This Fellow Welcomes Sinners

Meditation on Luke 15:1–3, 11b–32

Fourth Sunday in Lent

March 31, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

      prodigal

     Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’  3 So he told them this parable:

11 Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and travelled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” 

20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” 22But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

25 ‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 

29But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends.30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” 

31Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.” ’

***

Years ago, I learned that I gave birth to at least one strong-willed child. I learned this from books by Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame. Well-meaning friends with well-behaved children recommended these books. I was disappointed to find that these books didn’t have all the answers to godly parenting for me. Every child is different. Every parent is different. Every family situation is different. We should never compare ourselves to other parents; I know I did and couldn’t understand why what worked for them didn’t help my kids and me.

Parenting is ALWAYS hard—because it matters SO much. You just love your children SO much and you don’t want to make any mistakes, especially the ones your parents made with you. But we do. We mess up. If anything will bring us to our knees, humbly seeking the Heavenly Father’s wisdom, patience, and grace—it’s being a parent!

Reading the Bible as not just a pastor, but a mother, it’s encouraging to me that I am not the only one who struggles with parenting.  You should be encouraged, too! Plenty of biblical families were dysfunctional, going back to Adam and Eve, who also had 2 sons—Cain and Abel. And we know how that ended! First there were two; then there was one. Or Isaac’s twin sons—Jacob and Esau, with Jacob tricking his aging father and stealing his older brother’s birthright. And then Esau wanting to kill him and Jacob having to run away.

***

“This fellow welcomes sinners,” the scribes and Pharisees grumble at the beginning of our gospel reading today in Luke 15. “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them!”

the-prodigal-son-3-638

Then the lectionary leaves out the next 2 parables that Jesus tells in response—the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin. They all fit together. All 3 have the same general message; God rejoices over repentant sinners! God cares about everyone and desires all to be saved. In Luke, these parables come before what has been known traditionally as, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son,” though it might be more accurate to call it, “The Parable of Two Lost Sons.”

The story begins on the day the younger demands his inheritance and his father gives it to him. We can imagine what family life was like before this day. Were there always disagreements between father and son and anger and resentment between brothers? And where was the mother? Had she died, perhaps in childbirth, as many women did? And was the younger spoiled by the father because he was the child of the preferred wife, in his old age, like Jacob spoiling Joseph and giving him the beautiful coat? That’s what comes to mind when the father in this parable tells his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him.” Why did the father give him his inheritance? Was he weary of the arguing? Did he just want peace in his home?

Considerable time has passed since the son left, with no word to his family; they fear he is dead. The son going to a distant country is a rejection of his kin and small, tight-knit community—the kind where everybody knows everybody else’s business. Why else would the entire village be invited to his homecoming party?

The father is over the moon about his son’s return, telling the older one, who shames him by refusing to attend the party, “But we had to celebrate and rejoice; this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”  This father has never given up hope that his son will change and come home a different man. Imagine, he is watching for him and sees the son while he is still far off! Filled with compassion, he runs, without worry about what the neighbors think. He puts his arms around him, kisses him.

I wrestle with this as an example of a repentant sinner. Does he really have a change of heart? It doesn’t seem like it to me. Why does he come home? Does he miss his family and realize how much hurt he has caused? No. Is he ashamed of what he has done? No. He comes home because he runs out of money and is hungry. He is feeding the pigs and has an AHA! moment. These pigs are better off than I am. The hired hands “have bread enough and to spare, but I’m dying of hunger.” So he hashes a plan, considers carefully what he is going to say to his dad when he returns. He is going to ask to be treated like a hired hand, but he stills uses the intimate, kinship language of “Father.” Beginning at v. 18, “I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son….” And so he does. He uses the exact words that he rehearsed.

The story ends with the father trying to comfort and persuade the elder one to forgive the younger and be glad that he’s home. Instead, he is jealous and bitter. We are left hanging, wondering what will happen. Will the elder son, who is great at pointing out the log in his brother’s eye, but can’t see the splinter in his own—come to have mercy on his brother—and forgive?

Often, preachers invite us to choose the character with whom we identify in the story. Are you the prodigal, who ran away from God, then “came to yourself” and realized your need for the Lord and that you had squandered God’s gifts to you?  Are you the older brother, who has been in a church a long time, laboring for the Kingdom, but has trouble accepting and forgiving others? Maybe you have a little of both of these brothers in your journey of faith?

Or maybe you see yourself as the struggling parent, for this is a parable, a story with layers of meaning as a teaching device. The father isn’t necessarily our Heavenly Father, though he certainly is loving, patient and merciful. Are you unable to keep the peace in your family? Are your children jealous and resentful of one another? Or are you waiting and hoping for a wayward child to come to the end of themselves, realize their human frailty and need for God, and come home?

Are you praying that your family, broken and wounded now, will be made whole?

If you could write an ending to the story, what would it be? Mine would be that the two lost sons would both be humbled and turn back to the Lord who has never stopped loving them. They would forgive one another and they would tell their father that they love him and thank him for his love, patience and generosity. And the father would realize God’s grace for him—that no matter how perfect a parent we try to be, we can only love and forgive our children and teach them all that we can for as long as they are open to receiving our teaching. Because sometimes parents are the last people that children will listen to.

God has sent the Son to redeem the world by becoming one of us and, in obedience to the Father, willingly suffered and died so that the world would not perish in its sins, but might, through belief on Him, live eternally. As the choirs will sing in their anthem, Love Held Him to the Cross. That’s the point of today’s message. There’s no one for whom Christ did not give his life! For love.

He died for you!

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Have you accepted God’s love and mercy? Have you had a change of heart? If you haven’t, it’s time. Let go of the mistakes of the past. Forgive yourself. Don’t look back.

