Archive for March 2011

Country Loaf

March 26, 2011

Here’s a fun bread recipe I made today on my day off.
I picked up the idea from Lisa’s blog: “Tomatoes in Love”
She got it from Betty herself (Crocker, that is)
It turned out great!

You’ll need…
5 cups of flour (I tried 2 wheat to begin with & 3 white later)
1 tsp. Sugar
2 ¼ tsp. Yeast
2 cups warm water
2 T vegetable oil
2 tsp. Salt

Mix 2 cups of flour with yeast (dissolved in water) and sugar.
Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for one hour.
Add oil and salt. Stir in remaining flour (1/2 cup at a time).
Flour a surface and knead dough for 7-10 minutes
Place dough in a greased bowl, flipping it around to grease all the sides. Place in a bowl and cover w/plastic wrap for another hour.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or grease the cookie sheet. (I used a baking stone and it worked pretty good.)
Place dough on your cookie sheet and sprinkle a little cold water on it.
Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let rise for an hour

Preheat oven to 425 and fill a small 9×9 dish with hot water. Put this on the bottom rack of your oven as it heats and leave it there throughout the baking of the bread.
(Next time I’ll try using a glass one – I used a metal pan and it turned black below the water line).

Slice a few thin lines on the top of dough and sprinkle with cold water. Bake for 35 minutes until golden brown. It should sound hollow when you tap it.


MMmmmm…. enjoy!
(4 1/2 hours = the best slow food this week!)

How Do You Go To Church?

March 25, 2011

I hear it all the time. “Where do you go to church?” I say it, too, sometimes. But it’s just not possible to “go to church” because “you ARE the church!” Jay Beech sang of this concept years ago with these words:

“You can go to worship, but you cannot go to church.
You can’t find a building that’s alive no matter how you search.
We are the church! The Body of our Lord.
We are all God’s children. We have been restored.”

This Lent, I have been “going to church” with some of our young adults (20s, 30s, & 40s) at Holy Cross on Thursday nights at 9PM. But there’s a new “twist” to this gathering. We’ve invited folks from all over the world to join us online for live chat around the basics of the Christian faith.

So, while there may be only 6 of us in person, another 10 are logging on to join us through Second Life. This is a 3-dimensional world where people connect from around the world, conduct business, go to school, and yes, gather with other Lutherans. It’s made for some rich conversation both in SL (Second Life) and in FL (First Life). Here’s what a friend of mine (Rev. Clint Schneckloth) said about it on his blog:

“The thing about Second Life is that if you haven’t been on it, you’ll think it is a game. It’s not. You’ll develop a whole bunch of opinions and ideas about what Second Life is or isn’t, all based on your experience of living in Real Life (RL). But this isn’t Real Life, it’s Second Life, and there’s no better way to discover the theological, philosophical, existential, sociological, anthropological, and cultural implications of Second Life than to simply go there.

If you had asked me, ‘What is Antarctica like?’ and I replied, ‘Come and see,’ you could, rightfully, challenge me and point out that it’s cost prohibitive and time-consuming. And you would be right. But Second Life is free, the software to view SL is free, and anyone reading this blog already has access to a computer. So what’s holding you back?”

As a pastor, I’m always looking for those “windows” of opportunity to open the door for meaningful ministry to occur. I know this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And yet, I think it has some potential (at least for now) for the folks at Holy Cross and around the world who participate. All are welcome. Blessings to you and yours as we continue to Walk by Faith this Lenten Season.

Pastor John
“Where two or three are gathered, in my name,
there am I in the midst of them.” –Jesus (Matthew 18:20)

God’s Immeasurable Love

March 22, 2011

A sermon on the Second Sunday of Lent 2011

John 3:1-17

Nicodemus Visits Jesus

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.’ Jesus answered him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, “You must be born from above.” The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

‘Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

Children’s Time: Show a measuring cup, tape measure and pocket watch… What do these all have in common? They measure things! Can you measure God’s love? Would it fit in this cup? (“my cup runneth over”) Could we use this measuring tape (“as far as the east is from the west… so far has he cast our sins”) Could we use a watch (“God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting”). Nope. Can’t measure it… God’s love is so great we could never grab a hold of it. But we can experience it. In our lesson today, Jesus said: “God so loved the world that he gave his only son, and whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Let’s thank God for the un-measurable gift of love we have in Jesus! (credit to:

Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Some days it’s easier to be an un-believer than a believer. Some days it’s easier to hate than to love. We’ll get to Nicodemus and Jesus in a moment… but if there were any day to put hate in it’s place it’s a day like today – with our remembering of John 3:16.

