Hope for today … (a reflection this morning) 4-7-2020

“For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth. Psalm 71:5″

Merriam Webster’s dictionary describes faith as ‘complete trust.’ If we say we have faith in God, do we really trust God in all circumstances, including today’s tragic pandemic? Even clergy struggle to have complete trust all the time, but that is why we, in our frailty and human condition, must rely on God. We trust professionals, politicians, experts, and those closest to us, but in whom is it that we can really trust? God in Christ, and we only need a small seed-sized amount of faith.

We who long for the presence of others, now must social distance, stay at home, all so that we can protect others, and so many of us live in fear and isolation. We do not have to remain afraid, because we can turn fear into trust and trust into hope. In Christ, we can find strength, resolve, and hope that is, if we will trust God’s grace even in the midst of tragedy.

If you need proof of God’s outpouring of love for us, if you want to see trust and hope in action, watch those health care providers on the front lines, who are pouring their hearts out in faith, to bring hope to those who are ill.

Today, trust God in these times. Have faith. Remain hopeful, remain prayerful, and remain faithful.

Peace, Fr. Eric

SERMON Palm Sunday 4-5-20, St. Monica’s Naples

Isaiah 50:4-9ª; Psalm 31:9-16; Philippians 2:5-11; Matthew 27:11-54

Disappointment

            Like most of you at home, this is the first time in many years that on Palm Sunday, I have not been able to participate in the Palm procession.  This ritual has been a part of Holy Week in the Anglican tradition for decades.  However, today our current crisis, our new normal, precludes us from participating in a ritual so critical to the beginning of the most sacred time in the church.  In my two years here at St. Monica’s we have only been able to walk this path of palm and cross together once.  You may recall that last year, our 9:30 am service procession was rained out.  This year, we must remain six feet apart and we cannot have more than ten people in the same room.  Even so, the purpose of the ritual is so essential to gospel story we hear today, despite the fact the liturgy, and we are so distant this year.

However, like normal, we will enact the gospel narrative by having select parishioners read parts of the story, a story that in a way, puts each of us in the roles of the people present with Jesus 2000 years ago.  However, you are watching it all played out from home, unable to fully engage in the Palm Sunday gospel narrative.  So, I want to ask you to imagine you are actually here in the story itself and allow yourself to immerse your heart in the characters of the story.  Bring into the present moment, the locale, the sounds, the smells, and the sights many of us would have experienced as a part of the crowd, or the group of Jesus’ closest disciples.

We participate in a story where we are the crowd shouting “All Glory Laud and Honor” and later end up crying, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him.” The story of the journey from celebration to cross makes present for us, our own struggle to follow Jesus.  We struggle whether to choose palm or cross when we choose to follow Jesus.  If we are honest, we all wrestle with the kind of Savior we seek even today, and we struggle with what kind of symbol we carry, the symbol of our discipleship; a palm or a cross.

             Jesus’ first followers had a difficult time choosing which one to carry as well.   The disciples with Jesus in the Garden were asked by The Lord merely to stay with him and pray, but they all fall asleep.   When Jesus was arrested and did not resist his own apprehension, Peter forgot what Jesus taught him about loving neighbor, and he cut the ear off of one of the soldiers.  When accused of being a disciple by the fireside, Peter the bold defender of the Savior denied him three times.  Later, the crowd that cheered Jesus upon his arrival, when before Pilate’s judgement seat were asked for which prisoner they wished acquitted, they chose to call for the release of a violent insurrectionist in place of the innocent one, Jesus.

Jesus chose well which symbol he would carry.  Despite shouts of “Crucify Him,” we later heard Jesus on the cross say, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  Others there chose which symbol they would carry.  As the crowd taunted the tortured Lord they shouted, “You saved others, save yourself Jesus.” Then a criminal under the same penalty cried, “Jesus remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” Finally, Jesus spoke his last words, “Father I commend my spirit” and then, we hear another person choose which symbol to carry.  We heard the soldier’s regret for his part in the drama, “Surely, this man was innocent.”

The crowd, his disciples, and others just sitting on the sidelines debated about who Jesus was, and in their struggle to choose him or reject him, they experienced cycles of adulation, rejection, and regret.  Many of us do the same in this battle to be a disciple. As the baptized we journey in faith with Jesus every day, but the path of our discipleship is lined with both palms and crosses, and like the crowd, we often cannot decide what kind of Savior we really want.

We need the King of Hope

We are not that different from those early disciples.  When they shared that meal of memorial with Jesus, it was only an hour later that they were arguing about who was going to be greatest among them.  They seemed to forget his teachings and warnings about self-denial and self-giving love.  It was as if they forgot all that he taught them and yet, they still had hopes of a power-wielding King, who would satisfy their own personal desires.  I think we all struggle whether to choose the “king of the palms,” or the “king of the cross.”

To follow the “King of the Cross” means we choose the counter-cultural, arduous path of self-giving love, while rejecting the normative, tranquil path of self-satisfaction or self-preservation.  When life becomes uncomfortable for us, and we all know that right now it is more than uncomfortable, how do we take a stand to protect the innocent, to bring justice to the oppressed, to claim peace in the midst of chaos, or to merely claim Jesus as the Lord of our lives?  When we are so afraid, so uncertain, and so out of control, we must realize that we have the capacity to be like Peter and deny our affiliation. We also have the capacity to be like the crucified thief beside Jesus, who cried out in faith in his desperate circumstances.

Today, our world is very different.  Our very lives are not what they were only a month ago, and in a month, things will be different still.  It seems difficult to follow the Crucified Savior of the world now it seems because, we are afraid and we are isolated.  We are anxious and many of us feel helpless to offer aid to those who are suffering from the pandemic.  We want to be people of faith, but all of us are affected in some way by this virus and many of our families are suffering alone.  I want to offer you hope today by encouraging you to face your fears, anxiety, and uncertainty and choose the way of the palm, and the cross.  Right now, more than ever, what we all need is hope in the fact that that palms become crosses, and that transformation leads us to a new and better day.

