Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sermon: Crowded With God

Let me start my sermon today by reading a scripture to you. This is from Matthew 17:1-9.

Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain. He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.

Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe.

But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One is raised from the dead.”

Anna Murdock is a lay servant.

In other words she is a not a pastor, but a lay person like all of you. But she has written on this passage more beautifully than many clergy could. It is called Shhh…Listen and appears in their church newsletter from Statesville NC.[1] She beings by quoting C.S. Lewis who wrote that “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with God. God walks everywhere incognito. The real labor is to remember, to attend. In fact, to come awake. Still more to remain awake.”

Although I recommend reading the entire article, here are a couple of excerpts:

“God is with us, incognito, as Lewis writes. But oh, when the veil is lifted and a portion of the glory of God’s presence is revealed to some … what happens then? There is no mistaking that something extraordinary has happened and there is indeed an awakening.’

“Some call this moment of revelation a “Thin Place.” I have a dear friend who calls such a time a “heaven-touching-earth moment.” For me, I refer to this as a “God-moment.” There are no words to adequately give name to the moment when the Divine Veil has been lifted in a person’s presence. The radiance, the glory, God’s presence and our deep desire to put an experience such as this into immediate words all cause some stammering on our part. There is even confusion as to what has taken place. It is then when a holy finger presses against our lips and we hear, “Shhh … This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” And so, the Divine Veil is lifted if only for a moment. The Holy is so radiant that we could easily be blinded yet, in such a heaven-touching-earth moment, there is tremendous love. “Shhh … Listen! Listen to him first before finding your own words.”

“For those who have recognized a time when the Most Holy has chosen such a moment of revelation, there seems to be a quietness about the experience for a period of time. Something so amazing, so intimate, so private is beyond our words. But there must be a reason for such a “mountaintop” experience. There must be a reason to find oneself in the presence of God Almighty, knocked face down by such holiness. Perhaps it is so that our hearts might hear “This is my Son, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased. Shhh…listen to him!” It is the voice of the Most Holy that beckons us to believe in and listen to Jesus in a renewed way.”

Isn’t that wonderful!

Anna Murdock has reminded us first that the world is crowded with God. That God has filled all the cracks and crevices of creation. But too often we are asleep and we don’t notice. Our minds, our hearts are on autopilot and we don’t notice that God is right there, so close, ready to speak to us. Can you remember a time when you were awakened to the Holy, the mystical?

Because when we wake up, when our senses become aware and alert to the things of God, we may experience a true heaven touching earth moment, when we like the disciples hear God saying, “Shhh…Listen. This is my Son!”

And then Anna reminds us that our job is to do exactly what God just said, we are to actually allow ourselves to be without words for a while, to let the experience be beyond words, while we listen, while we experience God.

Honestly, it is a great reflection.

But here is my question for you: what would it take to wake you up, so that you can see just how crowded with God the world is? Would it be doing more? Or would it be doing less, finding stillness, taking time to see and listen?

I suspect it would be the second. What could you do in your life to create more space for such holy and transforming encounters?

As you read the bible passage, one thing that Peter seems to show us is that often our initial reaction is to reach for the past, to cling to old ways. He wants to build a temple, a monument, like they did long ago. He is stuck thinking about the good old days and how people used to do things.

But the focus of the moments with God is seldom on the past, it is almost always on what is next, where God is going, what God is doing in the future. In the bible passage God is showing the disciples what is yet to come, how Jesus will be glorified, and how Christ will fulfill the law and the prophets.

Likewise, when we encounter God, one of the dangers is that we will cling to the past. Try to build temples and monuments to what has happened rather than use God’s message to move into the future. It is true that God’s message may bring healing for the past, but it is so that we can move into tomorrow. That message may draw from the power of the past, but it is so God can do something new. There is a push and a movement from our moments with God that is meant to be transforming of our future.

My experience of God moments is that God is challenging me.

There is the moment when God grabs my attention, the strange tingling of goosebumps as I realize that God is near, that sense of awe and power and a realization that I am not worthy of this presence of God. It is as though God is making me be silent so that I will listen.

And then comes the challenge. Perhaps it is to reach out to a certain individual, perhaps it is to change my behavior, perhaps it is to look at a certain path of ministry for the church, perhaps it is simply to remind me that God is very real.

Always it is like being awakened to something that I had not seen before. A new reality stands before my eyes, clearly, and powerfully. God has something for me to do. This moment is not just so that I feel good, but so that I will live differently. It is meant to change my focus in life.

What I have discovered about these moments is that the more open I am to them, the more that I am looking for them, the more often they happen. When I wake up and realize that the world is crowded with God – I actually experience God more often.

I suspect that that is the same for all of us. When we start looking for God in our daily lives, God soaks into the spaces in life we never expected. We begin to change our focus in life.

So if I could snap my fingers, just like that, and you could see God right now, I would do it.

But imagine for a moment that that is true. Imagine that God is active in your life, that God is present. If God were here right now telling you to be still, to listen, what would God be telling you? And what new thing would God be showing to you about your future? What challenge does God hold for you?

And don’t try to put it into words, because it may not be possible right away. It may only be a moment of amazing intimacy with God, which leaves us stammering, but shows us a picture of where God wants us to be. And remember the world is crowded with God. These moments and these challenges are around us all the time. That is how we grow!

[1] “View From the Pew” www.pewponderings.blogspot.com

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