Saturday, December 26, 2009

So it begins

After something of an adventure I have arrived safe and sound in The Woodlands.  My family all arrived before me and so when I got to the house where we are staying, they were already in full Summers-Minette swing.  Raucous laughter, heated political debates, and (of course) delicious food were all waiting for me. I do love my family. 

Today we are celebrating Christmas and my father’s birthday (both of which were actually yesterday) and then Sunday is Mom’s ordination.  Hmm, I suppose that means I ought to finish both wrapping presents and writing a sermon. 

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Great Snow of Saturday


Praise the Lord for good friends!  I hope all of you are nice and toasty with loved ones this evening.  For the second night in a row, I am camped out at my friend Cassy’s house where we have entertained ourselves with reading, Doctor Who, and lots and lots of snow shoveling. 

Don’t believe me about the last part? Here’s proof!



Yes, I am in fact wearing plastic bags on my feet.  Though I have been warned more than once that the previous winters I’ve experience here were mild in comparison, I never believed quite enough to go out and buy snow boots.  Thank goodness for ingenuity.  And for a friend who keeps those bags for her dog’s, uh, constitutionals.

After some (read: tons!) of shoveling, we tried to play in the snow.

I fell down.


A lot.


A lot a lot.


Did you know snow could be too deep for sledding?  Cassy and I found out the fun way!


As much fun as a snow day with a great friend is, we are both more than a little sad to miss out on another friend’s big day.  Our dear friend J is getting married tonight.  Actually, as I’m writing this, he should already be married!  Lots of his guests and even his officiant were trapped by the snow – including us.  Being two strong willed independent women, we weren’t going to let a little snow stop us from celebrating with our friend.

What, snow you say? I laugh in the face of snow!


Cheers to J and Amanda.  We love you!


And sound, safe night to all of you!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Prepare Ye the Way

Texts: Malachi 3:1-4; Luke 1:68-79

This past week I got something very exciting in the mail – the invitation to my mother’s ordination. My sister had been put in charge of making them and sending them out and managed to not be too stressed when she realized about 30 seconds after she put them in the mail that there was a mistake. I’ve been told correction postcards are already on their way out.

A little over a month ago I received an invitation for a friend’s wedding. I was apparently one of the lucky ones; many of the invitations got lost in the mail and others came worse for the wear. He and his fiancĂ©e ended up using Facebook to get the information out.

Thinking about the way I’ve received information that some big event is coming up, I’m not surprised that God chooses not to use the mail system when delivering the big news of impending divine movement. Angels, stars, dreams and – as we are reminded this morning – chosen messengers.

Personal messengers make good sense. Not only is it harder to lose messengers than invitations but I’m rather certain that the refiner’s fire would qualify as something too hazardous to even be sent through the mail. Because when God is coming we get more than a “save the date” card. We get action, purification, repentance, justice. When God is coming, a messenger is called up not just to spread the word that the Lord is coming but to prepare the way. In the book of Malachi we are given a glimpse of just how this messenger will prepare the way of the Lord.

During the reign of the Persian Empire, the Israelites have gathered back in the Promised Land and rebuilt the Temple of the Lord. And like their ancestors in faith, the people in this prophet’s time have strayed. Corruption and faithlessness run rampant and the people have wearied God. And so God is sending to them a messenger – “my messenger, the messenger of the covenant” – and this messenger will not only announce the coming of the Lord, but like fuller’s soap he will make fresh and clean the priests – those who run the Temple and make sacrifices on behalf of the people – he will refine them like gold and silver.

God has tired of those oppress others and do not fear the Lord and this messenger is being sent to purify the priests – those who serve as go-between God and the people – in order that the people might return to God. And thus comes the refiner’s fire. As someone not particularly familiar with the process of refining gold or silver, I recently heard a story told that helped me to better understand what the prophet means:

Several years ago, a group of women had gathered in study around the passage from Malachi we just read. “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver” (Malachi 3:3). They wondered—perhaps like you and I know like me—what this might mean beyond a simple answer of “to purify.” Such a rich image surely had richer meaning and so one of them decided to find out about the process of refining and purifying silver, promising to report back to the women in the Bible Study at their next meeting.
That week, the woman called a silversmith and made an appointment to watch him at work. She didn’t mention anything about the reason for her interest beyond her curiosity about the process of refining silver.
As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities…
She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, “How do you know when the silver is fully refined?” He smiled at her and answered, “Oh, that’s easy—when I see my image in it.”

God—through the messenger of the covenant—calls us to the divine image we were made in. We are called to burn away all impurities that are not of or for God so that we may indeed return to God as God returns to us.

How right, then, that the one who was sent as the messenger to prepare the way for God Incarnate, God With Us, God’s Perfect Image too calls us to return to God, to repent and believer. When we who are made in the image of God waited for the one both fully human and fully divine, we were called to purity, to repentance, to the Holy by John the Baptist. John, whose father Zechariah prayed “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them,” the one who looked at his infant son and said “And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins.”

John would indeed prepare the way of the Lord – he would go out into the wilderness, drawing great crowds to him, calling people to repentance, and telling them to wait and watch for the one coming who was greater than he.

Before the light of the world shone for all to see, a messenger prepared the way. Before God returned to the people, a messenger prepared the way. In the waiting for the Lord, there have been those who have worked toward the Kingdom they wish to see come.

That was then and this is now. And now, in this time, in this place, as we still wait for the advent of Christ here and now, for the coming of the Lord in his glory and the Kingdom of God to fully come, who is the messenger? Who is the one to give knowledge of salvation, to call all people to the image they have been made in, to speak and live out God’s grace to the world?

Look around.

We are.

As the body of Christ, the community of faith, we are the messengers that have been charged with preparing the way for the Lord. We have been empowered by the Holy Spirit to speak the truth, to act in love, to live out the kingdom. As children of the covenant made through Jesus Christ, we are the ones who will proclaim the Good News that is our mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

Like John the Baptist, we reach out to share forgiveness and relationship with God. We do so by offering hospitality to the stranger, seeking justice for the oppressed, and loving God with all we are and ever will be. We do this all the while pointing to the one from whom we find our strength, the one for whom we wait.

To be a messenger of God, to prepare the way of the Lord, may sound like a big task because it is. It requires us to be honest with God, to confess our own sins and strive to love and serve better each day, each minute, each second. It requires us to love the unlovable and to forgive the unforgivable. It requires us to risk our comfort and our complacency for the radical and wondrous kingdom of God.

Being a messenger of God is a grand and sometimes scary calling – remembering the fate of John the Baptist invokes the phrase Shakespeare made famous – “don’t shoot the messenger.” It is not without risk nor is it without reward. We are not on our own in our preparation – we don’t have to worry about what happens if we make an error or get lost – God’s kingdom will come. We cannot stop it. But we do get to participate in it. How exciting to be among those who have heard the good news – that God so loved the world that God gave the only Son – to have this amazing joy to share. What a great gift to be charged—sisters and brothers bound together in the Spirit—with sharing the love of God with the world. Amen.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

You Do Not Know Where It Blows

The moderator of the PC(USA) just posted this link on his facebook page. Very theologically worthwhile.... or something. :)


As you read this I’m enjoying so rest and relaxation with family and friends in Chicago and Madison, WI (or at least when I wrote this and originally sent it out in the newsletter, I was!). While I’m sure my vacation will be filled with lots of good food, fellowship, and reading, I also have a feeling that my attention to what I experienced Tuesday night with Brian McLaren. If you didn’t get a chance to attend, I encourage you to seek out those who did and ask them what they thought.

Brian had many helpful insights to share but the one that is playing about in my mind is one about our framing story. He suggested that there were several key crisis going on in our world right now – the crises of the planet, poverty, and peace. But perhaps the most profound crisis is that of our purpose.

Somewhere along the way, people of faith have forgotten the Good News. We buy into the stories dominance (we’ll only be safe unless we’re in control), accumulation (we’ll only be safe if we have more and more), purification (we’ll only be safe if that certain group is ‘taken care of’), and others. Brian pointed out that in his life and teachings, Jesus refuted all these stories that we’ve bought into – giving us a new framing story, giving us the Good News of the Kingdom of God: a kingdom that is at hand today.

In this story, instead of domination we know service and love; instead of accumulation we know about self-giving and sacrifice; instead of purification we know about embracing and including the outcast. Jesus shows us another way to live. He shows us The Way.

Brian suggests that many of our world’s crises would be best met by a story other than the one many of us seem to be telling through both our words and our actions. Stories of dominance, accumulation, and the like have not served us well. But we have another story to tell. The story of the Good News is one for the whole world – and one we Christians need to reclaim and start living fully.

As you go about your daily living this next week, I encourage you to join with me in wondering: what story am I telling? At work, at school, at the grocery store, what story do our words and actions tell? Is it the Good News or is it something else?

Friday, October 23, 2009



I’m sitting in CotC (surprise, surprise) working on stuff for this weekend and listening to Sarah McLachlan.  I’ve put one song in particular on repeat - “Witness.”   Here are the lyrics

Make me a witness/take me out/out of darkness/out of doubt

I won't weigh you down/with good intention/won't make fire out of clay/or other inventions

will we burn in heaven/like we do down here/will the change come/while we're waiting/everyone is waiting

and when we're done/soul searching/as we carried the weight/and died for the cause

is misery/made beautiful/right before our eyes/will mercy be revealed/or blind us where we stand

will we burn in heaven/like we do down here/will the change come/while we're waiting/everyone is waiting

This song for some reason is really speaking to me today.  I’ve had the album it’s on – Afterglow – for years but something about today and something about this song just clicks.