Palms to Crosses

In my first parish after Palm Sunday, I walked into the parish hall after the Eucharist, and I noticed one of our youth making a cross out of her palm branch.   I had seen the results of someone doing that before, but I had not made on in years. I walked over and commented on her creativity, and I asked her she was doing it.  She said, we always make these on Palm Sunday, it reminds us that our Joy is in what Jesus did on the cross.  I smiled and sat down with her and started one myself.  Terri joined me later, then several others joined in and we were all around the table making palm crosses.  Then, I realized something that day.  We are not called to choose palm or cross per se.  We are called to recognize that the joy and celebration of Our Savior’s arrival each day, only comes through the reality of his grace made real in his mutual suffering with us in our despair.  The celebration and joy of his entrance requires that he join us in our suffering and in our death, and that is where we can find hope today.

The God who created all, stands with us today in the midst of this chaos, this fear, vulnerability, and death all around us.  Jesus promises us that even in times like these, there is hope enough for a new day to come.  Jesus promises that even in despair, we have courage.  Jesus promises that even in loneliness, we are never alone.  Jesus promises that even death has lost its power over us.  We have hope, and the palm crosses are symbols of that hope, a hope that each of us can have right now.

So, can we follow Jesus all the way to Golgotha, or will we stop in the courtyard near the warm and comfortable fire, and deny him like Peter.  Honestly, none of us want to go that full distance to the disgraceful death of a cross, but thanks be to God, none of us have to do so, because we have God’s grace.

God’s grace is a gift we merely accept.  We cannot work for it, do enough to gain it, or serve in enough ministries to manipulate it.  It is the free gift of love from God, and it is ours, despite our capacity to reject the humbled Lord, who intercedes on our behalf saying, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” We have the grace of God’s presence with us in this time of tragedy and we can trust God’s love will never abandon us no matter what happens.  When it seems like you are alone, when the television news is too much, and when you feel helpless and afraid, trust the King Jesus, the King of Palm and Cross.

 

REFERENCES

(1)  King, Michael A. “Holy Hate.” The Christian Century, vol. 124, no. 23, Nov. 2007, p. 18.

SERMON 3/29/20 LENT 5A. St. Monica’s Naples FL

Romans 12:1-21; John 8:46-59

Truth be told

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus is in the Temple teaching and the Scribes and Pharisees are there confronting him about who he was and what he was teaching.   Recorded earlier and in this same chapter of John’s gospel is the confrontation between Jesus and the religious leaders, about the woman caught in adultery.  We all know Jesus’ famous rebuttal to their judgment of the woman, “those among you without sin, cast the first stone.”   Jesus offered the woman hope, mercy, and grace of a New Day in the midst of her personal crisis.

In today’s reading Jesus testified about his mission call given him by the Father, his purpose of redemption assigned to him by the Father, and the unique relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but then, in is sign of mercy to the woman, Jesus clearly demonstrated what a New Day after crisis looks like; God’s grace poured out in desperate times.

Jesus enfleshed the Father’s mercy and grace for woman the religious leaders wanted to stone, and then Jesus proclaimed that reality when he said, “before Abraham was, I am.”  Jesus told the religious leaders that he and the Father were one, but that truth upended the religious leader’s whole concept of who they were and who God was.  So, they rejected the truth, Jesus’ claim of divinity, they retaliated with violent indignation and offered him the same punishment they originally planned for the woman caught in adultery.

It is amazing that their discovery of  “who they were and whose they were” turned their world upside down and caused the religious leaders to react with fear and anxiety and divisive power.  When we face unprecedented times (like those we face now), when who we are as a people seems to be something of the past and we discover “who we are and whose we are” we also react with fear.  Nonetheless, we can choose to have hope, and we can trust in a New Day.

Who we are

The Scribes and Pharisees chose estrangement from Jesus and chose in their fear to remain separated from God’s grace.  They wanted to stone Jesus and to silence his radical teaching, because it came in conflict with their sense of self, and their sense of self-sufficiency. In other words, they succumbed to sin, the actions of missing the mark and fell short, completely forgetting that they were creature and God was creator.  The nature fo our relationship with the divine is one that requires us in times of chaos, crisis and fear, to turn to God in trust and utter dependence.

Many of our lives these past few weeks have been utterly turned upside down.  We are spending each day isolated from friends in our homes, afraid to go out, and we long for the hugs and handshakes from our sisters and brothers, the laughter of joy shared, and the peace of knowing we are not alone.  The virus we face reminds us of who we are and that we are mere fragile jars of clay susceptible to the ravages of the environment in which, we are a part.  The virus also reminds us though whose we are.  We are children of God utterly dependent on the mercy, grace, and forgiveness of a loving Father who desires good for all of God’s creation.

 

Promises of a new Day

It all seems so surreal does it not; this new reality in which we all live?  I mean it is like watching episodes of the Walking Dead, World War Z, or any other apocalyptic Hollywood fantasy, but this is the real world as we know it today.  In times like these, we are afraid, but it is a time to draw closer to God, realizing who we are and whose we are and thus, upending any estrangement from God that we may have experienced before.  We can trust God now more than ever, which if we do, it will lead to peace, and cause our fear, anxiety, and dread to pass away.  When all around us seems to change who we are as a people;  a nation vulnerable, afraid, and powerless, we can turn to the ultimate power of God’s assurances that a new day is coming.

In a couple of weeks, we will celebrate the promises of a new day which we call Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord.  I am still amazed today the number of people who have never attended a Maundy Thursday and Good Friday service, but always celebrate Easter.  We all know the story of God’s new day and yet, we forget that the new day of Easter requires us to go through Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.  You cannot get to Easter without going through the story of the crucifixion.  You cannot get to the empty tomb without going through death and burial.  We cannot experience the new day God has in store for us as a people, a nation, and a church, until we get through this time of uncertainty, fear, illness, and despair.

Jesus remained faithful through it all and trusted in the same Father he claimed in today’s Gospel reading.  Jesus knew who he was and whose he was and that truth helped him face the possibility of the stoning we heard about today.  That same faithfulness to his relationship to the Father helped him endure the beatings, the betrayal, and the cross that we will hear about on Good Friday.  That faithfulness will help us endure as well, because there is a new day coming for us and we need to consider, how will this experience change us, and how will we live in the days to come.

Living into the New Day

Paul’s letter to the Romans today defines how the Christian community lived into their New Day, post resurrection.  Paul reminded the church who she was and the unique gifts given within the community.  He said some of them had the gifts of “prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.  This is who we are as a people and it reminds us of our place in, and how each one of us will have a part in this community in the New Day to come.  How will this experience change you, when we all are together in person again?

