Sermon for March 3, 2013

Isaiah 55:1-9, I Corinthians 10:1-13, Luke 13:1-9

The other day Judy took me shopping, and I noticed that everything seemed to be “artesian” these days.  Artesian cheese, artesian bread, artesian beer, and artesian chocolate were all artfully displayed on the shelves.  I’m not completely sure what artesian means, but apparently it is good these days if a food is hand crafted in small batches, using carefully selected ingredients and lavished with attention to detail by a craftsperson dedicated to that process. It’s all good, this artesian thing. And there is this subtle food theme to the lessons we have before us today.

But years of pastoral ministry have me focused on something else in these lessons.  I would call it the calculus of consequences. The calculus of consequences is this sense that living well and right will lead to good things. Further, leading life less well can have difficult consequences:  not only for our bodies, but also for our souls and the well being of those around us.  Each of these passages from the Bible raises up this calculus of consequences for our consideration.

This is a matter we all face as we get engaged in the life of the spirit as well as daily living.  We sense that there are consequences for our actions. Living well does bring its rewards.  And those who do not heed the warnings may suffer. But we also know that we can be good people and still suffer. Or we can be scoundrels and seem to get by with it. Apparently the calculus is not a simple equation.

Often smoking leads to lung cancer. But sometimes people who have never smoked get cancer. And sometimes someone who smokes dies of something else. Usually those who conserve their money do well financially. But sometimes those who risk their assets do better. Usually those who are honest and hardworking in business last longer than those who cheat. But sometimes the sloth seems to be just in the right place at the right time.  Usually those who exercise live longer lives. But sometimes those longer lives are simply more months spent in a nursing home somewhere far from family and friends.

Generally speaking, we know that the good is rewarded and the bad face difficulties. But we also know that the calculus of consequences is a rather complex or ambiguous equation and not an exact mathematical formula. Apparently the divine calculation involves some rather imponderable variables.

One variable to factor in the calculus is that we really cannot understand the mind of God or know what is in the head of God. This is one of the points of Isaiah this morning. We really don’t know what God ultimately has in mind as we face this or that particular difficulty. Sometimes what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Sometimes a larger good is at stake, but that larger good is not yet apparent. Sometimes God is balancing several goods and evils over several generations all at the same time. And so it’s hard for us to be able to do a calculus of consequences with any sense of precision. We don’t know the mind of God.

A second variable that complicates the calculus is the infinite and eternal nature of God. Infinity is always hard to work into equations.  But there is this sense that life as we know it is transcended somehow. Because of that we are not able to fully assess the ultimate outcome of things. That makes it difficult to say what the ultimate consequences are for the lives we lead. The infinities to be calculated are not only the infinite time involved in life through and after death. The infinity of God also refers to the depth of the human heart. It seems that the soul, created by God is a complex thing, not easily plumbed by the calculators we use to define so much of life. Do we really know who is miserable and who is happy?

A third variable that complicates any calculus of consequence is the sense of the individual and the community. In these matters, we are usually focused on individual consequences. But the Bible and all of these lessons this morning are more focused on the consequences to the group or community. And so how things affect the larger community need to be factored into the calculus, even if we are more focused on our own lives. The good of the community may sometimes be more important than the success of the individual in the Bible.

A fourth variable that complicates the calculus is this thing called the meantime, or the interim, or the period of grace that is found in the third lesson today in the story of the fig tree and the fertilizer. Apparently consequences do not happen automatically and often not quickly. We are given period of grace. And sometimes this meantime can be a long stretch that will cause us to wonder if or when things will ever get sorted out. It may even be the case that things get changed in the period of grace. People do repent it seems, in all of the lessons today, and then things get recalculated in other mysterious ways.

So the calculus of consequences generally works but is complicated by the mind of God, the testing of faith, the presence of infinity, the importance of the group and community, and the period of grace as well as the possibilities for change.

Now if I have not muddied the waters too much, all this makes a few things clear. First, we need to be less judgmental of people who seem to be violating all the rules. It’s going to be hard to calculate ultimate outcomes.  And we need to be more concerned about the common good, and the well being of all citizens in ways we usually are not. And we need to attend to our own lives, not assuming that our period of grace will go on forever. We can amend our ways and it will help us to live life gracefully.