In our Wed night bible study class, one of the things that has come up is how scripture can speak a new word to us each day thanks to the Holy Spirit.  I’m also convinced that this same Spirit speaks through other familiar words/images/people anew each day.  We just have to be looking and listening.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


This Sunday on the Presbyterian Church calendar is Reformation Sunday – a Sunday that in some churches means dressing up in tartans and playing the bagpipes. While we here at Covenant will welcome the brave soul that wears a kilt, it certainly isn’t the required dress code. No, instead we’ll mark Reformation Sunday with the beginning of a new short-term series Sunday school class.

This Sunday John and I will begin our class “The Church: Where On Earth Has It Been And Where In Heaven Is It Going?” As church historians and scholars have noted, about every 500 years the church goes through some sort of upheaval—and the word “great” seems to associate with these changes. There was the time of Gregory the Great, the Great Schism, and of course, the Great Reformation. These same historians and scholars – as well as ministers and laypeople – have noted that right now we’re at the 500 year mark. And yes, the times, they are a-changin’.

During the next five weeks, we’ll explore our history as the church – look back at the “Greats” as we look toward the future. We’ll look at the contemporary cultural upheaval and what that upheaval means for the church now. Is the internet our printing press? Are folks like Brian McLaren and Phyllis Tickle our Luther and Calvin? How does a modern church navigate a post-modern world? What might our church (both universal and particular) look like in 50 years?

Come join in this exciting discussion as we find gain strength and insight from our history and ponder hopefully about our future.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

All That We Let In

Text: Mark 9:38-50

There are times when reading the gospel stories that I just want to grab hold of the disciples, give them a big hug and say “thank you.” Thank you for being so human, for being so slow to catch on. Thank you for failing at following Jesus perfectly because if you – who had him physically in your midst – couldn’t manage to be a perfect follower, then I’m not going to feel so bad about my own missteps.

This morning’s gospel story is one of those times.

After seeing Jesus eat with those who were outcasts, heal people no one would want to touch let alone help, and quite frankly, call them as his followers, they haven’t quite caught on that their teacher isn’t one for exclusive circles. And yet they treat being his follower as just that –limited circle.

Having just coming off a tour of ministry with the Gentiles, the disciples and Jesus come back to Galilee where they hear tale of a man – who, by the way, is not one of them – is casting out demons. In Jesus’ name! This man – who, ahem, is not one of them – has the audacity to call on the power of Jesus. He dares to cast out demons when the disciples – Jesus’ inner circle, the cream of the crop, failed at this same task not very long ago.

When the disciples via John bring this concern to Jesus, that this man –a man who hasn’t clocked in the field time with Jesus, hasn’t listened (and been confused by) his parables nightly by the fireside, hasn’t traveled with Jesus and seen all the amazing things him can do – this man is daring to act as though he has some place, some relationship, some sort of connection with Christ and is using it to caste out demons.

And what does Jesus have to say? Nothing the disciples are going to like – don’t try and stop him, even someone offering water to a person in my name is blessed, “Whoever is not against us is for us.”

That was probably a little more inclusive than they were hoping. I can imagine one of the disciples even piping up saying, “um, Jesus, don’t you mean whoever isn’t for us is against us?” But no, Jesus is firm – have salt, goodness, in yourself and be at peace with one another.

The disciples are treating being a follower of Jesus like being a member of some club: a club that has its own logo, its own pledge, its own uniform. I remember joining a sorority in college and being told, when I asked why we had to memorize the founding members names, “you’re doing this because I did this and that’s what makes you “one of us.”

I know I’m not the only one with such an experience. I would imagine we’ve all run into groups we want to be a part of – be it social groups or perhaps the group called the bar association or certified teachers or real estate license holders – where we’ve had to prove that we’ve done the time, put in the effort, can say the oath of loyalty with the best, pass the exam even after we’ve gotten the degree, and then be considered in. There are markers to be met and handshakes to be learned.

The church has a history of making its membership something like a club. Remember a time when we used to excommunicate people for being different, or make people catechisms not as a way of teaching theology but as a test to see who was in and who was out? Or how about how when the church would bar people from membership for something like being divorced (which, by the way, some churches still do), or tell people they can’t serve because they happen to be girls (again, still happens). This is our history but my guess is if Jesus came down now to our present, he’d be able to point out a few ways we’re still excluding people, still making this a club to get into. Let’s just say I know I’m not the only one who has a “Jesus loves you but I’m his favorite” mouse pad.

But being a follower of Christ isn’t about being in a club or any one’s favorite – it’s about being a part of a family. Even if we fall into the temptation of looking down on others who we know a lot about this kind of family. This family isn’t about where you were born or who are your parents or what traditions you celebrate – this isn’t about flesh and blood, it’s about Spirit. Christ’s Spirit.

If you’ve seen my family here at Christmas time you might have noticed that two of my three foster sisters – for lack of a better term – don’t quite look like the rest of us. My sisters Neli and Nymbezi are from Zambia. The story of how they came to be a part of our family is one that confirms for me this understanding of family being above and beyond flesh and blood.

About ten years ago I went over to Zambia as part of a mission trip with my church. There, at Justo Mali Theological College, I met the Moyo family and bonded rather instantly with the several teenage sisters – including Neli and Nyembi. A year later I heard that my church would be sponsoring Neli to come over to the States for college. Families would take turns hosting her for different holidays and we’d all make sure she felt welcome and looked after.

Well, Neli happened matriculate at the school where I was a senior and so it just made sense that the first free weekend we had at school, she’d come home with me. I remember driving the four hours to get home – trying to prepare her for my quirky family. We hit it off but we were relatively close in age and had similar tastes in music and tv.

My family, of course, welcomed her with open – though potentially overwhelming arms. Everyone was so excited to meet this girl I had talked about for a year – this girl grew up in another hemisphere! I remember everyone greeting her, helping her to her room, making her feel at home – and then, I remember the conversation started. It began with all of us, my brother and sister Beth, my mom and dad, Neli and me, but it quickly turned to world economics and just as quickly became a conversation between my dad and Neli only. The rest of us escaped from the living room to the family room and waited… and waited… and after a good while someone piped up that one of us really ought to go and rescue Neli from an intense conversation with our father.

I think it was my sister who volunteered, went into the other room, and then came back laughing saying, “I think Dad’s the one who needs rescuing!”

My wonderful, quirky family had a new member – just like that. That very first night it was clear that Neli was a part of our family. Over the years, while interesting differences in experiences have come up, it’s only been made more and more clear - this young woman is a Summers-Minette, even though her last name is Moyo and we all still laugh that she’s clearly our father’s daughter. Neli never did make it to those other families for the holidays and when Nymebi came over for school, she eventually found herself part of the Summers-Minette clan too. While Nymebi and Dawn – my other foster sister – are family without a doubt, nothing was quite so powerful as that first night with Neli – where we just knew – she’s family. She just is.

That moment with Neli, that’s what I think of when I think of God’s family. We just are. It’s not about where we grew up or what languages we speak or our experiences. It’s not about our education or our income or our politics. We know this – it’s why we knit prayer shawls and deliver meals, offer rides and send cards—not because we’re all so alike but because we’re family. It’s why we ask each other for prayers, why we ask each other for help. Because we’re family – family made by God.

We travel the road of faith together, even though we may not agree on things, even when we might look at the passage being discussed in a bible study, listen to our neighbor’s understanding of said passage and wonder “are you reading what I’m reading?”

There’s this great quote attributed to Rudyard Kipling – the author who brought us the great story of Mowgli and his family the wolves, Baloo the bear, and Bagheera the panther in The Jungle Book. It says, “A family shares things like dreams, hopes, possessions, memories, smiles, frowns, and gladness... A family is a clan held together with the glue of love and the cement of mutual respect. A family is shelter from the storm, a friendly port when the waves of life become too wild. No person is ever alone who is a member of a family.”

This is the church family. This is who Christ has called us to be with one another and to glorify God. We’re to serve one another as we would serve Christ – offering each other glasses of water, companionship, and grace. We’re to respect one another – even if our ways and understandings differ. We’re to be family.

I really like that quote. Of course, I edited it in my first reading. Before talking about family sharing things, Kipling says “all of us are we—and everyone else is they.” Us against the world, us against them – as tempting as it might be to see family that way, we can’t. Not the family of God. This thought – one the disciples had, one many of us have – is what Jesus is encouraging us to get rid off – chop off as it were.

Being a part of the family of Christ means that there is no “they” – no us versus them. No Presbyterians versus Baptists or old hymn lovers versus new hymn lovers. And perhaps even no Christians versus non-believers - for all people are God’s children and Christ died for the whole world. Whether or not people are a part of our community of faith, they are part of God’s family and as such are to be treated with respect and love.

Jesus asks us to worry not about those people who are doing good in his name – or good even just to those who bear his name. Not to worry whether or not they’re “like us” because the “us” includes all. Worry about your own salt, your own goodness, and be at peace with one another.

You know, maybe that Kipling quote is right after all. All of us are we—and everyone else is they. Except there is no everyone else; there’s only us. For we are all a part of God’s family. Thanks be to this generous and loving God. Amen.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

It Don't Mean A Thing

Text: Mark 8:27-38

If you’ve been watching television over the past several years, you are probably familiar with those successful Mac vs PC commercials. The ones where two actors stand in as “Mac” and “PC.” The PC—a middle aged man dressed in a suit—tries to be hip, the computer that all the cool kids want to have, and yet it can’t. The laid-back Mac—the twenty-something jeans and a t-shirt guy—doesn’t have to try to be the best computer, he just is. Because, no matter what the PC may say, the Mac just performs better (or so claim the commercials).

