Dreams, Visions, Hope, and New Life

During my years as a psychiatric chaplain, I frequently had very vivid dreams that would entangle my every day with my love for urban fantasy novels (and tv shows) and with my theological pursuits. In these dreams I would have to solve some unsolvable puzzle or complete some heroic act which would result in the world being rid of all evil. Were these dreams influenced by providing spiritual care to people in the midst of psychiatric crisis and my frequent feelings of helplessness? Yes. On the other hand, I found hope in them as well. No matter what monsters or demons I fought in my dreams, failure was never a possibility nor was giving up. In my dreams I found the courage, strength, and ingenuity I needed. My dreaming self was always tenacious and often triumphant, though it was not unusual for me to wake up before evil was contained.

Why talk about these dreams now? For the last several nights, I’ve had similar kinds of vivid dreams. One I had to coach an army of Sisyphean-like people on how to keep moving the stones even when they rolled back or the mountain peak seemed no closer. In another my task was to stand at the mouth of a cave and call all faith-filled people to come out, that their time to hide in the Platonic cave had come to end. Last night I had to find a way to unite a million people who had never met without them ever meeting. If I accomplished this task, a million more people would not die and the earth would enter a new age.

Once again these dreams are an odd blend of life, urban fantasy, and theology. The response to COVID-19 ranges from willful ignorance to preparing for the apocalypse. While some are able to ignore all signs of crisis, most of us are dreading the likelihood of illness and more death than we have seen in recent history. Apocalyptic language makes a degree of sense. However, I am a dreamer of dreams and receiver of visions. I see hope when most people speak of despair and desperation. I think of Ezekiel and his visionary valley and of Lazarus walking out of a tomb and the promise of God’s steadfast love allows me to take a deep breath. Preparation is helpful; panic is not. New life is the birthright of the people of God. This is not to say that faithful people have not or will not be included in the millions who will die from COVID-19. Faith is no protection against any virus. The promise of new life is lived out in community.

It’s rare that we witness a true turning point in society or in church and are aware that it is indeed a turning point. Nearly every aspect of life will be different after COVID-19. Church life will be different after this crisis. No matter how we resist the changes necessary to remain in community while “sheltering in place” or in a “lockdown,” church needs to adapt to what is faster than church has ever adapted to anything. I believe the church universal has been in serious danger of being the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision. Our reluctance to change enough to meet the needs of the world around us meant that we were dying, slowly, but dying nonetheless. And, yet, the breath of God is still capable of creating new sinews and flesh on our bones.

I have had an inescapable vision haunting my waking hours and influencing my dreams. In the midst of this crisis, I hear Jesus calling the church out of the tomb we have inhabited. I hear Jesus calling us to let go of so much that has unnecessarily defined us and enter into new life. God’s steadfast love for the whole of Creation cannot be undone by a virus. Even though many of us may die, the church will yet live. However, we must not be tied to worshiping in buildings or in familiar sanctuaries. We must not think that the story of Holy Week and Easter only has power in sanctuaries crowded with visitors and lilies. The story of God’s amazing love, love that can overcome any destruction and devastation humanity can dish out or experience, can be told online by virtual connection. In the middle of world-changing crisis it is possible for the church to be transformed and brought to new life.

In these days and weeks where we are physically distancing from one another, we have an excellent opportunity to bridge the communal and spiritual gap. We can respond to Jesus call and come out of the valley with new sinew and new flesh on our old, dry bones. We can move out of the tomb of traditions and experience transformation and resurrection into a Body of Christ as yet unknown and unrecognized.

In these fear-filled and uncertain days may we all be dreamers of dreams and receivers of visions powerful enough to bring life in response to death. May we find hope in the steadfast love of God. Wherever you are be safe, be well, be church.

More sermon help here.

RCL – Year A – Fifth Sunday in Lent – March 29, 2020
Ezekiel 37:1-14
Psalm 130
Romans 8:6-11
John 11:1-45

Photo: CC0image by AKS

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Faithful in the Time of COVID-19

On a Thursday afternoon in March I am sitting in my recliner with the dog on my lap. It is not vacation. It is not my day off. It’s weird and unsettling. I’m home like many others because we are in the middle of a pandemic. In the U.S. we are watching as some other countries are beginning to recover and others are watching as the death count rises. We are watching and waiting and some are still disbelieving. We should be following the example of countries like Spain who are on full lockdown. Yes, the toll on the economy will be significant, but how much worse are we making it by not physically distancing ourselves from one another?