Above all, this calculus brings us back to a sense that God wants us back, that God wants to bring us home, and that God wants not just to walk with us through the valleys and shadows, but to live life well with us.  Note the size of that us is bigger than just you and me. And note that there will still be consequences. But we are given some time yet. Let’s use it wisely and watch our intake as they say.

Which brings me back to that artesian thing. Trees need fertilizer the Bible says. People need good food, spiritual nourishment in Isaiah and Corinthians.  Our spiritual nourishment is the bread and wine, the presence of God with us, in, with, and under the Lord’s Supper. And then there is the nourishment of the Word of God. Which speaks the Lutheran artesian tradition regarding the nourishing word. Sermons, grounded in the word are artesian like cheeses, beer, chocolate, and bread. Good sermons are perishable food, are hand crafted, based on good ingredients, prepared by someone who is dedicated to the craft, and wants us all to be nourished through this locally prepared reflection meant for the here and the now. May the sermons here be “artesian” in that good sense of the word.

 

The Lenten Journey II: Repentance

Awareness Repentance Acceptance Renewal Restoration
How Does God Work in My Life?
Lenten Midweek Theme for 2013

Each Wednesday as our meal ends, and before we move into worship, we will consider questions for discussion regarding each evening’s dimension of the overall theme: How Does God Work in My Life: awareness, repentance, acceptance, renewal, and restoration. On the sheet at your table you will find the scripture passages for the evening that will be read in worship followed by questions for discussion at our tables.


February 27: Repentance

Psalm 51:1-12
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,    and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me. You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

 Luke 18:9-15
Jesus also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

 Questions for Discussion
As we become aware of the lives we lead, the situations, in which we find ourselves, and the effects our actions have on others, we may experience regret. Repentance is the second step on this journey with God. In the Bible repentance means to turn, or to turn around as we sense we are going down the wrong path or missing the mark.

  1. Repentance can be a deeply personal matter, and you may not want to share your feelings about repentance. But repentance also involves the groups of which we are a part. How do you think the theme of repentance works in our families, our congregation, our community, or our public life? Are we in need of awareness so that we can turn from going down the wrong path or missing the mark?
  2. Even if we become aware of something that needs to be changed, what are the roadblocks to having a change of heart?
  3. Sometimes it seems like the church has emphasized guilt so much that we have a reputation as Christians for making people feel guilty. How much do you think repentance should be emphasized on our faith community?
  4. Are there things you can do to assist the spirit in accomplishing repentance in your own heart?
  5. Why do you think Jesus lifts up the tax collector? How difficult is the problem of pride for us?
  6. In the psalm repentance is not a turning away from something as much as a turning toward God. How would you describe the relationship of the psalmist to God?

The Lenten Journey I: Awareness

Awareness Repentance Acceptance Renewal Restoration
How Does God Work in My Life?
Lenten Midweek Theme for 2013

Each week as our meal ends, and before we move into worship, in the gathering space at our tables; we will consider questions for discussion regarding each evening’s dimension of the overall theme: How Does God Work in My Life. We will explore five steps we take as God engages us: awareness, repentance, acceptance, renewal, and restoration. We begin with Awareness

February 20: Awareness

Psalm 53
Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God
They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts;
there is no one who does good.
God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God.
They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse;
there is no one who does good,
no, not one.
Have they no knowledge, those evildoers,
who eat up my people as they eat bread,
and do not call upon God?

Luke 17:20-21
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.’ 

Questions for Discussion
Often the first step in drawing closer to God or changing the way we act or think, involves becoming aware of something. Awareness is in many cases the first step in God’s work with us.

  1. As you think about the last few years of your life, what is something that you have become aware of regarding the way we live, our customs, spending patterns, socializing, or the way we treat others?
  2. As you reflect on your own life journey, what have you noticed about the themes or patterns that have shaped your life?
  3. What are the different ways we become aware of things that change our perspective or opinion? (people, events, news, media, reading, church, friendship)
  4. Do you think that we are aware of the time we have been given or do you think we spend most of our time not focused on the present moment in which we are living?
  5. The Psalm speaks of the heart of the unaware fool. Do you think awareness is a rare gift?
  6. The Luke passage suggests that awareness is not only the result of an external event or stimulus, but also is an internal process. What might we do to enhance awareness of how our lives affect those around us?