Not long after these commercials began airing a parody was made by a church where instead of the PC vs Mac you had a Christian vs a Christ-follower. In this parody, the Christian – the middle aged man dressed in his Sunday best – is carrying lots of books—rule books, ethics books, morality plays, and his “trusty sword” as he calls the bible—an incredible Christian bumper stickers collection, and works hard to exhibit all these outer signs and symbols of his faith. The Christ-follower, on the other hand, is in his casual jeans an a t-shirt, doesn’t worry about bumper stickers or outward marks. When the Christian asks the Christ-follower, “so, what do you do to display your Christianity,” the Christ-follower responds “nothing, I guess, I just try to follow Christ with the way I live my life.”

The first time I saw this parody was not too long after I graduated from seminary – where I got to study rule books and theology books and Hebrew and Greek so I could understand the “trusty sword” in its original languages. Let’s just say, it hit a little too close to home.

Those of us who come from “mainline” traditions like Presbyterian or Methodist, Episcopalian or Lutheran – we are reasonably comfortable with the Sunday best, the rule books, the bible study. We know when to stand up and sit down in a church service, we can recite the Apostles’ Creed, we rules and we like to follow them decently and in order.

And this parody is suggesting that those signs, those creeds, those habits – they don’t make you a follower of Christ.

It’s a little like our gospel lesson this morning.

Out of all the people – the crowds, the disciples – Peter seems to get “it.” He gets that Jesus isn’t some old prophet come back from the great beyond, he gets that this guy they’ve been following is the one – the Messiah. A bunch of other may claim to be the Messiah, but they aren’t – Jesus of Nazareth is.

Peter has clued into the Messianic secret – he understands what those demons Jesus cast out of people seemed to already know – this is the one everyone’s been waiting for. The Messiah.

What a wonderful moment of faith for Peter. He can smile and take pride that out of all of Jesus’ followers, he’s the real deal just like Jesus is – because he’s the one that makes the first confession of faith. “You are the Messiah.”

And moments later, he’s the one that gets rebuked.

We don’t know what exactly Peter rebuked Jesus for when he turned to the crowd and spoke to them of death and resurrection. Perhaps it was because the Son of Man- the Messiah – couldn’t die. That wasn’t how isn’t how things were supposed to go. Or perhaps it was because Jesus was sharing this with all. Perhaps Peter thought this Messiah was for only those in the know. After all, Jesus has just told him to keep quiet about the whole Messiah thing – why is he now speaking so openly about the Son of Man?

Whether he didn’t like what Jesus was saying or didn’t like that Jesus was letting all hear his words, Peter rebukes Jesus. And Jesus, in turn, rebukes Peter. Peter—who just moments before seemed to have “gotten” it—is rebuked in front of his fellow disciples and then hears Jesus speak to the whole crowd how to follow him.

“Deny yourself. Take up your cross. Follow me.”

Jesus doesn’t command confession – he commands action. It is one thing to say, Lord, Lord, and another to live as though Jesus is your Lord.

Jesus isn’t as concerned about the right words as he is about the right way to live. He doesn’t condemn those who call him Elijah or another prophet nor does he reward Peter who knows him as Messiah. The confessions are important but not complete. Not without the life that seeks to answer Jesus’ question. We—who will stand up and affirm our faith in Jesus Christ God’s only son, our Lord—too called not to say the right words, but to live the right way.

And we, like the crowd, like Peter, we don’t. We may say the right words but we don’t live as Jesus tells us to. Here and now, we fit right into the gospel story.

“Who do people say that I am?”

Oh, say the disciples, well, Jesus, these other people, they call you Elijah and John the Baptist, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets. They see you as someone who has come before. An ancient prophet that has arisen. Someone they already know.

This is what the crowds confess, the crowds that will celebrate his triumphant entry into Jerusalem and then shout crucify him less than a week later.

“Who do you say that I am?”

The disciples remain quiet. All, except Peter. “You are the Messiah,” he says, “son of the living God.”

This is what Peter confesses, Peter who will soon rebuke and be rebuked by Jesus, Peter who will deny him three times.

“Who do you say that I am?”

Oh, say we. Who do we say that you are? Okay, we say you are Son of God. And Lamb of God. Oh, and Word of God. And Emmanuel, Rabbi, Beloved, Bread of Life. King of Kings and Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace. Alpha and Omega. Savior, Messiah.

This is what we say, what we confess, and yet we will walk past those who are hunger, we will keep polluting the waters and not worry that some have nothing to drink, we will have nothing to do with the stranger for they are just too different, we will think it’s a pity that some have no protection against the elements but not offer our cloak and our other garments too, we will wish all could have health care but let the difficulty of solutions distract us from actually caring for the sick, we will stay away from the prisons for we will not believe that those who have strayed can truly be rehabilitated.

We, like Peter, can confess the right thing, make the appropriate statement of faith, and then leave it to that – words and only words. We, like Peter, can turn against Jesus when he asks us to believe something we don’t want to, when he asks us to follow him where we don’t want to go, when he asks us to live and die – for him, through him, and in him.

Being a Christian, a follower of Christ, really is a lot harder than reading your bible or knowing the right words. As a friend of mine recently reminded me, wearing a cross is not the same thing is taking up the cross.

We, like the crowd, like Peter, we don’t get it. We don’t always walk the walk, we don’t always confess Christ with our lives as well as our lips.

And yet, we, like the crowd, like Peter, we keep trying. And we, like the crowd, like the disciples, like Peter, we have seen and believed that Christ forgives us and works with us and through us and yeah, in spite of us. We may deny him, may crucify him, but we come back, we want to follow him. We may stray, but we know he’ll lead us back. And he does. Jesus always has and always will bring us back and with willing and open hearts, we will follow him into some scary, and wonderful, places. And in moments that may last seconds or years, we do feed the hungry, give water to thirsty, welcome the stranger. We do build houses for those without shelter, serve at the food pantry, offer compassion and justice for those who are in need, visit and have relationship with those whom society would rather forget.

Even if we don’t quite understand who Jesus is, even if we don’t always live as Jesus commands, our Messiah does not give up on us. The proof of God’s amazing love us this: while we were sinners, Christ died for us. And it is we sinners Christ calls out to, speaking of love and forgiveness, telling us to take up our cross and follow him. And it is we sinners who long to answer, who can answer, with our lives as well as our lips: yes, Lord, yes Savior, yes Son of God, yes Messiah, yes. Amen.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

By the Numbers: Four Horsemen

Texts: Isaiah 64:1-4; Revelation 6:1-8

In honor of our teachers and students heading back to school soon, I have a little pop quiz. Which one of the following is a true statement?
A) Revelation is the book the New Testament folks dropped in to make God sound a little more like the wrathful God of the Old Testament
B) Revelation is a dream John had after eating something he shouldn’t before going to bed.
C) Revelation is a book a hope.

If you’re scratching your head and wondering if this is a trick question, you’re probably not alone. The answer is C) Revelation is a book of hope but don’t worry if you didn’t get it. Most of us hear the word Revelation and think fire and brimstone, cryptic messages from the past that some people interpret as a blueprint for the future, doom and gloom for the world with a hint of new creation at the end.

And the scripture this morning is just one of the many reasons why we think that. The four horsemen of the Apocalypse do not appear to be bringing tidings of good news of great joy. Hardly. Instead we have war, bloodshed, hunger, death. We have the sword, famine, pestilence, and wild animals bringing civilization into chaos.

Who are these four horsemen? Well, that’s a tough question to answer. Perhaps one of the reasons understanding Revelation is so challenging is because it’s like trying to read a political cartoon from 2000 years ago. We may get the overall gist but we aren’t going to get the jokes or the jabs.

Borrowing heavily from Old Testament imagery, John is speaking to people living in an unjust empire. The writer of Revelation is speaking truth to power through a specific literary genre – apocalyptic—a form that is used to unveil or reveal things we do not see. He is watching his friends, his family, his fellow Christians being persecuted by the great power of Rome and he is writing to them in encouragement. In hope. Yes, this book with its beasts and women of Babylon was written to give hope to those who were being persecuted.

Even our section on the four horsemen.

The four horsemen have been imagined in literature, art, television and movies probably since John of Patmos first took pen to paper, or whatever the 1st century stuck in a cave on an island equivalent is. We imagine these horsemen in different ways because the writer of John wants us to. Apocalyptic literature requires imagination in the reading. There are symbols, colors, names, numbers and everything is a part of the mysterious unveiling. Everything has meaning – sometimes this meaning is more obvious than others.

Each rider comes from the Lamb, each rider is summoned by one of the living creatures near the Lamb’s throne, each comes out in terror and power. The first rider carries a bow (the favored weapon of a neighboring people known for their war-making) and is wearing what we read as a crown, but could more accurately be translated as a wreath. A wreath of victory like the ones placed on the great conquering generals’ heads. The first rider out of the gate, so to speak, is a Conqueror.

The rider that follows is on a bright red horse, red like the blood this rider insists people to spill. The rider has been given power to take peace, to stir up anger and hostility, hatred and violence among the peoples of the earth.

The third rider, the rider on the black horse, comes in with scales in hand. This rider is not justice, rather injustice, as the rider is instructed to charge outrageous prices for food staples—though leaving olive oil and wine alone. A denarius – an average day’s wages – normally had the buying power of anywhere from eight to sixteen times more than this. The third rider charges in leaving economic injustice, poverty and hunger in his wake.

The rider that comes in last could be understood as the natural conclusion of the three previous riders – conquering, bloodshed, hunger. Death comes in on a pale green horse with Hades – the ruler of the dead – at his side. And with these two comes the result of war – swords, famine, disease, and finally, what was once homes, communities, civilization, is now abandoned, over run by wild animals.