You can trust in the one about whom the Pharisees and scribes complained, “This fellow welcomes sinners.”

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for your generosity and kindness to us. Thank you for sending your Son to welcome sinners and to show us your love when he died on a cross. We pray for the families in our community. Heal what is broken, Lord. Make us whole. Strengthen us to do your will. Help us every day. Teach us to walk in your ways and never depart from the faith in which we were raised. We lift up those who are struggling with parenting. Give us hope and mercy, patience and wisdom, courage and grace. We lift up the wayward children—maybe we are one of them. Forgive us for our sins and draw us back to you. Lead us on the right path. Show us the way to your heavenly home. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Eat What is Good

Meditation on Isaiah 55:1-9

Third Sunday in Lent

March 24, 2019

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH

Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
my steadfast, sure love for David.
4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples,
a leader and commander for the peoples.
5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know,
and nations that do not know you shall run to you,
because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
for he has glorified you.
6 Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near;
7 let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
8 For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. 

you-are-what-you-eat

 

“You are what you eat!”

I saw that slogan every day as I waited in line to buy lunch at my elementary school cafeteria. Posters with “You are what you eat,” and pictures of fruit and vegetables were taped to the walls and doors. So we saw the slogan going in. And we saw it going out.

I remember on more than one occasion looking down at my cafeteria tray, with foods chosen and served up by cafeteria staff, and thinking that must mean that I am spaghetti, garlic bread and cookies! Looking back, many of the lunches we were served tasted pretty good, but I doubt that they were actually good for our health.

I was thinking about “You are what you eat” standing in CVS on Friday, excited about my 25% off coupon and stocking up on candy for our children’s messages. I must have stood there a long time in this huge aisle, now full of spring-themed confections—all those pastel colors; bunny, chick and egg shapes; marshmallow, chocolate, and malted milk.

easter-candy-leftovers-ftr.jpg

 

I stood there so long that I caught the attention of a store clerk, who asked, “May I help you find something?” I didn’t know how to answer, I was so overwhelmed. Should I buy jelly beans; well, what kind? I actually had them in my hand and then put them back—cause my husband and I would eat them before I would have the opportunity to give them to kids on Sunday morning.

“No, thank you,” I finally said. “Just so many choices.”

And that’s my problem—maybe all of our problem! We go to the grocery store and we have aisles of foods to choose from—and many of the foods are not good for us! Some of them aren’t really food, but we want them anyway. They aren’t fuel for our bodies and minds. They aren’t satisfying; they don’t fill us up. I’m still hungry after eating a package of marshmallow peeps. Aren’t you?

We eat–and are hungry for more.

 

***

 

I hear echoes of “You are what you eat” in today’s reading, the first 9 verses of Isaiah 55. The prophet is making a connection between the food that we eat and the spiritual nourishment we need for the health of our body and soul.

Isaiah says, “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.”
A lack of spiritual nurture and nourishment have led to unrighteous living for the Israelites in exile in Babylonia. Years have passed since the walls of Jerusalem were breeched in 587 BC, the temple and palace destroyed, and the city set ablaze by the Babylonian army. For the few survivors who remain in the ruins of the city, it means suffering and hunger—spiritual and physical deprivation. “My soul is bereft of peace,” says Lamentations 3:17. “I have forgotten what happiness is; so I say, ‘Gone is my glory, and all that I hoped for from the Lord.’” The Israelites believe, after the desolation of their city and their people, that God is punishing them and has abandoned them for mocking and persecuting the prophets when they urged them to turn away from the sins of oppression, injustice, greed and deceit—and turn back to the Lord. “Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to aliens…” says Lamentations 5. “We must pay for the water we drink; the wood we get must be bought. With a yoke on our necks, we are hard driven; we are weary, we are given no rest… We get our bread at the peril of our lives, because of the sword in the wilderness.”

In contrast, those living in exile become integrated, assimilated into Babylonian society as the years slip by. They adopt the lifestyles and idols of their conquerors and give up their faith in the one true God. They have jobs and money to spend; they’ve been captured by the lure of wealth. God’s children have become materialistic, stirring Isaiah to ask them why they are spending their money on that which does not satisfy, that which is not bread? He means that which is not food for body or soul; bread is a metaphor for the Word of God. Water or Living Water is a metaphor for the Spirit of the Lord.

Isaiah calls out like a peddler marketing his wares, “Ho, everyone who thirsts!”

“Come to the waters! You that have no money,” Isaiah cries to anyone with ears to hear. “Come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

He offers the promise of spiritual nourishment for those who may not even be aware that their soul hungers and thirsts for God—and that their exile is not just from the Holy City, but from the Lord. The prophet offers abundant life—symbolized by the delight of rich food—with a gracious and merciful God who waits and longs to forgive those who have turned away! This is the God of not just second chances, or forgiveness 70 times seven, as Jesus tells Peter when he asks in Matthew 18 how many times they must forgive each other. This is the God whose steadfast love never ceases, says Lamentations 3:22. “Whose mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.”

Isaiah urges God’s children to pray and change. “Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call upon him while he is near; 7 let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts; let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.”

Friends, here’s reason for us to rejoice on this third Sunday in Lent. The Lord never abandoned the Israelites! And the Lord never abandons us! It’s we who wander away, maybe not in anger or intentional rebellion, but in distraction or weariness or because we have become too comfortable with the things of this world, like the exiles long ago. We might not even know that we are hungry and thirsty for a deeper faith, for more of God!

We might make the mistake of over-intellectualizing our faith. In our quest for knowledge and pride in our own learning, we may become disconnected from the one who is speaking life-giving words. “Listen,” Isaiah says, “so that you may live!”