There’s the denial. Then there is something far worse. There are faith leaders who still gathered for worship in high risk areas with people at significant risk for carrying and/or contracting COVID-19. The message from these (usually very conservative Christian) preachers was that God would save them from the virus. While they were in the house of God, and if they had faith enough, they would be fine. Everyone else who is fearful and taking precautions and wanting to flatten the curve… well, we are faithless fools. Of course, this messaging is false and dangerous. More to the point, it isn’t exactly Biblical, either.

Let’s take the story of the man who was born blind, for example. Here was a man, blind from birth. The question the disciples posed to Jesus about the cause of the man’s blindness are still relevant today. Who sinned – the man or his parents? It’s very much like whose sin caused COVID-19 and this pandemic – people in China, people in Europe, people in North America, people in general, or scientists, or politicians? Jesus’ answer to his disciples was likely helpful to them; neither the man’s nor his parents’ sins caused his blindness. Jesus goes on to say that the man was born blind so that God’s glory could be shown in him. Okay. Here’s were it gets a bit challenging for modern scripture readers.

I say that this statement is descriptive rather prescriptive. In the ancient world, the primary way of understanding the events of the world – personal and communal – was to say that God was responsible for all the things. If a person was born blind, then God had a reason for it. Of course, the most common understanding of any kind of disability was that it was punishment for sin, the person’s or their parents’. From this perspective, when Jesus told the disciples that the man was born blind so God could reveal God’s glory in the man, it sounds prescriptive, foreordained, if you will. However, from a modern point of view in which we have explanations for things happening beyond God making them happen, this story is descriptive. It describes what actually happened (in the story or in reality matters very little). In other words, because the man was born blind, Jesus’ power to heal could be revealed through him. No punishment of any kind in this understanding.

Now we come to COVID-19. It’s a virus, a scary, highly contagious, lethal for many virus. Viruses, as we know, are part of human existence. I am not a scientist so I cannot explain how or why the exist, but we know that they do. The common cold has been around as long as human beings have. Influenza is a virus that mutates constantly. The coronavirus has been around a long time. This particular version of it is new. No virus comes from God. No human sin caused it to become as lethal as it is. However, this isn’t to say that God’s power/presence/glory/healing/love won’t be revealed in the midst of this. It is a question of who will bear witness to what God is doing even now.

We can be like the Temple Authorities and refuse to believe that God is at work in the world in new and unexpected ways and, thereby, remain “blind” to the goodness and beauty that remains in the world. Or we can seek to make way for Divine Love in the midst of this pandemic. Practicing “social” distancing (6 feet from people not sharing your living space) is a way to care for our neighbors and ourselves. Leaving needed supplies on the shelves of stores rather than hoarding them for ourselves is another way. Checking in on those more vulnerable than ourselves with phone calls, texts, video chats, is another way to make room for God to do what God does best – re-member people, join them in community.

To that end, I pray that all will be well.

In the meantime here are some suggestions for being faithful to God and loving our neighbors as ourselves. These are also good practices to maintain mental health.

  1. Stay at home if you are able. If you have to go out of your house to work, act as if you are an a-symptomatic carrier and use reasonable precautions.
  2. If you need to go out, maintain 6 feet of space between you and others – in grocery stores, pharmacies, etc. If you purchase anything, disinfect the packaging when you bring it home.
  3. Establish a daily routine if you are working from home. This includes a normative sleep cycle with consistent bed and wake up times, regular hygiene practices, changing out of pajamas (even if just into clean pajamas) daily, consistent meal and exercise times.
  4. Also schedule times to reach out to family and friends with whatever video chat platform is available to you.
  5. Check in on those you know who are at higher risk for the virus.
  6. Participate in whatever your church is doing online
  7. Get outside regularly if you are able to do so safely
  8. Engage in pleasurable activities whatever they are for you – hobbies, movie watching, daydreaming…
  9. Do something creative each day – write, bake, draw, paint… anything that allows you to make something new
  10. Limit your viewing of media. For every negative piece of information you encounter, seek something positive.