Four horsemen – War, Bloodshed, Hunger, and Death – come into our world and bring misfortune with them.

And somehow this is hopeful? For John of Patmos it was. For us, may it also be so. These four riders have wretched power. War, Bloodshed, Hunger and Death – swords, famine, disease, destruction – all of these terrible things are the tools used by the empire to keep the weak down. These are what Rome uses to rule the world, to oppress those who are less powerful – like the Christians. The four horsemen use the tactics of the oppressors.

And where did they get their weapons – these weapons of Rome, of empire, of oppressors? From God. God is the one who grants them power, God is the one who grants them dominion. They have no power of their own – all power comes from God. While the contemporary reader may see God’s giving of power to these forces as a suggestion that God is wrathful, John is using this image to bring his readers attention to the one with ultimate authority and power. For John, it is not about why bad things happen to good people or anything like that – the focus is on the one who will reign forever and ever.

Even though an empire may seem like it has total power, total control, total authority over all those in its dominion, it does not. God does. God alone has ultimate power and authority over everything under heaven and on earth. God is the one who makes mountains quake and nations tremble. Any power that Rome or any other empire may think it has comes from God and is thus bound, restricted, limited by God. Rome is not the ultimate power, God is.

The four horsemen begin the section of Revelation that imagines what the future tribulation will be like and it can be simply summed up as this: Life is hard, will continue to be hard, but the powers will not win; God will. What wondrous hope we may find in this. What needed hope.

The empire will not win nor does it have ultimate power over your life, no matter how it often seems like it does. In John’s time, the empire was the Romans, those that persecuted Christians, denied them the opportunity to worship freely, threw them to the dogs, used them as human torches, among other less than pleasant things. John spoke to them of hope through this vision, helped them to stay strong and faithful in the midst of persecution.

For you and I today, the empire looks a little different. While some of our brothers and sisters live in fear of religious persecution, we live in a nation that ensures freedom of religion. Our empire doesn’t look like room. Instead, it comes in the form of prejudice and phobia, disadvantages and doubt, temptation and trial. The empire appears in the forces of destruction, the ones that make you believe you will never see sunshine again, that the darkness will win.

The empire you face may be one like Rome but maybe it’s more like something you call stress. Stress over getting everything you need to do done; stress over providing for your family in tough economic times; stress over figuring out who it is you’re supposed to be and what you’re supposed to do.

Perhaps it’s what you call cancer. We have statistics and screenings but you never know if you’re going to get it or if you do, what’s going to happen. And the most insidious thing about this disease is that it’s not out there lurking, it’s in here. Sometimes it seems to have a power over you that no one can promise will not win.

Maybe your empire is something like depression. That sorrow and heaviness you just can’t shake off. That little voice inside that speaks lies, telling you that joy will not come with the morning.

Whatever the empire you face is called, John reminds us of the gospel truth – an earthly empire –stress, cancer, depression, bigotry, intolerance, materialism, sin, death—will not reign forever nor is its power over us complete. All of those things we deal with, we suffer through, are there – the empire is there as neither John nor we could deny—but these powers have nothing in comparison to the Lamb. God is the one with the true power – not Rome or anything or one else. God is the one who reigns and in the end all creation will sing of God’s glory forever and ever.

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse do not create an easily understood image. But the image they present is one of hope, one we can turn to when we fear that these earthly powers have won. War, Bloodshed, Famine, Death – these frightening forces may seem to have total dominion but they don’t. Neither do the empires that choose to weld them. These empires will never win – they can’t! God is the one who established the heavens and the earth and God is the one who created the power these empires abuse. No matter how terrible it may seem, God is the one who will win ultimately and save us eternally. God will win and we will be with God.

What could be more hopeful than that? Amen.

Monday, June 29, 2009


As you may know, the first two weeks of June I was blessed with continuing education experiences at Montreat. The first week I was there we were treated to a keynote and sermon from Otis Moss III – an African-American UCC pastor from Chicago. This man can proclaim the Word of God! I still get chills thinking about his sermon (and brought back a CD of it for anyone who’d like to take a listen).

Otis also led a workshop which I took part in and in this workshop I was treated with a wonderful reminder about the Bible. Otis walked us through the story of Jesus and the Gerasene demon in Mark 5. As Jesus steps out of the boat, a man (who cannot be bound by chains) comes running up to him from his home in the nearby tombs. Otis asked us “what do you notice?” A couple “churchy” responses rang out – “how he’s seeking out Jesus,” and “he’s in need of healing.” Otis shook his head and said, “what’s the first thing you notice?” Finally, someone shouted out “he smells!”

We all laughed but it was true – this man who lived in the tombs and was possessed by demons probably hadn’t had a bath lately. As we walked through the rest of the text, we paid attention to the sights, the sounds, and the smells. The story came alive – became real – for us in a way it hadn’t before.

It’s so easy to forget that these stories aren’t just texts for us to glean spiritual truths from – they’re real, visceral, and apparently (on occasion) smelly. As you come to the Bible in your personal devotions, I encourage you to try on Otis’ exercise. Imagine what your senses might pick up if you were there and don’t get too bogged down in “churchy” answers!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Shimmer and Shine

Text: Acts 2:1-21

You may not fall victim to this, but I know when I read the Pentecost story, I get swept away in the supernatural elements. The winds, the flame, the astounding gift of tongues. And then to hear about the last days where there will be portents of blood, fire, and smoky mist, when the sun will be darkness and the moon turned to blood. Moon to blood - it’s hard not to get distracted by that!

With all these signs, it’s easy to miss the really amazing part of the story – a part that’s not even in the lectionary section for today - that on that very day three thousand people were baptized. Because of what they had heard – the good news in their own language.

This is the beginning of the church - the community of faith. Not just that the Holy Spirit came or that the disciples went from the room they were hiding in into the world, but that people who did not believe came to believe. It is from this moment that the church – our church – our family in Christ will continue to grow, to spread beyond the city of Jerusalem, to cross mountains and oceans and last longer than even the most powerful empires of the earth.

The church grew because along the way, followers of Christ continued to speak the Good News in new languages. And these languages aren’t just Greek or Hebrew, Spanish or English. The disciples could and did speak languages of different cultures and communities. That’s one of the reasons our four gospels sound different from one another. Not only did the writers have different perspectives, but they were writing to different communities – communities that might hear the good news in the language of Jewish prophecy fulfilled as was the case with Matthew or in the language of Greek rhetoric as was the case with John.

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, Christians have been able to reach out to people from different communities and nations and share the good news. The Holy Spirit has gifted those who would seek to share the Gospel with the ability to speak with people with different languages – languages made of words and languages made of culture.

The Holy Spirit has gifted and continues to gift the body of Christ with the languages we need to reach out and share the good news. The Holy Spirit continues to empower us to birth the family of faith in new communities and grow abundantly.

Then why are we dying?

Why does the church in our nation continue to hemorrhage members? Why does it seem people are more comfortable saying they are “spiritual” than to claim a community of faith? Oh, yes, individual churches may be growing but overall the church attendance in the United States is down just as the number of those who say they don’t believe in God is up.

There are certainly many reasons we can say why the church seems to be dying – division, moral relativism, the natural and historic growth patterns of the church that mean we shrink while new places like Africa or Latin America grow.


Or maybe there’s something else. The Holy Spirit has gifted us with the languages and ability to reach peoples of all ages, races, creeds, and contexts. And yet we don’t seem to be doing the best job of that. It’s not as though the Holy Spirit has stopped working or just isn’t around anymore. But something is different than it was on the first day of the church. And what’s different is us.

We have the gift of languages. Even if we can’t speak Swahili or Portuguese or anything like that, we can speak to people who would hear the good news in a different way than we do. Through the Holy Spirit that comes as fire and wind, we can speak as many languages as there are peoples.

But we aren’t. We aren’t speaking new languages – not loudly, not boldly. Instead of acting like we’re on fire with passion for the Gospel, we often act like the disciples before Pentecost, scared and silent, stuck up in the safety of our room, our comfort zone, with no one to worry about but ourselves.

But that’s not who we are called to be. We are called to run out of the safety and security of our walls, to speak loudly of God’s love, and to do so in ways that may be unfamiliar to us, in the hopes that the language we speak resonates with others.

When God sent the Spirit, began the church, the Holy One didn’t demand that all peoples hear the good news in the one true language of Aramaic, Greek, or Hebrew. No - the good news came to the people in their language. As children of the reformation, we can appreciate that God’s living word is one that is meant to be spoken in the language of the people - whatever that language may be.

We are called to speak new languages - not to demand that others learn ours.

The Good News is multicultural and multi-generational. So too must we be. While we - Covenant Presbyterian Church - cannot speak all the languages out there, we can learn a few more. We can learn to understand that brothers and sisters like those in our confirmation class hear and live out the Gospel in new ways and new words - though the Gospel is the same as it was in my generation or yours or yours. While we appreciate our way of worship or our way of education, our partnership with the Bedele congregation in Ethiopia reminds us that different practices and different priorities can still reflect the same faith.

I was talking with an acquaintance of mine the other night about not really being a morning person but managing to pretend reasonably well on Sunday mornings. He looked at me and said, “Yeah, what’s up with that? Why does church have to be in the morning?”

You know, I couldn’t think of a good answer.

That’s in part what I mean by speaking new languages. Maybe church doesn’t have to speak in the words of a morning service – other churches have services in the evenings, on different days. Maybe if we worshipped on Sunday evening this young adult would be more inclined to come since he didn’t have to get out of bed at an hour that in his language he would call too early. Or maybe if we learned to speak through mission instead of just hoping people will come to hear our speech in worship, or maybe if we were just bold enough to say “I love Jesus!,” without any shame, we would connect to those for whom our current language is just babble.

