Saturday, June 1, 2013

Church as community, community as church

Pastor Jim and I went to the Schuyler County Relay for Life last night.  Saw a wonderful community gather together, to remember, to work, and to hope.......which sounds a little like church to me (of course it does- I'm a pastor....;)  ) 

I saw people there for their own reasons- to raise money, to fight a disease, to remember those they loved who were fighting, and give tribute to those who had were playing football, and just running around in the beautiful chaos that is small children.  People were walking, dancing, laughing, talking, sitting, watching, cooking, eating, singing.

What struck me is that even though each person had their own personal set of memories/hopes/worries/fears...they were also all there, together, for a mutual thing, and a thing that is bigger than any of them individually.

And that is like church. Every Sunday (if we go to church on Sundays) we bring our own personal story, our own personal anxieties, memories, hopes, fears...and we join them, together with both the Holy Story, and the stories of others.  Others we might not know well, and others we have lived our whole lives with.  We might know everyone's story--and we might not know what personal struggles they are having.

But we gather together because, it is important and helpful to hear the larger story, the Holy Story, with others.  To see what they have gone through, to cry with them in sorrow, to rejoice with them in gladness, and always, always, to give thanks.

For we are held in a larger story, a story of love and hope.  And we need to hear that in community.  For in community, it takes flesh, it takes shape, it becomes real for us.

Even if it is hot and sticky and past bedtime and the bugs are out and your feet are hurting.  Amen.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

"Sticks and Stones" Sermon April 14, 2013


So!  It’s Easter!  Christ has risen, Alleluia!  Now we all go home, the church is planted and blooms, and we all live happily ever after.  Right?

Well, no.  In this long arc of story, which we began in Advent, with the Gospel of Luke, we now come to the book of Acts.  In our Bibles, it is labeled as “The Acts of the Apostles”.  Many believe that Luke and Acts had the same author, and it is one long narrative, in which Jesus begins his ministry in Galilee, moves to Jerusalem, and the Gospel spreads from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and eventually to all the world.

And we like to believe that the early church was pristine, holy, a place of love and light.  We sometimes look back to that time, or to times in between then and now, in the church, which we think were “the golden days”- no fighting, no factions, no conflict.

But that is not so.  It is entirely fiction.  The early church in Jerusalem, the earliest church, was as full of friction as the church is today.  There are several groups- the Judeans, the Hebrews, the Hellenists- those from Greek speaking cultures—and many others.  And apparently, things are not rosy.  Perhaps it was a traditional music vs praise band music fight.  Or a “from here vs come here” fight.  Or a disagreement about the hymnal, or the pews, or the color of the rug, or how much the Session should decide.  To make matters worse, the widows, the poorest of the poor, are apparently not getting taken care of—or at least that’s how it seems to some.

Acts 6:1-7

Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.” 5What they said pleased the whole community, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, together with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them. 7The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.


The word of God continued to spread, the widows are being fed, the whole community is happy with this arrangement.  Stephen, along with others, has been elected and ordained to what we now call the office of deacon.  Stephen is a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit.  Just the kind of fellow we’d love to have on the Board of Deacons or on Session. Things should go well from here, right?


8Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. 9Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), Cyrenians, Alexandrians, and others of those from Cilicia and Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen.

Woops.  Stephen is full of faith, doing signs and wonders.  Stephen didn’t stay in his assigned role.  He went from waiting on tables to preaching, and healing. And people are not happy. So not happy, that they trump up charges against him, get him arrested, hire false witnesses to make a charge of blasphemy.  And Stephen is dragged before the high priest, and asked if “these things are so?”

And Stephen, full of grace and power, stands up, and gives a big, long speech, recounting salvation history.  Much like the great prayer of thanksgiving, [which we will pray in a little bit], the big prayer we pray at communion, Stephen recounts the mighty acts of God…..

So!  Every one, won over by his rhetoric and his faith, is astounded by his wisdom, they clap him on the back, they apologize for the mis-understanding, and they all go home and live happily ever after…..right?

Again, no.  Sadly, the early church does as poorly with conflict as we do now. Stephen ends his great prayer of thanksgiving with this:


51”You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.”

As you can imagine, this was not received well.