God’s Word should compel us to respond in love and generosity—not with angry debates and drawing lines in the sand. Don’t fall into the trap of reading the Bible with an agenda, looking for evidence to support what you already believe! Come to God’s Word with an open heart and mind! Prepare to be amazed. Prepare to be changed!

Today’s passage in Isaiah should humble and inspire us! He reminds us that we can’t begin to think like the Lord! Just when you think you have all the answers to life’s questions and can figure everything out on your own, remember you are NOT the Lord. Take comfort in that! You’re not in control! Isn’t that great? Praise the Lord! Just imagine the mess we would make of everything if we were not inscribed, as Isaiah says in 49:16, on the palms of God’s hands.

God’s thoughts are not our thoughts! God’s ways are not our ways! His ways and thoughts are higher than ours!

And yet, we have the assurance of Psalm 139 that the Lord knows all our thoughts and is familiar with all our ways. And in Eph. 2:10, that “we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

The Lord wants to teach us, mold and use us, bless and keep us.

Open your heart to hear God’s Word! Eat what is good!

 

***

 

Friends, in Isaiah 56, we will read that God’s everlasting covenant has been extended to all who obey, to those who “maintain justice and do what is right.” “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.”

I hear Isaiah in John 10:16 when Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

God’s love penetrates geographical, political, social and cultural boundaries! Isn’t it wonderful to think that the Lord knows every language—every word before it is on our tongues, as the psalmist declares?

Psalm-139

Isaiah says in 55:5,See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel for he has glorified you.’”

Those who respond to the call to leave their spiritual exile and return to the Lord are not to hoard God’s gracious benefits. God’s love is meant to be shared.

The invitation to come to the waters, you thirsty souls, is for all.

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The invitation to you who hunger for a deeper faith, for more of God, is for all.

So go and tell others about God’s mercy and compassion.

Tell them, “Seek the Lord while he can be found! Open your heart.”

“Eat what is good.”

 

Let us pray…

Holy One, We come to you for your Living water, for spiritual refreshment and renewal. Forgive us for our sins, for loving the things of this world too much and for not spending enough time with you in prayer each day. Thank you for your love and compassion, being ever so patient with us who may have wandered into a spiritual exile. Draw us nearer to you and open our hearts so we may hear you as you speak to us in your life-giving Word. Stir in us a hunger and thirst for a deeper faith, for a closer, more loving relationship with you and one another. Help us to break bad habits and make good choices for our bodies, minds and souls, for ourselves, our families, our church and community. Strengthen us to eat what is good and to offer your love, mercy and compassion to our neighbors in need. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

The Lord Is My Light and Salvation

Meditation on Psalm 27 For Windsorwood Worship Service

March 17, 2019

1 The Lord is my light and my salvation;
   whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
   of whom shall I be afraid? 
2 When evildoers assail me
   to devour my flesh—
my adversaries and foes—
   they shall stumble and fall. 
3 Though an army encamp against me,
   my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
   yet I will be confident. 
4 One thing I asked of the Lord,
   that will I seek after:
to live in the house of the Lord
   all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the Lord,
   and to inquire in his temple. 
5 For he will hide me in his shelter
   in the day of trouble;
he will conceal me under the cover of his tent;
   he will set me high on a rock. 
6 Now my head is lifted up
   above my enemies all around me,
and I will offer in his tent
   sacrifices with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make melody to the Lord. 
7 Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud,
   be gracious to me and answer me! 
8 ‘Come,’ my heart says, ‘seek his face!’
   Your face, Lord, do I seek. 
9   Do not hide your face from me. 

Do not turn your servant away in anger,
   you who have been my help.
Do not cast me off, do not forsake me,
   O God of my salvation! 
10 If my father and mother forsake me,
   the Lord will take me up. 
11 Teach me your way, O Lord,
   and lead me on a level path
   because of my enemies. 
12 Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries,
   for false witnesses have risen against me,
   and they are breathing out violence. 
13 I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord
   in the land of the living. 
14 Wait for the Lord;
   be strong, and let your heart take courage;
   wait for the Lord!

whom-shall-i-fear-sheri-mcleroy

I am a worrier. On this second Sunday in Lent, a time of self-reflection and drawing nearer to the Lord, I admit that I have trouble letting go of my worries and giving them to the Lord. What do I worry about? I am too embarrassed to confess all—but at the top of my list is my family. And this past week, my mother had major surgery and my dad, who has Parkinson’s and heart problems, was recovering in rehab after a fall.  And my parents live in Florida, so I was not able to be with them through their time of trouble.

So I worried.

In times of worry, I often turn to the Psalms for comfort. Although God’s people composed and sang these collections of songs and poems long ago, they are as relevant and meaningful to us today. The psalmists were worriers, too—and they turned their worries into prayers and songs of praise to the Lord.

In Psalm 27, the psalmist begins by proclaiming, “God is my light and salvation—whom shall I fear?” But in proclaiming, “Whom shall I fear?” the psalmist is admitting that they are afraid and with good reason. For the psalmist is at war, with enemies camped around him, “breathing violence.”

The psalmist is doing what all God’s children should do when they are anxious and afraid—offering thanks and praise to the Lord. “Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy!” But the psalmist, who is confident one moment that the Lord is his stronghold, his refuge, shelter and hiding place, is still afraid that God will be angry with him—that he will disappoint the Lord and God will turn away from him.

And this is our walk of faith—moments and days of doubt and fear, but also moments and days of certainty, joy, and peace, trusting in the Lord who is our light—our guide, our hope for all of eternity.  This is us learning how to live as God wants us to live; this is us learning how to be the people of faith God has called us to be.

The Lord is with us now in our storms and fears and tears. This is the God who understands us better than we understand ourselves and will hear us and answer us when we cry out in prayer.

