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March 26, 2017, 12:00 AM

Open Your Eyes

by Sandy Bach

16  God addressed Samuel: “So, how long are you going to mope over Saul? You know I’ve rejected him as king over Israel. Fill your flask with anointing oil and get going. I’m sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I’ve spotted the very king I want among his sons.”

2-3 “I can’t do that,” said Samuel. “Saul will hear about it and kill me.”

God said, “Take a heifer with you and announce, ‘I’ve come to lead you in worship of God, with this heifer as a sacrifice.’ Make sure Jesse gets invited. I’ll let you know what to do next. I’ll point out the one you are to anoint.”

Samuel did what God told him. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the town fathers greeted him, but apprehensively. “Is there something wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong. I’ve come to sacrifice this heifer and lead you in the worship of God. Prepare yourselves, be consecrated, and join me in worship.” He made sure Jesse and his sons were also consecrated and called to worship.

When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab and thought, “Here he is! God’s anointed!”

But God told Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything. Don’t be impressed with his looks and stature. I’ve already eliminated him. God judges persons differently than humans do. Men and women look at the face; God looks into the heart.”

Jesse then called up Abinadab and presented him to Samuel. Samuel said, “This man isn’t God’s choice either.”

Next Jesse presented Shammah. Samuel said, “No, this man isn’t either.”

10 Jesse presented his seven sons to Samuel. Samuel was blunt with Jesse, “God hasn’t chosen any of these.”

11 Then he asked Jesse, “Is this it? Are there no more sons?”

“Well, yes, there’s the runt. But he’s out tending the sheep.”

Samuel ordered Jesse, “Go get him. We’re not moving from this spot until he’s here.”

12 Jesse sent for him. He was brought in, the very picture of health—bright-eyed, good-looking.

God said, “Up on your feet! Anoint him! This is the one.”

13 Samuel took his flask of oil and anointed him, with his brothers standing around watching. The Spirit of God entered David like a rush of wind, God vitally empowering him for the rest of his life.

Samuel left and went home to Ramah.

(I Samuel 16:1-13 "The Message" C pyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

This is a drama fit for the stage.  There's action and emotion and lots of questions.  Most of all, we see God actively involved in the narrative.

First, God tells Samuel to quit grieving over Saul, the first anointed king over Israel. Samuel had anointed him. But it was God who told him to do it.  Sadly, Saul didn’t fare well. He failed to put his trust in God. His own agenda got in the way and eventually Samuel had to tell Saul that he’s lost Israel.

As harsh as Samuel was with Saul, he grieved mightily. After a period of time, God tells Samuel that it’s time to move on. That God is doing a new thing in Israel.

Then, God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to Jesse’s home. It’s a dangerous mission. If Saul gets word, he can have Samuel killed. God does an end run around this by telling Samuel to hold a worship service.

The strangest part of this, though, is how God chooses the next king. Samuel is certain that Eliab, Jesse’s eldest son is the one to anoint. He’s tall, like Saul, he’s handsome. He looks like a king!

But, no. Eliab isn’t the one. Nor is the second-born, the third-born, or the fourth-born. It’s getting tiresome. The action is beginning wane.  We need someone to anoint.  Did Samuel feel foolish? And how did these sons feel? One strapping young man rejected after another. Jesse parades each one before Samuel like a beauty contest or a horse show. Nope. These won’t do.

They won’t do, because God’s sight isn’t Samuel’s. God’s sight isn’t skin deep. God’s sight takes in all of the person: heart, mind, and soul. God sees all of it: our emotions, our ability to discern, our commitment, our intelligence, our wisdom and our character.

I could use a bit of that insight. And I trust you could, as well. We look at a black teenager wearing a hoodie. Whether we mean it or not, we wonder if he’s up to no good.

A dark-complexioned man is speaking English with a thick Hispanic accent. We assume he’s an undocumented immigrant.

A teenager with tattoos and all manner of piercings walks past you in the store. Is she on drugs?

We didn’t get up this morning planning to judge others in this harsh light. After all, we sit in church every Sunday morning vowing to love God and neighbor. The problem is, we watch the news. The news is troubling. We learn that we must be careful. Next thing we know, we’re afraid of anyone who doesn’t look and act like us.

Samuel’s eyesight isn’t any better. He’s stuck on looks and stature. He’s stuck in the past, looking for an improved version of Saul.

God’s vision is for something new. Someone new. Someone who’s heart is in the right place, who will trust in God and discern God’s vision.