Paul told the church how it should live together in the New Day.  He said, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; honor one another.”  He added that we should, be zealous and passionate to serve the Lord, that we should be hopeful, patient, and prayerful.  He said we should help one another and others.  He said we should “bless those who persecute you, rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep and live in harmony with one another.  Paul provides us with a model for the New Day to come.

When we can all come together face-to-face as a community once again it will be a glorious new day however, you do not have to wait.  Come to think of it though, we do not have to wait until everyone is tested, a cure is found, a vaccine discovered, the curve of the disease slanted downward when the numbers again show we are on our way to a better day.  We can make the choice to live the way Paul exhorts us to live right now, that place where grace, mercy, forgiveness, and trust come in even in the midst of this crisis.  When we know who we are and whose we are, the reality of our common life in Christ supersedes our need for being in the same room at the same time.  Our Life in Christ gives us hope, peace, and the grace to face anything before us.  Sisters and brothers, even when fear, isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty surround us, we can trust that Our Father in Heaven will never abandon us, that we have a fount of Living Water from which to draw, and soon very soon, there will be a New Day; a day when will all be together again and all will be made new.

 

 

SERMON 3/22/20 Lent 4A. St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples, FL

Watch online: https://youtu.be/YoHjmSj8xMU

Genesis 48:8-22; John 6:27-40

New Days New Ways

We are living in new times dear friends.  There are fewer cars out on the road, and Immokalee Road in the busiest part of that day, looks much like what we normally see in June, July, and August.    I drove through the streets of the outdoor mall at Coconut Point the other day, and it looks like a scene from the Walking Dear television series.  I was at my favorite weekly burger place (Culver’s) and you can only get food through the drive through.  And the empty food aisles of Publix look like it does during the days right before a major hurricane, but much worse.  We are living in much different times.  

Jesus has something to say about days like these.  He said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”  I think this scripture is sound advice for all of us when, food seems to be perishable these days, when life seems fleeting and ominous, and when fear abounds all around us.  We face an unknown, unseen threat to life as we know it, but I offer you hope today.

We serve a visible, loving, grace-pouring, life sustaining Savior, Jesus Christ who offers us the promises of life and life eternal, even in the face of despair, anxiety, and uncertainty.  Yes, in times like these, we have another way to live, another way to face the day, when the news seems frightening, when the streets are abandoned, and when we are home alone.   We can do the work of God, even if we are social distancing.

Doing the works of God

The people to whom Jesus was addressing (disciples of old) and we today, asked him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”  Jesus said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  Lately, I have seen, been a part of, and witnessed from a far, moments when people of faith were doing the work of God in times of despair.  I want to offer you a different perspective on some of those scenes I described earlier.  I want to show you a different view of this new life that I, and many of you have witnessed these last several weeks.  I have seen people of faith take these ominous circumstances, and transform them into moments of hope, mercy, grace, and peace.  Here are just a few.  

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday several of your sisters and brothers from St. Monica’s gathered on a Zoom call for fellowship, encouragement, and prayer.  I saw faces online of people who came together initially in fear, but ended up laughing, praying for others in need, and leaving being fed by that holy bread, that true bread from heaven, Jesus Christ.   Tuesday, five rectors from area churches came together on a virtual meeting to share with each our concerns, fears, our need for help and support from one another, and we all left the call,feeling strengthened, supported and not alone.  We were fed by that holy bread, that true bread from heaven, Jesus Christ.  

I was on a call on Wednesday morning working with our Local Mission team leaders to discuss how we as a parish can continue to feed our neighbors during this time of great need, when so many are losing employment, and the food needs are growing.  We left that call encouraged, with a plan to continue to serve, and hope for the future.  We were fed by that holy bread, that true bread from heaven Jesus Christ.  I see more of my neighbors walking and holding hands in my community, couples riding bikes together, and the tenor of the social media posts have transformed from division and character assassinations to mutual support and encouragement.  I know many of you have stories just like these, that is, if you allow the Savior of the world to transform your anxiety and fear, into hope, service, and love.  

Signs of the Promises of God

The people that Jesus was speaking to in John’s gospel today, wanted a sign from God so that they might believe.  We want a sign of hope right now too, don’t we?  We are looking for a sign from the authorities, and we hope for a vaccine to fend off the virus, we want a cure and speedy medicine to stem the spread of the disease.  So, while we wait for those in charge to bring us a sign, let us look for real hope no further, than the true sign of the promises of our faith in Christ Jesus.  

Right now, more than ever, we need to trust God in all things.   We need to trust that our faith will give us peace and hope, even when all seems so anxious.  We must believe what Jesus said, even when the food aisles are empty and the streets are abandoned, “My Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”  I am not offering you sentimental and trite sayings like, “keep your chin up,” or “look for the silver lining.”  I am telling you to right now, eat heartily from the peace of Christ in these times, and let your anxiety pass on.  God is with us in all things.  God’s love will never abandon us, not even unto death.  

Bread of Life

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  When all around us, we see the thirst of anxiety and the hunger of fear, we must turn to love.  Jesus said, “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.”  When you feel alone, join with your sisters and brothers and be together, even if it is over a screen and microphone.  When you feel helpless, practice sound social distancing, but send a text of encouragement, a call of hope, and the written letter of peace to someone who needs it right now.  

Jesus has not, and will never abandon us, even in times like these. He promises, “I should lose nothing of all that he has given me but raise it up on the last day.” Nothing stands between us and the love of God; not fear, anxiety, disease, loneliness, and not even death. Trust God now. Reach out to your sisters and brothers now. Call your priest for prayer now. Better yet, take a moment, take a breath, and take a slice of the Bread of Life, and indulge in the promises that God is with you, and you can be assured that you are not alone.

SERMON 3-15-20 Lent 3A St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples FL

Living WatersExodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42

Water and Life

Jesus said to (the Samaritan Woman), “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”   Was Jesus talking about the well water essential to the health and vitality of that little community, or the water found in the rivers and streams, or the water in the vast and enormous oceans, or was he talking about something entirely different?

Most of us know that 71% of God’s earth is covered by water and 96.5% of the water on earth is contained in the oceans.  60% of the human body is made up of water.   Without water, all life dies and thus, there is a distinct connection between all life and the common waters of air, rivers, streams, canals, and oceans.  I read an article on LiveScience website, which explains the essential necessity of water for life to exist.  It states, “At heart, all life on Earth uses a membrane that separates the organism from its environment. To stay alive, the organism takes in important materials for making energy, while shuttling out toxic substances such as waste products.” (1).   Knowing this, we come to realize that there is only one source of water, and it is a commodity, a gift, an elixir of life that we all share; like the common life we all share.