54When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning him. Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

8And Saul approved of their killing him.

This is the word of the Lord….Thanks be to God.

So.  Not a happy ending.  Certainly NOT the way for the church, the church of Christ to behave.

Stephen is doing exactly what Christ calls him to do, is behaving in a Christ-like manner- he knows his Scripture, he calls the church to account- that’s that part about being “stiff necked”, and then, when he is being killed- literally- by his own church members—he forgives them.

In reading this passage with the Elders in Lodi, we talked about conflict, about how the early church handled conflict—when the widows were not receiving their portion, the whole community talked, they came up with a solution, they implemented a plan.  It went well—the problem was solved, the widows were being fed--and yet a few short verses later, they are stoning a fellow church member to death. 

Stephen, I hope, remembers Jesus words- “Blessed are you when people hate you…Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven. But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.

Stephen has certainly done that.  Stephen is called the first Christian martyr.  Martyr comes from the Greek word for “witness” or “testimony.” Stephen has given his witness, both in his words, and in his calling for forgiveness for those who killed him. And—to add salt to the wound—Saul—who will later become Paul—is unmoved.  He approves of the killing, he holds the cloaks of the people throwing stones, so they won’t get stolen—and remains unconvinced.  In fact, it takes getting knocked off his horse—by God—to show Saul the light.

In Easter we celebrate God's raising from death the Righteous One, whose wounded hands and feet remain palpable. For those who persist in God's way, suffering awaits. Ask Moses. Ask Jesus. Ask Stephen. Ask Paul. In this season of new life, Luke summons the church to bear fruits that taste of repentance (Luke 3:8).


So I ask ourselves- what kind of a church are we?  What kind of a church do we want to be?  What kind of a church does God call us to be?  I have a friend from seminary, who, when interviewing with churches, always asks them “How does your church handle conflict?”  Often there is an uncomfortable silence, some awkward body language around the table.  And most often, the answer is “Oh, we don’t have conflict…not really.”  But all of life has conflict—even in the church.  Maybe especially in the church. 

Do we want to be a church that discusses, that works together in conflict?  Do we want to be—are we—a church that stones people—even if we use metaphorical stones instead of real ones?  Are we a church that stands by, not actively picking up a rock, but approving from our seat, while others do the hurling of stones?

To follow Jesus is to die like Jesus.  Perhaps conflict is the call to die to ourselves, and follow Christ.

Christ will always have a church.  God is at work today, as God was at the beginning of the church, in Jerusalem, in that long salvation history that Stephen preached, in the long prayer we say at the Table.  God works through imperfect people, stubborn people, stiff-necked people.  The Good News goes forward.  Perhaps the name of this book of the Bible should not ne the Acts of the Apostles, but “The Acts of God”. 

Because Saul does get knocked off his horse, by God.  The church does grow, and spread.  Even today, when we say the church is dying, the church is expanding and growing.  The Good News does go out, in spite of stiff-necked people like us, the church. Thanks be to God.

Monday, February 25, 2013

"God is like a Chicken" Feb 24, 2013

Luke 13:1-9

13At that very time there were some present who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

6Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ 8He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”

This is the word of the Lord….thanks be to God



Luke 13: 31-35

31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

This is the word of the Lord…thanks be to God


A few years ago, there was a candidate for the office of minister of Word and Sacrament.  She was a young woman, fresh out of seminary, and was being examined on the floor of her Presbytery.  She read her faith statement, and then the time came for questions.  And there were many questions-especially questions about her use of pro-nouns—she had  used both male and female pronouns to refer to God.  This caused quite a dilemma, and noisy and heated discussion and questions began to fly across the room.  After some time, a saint, a woman elder, asked to be recognized and slowly made her way to the microphone.  Standing at about 4 feet eleven inches, this elderly woman said “She might have said God is like a chicken.  She could have said God is like a chicken.  But she dinn’t.  Now settle down.  She’ll be fine, and we’ll all be fine.”  And then that saint went back to her pew, and the young woman was approved to be a Teaching Elder.

This was the text that saint was talking about.

Jesus refers to himself as being like a mother hen—a hen who wants to gather her chicks in, under her sheltering wings, a hen who both protects her children and worries, broods over them.

