A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, February 11, 2013

Sermon by Sandra Yerian, Youth Director (February 10) "Holy Moments"

Lets pray;

Gracious God, as we explore your word together, we are so grateful for the opportunities we have to do so.  We feel you here in this place, and our longing to know you more is fed.  We ask that you guide us in this meditation, nudge us into understanding and action, so that we might reflect your glory into a world desperate for hope.  In Jesus name we pray. 

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Our scriptures invite us into a couple of very intimate scenes where the veil between heaven and earth becomes so transparent that a glimpse of the divine is revealed.

In the Old Testament lesson from Exodus, Moses returns from 40 days on Mount Sinai in the presence of The Lord.  God's chosen people, as they habitually do throughout history, had strayed far from the commandments The Lord had given. They worshiped false gods, lived impurely and defied the commands of the loving God who had rescued them from slavery.  In frustration , their God appointed leader, Moses, had smashed the tablets upon which the commandments were written. Now, Moses is descending from the mountain after spending 40 days and nights in Gods presence,  new tablets in hand.  God has forgiven the people, and entered into a new covenant.

I pause here in my attempt to understand and absorb scripture, and marvel at God's patience.  I envision a loving parent, firmly explaining to  wayward child: "OK, let me explain this to you again.  You must abide by my guidelines.  The rules are the rules because I love you!  Its dangerous out there. I want to keep you safe. " 

Now, I'm not going to admit here to EVER being wayward, but I do recall a certain conversation with my dad when I was a young teen.  Dad liked to sit up late at night, and watch TV.  Often, together we would watch Barney Miller and then  Sergeant Prescott and his faithful companion King. 

"You just don't love me" I declared, no doubt with angry tears running down my face.

"Yes, I do. " was his mild reply.

 "No you don't!  If you did, you'd say Yes!"

"No, Sandra. If I didn't care I'd say Yes"

"No, you'd say yes if you loved me "

"No, Sandra, yes would be easier than No"  

What kind of logic is that?

"so say yes.."


"fine!!  I'm leaving!"

"ok,  you can have the yellow suitcase"

"AHHHH" at this point I tried to storm off to bed. 

"Good night Sandra"  I tried to ignore him & Keep going. "Good night Sandra"  I kept going and didn't reply.  Now, No matter how angry you were, disrespect and rudeness never flew at our house. Dad rose slightly "GOOD NIGHT, SANDRA!!!"

"Good night dad"

I still have the yellow suitcase, it stores memorabilia.  Its a nice reminder now that God will let us run for a bit, but the safety of home, in his arms is always there.

So the people see Moses returning.  They must be relieved.  Once again he has gone to bat for them. God is willing to take them back, giving them yet another chance.  But wait! Look at his face! its shining.  He has seen God!   Why isn't he dead?

It seems likely that the first, and very natural response to seeing the shining face of Moses, was fear.  Followed by awe.

The radiance of Moses is an expression of his privileged position as a servant close to God.  He reflects God's glory.

What amazes me here, is that we are invited into the exact same position as Moses.  Are we not called to be the hands and feet of Christ in the  world? Servants, helping to bring about the kingdom of God right here and now.

Earlier in this chapter of Exodus, the people are described as "stiff-necked" .  Is this not an apt description of humanity today?  One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.  And yet, collectively, is this not what we do?  Let's do it my way God. My will be done, not THY will be done

Are we not commissioned to guide a wayward and willful people back into right relationship with their creator? back to THY will be done?

Every once in a while,  we come across a person who is radiant. There is just something about them.  They seem to have light in them and about them. There is peace and serenity, but energy too.

 They are joyful, and you feel better just for having encountered them.  I believe that these people have this radiance because they trust  and live  like special, privileged servants, secure in the knowledge that they are beloved.  I can't help but have an image of Regina in my mind at this point.  She had that radiance, and she generously blessed those around her with warm and loving gaze and smile.

I want to be like that too.  What an amazing privilege to reflect God's glory,  his boundless love into the world.