I don’t know. And we won’t know - we won’t know if these are the words we need to speak until we at least try some out. We won’t know if something is the language the Holy Spirit has gifted us with until we try to speak.

We have been hesitant to speak and live the Gospel in new ways in part because our old ways are really comfortable. We know what to expect and know we won’t be ridiculed for them. We know that if we go out into this world, alive and bright and burning with the power of God and the love of Christ, that when we shimmer and shine with the Holy Spirit, we’re gonna stand out. Like with the first disciples, people may look at us and think we’re crazy, foolish, or want to know what we’re on.

But we - like the disciples - need to risk appearing a bit foolish. Need to risk doing something that won’t work or stretches us past our comfort zones, knowing and trusting that the Advocate is still at work among us and within us.

We need to speak new languages so that those who do not hear the Good News in the words we speak now, will. So that they may come to know of God’s love and come to know a community of faith where they can be both nurtured and sent out into the world to share God’s grace with others.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Hate On Me

Text: John 17:6-19

“I’ll pray for you.”

These words are ones that – I hope – we all have heard. A comforting offer in the midst of suffering, an empathetic gesture from a loved one when you’re in dire straits, even when you know that they are spoken because they’re the only thing someone can think to say. These words are appreciated and even needed.

Of course, there are times we may have heard these words that they were not quite so appreciated. Times and ways that you know they aren’t spoken in pure love and empathy. Ever hear something like: “Oh honey, I’ll pray for you,” as though you’ve gotten yourself in situation so bad only divine intervention will get you out. That kind of prayer, most of us can do with out.

But mostly, when someone reaches out and offers to think about you in their conversations with God, that gesture touches you deep. It’s thoughtful, moving, and reminds you that you’re not alone in your struggles. You have both God and the community of brothers and sisters in Christ.

As moving as it may be to have a friend, family member, even stranger, offer prayer on your behalf, think how powerful it is that Jesus – Son of God, Savior of All, the one who has been betrayed and—when we meet him in our text this morning—is soon to be crucified by the world and abandoned by most of his followers – Jesus prays for his disciples. He prays for us.

Jesus has been with his followers since the moment he called them – he has watched over them, taught them, empowered them. On the eve of his arrest, he takes time to offer prayer on their behalf. The prayer he offers is beautiful: “protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” Protect them – God – for I have watched over them and now they are leaving my immediate care and all they have is each other. This prayer is one that I imagine many parents who have seen or will soon be seeing their children go off to college can identify with.

What the disciples will face—however—goes way beyond the tyranny of choice and temptations that can be found on college campuses. Jesus’ followers – the ones he called in person and the ones he continues to personally call – will be faced with a world that hates them.


Not strongly dislikes or doesn’t really enjoy being around – hates.

The world Christ talks about is not a specific people or even all those people who do not know Christ. The world—this cosmos—is the powers and principalities, that interlocking web of laws, nations, cultures, values that we human beings contribute to yet which is beyond any one humans control or influence. This world is one full of those isms (racism and sexism), one that supports the theory of survival of the fittest, and one that hates those who follow Christ just as it hated him. Why? Because those who follow Christ do not follow the ways of the world – they don’t – we don’t – belong to the world. Which means that this world does not have the final word for us nor hold our ultimate allegiance.

And that makes Christ’s followers dangerous. And worthy of hate.

Hate… you know, love is so much nicer to talk about. Jesus loves the little children, God is love, love is all you need. While we are called to love – love God and love one another – it doesn’t mean that hate shouldn’t be or won’t be part of our conversations. For though God so loved the world that God sent the only Son, the world hated him and hates those who follow him.

Being hated is probably not something many of us are all that comfortable with. It’s much nicer to be loved, adored, respected. The parting gift at beauty pageants is Miss Congeniality, not Miss Contentious, after all.

I—for one—don’t want to be hated. I don’t want to know that because of my religion I may be mocked, derided, even despised. I don’t want to think that I may be called to follow in the footsteps of those who fled to these shores in search of freedom from religious persecution. I don’t want to believe that by believing in and working toward the kingdom of God, the kingdoms of this world will hate me or any of my brothers and sisters.

But being a follower of Christ means we are to love and know that we will be hated for that love. The world’s hate is not by itself a marker of whether or not we are following Christ fully – hardly. Hate unfortunately comes in too many packages for that. But it can be a telling sign of just how faithful we follow.

Looking at our history, those who followed Christ – who didn’t buy what the world said – who rejected the idea that the status quo was just fine – who spoke out for those who have been oppressed by the systems of dominance – have been met with the hatred of the world – and sometimes lost their lives to it. Martin Luther King, Jr, Oscar Romero, Dorothy Kazel and her fellow Ursuline sisters are just some of the names that stand out from the last 50 years.

Christ knows this is what will happen to those who follow him – knows when his disciples challenge the idea that certain people deserve to live in poverty or that violence is the only way to peace, that they will know derision and even death.

Knowing this, Christ—on the night before he himself is crucified for daring to speak against the world’s ways—offers prayers for those who follow him. He prays for many things but one thing he doesn’t pray for is that Christ’s followers would be sheltered from the world. No, indeed, those who follow Christ are called to be in the world.

It would be so much nicer if we could just stay out of the way. Do our thing and let the world revolve without any word of objection from us. Maybe build some walls to keep the world’s ways out and us safe. It may be easier, but if we follow Christ, it’s not an option.

We are sent into this world in Jesus’ name to live and love as he did – regardless of the consequences. Those who follow Christ are vulnerable in this world. We risk everything—yes, even our very lives—for the kingdom. But we are with God, are God’s, and that should bring us comfort and strength. In this season of Easter we should especially be aware that in Christ, through the power of the resurrection, that which seems the end isn’t. So when we risk our very lives, our standing, our popularity for the sake of the gospel – even that which seems the end (failure, hate, death) isn’t.

Christ prays for our unity with God and with one another because he knows—and has lived—the hard path his followers will travel. He knows that without a doubt, those who follow Christ will be hated.

So the question I have this morning is this: are we?

Are we hated? Do the systems of dominance and oppression of this world look at the church and tremble? Do they look at our church­—our individual congregations, our Presbyterian community, the church universal—and see one challenge to the worldly reign after another? Do they see our worship, our outreach, our education as a threat to the forces that keep some people down while holding a select few up, that encourage blind eyes and deaf ears, that prop up idols of wealth, status, and power.

Or does the world that hates the followers of Christ, those who preserve the truth, look at us and see nothing to worry about? Nothing to hate?

This question won’t be answered by me this morning. I dare say it can’t be answered from any pulpit alone. Rather, we will find the answers (or at the very least more good questions) when we gather together around the word Christ has given us, in conversation, in action, in prayer.

As we gather together, we may dare to ask one another whether or not we’re too comfortable, whether or not we are taking risks, are putting ourselves out there for the sake of the Gospel. If yes, then we may find comfort in Christ’s prayer for us. If no, then perhaps we will find a challenge as well as compassion.

Christ is no longer in this world. But we are. And it is through us that God will be glorified, through us that the world will know of Christ’s love – even if this world hates us…. Amen.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Where is the Love?

Texts: 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-4

There’s good news for the economy – an upswing in spending has taken place this past week. And we can thank mothers for that. The National Retail Federation estimates that we Americans will spend an average of $124 this Mother's Day. In looking for ways to show Mom our love, nearly 67 percent of us will go the tried and true route – flowers – and thus pump the floral industry with about $2 billion dollars. Others of us will buy jewelry, gift cards, chocolate, and spa packages (these gifts, incidentally, work well for Pastors’ Appreciation day too). 50% of us will take Mom out to lunch and most of us are sending cards – all adding up to about $14 billion dollars spent to tell Mom we love her.[1]

Not to get on the bad side of all the moms who enjoy the flowers and the chocolates, but it seems to me that there might better ways to show Mom we love her than spending money on stuff.

The Mother of Mother’s Day had similar thoughts. Inspired by her own mother, Anna Jarvis spent almost a decade campaigning to get a day set aside to honor moms. Staunton’s own Woodrow Wilson made it official in 1914. We celebrate Mother’s Day on the second Sunday of the month because it coincides with the anniversary of Anna’s mother’s death. She wanted a holy day – not a holiday – set aside to honor the dedication and sacrifice of each individual mother with – at best – a single white carnation and a handwritten letter given as tokens of affection.

Over the years, white carnation have some how transformed into white diamond pendants the commercials tell us will really let Mom know we care. It broke Anna’s heart – among other things[2] – when Mother’s Day began to be the commercial holiday we know today. She wanted this day to be about love, not profit. And as far as all those Hallmark cards go, they are – according to her – “a poor excuse for the letter you are too lazy to write.”

As a daughter who is hoping a phone call to her mom will be enough this year, those words of Anna’s strike a chord. Quite frankly, I don’t know of many moms who would rather have a box of chocolates over something heartfelt and time-consuming—like a hand-written letter, or your amateur painting, or (one of my mom’s favorites) a list of chores she does around the house that you’re taking over for awhile.

Those thoughtful things often get left behind on the “good idea” shelf while we take the easier option. Enter the diamond pendants and $2 billion spent on flowers. Showing someone you love them – whether that someone is your mother, father, sibling, partner, friend – can be a challenge. Especially when we’ve been taught that showing someone you love them means getting that perfect gift – that perfect thing. We’ve been taught this and many of us have come to believe it to be true, even though I doubt many of us would be able to say “I knew my husband loved me when he bought me a new car,” or “I knew my friend really cared when she bought me an iPod case.”

