Saturday, February 13, 2010

Strength Enough To Shine

Butler Memorial Presbyterian Church
February 14, 2010
St. Valentine’s Day, Transfiguration Sunday, Black History Month
Exodus 34:29-35, Luke 9:28-43a

Main Idea: In Christ we find our mountain top experience and our true home. Through Christ we are blessed, sanctified, and made to shine in a way that others can see God’s presence in the midst of our imperfection.

Context: Buttler memorial is a very traditional worshiping community in the African American and Presbyterian traditions. Their Pastor just retired and the are seeking to fill the pulpit while discerning God's will in moving forward.

Good morning! I bring you greetings this morning, as I do to any congregation in which I am wearing this stole, from the country of Ghana. In the year of 2000, I was privileged to join a delegation from Union Seminary in Richmond to experience the culture and Christianity of Ghana for three weeks. It was a life changing experience. There is no division between life and faith for the Ghanaian. And hospitality, well let’s just say that no one really knows how to be hospitable unless they live in poverty. For we give from our abundance, and they give in spite of their scarcity.

Just about everyone spoke English as well as a tribal language or two. Eve and Twi are the most common. When we arrived, and everywhere we went, we either heard “Akwaba!” or “Ya-Wayzo!” which means, ‘You are welcome here! You are part of us, now that you are here with us.’ Doesn’t that sound like the church? Isn’t that how everyone should feel in any church? Did you know that’s how you made me feel last Sunday when I came to worship with you?

Now, my favorite greeting was “Ya-Wayzo” because the response was “Yo-oh!” It means about the same thing in a different language, but the “Yo!” is like a confirmation. ‘Yes, I am glad to be here. I recognize you as a part of me, because together we are more than ourselves alone!’ I walked in a village and the coca bean farmer said “Ya-Wayzo!” and I said, “Yo!” And the village leader said, “Do you drink very much Co-co?” Without thinking I said, “We mainly drink coffee. Sometimes we drink co-co in the winter, but mostly that’s for children.” He looked at me resolutely and said, “We wish you would drink more co-co.” It hit me like a ton of bricks. This 80 year old child of God and I were connected through a coca bean, through God’s Spirit, through the experience of knowing and being known. Yo-o…

I was even given a name in Ghana for everyone has at least three names, and your first name correlates to the day of your birth. Someone in my group figured this out based on our most recent birthday, and I was named Kwasi, Sunday born. I have so many more stories from that experience, and I may share more with you, but we are here for something more than that. We are here to come to the mountain. We are here to experience Jesus in all his glory! We are here to see how Jesus is the Living Word who lives in us today! We are here to understand how all law and prophecy are fulfilled in Jesus, and to get a glimpse of how we are to shine his light into the world. Are you with me? Ya-wayzo?!

So today we come to the mountain. In the close of Martin Luther King Jr.’s final address he spoke of the comfort of having been to the mountain top. His voice was so clear, and the place he spoke from so dear that I dare not even attempt to repeat them. For we are, in some ways, in a different place as a nation now. We still have far to go, but thanks be to God that change has come to the extent that it has. Many of us have had mountain top experiences where you feel that God brought you to a new level of understanding, or that God held your hand through pain no one could bear. Sometimes we do not realize we have even been to the mountain until we look back to see the footprints of God walking with us and carrying us through.

We all wish we could have an experience like Moses or Peter, where God speaks out of a cloud or pillar of fire. Yet when we think about what that really means, it should fill us with terror and make us scream like Isaiah, “Oh lord I am an unclean person from an unclean people! How can I stand before you and live?” That is why God picks Moses, and only Moses, to be the one who mediates between him and the people. These are the people who were so impatient for God’s grace that they made an idol to worship while God was giving Moses the Ten Commandments! Now it’s easy to pass judgment on them. I mean really, after the plagues and the parting of the sea, one would think that a little patience might be reasonable. But see, sin isn’t about reason. Of course, we use our minds to justify the things we do, but sin is about a radio station. Haven’t you heard it? WIIFM, What’s In It For Me? Maybe you don’t struggle with this the way that I do, but aren’t there times between Sundays that you get a little impatient for God’s grace?