We  do have an opportunity to do just that if we choose to sign up for a UYS small group. 

Simply by inviting someone without a church connection to join us in this study, we reflect God's love onto them... think about it, pray on it.

In Luke 9: 38-36, in a somewhat parallel setting, we witness Jesus on the mountain ; withdrawn from the crowd to pray

 (Note to self- Jesus' mission was  intensely important and urgent yet he regularly spent time in prayer)

Peter, James and John were privileged to accompany him.

While he was praying, the appearance of Jesus' face changed, and his clothes became dazzling. The disciples, who fortunately managed to stay awake , witness this transformation. WOW! talk about a Holy Moment.

Imagine, the Israelites saw the shining face of Moses reflecting the glory of God.  Here Peter, James and John saw Jesus-divine Jesus, son of the most high- IN all his glory! God surrounded by the glory of God.  A peak at the kingdom.  Enveloped by a cloud, surrounded by the voice of the Father himself. A glimpse at eternal life.

Suddenly, images of a person in prayerful ecstasy come to mind; they are so filled with the spirit of God that we can actually see it.  I've never had this experience, but when I really REALLY enter into prayer, when I succeed at quieting the endless loop of tasks, worries and random uninvited thoughts,  when I give myself over into His hands, stop asking and suggesting, and just listen and accept  His presence, an amazing thing happens: I feel his light like sunshine on my eyelids- even if I am in the dark- I feel a warmth infuse my whole being.  I feel drawn as though physically toward him. A peaceful joy fills me and I know Gods presence is in me and around me.  What a Holy Moment!

When the disciples see Jesus in this state they may have fallen on the ground in terror.  They would have believed that anyone who looked upon the face of God would surely die. Undoubtedly they knew in this moment that indeed they were in the presence of the one true God.  The experience becomes even more profound after the death and resurrection of Jesus. They would truly understand then that Jesus is the Son of God, and that eternity is real.

On the Mountain,  witnessing the transformation, Peter, James and John catch sight of the past, the present and the future. They see the prophets with Jesus, and hear the discussion of what Jesus will endure.   They see the future: Jesus Christ appearing in Glory.

This Holy moment co relates  beautifully in my mind with Holy Communion. When we receive the sacrament, we too are connecting with the past, present and future.  Past because we recall the passover meal observed by the Jews, and we also recall how Jesus  instituted the Eucharist at the last meal he shared with His friends, offering the bread and the cup,  His body broken and His  blood poured out for our redemption.

In this act of remembering, Jesus' sacrifice again becomes real for us.  WE believe that God is truly present in the moment with us, as we share in the Holy Supper, and we give thanks-

Our communion connects us to the future too. We look forward to Jesus' return in glory, and to our end of days when we will be with our Heavenly Father for all eternity. The heavenly banquet awaits us together with the entire community of saints.

The Prophet Isaiah tells us:
"thus says The Lord :
Don't fear for I have redeemed you,
I have called you by name,and you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you:
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame will not consume you.
For I am The Lord your God,
The Holy one of Israel, your Savior.
I give Egypt as your ransom,
 Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honored, and I love you.
I give people in return for you,
nations in exchange for your life."

When we partake of Holy Communion, we are brought into intimate connection with our God who says this, who loves us this much.  Often when I receive Holy Communion, I am struck in the heart by the truth of God's love as expressed in the passage I just shared, Particularly the verse that says " you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you. I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. Only I sub in the word son.   Listen again.   " You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you.  I give MY SON in return for you, I give MY SON in exchange for your life"

When I really take that in, I am overwhelmed. Holy Communion is not just another tradition or ritual  observed.  It is a truly HOLY MOMENT.  The veil between heaven and earth becomes ever so thin, and I catch a glimpse of divine love.

Holy moments are not restricted to the sacraments; they occur throughout our ordinary daily lives.  Each time we, in a moment of clarity , experience the presence of God, it is a Holy Moment.

Lets consider some of them;

I asked a couple of our youth at breakfast this week if they could recall a Holy moment  in their lives.

