Monday, February 29, 2016

Listen, so that you may live

Scripture Lessons: Isaiah 55: 1-9 and Luke 13: 1-9 Sermon Title: “Listen, so that you may live” Last Wednesday Night I was very excited to hear about the renovation currently under way at Central High School. The principal there, Mr. Roger White, was the speaker last Wednesday, and based on what I heard he seems to be a man who loves his job, who prays for his students, and who is making sure that the classrooms of this new high school will inspire students to maximize their potential. I think it’s a gift to the students to have this kind of a principal, and more than anything else I heard in Roger White’s presentation a desire to better educate all the students of Maury County because he seems to believe that if any student works hard enough and is given the opportunity to learn, then regardless of background or home-life, he or she can go out into the world as a productive citizen. In other words, Principal Roger White can see potential. He hopes that such potential will be harnessed in the brand new science lab, which is to be state of the art, and his description of this science lab reminded me of how important science is, although it’s a subject not always appreciated by the student. Molly Grace DeMoss, a member of our youth group, is always quick to smile and laugh, but as she was telling Marcy Lay and me about the dogfish that she’s been dissecting at Columbia Academy where she goes to school, she was less than enthusiastic. I remember not loving science class a whole lot either. We dissected a frog and a lamb’s eye, and every year we had to participate in the science fair, which I didn’t see too much of a point in. I had no interest in becoming a scientist myself, but what I value now is that regardless of my ambitions, I had to learn the scientific method. Now that’s the part that I know is valuable for everyone. Using the scientific method, you start by forming a hypothesis. And this hypothesis is a conjecture, an assumption, that is then tested through an experiment in which you either prove or disprove the hypothesis. This is a very good tool, not just for scientists but for everyone, and I say so because I have become convinced that too many people are in our world with a hypothesis that has never really been put to the test. The untested hypothesis is a problem, and I see evidence of the problem all over the place. I watch the news, I go to Facebook, I listen to yourself talk, and I notice that there are so many assumptions in my head and out in the world, so many untested hypotheses that I put in use without first putting my assumption to the test. And I am not alone – a lot of people are doing this. For example – watching news coverage of recent events, especially coverage of the Black Lives Matter campaign, you get the impression that many have formed the hypothesis that all police officers are racist. Certainly our Chief of Police here in Columbia, Tennessee deals with this assumption every day and it offends him to no end, because a person only needs to interact with the members of his force to find that this hypothesis is far from fact. But it appears that there are others who live as though all young black men are criminals. And there are plenty who talk and act as though all Democrats are heartless baby killers. Other who form the hypothesis that all Republicans brainless fear mongers. Are these assumptions true? Absolutely not, but go to Facebook or read the opinion page of the newspaper, and you’ll see it right there plain as day – that there are far too many people who need to go back to High School biology so they can learn again that you can’t just go around and expect to make very many friends if you are all the time making assumptions that have no basis in reality. I’m guilty here. I say things all the time that I wish I could take back, and sometimes I’m afraid to take them back. Sometimes I hold onto these assumptions and I think that’s because human nature makes me afraid of having my hypothesis disproven. Let me tell you what I mean: back in 10th grade I started on my science fair project. My hypothesis was that exposing a plant to crude oil would kill the plant, which was a fashionable thing to do at that time because it wasn’t so long after the Exxon Valdez oil spill, and I wanted to prove that the spilled oil would hurt the plants, but after 4 or 5 days of watering one set of plants with water, the other with motor oil, oddly enough there was no difference in plant growth, so I just pulled the leaves off the plants that I had been watering with motor oil. I took these pictures and included them on a poster board to add some substance to my presentation, but unfortunately, one of the ripped off leaves was in one of the pictures, and when my teacher (who noticed the evidence of my manipulation of the scientific method), she handed me my report back with a very low grade, and what’s worse is that she wrote across the top, “Now this is just plain tacky.” How much better it would have been for me to just let the research disprove my hypothesis. If the hypothesis is never really put to the test, either by those who manipulate the findings or others who don’t even bother with an experiment, all these assumptions go around our world as though they were facts. This is a problem today and it was a problem 2,000 years ago as well, so you’ll see that in our 2nd Scripture Lesson there is also a hypothesis. When faced with two tragic events – first when a group of Galilean pilgrims were murdered on their way to make a sacrifice at the Temple and then when a tower fell and