In the beginning, when God began creating the world, the Spirit of God hovered over the waters- the same word as “broods”.  God hovers, God broods, God worries over us.  God longs to shelter us under her wings.

There are many images, Scriptural images, to use for God.  God is a rock, 1 Samuel says.  God is a covenant maker, warrior, a redeemer and liberator, says the book of Exodus.  In Hosea, we see God as husband and lover, in the Psalms, God is likened to a storm, in Job, as a whirlwind. In the Gospel of Luke, God is compared to a woman searching for a coin, and a woman mixing yeast into dough. The Old Testament name for God, El Shaddai, can mean “the breasted God”.

 There are many metaphors, ways of describing God- “God is ‘like’”- because God can never be contained, never be captured, never be constrained to just one image, just one word, just one way of looking at or thinking about God. God, who created humans in God’s image, male and female, is outside of gender assignments and in Trinity, is community and relationship, yet remains One God.  A mystery that no words can explain. 

In the Bible, there are also animal metaphors for God—lion, leopard, even eagle. Surely any of those would have been more flattering, more magnificent, than a chicken. There’s a reason we tell jokes about chickens crossing the road.

But when Jesus compares himself to a mother hen, it is an expression of love- as one who will do whatever it takes to protect those baby chicks from the menacing fox.  Even to the point of giving his own life in the hope that they will be spared. 


For a hen is no match for a fox, not really.  And yet that is the way of the Gospel.  The upside-down-ness of the kingdom of God.   It is about things that seem foolish being wise, it is about love sacrificing for others, it is about being held in the embrace of the One who created us, the One who is love.

 The fox is at the henhouse, but Jesus, having set his face to go to Jerusalem, will not be deterred.  “I am casting out demons and performing cures today, and tomorrow—and on the third day I finish my work.” 


Jesus also refers to himself as a gardener- like God, in the garden at the beginning.  But in this parable, Jesus is the gardener who advocates, who intervenes for us.  Just a little more time, he asks- let me tend this plant, let me take care of it.  A gardener who digs in the soil, who digs around the plant, gets his hands dirty, who puts his back into the work.  A gardener who calls for more time for us to turn to him, to turn to God, to blossom and bear fruit.

As our last hymn, we will sing “Immortal, Invisible, God only wise”- which gives many names and images for God- Ancient of Days, light, most glorious, unceasing, just and immense.  No words about dirt, or manure, or shovels.  No words about chickens, certainly.  But that is how Christ, God with us, describes himself.  Jesus who spent his life among the poor, the oppressed, the victims.  Not in power, not in castles, but in rural back lanes and villages and towns. And in the henhouse. With us.

And that is where the image finally comes home. We enter this story as that brood of chicks who are scattered, distracted, unable, somehow, to comprehend the very real danger which is threatening.  Jesus' lament over Jerusalem is also over you and me and this world which all too often does not turn, does not repent, does not seek shelter in the arms of God.  That too often, we do not say “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord.” 


So we gather in this season of Lent, knowing fully our need for repentance. We gather knowing that while God tends us, there are times when steadfastly refuse to bloom and bear fruit. And it would appear that our sin is what it has always been: to refuse to receive the love given to us. Our call is to receive that love, to be in relationship with God and others, and to live into all the gifts God intends for us.





Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Sermon 2/17/2013


Luke 10:25-42

25A lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” 27He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” 28And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.” 29But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. 31Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. 32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. 34He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ 36Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

38Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

This is the word of the Lord ….thanks be to God


We start this mornings’ gospel  lesson with a parable- a story about earthly things that has heavenly meaning, as some describe it .  It is followed by the story of Jesus as a guest in the house of Martha.  We often hear or read these two stories separately- but it is enlightening to hear them together, to let them speak to and inform each other.

A  lawyer- not a lawyer as we know it , but a scribe, a biblical scholar, stands up to test Jesus. The son of God. About the bible.  And Mary, cooking and preparing for the big crowd of freeloaders that hangs out with Jesus, also comes, out of the kitchen, to test Jesus.  

Both of them- the lawyer and Martha- want something more from Jesus.  Want him to clarify and enforce the rules.  THE RULES, Jesus.  We just want some clear, definitive ruling here- what must I do to get eternal life, which sister is doing the most important work. Both want to justify themselves-the scribe, with his learning and behavior, and Martha, wanting acknowledgement for and help in her work.

