The intro....

I've created this blog as a simple way of posting my sermons as I write them and possibly speak them. (occasionally I'll have recordings of the preaching of the sermon) I won't have sermons to preach every Sunday because I'm not going to write sermons that I don't have to preach, but I'll post what I do preach. Feel free to post comments/criticisms, I'm no pro and feedback is a great way to get better.


Transmogrification of our Lord and/or Peter and the rest of us

This sermon is about the story that is traditionally called Transfiguration of our Lord.  You will hopefully be able to see in the following story how accurate I find that title.  I had a lot of fun with this sermon and I preached it at the Apache Junction Campus which sits square in a suburban neighborhood with a bright, clear view of Superstition Mountain.
 The text is: Matthew 17:1-9 you can click to read it.

I am the child of two worlds…. Now you’re probably all thinking that I mean that in some really deep metaphorical way… maybe something like the world of light and the world of dark, or the world of heaven and the world of… the world… and while those might be actually true in some deep theological way, this time all I mean is that my Mom is from the Midwest, Missouri specifically, and my Dad is from Colorado. But truly, when you’re only 6 years old and it takes forever just to get to the grocery store and back, Missouri and Colorado with the 600 some miles between them really do feel worlds apart. Now, what the meant for me as a child was that, by the time I was about 6 I was pretty familiar with that stretch of I-70 between Denver and Kansas City and I got used to that feeling of hours and hours of flat, straight highway surrounded by fields of corn or wheat stretching on to the horizon. When I was a little older and driving myself to and from college in Decorah, IA I got used to that stretch of I-80 across Nebraska and Iowa, a whole new interstate, a whole new state, and the same old view…. Miles and miles of Eisenhower’s interstate system, straight enough to land the space shuttle on. And nothing against the fine states of Nebraska and Kansas, but there is not much to look at when you’re driving through them. Those long car trips were a test of my tolerance for consistency because there was a rhythm to those trips and it was easily to get in tune with it, the steady beat of the cracks in the road, the hum of the engine running so consistently, the steady drone of the wind running past the windows, the miles are like days, one after the other just rolling on by, different in small little ways, but mostly the same…. And then everything changes…
Everything changes because when you’re driving West on I-70, across Kansas, there is a point in the road where you climb a slow gentle hill and as you get toward the crest of that hill the road turns to the left, and if you started from Kansas city early in the morning wanting to avoid driving in the dark, then right as you make that left turn the world opens up in front of you and the whole glory of the Rocky Mountains is lit on fire by the sun setting right among them. It is a very dramatic point in any journey. Whether it is the first time your eyes have seen a mountain range, or just the first time in awhile, whether it was the symbol of new adventures and a new place to live, or just the sign that I was almost home.
When you’re talking about Mountains you don’t need to use metaphors because for anything you would want to say about them, a Mountain is probably the number one symbol to use. Mountains are immense, and powerful, and calm, and nurturing and eternal… And I don’t need to explain to you about that because here in this valley we are surrounded by mountains, and they might not rise as dramatically as the Rocky Mountains from the Great Plains but it is easy to look up at the Superstition Mountains and feel at once comforted by and in awe of how big and powerful and stirring they are.
This, then, is the stage for today’s Gospel. And this is not a coincidence or just a casual reference to Exodus. Today’s Gospel takes place on the mountain because the mountain is where these kinds of things happen. These kinds of revolutionary, transforming moments happen on mountains. You can see an example of that in today’s reading from Exodus, and you’ve been hearing these past weeks from the Sermon on the mount… the mountain is the place where God is met, where the steady rhythm of our daily lives is broken by the brilliant light of God’s immediate presence. And these don’t always have to be literal mountaintops. These experiences of the presence of God are not reserved for those that have had the particular opportunity to climb to the top of a mountain.

These experiences can happen at the top of any mountain, any place where something is achieved, a pinnacle of insight perhaps, the end (The ‘Summit’) of a period of struggle, even a moment that is unremarkable in any other way becomes a mountain when we are able to perceive God’s presence in the world in that moment.

So just like Peter does, we experience the wonder and brilliance of God. But the question I have for you today is this: what do you do when you have that experience? How do you react?

Peter’s reaction to his own moment is well-known. How often has his foolishness been mocked? Oh silly, Peter! You just don’t get it. The point is not to build a shelter so that Jesus can stay here in comfort… the ministry must continue down among the people! And perhaps we even roll our eyes at Peter and the disciples as they cower in fear, faces to the ground, terrified of the presence of God. And we might think to ourselves: “Come on you guys!” This is God, this is Jesus’ Dad, your buddy, you of all people should know that you don’t need to be afraid of this!