Even though I walk through a world filled with the coronavirus, I fear no absence of Love; for God is with me; God’s faithfulness and steadfast love, they comfort me.

RCL – Year A – Fourth Sunday in Lent – March 22, 2020
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

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Jesus, a Woman, a Well, and COVID-19

It’s been about a hundred years since the last pandemic – the Spanish Influenza of 1918. In the U.S., at least, we have grown accustomed to being relatively safe from widespread outbreaks of viruses. The AIDS epidemic is most recent in our memories, and as awful as that was it was not a pandemic. The coronavirus – COVID-19 – has been declared a pandemic which is causing panic everywhere. Panic isn’t helpful, though. Preparation is more useful and less exhausting.

The word “pandemic” means “all people.” While considered in the context of a potentially deadly virus, this is scary. However, as people of faith we ought to be used to thinking in terms of all people. All people will be involved as this virus spreads also means all people can be involved in preparations and preventative measures. We don’t have to continue to wait for the federal government’s inadequate and unhelpful response. As the Body of Christ, our concern is for all people. There are things we can do. We might be in a wilderness season, but we are not alone.

First, let us look at the story about Jesus meeting the woman at the well in Samaria. We know this story. The woman was an outcast even among outcasts. She had had five husbands and was living with another man who was not her husband. She was at the well in the bright heat of the noonday in order to avoid contact with others in the village. She wasn’t expecting anyone to be there, especially not a rabbi on his own. The interaction between Jesus and this unknown woman changed her. She drank deeply of the living water Jesus offered. As a result a whole village full of people became followers of Jesus on her say so.

What can this passage tell us in these early days of this pandemic? One is that Living Water will not be changed by a virus. God will still be present and moving through the world as God has always done. Another is that social distancing, as is encouraged by the CDC and other experts, does not mean we have to be alone or that God abandons us. We do not need to emotionally and spiritually distance ourselves from one another. The Samaritan woman that Jesus met that day was believed to be ritually unclean and so others kept away from her. Keeping the recommended three feet away from people gathered in public places ought not to make us fearful of others in a way that furthers any sense of isolation. We can make eye contact and talk with people. We can remain unafraid to help our neighbors when they have need.

While the Samaritan woman didn’t have access to social media to curb her feelings of being unwanted and unwelcomed, we do. We can continue to be Church through creative uses of our resources. We can have worship online. We can create small groups of care partners who can remain in contact through video chat or phone or even in person if everyone is well. Perhaps we can use this opportunity to learn new ways of embodying Christ. Fear does not have to be our constant companion. We can drink more deeply of the Living Water and remember that God’s love knows no boundaries. I’ll say it clearly because others are suggesting the opposite: this virus is not a punishment for sin nor God’s comment on poverty. A God who is Love would not and does not unleash viruses on God’s people. God will remain present and loving through all that is to come.

In the meantime, let’s try not to be like the Israelites in the desert with Moses. Let’s try to avoid crying out to God and asking why we are thirsty, or hungry, or lost. Let’s try to be intentional in our preparations so that no one feels forgotten, isolated, or alone in the days to come. Let’s be mindful of the vulnerable among us who might need extra care and consideration as fear and anxiety increase. Let’s stay informed with facts over fears. Perhaps we can even learn to sing to the Lord in new ways. The only way we are going to get through this is together. We need one another even if there has to be three feet between each of us.

So you can see that I practice what I preach, here is a copy of the brief letter I wrote to my congregation:

As of Wednesday, COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic. This means that it involves all people everywhere. While this increases anxiety, we are not entirely powerless. We will continue to be the Body of Christ and love our neighbors as ourselves.

 As of now, we plan to have Sunday School and worship as usual on Sunday. We will use food safety precautions for preparing the bread for communion and any food for kinship. Communion will be served using tongs so no hands touch the bread. We will not share the cup but will be invited to write down ways in which we will share Divine Love in the world and place the paper in a symbolic cup.

Please stay at home if you have any symptoms of illness. Also remember that the CDC recommends that people over 60 and those with compromised immune systems should stay at home. 

