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March 8, 2015, 1:43 PM

Neighbors and Enemies

Luke 10:25-37
25 A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”
26 Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”
27 He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”[a]
28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”
29 But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30 Jesus replied, “A man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. He encountered thieves, who stripped him naked, beat him up, and left him near death. 31 Now it just so happened that a priest was also going down the same road. When he saw the injured man, he crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 32 Likewise, a Levite came by that spot, saw the injured man, and crossed over to the other side of the road and went on his way. 33 A Samaritan, who was on a journey, came to where the man was. But when he saw him, he was moved with compassion. 34 The Samaritan went to him and bandaged his wounds, tending them with oil and wine. Then he placed the wounded man on his own donkey, took him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day, he took two full days’ worth of wages and gave them to the innkeeper. He said, ‘Take care of him, and when I return, I will pay you back for any additional costs.’ 36 What do you think? Which one of these three was a neighbor to the man who encountered thieves?”
37 Then the legal expert said, “The one who demonstrated mercy toward him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
“Neighbors and Enemies"
As I entered into young adulthood and college, Disney had a resurgence of animated movies that grabbed the hearts of a whole new generation. During the 80s Disney had struggled with their feature-length animated movies. Movies like “The Dark Cauldron” and “Oliver and Company” had not generated the success they hoped. But as we transitioned for the 80s into the 90s, Disney found their rhythm once again and created movies that have become beloved favorites: “Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Toy Story” to name a few. But the movie that started it all, the movie that breathed new life into Disney’s animation, was “The Little Mermaid.”
How I loved that movie! It spoke to my childhood with former beloved Disney features—“Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella.” I watched it over and over again. I knew all the songs by heart. I loved Sebastian the Crab. Even as I entered adulthood, this movie centered me back in my childhood. So I decided I would read the original story by Hans Christian Anderson—the story that inspired the movie I loved. What a completely different story! Apart from “Ariel” the mermaid and her desire to be human, completely different stories. After reading “The Little Mermaid” I read the rest of Anderson’s stories—“The Matchstick Girl, The Red Shoes, The Ice Queen.” His stories are rich and deep and dark. They confront us with harsh realities and difficult scenarios. They are tragic and thought provoking. They unsettle. If you haven’t read his short stories, I would not call them fairy tales, I highly recommend you do so.
I still love the songs from Disney’s movies. Sebastian the crab has a special place in my heart. But I am a better person for having read the original story, for having wrestled with its harshness and tragedy. I am a better person for having moved beyond the Disney story to encounter this original piece of artistry. We must do the same with “The Good Samaritan.”
This is a tremendously beloved and familiar parable, so much so that it has become a term in the secular world—to be a ‘good Samaritan.’ We have Samaritan hospitals and clinics, Samaritan relief agencies and social service networks, Samaritan counseling centers and schools.  Even in the dictionary, the first definition for ‘Samaritan’ is ‘a charitable or helpful person.’ ‘A person from Samaria’ is the second definition. When we hear someone referred to as a ‘Good Samaritan’ we instantly picture a good hearted and generous person actively engaged in good deeds in the world. But that is not how Jesus’ original audience would have pictures.
This parable 2000 years ago was highly confrontational, deeply offensive, an “in-your-face” story designed to upset. This narrative would have left the listeners shocked and furious. It would have drawn gasps from the crowd as it as told.
The scenario that sets up the story is of itself confrontational.  This expert in God’s Law has stood up to test Jesus, to make his look bad in front of the crowd, to show him up and discredit him. The lawyer rises to his feet and asks an odd questions, “What must I do to earn eternal life?” This is bad Jewish theology, asking what check list he must follow in order to have ‘eternal life.” Common Jewish thought at that time was living now God’s way in order to live beyond with God. Eternal life wasn’t something ‘earn.’ It was something lived. Jesus, as a good rabbi, turns the question back to the asker: “You are the legal expert. How do you interpret it?” The lawyer gives a very standard and agreed upon answer: “To love God with everything you are and to love your neighbor as yourself.”
The lawyer cannot let the conversation end here, not if we wants to take Jesus down a notch in the eyes of the people. He has heard of this Jesus who stretches the boundaries of the Law, redefines things, and he wants to draw Jesus out and expose him as a fraud. So he asks another question: “And who is my neighbor?”