 

Sermon for February 24, 2013

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:31-35

     Our vision of God is usually too small, and often our vision of our own lives is too small.

     Transcendence. I think these stories of the Bible speak about transcendence. Now transcendence is a religious word that has a long and rich history. Usually the word transcendence is used to refer to God. It speaks of God beyond us and the world. God transcends life as we know it.

Often the transcendence of God is paired with the imminence of God. Imminence refers to the closeness of God to the world and to us. It refers to the intimate presence of God. In classical theology God is described as both transcendent and imminent, beyond us and intimately involved with us. In Christian thought, the imminence and transcendence of God are mysteriously bound as one in the person of Jesus.

We live in a time when probably God’s presence and imminence is more highly valued that God’s transcendence. What a friend we have in Jesus speaks to the closeness of God we value so much.

To me though, these particular stories speak about divine transcendence. Yet they speak of God transcending in a different way. They indicate that God transcends the vision we have for ourselves and our lives, enlarging and expanding our hopes, dreams, fears, and plans. God calls us to something bigger than the current preoccupation of our hearts. Our transcendent God calls us to transcend our way of looking at ourselves and our lives.

     Our vision of God is usually too small, and often our vision of our own lives is too small. That brings us to the heart of these Bible passages. Let’s begin with the story in Genesis of the interaction between Abraham and God. Here Abraham is worried that he will not have an heir. He and Sarah have not been able to have a child. He is afraid that his family will end with him. In this desert culture, if there is no heir; it all ends, regardless of how successful Abraham has been in his own lifetime.

In the story, God does not dismiss the worry of Abraham, but God is not satisfied with it either. God transcends it. He expands, enlarges, and amplifies the future of Abraham. For God, this is not about the continued survival of a desert clan. God has in mind the future of a nation and actually much more than that. For in this story God transcends the concept of nation as well. God is talking not about a desert clan’s survival, nor about a great nation. No, God is talking about a greater legacy. Abraham and Sarah will found a holy people shaped by faith, grounded in the vision of an intimate, present, active, principled God. Abraham is worried about his estate. God is worried about the state of the world, as both of them look to Abraham’s future.

Transcendence. Our vision of God is usually too small, and often our vision of our own lives is too small. Now working with transcendence can be difficult. It’s a spiritual thing, and sometimes turning to the spirit can be difficult for us in our practical world. But note how God interacts with the spirit of Abraham using both mystery and things that can be understood. The covenant or agreement between Abraham and God, with its cleaving of sacrificial animals, the walking of a path through the animal parts, the presence of a torch and pot, and the hearing of voices in the night all seems strange to us because our faith is not the faith of an ancient desert nomad. But to Abraham, these ritual practices speak volumes about the depth of the affirmation between God and Abraham. God uses our ways of thinking, praying and worshipping to speak to us about expanding our futures.

The strangeness of the details of the Genesis covenant remind us that God speaks to us in our own faith language; but that our own faith language is limited in its capacity to express the ultimate will of God. Our own faith language will seem strange and primitive to coming generations and those called by God in different cultures. Still God uses our own ways and expressions of faith to call us to grander things.

     Our vision of God is usually too small, and often our vision of our own lives is too small. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, Paul is calling the members of this ancient Greek congregation to a new vision of life. Yes, God has changed their approach to the world in which they live. In Christian community they become more principled and more compassionate in their care for one another and for others. Yet Paul transcends the faith of these practical Christians to include a life and love that goes through death: Their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation so that it may be conformed to the body of his glory. No wonder in our Lutheran tradition, this text is often used at funerals. It reminds us that God transforms death itself through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Transcendence. Our vision of God is usually too small, and often our vision of our own lives is too small. In the story of Jesus this morning, we are returned to the transcendence in Abraham’s vision.

