Posts Tagged ‘glory’

That one, shining moment.

February 6, 2016

This moment doesn’t come out of nowhere.

Jesus has sent his disciples out into the world to face the reality of demons and disease; he “gave them power” over those terrifying things they would face (Luke 9: 1-2).  Upon their return, Jesus means to take them aside and hear of their ‘time on the road’, but the crowds get wind of this secret meeting and they follow.  Jesus, seeing the inevitability of the presence of the crowds, not only welcomes them, but manages to feed them from a mere mouthful (Luke 9: 10-17).  These events prompt a rash confession from Peter (Luke 9:20) and then a brutal return to reality by Jesus as he reminds them that “the Son of man must undergo great suffering…and on the third day be raised.” (Luke 9: 22).  Then the promise that “…some standing here…will not taste death before they see the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:27) brings us to this morning’s text.

Luke’s gospel has been building up to this moment of revelation.  Luke has told Jesus’ story carefully from the beginning – mingling the ministry of John the Baptizer with the growing influence of Jesus, but from here on, it will be all about Jesus.

“Now  about eight days after saying these things…” – about the same time required between birth and the required presentation of a first-born male in the temple – Jesus and three of his disciples step out of the stream of their ordinary activities; up on a mountain to pray go Jesus, Peter, James and John.  And while he was praying, it happens.

Something incredible – who knows what to call it – Jesus is changed.  His face, his clothes, the very air around them shimmers with glory.  Too tired to act – Peter and the brothers can only note the presence of giants: Moses – Elijah – this is big, really big!  Here on the mountain, a presentation was being made – a statement of intent, if you will.  The presence of God’s power – God’s glory – was announced as a fact. It had been there all along, of course, but in this moment, that glory is made perfectly plain.  So, Peter, what are you going to do about it?

“Let’s build three dwellings…”  Sorry Peter, thanks but no thanks – this is not a moment that you are meant to preserve – this place is not meant to become a shrine.  The glory of God is not meant to be contained.  You’ve seen it, and that is no small thing, now you’ve got to make sense of it

When all was said and done, Peter, James and John say nothing to no one – they simply go back to the main road with Jesus – trying to act as though nothing happened.  That is the only choice, isn’t it?  This mountain-top moment is really just a flash in the pan; not enough evidence to do or say any more than has already been done or said.  Peter has long ago made his confession, after all.  Demons have been subdued (one supposes) and hungry crowds have been satisfied.  How does this ‘shining statement’ make any difference to the disciples – or to us, for that matter?

The truth is, there  are not nearly enough of these glorious moments for our liking.  “God is good”, we say (“All the time!”, is the camp response) and yet the moments that we can point, with absolute certainty, to the goodness of God – to the glory and majesty of God – are few and far between.  We are too well acquainted with sorrow, grief and pain.  Even as a people who proclaim the good news, our proclamation is often muted by the hard facts of life; our communities struggle; our witness is ‘under-appreciated’;

we question our purpose and harbour doubts about the future of our faith communities.  What would we give for the kind of shock therapy that met Peter, James and John on the mountain that day…

Though we have not seen it, the glory of God is in our midst.  For three weeks my family have struggled with grief and loss – a long, lonely drive buoyed by your cards and prayers; we confronted the death of a very special lady, and said our goodbyes in a place that used to be home; we are struggling, as a family, to understand this new reality, and it has been difficult to imagine God’s glory making an appearance.  But when we least expect it, glory cracks the tough shell of frustration and grief, and shines briefly and brightly enough to show us there is a way forward.  Sometimes it is a kind word at an unexpected moment; a card in the mail, or a face at the door.  Maybe it is the way the sun breaks through the clouds after a storm and makes the fresh snow sparkle.  It might even happen as we worship, when a word or a moment catches you unaware and helps you believe that all is not lost – that God is indeed Good.  It will be like that from now until Easter – five weeks of Lent working towards the horror of that Friday and the jaw-dropping joy of that Sunday when, once again there was a moment of glory that lets us be sure (if only for a moment) that God is with us; that God has found us; that God is very good.