It is very likely that by March 22nd we will have services, meetings, Bible studies, and Sunday school entirely online. More information on this will be available early next week. We have created small groups to help people stay connected. 

Here is a two minute video on the basics: https://youtu.be/TjcoN9Aek24

These are two good links to check for updates on the coronavirus: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/index.html

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html

Also, if you are prone to worrying or anxiety, you may want to limit your exposure to broadcast news and social media. 

Remember that by taking care of ourselves, we are taking care of our neighbors. By limiting our exposure to group gatherings we are caring for the vulnerable among us. We remain the Body of Christ whether we are gathered or scattered. God’s love for us does not change. This pandemic will continue to change our daily lives, and God will continue to be present with us through all that is to come.

UPDATE: Council voted on Thursday evening, after monitoring news outlets, to suspend all in-person gatherings until further notice.

RCL – Year A – Third Sunday in Lent – March 15, 2020
Exodus 17:1-7
Psalm 95
Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

Photo: CC0image by Mystic Art Design

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Bidding Prayer for the Wilderness Journey

Come, let us pray for all those who worship the One who created all that is and loves the whole of the Cosmos.
(silence or time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns
Ever-present, Creator God, hear our prayers for all your people, those who gather in the name of Christ and those who worship by another name. Unite us in our desire to love and serve you by loving and serving all our neighbors. Make us mindful that we are your people and our siblings are numerous. In these days of change, conflict, and war, you call us to leave behind what we have known, and journey to strange places whose customs we have yet to learn or create. Grant us the trust of Abram and the courage of Sarai that we may all follow you into new and life-sustaining ways.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for the United Church of Christ and our sister denominations throughout the world.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
God of all times and places, hear our prayers for the United Church of Christ and those who lead it. May we hear your call as clearly as Abram did and be willing to leave behind that which no longer serves. May our commitment to following you outweigh our love affair with the past. Grant us the temerity of Nicodemus to come to you, as with the yearning of our hearts. Open us to your call to life and love in new ways, paving the way for change, for growth, for the deepening of our covenant with you and with one another.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for all the peoples of this world.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Patient and merciful God, hear our prayers for all the peoples of the world. We lift up to those near and far who do not know they are loved and valued. We acknowledge the ways we have participated in systems of oppression that have caused pain to our neighbors. Teach us your ways of mercy and grace that we may join with protesters rather than complain about the disruption to our days. As we journey through the Lenten wilderness, increase our awareness of the needs of others, especially those who remain willfully unseen. Remind us once more that your love is for the whole of the Cosmos and we are to leave no one out.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for this nation and those who lead it.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)

God of our ancestors and God of all our days, hear our prayers for this country and all who live within its borders. In this season of political choosing, be present with us, enveloping us with your mercy and your love. As we participate in primary elections, guide us with your wisdom. Your Spirit blows where it wills, and so it should be with our lives. Let us not resist the power of your Spirit. Rather, let us resist those who would lead us away from justice, compassion, and equity for all those who call this country home. May we seek leaders who will care for the vulnerable among us more than they care for wealth or power.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for all those in need of healing.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Healing and compassionate God, hear us as we pray for those who need healing in body, mind, or spirit. We especially lift up those who are wrongfully imprisoned or unjustly sentenced, especially those who are on death row. As we pray for those who struggle with the broken places in their lives, fill us with your compassion that our prayerful words may lead to acts of welcome and inclusion for those the world has pushed to the edges. May your Wisdom guide us to be the Body of Christ needed in the world today.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
strong>My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us pray for all those who grieve and suffer the pain of loss.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
God of love and joy, hear us as we pray for those who are grieving. We pray for refugees, asylum seekers, and immigrants who, like Abram and Sarai, have left all that they have known to seek a life of safety and peace. We pray for those like Nicodemus who are lost under the cover of night and desperately want new life. As we examine the barren places in our own lives, we come to you, trusting that you are a God of hope and wholeness. Be at work in us and among us that we may be your healing body where grief, sadness, and loss can be held until new life becomes possible.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.

