February 15, 2015

“An Altar In The World”
2 Corinthians 3:2-6
Mark 9:2-9

As I begin this morning, I want you to take a few moments and turn to your neighbor and share with them one time that you experienced God in the world.

If you are willing, share with all of us that time. You can be brief, just the ‘Reader’s Digest” version.

I did not hear any accounts of clouds of smoke or pillars of fire as the Israelites experienced on their journey out of slavery. I did not hear any mention of faces, shining so brightly with the radiance of God that a veil was necessary so as to not terrorize the neighbors. It doesn’t sound like any of your shrubbery was set ablaze but not consumed. Nor did I hear any accounts of visitation by our Lord that moved you to set up permanent residence there.

I am not questioning your interpretation of those events. Who am I to say that you cannot experience God’s presence out on the golf course or in the turkey woods? You can. Its just that even in accepting that fact I must tell you that nobody has ever come up to me to elaborate on such an experience.

I suppose I am a bit suspicious because I spend so much time in church. I agree with another famous preacher who says she came to love churches, every one she has been associated with. This love is born from the all of the things…

we did nowhere else in our lives: we named babies, we buried the dead, we sang psalms, we praised God for our lives. When we did, it was as if we were building a fire together, each of us adding something to the blaze so that the light and heat in our midst grew. Yet the light exceeded our fire, just as the warmth did. We did our parts, and then there was more. (Taylor, Barbara Brown (2009-03-06). An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (p. 6). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.)

Compared to what we experience in here, so often so full of God’s presence, the world seems not only ordinary but often worse than ordinary. So we focused our attention here.

Somewhere along the line we bought— or were sold— the idea that God is chiefly interested in religion. We believed that God’s home was the church, that God’s people knew who they were, and that the world was a barren place full of lost souls in need of all the help they could get. Plenty of us seized on those ideas because they offered us meaning . Believing them gave us purpose and worth. They gave us something noble to do in the midst of lives that might otherwise be invisible. Plus, there really are large swaths of the world filled with people in deep need of saving. (ibid, p.24)

And then we stop looking around, or if we do, we can walk right past a big bold epiphany because we have no expectations for God’s presence out there.

I don’t know what sort of expectations made the journey up the mountain with Jesus and the disciples. It may not have mattered. The disciples seem to have such an overwhelming experience of God’s presence that it could have torn in two whatever veils kept the Lord hidden. It’s a good thing too. Amid the violence and confusion of daily life that surrounds the Transfiguration event in Mark, faced with a troubled boy and a rowdy crowd Jesus.…God’s presence…wasn’t easy to notice.

Until, that is, they came face to face with the still-glowing countenance of Jesus and remembered that who he would one day become is who he already is. They are reminded that Jesus’ future glory shines into each violent and confused moment of life. It alone is able to transfigure the present moment. And it needs only a disciple who remembers to look, to notice your surroundings. It is a kind of paying attention to God.

The artist Georgia O’Keeffe, who became famous for her sensuous paintings of flowers, explained her success by saying, “In a way, nobody sees a flower, really, it is so small, we haven’t time— and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.”

And if time is one of the essential elements for epiphanies such as this, it is no surprise that all this occurred as Jesus and the disciples went ‘away’ to pray. Not to the synagogue, not to the temple. Away.

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book, “An Altar in the World,” suggests that one part of our problem is categories. We draw sharp boundaries between what is sacred and secular, what is ‘clean’ and what is ‘unclean.’ I do not mean to suggest that everything in life is a homogenized muddy gray. Rather, as Taylor suggests, there is a rich often unnoticed tapestry of God’s presence in the world.

It may be a pretty simple experience, not many get a grand and glorious, hit you over the head, experience like the disciples. But whenever and wherever you come to a stop and say, hey, surely God is present in this, you stand on holy ground. The real secret is that all ground is sacred ground. Our presence in it and our recognition of it does not make it so. But when we do, oh thanks be to God.