And neither one gets the answer they were hoping for.

For in the kingdom of God, the old rules don’t apply.  Remember, back  even before Jesus was born, and his mother sang that song about the poor being made full, and the powerful being knocked off their thrones, remember, that first sermon Jesus  preached  about how God’s love is not restricted to a certain tribe or race….remember?

This  Ash Wednesday reading was about Jesus setting his face toward Jerusalem, to go to the cross and death and the future God had prepared for him.  And he told those who wanted to follow him that the things that got in the way of being in the Kingdom of God were….useless.  Not priorities.  The things that society, and culture, and propriety told them were right and important are wrong and useless.  Burying the dead, saying goodbye to your family, patriotism, taking care of business…all beside the point.

As Presbyterians, we have in our communal memory and tradition the Westminster Catechism.  Written in the 1640s, it is in question and answer form.  And the first question it asks is this:  “What is the chief end of humanity?”  That is, what is our purpose?  What are we made for?  Why do we exist, what is the highest form of our being?

What is the chief end of humanity?  And the answer is this:  “To love God and enjoy God forever”. 

The elders recently watched a series of short videos, part of a lecture, given by Rodger Nishioka, a professor of Christian Education, and a ruling elder in the PC(USA).  His area is primarily youth and young adults .  And he says that youth and young adults—but he says it applies to all of us as well—want 2 things- purpose, and community.  Purpose- what am I here for? And community-  Where do I belong?

The scribe in the gospel story is forced to deal with community—who IS my neighbor?  Not only that, but who is neighbor to me.  Because we need to think of ourselves not as the Good Samaritan—of course, we were brought up to help, we were boy scouts or girl scouts, but when we come to this story, we need to ask the question as if we were the one lying in the ditch—if I were half dead, if I were naked and beaten and thrown out to the side of the road,  who would I rather die than be rescued by? 

At the end of the parable, the scribe, the lawyer, the expert in biblical law cannot even bring himself to say the word “Samaritan”.  He mumbles out…”the one who showed him mercy.”  “Go and do likewise”  Jesus tells the expert.  Go and do likewise- break out of your tribe, be involved, even at your own cost and own risk, do mercy to others who are not like you, and more importantly, receive mercy from others who are not like you.  Experience what it is to be needy, to receive instead of always being the giver.

Martha wants Mary to do likewise—at least likewise like her, in the kitchen, cooking and scrubbing pots and pans and waiting tables.  What is Martha’s purpose?  It is to serve—to serve the guests  in the household, it is to show hospitality.  Hospitality is lifted up, celebrated in the gospel of Luke- there are lots of stories about banquets- in fact, Jesus gets called a glutton and a party hound for eating and drinking so much. Martha feels like Mary needs to be part of this hospitality thing, too, but on the serving side, not the sitting at Jesus feet side.  Mary has got the “enjoy God forever” part down.  It must have seemed like forever to Martha, anyway, slaving alone in the kitchen.

So when Martha tried to justify herself, she also gets a surprise—Jesus doesn’t reprimand Mary, but says instead “she has chosen the better portion”.  Mary has chosen to not follow the laws of hospitality, which are deeply ingrained in Middle Eastern culture, but instead chooses to listen to Jesus.  Last week we heard the Transfiguration story, about the voice that came out of the cloud, and said “This is my Son.  Listen to him.”  Well, Mary certainly got that message, even if she wasn’t there on the mountaintop. So.  Go and do likewise.  Sit still and listen.

The rules Jesus.  We want the rules- which is it?  Go and do?  Sit and listen?  Love God or love neighbor? just tell us, and we will follow your rule. 

That’s the problem with discernment.  That’s the problem with the life of faith.  While we would like big flashing road signs, or neon lights, or big arrows telling us which way to go, we know that reality is less definitive, less clear.

But that doesn’t mean it is not possible.  It does mean that the goo d news is always good, but also often hard.  Because in a world—and a gospel—in which the whole world is turned upside down, we often don’t know what to do or who to listen to.  In the kingdom of God, love of God and love of neighbor are not so easily sorted out. They are so intertwined that they are not easily divided into two piles, two choices, two worlds. So I ask us again- what is our purpose?  What are we created for?  Who is our community?