One example was at "Sam I Am", a local mission trip a few years ago. Daily the youth, most of whom were sincere in their efforts, would work in the community.  Some kids were though, and I quote, "Jerks"  After the days work was done, the youth would gather in worship. During the worship on this particular evening , which featured live music, many youth were on there knees in prayer.  Suddenly, this young teen knew the presence of God was there; the thought filled her mind and amazed her "God is here, even with these Jerks1"

A Holy moment- recognizing the presence of God. There without judgement for all to experience.

Another example offered goes like this:

Joining the church was a Holy Moment

I don't know why it happens like this, but the worst arguments with my mom always seem to happen on Saturday night.  Then I come here Sunday morning.  Walking into this Sanctuary I feel like I am being hugged.  This is a Holy Moment for me.  It feels like family.

Isn't that beautiful?  YOU- your very presence here creates a Holy Moment in a young persons life. 

If Presence alone can create a Holy Moment where another can feel God's presence,  think of the limitless capacity we  have the radiate God's love into the world- simply by being.

I have to tell you that when I knew that my sermon topic was to be Holy Moments, I was initially really excited.  I envisioned writing an upbeat, joyful sermon ; a collection of inspiring energizing Holy Moments. But its winter in Ohio, it tends to get gloomy.  Like many of you, I'm confronted with many challenges. By December our family was engaged in a third battle with cancer.  This time even more serious and threatening.  One  son is deployed for the better part of a year-we don't even know where he is. The world  and economy are so unstable.   My Spirits sank for a while.  Where were the Holy moments now? Crisis makes them hard to spot. 

Or does it?

In January I was in Canada to care for my mom when she underwent a mastectomy.  I have shared with you that in addition to the cancer, mom suffers from Alzheimer's. Things are pretty bad for her now.

As she struggled to make sense of things after surgery, I held my mother's hand stroking it gently, hoping to provide assurance. Her pale blue-grey eyes  kept staring up at me; filled with fear and uncertainty.   Its okay, I repeat for what felt like the millionth time. I've got you, its okay.  Finally I see the decision to trust in her eyes, and they clear a bit. Her tension eases a little, her eyes flutter open and shut. Then she stares again unblinkingly into my eyes, as I continue to stroke her hand. OK she sighs.  Now her body visibly relaxes and her eyes drift shut.. As she trustingly lets sleep take her, her hand still rests in mine. 

 Its a Holy thing; those old eyes filled with childlike trust, and the privilege of caring for her in these vulnerable moments.  Yes , It's a holy thing indeed

I can feel the circle  of life closing in on us; from infancy we wander through life towards maturity, and then some must return to a child like state. The words from the gospel of Matthew (18:3-4) fill my mind and heart Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven."  I wonder as I see this child in moms eyes; is she approaching the open arms of Jesus now? I think so.   What a Holy moment.

God is with us; in the serene beauty of a sunrise, in the frightening moments, and in our frailty.  Holy Moments are everywhere when we open the eyes of our hearts to receive them. Maybe they are even more lovely  in the midst of battles with cancer, dementia and crisis.

I did though find a beautiful upbeat, description of a Holy moment that I'd like to share with you now. Its from book by Elizabeth Canham entitled Ask the Animals.  Elizabeth had followed the life of a humpback whale named Salt for many years.  This passage describes a reunion  of sorts

                              "Slowly Salt separated herself from her companion and came towards the boat until she was lying, full length, alongside just a few feet below where I stood. As I write these words, tears of awe and joy prickle once more behind my eyelids.                 

                   Salt and I were united once again ,  and I sensed a connection far deeper than words can express, or the human mind can comprehend. 

                    It was a holy moment, an encounter with the mystery at the heart of the universe,  and a moment when I felt as Moses must have felt when he knew the presence of God  as he stood beside the burning bush. In this divine encounter, 

                    I stepped out of the shoes of rationality to stand, tears of joy running down my windblown  face, 

                    in the awesome, mysterious presence of God. 

( Elizabeth Canham; Ask  the Animals. p4)

May it be so for all of us.  Amen

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