Sunday, March 23, 2014
John 4: 5-42, NT pages 94-95 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” They left the city and were on their way to him. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Surely no one has brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to complete his work. Do you now say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’? But I tell you, look around you, and see how the fields are ripe for harvesting. The reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I have ever done.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.” Sermon It took me a long time to get ready to ride a bike. I was 6 or 7 before my parents bought me one, but even the sight of a brand new bicycle didn’t make me want to jump on it and start riding – the sight of my new bike made me afraid. But I couldn’t just tell them that of course. Instead, at dinner one night my parents were ready to talk about it, and so one of them said, “Don’t you think it’s about time to start ridding that nice new bike we bought you last week? One of us sure would love to take you down to the park to help you practice ridding it.” My response: “I’d rather focus on my roller skating right now.” Now as cool as roller skating is, I imagine that my parents knew what was really going on here. They knew that I was covering up my fear of ridding a bike with a dedication to roller skating, the same way I covered up the fish I didn’t want to eat with a thick coating of catchup when we went out for dinner. Denial covers up the truth that way, and while parents can tell pretty easily when their kids are using a story to cover up something their afraid of or are embarrassed about, adults become so good at it they can even fool themselves. Let me give you an example: I ran a race yesterday. It was nine miles, I barely survived, but I’ve been telling myself that I barely survived, not because I’m out of shape, but because at mile three I sort of twisted my ankle and I had to walk for a little while. Probably, I would have won the entire thing were it not for that injury. Now if you believe that you might also believe that this Samaritan woman goes to the well at noon because the well is nice and quiet at that time of day. Sure it’s hot, hotter than at any other point in the day, but she wouldn’t want to be inside taking a nap like everyone else, she just has a hard working disposition and doesn’t like to nap. Certainly it has nothing to do with all the other women who all go to the well together before the sun rises and after it sets. It’s not that their conversations go silent when she approaches. It’s not that she had the feeling that everyone had been talking about her before she walked up the last time she went to the well in the cool of the morning – no, no – she just likes to go around noon. Regardless, it’s a good thing for Jesus that’s she’s there, as no one else would have been at the well to help him for hours. “Give me a drink,” he says. And maybe she was used to men making demands of her. But she was also used to men doing something for her in return, maybe a gift, maybe a roof over her head – Moses made water spring from a rock, Jacob gave them the well, but here is this Jesus who doesn’t even have a bucket, so she hesitates. Recognizing her hesitation Jesus says to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” Pointing to the well he says, “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 again. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” She’s attracted to his offer now, and you may be able to understand her attraction for two reasons at least. For one thing, the idea of not relying on a well, the idea of no longer having to carry buckets back and forth, to and from, every time someone is thirsty, every time someone needs a bath, or whenever it’s time to cook, sounds as good as indoor plumbing does today to anyone who doesn’t have it. But these two are no longer talking about the kind of water that you drink, and it’s not just her thirst that never gets satisfied going back and forth from that well every day. Jesus and the woman are not just talking about her bucket that she fills up with water – they’re also talking about her heart that she longs to fill up with acceptance, but because of who she is and who she is to her community, every day she walks away from the well and that bucket is still empty. So she goes to the well at noon now – the time when no one else is there to make her feel exactly the way she would feel about herself were she not so guarded and protected by the stories that she tells herself. He’ll marry me one of these days she keeps saying. And why he won’t – well, he’s probably right, it is better if we wait a little while. That way we can really get to know each other. That’s probably best for the children any way. And sure, he uses harsh words and doesn’t appreciate the water that I bring him – but he says he loves me and in this world it seems as though no one else does. Some lines are so good they even work on ourselves. And they seem to fill up the empty bucket for a little while, but they never really do - Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again. Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” If he is, know that he knows you better than you know yourself, and not only that – he is not like the crowds of women at the well who only love you enough to smile sweetly while they talk about you behind your back, he is not like the men who are willing to look over a few blemishes if you’ll just do what they want, and he’s not even like the friends who only love you enough to be nice to you fearing what will happen if they tell you what they really think. Christ loves you enough to tell you the truth – his words cut through even your own denial – but not only that. Having told you everything you have ever done he offers not condemnation but living water so that you’ll never be empty again. My father said to me several years ago: “Joe, you’re scared to ride your bike, and that’s OK. In fact, I’m going to stick right by you until you’re ready to ride on your own.” If it were not for him I might still be wearing roller-skates. But if it were not for Christ, I might still be trying to prove who I am to the world rather than trusting that by him I am known and by him I am loved. He’s willing to call you back from who you’re pretending to be, who you’re longing to be and even who you think you are supposed to be – so that you can come to terms with who you are. Come unto him. Come unto him and be truly known. Come unto him and be satisfied by the living water. Amen.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