I wonder when we hear these words of Jesus are we confused about the connection between the waters of life, and the Living Water Jesus is talking about in today’s gospel.  I wonder when we consider the specific need for using water today such as washing our hands, cleansing ourselves and protecting ourselves from viruses and other frightening things, do we ever think of the Living Water Jesus tells us about?  Living Water cleanses our hearts, purifies our souls, and washes away our iniquities.  So, maybe the next time when we wash our hands, we should consider the Living Waters of Jesus’ love, peace, and grace that are essential to life, and life everlasting.  We should consider how we are all connected by this common bond.

Gospel Comfort Zone

The people of Israel, although freed from their slavery and set on a path to a new way of life, when things became a little boring in the desert and they stopped to rest, they lost their trust in God’s provision.  They cried to Moses, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”  They forgot the rescue from the Egyptians through the waters of the Red Sea.  They forgot the gift of God’s holy navigational guidance through the cloud during the day and firey pillar at night.  They forgot the promises of God period, and when water was not clearly in front of them to quench their thirst, they were afraid, uncomfortable, and then they complained.

When we face trials sometimes or even if things get a little boring, we often choose either to trust God and give thanks to God, or we sometimes complain, feel threatened, or maybe we even feel a little guilty.  Sometimes, being a Christian is joyful, full of peace and full of hope.  Sometimes being a Christian is not easy because by the nature of following Jesus, we are challenged to stop and face our own circumstances, our own sin, and our own failures and complacency.

When we turn to introspection like we do in Lent, we can become uncomfortable with the Gospel.  A 19th century comedian once penned a poem and from it, some preachers have gleaned this phrase, “the Gospel comforts the afflicted, and afflicts the comfortable.”  The Good News of God in Christ can be a comfort to us in times of trouble, because God promises that he will never abandon us, and that God’s love is inseparable from us.  The Good News of God in Christ also afflicts us, because it calls us out of our comfort zones, because it shines the light of grace on areas our lives that need work and transformation.

Like water, the gospel quenches our thirst, refreshes our body, and cleans away the dirt and grime.  Also, like water the gospel is regenerative and takes away parts of us that need to be cleansed, challenged, and reconsidered.    It is in this time of troubling trials that we may most likely suffer some.  Paul writes, “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Like beautiful smooth pebbles in a stream our hearts are reformed by the never-ending flow of Living Water, gently and sometimes roughly, moving against the rough and superfluous parts of the areas of our life that need to be regenerated and changed.  It is the common water of sanctification that we humans share, which works in and through each of us, breaking down the barriers that divide us, that separates us, and that keeps us apart from loving God and loving neighbor.

Troubling Times, Troubling Waters

Linda Clader wrote in a recent article, “When he (Jesus) used the image of water to talk about wisdom, about the gift of the Spirit, was he also talking about the waters of the Deep, over which the Spirit hovered at creation? When he offered the Samaritan woman living water, was he offering her the very mixed-up stuff of creation itself?” (2).  I believe Clader is alluding to the fact that Jesus offered the Samaritan Woman and he offers us, a liquid elixir of truth, which is that we all share a common life and we are utterly dependent on one another.

As I traversed the aisles of Publix this morning doing our weekly grocery shopping, it was abundantly apparent to me that we are living in very frightening times.  Watch the news and read the posts on social media, and you will find that some of us move between living in outright fear ,or succumbing to a misguided overzealous confidence. The Coronavirus is a health crisis looming all around us, and its threat to our health is real and it is apolitical and non-tribal.   The threat this malady poses transcends all that divides us as sisters and brothers of God’s creation.

At times like these we find a commonality of humanity, which seems to have disappeared over the last few years.  The recent divisions that have sprung up among former allies, the growing sense of independent arrogance emerging between governments, and the rejection of the common life that binds us as a species has taken a back seat to party affiliation and political tribalism.  However, now we find ourselves in a common crisis, an event of common need, and we begin to realize that we are one people stretched across many lands, and all living under the grace and loving arms of a common Father God.

In times like these the gospel comforts us and afflicts us.  We are fearful and the promises of God comfort that fear.  We are hoarding and distancing from one another, and the Gospel afflicts us to help each other cope.  We are more dependent upon one another than we want to believe, because we are all made from the same water, we share the same connection to the waters of the earth, and thus, we have a common mission together.   We are offered the elixir of Living Water, and it is that water we must share, and we Christians share that water through our baptism and our common mission with Christ, in love.

At our baptism, the Thanksgiving and blessing over the water includes these words, “We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as the Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life. We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.” (BCP, p. 306).   We followers of Jesus, sharing a common journey with Christ through baptismal water are sent out in times like these as beacons of hope, peace, and an assurance that God’s love is with us in all trouble, and in all joy.  Like the Samaritan Woman, we have come in contact with Living Water, and it is an elixir we must share.

Trusting the Living Water

The Samaritan woman went around town and told everyone, “He told me everything I have ever done.” Richard Lischer explains that “The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman turns out to be a love story after all, for only one who loved you knows you as you are and not as you pretend to be. Only one who loves you knows your deepest desires. Only one who loves you can look at your past without blinking.” (3).  Sisters and brothers, we are beloved children of God and in all things, we have a wellspring of Living Water in Christ from which to draw, even in troubling times like these.

The Psalmist today writes, “The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands have molded the dry land. Come, let us bow down, and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord our Maker. For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. Oh, that today you would hearken to his voice!” In these times of fear my sisters and brothers, we have a common well of hope from which we can draw.  We have the living water of the promises of God in Christ Jesus that will sustain us in all things.

When we thirst for assurances that all will be fine when it seems so ominous, we can draw from the Living Waters of Jesus presence and promises.  When we need the refreshment of hope in the midst of fear, we can draw from the Living Waters of Jesus presence and promises.  When we need consolation in times of uncertain despair, we can draw from the Living Waters of Jesus presence and promises.  Even now, in times like these, we can be at peace, if when you hear and rest in God’s promises, and trust in the Living Waters of Christ’s love and then, drink deeply.  Immerse yourself in the Living Waters of God’s promises and the hope of Christ’s presence even now when fear is at our doorstep.  Trust God’s promises, but please, do not forget to wash your hands.