The problem is, it’s son number eight. Often in scripture the number “seven” means completeness or perfection. For example, seven lamps in the tabernacle where God is worshiped; Joshua led a march around Jericho seven times; Jesus told his disciples to forgive not “seven” times but “seven times seventy.”

Jesse has a complete family with his seven sons. There’s a stray kid out in the pasture minding the sheep. He’s the youngest, probably unimpressive. Samuel calls a halt to the selection process and waits for this young boy to be brought in.

We wait with Samuel. We wait for our Messiah to return and make all things new. We wait for God to reject that which we would reject and bless that which we would bless.

Finally, he arrives. Unlikely as it is, God chooses him. Only after he’s anointed do we get to know his name.  David.

How’s your eyesight? Are you, like Samuel, judging the outside appearance? Or are you trying to see others through the eyes of God?

Is it blurred by a tumultuous heart? What does God see in you? Is it good enough for God?

So what if you aren’t good enough? That’s not what’s important. What’s important is that God loves you. God loves you and sees everything: guilt, shame, prejudice, bias; joy, laughter, hope. God sees it all and loves us anyway.

Did your family tell you that you weren’t good enough? To God, you’re more than enough.

Are you working hard to keep God loving you? Stop and rest for a while. Let God be God; let God in.

Are you busy trying to prove yourself? Let it go. You have nothing to prove because God sees all and knows all and loves you anyway.

Theologian, Paul Tillich was fond of saying that “faith is the courage to accept acceptance.”  (http://people.bu.edu/wwildman/tillich/resources/review_tillich-paul_couragetobe.htm)

“…the courage to accept acceptance.” How would that look in your life? To accept that God accepts you as you are? That you don’t earn God’s love? That you don’t work to be acceptable to God?

I read the 23rd Psalm through a different set of eyes this week. There is nothing in this Psalm for me to do but to rest, to be nourished and to know that I walk with God daily, even through the dark valley. And eventually my eyes see that light that Christ brought into the world.

It's a drama fit for a, well for a king.  It's a drama with an important message for you and me.  Let God be God.  Let God's voice overpower those internal voices that try to tell you you're less than okay.

God is always doing a new thing.  God needs you to accomplish it.

Take notice this week.  How has God called you?  Where has God called you?

Enter into this new week with eyes wide open.

Wide open with the lens of God to shape your faith.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 19, 2017, 12:00 AM

Keep Your Mouth Shut

by Sandy Bach

17 From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried out to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” The Lord said to Moses, “Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.” Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah[a] and Meribah,[b] because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (Exodus 17:1-7 NRSV)

Our journey to the cross and salvation continues this week with an escape. An escape from slavery.

The Hebrews had lived in unspeakable conditions. They were slaves used mercilessly for Pharaoh’s ever-growing building plans. Their plight became worse when Moses wouldn’t let go of his plea to pharaoh to “Let my people go.” It was a difficult time for all of them.

It took ten plagues to gain their freedom: water turned to blood, frogs, gnats, flies, diseased livestock, boils, scary weather, locusts and darkness. The slaves survived with God’s provision. The worst plague was that night the Angel of Death came through and every firstborn in the land died. The Hebrews were protected.

They followed instructions and were kept safe by God. They escaped into the wilderness where God provided safe passage through the Red Sea waters; safety on the other shore when the sea closed up; travel by day and night with God leading them. Bitter water was made sweet; manna and quail arrived daily from heaven.

Just when they thought they were at the end of their rope, God stepped in and provided.

Now, they have no water. Without water, the entire population and their livestock will die. We know of water shortages in many parts of America and the world. Flint, Michigan with its toxic levels of lead in the water. People in many parts of the world still have to find water in ponds and rivers; some depend on standing water and don’t know to boil it before they use it.

Water is important to survival. It takes very little time before we die from thirst. Moses is leading a great multitude and a lot of water is necessary to sustain them. So, we might well wonder, why is Moses chastising them?

The Israelites took a huge risk. They not only packed up and moved, but they escaped slavery. They left behind routine and a certain sense of security. Now they find themselves in a strange and unknown place: a hot, dry, arid wilderness with no supply of food without God’s provision and now: no water.

On the other hand, they’ve seen the work of God protecting them over and over again. Shouldn’t this situation have been met with faith that God was with them and would provide?

One would think so, but look again. They’re slaves. Every morning they and their ancestors got up knowing where they would be working; what they’d be eating and where they would lay down their heads at night. They knew punishment for not meeting Pharaoh's goals.

