Transfiguration A, Sunday, March 1, 2014

March 3, 2014

Google Heaven
Matthew 17:1-9

1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 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.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 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.”

Sometimes I feel left behind. Not in the scare-mongering tradition of the series of books by that name that distort and exploit the notion of the rapture. Yes, I have a strong and clear opinion about that strain of thinking. I don’t live in fear of being left behind in a world that has been abandoned by God and all of God’s good people. But I do feel left behind by the technological revolution that is currently underway. I’ve mentioned this before, but I am not a digital-savvy person. I don’t have a personal facebook page. I don’t tweet. I don’t have a photo-gallery in the cloud. I have a blog where I’ve learned to paste my sermons, and I think I’m able to link it to our facebook page, but there are so many ways in which I just don’t get it.

I’ve been hearing about the recent acquisition of the WhatsApp app by Facebook, and I’ve tried to understand why it’s worth $19 billion, but I don’t. There’s so much about the technology of today that I don’t get, but this is not to say I am not totally amazed by what’s available. And there are some things that I have figured out.

Just the other night Sharla and I left the house without setting our DVR to record the Olympic Ice Dancing finals. We were trying to figure out who we could call to record the event for us when someone we were with suggested that I download the Uverse app and set the recording from my phone. And I did. It was amazing! The lines of communication that are currently available are unfathomable.

I love being able to google whatever it is that I don’t know. The google didn’t help me understand the WhatsApp deal, but it usually enables me to become an immediate expert about any given issue. And I can’t believe what you can see on Google earth? It’s amazing to me that you can get a street level view of almost anywhere that a street exists.

I’m grateful for many of the things that the digital world has brought us, and while I am somewhat intimidated by my lack of understanding of it all, I’m not totally distressed by my inability to keep up because I don’t think it’s made access to God any easier.

Like the printing press and every other significant tool that we humans have created – the digital world has given us some new ways to share the Good news, but of course it has also provided new ways to behave badly. So when it comes to gaining access to the kingdom of God I consider computer technology to be a wash. It doesn’t get us any closer to God or further from God – that journey continues to be along a very narrow path.

Now I did check to make sure there wasn’t such a thing as Google Heaven. If there was an app that could provide a portal in to the realm of God I wanted to have it, but there’s currently not one available. There is a poem called Google Heaven, but it didn’t really open any new doors for me. It’s never been easy to get a good view of God, and it won’t be until the day that God’s kingdom fully arrives.

But our passage today is both an illustration of the possibility of standing in the awesome presence of God and a portrayal of the problem. This is the story of three men who found themselves in that remarkable place where they knew something spiritually profound was happening, and as soon as they realized what was going on they were struck down by the gravity of the situation, but they weren’t left on the ground – they were lifted up by the hand of Jesus, and they were instructed to listen to him.

Now, to be sure, there isn’t anything normal about this story. For one thing, it wasn’t every day that Jesus invited Peter, James, and John to follow him up the mountain. Of course, we don’t really know what a normal day was like with Jesus. Every day with Jesus was a different sort of day, and while every day had it’s blessings, every day had it’s challenges as well. This is the part of the story that I understand.

Last Monday afternoon as I was about to leave the church I noticed that someone had set up camp in the back stairwell of the church – complete with a plastic curtain hanging from the pipes that stretch across the stairwell, and I don’t like to discover things like that. I hate it that people find themselves in such difficult circumstances that their best option is to sleep in our stairwells, but I have come to be pretty intolerant of people doing that. I have told a number of people that I hate that they don’t have a place to sleep, but that this isn’t the solution.

The person who had set up camp last Monday wasn’t on hand for me to say this to, so I decided to send that message by throwing the entire encampment in the dumpster – our locked dumpster. I threw it all away and I swept the steps. The only thing I left was the most significant article of clothing which was a rather heavy jacket. I didn’t feel too good about it, but it wasn’t freezing cold on Monday afternoon, and there was a lot of daylight left. I’m not saying that’s what Jesus would have done, but it’s what I did.

I was a little anxious about how this person may have reacted to what I had done, so when I got to the church on Tuesday morning I walked back to that stairwell and I was surprised to discover that the camp was totally reassembled and it was occupied. And when I say I was surprised I’m telling you I was flabbergasted. I had put the entire elaborate camp in our locked dumpster and it was still locked.

I was flustered and indignant and with as much authority as I could muster I told this sleeping man he had to wake up and that he couldn’t camp out in our stairwell. I heard a respectful apology come from behind the dirty plastic curtain, and as he began moving I went inside the church. But I really couldn’t believe what I had seen. It’s not exactly like I had seen a ghost, but that whole situation didn’t make sense to me. I had been doing some reading about the Transfiguration on Monday afternoon, and I think I was a little sensitized the importance of paying attention to unusual circumstances, so I decided I needed to go back outside and be a little more hospitable.

I went out and invited the man to come in for a cup of coffee after he had packed up. If nothing else, I wanted to know how he had gotten in that dumpster.

He did come in, and what I came to discover was not another problem, but a fellow human being who had fallen on a hard time. And he didn’t see me as the jerk who had thrown away his stuff, but as a man who dealt with a difficult situation as well as I knew how. Don and I have become a bit more acquainted over the course of the week, and I think we’ve been good for each other. I’ve never been insensitive to the problem of homelessness, but I have become even more sensitized to the vulnerability of many people within our society. I’ve been touched by his optimism and his fortitude, and I have been reminded of how thin the safety net is for people who don’t have many resources.

My experience with Don has been a bit of a reverse Transfiguration experience. It didn’t begin on a mountain top. It began in the alley behind our church – within reach of the dumpster. And when I first saw something unusual I didn’t suggest building a booth – I tore up the booth someone else had created. I didn’t hear the voice of God from a cloud, but there was a message that came to me from behind a dirty plastic curtain that I needed to hear.

And what I understand that message to be is that you never quite know where you will find the shining presence of Christ. I feel as if I was as much of a spiritual bungler as Peter was when he announced that he wanted build three booths, but he knew to be quiet when the voice emerged from the cloud, and I didn’t remain unconscious of the gravity of this situation as well.

You can’t google heaven. It isn’t possible to plan a spiritually gratifying experience, but it is possible to pass them by. I’m not saying I won’t dismantle the next person’s nest I find piled by our back door, but I have been reminded that this sanctuary is not the only beautiful place in our church. The most beautiful place we ever go is that place where barriers drop between ourselves our neighbors and our God.

The digital world has created many new lines of communication between us, but profound barriers still exist. Our sophisticated society isn’t any more sensitive to God’s kingdom than any generation that has preceded us, but neither are we any further away. I feel that I have had some reassurance this week that there continue to be some viable lines of communication between us and our God, and there’s nothing more compelling and humbling than to sense that God is alive and near. We don’t yet have that God app for our smart phones, but all those digits flying around haven’t pushed God away.

I feel that I’ve had an unusual blessing this week, and I’m grateful. And I’ve learned something this week. Knowing how to navigate the cyber world is an essential skill to have if you don’t want to fall behind on a career path. But if I’m ever caught outside on a cold night in February I want to be with a guy who understands how to open a master lock without a key.



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