One Astonishing Half-Verse

One Astonishing Half-Verse


Today's author is the Rev. Erick R. Olsen, who has served for more than 18 years as Pastor of Church of Christ, Congregational (UCC) in Norfolk, CT, where place and people (and his dog, Zoe) regularly leave him feeling astounded at the greatness of God.

Scripture: Luke 9:43a (NRSV)

43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

Reflection: One Astonishing Half-Verse

Rev. Erick R. Olsen

The full text for this coming Sunday is much longer than the Scripture quoted above. It begins with the Transfiguration story (9:28-36), adds a story of the healing of a child with a demon (9:37-42), then ends (sort of – see below) with the citation above.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I usually cringe or at least raise an eyebrow when the lectionary offers what I call a half-verse (one truncated with an “a”). This only serves to pique my curiosity, and I quickly move on to “b,” like the child who has been told not to look there or touch that. To make this particular Sunday’s passage more intriguing, 43a is only the final verse if you embrace the parenthetically suggested text. We are all officially supposed to not look or touch anything past verse 36, which if you are like me you Googled before even finishing this sentence. Anyway, all of this has taken us too deep into the weeds even if it is dorkily fascinating.

I am focusing here more exclusively on 43a because as noted above it defies my arbitrary Scripture sensibilities, some of which are noted above. On my better days, when something or someone calls my norms into question, I find the grace to pause and let it teach me something. Sometimes half of a verse stuck inside parentheses is more than enough. Sometimes these days I feel like half a person stuck in something, and it’s only fair to regard this verse as I’d like to be regarded.

Truth be told, this phrase is a gem. It warrants our attention or, more fittingly, our intention.

We are nearing the end of Epiphanytide, the season during which we share stories about the divine nature of the One born in Bethlehem not so long ago. Ready or not, here comes Lent, the season during which we ready ourselves for a celebration of the Resurrection of the Crucified One. Now is as fitting a time as any to turn our attention and our intention to giving ourselves permission to be astounded by God.

I will begin my ending here with a few questions: When have you felt God’s greatness recently? When was your last breathtaking mountain-top (i.e., Transfiguration) moment? When did you last feel soothed by grace (i.e., a healing)? Where are the unexpected places where life is showing up (i.e., Christmas/Bethlehem)? How has quiet time offered space for new voices and new life (i.e., Easter)?

Most of us have been rightly feeling things like fatigue and despair too often over the past two years. This little half-verse delivers a mighty opportunity as an invitation to seek and strive to feel something different: astonishment. Other feelings won’t entirely go away, but they may be held in balance with a blossoming sense of awe. May we each feel a bit lighter and more alive as we intentionally practice considering the goodness of the God who gifts us with sunsets, pumpkin whoopie pies, forgiveness, giggles, and whispers of eternal things.


Bless us, Lord, with eyes to behold your greatness ever more. When we feel half-hearted or just half, touch us and teach us with wholeness. Hold us in our weariness and bathe us with renewing warmth and Spirit. Guide us into astonishment. Amen.

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the families and friends of more than 934,000 who have died due to the Covid-19 disease

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:

  • On this President's Day, prayers of thanksgiving for all those who serve in government who are working for the greater good.

 This Month in History:

Celebrating Black History: Phillis Wheatley  
(Contributed by Rev. John VanEpps - SNEUCC Archivist)

In 1761 an enslaved young African girl was brought to Boston on the ship Phillis.  She was brought by the Wheatley family as a house servant.  Hence her name.  She was encouraged in her reading and writing and was baptized at Old South Church in Boston.  In those years she communicated with George Washington, the Earl of Dartmouth, and others.

Her poems were collected into a volume, and it was published in 1773 as “Poems on Various Subjects”.  Thus she became the first African woman to be published in the American colonies.  She wrote in a lyrical style and most poems were odes on various occasions.  One is “On Imagination.”  She did write several on slavery and freedom.  One is “On Being Brought from Africa to America”.

She continued to write and planned a second volume.  However, her owners, who had freed her, died several years after the first book’s publication, so there was no funding.  Subsequently she was destitute.  She married and died in poverty in the 1780s.
For more see Richard Kigel’s “Heavenly Tidings…” (Paragon House, 2017)

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

Erick R. Olsen

pastor of the Church of Christ, Congregational, in Norfolk, CT

February 21, 2022
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