February 14, 2010

“Unveiled in God’s Presence”
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-43

Thomas Groome, a Christian religious educator reminds us that “lived Christian Faith” involves believing, trusting, and doing God’s will. ( Sharing Faith: A Comprehensive Approach to Religious education and Pastoral Ministry, the Way of Shared Praxis, New York: Harper Collins, 1991, p. 18)

Some time ago I saw a bumper sticker that attempted to start and complete an argument. It proclaimed, “God said it, I believe it, that ends it.” I wondered just what part of the God said it this fellow was believing? In the text from Luke this morning there is a relatively simple statement from the clouds: “This is my beloved Son, Listen to him.” The bumper sticker man, if this is one of the ‘God said it’ paragraphs he is speaking about, would necessarily transfer his listening to this one Jesus of Nazareth. God proclaims to the disciples, who are face down in the dirt and probably listening very carefully at this point, that this is ‘my beloved Son.’ And if there is any doubt in their minds of the significant nature of this ‘theophany’ the two greatest prophets make a guest appearance to strengthen, underline if you will, this statement on identity. Then, the real admonition comes: listen to him.

Now I wanted to pull over ‘bumper sticker man’ so that I might explain to him that he does not have any unique position as one who tries to ‘believe’ what God says. I would like to remind him, however that within two generations of Jesus’ death there were several great councils in the church where devout followers, people who had actually suffered for their faith, gathered to try and listen to what God has said through Jesus, and make sense of it. Some very smart people have studied the scripture and tradition of the church and been reduced to a simple Sunday school song, “Jesus Loves Me, this I know.” Simple is not the same as simplistic. Basic ideas about God and Christ does not deny the reality that there is a mental dimension of Christian Faith that undergirds belief.

Ok. So let’s push this. The intellectual, or mental, part of the belief package is delivered (no less) by the voice of God. We have, perhaps, a fact to store away. Yet we all know that there is a wide gap between those ‘learning objectives’ from Sunday school and belief.

In seminary, I was a glutton for punishment. In our system it is not required that one actually learn biblical Hebrew or Koine Greek. In a moment of foolish jugement I decided that if I were to forget equal amounts over the years I would be further ahead if I took the Koine Greek track. I learned the language so I could read the New Testament in its original tongue. I must tell you, however, there is no connection between the ability to parse verbs and identify the tense of the word and trusting in Jesus.

Belief is partly trust, and so we may now wonder about these disciples on the mountain. They may intellectually wrap their brains around this experience but not without trust. We, and they, must trust this person Jesus to get the full effect. Trust isn’t much of anything if it deteriorates into a me and Jesus event. Stay there and build some booths, just Peter and James and John, and Jesus? No. See, there is a relational dimension of Christian Faith that forms us to have a trusting relationship with Jesus Christ, nurturing relationships in a community of faith, and relationships of kindness and justice toward the whole human family. We do not receive this gift by living in isolation. Christians live together, and so invite others into this family of faith.

Now anyone who has lived with others knows there are certain standards of living. When the government says the ‘standard of living’ has declined they do not mean some measure of civility of generosity. They are talking about money. Community, real community uses a different measure. Our measure is how we live. Before I was married I observed a particular style of living. I called it the “One Bachelor, no roommate” format. In this format there is no need to use dishes. You eat over the sink. Saves a great deal of dishwashing I tell you.

Some of you are part of a fraternal organization. Maybe you belonged, as I did, briefly, to a fraternity or sorority. For good or for ill, these groups have standards of behavior. Think, on the one hand, “Animal House.” Think, on the other hand, “Phi Beta Kappa.” There is a behavioral dimension of every group worth belonging to. There is also a behavioral dimension to Christian faith, an activity of doing God’s will in the world.

Let me explain: say we went out into the parking lot, and I slammed my finger in the car door, you know, one of those that leaves a purple fingernail, maybe a broken finger. In obvious pain, a certain epitat springs from my lips. You look at me in my collar, hearing my exclamation of a particular geneology, and say: “Pastor Fogle, that is not very Christian.” I then compose myself, and instruct you that my behavior is fine. I am in great distress, and although my exclamation is in poor taste, it does not constitute the biblical admonition against taking the Lord’s name in vain, as in some sorcery or oath. I remind you that a good Christian would not be quite as concerned about appearances and more concerned about helping me with my finger.

The last few verses in the Luke text today are instructive for how we might view the whole story. Though the disciples saw the transfiguration, their translation of this experience provided less than satisfactory results. They failed miserably in their efforts to bring healing and wholeness to a child.

What is revealed, there in God’s presence, is that despite our clear thoughts about faith, our participation in the community of faith, we often failure to live up to the mission and ministry we are called to accomplish.

You may be moved then to a why bother mentality. Fogle, you are making this into a set of practices that are impossible to implement! I beg your pardon, because in fact it is the ending of this paricope that gives me hope about myself, and about you.

In every case, it is Jesus himself who accomplishes what we are unable to do. Even when we are so-called-successful, it is not us, but Christ in us who is both the power and the glory. Beyond proclaiming belief; Christian faith requires something special. It is our one-ness with him we find in each other, and his mission we engage in the world. Some of us even find that special presence as we listen to his words, and it is then we listen, go, and do likewise.