They were victims and slaves. Escape from Egypt, though, didn’t mean escape from slavery. They were still thinking like slaves; still victims without ability to think for themselves. Their 400-year history had ingrained them with this slave mentality.

So, they stand before Moses: hot, sweaty, dirty; dreams of the Land of Promise fading with each dry breath they take. They are depending on Moses to provide and they’re worried that Moses isn’t doing a very good job.

A few times a year I receive a call in my office that goes something like this:

Do you help with utility bills?
Yes, tell me what’s going on.
I have a baby at home and my electricity is going to be turned off in two hours. If that happens I won’t be able to keep my baby warm.
How much do you owe?
$385. I’m three months past due.

Now, the first question you might ask is, why did she wait until the last moment to seek help? She knew this was going to be a problem more than a month ago.

Living in poverty is a form of slavery. Most days you wake up to a new problem that has to be solved. The past few months, this mother has been figuring out how to feed her family; or how to pay the water bill; where she would get gasoline so she could go to work; how to get her car fixed so she could go to work.

Every day brings a new problem. And after a while, they run out of options and slip into the slavery of reacting to problems. There’s no time or energy to think proactively. People in poverty become slaves and victims of their circumstances.

Choices are limited when you live in poverty. Solutions are scarce. The wilderness is a difficult place to be. The wilderness is a good place to see God.

Coming out of slavery is chaotic. It’s the ultimate wilderness experience. Ask a recovering addict or alcoholic.

Many of you have experienced other forms of slavery. All of them place shackles on us and hold sway over our lives. It comes between you and God; it loves to keep you under its spell by making you believe that you have to have it or you don’t deserve it.

Slavery holds us under false assumptions. Breaking out sends us into the wilderness where we honestly hunger and thirst for something to make us feel better. We second guess our decisions. Was it really that bad before I came out here? What am I doing here? This isn’t what I signed on for. I want to go back. This place is God-forsaken. I want my life back – it was awful but at least I knew what to expect.

The Gospel of John shares with us the story of a Samaritan Woman at the Well who also was chained: she was a woman of low status living in Samaria, the enemy camp of the Jewish people. She had had many husbands, perhaps by Levirate Law. She had no one to care for her unless she stayed with a man. Apparently, she’s shunned by others because she waits until everyone is finished using the well before she comes out for water. It’s high noon and it’s hot.

What was it about that phrase that Jesus used, "Living Water," that touched her; that unleashed her potential; that sent her to the townspeople who had sidelined and shunned her; whose testimony convinced them to "come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!" (John 4:29)

I think Moses understood the plight of the Hebrews. He knew they were in a tough situation, but he also knew that leaving slavery behind would take awhile.  His vision was for them to become the people God desired them to be.

They were headed for the Mountain of God where God would form them into a people with laws and rituals and vocation. They would become the chosen people of God, blessed to be a blessing. But that won’t happen today.

Our journey to salvation contains moments of hunger and thirst in the wilderness. God is there to provide for us. God provided for the Israelites with manna and quail and water. Once the basic needs were met, God was able to form them into a race of people blessed to be a blessing to others.

Did you notice what Moses did in this passage? First, he prayed. It was brief, it was humble. He was frightened of them and for them. In prayer, God reminded Moses that he had what he needed to fix this. Remember that staff you used to show Pharaoh my power? Remember when you used it to strike the Nile and blood ran? Use it again.

And Moses brought the company of elders with him. They would be the ones to tell the story to their children and children’s children. They would share about the time when Moses prayed and then used the staff to bring much-needed water to a thirsty population.

God provided that day, they’ll tell their children. And God provides today.

What tools do we have at our disposal that we can use for God’s people in this world?

The Land of Promise awaits us and it won’t go away. So, let’s hunker down, get some of that good sweet water. Then let’s return to learning who we are and who God has called us to be.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 12, 2017, 12:00 AM

Guard Your Ears

by Sandy Bach

12 Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.(Genesis 12:1-4 NRSV)

She’s hopelessly barren. The fact slips into their lives after years of trying to have a child. And now a long and prosperous family tree comes to a sudden and abrupt end.

One of the most difficult things for a woman to accept is her inability to bear children. I’ve counseled several and I personally know their pain and heartache. People don’t understand. Sometimes they’re mean, bragging about their ability to get pregnant and how rough their labor was.  Every baby you see is a stab in your heart. Baby showers are torture; you find excuses to avoid them.