We can say “I love you, I love you, I love you,” but our actions need to match our words—after all, they speak louder. And that’s not as simple as treating Mom to dinner once a year. Showing those we love that we love them takes time, energy, and effort. The hand-written letter versus the greeting card. Love isn’t easy.

When it comes to the one who is Mother and Father to us all – it certainly doesn’t get any easier. Oh, some things are easier. We don’t have to wonder if sending God a card or a flower is a good enough way to show our love. Taking God out to dinner isn’t an option neither is that diamond pendant. We don’t have to guess about the ways in which God knows that we really care.

Our epistle lesson this morning tells us plainly, “those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or a sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

How do we show God our love? By loving one another. Not just a passive love – but an active one. Right before his crucifixion, Jesus tells us that those who show kindness to the least among us, offering food, water, shelter, clothes, compassion, are the ones who show our love to him. Right before his ascension, Jesus reinforces our ways of expressing love to God for when he asks Peter if he loves him, and the Rock replies “you know I do,” what does Jesus say back? “Then feed and tend my sheep.”

We show God’s love to the world – and our love to God – when we love one another.

No worries about the perfect present, no doubts about if God will understand what we’re trying to say when we mow the lawn or do the dishes without being asked – we know how to express our love. But just because we know how doesn’t mean it’s easy to do. It would be so much simpler to be able to love God by coming to church every Sunday, putting money in the offering plate, and leave it at that. While worshipping God and stewardship of resources are certainly part of loving God – they aren’t the totality.

God asks us to love the unlovable. I’m talking about those mean, nasty people that make you cry, make you angry, make you so frustrated. God asks us to take care of those who are in need – even if we may wonder just how they got themselves in such dire circumstances in the first place. God asks us to share the good news of the gospel in word and deed with all – not just our children here in the safety of our church walls - but all God’s children, just outside these walls and far beyond.

We do not do these things in order to earn God’s love – that would be impossible. For the only way we can love is because God first loved us. No, we do these things in response to God’s love – to show God our own love back.

It would be some much easier just to send God a greeting card. I don’t have to tell you how tough it is to love people you just don’t give you any reason to love them – in fact, give you every worldly reason to not. Nor how against the grain it can feel to go out of your way to help someone you’re not quite sure deserves to be helped. Nor how uncomfortable it can be to tell people about the love of God when you’re pretty sure they don’t want to hear it.

Yep, a greeting card or one of those edible fruit bouquets would be so much easier.

But love isn’t easy. Not even when it comes to the One who is love.

It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.


“If we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us.”

Our epistle lesson reminds us that when do all of these things – love our enemies, take care of the poor, proclaim the good news and so much more – we do so with the aid of the One who loves us first. When we love, it is God’s love we are sharing and showing. When we love one another, we know God and are empowered by God to love back.

“God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.”

Abide – not just stopping by for a cup of tea. But staying, dwelling, sinking in deep. When we let love dwell in us, God is there. God is in our heartbeat, our breath, our hands and our souls. As Jesus tells his disciples – we can only bear good fruit if we abide in him as he abides in us. And we can. We can show God our love by loving one another because God is in us, empowering us, strengthening us, perfecting love within us.

Loving God – expressing that love in true and faithful ways – is not an easy task. Much more challenging than any hand-written note. But it is so worth the time, effort, and energy. God’s love is so powerful it created the world, redeemed the world through the Son, and renews the world every single day. The love that flung the stars into the heavens, brought forth the rules of physics and beauty of music, gave creatures breath and imagination, is the same love that abides in us. This love can do anything – God can do anything – and do anything through us.

When we find it hard to love as God would have us love, we can remember how much we are loved and find strength in that. Turn to the perfect love in which we cannot fear. Draw on the source of love in order to bear good fruit of peace, justice, compassion, and mercy.

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God – and love is for God. God is love. May we abide in the One who is love and may God abide in us. Amen.

[1] Mother’s Day Gifts. 5/9/099. <>

[2] Anna went broke with lawsuit after lawsuit, trying to bring Mother’s Day back to her original conception. She died penniless in a Pennsylvania mental institution.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Doubting Thomas

Texts: 1 John 1:1-2:2, John 20:19-31
Our Gospel story this morning is one many of us are very familiar – it’s one of the few stories we have about the risen Christ and so it gets told fairly frequently. We may be familiar with this story but we aren’t as familiar with this man. Who he was, what drove him to follow Jesus, why he was so focused on the tangible “proof” of this great mystery called the resurrection.

Maybe he struggled with being left out or forgotten; maybe he was from one of those Jewish schools of thought that just didn’t believe in the resurrection at all; maybe he was just confused about everything he was hearing about a risen Christ because the story was getting a little muddled second hand. Or maybe not.

We don’t know much about Thomas the disciple I think because we don’t need to. Because doubting Thomas could easily be doubting Amy or doubting Tom, doubting Janey or doubting Bob. When we read the story of Thomas, we can see ourselves standing in his place – just as the writer of John wanted us to.

We all doubt. We all have doubts about God’s presence or about the nature of God or about even the very existence of God. It’s unfortunate that somewhere along the way, many of us have gotten it into our heads that these doubts we have are a bad thing, an ungodly thing, a sinful thing. Doubt isn’t wrong. Look at the story of our doubting Thomas. Jesus doesn’t condemn the disciple – rather meets him where he is. Thomas is just as scared as the other disciples were—hiding behind that locked door—and not quite ready to accept their news – and such news. Sure, some Jews believed in the resurrection, but on the last day – not 3 days after you’ve died. This walking, talking, self-same body today resurrection cannot be true.

Jesus gets it. He gets that Thomas needs to see him just as the other disciples did. And when Thomas does, does see the risen Christ, he professes his faith.

Thomas does not believe in the risen Christ – in his Lord and God – until he sees him. And that’s not so different from any of us. Jesus says that those who do not see and yet believe are blessed. And so it is. Those past the first generation do not get to see Jesus of Nazareth raised from the dead but many believe.

We believe because Jesus offers us too his hand—his presence—though not in the physical sense. We believe when we hear the stories of faith—stories from the Bible and stories from disciples of ages past and ages present who tell us of their encounters with the risen Christ. We believe because we have known and felt Christ’s presence in our lives.

But there are times in all of our lives—days, seasons, and even years—when these stories and memories don’t sustain us. And that’s okay. There is room for doubt in faith. One of the things we tell the confirmation class is that we can never know about God beyond a doubt – we can feel, we can believe – but scientific, testable, human controllable understanding – nope. We don’t get to touch Jesus’ side or put our hands in the holes in his hands.

And so sometimes—especially in a world that demands “proof” for so many things—the stories don’t get us through. Jesus understands this and doesn’t condemn doubt. Doubt in itself isn’t a bad thing. Fredrick Buchener calls it the ants in the pants of faith. It can keep your faith awake, moving, growing. When we doubt, we have an opportunity to wonder and spend more time seeking out God, and in spending time seeking—and finding God’s presence—we can grow in our faith.

Doubt isn’t something to condemn but to understand and live through. The problem with doubt comes when we just sit down in the middle of it and refuse to get up. When you doubt and just stay in the midst of that, not doing any work or soul-searching or anything to move beyond.

We all doubt God and we all need to acknowledge/honor our doubt, and move beyond it.

That’s easier said than done. We can’t just think or wish or work our way into faith. Faith, as the Paul reminds us, is a gift from God. But we can broaden our awareness of God’s presence, be on the active lookout, seek God out in order that we may see, hear, touch, feel and believe. Like Thomas we often need to see for ourselves. Hearing other people’s stories about how God has touched their lives doesn’t always cut it. We need to feel God or see God too. And so in order to deal with our doubt, we have to engage the world around us with this desire to know God firmly in place. Thomas didn’t believe the words of his friends but he didn’t just give up. He said “I need to see for myself.” Sure, he comes off sounding a bit stubborn about it but his willingness to be available to God was there.

When we doubt, we too need to be available to God. We need to open our eyes and our hearts to what God may show us – from the big moments to the mundane, from the sacred to the secular. Because the presence of God is out there – and it may just surprise you where you find it.

This past weekend I was at our Presbytery's women's conference preaching and leading worship. Something many of us had seen either on the news or on youtube came up in conversation. A moment that made us pause in surprise. I invite you to see this moment yourself.

In this beautiful moment in Susan Boyle's life, we saw God’s presence. Saw God in this woman's confidence and in the way the audience allowed themselves to be carried away by the power of her voice.

Our lives can be filled with so many of those moments—but we have to look. We can’t shut our eyes and stop our ears to God. When Jesus tells Thomas “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe,” I think he meant that quite literally. Blessed are those who hadn’t seen the risen Christ before them and yet believe. We don’t have the risen Christ – we can’t point him out to our friends and say “see, I told you he was real.” But we do have those small moments of God’s presence that we can see and name for what they are. We don’t have the risen Christ but we do have the Spirit of Christ. For all the ways he stands for us in the story of Jesus’ followers, Thomas perhaps had it a bit easier than we do. He got to see and touch and know Christ in a physical, tangible, provable way. We don’t. Instead we get this glimpses of God’s presence in the world around us, if we keep our eyes open.

So blessed are those who do not see the risen Christ standing before them and yet believe. Blessed are those who see the small signs of God’s presence and recognize them for what they are. May we each be so blessed as to see God’s presence in our midst and believe. Amen.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Small Group Seder

This last Monday the Young Adult small group met for the last time in our normal location.  The 6 week gathering will meet once more to celebrate Passover Seder together – exploring the spiritual practice of ritual. 

