"I Am" Becomes "This Is" Because "You Are"

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Easter is the day when God breaks all of the rules. Easter is the day that creation was reborn. Easter is the day when God said, “No more” to death having the final word, and there’s one word in the story, one small, unnoticed word in the story that changes everything. I can’t wait to tell you. So keep your eyes and ears open as we walk with Mary to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” Not only was this the first day of the week, but also it was the first day of a new creation. Just like on the first day of creation in Genesis, God created light. Here God again allows light to shine in the midst of darkness. In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, like a garden tomb whose stone had been rolled away. Then God said, “Let there be light,” as Mary turned and saw the Risen Lord. Before the sun had risen Mary came to the tomb and found that it was empty. Not only do we now have a deeper understanding of the creation account, but also the beginning of John’s Gospel makes more sense. In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. In him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Jesus was resurrected before the sun had risen, and scripture had been telling us this all along.

            “So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.”

There is a foot race to the tomb. Truth is, there are many who are still running that race. While sitting at the bedside when someone is dying, I’ve never heard “I wish I had answered email more quickly,” or “I wish I had spent more time in the office,” or “If those decorations for the school dance were just a little bit better, it would have all been worth it.” You see, Mary is running from the tomb. Even though neither she nor the disciples understand what’s happening, her trajectory is correct. They get to the tomb and scripture says that the beloved disciple believed, but he did not believe in the Resurrection, but what Mary said was true, that the body wasn’t there, because after visiting the tomb, Peter and the beloved disciple go home. They do not run from the tomb proclaiming that Christ is Risen. They go home. They’ve run to the tomb and even it is empty and has nothing to offer them. At least this seems to be where they are.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’” For whom are you looking, Jesus asks her. Remember Jesus’ first words in the Gospel. He was walking along the Jordan River, John the Baptist says, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” and Jesus asked the disciples who had gathered, “What are you looking for?” You see, the question has changed. No longer do we search for what, but for whom. Now that Jesus is raised, finding Christ now supersedes any kind of “what” we might find. “Who are you looking for,” is now the only question that matters.  

            “Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’” This is the Gospel of John at it’s greatest. John adds a seemingly insignificant detail, but it actually means everything. Mary mistakes him to be a gardener, but actually she is seeing Jesus for who he truly is. Holy Week should be called the tale of two gardens. Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane in a moment of doubt saying, “Father let this cup pass from me, but not my will but yours.” And the story ends with Jesus being placed in a different garden where no one had been laid before. From the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden Tomb. But even more than that, one of God’s first jobs was that of a gardener. After God created humanity, scripture says that God planted a garden and placed them with it. When Mary sees Jesus as a gardener, it’s not a mistake. She’s just seeing him as he truly is—one who plants and cultivates life.

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus until he says her name. It’s like when Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” Jesus then tells her, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” So no longer does Jesus say, “I am the light of the world,” or “I am the bread of life,” but “I am ascending.” You see, throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus has been saying, “I Am.” On the last night with his disciples the “I Am” becomes “This is,” when Jesus says, “This is my body given to you, and this is my blood poured out for you.” Now Jesus says, “I am ascending,” or I am leaving. I Am becomes This is because you are the body of Christ. Jesus is ascending to the father therefore we are now the hands and feet of Christ in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are the body. Christ’s blood runs through our veins. I am becomes this is because you are.

Jesus says he is ascending to my father and your father, to my God and your God, which brings us to that small, seemingly insignificant word that changes everything. “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’” Do you see it? Who goes to the tomb? Mary does. Mary alone goes to the tomb and runs to tell the disciples what she sees, except she says, “we.” We do not know where they have laid him. You see, the story is written as if you are there with her, or like I said at the beginning of the sermon, “Keep your eyes and ears open as we walk with Mary to the tomb.” We are a part of the resurrection story. Jesus says, “My Father and your Father. My God and your God.” Not only was Jesus raised, but Jesus was raised for us so that we might have a place in God’s story. In other words, live as if your life matters.   Live as if your neighbor’s life matters. Live as if you enemy’s life matters. The Easter story is this. Love Wins. Life matters. Go and live as if you believe both to be true. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