We must remember that this lawyer is not comparable to how we understand the job of lawyer today. This is not American law. This person is an expert in religious law—not just the first five books of the Bible (the Torah), but also the Mishnah and the Talmud. The Law is the structure of everyday life as God’s people Israel. It covers all aspects of life and gives definition for people, events, scenarios…for living.  There is a definition for neighbor and interactions with them, for dealing with strangers and foreigners, for dealing with enemies.  Your neighbor was any person in an intimate or legal relationship with you—think citizenship within a nation. If someone was your neighbor there were certain obligations and responsibilities with one another.  This man is asking Jesus if he will prescribe to these limits. ‘Who is my neighbor’ also asks who is not my neighbor. Who can claim the obligations and responsibilities from me and who can I ignore regarding those things? It is a harsh question, intended to be a little offensive.
Jesus answers with a harsh story. It begins with an act of violence. This everyday person, the common Israelite, is journeying down an often dangerous road from Jerusalem to Jericho, and the worst case scenario happens, he is waylaid by thieves.  Their thievery is extreme. Not only do they rob him of his possessions—they steal his dignity (leaving him naked), they steal his health, they almost steal his life. It is a travelers worst nightmare. The crowd is leaning in, imagining this clearly, wondering when and where he will find help.
Enter the priest and then the Levite. Both are inherited positions. One is born into a priest family or into a Levite family and carry on this family work. They are keepers of the Law, caretakers of the worship life of the people of Israel, good people by and large. The crowd would have had every expectation that they were respond as the Law commands, by offering aid, providing care.  The audience would be absolutely shocked by their failure to act. It would have shaken them to consider a priest or Levite failing in the basic commands of caring for a fellow Israelite—a neighbor. How could these members of the people of God not respond with compassion and basic care?
But even as they wrestle with these thoughts, they recognize that another traveler is coming. Jesus is employing a common storytelling tool—the rule of three.  Think of “The Three Pigs” or “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” A third person is coming, and their scriptures and culture teaches them who that is, or so they think. If there is a priest, and a Levite…then the Israelite is coming. Think of it as concentric circles, expanding. The tiny inner circle is the priestly families, the next larger circle is the tribe of Levi, and the largest outer circle, the entire people Israel.  The priest and Levite have failed, but now the average Israelite will come along and save the day.
Gasps resounded across the audience, cries of outrage, as not an Israelite is named, but an enemy of Israel—a Samaritan. This neighboring nation had tense relationships with Israel at the best of times. Other times the border between the nations would erupt with violence. In the previous chapter in Luke, Jesus is rejected by a Samaritan village because he is a Jewish man heading for Jerusalem. Think of the relationship today between Israeli and Palestinian. Jesus basically stated to the lawyer and the audience that the third traveler on the road is a Palestinian Muslim with sympathies toward Hamas. Jewish people don’t speak with Samaritans, don’t touch Samaritans, and are unsure they would want the Samaritan to stop.
What is Jesus saying? Samaritans aren’t neighbors, and yet this one not only fulfills the letter of the Law in caring for the person in need, but goes above and beyond what is required. I imagine that after the initial cry of outrage, the crowd would have fell silent at the extravagance of this compassion—to spend such time and resources for a stranger, for an enemy. The confrontation ends with a stunned lawyer and shocked crowd, reeling from the audacity of Jesus’ story. Jesus’ words echo over the audience, “What do you think? Who was the neighbor to this wounded person?” And the hesitant and reluctant reply, “The one who showed mercy.” That is quite the understatement. The Samaritan did so much more than show mercy, he showed nothing less that divine compassion. “Go,” Jesus demands, “and do likewise.”
Go and do likewise? Is Jesus saying that we are to be that extravagant with everyone, with my enemies, even those I can’t stand?
Also in the 90s, a television show aired late at night called “Picket Fences.” It was about life in a small town, about the sheriff, the doctor, the judge, and other townsfolk. I only saw two episodes, I think because of how the last one I saw unsettled me. In this particular episode, the son of the judge returns to town having completed his sentence in prison as a sex offender. The town is turned upside down by his return. Though he seeks to re-establish relationships with his father and his neighbors, he is rejected by most everyone, including his father. In the end he kills himself and the town is left to cope with their mixed emotions in this manner. During the final scene, one neighbor, one of the few that was somewhat friendly toward the son’s return, though reluctantly so, declares to another neighbor, “He was your neighbor! And you showed no compassion!”
Who is my neighbor? Jesus’ answer turns the world upside down

