It’s only been six days since Jesus rebuked Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” for not understanding picking up the cross as the purpose of Jesus’ life and the only way for disciples to follow. Now blinded by the light Peter wants to stay put and dwell permanently on the mountaintop. It’s the voice, “LISTEN TO HIM” that shuts Peter up and overcome by fear he and his companions faint dead away. It takes the touch and voice of Jesus, “get up and do not be afraid” to wake them and then sworn to secrecy they descend to the less frightening and more familiar places on the plain. It’s a strange story but then that’s the nature of a theophany. The recognizable transfigured into the mysterious as the Jesus who ate and drank with disciples in the valley glows like a nuclear reactor on the mountain top while talking to the long gone law giver and end time prophet about God knows what. So we who are comfortable with “What a friend we have in Jesus” also sing “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise” and hold the two in tension. The familiar and friendly Jesus is the One who in the beginning was the Word and in the end will be judge and jury of all. It may be that in our end, when we come face to face with that terrifying reality, we will faint dead away, but then I’m trusting that the Lord Jesus will touch us and “Get up and do not be afraid” will be the only Word we hear.
Friday, February 24, 2017
Thursday, February 23, 2017
2 Peter 1:16-21
It is a testimony to the conviction of the first disciples that anyone believed what surely must have seemed less of a cleverly devised myth and more just outright nonsense. But people did believe the eyewitness testimony of these Galilean fishermen and then with equal passion proclaimed the crucified and resurrected Jewish peasant preacher Jesus, who they had never seen, to be the Beloved of God and Savior of the world. Whenever we are tempted to despair of the statistical decline of the church we would do well to pay attention to the lamp of their prophetic message which still shines in the darkness of our time; not because we fear some future final judgment but because we are convinced that the same word that captured the imagination of first century people is equally relevant in our own. Perhaps the church grew complacent for a time, satisfied with the status quo, but the prophetic word is always present and just waiting for those who believe to give it voice. So let us pray that the day will dawn and the morning star will rise in our hearts as it did in the disciples and moved by the Holy Spirit we will make known the power and coming of our Lord Jesus.
Wednesday, February 22, 2017
Let me start by kissing the Lord’s feet and acknowledge that God is God and I am not, so if God wants to speak with wrath and fury to break the nations and smash the people to pieces that is God’s prerogative. But I have some trouble with this text where God laughs at and then with terrifying fury uses his servant to destroy kings who exalt themselves. That’s because people without power perish right along with princes and the king God set on Zion’s hill broke a long list of nations with an iron rod and spared no one, not even women and children. And secondly it would appear the trembling foot kissers taking happy refuge in the Lord are only doing so to avoid being destroyed themselves, for God’s wrath is quickly kindled if proper respect is not shown. So what do we do with the second psalm? We can say there is truth in these words and there are good reasons to destroy rulers of the earth who exalt themselves. But when it comes to the nature of God this is not the truest word. The truest word about God’s nature is that instead of kissing the Lord’s feet we nailed them to wood and “Father forgive them” was clearly not a second psalm response.
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
In some ways the ancient stories sound odd to modern ears. The glory of the Lord in thick clouds and a devouring fire on the top of the mountain sounds a lot like one of the lightning strikes I heard the other night and even though the closest one may have warranted an “Oh my God!” I understand lightning in scientific terms. The ancients saw God’s hand at work in the timing of what we know as naturally occurring phenomenon. But then we “moderns” often do the same thing by giving extra-ordinary meaning to everyday events as when instead of turning left we turn right and a chance encounter bears blessings. So I guess I’m okay with the children of Israel camped before the mountain giving glory to the Lord for what may well have been Mt. Sinai having a little volcanic hiccup and spewing some smoke. It’s Moses entering the cloud of mountain top devouring fire that defies explanation. He was a reluctant leader in the very beginning and even though barefoot he carried on a conversation with a burning bush he was always looking for a way out. Of course the Lord provided that through signs and wonders, not the least of which was the parting of the sea, but that’s not what Moses had in mind. In some ways God has worn down his reluctant leader so that when summoned to come up to the mountain and camp Moses obeys and does not complain. Maybe a faith that follows without complaining or seeking a way out has less to do with spiritual discipline and more to do with God wearing us down so that like Moses the way out is really the only way in.
Friday, February 17, 2017
Nikolaï Gay (1831-1894)
These are dangerous words and those who attempt to practice them don’t last very long. Evil doers not resisted are free to do evil to those who fail to fight back. Giving away coat and cloak, going the extra mile, giving to everyone who begs or wants to borrow means the giver goes without. Loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you means they win and you lose and no one wants to be a capital L loser. We’d much rather bring a world of hurt down on the head of those who mess with us and given the opportunity we utterly destroy our enemies and turn the table on those who persecute us making them rue the day they were born. We can always fall back on “saved by grace” and confess like the apostle Paul the good we would do we don’t and the evil we don’t want to do we do, although a more truthful confession is that loving enemies is the last “good” thing we’d ever want to do. Look at what being perfect and forgiving those who “know not what they do” got Jesus. If that’s what perfection leads to I want no part of it and if you are honest neither do you. So let’s resolve to be less than perfect and keep the practice of our faith safely inside the four walls of our sanctuaries and maybe a little charity on the side as long as it doesn’t cost too much and the people who benefit from our generosity are sufficiently grateful. I trust Jesus will understand, after all he’s got to live by his own words and I’m betting I can borrow a little slack and get a free pass on loving my enemies. If that’s a slap in Jesus’ face I’m sorry, but I trust he’ll turn the other cheek. That just sounds wrong doesn’t it? It even makes me uncomfortable and I wrote it, but that’s what we do when we fail to take these words seriously and put them into practice. We call that failure sin and sin is never more deceptive than when it is practiced by the pious who insulate the life of faith from life in the world, the world that Jesus died to save by a perfection that got him punished. So what do we do? Maybe perfection is a process and what I do today is the foundation for what I might do tomorrow and slowly but surely the life of faith has less to do with an hour on Sunday morning, as important as that is to many of us, and more to do with using the other waking hours of the days of our week to practice the perfection of mercy and kindness and love. God knows there are plenty of opportunities in a week to get it right. And all sarcasm aside we do always rely on saved by grace (without slapping Jesus in the face) because Jesus has a robe of righteousness he's dying to give us.