In each of these stories, the boundaries are stretched and the priorities are upended. Because the kingdom of God has come near in Jesus Christ.  

Rodger Nishioka, mentioned earlier, tells another story.  A story about the time he and some youth were in New York City, and some of the youth wanted to go shopping at Bloomingdales, and some did not, so the shoppers got half an hour, while the non-shoppers waited outside and people watched.  And as they are watching and waiting, they see, on the other side of Lexington Ave, 5 lanes of traffic and a stream of yellow cabs, a little old woman, with her walker, attempting to cross the street.  And Rodger and the youth are just watching, almost horrified, because this woman is not moving quickly, and there’s no way, they think, that she’ll be able to get across 5 lanes of traffic.  And this is New York City. Those taxi cabs are not going to patiently wait for her to cross.  Before they can get to her, they see a city sanitation worker, also over on the other side of the street, emptying trash cans into the truck.  And he sees what is going on.  And he is a big, big African American guy in an orange jumpsuit and fluorescent safety vest.  And he walks out into traffic- all 5 lanes of it- and holds up his hands….and traffic stops.  Even when the light changes, they stop. He escorts her to the curcb. And the woman safely crosses the street.  Well, the youth on the sidewalk just spontaneously burst into applause and cheering.  Yay!  Good for you!  You rock, man!  And the man, does a double-take- and points to himself- me?  And the youth are still cheering- Yay!  Yeah, good on you man!  And the man takes a little bow, and then turns, and goes back to his truck and his life. 

In devotions that evening, one of the kids, all the way from Missoula, Montana says “I saw God today”.  And one of the other youth says – “Where did you see God?”  “ I never would have believed it.  God is a huge, handsome black man in an orange jumpsuit and yellow reflective vest. And God helped this woman across the street.  I am going back home to Montana and telling people that God lives in New York City”. (Rodger Nishioka, Columbia Theological Seminary, 2012)

In this Christian life we are called—sometimes to act, sometimes to listen.  But always, always, we are called to be aware of the action of God in the world- and we are always, always to testify- to the love of God given to us in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

"Not Cool"

Luke 9:28-36

28Now Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now 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. 33Just 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. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When 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.

This is the word of the Lord….Thanks be to God


Today is one of those arcane, little known celebration Sundays in the Presbyterian World.  According to the calendar, today is Camp and Conference Ministries Sunday.  It is a day for us to remember, and give thanks for, the camps and conference centers that help shape faith and life.  We especially lift up our own Camp, Camp Whitman, and we, in fact, will be singing a camp song as our last hymn this morning.

Camps are places where you go to live with other people, some known to you, some strangers—but at the end of 2 weeks in a very small cabin, you know each other really well.  It is a time for s’mores, and talent night, and standing in line to wash your hands or take your turn on the banana boat.  It is a time and place to deepen your faith, or perhaps grow some if yours is just a fledling faith, it is a time and place to practice living in a community built on the love of Christ. 

It is a time and place for mountaintop experiences—times when you feel the love of God so strongly, the presence of God so tangibly, that you don’t have words to communicate what or who you saw, much less think that anyone back home will believe you anyway.

And it is a time and place and experience that pretty much ruin you for the rest of the world.  A friend of ours used to say that her daughter came back from camp so holy nobody could stand to be around her for the first two weeks or so- before it rubbed off, before the glory and the light faded, before things got back to normal.

Which is what seems to have happened to the disciples.  They have been up on a mountaintop, they have seen the glory, they have seen Moses and Elijah and Jesus- AND THEY WANT TO STAY UP THERE- but then the light dims, and the glory fades, and they are left standing there, blinking their eyes.  And they go down the mountain. And they told no-one nothing. Yeah, I bet they did

How could they?  What could they possibly say?  There was light, and a cloud, and a voice….


“Listen to him”  the voice said. This is my son, my chosen- listen to him!  If the voice out there  in the Jordan river, that day that Jesus was baptized, said to Jesus as he came up out of the water: “You are my son, the beloved, with you I am well pleased”, this voice is directed at the disciples- “this is my son. Listen to him”.