But I’m not sure that we wouldn’t just act the same way. I’ll tell you a story about this: I spent 5 summers of my life working at Rainbow Trail Lutheran Camp and in that time I spent many days hiking through the forests around streams and lakes, and up and down mountains. The very last summer I was there I was leading a group of kids up Eagle Peak along with a few fellow staff members. Now this was probably sometime in late July and if you know anything about Mountain weather, at least in this particular part of Colorado, you know that when Monsoon season rolls around, which is right about late July, the weather gets significantly more exciting and significantly less predictable. So we left camp at about 7:30 one late July morning and began the seven-mile, 5,000 ft elevation gain hike toward the peak of the mountain. The morning passed easily and we made our way up the mountain under a clear blue sky and bright warm sun. Then at sometime just before noon we got to tree-line and sat down for lunch. At this point the sun was still warm and the sky was only slightly more obscured than it had been and only by those innocuous white fluffy clouds. And so with our backs to the peak (and any approaching weather) we ate happily, thinking we had plenty of time to get to the peak before anything bad happened. There is a picture of us in that meadow just as we’re finishing lunch with the gathering clouds behind us and you can see the innocence in our faces… the blissful ignorance of what was happening. Because you see Monsoon season in Colorado brings moisture and when that warm late July sun heats the air, and heats the air, and heats the air all morning long …. The energy starts to build and it reaches a kind of tipping point where all of the sudden the sky can no longer hold the moisture and, in a matter of minutes, a blue sky full of white clouds turns into dark gray menacing power. And perhaps because we had done it so many times before, or perhaps because it was late in the summer, my fellow staff members and I just didn’t really notice those first signs of creeping gray and so as we packed up our lunch to continue up the mountain, away from the protection of the trees… I thought to myself… well it’s a little gray but it’ll probably be fine for a little while….
Well it was not fine for a little while… in a few short minutes the sky opened up with rain and hail and thunder all from clouds the seemed just barely above our heads. And I remember as I barked out orders to get the middle school aged youth back to the safety of the trees, being more than just a little afraid, and it wasn’t until I was two thousand feet lower, muddy, soaked to the bone and more than a little frazzled and after I had counted several times to make sure I had the same number of people that I had left camp with that morning , that I finally was able to relax and marvel in the tremendous power that I had just experienced.
God is powerful and the powers of God that we experience in the world can easily shake us to our core. It is no wonder that the disciples fell to their faces, trembling in fear, they were hearing the very voice of God, not just some silly little thunder storm.
But when we have some distance from the raw power that sparks our fears and we are able to appreciate how mighty is our God, isn’t it easy, too, to imagine that we would want to preserve that feeling. That we would want to remain there in the presence of that pure and Good power for as long as we possibly could? Of course… think about those times when you have been in the presence of that power… Maybe it was the birth of a child, or looking into the eyes of a loved one, maybe it was that time when all the world seemed to be moving just for you, maybe it was sitting on a mountain peak looking out over a wide, open valley, with the warm sun easily shining through the thin air and a brisk breeze flowing from a whole world away.
Of course we want this moment to last forever… we want to feel that sun on our backs all the time. But just as the light that shone in Jesus face dimmed slightly and Moses and Elijah faded away… so too must our mountaintops remain just distinct moments in our lives. They cannot extend to fill the empty spaces… because that is not the nature of mountaintops. Think of incredible and inspiring it is to stand on the top of a mountain and yet, how incredibly inhospitable it would be to try to live your life there… it just doesn’t work that way… And such is the nature of our world. We are blessed with long rolling plains of lives that are interrupted by the glory of a mountain rising in front of the setting sun, and we are further blessed with the chance to stand at the top of that mountain.
But… do not be disappointed; do not despair, because the glory and power of that mountain remains as long as the mountain does… and mountains measure their lives in ages and eras and millions and millions of years. That power will remain and if it has touched you… it has changed you… Today we celebrate the Transfiguration of all of us that have been moved by the power of God. Peter encountered that power just as you and I have in our own ways, but Peter didn’t know what to do about it… Peter for all his good intentions tried to hold on to the moment that changed him and he could not. But if we let our mountains change us than we will recognize that we are not changed so that we might sit forever on that mountain side but so that we might bring that brilliant light, that shining sun, that powerful hope… that light of the world… to all those who haven’t yet climbed their mountain… or have forgotten what it felt like. And so, just like that our Epiphany season is over… the light that shines in the darkness is now moving towards the cross… Do not forget about the light, do not let this mountain top pass by, Live as if you have seen the Glory of God, because as clearly as you can right now see Superstition Mountain in the morning sun… You have.

Back to this Business of Updating....

I've been more than a little negligent in updating this blog over the past few months, but things are starting to slow down a bit at church now with so many people heading back to the midwest for the summer so I'm back to it.

This is a sermon that I preached at the Gold Canyon campus.  The church in Gold Canyon is tucked very neatly away at the base of a couple of different hills/mountains of various heights.  It is a beautiful location and it is also very symbolically appropriate for a sermon about Jesus preaching from a mountain.

