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.