John 3: 1-17, pages 93 and 94 Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can we enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 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.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “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. “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.” Sermon Yesterday at Mrs. Peggy Fleming’s funeral, we sang a hymn that used to be in the hymnal but isn’t anymore. That’s a funny thing about new hymnals – the worship committee of our church is discussing even now whether or not we should go ahead and order the new hymnal created for Presbyterian churches which was published just last year – and I’m willing to bet that as soon as they do and the new hymnals are in the pew racks, we’ll all be looking through the index to make sure that our favorite hymns are still in there, because, for whatever reason, the committee who gets together to decide what hymns will go in the hymnal and which ones won’t often make their decisions without first seeking our authorization. Churches do have recourse however. In the case of yesterday’s funeral, even though the words to “Onward Christian Soldiers” are not in our hymnal we were able to print the words in the bulletin. And years ago, when the red hymnal first came out without including that great hymn, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love,” your church secretary at the time, Mrs. Lenora Parnell, simply pasted the words into every single hymnal. Lacy Coleman, who was the sexton at the time, brought those hymnals to Lenora’s desk, stack by stack, and after a while he looked at the title to the hymn and said something like, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love huh? It’s a good thing we’ll know them by their love because you’re sure not going to know them by their words or actions.” As usual, Lacy was right. The hymn is about characteristics representative of Christians, and so it calls us to “walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,” but we’re often more interested in winning than walking with each other, we’re often more interested in being polite than being honest, and far too many of us are more dedicated to my way than our way, so we walk away from each other in frustration and anger breaking the bonds of love. Churches should cooperate rather than compete with each other and church members should listen to each other rather than talk over each other or talk to each other rather than about each other in the church parking lot, but sometimes people are just stuck in what they believe and can’t hear, compromise, or sympathize – so churches divide. But on the other hand, there are so many great reasons to work together. “We will work with each other, we will work side by side,” the hymn goes, and what is this place, this sanctuary built nearly 100 years ago, this church founded over 200 years ago, but a great sign of what can happen when we are all working towards the same goal rather than pulling apart in two different directions? We are called then, for the good of the Kingdom, to build relationships with each other even though relationships aren’t easy. And sometimes relationships aren’t easy because while relationships are built on understanding, conflict is built on misunderstanding, and misunderstanding seems to thrive in our fallen world. Misunderstanding turns conflict into a battle between right and wrong, misunderstanding allows for the demonizing of one group of people without thought to the repercussions, and misunderstanding plants the temptation that it would be easier to go off alone, even though going off alone doesn’t reflect what we believe about the Church or what we believe about God. Relationship, on the other hand, is divine and is modeled in the Trinity. In God there is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three together in one – but while we were created by a God who is in relationship with God’s self, while we were created to be in relationship with our neighbor, and while we need relationships to be truly happy, relationships also have a way of making us truly miserable. While attracted we are also pulled apart. While given the gift of speech we have trouble hearing each other. While forgiveness has been modeled by God, we are tempted to withhold it. And for these reasons and others, while we were made to be in relationships and were created in the image of the God who is not one but one in three, we have trouble with friendships, marriages, and bonds within our families, and too often find ourselves isolated and alone. There is always a knocking at the door however, and sometimes the one who wants to break through to us is right on the other side. Nicodemus goes to Christ at night. Sometimes if it’s done at night it’s because you’re ashamed to do it during the day, and that was the case with Nicodemus. He didn’t want anyone to see him associating