God knew that the people were impatient. God knew that the people needed something to remind them of who they are and whose they are, and so Moses’ face was made to shine. Moses’ face was made to express that there was something he was involved in that was bigger than himself. Moses’ face was made to show them that God loved them and would be with them no matter what. And after Moses came the law, but that didn’t quite do it because the people used the law for their own gain. And after the law came the prophets, but that didn’t do it because the people ignored them, persecuted them, and sometimes just resigned themselves to fate.

But God is bigger than fate, or any other concept that we can imagine. And God still knows that we need to be reminded of who we are and whose we are. So he sent his only son so that we might know that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. In our text today we find Jesus taking Peter, James, and John with him up a mountain to pray. He wanted them to see what was going to happen. He wanted a witness so that after his death and resurrection somebody could make sense of it for everyone else. Because, you see, the disciples still didn’t get it. They were impatient for God’s grace, like you and me. And there it was, Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. Jesus was in conversation with the law and the prophets. Jesus, the connection between the natural and the supernatural, was made to shine like the sun without burning but still penetrating every shadow. That’s what his grace does for us, you know. God’s love penetrates and shines on the things even we don’t want to see, the things we don’t want to let go of, the things done to us, and the things we have done. He will take them away. He will take them all away.

Now, there are two things I love about Peter, James, and John. The first is that they stayed awake! We often think about them falling asleep in Gethsemane. Not this time. They did not miss out, even though they were weary with sleep. How often are we too weary to be redeemed? How often are we too weighed down to be lifted up? How much more can God do in our lives if we can stay focused on Jesus and listen to him?

The other thing I love is Peter’s response. I can just see James and John pushing him forward, “Say something!” Peter does what we all do when we encounter the supernatural. “This is great! Let’s control it. Let’s keep it. Let’s build a church we can go to on Sundays.” And since the vision of God’s presence is not enough, God surrounds them and consumes them in a cloud. God commands their attention and focuses it on Jesus. And so they will not be overwhelmed, God leaves them to follow Jesus into the valley bellow. Then, almost immediately, they encounter a problem they cannot overcome without him. Jesus responds in a way that doesn’t sound very loving, especially because it is not clear if he is talking to the disciples or the man with the possessed son, or everyone. My guess is all the above.

“You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” Jesus knew at this point that he was heading toward Jerusalem to suffer and die. Luke wanted you to hear his anxiety. Luke wanted you to know that Jesus was fully God and fully human, yet without sin. Luke wants us to know that when we set our face toward Jerusalem, there will be things we cannot do without the help of Jesus.

For here we are on the mountaintop, and for here we are in the valley as well. Here we have a place to see Jesus, and here we have a place to wait until he comes again. Here we have a savior who shows us that God loves us no matter what. And here we have the courage to go into the valley because we know that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. I’m not just talking about this congregation, or even the Presbyterian Church (USA). I’m talking about God’s will. Any civic group can do good. But only the church can be the Body of Christ!

Now, before you get carried away with that, I want to remind you of something someone told me this week. A group of lions is called a pride. A group of birds is a flock. A group of wolves is a pack. Do you know what a group of alligators is called? A congregation. So, what makes us different? The difference is found in this question. Do you go to church or will you BE the church?

Brothers and Sisters in Christ, today we will receive Holy Communion. As you receive the elements today, receive them as you have received Christ, knowing that this is the time, the place, and the space where you encounter God’s penetrating love! Don’t hold back! Don’t keep anything from God, because God wants to use your face to shine as a light for others! God wants people to encounter you and to know that you are part of something bigger than yourself. And so are they, if for no other reason than the fact that you are in the same place at the same time listening not to see what is in it for me but what can we be a part of for God’s glory! Ya-way-zo! Amen.
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