killed 18 people, the survivors needed answers so they formed their hypothesis: the ones who died were sinners. Another way to say it is, “What goes around comes around.” Or to quote Scripture: “You reap what you sow.” This is not a bad hypothesis because it’s sometimes true. Sometimes the ones who died met their end because of their own misdeeds, but just because it is sometimes true doesn’t mean it is always true, so a hypothesis like this one requires an experiment, investigation, more facts, and thankfully, this group goes to Jesus with their hypothesis. “Here's our assumption Jesus,” they seem to have said, “our hypothesis is that those who died tragically had it coming, what do you think?” I don’t have to tell you how crucial this quest for more information is. All in the news this week has been Coach Butch Jones of the University of Tennessee football team. Is he guilty of covering up a horrible case of abuse? Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t, but I have a bad feeling that he is going to lose his job over this thing regardless because too many people don’t care about the facts, they’ve already decided. There is danger in not going any deeper than our assumptions, so we must be thankful that this group probably went to Jesus saying, “the ones who died, they were sinners, right?” And Jesus said: “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did.” And then he tells them a story: “Let me tell you what is really going on here. You are like a fig tree who failed to bear fruit. Today you were spared, but you will be cut down if you fail to produce fruit again. If you fail to produce fruit again, if you fail to repent, then you, every one of you will be cut down.” By answering their questions this way, he challenged, not just the hypothesis but the whole premise of the project. They thought they were dissecting a dead frog, they thought they were investigating for the cause of death, and Jesus tells them to start investigating the cause of their life. “You want to know why they died, but I say, how lucky you are to be alive.” That’s what he told them, but what would he tell us? In some ways we are different: we don’t go around today blaming people for dying so often but how many of us subscribe to the Daily Herald just for the obituaries. So we all ask who died and why, which is one question but is not the question that Jesus believes is worth your time, for Jesus asks, “which one of you will bear fruit, which one of you deserves to live?” There’s a man who had a fig tree and he came looking for fruit on it but there was none there, so he said to the gardener (who is Jesus by the way), ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?” But the gardener responds, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’ We started with a hypothesis that attempted to answer the question, “Why did they die?” But now Jesus has turned the tables to ask a very different question, “For what were you spared?” And having been spared, having been saved, will you bear fruit? The point he’s making is significant. He’s saying that there’s more to living than not dying. There’s more to being innocent than not getting caught. And there’s more to today than the fact that you woke up on this side of the grave because today we have a chance to change. I was moved by the funeral for Mrs. Evans which was here yesterday morning. The man who preached was a long-time friend of hers – they met when she was in her 80’s so that means they had 20 years to solidify their relationship. She gave this man instructions for what to say, and so she told him not to make his part in the funeral a eulogy, “don’t talk about me,” she says, “because if they don’t know me by now than they’ve missed their chance. Talk instead about Jesus, because they haven’t missed their chance to get to know him.” If we are all fig trees, fruitless fig trees, we have been spared by the Gardener who can change us. Who sees in us the potential to bear fruit, and desires to fertilize and work our soil so that we might do just that. Now this charge is a gift isn’t it? Why was that science teacher so disgusted in my presentation back in 10th grade? Possibly because she knew I could do better. Why is it a gift that Roger White sees in his students’ potential? Because not everyone does. This week I heard the story of a young man who was arrested some years ago for stealing a sweat shirt. The officer happened to call Chris Poynter of the Boys and Girls Club to come and speak with him, and when the officer asked this young man why he would do something so foolish as to steal, the young man asked, “Why should I care? Why should I care what happens to me? Why should I care if I get arrested? No one ever expected anything out of me. My father left, my mother abuses me, no one cares so why should I?” If ever there was a hypothesis that needed to be put to the test, then this was it. If Jesus were there, he would have looked on that bare fig tree of a young man and told him, “all you need is some nourishment, all you need is a chance, and I am the gardener who can provide it.” Yes, he is and yes you can, and today is the day. Today you have to opportunity to do just that if you will just accept the gardener’s gift of grace. Amen.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

See, your house is left to you