with Christ. In fact, the world was pulling these two in opposite directions as is often the case. There are those whom you are supposed to associate with, and there are those who you shouldn’t be seen with. This is a tragic story – it’s Romeo and Juliet – their hearts say yes but their families, their friends, their whole world says no. Nicodemus sees something in Christ, but to follow and believe in him means to give up the position that he gained in society – he could lose his job, he could lose respectability, he could lose everything that he thinks truly matters. Still he goes to Christ, and in an attempt to hold on to what he stands to lose he goes under the shadow of night. Once he gets there though, more problems emerge. Nicodemus makes a simple statement that longs for a simple response: “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” This is the kind of statement that begs a “yes I am from God” or “no I’m not.” If only Christ could have given him a response so clear. Instead he says something that’s easily misunderstood: “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,” Nicodemus doesn’t understand what this means, and after trying to break it down into simpler terms Jesus gets frustrated: “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?” Sometimes attempts to connect go this way and even face to face we misunderstand each other. If only it were easy to understand, but the truth is that relationships require communication – and communication is the problem with all relationships. Somehow they both have to learn to communicate what they mean in a way that the other can hear it, but that takes this enormous step into an uncomfortable direction: in order to say something so that he can hear it you have to be able to imagine what it’s like to be him. That’s why the last two verses of this passage mean so much. “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. 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.” God sent God’s Son into the world to do precisely this: to bridge the gap between humanity and divinity, to form a firm relationship between God and you. That’s what all relationships take – someone has to give up something to make it work – and to make this relationship work God gave up everything. God took the step to understand rather than build up a wall. God took the step to see it our way, to build up a relationship built on truth rather than assumptions. And God made it work – God kept on loving – even though, as a bride said to me just the other day reflecting on her first year of marriage: “It’s a whole lot easier to give up on a relationship than to try to fix it, but if you stick in there, it is always worth it.” Do not give up on God, because God hasn’t given up on you. And do not give up on each other – because you have no greater gift than to live together in love. Amen.
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Matthew 4: 1-11, NT page 3 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “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.’” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil left him and suddenly angels came and waited on him. Sermon Today we have something to celebrate. Today a group of fine people have re-affirmed their faith and joined the church as new members. They have heard the gospel here, and we should be proud to be a congregation that men and women want to be a part of. However, we are also a congregation that takes some getting used to, so every time there is a group of people interested in joining the church as members, the Membership Committee organizes a First Presbyterian Church orientation class. The class lasts for 5 Sundays, and in this class new members learn our strong history, both as a church, from our county historian Bob Duncan, and as a denomination. They also learn small things, like where the bathrooms are located, and, in my mind most importantly – in this class new members learn why it is that we do things the way that we do by learning the differences between the Presbyterian Church and the Baptist, Roman Catholic, or Church of Christ. There are both similarities and differences, but the differences tend to be the most interesting. People want to know why infants are baptized here, why there are no alter calls, and why the version of the Apostles’ Creed or the Lord’s Prayer that we use has different words than the one they grew up praying. Do we really believe that Jesus descended into hell as it says in the Apostles’ Creed and why would we need to ask God not to lead us into temptation as we do in the Lord’s Prayer? History tells us that when the Apostles’ Creed was written, the point of declaring that “Jesus descended into hell” served to state clearly that he died and did not simply seem to be dead as Christianity’s critics claimed. But this line affirms more than that – it speaks of the lengths that Christ is willing to go to ensure that all might see and believe the Good News. But as for the Lord’s Prayer and the request: “lead us not into temptation;” as for you who wonder why God would even think about leading you into temptation much less need a prayer to convince God not to, you need only consider the scripture lesson we have just read from the Gospel of Matthew to see that Jesus was led “by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” We know then that it has happened before, so we should pray every Sunday that we won’t be led by the Spirit into the wilderness alone to be tempted by the devil, or, maybe you should pray that you won’t be led by the Spirit into Ross Dress for Less where the deals are too good to walk away from, and I should pray that I won’t be led into the car lot at Lucas Chevrolet or Sloan Ford because there is something about a nice new car that is very difficult walk away