Come, let us give thanks to God for all that we have and all that we are.
(silence or a time for people to quietly give voice to their concerns)
Generous and forgiving God, hear us as we give thanks for our lives. We often fail to express our gratitude for all that you have given us, focusing overly much on what we do not have or cannot do. As we travel this road to Jerusalem with you, shift our focus to your abundance, your love and grace, that is all around us. Jesus went into the desert with your words of “Beloved” echoing in his spirit; he did not go alone. Open us anew to your presence and our belovedness. We are agents of Love and Grace here and now, and we are grateful for your Love, mercy, and forgiveness which leads us through the wild places into the fullness of life with you.
I lift my eyes to the hills from where will my help come?
My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth. Amen.

RCL – Year A – Second Sunday in Lent – March 8, 2020
Genesis 12:1-4a
Psalm 121
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17 or Matthew 17:1-9

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Temptation with a Capital T

Given the current political climate in the U.S., I’ve been thinking a lot about temptation and how Christians tend to trivialize it. Jesus wasn’t tempted by small things when he was in the wilderness. It wasn’t a question of eating an extra cookie or skipping his time at the gym or engaging in dubious sexual activity. Jesus was tempted by bigger things, not because he was the Christ, but because he was human. The more we focus on the small temptations we face, the more we diminish the power of Jesus encounter with Satan in the wilderness.

Yes, I am inclined to treat this story as metaphor and myth rather than history and fact. It is, nonetheless, a true story. I don’t doubt that Jesus went into a time of fasting and prayer after his baptism. He very likely went out into the wilderness to do so. What better place to encounter God than in a land untouched by human hands? The longer he was there, the more he wrestled with his personal demons. We would do well to follow his example.

The first temptation Jesus faces is his hunger. He could have turned the rocks to bread, but would that have satisfied him? If our hunger is spiritual and not physical, no amount of bread will fill the void. If one is fasting in order to facilitate a deeper spiritual encounter, then bread will not meet that need. Jesus knew something that Eve had not learned when she bit into the serpent’s temptation; knowledge and wisdom are two different things. Jesus knew that feeding his stomach would not prepare him for what lay ahead.

In the modern context, we mistake fasting with dieting. We mistake the physical for the spiritual, especially when it comes to hunger. Those of us with full cabinets and freezers fall back on our Puritanical preset of believing that people who cannot afford to feed themselves are somehow to blame and their poverty is God’s punishment. Even when we say we do not believe this archaic theology, we tend to act as if we do and by so doing, we make physical hunger a spiritual problem. On the flip side, those of us with access to enough food often eat more than we need and just as often use food to soothe ourselves. In other words, we attempt to satisfy our spiritual hunger with physical food. This is no more affective than the reverse. Perhaps it is time we sort this out. No doubt Satan and his minions would rather we continue as we are. Otherwise, feeding those who are physically hungry and nurturing those who are spiritually hungry sounds a lot like Jesus’ response about not living by bread alone.

Having failed in his first efforts, Satan moves on. Jesus’ second temptation is to prove his own value by throwing himself off the pinnacle of the temple. Jesus seems to have understood his own worth better than most of us today. He was not concerned with proving how far God would go to protect him. Was he secure in God’s love for him or did he simply understand that the worth others bestow on us means nothing until we bestow it upon ourselves?

We are awful judges of human value today. We foolishly believe that financial and material wealth are signs of God’s favor without giving a thought to racism and other social factors that hold many generations in poverty. While we might be tempted to say that God loves all human beings we are, at core, highly skeptical about our own standing with God, not to mention our neighbors’. Once again our Puritanical preset reveals our lack of wisdom. We can know that God does not favor the wealthy over the poor, the able over the disabled, the healthy over the sick, etc, but our behavior shows something different. Look at the state of this country and it is impossible to deny that we have let outdated-unexamined theology wreak havoc. Perhaps we could follow Jesus’ example and believe that God loves us and all our neighbors and stop trying to prove that we are valued and loved and important.

If we don’t, we will never manage to escape the third temptation. Satan invited Jesus into ownership of and power over everyone. It was simple enough – worship Satan and not God. Jesus saw through this with seeming ease (though I suspect it was more a struggle than the Bible lets on). Jesus chose God over Satan and his time of temptation ended. The power was in the choice.