Scripture Lessons: Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18 and Luke 13: 31-35, p. 77 Sermon Title: See, your house is left to you I suppose that the one of the greatest challenges in preaching is maintaining the congregation’s attention. This is a big challenge for me, and sometimes I feel like I’ve succeeded, but at other times I know I’ve failed completely. I try hard at keeping your attention however, and my favorite preaching advice is said to come from the great comedian Groucho Marks, “That every sermon should begin with a joke and have a really good ending, and those two parts should be as close together as possible.” As I said before, certainly there are many times when I realize I’ve failed in the task of keep your attention, and sometimes I realize that I’ve failed in this task about midway in my sermon, in which case I’m tempted to stop talking right then and just call it a day. What will sometimes happen is that I’ll finish a paragraph only to realize that I’ve just made you suffer through sentences that should have been left out during editing, or even worse, I go on too long about some subject only to look out and recognize that I’ve droned and droned so much that I’ve put someone to sleep or inspired someone else to start working on their grocery list. The greatest sign of failure in this regard is to find a bulletin on Monday morning, left in the hymnal covered in tick-tack-toe games. But this is the challenge every preacher I suppose. We’ve all been called to speak a valuable message, to proclaim the Gospel, but to proclaim it in such a way that people actually hear it, which isn’t as easy as I once thought it would be. I’ve found that jokes help sometimes, and I’m probably guilty of trying to tell too many jokes in a sermon in the hopes of maintaining everyone’s attention, but better yet – the foolproof way to get just about any congregation’s attention, is to use feminine pronouns when referring to God. This is an interesting reality since we all know that God is not a man or a woman, but what we are used to is using the pronoun “He” when referring to the divine, so when the preacher employees the feminine, all at once everyone is listening, all at once the one who was sleeping is now awake and asking his wife, “Did he just say what I think he said?” Maybe his wife is thinking, “Well yes he did, and it’s about time.” Maybe, or maybe not, but regardless, what seems true to me is that while most often Scripture employees the masculine pronoun in reference to the divine, “He, him, king, or father” to mention just a few, there are examples right there in Scripture for anyone to see when God is described as like a mother bear who defends her cubs (Hosea 13: 8), like a nesting mother eagle who stirs up her nest and hovers over her young (Deuteronomy 32: 11), or better yet, here in the Gospel of Luke chapter 13, the Lord describes himself as a mother hen, who longs to gather her brood under her wings. We humans tend to speak of God using metaphors, and God as Father is the one that we hear of most, but thinking of God as a mother hen brings something new and describes something significant that I know many people might embrace. We think of God as a Father for many reasons, but maybe especially because traditionally this metaphor of Father speaks to the truth that we stand to inherit much – eternal life especially, but just as valid and just as true is to think of God as a Mother, and if we think of God as a mother hen we have a valuable and true metaphor that brings both a lesson on the nature of God and the realities of the world because according to this metaphor, on the one hand is God who, like a mother hen longs to gather us under her wings where we’ll be safe, but on the other hand, if the mother hen longs to gather us and protect us, implicit is the truth that there is much in this life that she longs to protect us from. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” I wonder if that sounds like your mother. In some ways it sounds like mine, very much like mine, because there were and still are so many things that she wants to protect me from. I remembered this past week how years ago she wanted to protect me from cigarettes, and not only was she on my case, but I am confident that she enlisted the help of my doctor who told me during an appointment when I was 13 or 14 years old that my asthma was so bad that if I ever so much as tried a puff of a cigarette I might just die there on the spot. Regardless of whether or not that was true, I don’t know because I’m still too scared to try. That’s not entirely true actually, I have tested the water, but she was successful overall. She kept me under those wings and away from smoking, but she couldn’t keep me completely away from my friends who did. The mother hen has her work cut out for her, because there comes a time when the chicks want to go out into the world and need the approval, not of their mother so much as their peers, so while Willie Nelson sings, “Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys,” what Willie doesn’t get at is the reality that Mama can try to “make them be doctors and lawyers and such” but they may not be willing. My mom couldn’t keep me from wanting the approval of my peers, and when it came to a number of other temptations I was unwilling to be gathered under her wings because I wanted not her protection but their acceptance. That’s what the metaphor employed by the Lord really says to me now – that while our God is like a mother hen who longs to protect us from danger, we are too often unwilling to go to her because the mother hen’s approval is not the only approval that we want or need. Do you remember how much it mattered to have the right clothes in high school? At my mom’s high school, the thing to have were these knee high plaid socks, and her parents weren’t the kind of people who put much stock