I Am Project Title

“I Am” Becomes “This Is” Because “You Are”

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Easter is the day when God breaks all of the rules. Easter is the day that creation was reborn. Easter is the day when God said, “No more” to death having the final word, and there’s one word in the story, one small, unnoticed word in the story that changes everything. I can’t wait to tell you. So keep your eyes and ears open as we walk with Mary to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb.” Not only was this the first day of the week, but also it was the first day of a new creation. Just like on the first day of creation in Genesis, God created light. Here God again allows light to shine in the midst of darkness. In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, like a garden tomb whose stone had been rolled away. Then God said, “Let there be light,” as Mary turned and saw the Risen Lord. Before the sun had risen Mary came to the tomb and found that it was empty. Not only do we now have a deeper understanding of the creation account, but also the beginning of John’s Gospel makes more sense. In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God. In him was life and the life was the light of all people. The light shined in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it. Jesus was resurrected before the sun had risen, and scripture had been telling us this all along.

            “So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.”

There is a foot race to the tomb. Truth is, there are many who are still running that race. While sitting at the bedside when someone is dying, I’ve never heard “I wish I had answered email more quickly,” or “I wish I had spent more time in the office,” or “If those decorations for the school dance were just a little bit better, it would have all been worth it.” You see, Mary is running from the tomb. Even though neither she nor the disciples understand what’s happening, her trajectory is correct. They get to the tomb and scripture says that the beloved disciple believed, but he did not believe in the Resurrection, but what Mary said was true, that the body wasn’t there, because after visiting the tomb, Peter and the beloved disciple go home. They do not run from the tomb proclaiming that Christ is Risen. They go home. They’ve run to the tomb and even it is empty and has nothing to offer them. At least this seems to be where they are.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’” For whom are you looking, Jesus asks her. Remember Jesus’ first words in the Gospel. He was walking along the Jordan River, John the Baptist says, “Here is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” and Jesus asked the disciples who had gathered, “What are you looking for?” You see, the question has changed. No longer do we search for what, but for whom. Now that Jesus is raised, finding Christ now supersedes any kind of “what” we might find. “Who are you looking for,” is now the only question that matters.  

            “Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’” This is the Gospel of John at it’s greatest. John adds a seemingly insignificant detail, but it actually means everything. Mary mistakes him to be a gardener, but actually she is seeing Jesus for who he truly is. Holy Week should be called the tale of two gardens. Jesus prays in the garden of Gethsemane in a moment of doubt saying, “Father let this cup pass from me, but not my will but yours.” And the story ends with Jesus being placed in a different garden where no one had been laid before. From the Garden of Gethsemane to the Garden Tomb. But even more than that, one of God’s first jobs was that of a gardener. After God created humanity, scripture says that God planted a garden and placed them with it. When Mary sees Jesus as a gardener, it’s not a mistake. She’s just seeing him as he truly is—one who plants and cultivates life.

Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.” Mary doesn’t recognize Jesus until he says her name. It’s like when Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The shepherd calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” Jesus then tells her, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” So no longer does Jesus say, “I am the light of the world,” or “I am the bread of life,” but “I am ascending.” You see, throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus has been saying, “I Am.” On the last night with his disciples the “I Am” becomes “This is,” when Jesus says, “This is my body given to you, and this is my blood poured out for you.” Now Jesus says, “I am ascending,” or I am leaving. I Am becomes This is because you are the body of Christ. Jesus is ascending to the father therefore we are now the hands and feet of Christ in the world by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are the body. Christ’s blood runs through our veins. I am becomes this is because you are.

Jesus says he is ascending to my father and your father, to my God and your God, which brings us to that small, seemingly insignificant word that changes everything. “Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’” Do you see it? Who goes to the tomb? Mary does. Mary alone goes to the tomb and runs to tell the disciples what she sees, except she says, “we.” We do not know where they have laid him. You see, the story is written as if you are there with her, or like I said at the beginning of the sermon, “Keep your eyes and ears open as we walk with Mary to the tomb.” We are a part of the resurrection story. Jesus says, “My Father and your Father. My God and your God.” Not only was Jesus raised, but Jesus was raised for us so that we might have a place in God’s story. In other words, live as if your life matters.   Live as if your neighbor’s life matters. Live as if you enemy’s life matters. The Easter story is this. Love Wins. Life matters. Go and live as if you believe both to be true. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!