 REFERENCES

(1) https://www.livescience.com/52332-why-is-water-needed-for-life.html

(2) Clader, Linda L. “One Water Washes over Us All.” The Living Pulpit, vol. 14, no. 1, Jan. 2005, pp. 6–7.

(3) Lischer, Richard, “Strangers in the Night,” The Christian Century, 1999.

SERMON 3/8/20 Lent 2A St. Monica’s Naples FL

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Blowing in the WindGenesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17; John 3:1-17

The Power of Flight

Jesus said, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” I think you all know that I love airplanes, but you may not know why.  Airplanes are incredible machines. Complex moving parts, advanced electronics, powerful engines, and in some cases incredible splendor and beauty.  Airplanes have a purpose beyond merely sitting in a hangar collecting dust.  These machines must move and take people from one location to another.  An airplane can be merely a museum piece, unless it takes to the wind and does what it is intended to do; fly.

An aircraft flies because of Bernoulli’s principle and the Newton’s Third Law of Motion and because of advanced science of technology, but these craft really fly because of something unseen and not apparent to the eye.  Aircraft can only fly because of the movement of air (wind) over its wings.  An airplane accomplishes its primary purpose as a result of the wind, the unseen force acting upon its structure pushing, prodding, and lifting it to new heights.

The church accomplishes her primary purpose (her mission) because of the movement the Spirit pushing, prodding, and lifting us to new heights.  At the birth of the church on Pentecost, “suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting.”  The Holy Spirit acted in and through those first followers, and they responded to God’s leading, pushing them to respond to change in such a way, that were transported as new people into a new way of life.  How does an airplane fly and how does the church accomplish her mission?  The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind.

Faith and Wind

In Hebrews, the writer records, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  We cannot see the wind, but only the results of how this force acts upon objects in nature.  During a hurricane, the palm trees sway, the power lines move, and the buildings creak, and yet we cannot see the force behind all the change happening outside our doors.  So, it is with God’s Spirit blowing into us, calling us to change and become new, just like Father Abraham.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome and stated, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.”  God made promises to Abraham that he would become a great nation, that God would bless him, make his name great and all for a purpose.  God made promises to Abraham for which all people desired, and then God gave him a job to do; to  be a blessing.  However, the promises alone required more of Abraham than merely to hear about then, and then go back to life as normal.  Abraham had to change in so many ways.

Abraham had to engage the promise and do something, and he did.  Abraham was given a mission from God, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.”  “So, Abram went, as the Lord had told him.”  In order to receive the promises of God, his faith needed to take wings and move, respond, and do as God required.  The Church has a purpose:  make disciples and carry on Jesus’ ministry.  It is not enough for us to come and be fed and then not be sent out like Abraham.  If we are an apostolic church as we claim in the Nicene Creed, then we must be sent out in service to others.  Like the beautiful vintage aircraft sitting in a hangar, we are either a hospital for sinners or a museum for saints.   We must take to the skies and fulfill our purpose.

 Change

Jesus explained this mission call to Nicodemus with these words, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”  The Greek word we find in scripture for “born from above” is Anothen.  and in English scripture, it is translated either as born “anew” or “from above” but not both.  Jesus intentionally uses the word’s double meaning.  Theologian Gail O’Day explains, “The double meaning of Anothen, underscores the newness of which Jesus speaks cannot be contained or comprehended by any simple or pre-existent categories. He speaks of a newness that challenges even the conventional capacity of language.” (1)  Jesus is telling us that we cannot take our part in God’s Kingdom, Jesus’ mission, the Jesus movement, unless we are willing to experience, engage in, and respond to the life-changing rebirth in Christ.  We must change and be changed.

In John’s gospel we read, “And from his fullness have we all received grace upon grace.’ (John 1:16) O’Day states, “The gift of grace upon grace has made all things new, and this gift of transformative newness is the key to spiritual and communal wholeness. We have been given the chance to become God’s children, to live lives in which brokenness is healed by grace.” (1) We must be reborn anew from above and that means, we must allow the Spirit of God, the wind, the very breath of God, which fill us and set us on a new path.  We must leave the old behind and embrace the change before us.

O’Day says “We are also beset by a great tearfulness in the face of that call. We are afraid to embrace newness, to accept transformation, because such acceptance would mean letting go of the things that defined our lives before newness was offered.” (1) We do not like change, because it means the death of something, something we have held so dear; our comfort.  Real spiritual change takes place not by osmosis or as a result of our being mere spiritual spectators.  It requires us to, like Father Abraham, go where God calls us and to do what God asks, so that we might partake in the promises of God.  It requires us to devote our most precious commodity, time, and to invest it in the mission of God in our lives.

Each of us are equal in that we all have 168 hours each week, and we have the choice to spend it any way we wish.  The average American spends 17% of that week watching television, 10% on social media, and less than 2% responding to the wind of God’s Spirit calling us to new life each day.  The average American spends only .6% of their week praying and only .55% of their week in worship.   With that kind of investment, we are struggling to be a blessing, and we are struggling to become a hospital for sinners.

The Body of Christ is more than a mere museum display that gathers for only one hour a week and maybe spends an hour a week speaking to God.  Not many marriages will experience the blessed growth of love, if we were to only speak to our spouse or spend time with our spouse for less than two hours per week.  So, how do we fulfill our purpose, being reborn of the Spirit, and what is this mission you keep telling us about Fr. Eric?

Mission and action

Jesus told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”   This promise of God found in John 3:16 is plastered everywhere.  You see it at sporting events, on bathroom walls, and sometimes on elastic wrist bands.  If this verse alone contains all of God’s promise and mission call, then we might begin to think that belief alone is our only responsibility.  You’re all set if you have faith.  However, if we read the second part of the promise of God, for God’s people, we realize that as followers of Jesus, we have a mission to do.  John 3:17 states, “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”  Jesus saves!

See, we are Jesus followers, and that means that our mission is Jesus’ mission.  In other words, the church’s purpose is to leave the safety of the hangar, take a risk, and go flying in the wild and wooly winds of mission. We are called to move from the pews and sanctuary seats, and become people of action moved by the wind, the breath the Spirit, so through us others may see the one who saves; Jesus.  Now that kind of mission and purpose will most likely require us to change and like Abraham, to go and be a blessing.

