“The Mystery of God”
Text: Ephesians 3: 1-5
This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— 2 for surely you have already heard of the commission of God’s grace that was given me for you, 3 and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I wrote above in a few words, 4 a reading of which will enable you to perceive my understanding of the mystery of Christ. 5 In former generations this mystery was not made known to humankind, as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit:
I’m not sure if anything like this has happened to you or not; it seems like with Heidi and I, as we get a little more distance between where we are and pop culture, it is happening more and more. What I’m talking about is this lost feeling you get when everyone else seems to know exactly what is going on and you find yourself clueless on the topic. To make matters worse, sometimes you can be told what it is that everyone is talking about and you still don’t know. It remains a mystery.
I’m reminded of that every once in a while when I’m driving along and I notice a billboard on the side of the road way. Often they are advertising something I know nothing about, the message makes no sense to me and I don’t even know what the product is or what it is supposed to do for me. I’m suspicious that often these ads for some feature on a new smart phone, but I can’t confirm that because I don’t really know what the ad is trying to sell me. I’ve had the same experience occasionally watching TV as well; if I watched as much TV as some researchers claim we do, I’m guessing it would happen a lot more.
Just the other night, it must have been Halloween, I’m flipping through Facebook on my phone. (which is actually quite an accomplishment in itself) I’m on my phone looking at all the posts when a picture of my eldest son and his wife comes up. They seemed to be sort of dressed in costume, but I’m not sure. Then I read the caption and it says something like “off to our Halloween party; guess who we’re going as”. I didn’t have any idea-that’s why I said they were sort of in costume. It didn’t seem like their normal attire, but it didn’t seem like a costume either. So I read few comments that had guesses in them – and almost all of the comments successfully identified this couple that my kids were dressed as. I still didn’t have a clue.
Normally when I’m clueless I have a secret weapon; so I asked Heidi who is such and so? I can’t even remember the real names any more, but she didn’t know either. So we Googled it!
Of course, Google knew exactly who we were talking about, Google identified them as a couple portrayed in some famous sitcom, I think, gave us their real names, how many seasons the sitcom has been on TV and a whole bunch of other information. After seeing the answer in comments and after being told who they were by Google, you would think we would have some idea as to what was going on and who we were talking about. Zero. Zip. Nada. We were not any closer than when we started. To this day I can’t tell you who my eldest sent went as to his Halloween party. That’s kind of sad. I remember when he was four or five he went as Annie from the musical, and Artoo Deetoo perhaps the year before that. He was a ninja for about 5 years running – those things I understood and knew a little something about.
You know there is a Paul Simon song that is a favorite of mine called Saint Judy’s Comet and in that song there is a line that is repeated several times about how this little baby can make his famous daddy look so dumb.
Like I said, I don’t know if these kinds of things happen to you yet, but they will. Sometimes I think they come as a no extra cost option with grandchildren, but that is just a theory.
I’m spelling this out with some degree of clarity in hopes that what I’m describing sounds at least a little familiar. I want you to be able to resonate with the feeling of being a little in the dark, not knowing exactly what is going on, or feeling a bit overwhelmed with new information all the time. In truth I think it happens to most of us quite often.
Also think this may be similar to what the Ephesians were experiencing when the Apostle Paul sent them his letter that is preserved in our New Testament. You may have noticed that Paul used the word mystery at least 3 times in the opening few sentences of the third chapter which I read a few minutes ago. I believe that Paul was trying to introduce the Ephesians to some new ideas, new ways of thinking about God and perhaps attempting to bridge some cultural barriers as well. It was all very strange, a lot of new information, and this new God did indeed seem mysterious. I think Paul was trying to make them feel comfortable with the idea of not knowing all the answers. By identifying God as a mystery, I think he could build some common experience and perhaps keep them from just giving up before they even got started.
Thing is, I think God remains a mystery. We still don’t really understand, we still struggle at times to make sense of things, we wrestle with God in our own minds on any number of topics. Why do such bad things happen to good people is a common one, why are all the people we consider to be less honest, less spiritual, less moral, less you can fill in the blank, why are all of those people so successful and I have to struggle? Yes, I think in many ways God continues to be a mystery and often we lack full understanding. Why are there accidents and natural disasters, why are some people so cruel to others, the questions can just go on and on. To be honest, most of the time, we don’t have very good answers. You hear things about God’s will, or some thin theological perspective about how things were meant to be. At least when someone tells you they don’t understand why you are suffering, or why someone died or why you were just diagnosed with some horrible disease; at least when they say they don’t know why, it is an honest answer. We don’t know why.
But I think there is an important point hidden away in our not knowing. I believe that the mystery of God extends into our natural world and when we look at our natural world, we see the end result of the creativity of God, without necessarily seeing the pain or suffering or fully understanding what is happening.
For example, we have a volunteer walnut tree in our front yard. I’m suspicious that a squirrel buried a walnut at some point in that spot and now we have a tree. How does the walnut know how to make a tree? How does the walnut know which direction to grow? How does it know what shape to make the leaves so that we know it is a walnut tree? What happened to the original walnut?
We only understand these things up to a certain point. A botanist may have a slightly more informed perspective, but there is still a good amount of mystery there as well.
My point is that even though we don’t understand, even though the walnut itself no longer exists in its original form, even though there is mystery, we can still see the miracle of a tree and enjoy the shade. We don’t necessarily need to understand, we only need to accept.
Acceptance of what is provides the greatest opportunity for peace and understanding available to us. Knowing what is and what we can change gives us the greatest hope available to us. Embrace the mystery, embrace the unknown and look around the natural world and as you do, you will discover the mystery of God displayed for you everywhere.
I also believe we can understand the mystery at a much deeper level than you may have thought possible. Stay tuned as we explore the mystery of God together.
Go in peace, Amen.