God’s Glory Revealed

Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Mark 9:2-9

God’s Glory Revealed

What happens when you pray, when you connect with God? Are you transformed? Do you visibly reflect God’s glory? Our gospel today says that is exactly what happened to Jesus. For quite some time, Jesus has been traveling with the disciples teaching, preaching, healing and praying. He does a lot of that. Mark tells us when Jesus was baptized that he heard God say, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” But today the disciples hear this voice from God. “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Listening is important. Jesus pointed out to the disciples the importance of listening and not simply hearing. He said, “Do you have ears, and fail to hear?” They didn’t understand what Jesus was telling them because they weren’t really listening. They had many conversations with Jesus, but their ears weren’t really open to the truth he was revealing to them. He was performing miracles, but they still didn’t see who Jesus was right before their eyes. That’s why prior to our reading today Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” If their eyes and ears were truly open it would have been easy for them to answer this question. Peter said Jesus was the Messiah, but he didn’t really get what that meant. Because Peter didn’t understand the kind of Messiah that Jesus was. He wanted a powerful Messiah who would lead the people to victory not to the cross. The disciples didn’t understand who Jesus truly was and what his mission was all about.

So Jesus took Peter, James and John up with him to a high mountain. And what happens on that mountain is so unfathomable that the disciples are terrified. They can’t even speak. The power that Jesus has been revealing in casting out demons and healing the sick is now fully revealed. One minute Jesus is the teacher the disciples think they know and the next minute……Jesus is on fire with the glory of God. His face was changed and His clothes were dazzling white. It didn’t even look like Jesus anymore! This was no magic trick, no special effects, this was a real transformation – a transfiguration! Jesus was changed from one form to another right there in front of the three disciples! They got to see who Jesus truly was!

And it didn’t end there. Suddenly – Peter, James, and John see the prophets Moses and Elijah talking to this radiant Jesus! Glory surrounded all of them and Peter, James, and John are in awe. They don’t want this moment to ever end. Peter suggests to Jesus that they make three dwelling places or booths for each of them. One for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Now maybe Peter was thinking about the Festival of Booths when he spoke about building three separate booths. The festival  that the Israelites erected every year in remembrance of the exodus.

But maybe it was because Jesus had recently talked about his own departure, about going to Jerusalem and suffering and dying and Peter didn’t want this to happen. So if Peter built a booth for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah maybe he could keep Jesus there. Maybe he could still prevent Jesus from going to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die. He still didn’t understand who Jesus was.

The disciples heard Jesus speak of who he was, but they didn’t listen. There is a difference between the two. Hearing is about the mechanics of one’s ear picking up the sound.  Listening is to take the words to heart and try and understand them. This is why the voice of God spoke, “Listen to him!” Listening requires a lot more energy, a lot more devotion. But the disciples weren’t listening. They wanted that glorious moment, that mountaintop experience to last forever.

I can understand how Peter felt. Mountaintop experiences can be pretty amazing and you don’t want them to end. I’ve been to the top of a few mountains. The tallest was Pikes Peak in Colorado – 14, 110 feet up – and standing at the top what a view awaited me! Looking out over four states it felt like I was on the top of the world. And NH has almost 150 mountains. I’ve been to the top of one of them – Mount Washington twice so far– not quite as tall as Pike’s Peak, but the tallest mountain in the northeast. At 6288 feet up it may not be the tallest, but it does boast the world’s worst weather with the highest recorded wind speeds of over 231 miles per hour being recorded there. (Our winds today don’t seem quite so bad compared to that do they!) It’s covered in fog 60% of the time, but on a clear day your view stretches from the Atlantic Ocean in the east, across VT to the NY Adirondack Mountains in the west, to Canada in the north and MA to the south. It’s a glorious view. There’s something about being high up on the top of a mountain that changes your whole perspective on things. And standing there on the summit, you don’t want to leave.

But we weren’t meant to stay on the top of the mountains forever. Not even Jesus stayed on the mountaintop. He had to go down. He had to go down where the real ministry awaited Him. Down from the mountain people were awaiting Jesus’ healing. Down from the mountain people were waiting to be delivered. Down from the mountain people were in need of transformation, in need of a transfiguration just like Jesus. And Jesus heard the cries of the people in need of transformation and that is why he came down. He heard their pain. He heard their suffering. He heard their prayers. Jesus came into this world because God heard the cries of people in need of transformation. Jesus’ mission on earth is a response from a God who listens.