in being trendy so she only had one pair, which she washed every night so she could wear them again the next day. And last Thursday in the comic strips you might have seen Blondie. The little neighbor kid comes by, Elmo is his name, and he pulls up to Blondie and Dagwood’s house on a hover board and reports, “I like my skateboard better, but I had to have one of these new hover boards.” “Why” Dagwood asks. “Cuz everybody else has one,” little Elmo Tuttle responds. In Europe, did you hear that those things were catching on fire? Something about the charger that you’d plug into the wall. You’d plug it in to charge the thing’s batteries and would end up setting your carpet on fire. And maybe you wonder why a parent would buy a child something that might set the carpet on fire, but then you’d be underestimating a child’s determination to fit in no matter how dangerous fitting in might be. You know that every 16-year-old wants a car that will go as fast as it possibly can. Not one of them wants the old beat up minivan, but it’s the muscle cars that they race down the interstate, and the mother hen longs to gather them under her wings, put those kids in a nice safe Volvo so that she can drive them all to the prom, but they will be unwilling. And of course they are – because what the chick knows is that he wants to fit in, but the what the mother hen knows is the danger that is out there. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem…How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you.” And how it was left. Many Bible scholars believe that here in Luke chapter 13, Jesus is speaking prophetically, alluding to the destruction of Jerusalem that would come at the hands of the Romans just a few years after his death. Here he is already mourning because he knows the tragedy that is coming, and like a mother, her knows the pain of watching the ones he loves keep on down the path to destruction rather than listen and be gathered under the wings of the Mother Hen. Rather than be gathered, they will keep to the ways that they know: the ways that gain them the acceptance of their peers the ways that made them respectable in the eyes of the powerful the ways that empowered the wealthy and dehumanized the poor the ways that made the Temple a den of money changers rather than a house of the Lord the ways that would stone the woman caught in adultery while calling the hypocrite a priest the ways that oppress the foreigner and silence the prophet the ways that will lead to death – and the Mother Hen calls to her children still, because destruction will come again and again and again, and the foolish will choose to huddle on the bandwagon that leads to doom. There are all kinds of things to do, and while everyone wants a little religion when the end comes, like every teenager of all time, we seem to be thinking that the end isn’t coming any time soon, so we don’t invest our time as we should, we so rarely stop and think about what truly matters. We wake up, go to work, come home, turn on the TV, eat some dinner, go to bed, and wake up the next day and do the same thing, which works out OK so long as nothing bad happens, but the mother hen knows that something bad will happen and she keeps telling us that we need to be getting ready for it now. Mr. Herold Lucas, he came to church here, ran Lucas Chevrolet and he told his children that when they moved to a new place they right away needed to find a doctor, a lawyer, a car salesman, and a church, because you never know when you’re going to need them, and it’s true. Dr. Henry Strock came here as a guest preacher and told us that roots are for the wind, so put them down because the winds are coming. Danger is on the way, so go to the Mother Hen, but how unwilling we all are – imagining that we have all the time in the world. You know already that this Thursday we’ll host an important meeting, to hear the history of the 1946 Columbia Race Riot. There have been meetings leading up to the event and Dr. Christa Martin, your vice-mayor, she says during one of those meetings: “we are getting together now, we are developing these friendships now, because we know that we are going to need them later.” I believe that she’s right about that, and after the racially motivated shooting in Charleston, South Carolina so many of the pastors of your community, so many of your elected officials – the city mayor, the county mayor, the sheriff – we’ve all been talking, getting to know each other, because of what the Mother Hen knows is true – that what happened 70 years ago here is happening again today – but Columbia, TN doesn’t have to be Ferguson, MS. To create a new future, we must listen and learn from the one who calls us out of our homes and our normal routines to challenge the life that we’ve all accepted as normal. He is like a Mother Hen, calling on you to take comfort under his wings, but to get there you have to leave so much behind. Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

And the devil said