Remember that for God, Abraham’s future is not about the continued survival of a desert clan. God has in mind Abraham as the founder of a nation with a capital city Jerusalem. But the vision of God is really more than a particular patriotism. For God does not want just a patriotic people bent on the preservation and expansion of their nation. In the prophets, including Jesus, God calls sacred servants who challenge the people of God to practice love and hope more profoundly and completely. God transcends the idea of nation. God’s purpose is not about a desert tribe, not about a nation, but a holy people shaped by faith, gathered under the wings of God, grounded in the vision of an intimate, present, active, principled God. Abraham is worried about his estate. Jesus’ enemies want to preserve their Abrahamic institutions and state. But God is worried not about the nation state. God is focused on the state of the world, as God, Paul, and Jesus all call us to rethink our futures.

Transcendence. Our vision of God is usually too small, and often our vision of our own lives is too small. So take a look all those worries and preoccupations in your heart. Is God calling you to transcend those matters of family, finances, security and health that generally consume us? Is God calling us to envision a future that sustains family life, financial security for the vulnerable, and matters of health for future generations? Or are we, as well, consumed by the smallness of those inner preoccupations, ignoring the prophets?

Sermon for February 17, 2013

Deuteronomy 26:1-11, Romans 10:8b-13, and Luke 4:1-13

Grace and peace.  I’d like to begin our Sundays in Lent with a stewardship sermon. Stewardship may seem like a strange Lenten topic.  Why stewardship?  Does the church need money?  Well, yes, it does, we do, but probably not any more than usual. Churches like us always need money for their efforts.

But today’s topic of stewardship comes not from our congregational finances, but from the biblical readings assigned for this day. These readings offer insight into stewardship in the broadest sense of the word.  For stewardship is remembering, honoring, and returning the gifts we have been given. Remembering, honoring, and returning our ourselves to God is the goal of this thing called Lent.

In this broad sense stewardship or discipleship or response to God’s gifts is one of the important themes of the Lent. Lent is a time to remember the gifts we have been given by God, a time to honor those gifts, and a call to accept the challenge to make better use of the gifts we have received. Lent is about giving something up. Stewardship is about directing upward some gift we have received, remembering its source and our own history. Stewardship does involve the financing of congregational and churchwide mission, but more broadly, stewardship means that we are called to be stewards of the gifts we have received, using them wisely, sharing them with others, including the gift of life itself.

We are called to be good stewards of life, love, freedom, this planet which we share with so many creatures, the special talents and gifts that each of us have, and the special calling by God to stand for the good in a troubled time. It is all these gifts we steward, and it is all these gifts of which the readings speak.

The first reading is a passage from Deuteronomy which describes an ancient stewardship festival. It is a harvest festival known as the Feast of Weeks. At the festival, people are to bring the first fruits of the harvest to the temple to be given to the mission of the temple. From earliest times, this temple mission involved the care of the poor.

As the first fruits are presented, a speech is given.  The congregation says the speech together.  It begins in verse five of the first reading.  It is a speech that summarizes the history of God’s saving grace for the people. Out of memory for the gifts of life, freedom, and harvest, out of appreciation for the heritage and history of the people, the gifts are offered.

After the gifts are received, everybody has a party or a celebration.  Everyone is invited to the party, including the poor and the aliens or foreigners. Stewardship is a celebration of the bounty that the Lord God has given to you and to your house.

Is not this still the foundation of good stewardship? Is it not still important to set aside some of the first fruits of our bounty for God. When we remember our past, our heritage and legacy, we sense the importance of the gifts we now give. And is it not still important to have a party? And to invite everybody?

Think about the care of our planet.  Is it not still important (and perhaps now more than ever) to think first of the environmental impact of our actions in a first fruits way.  Can planetary awareness be an after-thought?  Does not our compassion for the earth and its creatures rise within us when we remember that this planet is our cradle, our heritage, and our legacy? Should we not celebrate this earth?  And should not everyone be invited to be stewards and to rejoice in the earth?

Think about our modest congregation.  Does not our gift begin with remembering that God, this congregation, and this community have cradled us, have seen us through our own hard times, given us our heritage, and is the seat of our legacy? Should we not gather around these first fruits and these gifts of bread and wine? Should we not focus our gifts on caring for those in need? And should we not invite all, even aliens to come to the table of the Lord?

Think about your talents and gifts? Is it not important to use your gifts well? Don’t your talents and gifts grow out of your history and will shape your legacy? Should you not celebrate and rejoice in your gifts?  And should not your gifts at least now and then be used to help out a stranger?

