April 15, Joy, wonder and disbelief

Joy, wonder, and disbelief

Luke 24:36b-48

Of course, I had seen pictures of the Grand Canyon. After all, I haven’t lived my life in a cave. But pictures are one thing. Seeing something that large, that awe-inspiring, that amazing in person – as I did over spring break recently -- is something else. It is almost unbelievable. And it is overwhelming. And it is real. And it just reminds you that this world is amazing and there are amazing things in it and there are things that are not only beyond our power, but beyond our comprehension.

Okay, you might be saying to yourself, he’s overdoing it. It’s the Grand Canyon, not the miracle canyon, not the raised from the dead canyon, not the most amazing thing you’ll ever see canyon.

And to that I say, you have to see it to believe it. And if you have, if you have seen it, then you know what I am talking about. If you haven’t seen it, then put it on your bucket list if you have one. Or if you don’t have a bucket list, then put it on your to-do list for future travels.

Here’s a picture (show picture of canyon in clouds and rain). Oh, wait, that’s a picture from my friend Rebekah’s visit to the Grand Canyon. That’s when she and her friends went there. She posted that to my Facebook page in response to the video view of the canyon that I posted.

In response to my video, she wrote “gorgeous” and then along with this picture, these words: “This is my one trip to the Grand Canyon.” You can see that the people in the picture are smiling from under their raincoats and in front of the thick fog in her picture, but I suspect that those are the smiles of people who recognize the irony of coming to one of the natural wonders of the world, and not being able to see much past the railing. So much for grand, amazing, awesome. All they’ve got is the word of those who have seen it before them and who will see it after them. Seeing with their own eyes? Not so much.

Okay, now here are a couple of my pictures from my family’s recent trip (show pictures). It’s just amazing isn’t it? We walked about 5 miles along the south rim of the canyon, and then took a shuttle bus another seven miles to a further point, and then the next day we drove several hours to the west rim, and during those two days, I never got tired of looking at the view. I never stopped feeling that sense of wonder, joy and, (yes) disbelief – because there are some things that amaze you, in that they are at once almost unreal and yet completely, completely real; they speak to the mind and the soul; they inspire and overwhelm – in the best possible way.

Back to the scripture for a moment: Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’ They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’ 

And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, ‘Have you anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence. 

“While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering…” Joy, wonder and disbelief. The disciples have this amazing miracle standing right there in the room with them: Jesus resurrected. And it creates for them this weird combination of thoughts and feelings: joy, wonder and disbelief. “This is amazing!” coupled with “How can this be?” joined to “Thank God!”

It seems to me that sometimes we think that wonder is good, and disbelief is bad, and joy is almost impossible. We may be stuck in the everyday, or adrift in the overwhelming, or worn down by the hopeless, so we are reluctant to believe, unwilling to accept, and unable to get moving.

But there are moments, there are circumstances, there are even events, that can break through the mundane, that can move us past our lowered expectations, that can restore the faith that we so much desire. I am talking about the moment when you say, with the widest smile on your face, “I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it!”

And saying, “I can’t believe it. I just can’t believe it” in a moment like that is not an expression of a lack of faith. It’s not a negating of what now is. It’s the moment when what you see before you, is more than you hoped for. 

You express disbelief not because you are disappointed, but because it’s more than you could have hoped for. It’s wonder bubbling toward disbelief wrapped in joy. It’s standing on the edge of the canyon. It’s finally seeing the picture of the Chibok girl we’ve been praying for every Sunday for years now. It’s seeing the one you thought was dead – and touching him, and talking to him, and feeding him.

Look, you can decide to be disappointed. Of course things didn’t go the way you expected or things changed when you preferred that they stay the same. You can look through the lens of disappointment and wallow in that sort of disbelief: It’s never going to work out. It’s never going to be what I hoped it would be. I’ve never gotten my due. I’m never going to be lifted out of this rut. Never, never, never.

But on the other hand, you can sometimes see with absolute clarity and utter confidence that there are things beyond you: beyond your control, beyond your expectations, beyond your imagining. There are things that you did not create and that you cannot un-create. And some of these things are miracles – small and large – that await your awareness; maybe that await you somewhere beyond the present dessert through which you are driving, that await you beyond what you can see on the near horizon. 

After our first day at the Grand Canyon – the day we spent along the south rim – I asked my daughter Leyna what she liked best about the day. She did not hesitate: “The first moment I saw it,” she said. That morning we had been driving a hundred miles or more, through a dry and dusty terrain, and even when we came into the national park, and there were more trees and a slight change in the topography, it still gave no hint of what was ahead. And then we parked in the parking lot, and still no idea of what we would see. And then we got out of the car and walked a couple hundred yards, and suddenly – right there before us – was this amazing new reality. More than we could have believed. More wonder, more joy, than we could have expected. That was the moment she liked best.

And the disciples waiting there in Jerusalem – waiting and wondering what was next. What would happen to them? What should they do? What hope remained? Jesus arrives in the room. Not a ghost – although at first, they thought maybe he was. Not a ghost, but flesh and blood – a resurrected being. He showed them his hands and feet, he ate the food they gave him. Joy, wonder and disbelief; I can picture them saying, “I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it!” with the widest smiles on their faces. Joy, wonder and disbelief: “This is amazing!” coupled with “How can this be?” joined to “Thank God!”

