Embrace the Mystery

June 13, 2021 / 3rd Sunday after Pentecost / Richard Holmer

First Reading Ezekiel 17:22-24 Second Reading 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17 / Gospel Mark 4:26-34

2021-06-13 Pentecost 3
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Embrace the Mystery

Many of us enjoy a good mystery. Whether in the form of a book or a movie, our interest and imagination are engaged by stories that offer up a challenging mystery to be solved. It might be Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, or Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, or Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe – in any case we are intrigued when “the game is afoot” - and a mystery unfolds.

Christian faith teaches us to embrace mystery in a different sort of way. Such mystery is not like a riddle to be solved or a problem to be answered. Instead it involves recognizing and coming to appreciate the mystery of God. In his letter to the Colossians, Paul speaks of “the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is Christ himself.” (Colossians 2:2)

It was surprising to find that in Webster’s Dictionary, the first definition of mystery reads as follows: “1. A religious truth that can be known by revelation alone, and cannot be fully understood.” The Bible presents any number of mysteries. The Bible is not a textbook or an answer book like an almanac of an encyclopedia. Christianity doesn’t explain everything – it invites us to engage the mystery of God, God who is fully present in Jesus Christ, reconciling the world to himself.

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Of course science is a tremendous resource. It’s another means by which truth is made known. Science looks deeply into the nature of things – it accounts for how things work. Science empowers marvelous technology and breakthrough medical treatments. The Covid vaccine is a great example. Science knows a lot about “what” and “how,” yet not as much in regard to “who” and “why.”

Who and Why are by nature religious questions – questions that engage the heart as well as the mind – and especially our spirit and our imagination. To be religious is to approach the world as God’s creation – and to experience it with a kind of wonder. G.K. Chesterton observed: “This world does not lack for wonders – only for a sense of wonder.” Christians realize that there is more to this world than what meets the eye. As we heard in a reading last Sunday: “we look not at what can be seen, but at what cannot be seen – for what can be seen is temporary but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (1 Corinthians 4:17)

A favorite verse from the Book of Proverbs points to the wonders all around us.:

“Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a snake on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a maiden.” (Proverbs 30:18-19)

Such mysteries are worth pondering – and appreciating. To see the world with the eyes of faith is to perceive wonders and mysteries all around us. God’s fingerprints are everywhere.

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Christians claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior – not the Answer Man or the Explainer in Chief. Jesus Christ is himself a mystery:

  • Where is he from?

  • How did he get here?

  • Why did he come?

  • Where did he go?

  • Where is he now?

In his First Letter to Timothy, Paul says this about Jesus: “Without any doubt, the mystery of our religion is great; He was revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, taken up in glory.” What’s more, his teaching was often not in the form of direct, didactic instruction – but by way of parables, which are a wonder in and of themselves. We heard a couple parables today – two of the many “parables of the Kingdom of God” that are found in the gospels.

Here’s the interesting thing: The Kingdom of God is itself a mysterious notion. It’s not like any earthly kingdom It’s not a place with palaces and thrones. It’s more like a holy relationship – a God-blessed community. In one sense the Kingdom is already present, and at the same time it is still to come. Jesus relates the mystery of God’s kingdom to another mystery: “The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, HE DOES NOT KNOW HOW.” The farmer knows how to plant and how to harvest – but how the seed, buried in darkness, actually grows is a mystery.