March 4, 2015, 11:09 AM

My Treasure, Our Pearl

Matthew 13:44-46
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure that somebody hid in a field, which someone else found and covered up. Full of joy, the finder sold everything and bought that field.
45 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls.46 When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it.
My Treasure, Our Pearl
The Commonwealth of God is like a winning Powerball lottery ticket, sticking up out of a box in a storage unit. A woman, attending an auction of abandoned storage units, sees the ticket, looks it upon her smart phone, and realizes it is the winning ticket. Quickly she tucks the ticket down in the box, and then liquidates all her assets so she can win the bid on that storage unit.
Again, the Commonwealth of God is like a dealer in fine arts. While assisting in the selling of an estate that had collected fine art over the generations, the dealer discovers Carabaggio’s “Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence” (a lost masterpiece worth multi-millions). He quickly sells everything he has to buy that painting.
These two one verse parables—the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Price—are so often overlooked in the gospel of Matthew and when they appear in the lectionary readings.  They are part of chapter 13 of Matthew, a chapter of parables, one after the other, beginning with the Parable of the Sower which we heard last week. These two tiny stories are found in the midst of the Parables of the Weeds and the Wheat, the Mustard Seed, the Yeast in the Loaf, and the Net. When they pop up in our three year lectionary cycle they are always accompanied by that beloved Mustard Seed and the Yeast.  And we have to admit, gardening and baking are so much easier to wrestle with in parable form. Plants and bread are timeless and universal images, ones that can resonate through the centuries.
But these two tiny parables also offer a timeless and universal challenge if we can wade through the centuries and cultural boundaries to sit with the crowd on the beach 2000 years ago and hear with different ears. As we read last week in the Parable of the Sower, Jesus begins teaching on the shores of Lake Galilee, and the crowd is so great he climbs into a boat and teaches to the people and disciples gathered on the beach.
The first parable, the Treasure in the Field, both acts to set up the next parable and tweaks the ears of the listener and draws them in. The word ‘treasure’ rings a bell for those who have been following Jesus and it grabs their attention. Jesus has spoken of treasure before—“where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Ah ha! the followers exclaim. Jesus is in some way speaking to us on matters of where our hearts dwell. And, Jesus uses a story that most everyone on that beach can identify with, the average person stumbling across a fortune. Who wouldn’t resonate with that? Just look at how successful the lottery system is today, and the number of people willing to drop by the convenience store when the jackpot becomes large, just for a chance at a fortune. Who wouldn’t love to be in this person’s shoes? The listeners are drawn in and primed for the punch.
“The kingdom of heaven is like a person, a merchant…” What? Jesus now has their undivided attention—a merchant? How is living God’s way anything like the life of a merchant? Aren’t they about the bottom line, making a buck, growing their business? And merchant’s may have a neutral image in our day, but in the New Testament, the word for ‘merchant’ in Greek has its root in the word for ‘empire.’ It is a decidedly negative term. But Jesus forges ahead, “The kingdom of heaven is like a person, a merchant seeking pearls…” So, not only are we dealing with a merchant, but one that deals in rare commodities. Pearls were very hard to come by in first century Israel. They were only owned by the wealthiest of the wealthiest; royalty, the powerful. Most people on that beach listening to Jesus had never seen a pearl. “…a merchant seeking pearls, and upon finding one of exceeding value, sells everything—EVERYTHING—to own it.”
This is the real shocker, that a merchant, who is all about the bottom line and making a profit would sell everything—home, business, property, resources—for this one thing, no matter how precious it is. This is completely reckless, an over-the-top response. He is willing to sell it all for this pearl. And whispered under this short parable begins a question: “Is there any scenario where I would do that? Is there anything I would sell everything for? What is my treasure? What is our pearl?”
Jesus isn’t naïve. He knows the crowd, and even the disciples, first response will not be the kingdom of heaven, the commonwealth of God. Not if they are being honest. Not if we are. But it is important to know what our response is to such a question. What would we be willing to go ‘all-in’ for? What would we give everything and anything for? What is my treasure? What is our pearl?
And even as that question continues to play out within us, another begs for attention from us. How might God’s commonwealth, the kingdom of heaven, rise in value for us? ‘For where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.’ What might we need to divest ourselves from—financially? with our time? our talent? our energy? our resources?—in order to invest more fully in the kingdom? What might we need to ‘give up’ in order for more and more of our treasure, more and more of our pearl, to be God’s way of living in this world and the next?
The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, one person, upon discovering this treasure, sells everything to buy the field. The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking pearls, upon finding one of exceeding value, the merchant sells everything to buy it.
Let all of us with ears, pay attention!