On Mother’s Day you get patronized with statements like, “You’re a mother to all these children in our congregation.” Or “You’re a good woman; it’s not your fault you can’t carry a child.” And you wonder: do they really care or do they want to feel less guilty about their joy over motherhood?

Sarai tries to hold back her tears. Sometimes, it’s all she can do to keep from feeling jealous and angry. It hurts deep down and just when she thinks she has it under control, another reminder comes up and she returns to that tunnel of grief.

In her day, they don't know the science behind it.  Therefore, Sarai is a failure. It’s her fault. God has closed up her womb, probably as punishment for something she’s done.  Abram will have no sons to carry on his name. He’ll be forgotten without children to remember him and share his stories. His immortality is in his children.

In the Bible, barrenness means hopelessness.

God steps in to this heart-wrenching picture with a unique call to Abram and Sarai to move. Isn’t it enough that she won’t bear Abram a family of their own? Now they’re to leave their extended family, their home, even their country to journey to God only knows where.

They live in Haran, the “City of Crossroads.” And at the dead end of life, God offers them a laughable proposition: leave everything you value behind. Travel to a yet-to-be-revealed destination where God will bless them and make of them a great nation.

A what?

Did you say “great nation?”

Is this a joke? Are you trying to rub salt in the wound on purpose? That’s impossible. We’re barren, God. Remember?

But, God has a plan. It’s a long-range plan to build a nation starting with an elderly couple unable to have children. The future of Israel rests with God, who will build trust doing the impossible.

We could ask why did Abram go? Did he give it much thought? How much faith did he have in God?

We don’t have those answers. We could fill in those blanks with suppositions, but in truth, the text doesn’t care. What matters in this story is not what and who Abram and Sarai are, but what and who they will be.

In this season of Lent, we’re journeying to the cross in a series entitled, “Life’s Continuing Journey.” Last week we met up with Adam and Eve and rediscovered our inability to set temptation aside. We need a savior and we need him now.  Today and in the next few weeks we’ll see that God has a plan.

But, right now, Abram and Sarai need a savior. God has a plan. But, for us to see God and only God at work, God chooses the impossible in order to build trust with God’s people. After all, “nothing is impossible with God.”

Listen to God’s words:
I will make you a great nation
I will bless you so that you will be a blessing
I will bless those who bless you
I will curse those who curse you

This mission is all about God. God is leading this journey and God will provide what is needed.

What crossroads have you met in your life? What crossroads are you encountering today?

Abram and Sarai leave all that’s important to them behind. At a crossroads in their life, they choose new beginnings; new life with new promises.

I serve two blended congregations who are journeying to federation.  This text speaks to me about our journey to something new.  Two congregations are leaving the comfortable and the familiar to take a leap of faith to journey to new beginnings; new life with new promises.

When my husband and I set our wedding date, we selected Saturday, October 12: Columbus Day. I was teaching at the time, and one of my fellow teachers loved to tease me about it. “You’re getting married on Columbus Day? Really? What do we know about Columbus? He started out not knowing where he was going. He didn’t know how to get there. And when he arrived he didn’t know where he was! What kind of date is that for a wedding?”

Actually, it sounded like a pretty good date to me. Very few of our own plans worked out, but our life together hasn't been dull.

I wonder if that’s how you feel? Not knowing where you’re going. Not knowing how to get there. And wondering what you’ll look like when you arrive?

Perhaps we can learn from Abram and Sarai. They moved slowly, listening to the crunching sound of the wheels of the cart moving across a rocky desert floor; the dry, arid wind; new surroundings; new everything. Setting up camp, perhaps staying for a period of time before moving on.

The journey itself was as important as the destination. A time to grieve the loss of what they’d left behind; to come to terms with the so-called failures they’d experienced; to learn to trust God who was leading them to a new life; time to see their faith at work.

At the end of their lives I hope they could look back to see how God had been at work in their lives. They were a couple with very little to offer. She was barren. They were elderly. They learned that God didn’t need youth and vigor and fertility. God transcended that and did his best work with two people past their prime. God gave them new names: Abram, exalted ancestor, became Abraham, ancestor of a multitude.  Sarai, the one who was a mockery, became Sarah, princess.

Make no mistake about this: God would be the one to overcome; God would exercise God’s powers to make this plan a reality.

They left a lot behind: their identity as members of a family and community; their wealth; their security and protection. It was a costly demand, but they went anyway. God led and they flourished beyond their wildest dreams.

As you journey to the cross, what do you need to give up or take on?

