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Great and Astounding
May 31, 1981

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


There are two ways to get up in the morning. One way is to use the words of the old spiritual, “My Lord, what a morning” with a sense of marvel and expectation. The other way is to get up and pessimistically sing, “My Lord, what a morning.” Two ways to handle life. One is to be the conqueror and one is to be conquered. There are two ways of dealing with your life—calling it miserable, failure, poor little old me, or how great and astounding is my life! Great and astounding are the words used by the author of our scripture lesson this morning from Deuteronomy 10:12- 22, “Great and astounding things God has done for you.” Great and astounding. The author proclaims the majesty of God. To God belongs the highest heavens and all that is in the earth. We've just sung about the almighty power of God that made the mountains rise. We sang about God's goodness, the glory, the wonder, and God's presence with us. How great and astounding what God has done, and what God is doing! 

In the Old Testament, God's great and astounding acts were focused in the choosing of the Hebrews to be his people. Out of all the peoples on the earth, they believed God chose them to be his people. God delivered them out of bondage from Egypt, saved them from slavery as a mighty act of victory in making them his people. Great and astounding things God has done! The author writes that when they went into Egypt, there were only 70 of them, but when they came out, they were as numerous as the stars in the sky. How great and astounding! 

Can you catch a glimpse of the wonder, the marvel of your life, the great and astounding things God has done for you and in you? God has chosen you. Like the Israelites of old, God has chosen you, each one of you, through your baptism to be his people, to be the church, the new Israel through Jesus Christ. You are a chosen people to be God's body on this earth. How great and astounding that God should pick you! Consider all that God has done in your life to bring you to this day, to bring you here today. Look at your family. Look at your talents. Look at your body. What a great gift God has given you. Isn’t it much happier to look at life as being great and astounding then to be miserable, and complaining about all that you don't have. Great and astounding says our author is what God has done for you. Can you catch that sense of marvel and wonder? And those who do, who can relate to life with this sense of marvel and wonder, respond in three ways according to this passage of Scripture. 

First, those who see, feel and experience God's mighty acts in their lives express gratitude and worship. Our author says, “Have reverence for the Lord your God and worship only him.” Your response to God is to offer worship, to bring your worship here Sunday after Sunday and offer it to God. You don't come to hear me talk. You don't come to hear the choir sing. You come to offer your worship to God, to bring your gratitude and to lay it at the feet of God and to say, “Thank you, God for all that I am and for all that you have given to me. That's your gift. Your response for your relationship to God is gratitude. It's not bribery, or negotiating or compromising. Our author says in this passage, “God does not show partiality and does not accept bribes.” Lots of people live on the basis of trying to bribe God. They say, “If I do such and such, then God will bless me.” Or they turn it over and say, “If God will only bless me, then I will do such and such”—bribing God. For many people in real deep agony and questioning when they have pain in their bodies, or when cancer gets them, or they see a loved one die, they ask out of real agony, “Why did this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? What did I do that God should punish me?” 

But life is not a matter of rewards and punishments. Life is not a matter of bribery—Lord, I'm good so you must be good to me. Life is not a matter of negotiating. Life is a matter of gratitude. Your response to God should be gratitude for what you have, not feeling sorry for what you don't have. Give thanks to God for all you have. Don’t worry about what you don't have. Give thanks to God for all you are. Don’t complain about what you wish you could be. To live with a sense of marvel over God's great and astounding things is to be grateful. 

The second response is to gratefully receive and cherish all you have. Cherish what you have been given. Treat it tenderly, lovingly, and carefully. Cherish your body, take care of it, feed it properly, water it properly, rest it, relax it. It's a gift from God, take care of it. Cherish the talents and the abilities that God has given you. Train, nurture and develop them. 

Respect and cherish the relationships God has given you—your family, your loved ones, your church family, your neighbors. Cherish those relationships which are great and astounding gifts from God. Jesus said, “Don't let the sun go down on your anger,” meaning that at times, your relationships with your loved ones will be strained. There will be anger, but don't let the day end before you work it out. Preserve the relationship, deepen it, strengthen it. Relationships are fragile, breakable, brief and temporary. Don't let pride destroy a relationship. Don't let pride scar a tender relationship. Don't let hurt feelings break a relationship. Put yourself aside and work out that relationship. It’s God's gift to you. Cherish it, respect it and tenderly hold it. 

Dale Johnson shared an impressive letter with me this week. This letter was read by him when he was 23 years old, written to him by his grandfather just a few days after his mother died giving him birth. This is a letter of anguish, a letter of grieving as his grandfather mourns the death of his daughter, and writes just a few days later to his grandson to read in his adulthood. These are beautiful words on paper by a man writing down what his daughter meant to him and what he hopes this mother will mean to her son throughout his life. I'll read just a few words of this letter. “Lad, never did a soul come onto this earth more welcome, or more lovingly prepared for than did yours. Your mother and your father prayed for your coming, lad, and never were two loving hearts happier than were theirs when the time approached for your arrival. The noblest and purest creature in all the wide world is a voluntary mother. The impulse for motherhood is the most sacred desire in a woman's heart. The mother's spirit was strong in your mother. She yearned for motherhood. She was so pure and chaste that only noble impulses moved her. And so the noblest impulse of all that for motherhood called incessantly to her. Her prayers for motherhood were answered, my boy, but the baby she had prayed for brought with him his mother's death. She died that you might live. Your mother was fair to look upon, lad, as beautiful as a rose, and her soul was as fragrant, as pure and as unpolluted as a lily of the valley. All who knew her loved her. She was beloved because she was loved. Happiness was her heritage. She shared that heritage proudly. She shared it with all without distinction with the high or the humble. Her sweet smile is the holy memory to all who knew her. Though she now lies so cold and still, though her voice is silent and her eyes are closed forever, yet the world is better and a happier place because she was here. Know this, her spirit lives.” 

How fragile are relationships and how brief. Don’t let anything mar them for they last only a short time. Treat them with tenderness. Handle With Care. Take that sign, Handle With Care, and put it on your body. Take that sign, Handle With Care, and put it on your relationships with your parents, with your children, with your spouse. Handle With Care. Great and astounding things God has given you. 

The third response to God's mighty acts, says our author, is to be obedient and stop being stubborn, hanging on to your own will, hanging on to your own pride, hanging onto your own little hurt feelings, hanging onto your own ideas and your own dreams. Let them go. Give them to God. Trust, walk with God and obey. “Love God” says our passage and loving God means to obey God. And to obey God is a very practical, ethical dimension of life. Our faith must be expressed in very practical, ethical ways. 

Our author says, “Obey God by taking care of the widows and the orphans, and loving the foreigners because you were once foreigners.” Because you were once lost and God saved you, because you were once a foreigner and God saved you; therefore, reach out to the foreigners. Reach out to the refugees who are being harassed in Stockton and elsewhere. Reach out for we were all foreigners and our people were all refugees when they came to this land. Reach out as God has reached out to you. Reach out beyond yourself, beyond your family. Reach out into the world. Obey God by loving. 

How great and astounding are the things God has done for you! Therefore, be grateful to God. Cherish and tenderly take care of all you've been given. And reach out as God has reached out to you. How great and astounding are the things God has done for you!

© 1981 Douglas I. Norris