March 3, 2015, 8:48 AM

Gaining Perspective

Matthew 13:1-9
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.9 Let anyone with ears[a] listen!”
Gaining Perspective
As we talked about on Ash Wednesday, our journey through Lent this year is a journey with the parables of Jesus. We were reminded on Wednesday afternoon and evening that parables are a unique art form designed to capture our imaginations. They are strikingly visual and reach into the ‘everyday’ to connect our ordinary lives with the sacred. Parables have layers of meaning, and contain twists and surprised to grab our attention. They require us to participate in the telling, to engage with them and chew on the many layers of meaning—to ponder, experience the mystery, be surprised. We have lost some of these rich aspects to parables because they have become so familiar. Our job this Lent is to experience them anew, with fresh ears and refreshed imaginations.
Now, having said all that, today we have a very familiar and beloved parable, ‘The Parable of the Sower.’ In two weeks we will encounter the most familiar of them all, ‘The Good Samaritan.’ Is there anything new to hear in this parable? Can we possibly be surprised here?
One strength of the parable as a teaching and learning tool is its use of everyday life; in this case-Farming. Even in this fishing village on the shores of Galilee’s lake, people knew about farming. Not all they ate came from the lake. Even today, through television shows and movies, we can picture the basics of first century farming practices in our minds. The field must be prepared—plowed to loosen the soil, rocks removed, grasses and weeds ripped up. Fertilizer is spread and turned into the soil to create as rich an environment as possible for the best possible yield. The soil is often turned and loosened one more time so that the conditions are optimal for a great harvest.  Only then is the precious seed brought out—either saved from last year’s harvest or purchased at the market—and carefully spread on the prepared ground.
With that image clearly before us, think about the behavior of the farmer in our story…anything but careful and planned sowing. This sower comes out and begins scattering seed everywhere—reckless and careless. There is even the sense in this parable that no preparations were taken at all. This farmers behavior is crazy, haphazard, extravagant. As we contemplate how this story speaks to God’s realm and our lives with God, who is this bizarre sower? God? Jesus? Us? As Jesus gives an interpretation of this parable a few verses later in Matthew, he alludes to the fact that the sower is most likely God—or perhaps himself—a reckless Creator tossing seeds every which way.
But this is only one perspective from which to ponder this narrative.
What if we called this ‘The Parable of the Seed?’ The parable does not come with a name, that is something we have added over the generations. What if we focus our attention on the seed for a moment—the hapless, helpless seed, and its interaction with the ground? What are seeds? Seeds are life, rich potential waiting to be awakened. They are mysterious. We don’t know exactly how these little hard kernels transform into plants, vines or trees, but with the energy and resources, that is what they do. With some water and light, these hard little vessels transform into beautiful, wondrous life. And now, in this parable, they are being flung everywhere. What do they represent in this story? Are the seeds the good news? Are they Jesus? Are they discipleship living? What do we gain from seeing the story from this perspective?
But there is another way to look at this parable.
What if we call this story ‘The Parable of the Soils?’ The soils are easy to imagine in this first parable of Jesus. We can easily visualize what happens to the precious seed when it falls upon the different parts of the earth: the hard path, the shallow gravel, among the weeds and thorns, and into the good soil. The soils are the receivers of these kernels of life, and Jesus tells the disciples in his explanation of the parable that these soils are the people. Let those who have ears, pay attention! Jesus is essentially asking, from this perspective, how it is with your soul? Will these seeds rich with potential bounce right off as God flings them your direction? Will they start out great but quickly dry up? How likely are they to be choked and wither away? Or, might they flourish with the rich God-life they contain?
This parable does still seek to surprise us, 2000 years later, with the seeming carelessness of the farmer, to tease us with the mystery of the seed, and to challenge us with the question of our soil, our soul, and to fill us with hope at the promise of the harvest—30, 60 100 fold!
May we carry this beautiful parable with us into the week to ponder, to gain perspective. May we chew on its layers of meaning, hear it again and again. May we dwell with it and experience it anew in our lives each day.
Let those who have ears, pay attention!