What security and protection do you cling to, while God waits for you to reach out to Him?

What blessings are waiting for you?

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 5, 2017, 12:00 AM

Watch Your Step

by Sandy Bach

 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God,[a] knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. (Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7)

My mother had a knack for making the most amazing pies. Her apple pies were the best: flaky crust, fresh apples, cinnamon and sugar. I can taste it now.

Her cakes were okay, but nothing to write home about. Except for her browned coconut frosting. I believe it was brown sugar she mixed with the coconut and then placed under the broiler for a short time. I loved that frosting. I loved it way too much.

One Saturday morning, my parents and brother slept in while I played quietly in my bedroom. I was feeling a bit hungry, so I slipped into the kitchen to find something to eat. There it stood under the wax paper cover: that cake with the browned coconut frosting. I tried a bit of the frosting and then a bit more.

For the next hour, I moved between my bedroom and the kitchen gradually scraping the frosting off the cake. It was sublime! Eventually, though, I knew I would have to face up to my family about the cake that had lost its frosting. No matter, I would deal with that later.

Eventually my family awoke and we gathered at the kitchen table for breakfast. I thought perhaps I’d gotten away with it, until my father asked the question.

“Sandy, any idea what happened to the cake?”

“No.”

“It has no frosting on it. Do you have any idea how that happened?”

And that’s when I came up with the most remarkable, brilliant answer ever.

“Must be ants.”

It didn’t work.

Don’t you wonder, at times, what’s wrong with people? Why did I have to eat the frosting? Why did I have to eat all the frosting? Why did that driver get so angry? Why did Adam and Eve reach out to taste that fruit?

What’s wrong with people?

Did God ask too much? God put Adam in this dainty garden of delight and luxury. He was to till and keep it. That means he was to serve and keep and preserve the garden.

In return, God gave Adam free reign over all the trees in the garden, except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Adam had freedom with boundaries and he had a job.

God provided animals and permitted Adam to name them. Then God created his helpmate, woman. And Adam was delighted. Together they would preserve and keep this beautiful garden.

But there it sat day after day. Beautiful to look at; a delight to the eye; the fruit good for food. It stood there in the center of the garden, majestic in its beauty. Wherever Adam and Eve went, there it was. Standing almost arrogantly, as if to say, “You can’t have me.”

Soon it became something to contend with. Why wouldn’t God permit them to eat of it? Enter the serpent, the craftiest of God’s created animals. He poses a question that he well knows the answer to.

“So, you can’t eat of the fruit of any of these trees, right?”

“No,” she responds. “We can eat of everything. Just not that big one in the middle of the garden. It’s off limits.”

“Oh?”

“Yes. We can’t eat of it, or touch it, for that matter. If we do, we’ll die.”

“No, you won’t. You won’t die. God knows better. In fact, if you do eat of it, your eyes will be opened. You’ll see life as you’ve never known it. You’ll know good and evil.”

That’s all it took. A nudge here, a wink there, a few well-phrased words and they’re justified.

We’ve been there. Rationalizing a bad decision; standing naked with shame from an act made in the heat of the moment; listening to those inner or exterior voices that help us rationalize and justify our actions.

Our job is to serve and protect this garden we call earth. But we can’t keep our eyes off that tree. We know we must care for God’s creation even as we sign into law actions that inevitably hurt ourselves and others and the planet. We trust God and God’s provision until we can’t. We yearn for security and turn on those who don’t look like us. And then we turn them into the cause of our insecurity.

We justify ourselves: we need these natural resources or we won’t survive. Those who suffer for those actions will just have to deal with it.

“Those people” are sending terrorists or drugs to our land. And that justifies our treating all of them inhumanely.

That serpent is crafty, indeed. God ahead and eat that fruit – it’s good for you. It’s the healthy and right thing to do. Even though God said not to touch it.

Jesus faced the ultimate in temptations in the wilderness. He was tempted by hunger. He was tempted to save himself from danger. He was tempted to take over all the power in the world. (Maryetta Anschutz “Feasting on the Word: Pastoral Perspective” Year A, Volume 2 (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Pres, 2010) page 46

Generation after generation fails just as Adam and Eve did. “[We] …fall hopelessly and irreversibly into the power and habits of sin." (Walter Brueggemann “An Introduction to the Old Testament” (Louisville, Westminster John Knox Press, 2003) Page 37)

And we stand naked and ashamed, trying to cover ourselves up.