The unfortunate truth is that we aren’t very good at worshiping God. It is often more enticing to seek after ownership and power. And in a society that frequently mistakes these things for signs of blessings, the temptation is even stronger. Worshiping God is often the harder choice when siren song of society is, “bigger, better, more…” Who wants to be a humble servant to Love and show that by serving human beings and Creation with intentional compassion when the accumulation of wealth leads to power and success? Now might be an excellent time to disentangle ourselves from the pursuit of power and dedicate our lives to serving the most vulnerable among us as Jesus commanded.

If you are among the many who have given up chocolate, coffee, beer, wine, or even social media for Lent, how will you spend that time you would have spent in those pursuits? Will you watch to see if the numbers on the scale go down? Will you browse the internet to fill the void created by the absence of social media? Or will you enter into the wilderness place and chance meeting your demons who will put your true temptations on display? Whatever your Lenten practice may be, may we face our own demons and the demons of our society with grace and assurance of God’s love. In this way, may we wrestle as Jesus did and make the choice that will end our time with Satan with the arrival of angels.

If you are looking for sermon help, try here.

RCL – Year A – First Sunday in Lent – March 1, 2020
Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Psalm 32
Romans 5:12-19
Matthew 4:1-11

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A Glimpse of Glory

Have you ever caught a glimpse of God’s glory? Maybe it didn’t cover a whole mountain top or brighten up anyone’s appearance. Maybe that brief look at something holy just made your eyes shine with awe-filled tears or made the light of hope visible amidst the struggle. Maybe God’s glory is present all the time and we just don’t recognize it or don’t notice it until the circumstances are just right.

Moses went up a mountain to spend time alone with God. The Israelites saw fire on that mountain top from their place in the valley. A fire that left Moses’ face all aglow. But think of how it is that Moses came to be on that mountain top alone with God. He had led the people out of Egypt into the desert where resources were scarce. No doubt the people were growing restless as God was working out God’s covenant with the people and Moses was the go-between. How many times did Moses go up the mountain to talk with God? There were a few and we know at least once he came back down to a people who had already turned to another god. Moses needed every sparkle, glow, ray of light that God’s glory left with him. And the people maybe should have remembered that “devouring fire” a bit longer than they did.

Yet, in spite of what would remain on Moses’ face, the people couldn’t hold onto God’s glory very long. They couldn’t keep in their minds the fact that God liberated them from Egypt and wouldn’t abandon them in the desert. They wanted God with them all the time in some visible way, but not the way that dazzled their eyes. God’s glory, when viewed directly, affects the beholder’s vision. For a brief moment, Glory is all that can be taken in. Everything else literally pales by comparison. Yet, somehow, Glory fades from memory more quickly than most things.

By the time Jesus shows up, the events on Mount Sinai were long past. Perhaps the power contained in the stories had faded a bit. So one day Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain. They needed a little time away from the growing opposition to Jesus, or maybe from the crowds that gathered wherever they went. Things had been happening and Peter, James, and John could barely recognize their lives since they started following Jesus. And the debate about whether or not Jesus was the Messiah had to be exhausting, not to mention the fact that there were groups of people who wanted Jesus dead. Sure, a trip up a mountain for some alone time was a welcomed idea.

They had no way of preparing themselves for what they saw up there. Jesus transfigured (metamorphosized in the Greek) along with Moses and Elijah – glowing, garments and all, with a brightness that human hands could not produce. Peter at least recognized the sacredness of the moment and wanted to build tabernacles to mark the occasion, the holy presence. Before he could finish describing his plans, the voice from heaven had something to say. Then fear took over and they fell to the ground. I wonder if their own faces had a bit of glow about them in those moments.

When it was all over, Jesus got them to their feet and led them down the mountain. Were they silent about what they had just experienced? I doubt it. I think they were all babbling, talking over each other, trying to capture the experience with words. Then Jesus told them to stop. They could talk about it all later when it might make more sense to them. They had just had a close encounter with the glory of God and they would realize the power of it at some point.

Here’s the thing. I think we have managed to close off ourselves to the experiences of God’s glory. When we are exhausted and troubled by life’s events, we don’t necessarily take ourselves away to a mountain top or some other quiet place. We don’t necessarily think about removing some of the clutter between us and God. So when God’s glory shines, it’s filtered through a whole lot of stuff, and we might miss it. Or, more likely, call it by another name.