I Am Project Title

It Is Solved by Walking

labyrinthJesus said to his disciples, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture” (John 10:9). Jesus is the doorway in which we find the way to God. The funny thing about doors is that they serve as endings and beginnings alike. An open door invites us to “come in and go out.” Coming into communion with the saving grace of Christ might mean the end to the way we once lived. It is the door that shuts out unrighteous anger, self loathing, and selfish pride, but it also the door that opens us to gracious possibility, world-changing forgiveness, and abundant and eternal life.

John 10 reminds us that Jesus calls out to us by name, knowing us and loving us even before we are able to put one hoof in front of the other. Following Jesus is a strange and wonderful calling because he leads us where we would not go alone for the good of our soul and for God’s kingdom. Instead of offering my usual, “Will you walk in the way that leads to life,” I would like to ask, “Who would you invite to join you on the journey?” Would your companions look and think like you? It might make the journey easier, but often an easy path eventually leads to a shallow and unfruitful place. Would you walk with an enemy? The journey would be a long one, but it would be a path of reconciliation and healing.

Near my desk I have a wood carving of a labyrinth which reads, “Solvitur Ambulando,” meaning, “It is solved by walking.” Jesus walked upon the earth so that we all might find life. When we walk with Christ and all for whom Jesus died and rose again, IT certainly IS.

The Good and Not-So-Simple Shepherd

I Am Project Title

Light is intangible. The moment you try to hold it in your hands a shadow forms. In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “I am the light of the world,” so that we might let Christ’s light shine through us without manipulation. Jesus also says, “I am the bread of life,” which is quite a different divine image. Unlike light which calls for us to get out of the way so that no shadow will form, bread calls us to jump in and get our hands dirty. Bread takes work and sweat and patience. Light shows us the way, and bread sustains us for the journey.

In John 10 Jesus tells the crowd, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Some who were there began to be frustrated with Jesus. They’ve heard him say, “I am the light of the world,” and “I am the bread of life,” so they said to him, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” I understand their frustration. I remember when I would have trouble with math homework I would ask my dad for help. Dad would begin by saying something like, “Well, son, first the earth cooled…” All I wanted was the answer, but my father insisted on offering me the history of mathematics. It was frustratingly helpful. It’s one thing to know that the answer to your math homework is 42, but it’s an entirely different venture to understand why.

It’s not enough to know that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus came to re-narrate what Messiah means. Jesus tells the crowd that he is the Good Shepherd, a term used for both God and for God’s servant David. In other words, in Jesus’ ambiguous answer he is saying that he is fully divine and fully human. He is both divine light and earthly bread. He is both the way and the means of the way. The crowd wants a quick answer because they are tired of sitting at Jesus’ feet, so they pierce them along with his hands, head, and side, so that they can move along with easy answers without any meaning.

Loving God and loving neighbor is certainly a simple mantra, but it is rarely easy. It asks a lot of you. Christ calls you to walk in the light, to feed others and to feed on the bread of life, to let the good shepherd show you the way, the truth, and the life, to stay connected in the vineyard of a community, to walk through the gate of God’s Alpha and Omega, and to finally live as if you believe the tomb is empty and that it matters. “I am,” Jesus says. It’s so simple, but means everything.

But What About the Darkness?

I Am Project Title

Last Sunday at The Well we worshiped Christ as “The light of the world,” the one who shines in the midst of darkness, the timeless truth of God’s sacrificial love…but what about the darkness? In the beginning, darkness was. Scripture says, “The earth was a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep.” God’s first act of creation was allowing light to be, and separating the darkness from it. So what happened to it? The darkness that once was something became nothing. In other words, you can’t turn on a shadow. You can create a shadow by blocking the light, but a shadow can’t stand on it’s own because it is the result of light being hindered. (more…)

Walking the Labyrinth

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I remember the first time my mind wandered aimlessly

Pacing the turns inwardly while releasing

My fears and transgressions with each step accompanied breath

The Spirit unfettered, wholly showing me the quest

With my feet unbridled, I idled at the entrance

Penitent and unworthy to tread with God’s presence

Unknowing what’s before me, I bravely try to stride

On the path of my past I hold fast to hide

On the first purple line the silence is deafening

The candle wicks flicker, the only light transpiring

Guiding me pensively toward my first inward turn

With the world now behind me, my thoughts unfurl

Is beauty universally seen alike in all eyes?