Deuteronomy speaks of stewardship in the fullest sense.  So does the gospel reading about Jesus. Now we usually do not think of the fourth chapter of Luke as a stewardship text.  It is here as the classical first Sunday in Lent story of the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness after forty days of fasting, paralleling the forty days of the Lenten fast and wrestling with the forces of temptation in the wilderness of the soul.

But look closely at chapter four and the shape of the tempter’s snares as they say. These are not the usual temptations that face human beings. All three temptations deal directly with the stewardship of the gift (the technical term is charism) given by God to Jesus to save the world. The tempter tempts Jesus to misuse his basic gift from God.  Jesus faces these challenges to be a good steward of the mission, the gift, the challenge, the charism he has received.

First, Jesus as a good steward of his gift faces the temptation to use his gift for physical gain and filling his own needs. Change these stones to bread. Second, Jesus as a good steward of his gift faces the temptation to use his gift for advancing his own cause, placing himself in the place of God, at the center of things. Third, Jesus as a good steward of his gift faces the temptation to use his gift to show his power when challenged.

But his gift is not to be used in these ways. Have we used our planet, our personal talents and gifts and treasure for the purpose of filling our own needs?  In our congregation, do we face the temptation of making our care of the poor something that advances our own causes?  Do we use our wealth to increase our might? These are deep questions. For as Christ had a special gift from God, we have been mightily blessed as individuals, a church, community, nation, and world.  How are we in our stewardship doing as we face the tempter’s snares to misuse the gifts we have been given?

There is another temptation with regard to the stewardship of gifts which is found in the second reading. This passage bySt. Paulfrom Romans is usually remembered because of its foundational affirmation of the faith. However, you can tell that the church inRome, to whom the letter is written, has some friction among its members. The Roman Christians, it seems, like all of us, have a tendency to value their own gifts more than the gifts of others. In this passage, some are introverted in their faith (it is a matter of the heart).  Some are extroverted in their faith (it is a matter of the mouth). Some are Jews (the conservatives in the congregation).  Some are Greeks (the wild-eyed liberal new comers.) Everybody thinks their gift is the most important.

But Paul says that we should value all gifts: conservative and liberal perspectives, inward and outward expressions, all parties, all understandings as gifts of equal value. Let us remember to value and appreciate the gift of the person sitting close to us, whose perspective, wisdom, and gift may be different from ours, but who still is our brother and sister in Christ.

Today, as we begin this season of Lent, think about your stewardship, your gifts, our planet, our congregation, this world. Remember your heritage and legacy. Find the first fruit of your life. Invite a stranger to our celebration. Avoid the tempter’s snares to misuse our gifts. Let us value all our gifts together. As the Bible says, this Lent, as it has always been: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

 

Ash Wednesday Reflection, Feb 13, 2013

We now come to the medieval forty day season of Lent. The themes of the season are ashes, repentance, and crosses.  This is a traditional time for fasting, cutting back, giving things up.  Underneath these things, we sense the inner work of Lent as we face our own sin, brokenness, and fallibility.  However, lifting up ashes, crosses, repentance, giving things up and sin can be difficult for us.

These days we want the church to be uplifting to ourselves and attractive to others. People want to feel positive about themselves and others. We are more interested in self esteem than self discipline. Should we not be telling people how special rather than how sinful they are? We know we usually do not attract people by dwelling on their shortcomings and their needs to repent.

Yet we also know that we are less than perfect. At some level we know that we all have at least a few rough edges, broken chapters of our lives, a tendency to blame everyone but ourselves, been the victim of our own rationalizations, sensed that our negative coping mechanisms got a bit out of hand, and know now that what we thought was the best at the time was really not so good after all.  With honesty in the sacred presence of God, and with forgiveness within this fallible community, we recognize the need to face our failures and shortcomings.

In this recognition of our limits and brokenness, something important begins. When we face our limitations and recognize them, we may be starting a change that will deepen us and give us a closer relationship to God and others. What is at first seen as a medieval custom may have the power to permanently transform our lives.