The Text for this Sunday was Matthew 5:13-20 which is a part of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus says "You are the Light of the World."  I love this passage.  It is a beautiful scripture and it, along with a song based off of it that we sang at my wedding, have long been among my favorites.  As I was preparing this sermon I realized that it was very important that the congregation take ownership of their own "LIGHTness" so along with preaching to that effect I also included a little litany at the beginning of the worship and then had them repeat it to close out the sermon.   That litany is as follows:

P:  You are the Light of the World.
C: So may we shine.
P:  You are a city on a hill
C: We cannot be hid
P: You are a candle in the dark
C: We will give light to the house
P: You are the Light of the World
C: So may we brightly shine

Sit Tight and Buckle your seatbelts, secure your belongs and hold on to your loved ones, because today we’re in for a bumpy ride. The wildest roller coaster you’ve ever been on doesn’t hold a candle to the ride that’s in store for today. Today we’re going to come face to face with the deepest darkness of our world and we’re going to find the light that breaks in and we’re going to find out who the real salt of the earth is. Because today Jesus rolls up his sleeves and looks at you to do the same, today Jesus gets into the down and dirty of life in this broken world of ours, but first let’s talk about the background story… let’s build the suspense, let’s paint the picture….

The background story is , basically, that there is a problem. We have a problem…. You’ve heard that before right? Tom Hanks said it in Apollo 13… “Houston, we have a problem” That’s such a great line. He just drops a bomb of a one liner… in that one little sentence you’ve got terror and suspense, doubt and drama, sadness and maybe even hope. And that’s got to be one of the most quoted lines in all of cinema, it seems like every other time or so that somebody realizes something isn’t as it should be…. “Houston, we have a problem”. Poor Houston, get’s brought up every time something goes wrong. Which is kind of a lot right? Cause here’s the other great thing about that line…. It has a lot of potential for use… because there’s a lot of things that go wrong in the world, and this brings me back around to the reason I brought up this bit in the first place: “We have a problem”

We have a problem that we have so many problems…. Our world is not perfect… not even close…. No, there’s a lot of pain and sadness and grief in the world… And you only have to look as far as our art to see that it’s true… Of course we could focus on our own realities to see it too, whether that’s on the news or in our personal lives… but one of the beauties of artistic expression is it gives us a way to talk, concretely, about those emotions without bringing up those events that have caused us pain and sadness.

So let’s take a quick tour of some art…
The first example I want to point to is one that I wish I could have a visual aid for but hopefully you’ve all seen the painting: “The Scream” by Edvard Munch. When you see the look of anguish on the face in that painting you can clearly see pain and a troubled soul … and darkness.

How about music? It’s not hard at all to think of songs that help paint this picture as well. For example there’s Frank Sinatra’s Summer Wind, in which he sings “And still the days, those lonely days – go on and on, And guess who sighs his lullabies – through nights that never end.” or In the wee small hours “she’d be yours if only she would call, and there’s Hank Williams singing “I’m so lonesome I could cry” which I’m not even going to try to quote to you because it just wouldn’t be fair for a sunny Sunday morning.

And then there’s our movies… now movies are an interesting case because they tell a story, and very often they have enough time to tell a pretty complex story, not like a song that just has enough time to convey the basics…. In this way movies are more like books, or short stories at least. And what this means is that there’s a kind of journey that often happens in a movie, so whereas “The Scream” or one these songs is really just capturing a single moment, a movie gives us the chance to see how we got to that moment and where we go from it. In some cases that journey tells a sad story and the credits start rolling in the midst of that sadness and that’s just how it is… a good example of this would be any of the movie versions of “Hamlet” or “Romeo and Juliet” the movies end when everybody’s dead and we are left to lament terrible circumstances and twisted fate. But then there’s those movies that end triumphantly but go through a period of sadness along the way. Just about every Romantic Comedy you will ever see follows that formula… there’s always the point, about 2/3 - ¾ of the way through when everything’s been going great but something terrible happens, some secret gets discovered and now we’re not sure if they’re really going to end up together. But it doesn’t have to be just Romantic Comedies… many of the dramas that we watch go through a low point for the main character, the protagonist get’s beat down, and our doubts are cast… lot’s of movies have these moments, and lot’s of books do to but there’s a reason we’re talking about movies.

Talking about movies in these instances makes it really easy to address a particular stylistic point. Movie producers like to use all the elements of a scene to guide you through the story and this includes things like the music, and the shot angles, and the …. Lighting… If you notice when the protagonist goes through that trial the moment of doubt, the sadness, the scene goes slightly dimmer, the lighting is darker and there are less bright colors…. There is darkness in the movie… just like there is darkness in our world…

There is darkness…. And then what happens? Now in this situation my normal inclination is to give you an example, some specific instance that illustrates exactly the point I’m trying to make… but this time I’m not going to do that because I want you to watch for it…. Next time you watch a movie where there is sadness and darkness watch for what happens when that single element of hope is introduced, it doesn’t always happen because not all producers use lighting elements in their movies, but watch for it… because if it’s there, you can literally see it happen.