Scripture Lessons: Deuteronomy 26: 1-11 and Luke 4: 1-13, NT page61 Sermon: “And the devil said” Today is Valentine’s Day, and I hope that me saying so reminds any husbands who might have forgotten. This is a good day to show someone how much you love them by saying so or by buying them something. I suppose that the most traditional things to buy for the ones we love on Valentine’s Day are flowers or chocolates, but there are non-traditional gifts as well. For example, I know of one man who received nose hair trimmers from his valentine, which is a gift that says “I love you” but this gift says “I love you” in a very particular way. Unlike flowers and chocolates which both say, “I love you,” nose hair trimmers say, “I love you so much that I’m going to help you fix this problem that you have that no one else is willing to talk with you about.” Today is the first Sunday of Lent. And if the season of Lent is a gift, if observing Lent is a gift to Christians, it’s that kind of a gift. It’s the kind of gift from God that says, “I love you so much that I’m going to help you fix this problem that no one else is willing to talk with you about.” So during these 40 Days we are given the gift of penitence – a time to examine our lives, our habits, our thoughts, our relationships, especially the broken parts of ourselves that we don’t want to look at and that only those who truly love us are ever willing to talk with us about. God loves us enough to call our brokenness to our attention, and because we believe that our God is slow to anger and abiding in steadfast love we are invited to practice self-examination without fear of punishment, for God is not interested in our punishment nearly so much as our God is interested in leading us towards a more abundant life. We are invited then, to go with Jesus into the desert – to join him for 40 days in this quiet place without the distractions that keep us from dealing with whatever ails us. We are invited to go without, to give up something that we love, just as our Lord went without food. And we are invited to face our own demons, just as Jesus faced the devil himself. That’s the goal of all of this – we are leaving the world that we know and are joining our Lord in the desert, and it’s a feat of time travel to go meet Jesus in the desert 2,000 years ago, but the Bible is full of instances where the past is made present again for the redemption of God’s people and it is no different with us now. Deuteronomy 26, our first Scripture lesson is a good example of just such an instance in Scripture where time is irrelevant because this liturgy employs the present tense when remembering a time long ago. That’s why is says, “A wandering Aramean was MY ancestor.” It’s not because he literally was, but because in joining with the faithful of generations long past “they” becomes “we”, “their” becomes “our” and so we say, “He went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated US harshly and afflicted US, by imposing hard labor on US, WE cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard OUR voice and saw OUR affliction, OUR toil, and OUR oppression. The Lord brought US out of Egypt. He brought US into this place and gave us this land flowing with milk and honey.” Us, us, us we, we, we – you can see that this lesson from the Old Testament, this ancient liturgy uses personal and present tense pronouns even though all that happened so very long ago to a group of people who we are not, because so much about our faith is rooted in going one step beyond remembering to making the past present once more. It’s like when I take the yellow straw for my daughters’ juice box and I can feel the presence of my grandmother. I can see her taking the yellow straw for my Capri Sun. It’s a ritual that washes the present in the past and we’re reminded once more that the words of Faulkner are true: the past isn’t gone; it isn’t even past. So at Communion later in the service, we’ll sit before the table and do more than remember the One who sacrificed his life for our sake, in this liturgy we call on him to be present to us again, not confined to ancient history but right here and now. The Bible’s not ancient history than. It’s not dates and people to remember. Instead Scripture is the Living Word that will come alive right in front of you if you know how to use it. That’s what hit one of our own church members this Christmas. Jessica Sweeney was in the minivan, kids in the back, the news of the day was that of Syrian refugees forced out of their homeland and seeking refuge somewhere else, and there right in front of her is the Craft Memorial Church’s living Nativity telling the story of Joseph, Mary, and baby Jesus escaping to Egypt because King Herod forced them out of their homeland. “This is happening right now” she says out loud from the driver’s seat to no one in particular, and her kid’s don’t know what she’s talking about, so the next day she runs up to me on the sidewalk right outside our church – and when she told me the story I couldn’t have been more excited because that’s the point – it is happening right now! Right now we are in the desert with Jesus. Right now we are fasting beside him. And especially - right now Satan is there whispering temptation – not just in his ear but in ours. First: “Command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Second: “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I will give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And third: “Throw yourself down from here,” and to make matters worse, from the Psalms he says, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you, and on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” These are three great temptations of our age – not of some ancient history – but right now we are tempted to be mindful only of the need of our belly, to live is to be satiated. To float through the ocean on some great cruise ship – in the middle of the sea and yet comatose from crab legs while baking in the sun like beached whales. Command this stone to become bread - eat drink and be merry – but is there not more to life than this? Some would say that there is, that better than being full is being powerful, and so the politicians promise that they