Is beauty left to context, morality, or time?

Is beauty a Godly thing, the Trinity’s inner splendor?

Or is it human construct based in race, class, or gender?

Revelations abound drowning out my reality

As the labyrinth’s simple path winds almost seamlessly

Begging the question of what’s melting away

Is it reality or falsity that’s truly giving way?

The world outside tries to hold fast my heart

Omnipotent dominance it seems as it starts

Parting ways with my soul, staking its claim

I now know my idol. I’ve now named its name

With struggles behind me I slip slowly into

A world of inner circles, whirling, whispering, “This do

in remembrance of me,” as my mind’s eye gazes

on the bread and the wine atop a metaphysical table

My mind’s eye’s impaired for the bread is blurred

Is it unleavened as Paul beckons, or four cornered like the world?

Is it rounded and stiff like a priest’s Sunday collar?

Is it processed and bagged for the American dollar?

The wine, how it sparkles in a cup I know not

Is it silver refined, or clay kilned with cracked pots?

Is it filled individually for communal logistics?

Or one common cup for the monk and the mystics?

The table now set, whetting my deep desire

To sweetly feast, yet my feet seem mired

My mind snaps back, the straight path is lost

Causing hesitation, the frustration, “Dear Lord, what’s the cost?”

My ears now hear amidst the silence

Parapet anthems of victory over violence

The glorious organ gorgonizes my mind

Freezing me in place, a power sublime

The powerful hymns of centuries gone by

Inspire the weak-hearted, those of soul parched and dry

I remember the debate, of late, the bitterness and gall

Of how contemporary music would cause Duke Chapel to fall

A tense, pinched face,

ungraciously distasteful

Murmurs words of scorn

born from lips of past depression

For him, the hymn to whimsical

For her, the words to cyclical

For they do prey on the cynical

An unceasing cycle of miserable spectacle

New music sickens the traditionalist

Missing the Spirit’s movement meant

For a new generation bifurcated upon

An altar of good intention built with stone of ancient song

My walk becomes a dirge, searching for the center

But my eyes arise skyward through the darkness I had entered

A skewed view of centers where worship takes place

The font, pulpit and pews, each of which a means of grace

The pulpit sits upon a ton of quarried, crafted stone

With faces of the past, old memories on loan

For those of our generation often unknowing of the past

The lives of the Saints, stiff in stone in darkness vast

Hearing a Word unheard before

Stories of the soul’s seeking

Is like a babe’s first momentary gaze

Toward the mother of her birthing

Eyes open anew peering deeply into

The mystery of life’s wonder

Understood not completely, yet instinctively known

Is the grace given me so freely

The pews hewn from mighty oak, trussing unsuspecting folk

Who journey here with heavy hearts before departing with lightened yolk

The in between is transformation, desperation lifted ‘way

While hearing that the debt is paid, by grace through faith the soul is saved.

Moving from the pews I wander to the font far off from view

Masquerading a signal import as ottoman of wealthy few

Ornately adorned with sides of eight, contemplating rebirth

Dying with Christ and rising anew, a sinner of infinite worth

At the head of the church, perched high above the maze

A wooden cross hides, disguised amongst disciples’ gaze

Anamnesis teasing time, I find myself within the crowd

Shouting loud a screaming scorn, “A crown of thorns upon his brow!”

Whipped and kicked with sinners’ hate, my Lord awaits his paschal fate

Pilate dances as he dangles silent Christ in grand debate

To the crowd aroused with fury, Pilate hands them God’s own son

With hands still dripping he announces to the crowd, “thy will be done!”