I’m not suggesting that we will see mountain tops devoured by holy fire or long-dead prophets hanging out with Jesus if the circumstances were right. What I am suggesting is that we will see the light of Divine Love shining in ordinary places, everyday faces, if we pay more attention. We don’t need to be able to explain everything or understand all that is. It’s okay to live in the Mystery and know that God still claims us as Beloved. Even in the midst of science and technology and so much information, the Holy is still a Mystery and sometimes that Mystery shines brilliantly on our tired, scared, confused little lives to give us hope and remind us of the promise of Love.

RCL – Year A – Transfiguration – February 23, 2020
Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2 or Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Photo: CC0image by Johannes Plenio

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Life Choices

Choosing life is not simple, easy, or natural for most of us. Well, there is the drive to stay alive. However, that is not the same as choosing life. Moses was pretty clear that choosing life often means choosing the hard road, the way that is not self-focused. On the brink of entering into the Promised Land, Moses implores the people of God to choose life so that they and their children may continue to live in abundance.

These people who stood looking across the Jordan River into the land they had been promised are the wilderness wanderers, the calf worshipers, the complainers, and the whiners. The journey from captivity to freedom was longer and more difficult than they bargained for. They weren’t happy with Moses. They were tired of manna and quail. They had expected a shorter journey, one that was less taxing on their bodies and on their spirits. If Moses wasn’t around, they were pretty certain that God wasn’t around either. They survived the desert, surely life wasn’t a choice they had to make. They were alive and staring at the Promised Land. Life had already been granted them, hadn’t it?

That’s the funny thing with life. It’s easy to take it for granted. We are alive. We are breathing and moving through the world. What choice is there? Moses could have elaborated more than he did. Choose life that will enable your neighbor to live as you live. Choose life that will be gentle on the planet. Choose life that facilitates justice for all people. Choose life that always moves from captivity to liberation. Choose life that honors the Creator. Choose life in a way that blesses those around you. Choose life, not just as individuals, but also as sacred community.

There it is. Choosing life in response to God’s call isn’t about us as individual human beings. It is about us as sacred community, the Body of Christ, the church. Nearly every church I have ever been a part of has been primarily concerned with its own life. Are the pews full? Is the budget balanced? Are the programs attended? Is the Sunday School full? How about the youth program, are we ensuring the church of the future? These concerns that have absorbed so much of our churches’ attention, are not questions that support choosing life.

God has set before us the ways of life and death. The church is on the edges of something new, something exciting, something transformative. We are close enough to see that something different is coming, but not close enough to know precisely what it is. However, we can look around at our declining numbers and the building closures and know that life isn’t exactly what we have chosen. Perhaps it is time to make different choices.

Choose life so that we and those who will come after us might live in God’s love, honoring God’s commandments. Choose life so that we will stop being lured away by the false gods of individualism and independence. Choose life so that we will realize that our neighbors are our responsibility, that the way of Christ is the way from captivity to liberation.

First choose life for yourself in response to God’s unconditional love for you as an individual. Then choose life for the Body of Christ in response to God’s abundant love for the whole of Creation. No, it is not easy. Yes, we will continue to be tempted by lesser gods. No, it is not too late for us to change and embrace God’s call to the fullness of life. Yes, there are many who will think our efforts on behalf of life, love, and liberation are futile and foolish. Isn’t it time we stopped wandering in the wilderness and complaining about all that is not as we want it or expected it to be? By choosing life, we are choosing the Promised Land, a land where all are welcomed, wanted, seen, heard, and valued. Is there a better way to be the Body of Christ?

Choose life when considering the plight of refugees. Choose life when confronted with those who are homeless. Choose life when the government cuts funding for food subsidies, access to health care, or acts to promote only the white, cis, wealthy, able-bodied, educated, and male people. Choose life, interdependence and sacred community, in every moment and in every decision or the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, will never come any closer. Generations yet to come deserve better than captivity and oppression, don’t they?

RCL – Year A – Sixth Sunday after Epiphany – February 16, 2020
Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

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