I’ll post the other spiritual practices when I’m at my work computer and can pull up the file, but for now I wanted to reflect on the Seder.  For the last 4 years some young adult friends (many from the church) and I have gathered in someone’s house to observe the meal that Jesus celebrated the night of his arrest.  I love this tradition.  I love getting to break out my Hebrew skills (which, sadly for those involved, were always much stronger in the translating than the pronouncing).  I love remembering what God has done in the life of God’s people.  I love explore such an ancient rite with those from a generation that is known for its lack of religious affiliation. 

If you’ve never observed a Seder, consider looking into it.  The church has several great resources (include the 30-Minute Seder for you busy families) and we’d be happy to loan them out.  Remembering that God has always been a God of wonderful impossibilities, a God who seeks life and freedom for God’s people, is a great way to spend an evening during Holy Week.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Temple

Texts: Micah 5:7-15; John 2:13-22

The courtyard is hardly a calm scene when he enters. Oxen, sheep, and birds of all kinds of feathers are making their barnyard noises – and their barnyard smells. The noise of construction echoes off the walls of the courtyard. Of the hundreds of thousands of people that may travel to the Temple during this holy time, perhaps several thousands are there now. Roman soldiers trying to keep the peace, pilgrims from across the lands—Jews and even God-fearing Gentiles speaking in all kinds of different tongues, merchants and moneychangers crying out “come see my goods, I’ve got the lowest prices, get it now while stocks still last.”

Into this already chaotic space, Jesus enters and manages to stir up even greater pandemonium. He’s flinging over tables, chucking money around, MacGyvering a whip to chase the animals out. Even those who do not understand his language understand the gesture of his actions. He is does not approve of what Jewish historian Josephus calls the “bazaar of the high-priest.”

“Stop,” he cries out. “Stop making my father’s house a market-place.”

The Jesus that enters the courtyard surrounding the Temple is not-too-pleased with what he sees; he’s down right angry. What exactly has set him off, we can’t be sure. Perhaps he’s angry that pilgrims will have to pay good chunks of their hard-earned wages for an animal to sacrifice. Perhaps the merchants and money-lenders are exploiting the needs of the people—an unblemished animal—and the limited availability of places to purchase those needs (kind of like the exorbitant cost of a coke at an amusement park).

Or perhaps Jesus is angry with the system itself. Angry that faithful people have been told they need to pay money just to be near God – after all, the Temple is understood to be the house of God and no one can get to the Temple without paying the temple tax.

Whatever is making Jesus’ angry, we know that this angry display is Jesus’ first public act in the Gospel according to John. He has visited with John the Baptist, quietly turned water into wine, and now this. By placing this story at the beginning of his gospel, the writer of John lets us know from the get-go that this Jesus isn’t just about healing, teaching, and changing water into wine. This Jesus is here to make waves, cause a stir, re-order how things work around here.

This Jesus is one we don’t talk about all that much. We’re much more comfortable with the “let the little children come to me” Jesus, the “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they are doing” Jesus. This dramatic outburst is seemingly uncharacteristic of the Jesus who heals and teaches and has continuing patience with his followers – the “get behind me Satan” exchange we heard about last Sunday notwithstanding.

But if Jesus is indeed the full self-revelation of God, the fullness of God come among us—as we confess—then of course he gets angry. There’s a formula we here over and over in the Old Testament (and in fact we heard as part of our declaration of pardon last Sunday) – “the Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

This statement of faith repeated throughout our sacred texts is beautiful in its simple truth. God is all of those things – including slow to anger. But though it may take awhile, God does still get angry. Our scripture from Micah reminds us of that.

What makes God angry? The prophet Micah saw nothing but violence, deceit, worshiping of false Gods – from both the people of Judah and the other nations and spoke of God’s anger. While each indecent of God’s anger has a specific cause - it basically boils down to this: God becomes angry when people do not love God as we should – whether with our worship, our words, our actions.

Practice injustices against the poor and the oppressed – God’s gonna get angry; Worship idols (Ba’al, a golden calf, success, money) over God – God’s gonna get angry; Sit idly by when people need to be fed, sheltered, loved – God’s gonna get angry.

I would certainly understand if right now you’re shifting uncomfortably in your seats. Many of us contemporary Christians are uneasy with thinking about an angry God. Perhaps it’s because we’ve heard too many people speak about that angry God in such a way that it cannot be reconciled with the loving God we are comfortable with. A God who is forever angry at the people, a God who is so close to bringing down wrath, fire, and brimstone.

Perhaps we’re so uncomfortable with anger and God because we’ve seen so many unhealthy and distorted examples of anger. This past week alone in the news we’ve had too many stories of people taking out their anger in the worst ways - they pick up guns and end innocent lives with no thought beyond their own pain, their own desire to inflict wrath or punishment on the world.

That selfish, uncontrolled anger is not God’s anger. No matter how dire God’s anger may seem, it is not constant anger nor is it the anger of uncontrolled rage. God’s anger is just one aspect of the divine – an aspect that is infused with grace, mercy, and love. This anger is an anger that comes from love—that steadfast love we so easily speak about—not hate or pain. God’s anger is always righteous anger: anger that is not reactionary but stems from people being repetitively unfaithful. Anger that may bring about punishment—yes—but always leaves a remnant; always leaves hope; always leaves a chance to grow, change, repent. Anger that in this season of Lent we may particularly appreciate calls us to turn back to God and God’s ways.

God’s anger as we see in Jesus Christ is not about pain or getting even: it’s about righteous change. In Jesus we see that God’s anger is about clearing out the unjust ways to make a path for justice.

It’s important to appreciate and understand this aspect of God not just so we understand God more fully, but so we understand ourselves and our own call. We are made in the image of God. Anger is a part of us even as it is a part of God. Of course, in our sinful states, we often misuse that anger for selfish purposes; let pain guide our anger instead of love. But just as we strive to love as God would love, speak as God would speak, serve as God would serve, we can strive to be angry as God would be angry. We can strive be informed by that anger and answer the call to turn over a few tables ourselves.

There is certainly danger here – danger in become self-righteous instead of righteous; danger in appropriating the things that upset us and make them the things that upset God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells us to go ahead and be angry, but not to sin . That balance can be hard to achieve.

This is why we have one another, why we have the scriptures, why we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If we as the body of Christ strive to known only God’s anger, then this anger will: take time to build, stem from love and not hate, be one that acknowledges our own faults, seek to cleanse not condemn, and ultimately strive to bring about justice for all God’s people. Anger can be a dangerous thing but it can also be a very useful thing. Anger keeps us from being complacent. It is a spark that helps us know something isn’t right and we have to act.

There are some things I dare say we at Covenant are already feeling angry about. It’s not just out of charity that we work at food banks, service in soup kitchens, plant and harvest potatoes for those in need. We do these things because something stirs us to action; because we see the injustice of a world where some people have more than their fill while others starve, we see this and we want to turn over some tables.

This spark of anger towards injustice can drive us to do even more. When Jesus enters the Temple, he clears out individual money-lenders and merchants, but he isn’t here for just these particular individuals. Jesus is concerned with the whole Temple system. When he speaks about the Temple, those around him believe he is speaking about the building they see. Instead, Jesus is speaking about his body, a new Temple and with it a new way of thinking about God, a new way of worshiping: a new, more just way. Jesus’ righteous anger leads him to speak and act out against both the symptoms—the merchants and moneychangers—and the cause of injustice—a religious institution that demands money and costly sacrifices for access to God’s presence. At the very beginning of his ministry, Jesus is letting all know—even if they don’t yet understand—that his kingdom is coming.

This spark of anger towards injustice drives us to serve; it also drives us to speak out and stand out. Speak out against the policies and politics that keep some fed and others hungry; speak out against the consumption of the few to the detriment of the many; stand out as those trouble makers who just can’t leave well enough alone because we know a world in which each day, over 26,000 children under the age of 5 die from preventable diseases, with malnutrition contributing to at least half of those deaths, that this world is not “well” at all.

As the body of Christ we strive to look at the world through the God’s eyes. See beauty in what the world calls ugly. See hope where the world proclaims only despair. See someone worthy of love in one the world says to hate. We also see injustice where the world proclaims fairness. See chains where the world assures us all are free. We see tables that need to be overturned where the world sees a chance to profit.

As the body of Christ, we speak out when others won’t, stand up when others can’t, stop denying the things that make God angry and answer when we are called by God to act. We write letters, we call our congresspersons, we reorient our own choices toward God’s justice. Stirred by God’s righteous anger, we reach out to this broken world, offering new ways of living and being, offering new hope and possibility, offering the love of the God we know in Christ, the God who is gracious and merciful, is slow to anger and is abounding in steadfast love. Amen.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

More Spiritual Practices

This last gathering of the young adult small group, we talked about spiritual practices that involve your body. If you'd like to play along at home, here are some suggestions for ways to engage the Divine.

Exercise – not only is it good for your health, it’s good for your soul. When you engage in your favorite exercise, try incorporating a piece of scripture or concentrate on a sacred image. With exercise that requires a lot of concentration (i.e. punching) try to stay focused on your holy thought. With exercise where you can let your mind wander (i.e. yoga, walking) start with a sacred thought and just let that mind go. Try and pay attention to how your body feels, what it may be saying to you (not just “Ouch – no more” but maybe something a little deeper).

Fasting – There are lots of ways to fast. You can fast from food for a whole day (sunrise to sunset); you can choose to eat only certain foods for a set period of time; you can opt out of one type of food in particular (like chocolate – ahahah!!!).

You may also consider fasting from something else connected to the body – a negative body image. Have something you don’t like about your body, stop picking on yourself. Instead, try looking at whatever you don’t like through God’s eyes – you’re beautiful!

Moderation – you don’t always need to go to the extremes; pick something that maybe you don’t allow yourself anything of (carbs, salt, etc) and have a little. Pick something you overindulge in and take a step back.