Leading Christ away they prey upon a master’s love

Ridiculing sweet redemption as they raise the lamb above

Upon a tree with nails of three, piercing hands and feet and side

Now deserted and alone his friends leave him there to die

I’m now at the center, entering timid and shy

For this is God’s heart, what value have I

To kneel pneumatically numb, struck dumb by a presence

Radiant and holy, only silent with reverence

Patiently awaiting my penitent sentence

I slowly focus my soul

Memories tremble, escaping assessment

The “why did I” denied by what’s shown

Sitting there silently, pining for time

My heart starts to rip at its seam

The pieces asunder held by hands not mine

Are mended by my loving Redeemer

A Timey Whimey Transfiguration

Transfiguration Icon

It can be difficult to figure out what to do for Transfiguration Sunday. The New Testament text shares the story of when Jesus climbed the mountain with Peter, James, and John and he has transfigured before them. His appearance became a dazzling white and he was standing with Moses and Elijah revealing that in Christ the law and the prophets come together as the genesis of a new creation through the cross and empty tomb. Like Peter we often find ourselves befuddled and confused relying on what we know rather than allowing our self to be stretched. Peter said, “It is good for us to be here,” maybe to convince himself. He offered to build three dwelling places—one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, or maybe he was building a dwelling place for James and John and himself in order to offer a tangible expression of the unexplained.

“It is good for us to be here,” Peter says. It is good for us to be here. Sometimes you just have to say it. You might not remember the songs or exactly what the sermon was about, but you leave The Well saying, “It was good for me to be there today,” and that’s ok because there are plenty of places in our life where it’s not good to be. Sometimes it’s difficult to put your finger on whether or not a moment is good or bad, and I’m not even sure that question makes sense. It’s like the old Chinese tale about good luck and bad luck. A farmer went out and found that his horse had run away and his neighbor said, “What bad luck.” The farmer replied, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” The next day the horse came back with three other horses and his neighbor replied, “What good luck!” The farmer said, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” The next day the horses trampled the man’s garden destroying his crop. His neighbor said, “What bad luck.” The farmer replied, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” The next season his garden produced twice as many vegetables because the soil ha been overturned and his neighbor said . . . you get the idea. Is today a good day? Is today a bad day? This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Whether you are here with a heavy heart or whether you are here to share the joy you have received, let us make room for God in this moment this morning, so that at the end of it all we might say, “It is good for us to be here.”

Sometimes the place is so good we don’t want to leave. Peter is standing there seeing Jesus radiating with a holy light and he want’s to build dwelling places so that maybe they might stay because Peter knows that Jesus has been talking about going to Jerusalem and suffering. Fred Craddock said it well:

      Sometimes a child falls down and skins a knee or an elbow, then runs crying to his mother. The mother picks up the child and says—in what is the oldest myth in the world—Let me kiss it and make it better, as if mother has magic saliva or something. She picks up the child, kisses the skinned place, holds the child in her lap, and all is well. Did her kiss make it well? No. It was that ten minutes in her lap. Just sit in the lap of love and see the mother crying. Mother, why are you crying? I’m the one who hurt my elbow. Because you hurt, the mother says, I hurt. That does more for a child than all the bandages and all the medicine, in all the world, just sitting on the lap. What is the cross? Can I say it this way? It is to sit for a few minutes on the lap of God, who hurts because you hurt . . . I have to preach that. Peter . . . I have to do this. Without this journey, the world will never be healed.

Maybe Transfiguration is about knowing what goodness really is, that goodness is the marriage between the mount of transfiguration and the hill of Calvary, the tension of glory and suffering that is our faith. Maybe Transfiguration is less tangible than that. Elijah is out in the wilderness running for King Ahab who wants to kill him. Elijah climbs a mountain and finds a small cave in which to hide. The Lord comes to Elijah and asks, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” What a great question! Keep in mind, when God asks a question, God knows the answer. It’s like when your mom comes home for a weekend away and she asks, “Why have all the trash cans been emptied?” She knows the answer. She’s just giving you an opportunity to confess. “What are you doing here, Elijah.” Elijah responds, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” In other words, Elijah is afraid.