February 19, 2015, 9:34 AM

The Pharisee & the Tax Collector

Luke 18:10-14, CEB
“Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ I tell you, this person went down to his home justified alongside the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
The Pharisee & the Tax Collector
As we journey through Lent this year, we are traveling with the beautiful stories of Jesus—the parables. What a wonderful gift are the parables as a way to convey life with God, life as a disciple. Parables are a unique art form that is designed to capture our imaginations, to be strikingly visual, to transform everyday life into revelations of the divine. Parables contain layers of meaning, and designed with twists to grab our attention, and require us to participate and engage with them as we chew on them long after the telling; pondering the meaning, experiencing the mystery, wondering at the surprise.  Over the years we have lost some of these aspects of the parables due to our familiarity with them. But to Jesus’ first century audience, disciples or crowds, these teachings, these stories were new, surprising and fresh. Parables, up to this point, had not been used as a teaching tool.
On Ash Wednesday most years we hear from the gospel of Matthew and Jesus’ teaching on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. “Do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing.” This year, as we begin our journey with the parables, we encounter a story involving prayer. “Two people go up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and one a tax collector.” At first glance this story seems pretty simple and straightforward. The Pharisee, though religious, sounds pompous and puffed up to our ears. The tax collector, though a sinner, is humble and repentant. The tax collector, in his simple prayer, is made right with God. Therefore, the moral of story is “be like the tax collector.” The end.
But where is the surprise that parables are supposed to have? Where is the twist? What are we to chew on and ponder? Is this how the disciples and crowds heard the story so many years ago? It is more likely they heard the parable more like this…
“Two people went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and one a tax collector…”
“Wait…did he just say ‘tax collector…in the temple…praying?!?!” Gasp, whisper, murmur, grumble.
Tax collectors were viewed by most Israelites as clear sinners. They were viewed as corrupt, dishonest, wealthy due to extortion of their fellow Israelites. They were considered traitors, working for the occupying government and against their own people. They rarely demonstrated mercy for others. The audience would have a hard time imagining a tax collector even considering going to the temple to pray, let alone actually doing it.
Now, a Pharisee is a whole other matter. They were considered pious and devout. Several historian accounts of Jesus’ time lift up the Pharisees as having the support and respect of the people. They were steeped in scripture and tradition, and sought to make the ancient teachings relevant to the people of their day. Though a few were giving Jesus a hard time, overall Pharisees were seen as the ‘good guys.’ And though we consider the Pharisees prayer to be pompous, he was praying in the common style of his time. We have many examples of synagogue and temple prayers from the 1st century. They begin by addressing God and speak throughout in the first person. They give thanks for what the person is, and what the person is not. One of my favorite written prayers from 1st century Jewish worship states: “I thank you, God, that I am not a gentile. I thank you, God, that I am not a woman.” The Pharisees prayer is keeping with the style of his time. And these prayers end with a listing of all the things the one praying has done in following God’s way. And this Pharisee character in Jesus wasn’t just pious…he is uber pious.  He doesn’t just fast once per week as required, he fasts twice a week. He doesn’t just give a tenth of his income, he gives a tenth of everything he owns.  This exaggeration would have drawn a little chuckle from the audience as they heard the Pharisees prayer.
The twist, the surprise, for Jesus’ 1st century audience was the tax collector himself. They would be having a Jonah-like experience as they heard the story unfold—Jonah who resisted going to Nineveh with God’s message because he didn’t want his enemies to repent and be saved. This traitorous, hated sinner went up to the temple, engaged in the washing process to make himself ritually clean so he could enter the temple, demonstrated true repentance with the beating of his chest, and prayed for mercy. And if he willingly did all of that, the people knew what would happen. God would show this tax collector mercy, darn it! That is how God works.
Jesus’ audience will chew on this story for a while. If even tax collectors can be forgiven, restored, and made right with God, how does that change how we see them when we encounter them in the day-to-day? How does that change how we should treat them? That tax collector showed real humility and repentance, do I? If God’s mercy is for all, truly for all, than how does my mercy toward others compare? How must it change?
Two people went up to the temple to pray…and they will journey with us all through Lent.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

February 15, 2015, 9:10 AM

Bathed in Glory!