from. You can be led into temptation because temptation can be more difficult to face depending on where you are. For Jesus it was the desert, for a woman I know and love and am married to it is Ross Dress for Less, and for me it is the car dealership. But do you know where your place is? For some people it’s easy enough. As one of our adult Sunday School teachers, Greg Martin, is fond of saying, “if you stand outside of a barbershop long enough, sooner or later you’ll end up with a haircut.” Those who are trying to give up sweets for Lent shouldn’t make it too easy to walk by Pie Sensations as every time you walk past it you test your will power and it’s hard to tell when the moment of weakness is coming - when you’ll give up saying “no” to the voice telling you that there’s no harm in just looking at the menu, which inevitably leads to “just one bite” and next thing you know an entire pie has disappeared. Recovering alcoholics are taught to stay away from bars, people who are trying to lose weight are told to change their daily commute so that they don’t even drive past McDonalds, and parents are wise to block certain channels on the television and certain websites on the internet not because they don’t trust their kids but because it is easier to do what is right if a parent or someone else has made it difficult to do what is wrong. If you know what tempts you, if you know where your weak spot is, if you are willing to admit to yourself what for you is so hard to say “no” to, that sooner or later you are going to say “yes” to, then it is possible to be ready when temptation comes. But if you don’t know what tempts you, if you are afraid to say it out loud, or you are caught up in denial and refuse to admit to yourself or anyone else that you so much as have a problem – then you are playing right into the devils hands. He already knows, and he’s hoping that you don’t. He knew that Christ had not eaten for 40 days and 40 nights, and so he creeps in calling on him to produce bread from stones. He knew that Christ was beginning to realize that he must face death while having the power to save his life, so the devil took him to “the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “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.’” But Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And the devil knew that Christ was driven to change the world, to save us all from destruction, so the devil took him to “a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” He was ready. Even in the wilderness, even famished, even when faced with those things that tempted him the most – he was ready. “If you are the Son of God,” the devil said to him, and he proved that he was, not because he was born impermeable to the devil’s temptations but because when he was led into temptation he was ready. The question for you is – will you be? Do you know your insecurities and your fears? Are you familiar with the darkest parts of your soul that will drive you to harm yourself and others? Do you know who you are? What is certain is that the devil already does, and for him, the less you know about yourself the better. If you would rather be nice than be a disciple. If you long to be accepted by people rather than stand for the truth. If you are swayed by what people might think rather than by what God says. If you would rather give people what they want then tell them what you need. If you are trying to prove to everyone, or even worse, yourself, who you are without knowing or believing who God says you are – then you are easy prey. You are truly God’s beloved. You are loved and valued by God, so be set on redemption and not damnation by looking at yourself and knowing what makes you weak. In these 40 Days of Lent we are led into the wilderness just as Jesus was. Use this time to prepare yourself – and know that in refusing to see yourself for who you are you have every reason to be afraid – surely the tempter will come and you will fall. But in seeing yourself for who you are you have nothing to fear, for you are God’s beloved. Amen.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Matthew 17: 1-9, NT pages 18-19 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “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.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Sermon A date you should all have on your calendar is April 12th, which will be the second annual dinner to raise money for the high school youth mission trip. The first dinner was an incredible success, not only because your contributions went so far to support this mission trip financially, but because this dinner raised so much awareness in our congregation, making the youth mission trip not only important to the high school students who participated, but to all of us. I’m thankful that our Associate Pastor, Jennie Barber, and the Youth Committee has been so deliberate about getting our youth involved in mission, because I know from personal experience just how much a mission trip can shape a young adult. As a high school student, every summer I went with my youth group on a mission trip to Mexico, and then as a college student, I was invited to go back as a leader. My assignment was to oversee the building of a four room cinderblock house that would become home to a young mother and her two sons, so I stood by with a level and a plumb line as a crew of high school students mixed cement, stacked block, applied stucco, and lifted on huge roof tiles – all the while amazed by what teenagers chose to do with their summer vacation. With a couple hours of free time they even managed to piece together a pair of flower boxes for the front two windows. One of the greatest honors of my life was handing that young mother the keys to her new house; and for the rest of the year, back at