Bob Dylan wrote a song in 1962 that has been described as, “a protest song … (which) poses a series of rhetorical questions about peace, war, and freedom. The refrain “The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind” has been described as “impenetrably ambiguous: either the answer is so obvious it is right in your face, or the answer is as intangible as the wind.” (2) Dylan used brilliant lyrics to challenge his fans to reflect on, or maybe even to pray about the actions we might take to bring about change in the world. For we Christians, Dylan reminds us that we are called to be a blessing like Abraham, and that mission requires us to not only change, but to go and be anew.

Dylan wrote, “how many times must the cannon balls fly before they’re forever banned? “How many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?” “How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn’t see?” “How many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?”  “How many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?”  I wish Dylan would have added, “how many churches will be lost to fear and acquiescence, till we realize Jesus mission is our mission.”

Change my friends is coming, because God promises it to be so.  Change is coming, but will you accept it and move with it or against it.  The Spirit is blowing, and calling us to be free, to see, to hear, and to make change.  Jesus is calling his church to follow the Spirit and to not just have faith, but respond to faith, be changed by faith, and then go be faith change agents in the world.  What is our mission Fr. Eric?  The answer is so obvious it is right in your face. The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind.

REFERENCES

(1) O’Day, Gail R. “New Birth as a New People: Spirituality and Community in the Fourth Gospel.” Word & World, vol. 8, no. 1, Wint 1988, pp. 53–61.

(2) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blowin%27_in_the_Wind

 

 

SERMON 3/1/20 Lent 1A St. Monica’s Episcopal Church, Naples FL

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Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Pro Wrestling

As a kid, after Saturday morning cartoons, in the afternoons in my dad’s television store, I watched some incredibly dramatic competition (good vs. evil) among names like Jimmy Snuka, Roddy Piper, Andre the Giant, Ric Flair, and Hulk Hogan.  Some of these wrestlers were good guys and some bad guys, but each of them were weekly vying to claim the title of being the best, to put on the championship belt (there must have been 50 different belts), and to be proclaimed the God of pro wrestling.

Wiki describes this so-called sport as, “a form of performance art and entertainment that combines athletics with theatrical performance.  The matches have predetermined outcomes to heighten entertainment value and all combative maneuvers are executed with the full cooperation of those involved and carefully performed in specific manners intended to lessen the “chance” of actual injury.” (3). In other words, the so-called battle I watched as child between good and evil, I later discovered that none of it was real.  Not the choke holds, the body slams, the pile drivers, nor the suplex.  The battle between good and evil I saw played out on the screen was mere fantasy, drama put on by very good actors.  When I found out that it was fake, I was disappointed.   Interestingly enough, pro wrestling is still popular today, and I have to wonder why.

Maybe it is because we Americans like dramatic performances, even if they are not real.  Maybe we like the stories of good versus evil, the success of the underdog, and bullied overcoming the bully.  However, the warfare between the opposing forces of morality, kindness, empathy, righteousness, and self-identity happens every day, and it is very real.

Evil exists in this world and it is personified in the acts and choices of people.  Children go hungry, marriages become broken, murders happen, unimaginable crimes abound, and death is around us.  We all hope good overcomes evil, but sometimes the battle between the forces of good and forces of evil, happen in not so overt and dramatic ways.  Sometimes we Christians have to duke it out, very subtle skirmishes against an opponent, who will work without rest, to deter us from our God-given identity as Children of God.  Our Lord encountered the same kind of brawl in the desert, a battle that lasted forty days and forty nights.

Jesus’ Desert Sojourn

In today’s gospel reading, we hear, “Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”  Sometimes, I think we hear this story and we reject its reality, because for us 21st century savvy folk, it seems more like a WWE wrestling match between Jesus and the Devil, rather than a struggle with the underlying choices we face as individual Christians and the church corporate.

Unlike the fake battles in pro wrestling, Pastor Fred Craddock describes this event like this, “The scene before us is not a cartoon of Jesus debating some horned creature with a fiendish face who smells of Sulphur.  Jesus is wrestling with the will of God for the ministry now before him and is presented with three avenues.” (2).  Jesus was just like us in that he was vulnerable to the same kind of enticements all of us face every single day .

The church and her members encounter subtle distracting temptations daily.  We claim to be followers of Jesus, but often we are lured away from the path on which we have been set.  We battle the will of God for the ministries we have before us, and we choose alternative avenues that entice us to go our own way.  We may not want to admit it, but the oppressor works on us just like Jesus, and there enticements out there that make us not trust God, lure us to try and test God, and sometimes unknowingly, convince us that we should try to BE God.

Temptations, enticements, choices

Look at each of Jesus’ temptations found in today’s gospel reading and you will know what I mean. First, Satan said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” Satan was trying to lure Jesus’ away from trust in the Father, in order to trust in himself alone.  Jesus, you can feed yourself and you have the power in you to take care of your own needs without depending on anyone else.  Nonetheless, Jesus’ personal needs did not get in the way of his ministry to feed the world.  Jesus would later feed the crowds from a few loaves and fish, and by his cross and suffering, he feeds us with the Bread of Heaven and the Cup of Salvation.  We Americans have it all wrapped up and we think we are self-sufficient, “pull ourselves up by our boostraps,” and we really only need to trust ourselves, and maybe when things go wrong, we trust God.  Maybe we need to seek and trust God in all circumstances.

Next, Satan said, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”  In other words, it is like saying, “God, I am taking matters into my own hands and I will just see if you are the real deal.”  Rather than trust God, we demand a sign from God, we test and manipulate God to act. That decision confuses, who is creator and who is creature, as if “God was … at your beck and call.” (1).

Rather than trusting God’s guidance and perfect will, we decide we know what is best, and we just try and push God to act.  Jesus later in his ministry while facing the cross in the Garden did not test God, but left circumstances to God and said, “If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” Jesus traded a let’s test God mentality, and chose pure surrender, defeating the oppressor at his own game.

Lastly, Satan said, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” In other words, why bother with the cross when you can go straight for the glory right now?  Many times for us, other things get in the way of the One we are called to make the center of our lives; Our Lord Jesus Christ. We all experience this temptation, “Go ahead and worship something else other than God and forget this self-giving love and obedience thing.”  My job, my home, my friends, my family these are all essential and critical elements of our life, but what happens when any one of these things become God for you?  If those things are God, then who are you?  Jesus traded an “I will define who I am mentality,” and chose to be the Christ (self-giver of love and sacrifice) and thus, defeated the oppressor at his own game.