We as disciples are to continue Jesus’ mission here on earth. And we begin this mission by listening. We listen first to God through prayer. It is prayer that changes our whole perspective on things because we can see the view through God’s eyes. When Moses spoke with God on Mount Sinai his face was visibly changed. It was shining from the reflection of the glory of God, just like Jesus at His transfiguration. Moses was changed – changed to bring the message of God to God’s people.

Can we not expect the same transformation through our encounters with God in prayer? We don’t have to go to a mountaintop to pray, but prayer can lead us to a mountaintop experience. We do not have to hide or veil ourselves from God. We can pour out our deepest longings, our deepest desires before God. But most importantly, we can listen. Prayer is more than just speaking to God, it is being still and listening for the voice of God. It takes time. Like any deep and meaningful relationship it requires spending time with that person. And one person can’t do all the talking. Each person needs to share the communication. So often in our communication with God we tend to do all the talking and rarely listen. God is speaking. God is speaking to us and through us. God wants us to see people as God sees them. God wants to love others through us. God wants to heal people through us. God wants to transform people through us. Authentic, honest, heart-felt prayer bridges the gap between God and humanity. It transforms us to visibly reflect God’s glory and transform others.

Like the disciples, there are times when we are given that rare moment to see God’s glory revealed like Jesus at the transfiguration. Moments when God is so visibly evident that it brings tears to our eyes and we can hardly bear such grace. I’ve witnessed it …..at the birth of a child when at that moment time stands still and the glory of God is revealed in that small face, a reflection of God’s face.

I’ve witnessed it when people who have been holding on to hurt and grief for years somehow through the grace of God find it in their hearts to let it go and move forward. They put aside their past hurts, and see their life as a gift from God, too precious to waste another minute worrying or blaming others or feeling hopeless. They begin anew – reborn. It’s an overpowering moment of God’s glory.

And I witnessed it last night as I walked into the fire hall to a room of hundreds of people all there for one purpose, to reveal God’s glory. Yes, you all listened to the cries of the hungry in this community and so for 15 years you have been the answer to their prayers through the Valentine’s Day Dinner/Auction to raise money for the Northeastern Food Pantry. You have worked tirelessly for something beyond yourselves. You have given of your time and energy and money to help those in need. I know many of you have been dealing with illness, and surgeries, and grief, and yet that hasn’t stopped you because the Holy Spirit gave you the strength and will to do this. God’s glory was revealed last night in that fire hall and it moved me.

It moved me because through the clouds, and the darkness you heard God speaking; you listened and you responded. It was a mountaintop experience where God’s glory was revealed. Yet….we cannot stay there. Like Jesus and the disciples must go down from the mountain and continue the work of discipleship. And we listen. We listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit to guide us forward. We listen for the words of the Holy Spirit to tell us what needs to be done next. We listen for the breath of the Holy Spirit to blow through us and among us as we get ready to leave our mountaintop experiences and prepare for the season of Lent.

God said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” Listen to him when he says he is going to the cross. Lent takes us to journey to the cross, not as a time to suffer, but as a time to experience what it was that Jesus went through so that we would live an abundant life. God’s glory was revealed on that mountaintop at the transfiguration. God’s glory was revealed through Jesus on the cross. And God’s glory is revealed through the darkness and clouds in our lives. God’s glory was revealed through the humanness of Jesus and God’s glory can be revealed through our humanness. The glory of God that shone unexpectedly on the mountaintop that day will shine unexpectedly in the least likely of places. Be ready. Be prepared. For that same glorified Jesus came down from that mountain and is with us in the valleys. Amen!