Indulgence – We often think of spiritual practices of the body equaling denial and/or abuse of the body. God gave us this great creation and doesn’t want us to ignore it – the occasional indulgence is a good thing! Try getting a pedicure, a massage, take a bath – whatever you indulge in do so in thanksgiving to God for this body that can enjoy such indulgences.

Prayer Postures – You can pray any time and any place, standing up or sitting down. Sometimes, however, changing your physical stance can help to make the time sacredly set apart. Try praying while kneeling, laying down; however you normally pray, do something different with your body. Be intentional about it.

Dancing – And here’s where we may step outside our comfort zone. Put on some music, close the blinds if you need to, and just let your body move. You’re following in the great tradition of folks like Miriam and David. Move that body – let the Spirit move ya – and just enjoy the sensations. Open yourself up to what you feel as you move.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Some Spiritual Practice Ideas

The Young Adult Lenten Small Group met for the first time last night. We had great discussion and reflection. At the end of the evening, I passed out a sheet with suggestions for spiritual practices to try during the week - all centered around scripture. I thought I'd share those practices here.

Daily Reading: Sounds simple enough. Every day read a bit of the Bible. You can start at the very beginning (Genesis) and read until you get tired then pick up where you left off the next day; you can read a Psalm a day; read a chapter of a Gospel a day; read an epistle a day – however you want to organize your reading, just read!

Lectio Divina: check out this website for information on this practice

Acting Out: Pick a scripture (probably an action story – there are some good bloody ones in the OT) and act it out. Include costumes, props, sound effects – whatever you think will enhance your fun/focus

Illustrating: Pick a verse of scripture and write it out on a piece of paper. Just start doodling around the scripture, add flourish to the letters, feel what the scripture may be inspiring you to draw.

Getting in the Scene: Find a story in the Bible you enjoy (perhaps one that is very familiar to you) and imagine you’re a character in that story (mentioned in the Bible or not). Reflect on the story from your character’s perspective.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Walk Down This Mountain

Texts: Psalm 50:1-6; Mark 9:2-9

I don’t know if it’s true but I have heard that our Gospel story this morning is where we get the phrase “mountain top experience.” It certainly seems like it could be true – because this wonderful, cinemascope moment we have with Jesus and the three disciples, encapsulates what we mean when we talk about “mountain top” moments.

Those moments when you feel and see and believe that God is here, bright with love, as amazing as we have been told in Sunday school classes and as glorious as we sing about in our worship, when you feel just a little bit closer to God – these are our mountain top experiences. Some of us actually have them on mountain tops – when we look out at the vista below and marvel at the hand of the Creator who formed all this; if not on a mountain, some of us have them while enjoying other parts of God’s or perhaps when we are with our family and friends.

And some of us may not have experienced a transcendent moment where God reveals Godself to us in a clear, bright way. We can’t talk about our own personal experience but we listen to the stories of others and wonder what that would feel like.

Wherever we may have known God’s bright clear presence, or whether or not we have personally known such a moment – we all can, I think, imagine that the disciples’ mountain top experience is probably as overwhelming as anything we have experienced or heard about. While we may have experiences where we feel God so close, I wonder how many of us seen the dead come back to chit chat with God.

Peter, James, and John – the inner circle of the disciples as some describe them – go up to high place with Jesus. It is six days after Jesus has told all his disciples about his death and resurrection, days after Peter has proclaimed Jesus as Messiah, and now Jesus is going to share with these faithful few a theophany – an encounter with God and an epiphany – a making known of some Good News.

This moment is unlike any other in the disciples’ journey – at least before Jesus’ death and resurrection. Oh they’ve seen things - healings and exorcisms, miracles including people being raised from the dead, but this moment goes beyond all of that. On this mountain top, the disciples get a glimpse of the fullness of who Christ is – beyond the earthly Messiah to the heavenly Son. They see clothes so bright they cannot be of this world and then... well if Jesus’ razzle dazzle clothes weren’t enough to convince his disciples something else was afoot – the return of Moses and Elijah probably confirmed Jesus this was not the average day in the life of a disciple.

Now before we continue with the story, it’s probably a good idea to stop and acknowledge that this tale sometimes seems a bit of a whale. Even though this moment is mentioned in all 3 of the synoptic Gospels, it doesn’t get a lot of coverage in our conversations – rarely is it mentioned in people’s top ten Bible stories. Perhaps it’s because this encounter leaves us with so many questions that we have a hard time wrapping our minds around what is going on.

Was Jesus actually transformed – or was this one moment where the disciples saw who he truly was, saw beyond their earthly perceptions and preconceptions to the fullness of God’s glory revealed in Christ?

We too might wonder why Moses and Elijah came to speak with Jesus? And how the disciples even know it was Moses and Elijah? Were they wearing “Hello My Name Is...” nametags or is that part of the whole life after death thing – we’ll just know one another?

Whatever the answer to these questions, we know that they point to Jesus’ identity. The scene itself may seem like a brilliant blockbuster moment, but it has more meaning than just show. We know that in speaking with Moses and Elijah, Jesus is showing the disciples that he is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. In speaking with Elijah in particular, we are reminded of the Hebrew prophecies that say when Elijah returns, the kingdom of God is at hand. And in speaking with those who have gone before, Jesus shows us that in him there is promise of life beyond death.

We learn so much about Jesus in the glimpse of this encounter. And even though we don’t hear the words these three holy figures exchange, we do hear what God would say. In a scene that echoes Jesus’ baptism, a voice from the sky breaks through and announces: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”

And just as soon as it began – not but 6 verses later – this transcendent moment is over. The disciples don’t build any dwellings or shrines up on that high place, instead they walk back down the mountain. And as they walk, Jesus tells them to keep quite about all they have seen, heard, and learned until later.
Surely that sounds strange to our ears. We hear over and over again that we are to share the Good News; go forth and make disciples of all nations; speak of Christ in all we do and say. So why, then, does Christ tell the disciples with him to keep quiet? Why not share this amazing story that confirms Christ’s power and glory to all?

It is poor Peter—the one who sometimes gets it so right and sometimes gets it so wrong—that helps us understand why Jesus told his disciples to remain silent instead of bear witness.

Peter’s response to seeing Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah is almost comical. He doesn’t know what to say so he just babbles the first thought that pops into his head. “Let’s build something – a booth, a house, a permanent place. Perhaps Moses would enjoy a small bungalow and Elijah a nice split-level.” Peter wants to set a marker down for the whole world to see – or at least for the inner circle to come back to – that says “here was where we saw God.”

What Peter wanted to build would have been a perfectly good and traditional expression of something that transcended what he knew before. Before, people built booths, permanent dwellings for their Gods, a place to mark and be able to come back to and say “God was here!” Before, people—like Moses and Elijah—went to mountain tops to seek out God. Before, it was thought that on the high places you could come closest to God.

But this was all before Jesus. Before the full story of God Jesus came to tell. And Peter’s reaction to the transfiguration shows Jesus and us that the disciples – even though they knew he was Messiah, knew he was God’s own – that they didn’t understand the full story Jesus was trying to tell.

Jesus instructs them to remain silent about what they had seen until after he has risen from the dead because then and only then can they understand what this mountain top experience means in the fullness of God’s story.

It is not until after the resurrection that the disciples – then and now – can comprehend that this moment isn’t just about light shining, Elijah and Moses appearing, and God’s voice coming through the clouds. Only until the death and resurrection of Christ can we come to know in our hearts that the God we see on that mountain—the one who is full of light, the one who is the fulfillment of all promises and prophecies—is the same God who walks down the mountain, the same God who continues to teach and heal, the same God who suffers, dies, and is risen from the dead.

Peter, James, and John are terrified of what they witness; in their fear and trembling, they don’t appreciate who the God revealed in Jesus is, that God is with them – not just on mountain tops or mountaintop experiences, but in the mundane and even in the miserable. God in glory they get; but God in the darkness, in the grave – that will be so much harder. They don’t understand that God doesn’t need a permanent place because God is in every place – the bright, shining spots as well as the dark and cold corners.

It’s hard for the disciples – even this inner circle – to fully understand that God is with them—in everything. It can be hard for us too.

Hard to hear the news that this little spot the doctor’s found is that dreaded thing called cancer – hear that and be completely sure and assured that God is with you. Hard to be in the middle of a painful break-up that tears apart your self-confidence and believe that God is there, loving you and promising you that you are worthy of love. Hard to find out that the security you thought you had – the job, the retirement savings, the house – isn’t as secure as you thought and trust that God is with you in those moments. Hard – but not impossible.

Jesus transforms our understanding of God. Through his life, death, and resurrection, we know that God isn’t just on a mountain, isn’t just in those mountain top experiences: God’s in the hospital room when the doctor give you the bad news; God’s sitting next to you, hand on your shoulder as you cry your eyes out after a new heartbreak; God’s standing in the unemployment assistance line with you when you swallow your pride and ask for help.

Jesus doesn’t just show off his power, his authority, his glory and then leave the disciples alone. He walks down the mountain with them, continues to teach and heal, and then faces the cross – takes upon himself the sins of the world.

When the disciples do get to tell the story about Jesus on the mountain top, they tell it with the fuller understanding that Jesus isn’t just about power and glory, isn’t just about amazing feats and a who's who of biblical proportions. The story Peter, James, and John tell is one about a God who loved us all so much as to come among us, die for us, and defeat death for us. A God who is no ordinary God, no mountaintop God. Rather, they tell and we'll tell about a God who is a God who is with us everywhere and in everything. We may know God more clearly on a mountain top, but God knows us fully and is with us forever. Praise be to God. Amen.