The ultimate enticement or temptation is the one imposed on us by the oppressor concerning our own identity.  Did you notice each temptation began with, “If you are the Son of God?”  The battle Jesus fought and the one we fight is not over deciding if we will eat cupcakes versus apples, will go to church versus sleeping in, nor working out versus couch surfing.  The battle we fight is with whether we will accept the truth that we are God’s children, or alternatively are we our own person who can choose our own path without ever consulting the creator.  In his humanity, Jesus knew who was creator and who was creature.

“Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God, not because he is a miracle-worker or a great teacher or a good man, but because he is the Crucified.” (1)  Jesus knew who he was and whose he was and thus, he was able to complete his mission.   If we fail to trust God, or we try and test God, or sometimes unknowingly, we try to be God, we are no longer able to recognize who we are and whose we are, and that little skirmish my friends is happening every moment of your life.

Spiritual Warfare

Spiritual warfare is not a cartoonish battle of two mini Eric’s sitting on my shoulder enticing me to eat that banana split or the green salad.  Spiritual warfare is not a mere a sociological or psychological attempt to describe the internal struggles with socially accepted forms of appropriate communal behavior.  The battle to accept our identity of Children of God is the real spiritual warfare in which Christians are engaged each day.

We all come to a crossroads in our journey as disciples, and we will stare at the fork in the road, and the sign says, “God’s Way”, and in the next lane “My Way.”  The difference with the latter choice is that there is no exit from that path.  That path leads you to believe that you can do it all ourselves.  That path leads you to believe that you can test God and manipulate God by trying to force God to enact your desires, disregarding his plan.  That path leads you to worship the way of the world, not worship the God of self-giving love.  This path leads you to not knowing who we are or whose we are, and in the process, you lose yourself.  The church corporate has this same struggle.

The Church sometimes has lost her identity and must reclaim it.  She needs to reconnect with her mission.   We are often seduced to pursue goals that have nothing to do with being the lighthouse of God’s love in a community of spiritual storms.  We need to get back to trusting God, never trying to test God, and we must never try to be God.  We need to get back to the work of growing disciples of Jesus, welcoming the stranger, and then going out into the world as the hands and feet of Jesus.  We must let go of our individual agendas to create religious social clubs and get back to seeking God’s will.  We have to accept the radical and uncomfortable call, which is to be a follower of the one who went to a cross because of love, it will require us to traverse some difficult paths along the way.

Church Spiritual Warfare

Fred Craddock says, Jesus “did not use the power of the spirit to claim exemption or to avoid the painful difficulties of the path of service. He did not use God to claim something for himself. And it was this serving, suffering, dying Jesus whom God vindicated by raising him from the dead. A church too fond of power, place and claims would do well to walk in his steps.” (2)

The church’s spiritual warfare is not some Sunday morning version of pro wrestling where the stakes are not real, the outcomes pre-determined, and the drama merely the self-aggrandizing overtures of a religious charismatic character.  My sisters and brothers, our struggles with spiritual warfare are real, and if we are going to be effective in our witness to the gospel and God’s mission through us, we must face these temptations fully trusting that God will lead us forward.

It is Lent, and the next forty days is our wilderness experience and trust me when I say, the temptations are coming.  Spend this time examining your own responses to the temptations you face in this life and to choose discipleship.  Cultivate a deeper commitment to your relationship with God and with each other.  Recognize and live into your utter dependence on God.  You can only endure these temptations, which would break the bonds of love we are called to share, if you never forget who you are and whose you are.  Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, in their battle for the title stood on opposite sides of the ring, facing the upcoming engagement.  When the fight became hot, sometimes other wrestlers would jump into the fray, deciding on which side of the ring they would stand.  Fellow Jesus followers, please heed this warning, the competitive ring of spiritual warfare is real, and you will have to decide, when the battle becomes hot and untenable, on which side of the ring you are going  stand.

 

REFERENCES

(1) Johnson, E.Elizabeth. “Temptation.” Journal for Preachers, vol. 27, no. 2, Lent 2004, pp. 59–61

(2) Craddock, Fred B. “Testing That Never Ceases.” The Christian Century, vol. 107, no. 7, Feb. 1990, p. 211.

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Professional_wrestling

 

 

 

SERMON Last Sunday after Epiphany 7A 2/23/20 St. Monica’s Naples

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Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

The Holy Mountain – Sewanee 

The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there.”  Thirteen years ago, Terri and I experienced an unexpected life-altering event, the call to seminary.  Sudden, unexpected changes seems to be the nature of mine and Terri’s ministry. God sets us on a particular journey and then, unexpectedly something changes and we are on another path.   In 2007, we left beautiful Southwest Florida, the low land peninsula of palm trees, warm weather, and luxurious beaches, and traded all that in for a paradoxical, Appalachian, pseudo-Oxfordian adventure on a holy mountain in East Tennessee.   For three years I studied, and later received, a Master’s of Divinity degree from Sewanee, The University of the South.  Sewanee is a nearly two centuries old, Episcopal owned seminary and liberal arts college situated on top of the Cumberland plateau, west of Chattanooga Tennessee, and in many ways, it looks and feels like the Oxford of the South.

With its isolated mountaintop locale, we experienced the weekly ritual of wearing academic gowns, the beauty of old stone Oxford-like buildings, and the holy presence of prayer in the lives of seminarians, undergrads, and professors.  On that mountaintop, Terri and I found a geographical, academic, and spiritual life changing experience.  There, we made friendships that last to this day, and the memories we had there of community and prayer, I often long to recapture and sustain.

However, we were not called to stay on the mountain of Sewanee forever, rather we had to come back to the valley, the flatlands of Florida.  God would take that experience of God’s holy presence on the mountaintop, and use it to inform us and change us, so that we might serve and tell others, about the mystery of the incarnation, the very presence of God and humanity undivided.

Today, we hear in the gospel reading an unusual and often overlooked chapter in the life of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; the Transfiguration. I wonder why we just gloss over one of the most important moments in scripture, which clearly defines the true nature of God, “human and divine, both at the same time.”  Maybe we rush over this story and merely say that this was when God’s glory was first fully revealed, however we forget the Moses experience we hear about in Exodus.  Maybe we look at mountaintop experience as subservient to the valley work of disciples, and we wrongly judge Peter, James, and John and label them lazy, uninformed, or naive.  Maybe we like those three are in so much awe at the possibility of God’s glory and power being contained in a fleshly jar that like them, we just cannot comprehend such an event as reality.  Sisters and brothers God in flesh was, is, and will be always a factual, authentic, and true reality, and there is much for us to learn from the transfiguration event that is, if we are willing to go to the mountain with God.