Theodore Wesseling has said: As a period of purification, Lent is not merely a period of bodily fasting. It is a period of general readjustment, of thorough renovation from the outer spheres of life down to the roots of its innermost fibers.  It is a control of the body so that the soul might grow. It is purification and liberation. It is a cure, and the fasts are meant to be medicinal. It is a sacred observance. It is the route to freedom and fulfillment, for it loosens the grip of evil and leads us, worn and wary, to full and wholesome restoration.

This period of ashes, repentance, crosses, and fasting is an opportunity for us to relate to the people around us and to God in new ways. It is our bodies’ adjustment from our barren inner winter into a coming warmth. This general readjustment may have a permanent affect on who we are and how we live.

To begin this season of adjustment, we have the ashes. Ashes remind us of dust. In Genesis, the Bible says that we are created from dust. “Remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return,” are words we  use this day. Our lives are fragile and short. Too soon, the flower fades. Our mortality and our limits are things we try to avoid. But the ashes drawn on our foreheads remind us of the dusty limits of life.

Thinking on our dustiness helps us to recognize that each moment we do have is precious. Each day and each moment, is an opportunity to express love more fully and to delight in life. We have wonderful possibilities to take our precious time to enjoy the world around us and to delight in its full abundance, to experience life more freely and to probe more deeply. When we know how precious life is, we appreciate it more. Ashes call us to remember what is important and to live each day recognizing that death brings our end.

The ashes are also a sign of repentance. Sack cloth and ashes. Repentance means to turn around, to change direction, and to altar our course of action. In repentance we are sorry for what has not worked out as well as we had hoped. Repentance involves tears, a new direction, making amends, and doing things differently. The ashes of Lent call each of us to change something about our lives, to modify what we have been doing, and to correct our course. Repentance begins with ashes. It continues in actions.

In our repentance we meet God. We encounter the God of mercy, offering assistance on the difficult road into a new way to live. God walks with us as we walk the path of repentance.

With ashes of repentances comes the cross. The ashes are drawn in the form of a cross on the head of all who wish it this day. The cross is at first the sign of the suffering and death of Jesus.  The suffering Jesus is the image of God, the imago dei. God suffers and dies on a cross. This suffering God is with us in our struggles and death.

All of us go through seasons of despair and discouragement. The cross reminds us in these dusty seasons of the soul, that God is with us. And further, the cross which is at first the  sign of struggle, is in the end the beginning of hope.

Today on Ash Wednesday, as we become aware of dusty limits, and our fallibility, we find these ashes, this cross, the beginnings of repentance, and the possibilities for changing and building a new life. This is the season for inner renewal. It starts with a cross drawn in ashes. It continues in reflection, prayer, and an honest desire to be different in some way.

As we appreciate the special time that we have left, as we change our path, as we sense Christ with us, as we surrender ourselves to the grace of God, we are gradually, but surely changed.

Sermon for February 10, 2013

Sermon for February 10, 2013
Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-43

This Sunday is the Sunday before Lent in that half of the church year devoted to the life of Jesus. It is a pivotal Sunday. Today we shift today from Jesus’ birth, life, baptism, and ministry to his journey to the south, to Jerusalem, to do battle with the forces that will eventually crucify him. Gradually through Lent, Holy Week, and the Three Days we are drawn into these final chapters of the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection.

Traditionally this shift or pivot in the life of Jesus is recalled with the story we read today, the story of the transfiguration, or the revelation of Jesus on a mountaintop, to the inner circle of disciples. Usually the story is viewed as the pivotal point in the gospel stories, as Jesus shifts from being a traveling healer to confrontation with the forces of evil in the capital city of Jerusalem.

I think this is a good way to think about Jesus, and I encourage you to think of the transfiguration story as a pivotal point in the gospels. This lifts up the story of Jesus as a divine drama, a battle with the forces of evil and the political or metaphysical enemies arrayed against him. And we like pivotal points and battles and political implications, shifts in direction with the decision to suddenly go south to wage war.

But there is an alternative view. If you get out a map and look at all the places Jesus has been wandering, he and the disciples have been going in a big circle, starting in Galilee, then moving north and east to the costal Phoenician area, then to west and south in the region of the Decapolis, and now finally curling southeast to Jerusalem. They are completing a clockwise circle of sorts, and for me at least, this mountaintop is not so much the defining moment of the gospel story, or a pivotal point but a genuine bend in the circle of healing created by Jesus.