God tells Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” There is a great wind, but God is not in the wind. There is a great earthquake but God was not in the earthquake. There was a great fire, but God was not in the fire. Then there was the sound of sheer silence. A lot of ink has been spilled on exactly what all of this means, and if I was preaching on a different day I might jump into a bit more, but what captures me in this story, at least for today, is that after this dramatic experience, the Lord asks Elijah a question…and it’s the same exact question the Lord asked before. “What are you doing?” For Peter, this mountaintop experience was about letting go of the moment so that you can move on to doing what is right. For Elijah, maybe this mountaintop experience is about hearing the question out loud. “What are you doing?” What a blessing it is for the people in our life to love us enough and to have enough courage to ask us, “What are you doing?” Maybe you are in this place. Maybe like Elijah you are running from something, or maybe you don’t really have an answer. Maybe the point of it all isn’t the earthquake or the wind or the fire, but the question itself. “What are you doing?” Maybe it’s not about the answer, but the courage to dive into the question.

Many years before Elijah climbed the mountain, Moses climbed the mountain. Like Elijah, Moses experienced an earthquake and fire, but unlike Elijah, Moses went up the mountain not with a question but to share an answer. Moses went up the mountain to receive God’s will for the people Israel. He came down the mountain with God’s commandments. Peter went up the mountain and didn’t want to leave. Elijah went up the mountain with the question, “What am I doing?” ringing in his ears. Moses went up the mountain to receive a specific direction and purpose.

I’m curious though. Moses goes up the mountain and there is an earthquake and fire and smoke. Elijah goes up the mountain and there is earthquake and fire and a great wind. For Moses the experience of seeing the glory of the Lord left his own face glowing and radiating with light. Here we have a story of Jesus glowing and transfigured speaking with Moses and Elijah. I wonder . . . I wonder if these three stories are recording the same event. Maybe the glory that Moses saw was the transfigured Christ? Maybe the conversation Elijah was having with the Lord was Jesus asking him, “What are you doing?” Maybe what Peter wants to remember is seeing all three of these stories happening at once. What is time to God anyway? Don’t think too much on this or your might find yourself rocking in a fetal position sucking your thumb. But maybe the point of it all is to know that God in Christ is always with us. Whether we go up the mountain for the answers or we go up the mountain for a good question or we go up the mountain simply to recognize that it is good to be there, maybe the point of it all is that God is always with us. Soon we will need reminding that God is always with us. Soon Jesus will be hung on the cross and it will appear that all is lost. On that day, remember this day.

Read the timey-whimey texts here:

Luke 9:28-36

28 Now about eight days after these sayings 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.

1 Kings 19:9-14

Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 10He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’

11 He said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; 12and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. 13When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, ‘What are you doing here, Elijah?’ 14He answered, ‘I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.’

Exodus 19:18-20

18Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke, because the Lord had descended upon it in fire; the smoke went up like the smoke of a kiln, while the whole mountain shook violently. 19As the blast of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses would speak and God would answer him in thunder. 20When the Lord descended upon Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain, the Lord summoned Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

Judge Righteously

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When we grow close to the heart of God it’s not long before we realize that our connection with God isn’t ours alone. God hears our prayers, God shines a healing light in the midst of darkness, and God offers us forgiveness through the justifying grace of Jesus Christ, but God’s activity eventually calls us out of our self and shifts our gaze to our neighbor. It is like in the opening chapter of Acts when Jesus ascends into the heavens, and says to them, “You shall be my witnesses.” The disciples are standing there looking into the sky and two men in white robes say, “Why do you stand looking up toward heaven?” In other words, Jesus gave them a job to do, and it’s time to get on the move! (more…)

5 Proverbial Tweets

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2 Billion people across the globe are connected to each other via some form of online social media. Whether it is Facebook statuses or Twitter tweets or Snapchat chats or Vine videos or Pinterest, Feedly, Instagram, Tinder, LinkedIn…we are certainly connected. The art of navigating social media is a crucial gift moving forward in today’s church culture. No one professes faith in Christ because of the kind of graphics on your church website, but a website that’s pleasing and informative just might be what gets the seeker to your door. The perception of being tech savvy is becoming more important as our daily connection with digital media in our home, cars, and hands grows. With any cultural trend there are blessings and growing edges, so here are five “Proverbial Tweets” showing the positive and negative of our growing digital connectedness.