Freed to Serve

Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Mark 1:29-39

Immediately. Right away. As soon as…Mark uses these words constantly throughout his gospel. Although lost in the modern translations, almost every sentence in Mark’s gospel begins with and. There is an immediacy in this gospel. It begins with the heavens being torn apart at Jesus’ baptism and the fast pace continues right up until right before Jesus’ crucifixion. Things are happening fast because for Jesus there was no time to waste. He was here on a mission from God. Once his ministry began at his baptism, it was full-speed ahead. Jesus was born to serve and he says this today in our gospel. “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Proclaiming God’s message that the kingdom of God had come near was something that Jesus was compelled by the Holy Spirit to do.
It drove him to devote his entire life for that purpose. And proclaim the message he did, but not just through words. St. Francis of Assisi has been quoted to say, “Preach the gospel. When necessary use words.” Jesus was the living example of preaching the gospel both in words and actions.

Immediately after leaving the synagogue where Jesus was teaching and healed the man with the unclean spirit, he and several of the disciples entered the house of Simon and Andrew. I’m sure Jesus wanted to get away with his friends for a little quiet time. He needed time to relax, a day off, from teaching, and preaching, and healing, and casting out demons. Jesus must have been exhausted. That kind of emotional work can drain a person. I’m sure Jesus looked forward to a nice meal with his friends. But when he got to Simon and Andrew’s house, he quickly found out that Simon’s mother-in-law was sick with a fever. There was no aroma of scrumptious food cooking on the stove. Only the fragrance of illness and fear filled the room. Simon’s mother-in-law could not get up. I’m sure she and her family felt helpless until Jesus entered the house.

As soon as Jesus arrived they told Jesus about Simon’s mother-in-law and asked for his help. He probably did not even have had time to take off his shoes. She needed help and she needed it now. They had heard by now of the healings Jesus did at the synagogue. If he could do that, certainly he could heal Simon’s mother-in-law. So they wasted no time in grabbing Jesus and imploring him to help heal this sick woman.

But it didn’t stop there. “That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And the whole city was gathered around the door.” We don’t know how many there were, but they kept bringing people to Jesus to cure. He had gone to Simon and Andrew’s house to relax and get recharge himself and what awaited him were more demands, more emergencies. More people to heal, more demons to cast out, more work to be done. He did all this with love, and grace, and compassion, but Jesus needed a break and he just couldn’t seem to get one. A person can only do so much before they collapse, and with all those people demanding attention from Jesus it was a wonder he could even continue. He needed some time, even if for a little while, for himself. When was this going to happen?

It’s a question a lot of people ask today, especially in so many churches. Christians, as disciples of Christ, are commanded to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. We are to continue the ministry that Jesus began. His mission is now our mission to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, those who are on the margins of society, the oppressed, and those in need of healing. We are sent out into our neighborhoods, our communities, and even into the world to spread God’s message that the kingdom of God is near. Yet, like Jesus, we get tired.

It’s hard when emergencies continue to arise one after another. It’s challenging when we minister to one another with the love of Christ, only to find we are wearing ourselves thin at times. Adults and children alike feel pulled in many different directions. There are so many activities that demand our attention today – work, sports, clubs, and other commitments – and people are feeling worn out.

Life is moving at such a fast pace that it can be discouraging when we want to help, but there seems like there are not enough hours in the day. And when you throw in illness it makes even the ordinary tasks seem impossible. Eventually, we can find ourselves withdrawing from our communities rather than being an active part in them. As we try and do more and more, the relationships that really matter can start to fall apart. In time, even our relationship with God can weaken and become distant.

Like Jesus we plan to take time to relax only to find that there is another emergency that requires our attention. A family member becomes suddenly ill, a friend finds themselves in a crisis and needs our help, or a sudden death grips us or someone we know with a grief beyond words. Life is filled with many unexpected twists and turns that are not always welcome. Some of them require so much of our physical and emotional energy that we find ourselves become more and more drained.

We need to recharge, but how do we find the time to do it when there is so much work that needs to be done? To be a follower of Christ means that we are charged to care for one another. We are called to respond to the needs of others. The life of a Christian is a life of service and like Jesus we are called to respond as he responded.

And we read that Jesus continually helped those in need. So how did he find the time to recharge when there was so much work that needed to be done? After he healed Simon’s mother-in-law the crowds kept coming for healing and Jesus…..where did he go?