I read a story recently of a woman named Amanda Needham whose bicycle was stolen from her front porch. She was at first dismayed and then angered. So she took a big piece of cardboard – eight feet by three feet -- and wrote a message to the thief in yellow spray paint:

“To the person who stole my bicycle I hope you need it more than I do. It was $200 used, and I need it to get to work. I can’t afford another one. Next time, steal a hipster’s Peugeot. Or not steal! PS: Bring it back.” (A Peugeot is a very expensive bike that can cost thousands of dollars.)

Amanda writes, “I felt a little foolish writing the sign. After all, if my husband and I had spent nearly as much time double securing my bicycle as I did writing the sign, I might not be in the situation. But I knew other people’s bicycles had been stolen in the neighborhood, and the least I could do was acknowledge what had happened. I left it up for seven days.”

Did she actually think anything good or restorative or miraculous would happen? No, of course not. We all know that when something is taken from you, rarely do you get it back.

But then, things started to happen. “On Wednesday evening,” she writes, “I got the first knock on my door. Standing outside were two young African American men, maybe 24 and 16. One of them was carrying a blue mountain bike fit for a teen. “Are you the one who got your bike stolen?” asked the guy, who introduced himself as Michael. “I had that happen to me as well, and I had this bike lying around, so I figured you might be able to use it.”

“I was flustered by the offer,” she says, “and tried to deflect, saying I really appreciated it, but wasn’t sure if I’d be able to use it. What was clear, however, was that it wasn’t about the bicycle, it was about their desire to help. I accepted, touched by the humanity of the gesture.”

“A snowstorm came the next day,” she continues, “and my husband suggested I take the sign down. I refused — my bike was stolen on the weekend, so the sign would stay up until the next weekend.

“(Then) on Saturday morning, I got a second buzz on the intercom. On my doorstep was a petite, middle-aged Hispanic woman in a pink Gap sweatshirt and leggings. She said she lived in Jersey but worked in the neighborhood and made her husband drive twice around the block so she could fully read my sign. When she read that I needed it to get to work, she made him stop the car to see if there was anything she could do.”

“What kind of bicycle do you need?” she asked. “I don’t know much about bicycles, but if I find one, I’ll bring it to you.” I told her that I had signed up for the CitiBike bike-sharing program as a stopgap, and since it was $14.99 a month, I could do that for now. I told her what mattered most was that she stopped. I thanked her again.

“I looked up that Peugeot you wrote about and that’s an expensive bike!” she exclaimed. “Yes it is!” I laughed in agreement. Then she leaned in and gave me a big hug. I was invigorated. This sign was changing things. So much decency was pouring out from such a simple gesture of opening myself up to the universe.”

“The buzzer rang again the moment I got upstairs. “Take down the sign, Amanda!” my husband yelled after me as I turned to run back down the stairs. This time, it was an energetic, salt-and-pepper haired white guy. “Is this your sign?” he asked. “I passed it on the way to my studio, and took a picture, but the more I thought about it, the more I thought I should do something.” “That’s very kind of you,” I said, and explained how I’d also received a kid’s bike and a hug, and what mattered most was that people cared.

“Well, I posted a picture on Instagram, and a few of us started talking, and I was wondering if I could buy the sign off of you for …” he pointed to the yellow-letters written on my sign “ … for $200?” “I laughed out loud and told him that if he indeed did that, I would most certainly buy a new (used) bicycle with his money…

“It was quite a morning,” Amanda concluded. “First of all, I had $200 in cash that I actually needed if I’d ever be able to afford a new bicycle. But I was also part of a wave of goodness that felt beautiful and real and inspiring. I realized I didn’t want it to just stop with me. I went up the street to the local bicycle store and told the mechanic and owner what happened and asked if she could help me fix up the kid’s bicycle that Michael gave me and help find it a home. It’s just a regular department store kid’s bike — but I figure someone out there can use it more than I can.” (Inspired Life: Perspective, 3/16/18)

You got all that, right? The bicycle’s gone – stolen. It’s not coming back. She puts up the sign out of anger, frustration. But then something else happens. The universe responds with gifts, with care, with new life. She can hardly believe it. She can hardly stop smiling.

 Joy, wonder and disbelief: “This is amazing!” coupled with “How can this be?” joined to “Thank God!” I think it’s happening all the time. Miracles are all around us. Life is being renewed again and again.

And we? We are given the gift of hope again and again. We are given the gift of life again and again. Not just life grinding along. Not just life as it has been. But life beyond what we might have hoped for or even imagined. “I can’t believe it, I just can’t believe it!” we say, with the widest of smiles on our face. “This is amazing!” -- “How can this be?” -- “Thank God!”

I pray that’s what we can see and what we can say here and now, today and tomorrow and the next day. For the truth is that we live in the presence of resurrected life, we live in the presence of God’s goodness to us, we live in the presence of the Christ has some back from the dead and now lives among us.

And what can we say but, “I can’t believe it. This is amazing. Thank God.”




Benediction: In the leaving, in the letting go, let there be this to hold onto at the last: the enduring of love, the persisting of hope, the remembering of joy, the offering of gratitude, the receiving of grace, the blessing of peace. Amen. (from Jan Richardson’s “Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons”)


Kurt Borgmann

Manchester Church of the Brethren

April 15, 2018