My mom came through her surgery OK, though her recovery will take about 2 months. And though my dad had another fall this week, we can give God thanks that no bones were broken and he was found immediately. And now we are waiting on the Lord to show us if my dad needs a different living situation—more nursing care to help him each day.

Friends, the Lord is our light and our salvation, our hiding place.  God will reveal his goodness in this land—the land of the living–if  we ask God to give us eyes to see his goodness. And if we wait and hope and trust in him…..

Let us pray.

Dear Lord, you are our light and salvation! We love you, we trust you and place our hope in you. Forgive us for our doubts and fears. Teach us your way, for we have much to learn. Guide our footsteps as we continue to walk with you in this journey of faith. In Your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

Count the Stars, If You Can

Meditation on Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18

March 17, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

Abraham

 

After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’ 2 But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’ 3 And Abram said, ‘You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.’ 4 But the word of the Lord came to him, ‘This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.’ 5 He brought him outside and said, ‘Look towards heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.’ Then he said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ 6 And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. 7 Then he said to him, ‘I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.’ 8 But he said, ‘O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?’ 9 He said to him, ‘Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtle-dove, and a young pigeon.’ 10 He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. 12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him. 17 When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. 18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, ‘To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates…

 

***

 

Were any of you alarmed on Friday afternoon by a dark minivan driving slowly past your home? It was the Ann Leppla tour bus, navigating the streets of Coshocton, assisted by longtime resident storyteller, Chuck Snyder.  Did any of you see us?

I could not have had better tour guides than Ann and Chuck! I wanted to see Coshocton from the perspective of those who have lived in this community a long time and love this town; those who know many names and faces and all the important and perhaps lesser known places.

Ann told me at the beginning of the tour that there would be a quiz at the end. I said I hoped it would be multiple choice! Don’t worry—I probably won’t remember any of the embarrassing personal stories Chuck and Ann told me about you! Just kidding. Of course, I will remember the embarrassing stories, but I will probably get the names and details mixed up! This is all part of the delightful, small-town ministry experience.

It is easy to see the Body of Christ connected and at work in a community of this size. I have already seen the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living, as the psalmist declares in Psalm 27. Every day, you demonstrate God’s love to one another through your caring words and gentle ways.

And I don’t have to tell you that I have had some challenges since I’ve come—and you have helped me with them. The latest one was this week, when my mom had surgery and you prayed for her! Then Dad had a fall that led to a trip to the ER, X-rays and discussion about how we can make his living situation safer. The hard thing for me was that I wasn’t well enough or free to travel to be with them. I wrestled with doubts and anxiety—not about my call to ministry but about how I should respond as a good daughter. Ultimately, I came to trust that I am where God wants me to be, and I am doing what the Lord wants me to do. I can’t and shouldn’t try to do anything more than that!

We can learn from the call of Abram that sometimes God wants us to leave our hometowns and our kin—everything comfortable and familiar—to go to the place that God will show us and do what the Lord says. And sometimes, all God wants us to do is wait, hope, trust and pray.

 

***

When we encounter Abram in Genesis 15, he has already heard the voice of God for the first time and responded obediently. He and his wife Sarai and nephew Lot pack up all the people and stuff they have acquired in Haran to go the place that God will show them and make of Abram a great nation. In him, all the families of the earth will be blessed. But at the time of his calling, Abram has no children and Sarai is elderly and barren–unable to conceive. Abram and his family are natives of Ur, an important Sumerian city-state in ancient Mesopotamia near the mouth of the Euphrates on the Persian Gulf in what is today Iraq. Ur is a sophisticated, prosperous urban center of culture and commerce.

Abram, Sarai and Lot have had some adventures. After the first call to Abram at age 75 in Chapter 12, a severe famine forces them to live as aliens in Egypt, where Abram, fearing that he would be killed for his beautiful wife, persuades her to lie and tell Pharaoh that she is only his sister. In actuality, she is his half sister, the daughter of his father but not his mother.  But she is also his wife. In exchange for her moving in with Pharaoh, Abram receives many sheep, oxen, donkeys, camels and slaves. But the Lord afflicts Pharaoh with great plagues because of Sarai. Finally, Pharaoh learns that Sarai is Abram’s wife. Instead of seeking revenge, Pharaoh tells Abram and his family, “It’s time to go.” By now, Abram has become very rich. He and Lot have so many animals, possessions and people between them that the land cannot support them both living together. So they separate; Lot pitches his tent in wicked Sodom, and Abram moves to Canaan, where the Lord promises Abram land as far as he can see for his offspring, who will be like the “dust of the earth; so that if one could count the dust of the earth, your offspring also can be counted.” Abram pitches his tent by the Oaks of Mamre at Hebron, where he makes an altar to the Lord.

But soon Lot is taken captive in Sodom and Abram leads 318 trained men, born in his household, to rescue Lot. Then Abram receives the blessing of King Melchizedek, the priest of God Most High, and Abram gives him a tithe—one tenth—of everything he has.

That brings us to today’s reading in Gen. 15—when Abram has everything he could ever want except for the one thing he has always wanted—a child, preferably a son. And he’s getting anxious and beginning to doubt God’s promise to him. Years have passed, and he and Sarai are still childless! So God grants Abram a vision in which the Lord says to him, “Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be great.” For the first time ever, Abram engages in dialogue with the Lord. “But Abram said, ‘O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?’” Abram doesn’t wait for God to answer; he goes on to accuse the Lord, “You have given me NO offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.”  But that’s not what God has planned. The Lord says, “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue—(your biological child)—shall be your heir.”