Amen

Advertisements

– Epiphany 5C

February 6, 2010

I have had a week of confrontations – not all of them negative….

I’ve heard from friends who are worn out by struggles in their work

I’ve met with people who are resisting the reality of their ill health.

I’ve been confronted by loneliness in others –

by bitterness and anger in people

who know how futile it is to hold grudges.

I had a running ‘comment fight’ on an online journal over the doctrine of the Trinity

and on Friday, our Presbytery gathered for a very difficult task –

that of dissolving a pastoral tie between a congregation and their minister.

While all this was happening, I was also confronted with this morning’s Scripture lessons

and was once again overwhelmed by the way we can be touched by the things of God (through an experience of God in Scripture) in the most unlikely ways/at most appropriate times.

Confrontation is hardly ever a comfortable activity.

It can be startling and loud – it finds our weaknesses easily – it unhinges our emotions

and so we do what we can to avoid confrontation.

Which is why the Scriptures are such difficult texts to read –

and why God is a fearful topic of conversation

and why religion is such a bothersome and awkward part of most societies.

For in our religious movements – in our expressions of faith –

in our search for God we are confronted with something so enormous –

so mysterious – and (let’s face it) so troubling

that we are only really interested in a passing inspection of Scripture.

This fear of confrontation, I think,

is why we’re never really comfortable talking about God

and why religious activity

and interest in institutional religion is on the decline everywhere.

Our fear of confrontation – our fear of the truly fantastic –

a fear of the liberating, life-changing power of God

is actually getting in the way of our call to be followers of Christ / children of God

When I read Isaiah 6 –

when I hear again the story of Jesus convincing these tired fishermen

to try “just one more time – in really deep water” –

when I imagine their distress when the fish come up and the boat goes down –

when I am met with the wonders of God in the midst of my ordinary reality

I am not surprised that church is the first thing to go in a busy schedule –

that people would rather do anything else

than talk about how God might change their lives

because the reality is absolutely terrifying! The thought of it is too much.

“Woe is me, a man of unclean lips – among a people of unclean lips…”

“Depart from me Lord – a sinful man…”

even Paul is quick to admit that his flaws and failures

should keep him from the tasks of the gospel.

They should keep him apart – but in that terrifying meeting Paul (and Peter – and Isaiah)

found grace too; for each of them, the confrontation revealed a new possibility –

a vision of something truly remarkable –

and that fantastic vision was preferable to living life ignorant of (afraid of?)

the glory of God – the abundance of God – the companionship of God’s grace.

When we talk about what matters to us in the church,

we always talk about the folks who don’t come

but I think we should consider that they stay away –

not because we can’t hold their attention –

but because no one feels comfortable in the face of God’s goodness revealed…

People don’t stay away from church because “they’re busy”

they get busy with stuff that asks nothing of them

so they can stay away from church

which asks far too much of them –

as it always has, and always will

not because we have too many worthy projects, or committees,

or jobs that need filling – that’s nothing –

it is the unsettling reality of God-with-us

that places demands on us that none of us can really handle.

Those of us who come, must be ready to be unsettled by this demanding God;

God who points out poverty and asks “what are you going to do about it?”

God who hates injustice and demands that we treat one another with equity

God who knows all but tells nothing, (except if you are patient)

The demands of God’s call are high;

the boat is nearly sunk – the nets are ruined – the glory is blinding – our flaws are revealed –

it’s no surprise that only a few are willing to venture near – but our curiosity, and our determination to experience a sense of awe in the things or God manages to keep us coming.

You see, it’s not really about the music;

the length of the sermon;

whether we worship in the hall, or in a field or in the sanctuary,

or whether or not we have communion once, twice or an hundred times a year;

it’s about our willingness to admit that there is something in life that matters more than us.