We need a savior and we need him badly. Fortunately for us God has a plan and we’ll search out that plan during this Lenten Season.

God not only has a plan, God provides. The good news in this text comes beyond our reading for today. After God confronts them with their failure to listen; after the consequences are explained; before they heard the slam of the gate and saw the cherubim standing guard, God made them decent garments of skins; God covered their nakedness.

This couple who gave up everything in a moment of temptation will enter life as we know it today. Joy and tears; birth and death; hard work and pain; but always God’s provision.

We can’t help ourselves. Thanks be to God we don’t need to go it alone. In this journey to the cross, let’s learn about God’s activity in the world to bring ultimate salvation.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.




March 3, 2017, 10:06 AM

Who is Jesus?

by Sandy Bach

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-9 NRSV)

We have names that describe him enormous terms:
Wonderful counselor
Almighty
Glorious
Messiah
Immanuel
Son of David
Son of Abraham
Everlasting
God’s beloved Son
Healer of disease and paralysis and sickness and demons and even nature’s assaults.
He is gentle and courageous
He speaks his mind

We can go on for a lot longer; I’m sure you’ve already begun adding your own descriptors to this list. We call him Jesus, God with us. The One who came to earth to walk among us and show us what’s important.

Yet, these titles barely begin to describe who he is.

We call him the “Jesus of history.” He is fully divine; he is fully human. And it’s in this moment of the transfiguration, that we see the two so clearly.

We see Jesus Christ: the Jesus of history. He was born and raised in a small outback village. He spent his final years as an itinerant preacher in Galilee, Samaria and Judea. He preached and taught with authority. He met people where they were and helped them find new life. He showed us how to live and how to live out our Christian experience. He was tried and convicted and executed. He was buried.

He is also the Christ of faith. This is the anointed One who had control and authority over disease and paralysis and sickness; even over nature. This is the Son of God whose birth was celebrated both on earth and in heaven.

Have you ever noticed how a person becomes a saint at their funeral? Often we gather with friends and family and the pieces of the loved one's life are shared.  And then we see that person more clearly.

Sometimes I thought of Uncle Ern as stodgy and narrow-minded.  But, I learned later that  when he inspected meat for the USDA, he graded the meat fairly and couldn’t be bribed. He spent his expense account on his vehicle, rather than as an addition to his salary.  He believed that he owed his to his employer to spend his mileage money on a sturdy vehicle that would carry him around the mountains of Washington Sate.  Stodgy?  Yes.  But, he left behind an example for other to follow.  I appreciate him more today than I did when he was alive.

While the disciples stand on that high mountain, they see their rabbi being himself: fully human, fully divine. When he is transfigured they see more than their brains can possibly process. They understand only a bit. They can only see in the mirror dimly. It’ll take that journey to Jerusalem; more teaching and healing and preaching; a trial with trumped up charges; death on the cross; and, finally, but most importantly, resurrection. Then they’ll see face to face.

Only then will they look back on that moment of transfiguration and see the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. Peter would write about it towards the end of his own life.

Perhaps you read and study scripture through the lens of the Jesus of history; the man who lived and had his being on earth; the man who modeled life for us.

Perhaps you find greater meaning in the Christ of faith: the one with power and authority; who transfigured in the presence of a few close disciples; who speaks to you in prayer.

Look once more at this passage. A voice from the cloud speaks, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” It wasn’t the sight of Jesus transfigured that sent them to their knees; nor was it the sight of Moses the lawmaker and Elijah the prophet; nor was it the cloud that covered them.

It was the voice. Overcome by fear they fell to the ground. What does Jesus do?  He doesn't chastise them or rebuke them.  Rather, he comes to them and touches them. Then tells them, “Come on. Get up. Be raised. No need to be afraid.”

He comes. He touches. He speaks.

Whether the Jesus of history or the Christ of faith, he comes to us and touches us and says, “it’s okay. Don’t fear. Be raised to this new life I’m offering you.”

Do not be afraid.

God touches us and calms our fears. Christ is glory and magnificence and power and mystery. Christ comes to us with love and gentleness. It’s more than we can grasp and understand, even 2,000 years later. I suggest that’s how the disciples felt that day on the mountain.

It’s more than we can grasp and understand. Yet, what we do grasp and understand is enough for now.

Who is Jesus Christ? He is Jesus of history. He is Christ of faith. Our words can only begin to describe him. And perhaps we can cling to Peter’s words spoken just a few days ago: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

With those words on our lips, let us proceed with caution and fear and awe into the Lenten season.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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