A beautiful thing happens next. God brings Abram outside. Night has fallen, and God tells Abram to look toward “heaven,” and “count the stars, if you are able to count them.” It’s like the earlier promise of the dust and the promise of descendants as numerous as the grains of sand by the sea in Genesis 22. You can imagine a long, breathless pause, as Abram considers the wonder of God’s creation—the reminder that God is GOD and we are human beings that God has made for God’s own delight, companionship, and joy. If the Lord could make countless stars in the night sky, couldn’t the Lord also give Sarai and Abram one child of their own? As Abram counts the stars, God says, “So shall your descendants be.” And Abram believes the Lord—and God sees him as righteous.

 

***

God continues to be patient with Abram, though his doubts don’t end with the new covenant of Gen. 15. Sarai, in Gen. 16, will come up with the idea of “helping” God’s promise come to pass by having Abram sleep with her Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, so he can have a son and heir through him. It ends badly, with Hagar and her son with Abram being banished from the household.

How important is Abraham for Christians today? Scripture says that through one miracle child named Isaac, all the families of the earth are blessed. Abraham is mentioned 74 times in the New Testament—twice in the first two verses of Matthew in the genealogy of “Jesus, the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” In Galatians and Romans, the Apostle Paul calls him the “Father of the Faithful.” James calls him, the “Friend of God.”

Like Abram, we all have trouble waiting on the Lord and believing in God’s promises. It isn’t that we can’t believe in the goodness of God. It’s that we can’t believe that we are good enough for God’s promises. Well, we aren’t good enough. But Jesus has opened the way for our adoption as God’s children and heirs, joint heirs with Christ, says Paul in Romans 8:17, by the grace of God!

And frankly, we just aren’t good at waiting. I’m not! We want to do MORE than what God wants us to do, when what God often wants for us is simply to wait and hope, trust and pray, though there may be NO evidence that what God has promised will come true. Friends, this is the very definition of faith! Hebrews 11:1 says faith is the “assurance or confidence of things hoped for, the conviction of things NOT seen!”

But the kind of waiting that Psalm 27 is talking about is active, not passive. While we wait, we move forward in our journey of faith, seeking spiritual growth, asking the Lord to teach us his way and engaging in honest, open, and fearless prayer with our Heavenly Father. We need to tell the Lord exactly how we feel—like Abram did! “You have given me no offspring!” “You didn’t keep your promise, though I did what you told me to do!” But be prepared to be humbled, as God brings to mind the wonder of God’s creation.

The One who created the stars in the sky—can you count them?—you know you can’t—is the One who created you and me to serve the Lord faithfully!

Let us believe in the One who kept his promises to Abraham and will keep his promises to us, though we struggle with fear and doubt!

Wait. Hope. Trust. And pray!

 

Will you pray with me now?

 

Holy One, we struggle with fear and doubt every day, so we seek your face. We cry out for help for our loved ones, healing for the sick in our families and congregation. Lord, teach us your way. Thank you for your love and your grace, hearing and answering our prayers patiently and kindly, like you did with your friend, Abram, the Father of the Faithful. Lord, we aren’t good at waiting. We aren’t patient like you. Open our eyes to see your goodness in the land of the living, to notice the signs of your Kingdom promises coming true. Build up our faith and guide us to walk this journey obediently every day, trusting in you, holding on to hope, being courageous in prayer. Through your Son we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our Refuge in the Wilderness

Luke 4:1-13

First Sunday in Lent

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

March 10, 2019

Temptation of Jesus

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3 The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ 4 Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.” ’ 5 Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6 And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’8 Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.” ’ 9 Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10 for it is written, “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”,  11 and “On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’ 12 Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’ 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time. 

 

***

Seventy-six people gathered for our first ecumenical Ash Wednesday service last Wednesday at Emmanuel Lutheran Church. Twenty-two members of our chancel choir sang, “Create in Me a Clean Heart.” Presbyterian and Lutheran liturgists read from the prophet Joel and Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. Pastor Bryan read from the gospel of Matthew, with Jesus warning us not to be like the hypocrites, making a big show of their fasting, long prayers and charitable giving to impress human beings with their piety!

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded that our God, who is love, breathed life into dust to create us in His image—for love. And when we fall short of God’s love, the Lord longs for us to draw near and confess our sins so that our relationship with God and human beings may be restored. Because our sin hurts the entire community and not just ourselves and our relationship with the Lord.

People often talk about what they give up or add on for Lent. It’s good to be intentional about living out your faith. Jesus tells us to love the Lord with all heart, soul, mind and might and our neighbors as ourselves. This requires thought, feeling, effort and action! But I want you to remember that what matters most to the Lord, at Lent and always, is the purity of our hearts.

The good works we do must come from a humble and faithful heart, seeking to be obedient to God’s will. It’s a temptation to do things to try and win approval from others and then be disappointed if no one seems to notice the good that we do. It’s also a temptation to value ourselves based on the good works that we do, and, if we aren’t able to do those good works, we might come to believe that we aren’t valuable! We might even begin to fool ourselves into thinking that something we do will lead God to love us more. Nothing we can do can change God’s love. And nothing we can do will ever compare with what God has already done for us through the cross!

So, I have said that Lent is about the condition of our hearts and not about what we give up. But now I am going to say that the Spirit may lead you to give up some things during Lent, if what you are giving up are things that fail to bring you life and energy, health or joy. Later today, look at your calendars and consider how you will spend your time in this Holy Season as we draw nearer to the cross with Christ. What are those things that just aren’t helpful to your spiritual growth and shalom—peace, wholeness and wellbeing? What have you been afraid to say no to because it might disappoint someone? What are things that are draining you that you could and should “let go?”

And, since Lent is about our hearts, it isn’t about what we add on, either, unless what we are adding on is something the Spirit is stirring us to do, such as making more time for prayer and meditating on God’s Word, engaging in creative pursuits that we have been wanting to do; making music and singing God’s praises; taking more time to fellowship with God’s children; encouraging one another through struggle and loss; and volunteering in our community.