We will see those who stand aside because of their fear drawn in,

not by our efforts to convince them of their error

or by persistent programming that plays to their preferences,

but by our commitment to the principles of the gospel

by God’s work in and through us

and by our visible delight in the awesome mystery of “God-who-IS”.

Amen

Keeping up appearances…

September 5, 2009

British television shows are some of my favourite diversions.

They are usually smart, funny, and (at least to my North American eyes), original.

They produce some memorable, lovable and quite sympathetic characters too –

not the Coronation St kind of characters, all serious and street-wise –

I’m talking about Father Ted,

that odd couple in the nursing home (Waiting for God)

the residents of Dibley village,

and my on-again-off-again favourite, Hyacinth Bucket (pronounced “Bouquet”)

Hyacinth’s struggle in life is to rise above her station –

to be, to her friends and neighbours, something she is not.

The comedy comes from her affected airs – her attention to appearances –

in spite of her bumbling family, her ordinary neighbours,

and her husband who simply wants to live their lives without pretence,

honouring who they really are.

It is funny because it hits so close to the bone –

We recognize, in Hyacinth, behaviour that makes us uncomfortable,

both because we have witnessed it, and because we have been guilty of it –

of judging according to the standards of the moment.

This is difficult behaviour to avoid – standards being as changeable as they are –

and it is certainly not new to this generations trend-driven behaviour.

“judge not lest ye be judged” says the ancient warning,

that James tries here to give new life.

Are you truly glorifying our Saviour?”, he asks –

by your catering to those whose appearance is attractive?

What sort of precedent were these early believers setting – the best seats for the best-dressed

what happened to “the last shall be first”? Had they forgotten so soon?

James comments are a harsh judgement on what the church was becoming –

a place to honour those who honoured themselves – who found themselves worthy…

and the church encouraged that attitude,

by recognizing the well-dressed as honoured guests,

and shunning those who most needed acts of charity, compassion and justice.

The church seems to have learned some of those lessons,

and certainly (in most places) is much less conscious of physical appearances:

the homeless are welcomed into many of our urban congregations,

we are learning to worship side by side

with people of different cultures, intellectual capacities, and sexual orientations –

it continues to be hard work – it will always be important work –

But I don’t think the problem is ever far from us.

When we dig our heels in

about the things we believe are necessary in the life of the congregation –

whether that is a particular style of worship, or a specific time (or place) for worship;

when we get hung up on music, or ritual, or leadership styles;

when we pay more attention to how many there are,

than to the needs of those who are with us;

Whenever we ask ourselves (or explain for someone else)

what we think the church is, or does,

we flirt with the same sins that James accused his readers of committing.

We favour those who think like us – whose fashions (or actions, or attitudes) keep us comfortable.

New ideas (and new people) frighten us – they are unknowns –

their fashions and customs seem strange to us –

and we have to keep up appearances!

The church must be familiar – comfortable – respectable – influential.

In our struggle to ‘maintain’ the church, we are in danger of forgetting the principles Jesus lived and died for – we abandon the life Jesus offers us at his rising.

The only appearance we need to keep, is that of loving one another.

In love should all justice be administered.

In love should God’s people gather – in love, be fed –

and while love is easily demonstrated to those who share our sympathies,

the test of love is in how we receive those whom we do not understand.

James’ question becomes our test –

does our activity reveal the glory of Jesus the Christ ? –

this is the only true test of our love.

This simple question should be the measure of all our actions as God’s faithful people –

regardless of the model of worship that we follow, the kind of music we sing,

or the way we wear our hair when we meet…

Is our task important? I certainly believe that it is.

Should we take seriously the way we worship, what we sing, where we gather and how we order ourselves? Absolutely!

But I believe James’ warning gives us a reason

– or perhaps permission is a better word –

to loosen our grip on the familiar and comfortable fixtures in our congregational culture that keep us from basking in (and sharing) the glory that we find in Christ.

Let us be, for Christ’s sake, who we are –rather than who we think we ought to be,

and let the world praise God because of what they see in us.