That’s what the disciples kept asking. They kept searching for Jesus to help heal more and more people. They had work for him. They hunted after him frantic to continue the fast pace. There were so many that needed help. Yet Jesus knew when it was time to recharge and we must follow in his footsteps. Mark tells us that “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Jesus left the crowds and knew that the only way to be faithful to God’s mission was to stay in close relationship with God through prayer. Jesus went out to a quiet, deserted place to listen. He made the time to be still and to hear what it was that God wanted from him. It’s so easy to get caught up in doing so much that we forget not only why we are doing it, but if it is what we are supposed to continue to do. Like Jesus we have to take the time to spend with God in prayer and listen to what God is calling us to do and be.

While spending time in prayer, Jesus received the answer that he was not to continue to heal the people in that town, but as he told the disciples, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.” Through Jesus’ time in prayer, he was reminded of his mission. If we don’t take time in prayer and quiet stillness it is easy to forget what we were sent to do. God has a mission for each one of us, and it is only through taking the time like Jesus to get away for a little while in quiet and prayer that we can hear what God is speaking to us.

Individually we don’t have to do it all. God works through each one of us and our work may change over time. Jesus would go on to proclaim the message to other places, which meant others were left behind to finish what he began. We, who are Jesus’ disciples today, are called to proclaim his message of hope and healing, but we must take the time to prayerfully discern how we are to best live out this message of service.

Today is Scout Sunday, and the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts know all about living a life of service. They are committed to doing their best for God and their country. Part of their oath is to “help other people at all times.” I know how much that code means to them because an aunt and uncle of mine were involved in scouting their whole life. My Aunt Nina was a great example of a life lived in service. Her full name was Catherine Nina Pollard, but everyone just called her Nina. She never tired in standing up for what she believed was right and this involved leading the Boy Scouts as well. In 1971 she started leading Troop 13 in Milford, CT because none of the other men would volunteer to take over the troop and she did not want it to have to disband. At that time however, women were not allowed to be Scoutmasters and so she was not allowed to formally register as the leader, yet she continued to lead them. For over 14 years she fought to change that ruling and eventually in 1988, the Boy Scouts of America changed their policy to allow women to be Scoutmasters. She didn’t fight for herself, but for all the scouts who needed a leader. She saw a need and did something about it. That is after all, what exemplifies the Boy Scouts. It is also what exemplifies the life of a Christian. It is a life lived out of compassion for others.

Moved out of compassion and love Jesus said yes to healing Simon’s mother-in-law.
He was after all sent to proclaim God’s message that the kingdom of God was near. For Simon’s mother-in-law the kingdom of God was quite near that day. It was as close as the healing hand that reached out to her. And because she was healed, she was freed to live a life of service. She began to serve Jesus and the other disciples as soon as she got up, not because that was her job, but out of gratitude for all that Jesus had done for her. Jesus restored her to be a full part of the community again and she could not wait to begin participating in that life of community.

Our congregations, our faith communities are places of healing because God is here. We may not always be healed from physical illnesses, but God always heals our souls. God always forgives. God always makes us whole by God’s never-ending grace. Gathered together by the Holy Spirit we pray and experience the presence of God. It is our time with God that restores our souls and reminds us of our reason for living – to proclaim the gospel, to bear Christ within us, and to be that light wherever we are. Isaiah 40:31 says, “Those that wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” We, like Jesus, must take time for quiet, rest, and prayer so we can be renewed and strengthened to be instruments of God’s healing presence in the world.

God is near. God is here. At the close of each scouting day – while it is still very dark – Taps is often played. My Aunt Nina played Taps on her bugle a lot on many occasions. The words were printed on the back of the funeral cards when she died almost ten years ago. When the former dean of Gettysburg Seminary played it from the top of the cupola over the battlefield it held special meaning for me. I can still hear the slow and quiet melody that speaks to the soul. It is a beautiful prayer that draws us to that place where we can rest in God’s promises and be renewed:

Taps (sung)

Day is done, gone the sun
from the lake, from the hill,
from the sky.
All is well, safely rest.
God is nigh.

Thanks and praise for our days
‘neath the sun, ‘neath the stars,
‘neath the sky.
As we go, this we know.
God is nigh.