I like listening to a comedian named Louis CK. He’s fairly smart and doesn’t always resort to using crude language to make a point. He does a short bit on our use of language and that we waste all the good important words on really unimportant things. His rant goes on to talk about how annoyed he is that someone used the word “amazing” to describe a basket of chicken wings. “What will you say when your child is born?” he wonders “You’ve already wasted the word ‘amazing’ on a basket of wings.” And it’s true. He says the same thing about the word “genius” and that it used to be in order to be called a “genius” you had to either think something no one has ever thought before or invent a number or something. But now, an extra cup holder in a car has been called “genius.” All of this got me to thinking if we are ever amazed anymore.
This, of course, got me to thinking about this week’s Gospel. We hear that after Jesus cast out the demons from a very sick child the disciples were astounded. Astounded! When was the last time you were astounded? And why in the world were the disciples astounded? They had seen Jesus do things like this before. This was Jesus’ MO, after all. He had healed lots of people before this particular person. For the disciples, it should be old hat to watch Jesus heal people. But no. Instead, they are astounded. This tells me one of 2 things: either they never grew tired of watching Jesus heal people and they were constantly astounded or they really hadn’t been paying attention all of those other times and so to see Jesus do this really was astounding. But I get the feeling that the disciples really just hadn’t been paying attention because right after this, they go on to argue about who is the greatest.
And sadly, I can’t point my finger at the disciples without also indicating myself. I am just as guilty as the disciples when it comes to be amazed or astounded by God. I take it for granted that God is acting in my life but at the same time, I fail to look for and recognize when and how God is working in my life and in the world around me. After Jesus is transfigured and after God had spoken, Jesus was found alone. Christ alone. And that thought also convicted me because if Christ alone was at the center of my life, perhaps I would be better at paying attention.
There are a lot of things fighting for our attention these days. Some of them are great (like family or friends) and some aren’t so great (like video games, sports, or even my beloved books). And I am just as guilty as breaking the first commandment as anyone. I replace Christ alone with so many other things, including myself. I make myself into my own God. When we are willing to surrender to Christ alone, many things can happen. We might be judged (we might be seen as one of those “crazy Christians” or “Bible thumpers”). When we surrender to Christ alone, we make ourselves vulnerable. And making ourselves vulnerable means giving up control and power and freedom. Because when we claim that it is Christ alone who is the center of our lives, it means that we give all of our trust to him. And when we give up power, fear has the opportunity to set in. At the same time, fear leads to hope. Fear can cripple us, but being astounded can drive us to evangelism.
When Christ is not at the center of our lives, we can easily get distracted and miss the amazing things that God is up to in our lives. I think a lot of times when we want proof of God working in our lives, we desire big, huge, really bright neon signs. But, God doesn’t always work like that. Sometimes God works through quiet whispers. We’re so busy looking at the false gods at the center of our lives or we’re distracted waiting for a “really big sign” that we miss it. How much bigger of a sign do we need than the voice of God from heaven declaring that this person really is the son of God?
The other thing that happens when Christ alone is the center of our lives, we are forced to come face to face with our own sin. This, of course, leads once again to vulnerability and vulnerability leads to a loss of power. It’s kind of a vicious cycle. But at the same time, sometimes being vulnerable leaves us with nothing but freedom. If we know we are freed in Christ, the time it takes to hide from our sin is no longer. When we come face to face with our own sin we admit that we need forgiveness, we desire forgiveness and once again, that forgiveness leads to freedom. And in that freedom we are empowered to serve our friends and neighbors in the name of Christ.
See, we get astounded by things because we haven’t been paying attention. Much like the disciples, who wouldn’t have been that astounded had they been paying attention. We’re too busy being astounded by simple small things (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) that when we actually stop to pay attention to what Christ is doing in our lives we usually wind up being, well, astounded.
As we draw closer to Lent, what is it in your life that you have placed in the center? What is the most important thing in your life? What is at the center of your life? And if it’s Christ then that’s great. But, does your faith come in second or third, maybe even tenth place? Here are some of the things I find astounding: Sunday mornings are no longer sacred. I am in a battle against televised sports, club sports, school sports, school activities, lost sleep, and work. I often tell people that I need to be in life-giving relationships. There is no relationship more life giving than the one you have with Christ. It starts at baptism and doesn’t end, not even in death.
When we are marked with those ashes on Wednesday, we will hear the words “you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” That is astounding! The reminder of our mortality is humbling. We are dust. We’re not our friends, our bank account, our body, our minds, our abilities, not even our families. We are dust. And out of the dust, God forms us. We are formed alone by God alone to be in service for Christ alone. As we prepare for the next 40 days that will ultimately lead us to the cross, we should be prepared to be astounded. Start looking for Christ in your lives in the small ways and the large ways. Resist the urge to put anything else at the center of your life other than Christ. Luther believed firmly in 3 things: sola scripture, sola fidelis, and sola Christus. Scripture alone, faith alone, and Christ alone. Nothing else is life giving.