Presbyterian College, while I struggled through English Literature and Spanish 201 I imagined that young mother raising her family in the home that I had helped construct. The following summer when the youth group returned to Mexico I was invited to go with them. While I aided in the construction of another home in that same neighborhood in Mexico, I snuck off to visit the home I had been a part of the previous summer. I knew it was the same one because the window boxes were still there, broken and thrown aside. The windows were shuddered, trash was everywhere, and the home was not at all what I had hoped it would be. I felt as though I had been a part of giving a gift that had not been valued, and I was disappointed, because this gift given had in my mind been misused. I wanted the home to be treasured, and instead it seemed to have fallen into disrepair. I wanted the home to be a bright place where the sun shone in on a young family, and instead the windows were shuttered and the house was dark. And in my mind those flower boxes overflowed with blooms that made this home a bright spot on a poor and dangerous street, but those flower boxes were cast aside along with my expectations. That’s often how it is when you build something. You go through the trouble of building your children a tree house, and you expect them to play in it. If you go through all the trouble of building a dam and you expect to get a lake out of the deal; and if you don’t get it you wind up resenting the snail darter for a generation or two. And in that same way Peter’s offer to Jesus to build “three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah,” is a project with strings attached. What does he want out of the deal? Probably the same things that we would all want if we were in his situation: Peter wants to build a shelter to be kind and to honor the three greatest men he has ever known of. And are there strings attached? If there were, you probably wouldn’t blame him. After all, if you thought a new home might give a young mother some shelter and stability, if you thought a tree house might keep your children young and innocent for a little while longer, if you thought a dam might spur tourism and economic development you would build it – and if Peter thinks that building a shelter might keep Jesus up on that mountain top and away from the danger and persecution that awaits him in Jerusalem you might be ready to pitch in on that building project right alongside Peter. I imagine there are strings attached, because there always are. Our agendas may be only subconscious, but they are there, embodying what we think is best as though we really knew, and should these plans of ours fall apart or come to nothing there is frustration, disappointment, resentment, and even fear. This home I was a part of in Mexico – it did not become what I thought it should, which frustrated me – but it was not my home. The tree houses, play houses, trampolines, and ponies – you provide them for your children and when they go ignored and unused it is a disappointment – but your children have minds of their own that you cannot control and, so I hear, the sooner you come to this realization the better it is for you and for them. The Columbia dam is not so different – and the snail darter will bear our resentment – but let it be known that sometimes our plans fall apart to make way for God’s plans which are always better than our best laid agendas. Peter has a plan to keep Jesus from certain death. Realizing that Jesus truly is set on facing trial, rejection, and crucifixion in Jerusalem, Peter suggests that they stay there in the presence of Moses and Elijah on the mountain top – but what Peter doesn’t realize is that death is not only inevitable, it is necessary for the salvation of humankind. Still, because they are tied to their own plans, their own expectations, they are not relieved by the voice of the Almighty which brings their feeble plans to nothing, they are terrified. “They fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid when your best laid plans fall apart. Do not be afraid when what you expected to happen doesn’t. Do not be afraid when you are forced to move forward when you would rather stay right where you are, for heaven lies before us, not behind us nor has it come to fulfillment today. But how many are stuck right here? Like Miss Havisham of Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, crushed by the disappointment of a wedding that never happened, will you wallow in your wedding dress as months and then years pass, stuck in one place, your dwelling place no longer a home but a prison, victim of nothing so much as your own expectations. You cannot stay there if you are determined to follow him. You cannot give up, paralyzed by disappointment and frustrated by your inability to control what was never yours to control. So the disciples follow him down from that mountain top, because so much of this Christian life is about accepting what you cannot change. He goes, not where you think he should, but where he must. He walks towards his death, not because he is foolish, but because so many of the realities of life are to be faced rather than avoided. And you must follow him, because you have not yet reached the Promised Land, but you will if you cling more tightly to the will of God than you do to your own expectations. “Get up and do not be afraid,” he said to them and he says it to you. Get up, if you are imprisoned by disappointment and failed expectations. Get up and learn the resilience of trusting his will and not your own. Get up, if you are lost and confused, feeling as though the world has left you behind. Get up, and do not be afraid, for he is leading you onward, and he will lead you beyond death and to eternal life. Thanks be to God. Amen.