Proverbs 32:1A wise person will post original content, but the fool will only share. Creating original and clever content is the best way to multiply your digital influence. It can be a simple graphic or original language, but original content is the way to go. If creating original content isn’t your gift, try sharing information as an individual rather than as your church. 96% of content originates from individuals rather than corporate brands. In other words, your content will be more attractive if you post as “Mrs. Smith” rather than “First Church.” Have you noticed how sponsored Facebook ads look more like posts from individuals? That’s on purpose.

Proverbs 32:2A wise person offers a specific and targeted message, but the fool posts generalities. The good news of our connectedness is that you can quickly share a message with a wide audience; however this audience is quickly becoming splintered and polarized. Curtis Hougland, CEO of Attentionusa.com, mentioned in a recent article published by the University of Pennsylvania that our online connection is leading to a “Balkanization” of our communities. Even though with a few clicks you can reach 2 billion people, those 2 billion people are receiving an increasing amount of filtered and customized content.  Interestingly Hougland reports that individuals are becoming more loyal to personal content than to corporate entities. The good news is that our freedom to share our convictions is rather unfiltered and uncensored. The bad news is researchers are discovering that an individual is more loyal to one view of a divisive issue rather than corporate unity. For example, being online allows me to only socialize with dog lovers who oppose taxes for the community pool but who love strawberry ice cream. This means that social media is not a means of evangelism, but it is a great way to amplify preconceived belief. Meeting face to face, coming to the communion table offers me the opportunity to swallow the “tough pill of grace” when I break bread with Mr. Smith who is a cat person. You see, I don’t like cat people, but God does and that’s what matters.

Proverbs 32:3A wise person posts sparingly, but the fool updates the world with every detail. Maybe it goes without saying that we sometimes share too much. Sharing too much is like sharing nothing at all. Instead of sharing your worship times over and over again, try sharing information in different ways. According to Webgeekly.com digital consumers fall into six different categories: The Creator, the Critic, The Collector, The Joiner, The Spectator, and The Inactive. Each person treats posts and tweets and pics differently. For example, let’s say you want to share a blurb about the upcoming children’s musical coming up this spring. To catch the Critic you might share something like, “Our Children’s Musical, ‘Hamlet meets Jesus’ is coming this March. Which one of Hamlet’s songs is your favorite?” To the Joiner you might share a post that says, “Click here to join and support our ‘Hamlet and Jesus’ children’s musical coming up this spring.” The joiner would ignore the first post and the critic would pass over the second. If you post a generic message over and over, both would pass on all.

Proverbs 32:4A wise person delegates, but the fool tries to do it all. Social media is quickly become a specialized field. As a pastor, my week can quickly fill up with sharing content, producing videos, and creating Facebook events rather than focusing on the sermon, the fellowship, and the mission behind the online content. Creating original content can take hours, and unless the digital media enhances the order to which one is ordained, it is probably best to work with a tech savvy servant. Businesses like e-zekiel.com and motionworship.com really make you look snappy online with little cost. With anything there is a trade-off between convenience and customization, but I’m assuming most congregation really do want their pastor studying the Word more than crafting HTML.

Proverbs 32:5The wise person patiently posts, but the fool tries to be the first. It’s no sin to be the first person to comment on breaking news, but the problem is that stories change and not all information in initially shared. It is difficult to take back something that is out there, so it’s a good practice to let the dust settle on a breaking story before commenting or posting about it. It is quite tempting to jump into the mix when a story breaks so that your posts might trend, but you run the risk of trending in the wrong direction. It’s ok to wait and let the riff-raff duke it out online before jumping in. Your church will appreciate a thoughtful response rather than, how does Craig Gilliam put it, a “reptilian reaction.”

We live in a world in which 2 billion people are a keystroke away, but there are some things that never change. A website or Facebook post might get people to your door, but it is God working through the church, the body of Christ, which will keep them there. Never underestimate the power of a handshake or a phone call or a cup of coffee with someone who cares. The church is still about a body, broken and resurrected, and no app can change that.

Why am I United Methodist?

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Several of my friends and colleagues are posting why they are United Methodist. I would write a full article, but my answer is too short. Why am I United Methodist? I am United Methodist not because I find it to be right, but I find it to be beautiful. Beauty trumps “rightness” every time.

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