glimpse of how Jesus might love them like that too.