Mark 9:2-9 (CEB)
Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them, and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus.Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.
Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, my Beloved. Listen to him!” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Human One had risen from the dead.
Bathed in Glory
One of my favorite television shows, and one of the longest running out there, is “The Simpsons.” I love the satire, their commentary on our culture. For twenty six years I have laughed at the antics of this hugely dysfunctional family, and impressed over and over with their ability to capture aspects of our society and shine light on their with humor. My favorite character on the show is Lisa Simpson; this sweet little nerd, type A personality, who loves school and structure and organizing. She excels at music and education and has the cutest giggle.
My favorite episode is one in which Lisa has a major meltdown at school—“The PTA Disbands.” In this episode, the teachers at the elementary school all go on strike. The PTA has a huge fight and disbands. So, some parents take it upon themselves to teach school in the absence of the teachers. Lisa’s class ends up with a parent that is very hippy-esque; all peace and love, feel and experience, no judgment, no structure, no testing, no grading—just be.  As you can imagine, this drives Lisa crazy. After several days of this completely structure-less classroom experience, Lisa explodes; “Look at me! Grade me! Look at me! Evaluate and rank me! Validate me!” And all the type A personalities watching (like me) went “yes!” We understood. Too much change, too fast, no structure, lack of control, all equals meltdown.
Peter is experiencing much the same thing in our reading today—The Transfiguration. So much has already changed in his life. He has left his home, his occupation, his family, to follow this traveling Rabbi. And in his following he has witnessed miracles and healing, has heard teaching that have opened his mind to new ideas and new ways of living. But he has processed all of this change by holding firm to the structures of his faith—the religious structure he has been grounded in since his childhood. Rabbi’s call disciples to follow them, learn their ways, absorb their teachings. Peter never imagined he would be called to be a disciple, he didn’t believe he had made the cut, but he had seen Rabbis and their disciples, so had a framework in which to place his own call and following. And this isn’t any Rabbi, he and the other disciples believe Jesus to be the Messiah, and Peter’s religion has a structure for that as well. There are definitions and scriptures, teachings, about the Messiah. Peter has been fitting this Jesus experience into that structure he has inherited from his culture and faith, but it has been a tight fit.
Until this moment.
Suddenly, in a flash of light (literally), all that structure and framing has been obliterated. Jesus, radiant in the glory of God, throws Peter’s Messiah definitions out the window. All the qualifying and quantifying Peter had is place is gone, and he is overwhelmed and terrified. Peter suddenly finds himself quite literally in one of the faith stories from his childhood. He is upon the mountain with God. He is face-to-face with the radiant glory of the divine. And to drive the point home, Moses and Elijah suddenly show up. In some way Peter cannot understand he is confronted with the very presence of God, in Jesus, so…he reverts to what he knows. If this is Moses in the wilderness, if this is Elijah on the mountain, there is a festival for that. Sukkot. The Feast of Booths.
Each year, in the observing of Sukkot, the people of Israel build booths, tents, and live in them for seven days to commemorate the Exodus, the celebrate all that God has given them and give thanks, to honor the gifting of the Torah-the Law. Peter grabs hold of this structure from his faith tradition and declares, “let’s build booths;” seeking to place some framework around the overwhelming experience.
But God interrupts. God interrupts Peter’s frantic attempts to qualify and quantify the experience, to comprehend what is happening and place religious walls around it. Now is not the time for theologizing and understanding, for doctrine and dogma and polity. Now is the moment to simple be present, to experience the intimacy of this moment. “This is my Son, my Beloved.” This is the opportunity to experience real holiness and assurance of God-with-us. Peter is called to bask in the light, wonder at the glory, experience awe. Be overwhelmed. Be transformed.
The Church is grappling to understand. The Church is frantically trying to understand this new millennium and the people who occupy it. What do we do with these “spiritual but not religious” people who have turned away from organized religion? Leaders, both lay and clergy, desperately seek programs and ministries that might attract these “spiritual but not religious,” these SBRs. We shore up our theology, get our structures in place, debate doctrine, and qualify and quantify, seeking some control. And then we go all Lisa Simpson on the SBRs—“Look at me! Look at me! Come to worship! Serve on a committee! Pledge! Help with the next dinner! See us!”
Oh, how we need this Sunday—Transfiguration! This might one of the most important holy days on our church calendar in the new millennium. What are the SBRs looking for? They want divine experience, holiness, intimacy, transcendence. They hunger to know there is something bigger than themselves and to feel it in their lives in a real way. And here it is! Transfiguration! Not to be understood, but to be experienced! This is the moment to bask in the light, to wonder at the glory, to experience awe. Be overwhelmed. Be transformed. To be!
Thanks be to God! Amen! 

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