But I’m pretty sure they don’t.  And really, how could they?  What with all the lights and the cloud and being half asleep and stark raving terrified, it would be hard to listen to anything or anybody.

So, they all go down the mountain.  And Jesus goes with them

Luke 9:37-45

37On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

43And all were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, 44“Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” 45But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying.

This is the word of the Lord…..Thanks be to God


Apparently Jesus is a little short on sleep as well as the disciples, because he sounds cranky- a man brings his son to Jesus to be healed- sound familiar?  We’ve already heard the story of the healing of the centurion, and the restoring to life of the widow’s dead son- this man begs Jesus for help…and Jesus gives what seems to us a rude and short tempered answer- and it’s not really clear if Jesus is annoyed with the man, or with the disciples who tried to heal the boy and didn’t quite do it, or if Jesus is just sick and tired of death and illness and despair, and has had enough. But Jesus rebukes the demon, heals the boy, and gives him back to his father.

End of story, right?  They all go home, Jesus has a snickers bar, and he is returned to his normal, peace loving, mercy giving self. 

But no. Jesus has more words for the disciples.

He says to them:  “Let these words sink into your ears”.  But the original language is a little rougher than that- literally, “stick this in your ears”- the equivalent of “stick that in your pipe and smoke it”- or something ruder still.

Jesus tells them that the Son of Man is going to be betrayed, handed over into human hands. Not cool Jesus.  Not cool.  He has already told them this: that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.  Apparently the disciples didn’t like that, and so just conveniently pretended not to hear it.

I don’t know how many of you have seen the video by a sweet, chubby faced kid named “kidpresident” who is in a video for people who need a peptalk.  And this kid, dressed in a suit and tie, reads part of the poem “The Road Less Traveled”.

He takes out a crumpled piece of paper, and in his best, 7 year old serious voice, reads a poem we learned in school- “Two roads diverged in the woods and I took the road less traveled”

But the kidpresident goes off script and begins yelling “and it hurts, man. Really bad.  Rocks!  Thorns!  Glass!   Not cool, Robert Frost”. 

Not cool.  Not cool Jesus, to start talking about death—your death.  Not cool to start talking about taking up the cross and denying myself in the same breath you talk about following you. 

Not cool.  Up on the mountaintop?  That was cool.  Talk about death and suffering-definitely  not cool.

But what kidpresident is yelling about is precisely that Robert Frost has not told the whole truth. And it is what the disciples are so stunned about- that the way of Jesus, the way of the cross, the road less traveled is hard, with glass and thorns and pain.

Which is why the disciples needed to hear that voice on the mountain—the one that said “Listen to him”.

It is interesting to note that Jesus, up on the mountain top, spends time in prayer.   As Presbyterians, we do a lot of praying.  But I also have to say that, as Presbyterians, we use a lot of words and do a lot of talking.  We are not so good at listening. Spending time in silence, waiting for God to speak.  After the request list, after praying for people we know and love, after praying for peace in the world, to just……listen.


“Prayer is a way of attuning ourselves to God and to our shared life” (  And prayer is a practice- a spiritual practice, but a practice nonetheless.  Malcolm Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to become exceptional at something- a tennis swing, or playing the piano. Even if you are naturally gifted—it still takes that many hours of practice. 

Perhaps part of what this story in Luke is telling us, that as we pray we grow not just more comfortable but also more competent and confident at thinking about all of our lives in relation to God and our Christian faith. (David Lose, ibid). Anne LaMott just wrote a book about prayer titled “Help. Thanks. Wow”, which are, to her, all the prayers that there are.  But I would also say that simply listening for God is prayer, too- perhaps the one we need the most practice in.

And so we are going to do that, today.  In a little bit, we will have our prayers of the people.  And there will be spoken words, but also times of silence.  Some of that may make us feel uncomfortable—that’s okay.  Practice is often like that.

And we will practice again, this coming Wednesday, at the Ash Wednesday service.  There will be words and music, but there will also be silence.  I hope you will join us at Lodi.

And I hope—no, I pray—because as your pastor, I pray for you—I pray that during the holy time of Lent, you will practice silence.  And Listen for God.