In the midst of the darkness whatever character or item represents the hope will enter in light… it may be a person dressed in white or standing in the bright sun, or maybe the lights just rise slightly when they enter, but if it’s there you’ll see how they literally light up the screen….

Okay, so we can that the world is broken… there is darkness in the world, you know that it’s true and you can see it reflected in our art. But we have this sense, don’t we? that our pain is not without relief, that our suffering is not without hope, that our sadness is not without the prospect of joy… that our darkness is not without the promise of light.

Maybe you’re saying to yourself right now… “Oh I think I see where this is going…. This is the part where DC tells us that Jesus offers us hope for our sadness and relief for our suffering…. Right?... right?”

Well… Jesus does offer those things… But that’s not really what the Gospel is talking about today… In today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks up and he says nothing about himself he turns to those around him and says: “You are the light of world….”

Okay maybe now you’re thinking “But… why would he say that… isn’t Jesus the light, the savior, the messiah”

Well… he sure is a light… and perhaps THE light. BUT, Jesus tells you…. YOU are the light of the world… I want you to all picture this because we have a unique opportunity here in Gold Canyon to picture the scene here…. Imagine Jesus is right out that door… across the road and up on that little mountain… because that’s probably about what it looked like… And Jesus is sitting up there talking to you, and sharing his blessings… and then he tells you that, You are a city on a hill…. You are a candle in the dark… You are the lamp that is placed on the stand to give light to the house, the house that would otherwise be mired in darkness. You are the light that shines to give glory to God. You are the hope breaks into the pain and the sadness and the suffering…..

My friends, today Jesus is telling you to roll up your sleeves because it turns out that this journey is not like a tour bus where we get to just watch the sights roll by. This is a trek, a marathon, a pilgrimage, this is where Jesus tells us that he wants our help. Jesus wants our help because we have the opportunity to continue the ministry that he worked for…

You see, one thing that I maybe didn’t make clear when we were talking about those movies is that when that person comes in all dressed in white, or bathed in light… we’re not talking about a superhero , or an angel, or Jesus himself . We’re talking about you… plain regular, standard, glorious, compassionate, blessed You.

We can absolutely be that person that changes the whole movie… that sets the resolution in motion. Because the light of the Holy Spirit is here and alive in the world and it spreads when we let our lights shine. You know what the love of Christ is like, what the grace of God is all about because you’ve been here under this roof and you’ve felt it as you’ve shared in worship together, and now you can be the hands and feet of Christ that help your neighbors and friends, and anyone else, feel that Love and Grace as real tangible things in the world. You can live your life out of concern for those around you, you can be present in people’s lives and be in community with them, so that no matter who they are or what they are going through, they may feel, in a very real way, the love of God.

That is the light that you are, the Light that shines the love of God into the lives of everyone around you, the Light that loves recklessly and without fear of judgment or hurt. Because God has given you your identity, God has named you as God’s very own, and God as set you free to shine, brightly that light out into the world.

Now I know I’m being a little vague about what exactly it is that God is calling us to do in the world, but you see that’s the point… it’s not about this one specific action or another… this isn’t about converting the non-Christians or preaching on the street corners or anything else… this is about living a life that reflects the Light of the world that you are… this is about living your life, not as battle to protect your own interests but as a mission to live in community, to care for your neighbor, to have compassion for those who are dealing with their own personal darkness.

Now I know I’m giving you a pretty steep challenge today, but I want you to stay with me because there’s something really cool about how this works… you see there are… what 150-200 people in this room… ? now if every one of you lived your life watching out for and caring for those around you, every single one of you will have 150-200 people caring for you… instead of if every single person just looks out for themselves and then there’s only 1 person looking out for each of us. Now imagine if we expand that to all three campuses… or the whole Synod… or the whole ELCA… or the whole country… or the whole world. This is the heart of God’s call for you today… to live your life for others so that they may live their lives for you…. Because just as you, individual you, are the Light of the World… so is the person sitting next to you… and on the other side of you… and in front of you…. And behind you…. And diagonally to the front… and…. Well you get that idea…. You are all the light of the world and when you shine in the lives of those around you… living your life with compassion for them… you will find that their light shines just as brightly back to you. And when everyone is shining their light to all others then we are all bathed in the light of Christ that shine through us and truly the kingdom of God has arrived here on earth.

P:  You are the Light of the World.
C: So may we shine.
P:  You are a city on a hill
C: We cannot be hid
P: You are a candle in the dark
C: We will give light to the house
P: You are the Light of the World
C: So may we brightly shine