Above all, please remember that Lent is about drawing nearer to the One who is our refuge in the wilderness.

 

***

 

Our gospel lesson in Luke today starts us off on the first Sunday in Lent with Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, his preparation for public ministry shortly after he is baptized in the Jordan. In Luke, the Spirit fills Jesus and leads him to the wilderness to be tempted. This is all part of God’s plan. The Greek word for tempted or tested—peirazo–is used in the Septuagint, the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, for the testing of the people by Yahweh in the wilderness (Ex. 16:4; 17:2; Deut. 8:2; Ps 94:9) and of their testing of him. So right away, we are taken back in time to Israel’s 40 years of wandering and struggle.

This desert wilderness in Judea in the vicinity of the Jordan is both a good and bad place. It’s good because it’s a place of contact with God; but it’s also dangerous—a rocky, daunting zone of cliffs and caves, the haunt of wild beasts, demons and outlaws (Lev. 16:10, Isa. 13:21, 34:14, Tob. 8:3 ) Diabolos himself—the devil or accuser—comes to try to lead Jesus astray.

Hearers in Jesus’ time would recognize in these 3 tests the 3 categories of vice that Jesus overcomes: “love of pleasure, love of possessions, love of glory.” (Luke T. Johnson, 76). These three tests are meant to correct any misunderstanding of Jesus’ mission as the Son. Jesus, the Son of God, refuses to use his power or authority for any other reason other than that for which he has been sent! The “unifying link” in these scenes is that they are quotations from Deuteronomy, coming from “passages that recall three events of the Exodus in which the Israelites in the desert were put to the test—and failed,” says author Joseph A. Fitzmyer. Jesus is, in effect, “redeeming the whole wilderness experience of the Israelites. Where Israel of old failed, Jesus succeeds.”

The first 2 tests address Jesus as the Son of God, recalling the baptism scene of Luke 3:21-22, when a voice from heaven declares, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” “If you are the Son of God,” the devil says, “command this stone to become a loaf of bread.”

When Jesus answers, “Man cannot live on bread alone,” he is quoting from Deut. 8:3. “He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” When Jesus answers, “Worship the Lord Your God, and serve only Him,” he is quoting Deut. 6:13. And when Jesus answers, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” he is quoting Deut. 6:16.

I have heard sermons on how this passage is a how-to-guide for fighting the devil and temptation. That isn’t the point of my message today, although the New Testament does tell us we are engaged in a spiritual battle. Ephesians 6:11-12 says, “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The Word of God is, “alive and active.” says Hebrews 4:1. “Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” James 4:7 says “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” And 1 Peter 5:8-9 says, “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.”

I would rather you recall from my message that this spiritual battle isn’t for us to fight! And that we have nothing to fear. As Jesus says in John 16:33, These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”

The battle belongs to the Lord, who is our refuge in the wilderness.

***

Lent has already begun differently for me this year. It was the first Ash Wednesday in 8 years that I wasn’t well enough to make the sign of the cross in ashes on my congregation’s foreheads and remind them, “From dust you came, and to dust you shall return.” I felt bad about this—being sick on the night of this important service. But then I remembered that I am not a pastor because of the “pastor things” that I do! I am a pastor because, by the grace of God, I am called to be a pastor– and that is what leads me to do the pastor things! Just as we are all children of God, not because of anything we have done, but because of what Christ the Son has done for us. Our worth is not determined by what we do. We are precious to the Lord! Nothing can make the Lord love us more! Nothing can make God love us less!

The devil departs at the end of today’s passage in Luke, but he will return, as scripture says, at an “opportune time,” to fulfill God’s purposes. He will be back in Luke 22:3-4, when “Satan enters …Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; he (goes) away and confer(s) with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them.” The devil will come up again in 22:31-32, when Jesus predicts Peter’s initial denial, then faithfulness. “Simon, Simon, listen! Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your own faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned back, (shall) strengthen your brothers.”

During this Holy Season, I pray that your faith may not fail, and that the Spirit will guide you to let go of some things that drain you and add on some things that bring you life, health, peace and joy.

Most of all, I pray that you and I will understand God’s love and grace in a new way. And may this understanding set us free to live more graciously.

There’s a spiritual battle going on, but the battle belongs to the Lord!

God is our refuge in the wilderness.

 

Let us pray.

 

Holy One, thank you for being our refuge in the wilderness and that we have nothing to fear from the devil. Thank you that the spiritual battle of this world belongs to you who has already conquered sin and death. Forgive us, Lord, for falling to temptation every day and turning away from you to satisfy our own desires, to accumulate more possessions, and to seek glory for ourselves. Help us, O God, to be the humble, pure of heart people you want us to be. Set us free from the burden of our sin so we may live more graciously. By the power of your Spirit within us, may we become more like your Beloved Son. In His name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Living Water

Message on John 4:7-15 for Lenten Lunch Program

March 6, 2019

The Presbyterian Church of Coshocton

    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.) 10 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.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.” 15 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.”

 

I am honored to be the first to share a message in this 50th anniversary year of our ecumenical Lenten lunches. As a female pastor, I can testify to the difficulty that women sometimes have in communities of faith of being heard and being taken seriously.  I have had the opportunity—I am not going to say challenge—of serving as the first female pastor of 2 churches and as the second female pastor to a church in rural Minnesota, following a female pastor whose leadership was not universally accepted. But it isn’t like I didn’t know this might happen.

After graduating seminary in 2010, I told my dad that I would be seeking ordination in a denomination that, though it had been ordaining women as church leaders for decades, still had many congregations reluctant to call a female pastor. His response was to ask me why I would do this—give up careers in journalism and teaching to pursue something in which I might experience rejection and disappointment?