Mountain Top Experiences

The Christian life is a series of mountaintop and valley experiences, highs and lows, joy and fear, and revelation and darkness.  Read the stories of Jesus ministry and you will see each of those diametric realities revealed in almost all of the events; especially the Passion and Resurrection.  However, I want to stay for a moment on the mountain with Peter, James, and John, and not be too quick to leave this scene, run down the mountain path, and get back to work.  I want us to sit in awe of the glorious light of God’s divinity fully present in fleshly clay jar.   We all need a mountaintop experience today.

Henri Nouwen once wrote of mountaintop experiences, “At some moments we experience complete unity within us and around us. This may happen when we stand on a mountaintop and are captivated by the view. It may happen when we witness the birth of a child or the death of a friend. It may happen when we have an intimate conversation or a family meal. It may happen in church during a service or in a quiet room during prayer. But whenever and however it happens we say to ourselves: “This is it … everything fits … all I ever hoped for is here.” (2)

When have you experienced that kind of mountaintop experience, that you were able to say, “This is it … everything fits … all I ever hoped for is here”?  I have to be honest with you, those times seem to be elusive and difficult to come by, especially if you think they are only made for a chosen few.  We all know those people who walk around with a perpetual smile, a “happy go lucky” outlook, and the unending joy of a life of ease.  Here is what we don’t see revealed in people whom we think are living perpetual mountaintop lives. We do not see the injuries, trauma, and the valley moments that have changed them forever.  What you may not see revealed in them is that behind the mountaintop revelation on the outside, there could be a horrific valley moment that forever changed their hearts, and somehow God’s grace brought them back to the mountain, even in the midst of the lowlands of life.  Sometimes we need to go to the mountain and be in God’s presence and then, bring a little of that back into everyday life.

Peter, James and John

Peter in glee shouted, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” These three, especially Peter have over the years gotten a bad rap for their reaction to the mountaintop transfiguration experience.  These three guys were sitting in the holy presence of God in flesh, fully revealed and they just wanted to stay. Down in the valley, these guys faced everyday rejection from the religious elite.  They lived as poor itinerant preachers following this “up and coming” rabbi and most of the time, they were confused by his teachings.   They had doubts, fears, and uncertainties about their choices to leave their families and businesses.

Now, in a moment of light and flash, it all seemed to make sense because this guy they were following was God, and yet still human, and all of it was confirmed by Moses and Elijah.  The great Exodus rescuer, and the holy prophet who was taken up into heaven were both declaring to these three disciples, “yep, this is the one.”  Even God’s voice from heaven declared it, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

Let me tell you, had I been there with them, I too would have wanted to stay.  I too would have wanted to forget the ministry valley below; the weekly committee meetings, the surprising personality clashes and betrayals, and the endless emails.   I bet you would have wanted to stay there too.  So, don’t be too quick to judge these guys.  We like them, need to go to the mountaintop in our lives of faith more often.  We need moments like those, to carry us through the valleys.

A Greek Orthodox theologian tells us, “The transfiguration is not only an event of memory, but one of participatory action.” (3).  We need to go to the mountain and not just sit, but we need to be like Peter, who wanted to do something (build tabernacles).  We need to go to the mountain so we can build a life of transformation, changed hearts, and the full revelation of God’s divine presence in us.

The transfiguration is not merely a moment of glory for Jesus, where he showed his disciples that he was who he claimed he was.  The transfiguration is the moment Jesus shows us clearly, that we are who he says we are; glorious children of God in fleshly containers.  Let me explain.  I found this quote on Pinterest, “Shining forth atop the mountain is the glory not only of Christ as the unrepeatable, incomparable person of the Son made man, but also the universal, approachable vision of humanity wrought fully in the image and likeness of God.” (1).

The Valley of Transformed

“So, Fr. Eric, how do I experience the mountaintop,” you may ask.  Honestly, it is easier than you think, if you are willing to go.  You can have a mountaintop experience every single day, if you are willing to go.  It is simple; find that place that completely takes you out of your routine, that focuses your heart, and provides you with time and space for introspection.  Maybe it is the beach, maybe it is your lanai, maybe it is a walking path in your community, or maybe it is the vistas from 2000’. Mountaintops can be places that bring you to a peace, where you can be open to new insights, where you can experience an open heart, and a find renewed spirit.  When you go there you simply need to pray.  When you are there, ask God to reveal Godself to you, and wait.  Ask God to show you who you really are and wait.  Finally, expect God to show up.  Now you may have to do this a few times and you may be disappointed, if you do not have that glorious mountaintop experience, but be patient and wait.

Not into that kind of thing?  So, try this as an alternative.  The next time you experience any event in your life: the missed golf shot, the troublesome co-worker, the events that seem to overwhelm your peace, the tragedy in your life you cannot bear, the family member who is angry with you, the anxiety you carry every day, well then, go to the mountaintop in the midst of those valleys.  In other words, go to prayer.  Ask God to reveal Godself to you and wait.  Ask God to show you who you really are and wait.  Finally, expect God to show up.

You see, when you go to the mountaintop, you are going to discover who you truly are, but be ready, because you will there be forever changed.  Mountaintops for many of us can be frightening and life-altering, because these moments will bring us to a decision point. When we come face to face with our true identity, we face many choices.   On the mountain, you will discover who we truly are and either choose to accept the valley paths Jesus sets out for us; or you may discover who we really are and decide to follow the valley paths of our own choosing.  You see, the beauty of the story of the Transfiguration of Christ is not a story of the divisional experience of mountain and valley, as if they were two different and separable parts of life.  Just like the truth revealed in the shining face of Jesus with Moses and Elijah on both of his sides, divinity and flesh are not separable parts of our journey of faith.

The truth we find in this story is this that wherever we are on this journey, the mountains and valleys if taken following Christ, can really be indistinguishable.  In other words, if we truly see and trust the very presence of God living in us, no matter where we are the divinity and humanity of God is present with us in Christ.  So, when you experience uncertainty, trials, fears, anxiety, depression, disappointment, pain, and when a choice is before you, remember that you always have available to you, the God given grace to listen to God’s call, to leave your troubles with Jesus as be beckons, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there.”

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A Blog by Eric Cooter

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