have all the answers, that they can fix all the problems and return this nation to greatness, but to give all power to any one man or woman, to place on him all your hopes and dreams absolutely is to face the reality that absolute power corrupts absolutely. Still some seek it, and still the powerful reduce their subjects to pawns or consumers without thought to their minds or their bodies and so the children of Flint, Michigan are poisoned by their water because some humans were given more power and authority than they deserved. You see, the devil is with us still. Right here with us now, tempting us to worry not for the state of our souls but only the state of our stomachs; tempting us to pursue power without thought to kindness or decency; and worse yet the devil is with us still tempting us to save ourselves. To preserve ourselves and our way of life. And I say this is worse yet because some of the greatest tragedies of human history were motivated not by hatred but self-preservation. It’s not that Pharaoh hated the Hebrew people, but it was because we were a great nation, mighty and populous. Pharaoh didn’t hate us – he feared us, and so out of self-preservation the Egyptians treated US harshly and afflicted US, by imposing hard labor on us in the hopes of accomplishing the same goal that every oppressor who feared for his life has tried since. More than anything else, it’s this temptation that would not be confined to ancient history, so as a child we’d drive through the streets of Charleston, South Carolina on our way to tour Fort Sumter, but to get to the ferry that would take us there we had to pass by those beautiful old mansions, tall and white. They were as they are still, breathtaking, yet even today they are protected by the most sinister rod iron fences. Spikes sharpened to protect the families who lived inside from the slave revolt they all feared. It was self-preservation that justified the harsh treatment of those slaves in both Egypt and South Carolina, and out of fear for our own lives 70 years ago, white children hid under beds, white fathers watched the streets, and a white mob assembled at our court house because once again the oppressed were rising and the powerful wanted to preserve a way of life that needed to die. “Save yourself,” the devil says, but you must listen instead to the one who says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” Lent is a gift we’ve been given. And we’ve been given it because we are all the time living these unexamined lives, falling into patterns of waking up and getting by without ever thinking about what we should be leaving behind. Just because we were raised this way – that doesn’t mean we should be living this way still. He’s calling you to join him in the desert so you can face your demon and leave your brokenness behind; to walk beside him toward a brighter future. Amen.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Jesus was found alone

Scripture Lessons: Exodus 34: 29-35 and Luke 9: 28-43a, NT pages 69-70 Sermon Title: He was alone There is something about a dentist chair. As soon as I sit in a dentist chair I immediately feel guilty for not flossing, and this pang of guilt leads me to moral urgency and I make a silent promise to myself to floss every day from that point on, and so long as I am in that dentist chair I actually feel as though I am going to do it. I remember that my desk in English class had a similar effect. I’d spend all weekend unburdened by homework, not worried about those chapters of Moby Dick in the slightest, but the second I sat down in my desk the reality of not having read much of anything weighed heavily on my shoulders and I’d make the silent prayer, that if only the teacher wouldn’t call on me today I’d read all those chapters just as soon as I got home from school, but the problem was that I wouldn’t, which points to a reality that I am sure you are aware of – that there is something about certain places. That some places are different in the way that these physical locations have a particular effect on you, and I know that this is true because it is only in the doctor’s office that I am willing to discuss my body mass index. It is only in a shoe store that I will allow another human being to touch my feet or tie my shoes. And it is only when I am ridding on a bicycle that I will wear those ridiculous bicycle shorts. My point in saying this is that there is something about some places – the rules are different – and this is a hard lesson, especially for children to learn. I remember being confused as a child that my parents would be angry with me on the car ride over, but as soon as we walked through the door of my grandparent’s house it was as though everything was just fine – that is, until we walked out the door and were back in the car. Sara and I do the same thing to our children. They know that they can act one way at home – that at home they can relax in a way that would be inappropriate at school – also they have to learn that they can eat snacks with their fingers but must use silverware at the dinner table, that they can run in some places but should walk quietly in others. These are hard rules for children to learn, maybe because it’s a little strange. But think about what happens when people walk in this room. People walk into this sanctuary and they slow down. They take in the way the sun shines through the windows. Men remove their hats. Some will kneel and pray, not because anyone has told them to, but simply because some places have a particular effect on people. So imagine what it must have been like for the disciples to have