I don’t remember my exact words to Dad, but I do remember the sense of call that I had back then that stays with me today and gives me strength and joy to walk this way. Because it is the joy of the Lord that gives us strength to overcome any social barriers built by human beings. And it helps to have a sense of humor. When my last congregation asked why I was adding purple streaks to my hair, I told them it was for Lent. Most of them accepted that. And I have a cartoon framed in my church office of 3 women—probably the 3 Mary’s—coming from the empty tomb and being told by a group of male disciples, “So ladies, thanks for being the first to witness and report the resurrection… And we’ll take it from here.”

That may have been what really happened after the discovery of the empty tomb, but that isn’t what happened after Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well in the gospel of John. The fact that she is going to draw water from the well in the middle of the day reveals her low status. She is purposefully avoiding other more “respectable women” of the community. For this is the hottest point of the day and all the other women of the town would have already drawn water for their families in the early morning hours. She is marginalized and Jesus knows why, though he is a stranger to her and this community. She is living with a man who is not her husband and has had five husbands, Jesus will tell her after she accepts his offer of living water so that she will never thirst again.

Why Jesus has taken a route through Samaria is a mystery. Most Jews avoid Samaritans because they reject some core beliefs of ancient Judaism and have a long history of animosity with one another, going back to the exile. The Samaritan woman—I wish we knew her name!—is aware of some of these theological differences and will say in 4:20, “Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you (meaning the Jews) say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.”  And Jesus will tell her that the hour is coming and is now here when true worshipers will worship the Father not on a mountain or in Jerusalem. “True worshipers, “he says, “will worship the Father in spirit and truth.”

The conversation continues as the woman shares more of her faith with Jesus, “I know that the Messiah is coming, who is called the Christ,” she says. And when he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus chooses to reveal himself to this woman, living on the margins of her community. “I am he,” Jesus says. “The one who is speaking to you.”

Angelika_Kauffmann_-_Christus_und_die_Samariterin_am_Brunnen_-1796.jpeg

The conversation ends perhaps prematurely—when the male disciples return from the city where they had been sent to buy food. They are astonished that Jesus is speaking with a woman, says 4:27. So the issue isn’t about her being a Samaritan, but her being female. But they knew enough not to question what Jesus was doing. I love it that scripture says, “But no one said (to her), ‘What do you want?” or to Jesus “Why are you speaking with her?” Meaning, they wanted to ask these questions because it wasn’t the way things were done; it wasn’t the norm for their culture or their faith.

And how does the Samaritan woman respond to Christ’s revelation to her—that he is the Messiah? She believes! And believing compels her to share her testimony with everyone. “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!” she says. “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” And the one who accepts Christ’s living water and leaves her empty water jar forgotten at the well, brings many to Christ through her simple testimony. Her openness to an encounter with the holy in a completely unexpected way changes her life forever. Today in Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic traditions, though she isn’t given a name in the biblical story, she is venerated as Saint Photine or Photina from the Greek word phos for light.

Jesus is invited by the Samaritans to stay two more days and he accepts their invitation. Still more come to believe because Jesus has spoken to them, too. They have heard for themselves, “And we know,” they say, “that this is truly the Savior of the world.”

Friends, as we journey through this holy season of Lent with one another, I encourage you to open your heart for unexpected encounters of the holy. But also, make time to intentionally drink deeply of the living water from the well that is Christ himself. The Lord knows everything about you and doesn’t hold your sins against you. So how could you possibly hold other peoples’ sins against them? Don’t make the mistake of the disciples and dismiss someone because of gender, religion or social status that the Lord has chosen to speak into your life and change your world for good. God wants to equip you and use you and your simple testimony of what God has done for you to bring others nearer to Christ.

Come to the waters that will satisfy heart and soul. All are welcome to come and be refreshed and renewed by the Word and Spirit. Man or woman. Young, old and in between. In Christ, all human barriers are broken down and we are made one in His body.

Come to Christ with the confidence of the children of God—and you will never be thirsty again.

 

Let us pray.

       Holy One, thank you for your love, mercy and compassion, shown in the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. Thank you for choosing broken vessels like us—male, female, young and older, to bring healing and wholeness to those who are suffering, lonely, and outcast. Forgive us, Father, for when we have deemed others unworthy of your grace and not good enough for you to use to build your Kingdom. Give us, Lord, your living water, more and more, so that we may drink deeply and grow in Spirit and truth. Then send us out, Lord, to be love and light for the world. In your Son’s name we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

God: This is My Son

 

 

Meditation on Luke 9:28-36

Transfiguration Sunday

March 3, 2019

The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH 

     28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Beloved; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

 

***

 

So, yesterday (Saturday) was the first day that I began to feel better after being sick since last Sunday night. I prayed all week for a Transfiguration experience like Jesus had on a high mountain with his disciples, but I couldn’t pull myself out of the Princess Bride-like pit of despair! Have you seen the movie, The Princess Bride? It felt like torture. It hit me hard and fast–with fever, sore throat, cough, queasy stomach, and generalized, supersized yuckiness. On Thursday night, after I had to leave the Muskingum University Choir concert early because I couldn’t control my coughing, my husband laid hands on me and we prayed for my healing so that I could lead worship today on Transfiguration Sunday. The next morning, on Friday, after a practically sleepless night because of coughing, I went to a local doctor’s office, without an appointment, saying I am new in town and could I please be seen by anyone who could help me?

“Welcome to Ohio,” said the receptionist, without any sarcasm, as she took down my information. I was hoping no one would know it was me. For I was looking and feeling like something the cat dragged in, half chewed and spit out. But sure enough, the question of my employment came up. She didn’t ask me for the address or phone of the church because of course we are the only Presbyterian Church in town. Then, one of the nurses, after she took my vitals, said that she and her husband are members of our church and that she had met me in December. She didn’t add when you were looking and sounding a whole lot better. She was kind.

