Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Glimpses of the Divine

I preached a sermon on 19 February 2010, Transfiguration Sunday. Here is a written version of the message summarized (this is not the preached sermon word for word):

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It is the Sunday we remember Jesus on the mountain revealing His glory to Peter, James and John. The story of the Transfiguration is found in all three synoptic gospels. The one I used here is from Luke 9:28-36.

Jesus' Transfiguration is a glimpse of God peeking out. John Wesley describes the transformation as divine rays "darting out." Jesus' earthly form was only a veil over the divine, and Peter, james and John were blessed with a vision of the glory of Christ behind the veil. It was a glimpse of what would come -- one they never expected to see.

There are, in fact, a few points we can take away from thier experience. The first is blunt: if we take God for granted, He becomes ordinary. To the disciples, God was a distant being. They knew Jesus. He was a miraculous man, who did miraculous things, but as amazed as they were, they got used to it. Jesus became normal.

We see a modern-day example of this in an experiment conducted by the Washington Post in which Joshua Bell, a world class violinist played 45 minutes in a D.C. metrostation to rush-hour traffic. He was largely disregarded, and this premier musician, who had sold out a Boston concert with an average ticket price of $100, had collected a mere $32 in the violin case he uses to carry the $3.5 million instrument he used in this experiment.

The same thing that happened to him often happens between us an God. Jesus was an ordinary guy for all anyone could tell by just looking at Him. His appearance was, perhaps, unimpressive, but His appearance was not important. His power was in His words. Then Jesus took Peter, John, and James aside and they saw Him transformed from the form of a servant to the image of God in glory with Moses and Elijah beside Him and God's voice coming from a cloud all attesting to the authority and divinity of Jesus as the Christ.

God can be shocking. I imagine Peter's internal monologue was something akin to, "Wow, I didn't see that coming!" The experience was completely unexpected even though he had already declared his belief in Jesus as the Christ. We declare our faith every Sunday in the mystery and miracle of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Maybe we don't understand it. Maybe we take it for granted. Maybe we just don't think about God being mixed in with the everyday. We don't expect to see Him there. So sometimes, when we get too comfortable with God, He comes up behind us and hits us in the head with Glory (WHACK!). Our response, like Peter's, is often, "Wow, I didn't see that coming." Peter's audible response was less than profound, but he was human; and as humans we don't often know what to say to God. But  God knows what we need and when we need it.

Sometimes the moments we are closest to God are the ones when we are quiet apart. When we can be away from distraction, make God our priority, and turn all our focus to Him -- like here with the three disciples. Their experience was special, and it is one we might have ourselves, if we are open to it. In quiet moments, Christ shines in our hearts. We are illuminated from within, when we make ourselves open to Christ's grace. It is a radience we can feel.

But the God experience is both personal and corporate. We don't just experience connection with God in a booth off by ourselves. Christ said, "I am the light of the world." (John 8:12) not "Iam the light of individuals only." We need Christ's community, our church family. For John Wesley, religion was social. His transformative moment came diring a worship service. Christ also said, "Let your light shine before men." (Matt 5:16) The Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations. We do that by taking the God-shine in our hearts and sharing it with others.

The Transfiguration is our "wow" moment when we get a glimpse that reminds us that there is more to this than what we think we know and perceive. Christ came back down from the mountain because the job wasn't done yet. There was more to do before Jesus' ministry could be complete. When we reach Transfiguration Sunday we are at a transition. It is the last Sunday before Lent -- a season of somber, sober preparation as we move from Christ's ministry into His journey to the Cross. We are reminded to trust God because God has it all in hand. Over the next six Sundays we can look back to this glimpse of glory as a reminder of Christ's divinity. We can expect that divinity to return and know that it will never fall short.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Sharing our Journey with Others

I have a theory about why people get annoyed when confronted with witness, and I don't mean the knocking on the door at dinnertime witness or the condescending, hell-fire and brimstone, or judgment and condemnation witnesses. I mean when you're chatting companionably and turn the conversation with a, "Come to church with me," or a, "Bible study was great. You should come," or a plain, "Let me tell you what God means to  me." The thing that turns a non-believer off may actually be that the Christian across from them is so stinking happy! For instance, one might say: "Even when they're unhappy, they start spouting faith and find something happy about it. I mean, gosh, it's annoying already. Don't you guys ever get tired of being happy?"

The truth is, yes, faith and trust can wear a person out when things get tough. Contentment is a hard thing to maintain in light of life's wild turns. But we shouldn't let the things we don't have let us take our minds off of what we do have, and first and foremost we have Christ and Christ's forgiveness - His promise of new life. But here's the kicker: Christ is the Master in the relationship. We have to submit to and serve Him before we can call ourselves children of God, be adopted into His household, sit at His banquet, and share in His inheritance.

There is where many balk. Example: How can those Christians be so happy when they're shouting, "We serve you, oh, Master!" Wasn't the "happy slave" myth debunked with the rest of that idiocy after the American Civil War? It seems rather oxy-"moron"-ic.

Let's take a line from the United Methodist communion liturgy and give it a second look. It says in part: "delivered us from slavery to sin and death." That one tripped me up until my English major mind broke the sentence up and reconstructed it. Christ did not deliver us into the hands of sin and death, but rescued us from being slaves of sin and death. The next section says: "and made with us a new covenant." He didn't just set us loose and say, "Be on your way." He provides for us, cares for us, and nurtures us as children in our fledgling faith. Our servanthood in Christ is like being released from a life-long death sentence every single day all day long. Who wouldn't be happy? I feel like singing!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Another Step Forward

Yesterday, I took one more step on the road to life-long servitude, and I AM LOVING IT!

Yesterday evening, I moved into another step of the candidacy process (#2 of abt 2mill) for ordination as a deacon in the United Methodist Church. The Staff-Parish Relations Committee at my church (University UMC) has voted to recommend me to the district, and I am a "Beginning" Candidate now. What that means is I can now officially go to the District Superintendent to request that I be assigned a mentor to help guide me through the process and that I have paperwork - a small trickle now compared to the increasing flow and eventual deluge I will face later on. But that is later.

In the meantime, I'm waiting on confirmation of acceptance from Candler Theological at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga. I feel so positive about that I may sound overconfident, but I have had moments of sheer joy and or utter peace that make me sure I have aimed in the direction God chose and can not miss this target. I trust, and I feel secure. (UPDATE: No, I did not get accepted to Candler, But I haven't lost that trust and joy in this path. I realize I was being overconfident and really narrow in my focus.)

I started the application process at Asbury seminary as well, but did not prioritize it because Candler felt so certain. Asbury is in Wilmore, Ky just outside of Lexington. It seems a nice school, and comes well recommended. The people there have been very friendly and helpful. They are the incredibly strong second choice. Either way, I'm very excited. (UPDATE: Asbury has been sending me things two and three times a week to help me along with my application and remind me what's next on their calendar. I realize that the peace and joy I feel are not in picking a specific school but from following Christ and trusting in God to get me where I'm supposed to be.)

By the end of the year, I expect the church's charge conference will put the next step of my candidacy to a vote. After that, I can go before the dCOM with more paperwork - several different forms and essays and 14 copies of each. That is still later, though not as much later as the final result. Ordination could be 4-6 (or more) years later, but in the end, I could actually be wearing a stole for special occasions. I will, of course be wearing blue-jeans and boots every day because with God's work, only the getting dirty can wash your heart truly clean. (I came up with that all by myself) GOD IS SO WORTH IT!