been up on that mountain top. We read that the disciples watched as Jesus’ complexion changed just as Moses’ did in our 1st Scripture Lesson, but then there was Moses himself with Elijah, both talking with Jesus, both legendary heroes of the faith – and both long dead. Peter is so convinced that this place, this mountain top is different from any other place on earth he suggests that they make three dwellings, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, and you know already why this suggestion makes perfect sense. What else would you do when you find one of those places where God is so close that the presence of the Holy is undeniable – what else would you do but try to capture it somehow, make it permanent, build some kind of structure so that you could come back and invite others to join you there? Presbyterians know what that’s about. So many know that one of the 7 pillars of the Presbyterian faith is to make a pilgrimage to Montreat, North Carolina where the mountains are majestic and you can’t throw a stone without hitting a retired Presbyterian minister. Our friend Dr. Jamie Dale who preached last Sunday, he and his wife live there now and anyone whose been can understand why they would want to retire there. There are certain places that have a powerful effect on you and I believe that Montreat, North Carolina is one of those places, but here’s the thing – it’s different up on the mountain top, so what happens when you come back down? “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain” – “a man from the crowd shouted [to Jesus], “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son… I begged your disciples to cast [the daemon] out, but they could not.” Now some may say that calling on those disciples to cast out a daemon is too much to ask of the followers of Jesus. They are not the Son of God but only his followers you might rightly say, but if you go to the beginning of chapter 9 in the Gospel of Luke you’ll see that “Jesus called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal” and that’s exactly what they did. So the question is – why weren’t they able to do so after coming down from the mountain top? The Bible doesn’t give a clear answer, but we can all imagine that everyone there was thinking how most people think – that some places are different from others, that there are mountain tops and there are valleys below and if you want to see the Holy Man of God you had better start climbing because he’s way up there. You’ve seen it before – it’s even in the Campbell’s Soup Commercials – the wisest and holiest is up there on top of a mountain, isolated from the world in a state of deepest prayer and if you seek to benefit from his enlightenment you must make the pilgrimage up the mountain top. It’s there in the Psalms as well. “I lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence commeth my help?” But from that Holy Mountain, Jesus came down. Where does that leave the mountain top? Where does that leave the valley bellow? Christianity is a religion unlike any other, more life giving than any other I believe, because in the Lord Jesus Christ is the Glory of God, and where was this incarnate Glory determined to be – not high up on a mountain – but among you and me. Of course the mountain is a special place in this Scripture Lesson – Moses was there, Elijah was there, the voice of God was heard by these disciples, but the greater point is this – while some would witness God up on that mountain top and go up there to see him, they will all have wasted their effort for in Jesus Christ we know that God has been all the while seeking us. That mixes things up a little bit, does it not? All at once the special place isn’t so special and the average place isn’t so average. It’s something like how you used to only wear pj’s in bed but now you can wear them to Walmart, but in reality it’s not like that at all because what we are witnessing is the reality that the pew you are sitting in may well be a particular place but God is also working on you when you are in the Lazy Boy in your living room. I think of this chair over here – this incredible throne you’ve given me to sit in as though I were something more than a young man still struggling to see the truth – you might think that with a chair that special that sitting in it I would come closer to knowing who God is and how God is at work, but let me say it again – he may have been up on that mountain once, but the next day he came down. So I have seen him. But I didn’t have to climb a mountain looking for him – he came down a mountain looking for me. I was just settling in on Tuesday morning – and who walks in? A woman I’ve never seen, never met, didn’t know, and she tells me that she’s a nurse practitioner here to take care of Melvin Taylor. I don’t know what to call it besides a miracle. That’s what it is, and it’s not the first time. I was a chaplain intern at the Metro State Women’s Prison one summer. Scared to death. Trying to amass enough courage to take the Gospel that I knew into that God forsake place, but on my first afternoon there I heard this young woman stand in sing, “His eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” God has come down. I read a poem this week – a poem about the golden light that shines up from the creek bed. I watched a flock of birds so thick fly right over my house. Before I went to bed I kissed two little girls and I thanked God, not because I had found him, but because once again, he has come down the mountain to find me. Open your eyes and be amazed by the Glory of God. And having seen him, follow him where he leads. Amen.