The nurse practitioner, after the exam and good questions, gave me her diagnosis. “You have an Ohio cold,” she said, straight faced, and I liked her immediately. She said it in such a way that I felt proud to be in solidarity with all the sick of my community. Cause it seems like half my community is sick with the Ohio cold. So if you come up to me and tell me you have the Ohio cold, I can say, “I know that one!!! I’ve done that!”

And you can say to me with a wink, “Now you are truly one of us!”

***

Here we are on one of my favorite Sundays in the church year because this is SO important. The Transfiguration account is in all 3 gospels–Matthew, Mark and Luke. God is speaking loud and clear, repeating himself through different voices and perspectives not because the Lord is getting forgetful, but for emphasis. John may also be alluding to Christ’s Transfiguration in his gospel, summing it up in one verse in his first chapter, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth.

This is a pivotal moment, when heaven and earth come together on a high mountain; God and human beings; Old Testament and New Covenant. The past, present and future meet.

This is full of OT imagery. You have to know the Old Testament to understand. The Hebrew Bible was the only Scripture Jesus had–and this is how he came to know and love and teach about God. We’ve got to keep telling these stories to our children! They won’t know who Jesus was, is and is to come without studying the OT.

On to the imagery… Both Moses and Elijah met with God on a holy mountain. God’s form is a cloud–as it is in the Exodus story. Moses and Elijah are representing the law and the prophets–Torah and Nevi’im. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

One thing Luke tells us that Matthew and Mark don’t is why they go up the mountain. To pray! You have to wonder, how did Jesus convince these 3 to climb a mountain with him? And why did he choose them above the other disciples? They are fishermen, who before answering the call to fish for people lived in a little fishing village on the Sea of Galilee; they weren’t mountain climbers, farmers or shepherds! It may have been Mount Hermon; at 9,232 feet, it is the tallest mountain in Syria and straddles the border between Syria and Lebanon. Mount Hermon is near Caesarea Philippi, the ancient Roman city in what is now the Golan Heights of Syria. Caesarea Philippi is where Jesus was teaching and healing before the Transfiguration.

 

Hermonsnow

Mount Hermon

They are exhausted when they reach the top. Verse 32 says, “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” This is a shadow of what’s to come when Jesus takes the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane on the night that he is betrayed. And he tells them to stay awake and pray. And they keep falling asleep.

Luke’s account also tells what Jesus, Elijah and Moses were talking about. Matthew and Mark don’t tell us! Verse 31, They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” That word departure is the Greek word exodus, from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible written before but still used in Jesus’ time. Exodus tells of the Israelites’ deliverance from captivity and survival in the wilderness, with the promise of a new land. The word exodus can also mean “one’s departure from this life; one’s death.” Theologian and author Joel B. Green says (The Gospel of Luke, 382), “The encasement of Jesus’ mission in the language of exodus reminds us that whatever shape it takes, that mission is grounded in the purpose of God to bring liberation from bondage…. And if Jerusalem is the place where Jesus’ opposition will overtake him and bring him to his death, it is also the location of vindication through resurrection.”

The Transfiguration will become part of the disciples’ testimony, though not right away. Matthew, Mark and Luke all say they kept silent, telling no one in those days any of the things they had seen. In Mark, Jesus orders them not to say anything. In Matthew 7:9, he says as they are coming down the mountain, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Peter will write of this experience later, though he leaves out the part about how he was terrified and said, “Good thing we are here! We can build you houses!” He was afraid the Christ was leaving them at that very moment, and he wanted Jesus to stay and the divine encounter in a sacred and lonely space to go on forever.

In 2 Peter 2:16-18, the disciple says to the Church, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.  For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”

 

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Friends, we are now eyewitnesses. The key to this passage is sight— God-given vision that leads to spiritual understanding and righteous, faithful living. It has been written for those who have eyes to see and trust in God’s Only Son, the Beloved. But we must also have ears to hear–for God adds, just as he does at His Son’s baptism, “Listen to Him.” Listen doesn’t just mean “hear me.” It means, “Do what I say.”

The Transfiguration is a glimpse of the new reality for all believers who will, someday live in glorified, resurrected bodies with him.

I leave you with a question. Was Jesus really transfigured or was it the disciples? Maybe they were allowed to see him as he truly was and is–just for a moment–to strengthen them for the journey of faith, ministry and suffering that lies ahead.

This reminds me of the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-35, when 2 disciples walk home from Jerusalem after the crucifixion and the empty tomb and they are grieving. They think the women’s report of an angelic encounter is an idle tale. And Jesus is walking with them, all along, listening, questioning, then challenging and teaching. He says, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

When they reach their home, they urge Jesus to stay. They sit down at the table to eat; when Jesus takes bread, blesses and breaks it and begins to give it to them, their eyes are opened and they recognize him!

In a moment, we will commune together with the Lord at his table. I pray you will have another glimpse of the new reality for all of us because of what God has done through His Beloved Son. God’s Kingdom is already breaking in! He has opened the way to forgiveness and eternal life. He is the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets.

We come to the table in faith and prayer, as if we are invited to climb a holy mountain with Jesus and his followers in every time and place.

May God open our eyes that we may see Christ as He really is, ourselves as we really are, and be transfigured with him.

 

Let us pray.

 

Loving God, we thank you for the Holy encounters we have experienced when gathering around your Word, communing at your table, and serving in your name. Thank you for inviting us to be your disciples, for opening our eyes and teaching us the faith. Open our ears to hear your voice and truly listen to you and obey. Fill us anew with your Spirit, pour out your love into our hearts so that we may live as your transfigured, transformed, changed people forevermore and be eyewitnesses to your power, majesty and glory. In the name of your Beloved Son we pray. Amen.