If I were to pick a theme that animates this clockwise motion to the travels of Jesus, it would not be a metaphysical drama or a political confrontation or a theological key phrase. Because of the constant presence of these healings, it appears to me that what animates the ministry, effort, and movement of Jesus is healing. In all of the gospels, especially Luke and Mark, he is constantly healing.

This healing is grounded in conviction and faith that aligns the spirit with the forces of good that undergird life. This faith is sufficient to significantly alter the physical state of affairs. In Galilee this healing ministry is developed and refined. Here Jesus begins to articulate the principles that undergird that healing. He teaches and shares stories along the way.

As the circle expands and they begin their travels to the north and east, and later to the west and then south, there is the growing understanding that this healing thing is not just a local event for some people but for all people regardless of their background. All sorts of strange people in all sorts of strange places are healed by Jesus.

And with the healing of more and more people, Jesus and his followers may have begun to think as they headed south that healing rather than temple sacrifice was the best way to talk about and embody God. Societies as well as individuals could be healed and transformed by faith and courage.

But in the south, in Jerusalem, powerful forces and vested interests did not want to embrace healing.  People in power did not want change. A great deal was invested in the status quo. Imagine how all of our health care system would react to the presence of an alternative form of healing that made all of their institutions irrelevant. Stability and sacrifice in the minds of many were worth defending. And so Jesus’ dream of healing not only broken bodies but also his broken society was overwhelmed. And then somehow that healing circle continued.

Regardless of how you see the Jesus story yourself, in today’s mountaintop experience we have a revelation into how God interacts with us. And as we sense the healing faith active in our own lives it would be good for us to harvest the details in these lessons. In the details we discover the ways in which God still speaks to us today. The details are veils, voices, convocation, lightness of being, overshadowing, a bend in the road, and facing the demons.

Veils:  God’s presence seems to involve veils. Moses covers his face with a veil after he has spoken to God. It’s a kind of protection. But in II Corinthians the veil is something that keeps us from seeing. We don’t think of veils very much. But as you think about God in your life, what is veiled so that you are not overwhelmed? What veils need to be lifted? Or perhaps it’s best to leave the veil on for awhile. We don’t need complete transparency about everything.  Still, God may be calling you to discover something you have been glossing over.

Voices: The disciples hear a voice. God uses voices, all kinds of voices, to speak. What are the voices around you saying? What voices are important for you to hear? How might you discover those voices that are hard to hear or are soft or distant?

Convocation: A small group of Elijah, Moses, and Jesus are convocated or gathered with the small group of the disciples. It’s a meeting of the minds, a convocation. When God is shaping us, we sometimes experience a coming together of the voices of our past, present, and future. What people, memories, hopes and fears need to convocate for you to open your life to new possibilities?

Lightness of being: When God is around there is a brightness, a lightness of being that gives us courage, hope, and a quiet joy. The light has to do with our connection with God and the healing presence of God in our own selves. Life feels easier, brighter, and more radiant. “It’s good Lord to be here,” the disciples say. What would give you a sense of lightness and goodness in your being?

Overshadowing: There is a cloud, a dark cloud that overcomes the disciples. God’s presence is not always about light. God is present in the thick clouds. How is God with you when things look not bright, but dark?

A bend in the road:  Real life does not have that many pivotal points. It is more defined by the bending, the curve, the gradual movement from one point to another. The bending is sometimes so subtle, we hardly notice it. But we are on the move, there are changes, and we do turn, turn, turn. How is God shaping or bending your life or your will?

Facing the demons:  Luke knows the story of the transfiguration, but he does not waste any time with it. Jesus is immediately thrust back into the healing ministry and all of its burdens. He is faced with an ancient case of epilepsy. And all were astounded, not by his mountain top but by his facing of the demon. When the demons that threaten to undo us are close, so is God. How is God helping you face the demons that maul us now and then, and maul our life together?

When God is calling to us, molding and shaping us, transforming us, changing us, we sometimes feel the presence of veils, voices, convocation, lightness of being, overshadowing,  a bend in the road, and facing the demons.

As the year’s circle turns us again to Lent, and as we travel the circles of our own lives; we encounter again and again this healing Christ.