Recently, in the news, we heard about Fred Phelps’ pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, KS… and how they have picketed the funerals of dead service men and women in protest of the lifting of the Army’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, regarding gays in the military. I turns out their free speech (no matter how hateful) is protected by the 1st Amendment, says the US Supreme Court.

Sometimes it’s easier to hate than it is to show love. Just look at the dictatorship in Libya that turned the army on it’s own people to resist reforms. Colonel Gadafi resorts to violence rather than hearing the will of the people, who yearn for freedom from his oppressive regime.

This month, Tartan High School will do a play about Matthew Shepherd, the young man who was tortured and murdered because he was gay in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998. Westboro Baptist Church has threatened to picket the play: The Laramie Project. I, for one, plan to attend the play in support of our youth and their message of tolerance and acceptance of those who are gay or lesbian. And yet, hate is often the easier route to take. Or, silent acquiescence.

When I was in seminary (1991) I thought the Civil Rights movement was long since over. …until the Ku Klux Klan came to march in this small river town of Dubuque, IA. “Maybe we should go down and show up in great numbers to protest their coming,” some suggested. Instead, we decided to hold a peaceful celebration of diversity across town and not give them the time of day.

Sadly, it’s the Christians who often give Christianity a bad name. I recall a poem by the late Minnesota author Bill Holm entitled: The Paranoia of Happy Skeptics Visiting the West Coast (From Notes from the Black Piano)

He recalls encountering some quite aggressive Christians while traveling on the West Coast. As he’s leaving in his car, the Mozart Quartet fades out around the first curve and is replaced by “Gospel Rock.” He writes:

I want to know more about Jesus
Unleaded Jesus
Self-serve Jesus
Jesus between the sheets
Magic Fingers Jesus
Jesus provided for your sanitary comfort
Climate Controlled Jesus
Egg McJesus
Jesus over easy
Whole Wheat Jesus
Pecan Jesus
Decaf Jesus
Refried Jesus
Rock-a-bye Jesus
Sweet Jesus!
One sight of the Pacific Ocean, and God,
by whatever name he arrives: Jesus or Jones
or the Ace of spades clutches you hard, by the heart.
Now you must have truth, by God.
Absolute, unforgiving, sterling silver, poured concrete truth
like a stone bracelet to weigh down your arm
as it watches over all this rolling water,
washing toward Asia and the light.

Heck, just doing a casual internet search of “Jesus loves you” turns up a lot of hate! Some of which are not repeatable in respectable company. Here’s a few images I found:

“Jesus Loves You. Everyone else thinks you’re a jerk.”
“Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.”
The only one I really liked was: “Jesus loves you: Conditions do not apply”

The trouble we get into with John 3:16 is that we know it too well. We either make it about a football game endzone; or we make it all about “ourselves.” “Jesus loves me.” Sure, Jesus said, “God loves you.” And yet, I’m just not comfortable with leaving it at that.

What good does it do to say, “Jesus loves you” or “God loves you” to someone who doesn’t feel it? Or worse, to someone who is struggling with illness or hardship? “If Jesus loved me so much, why is the world falling apart around me!” Why does hate still have a grip on us?

If you get a chance to see the movie Amish Grace I highly recommend it. It’s based on the true story of a school massacre in Nickel Mines, PA by a man who wanted to get even with God for the death of his little girl. He killed 12 girls that day in a one-room, Amish schoolhouse. In the film, Gideon (the father of one of the girls) is talking to his other daughter, who survived, about hate.

Katie: I hate that man, too. He did a bad, evil thing and I hate him more than anything.
Gideon: He did do an evil thing. And… I don’t blame you for hating. And you can hate him for as long as you like. But tell me, this hate that’s inside of you, how does it feel? Does it feel good?
Katie: Not very good.
Gideon: No. Hate is a very big, very hungry thing, with lots of sharp teeth. And it will eat up your whole heart. And leave no room left for love. We are lucky that God understands this. He is the one that will hand out the punishments so that we don’t have to carry this terrible hate around inside of us if we don’t want to… if we’re willing to forgive.
Katie: Maybe I can forgive him and still hate him just a little bit.

It’s not easy to put away hate and unbelief. Two times, Jesus makes his offer of new life to Nicodemus; and two times he declines it, asking questions instead: “Hmm, how can a person who has grown old be born again?” “How can this be?”

Have you ever told someone you loved them… only to get the Nicodemus response: “How can this be?” When you hold your heart out to someone, offering it without condition – pure and true love – there is no guarantee the other will receive it. It doesn’t change the love that is offered. It is true and lasting.
So it is with Jesus. He concludes this scene with a third-time-standing-invitation, “God so loved the world that he sent his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Who could resist such immeasurable love!

Then he seals the deal by saying: “The Son was not sent to condemn the world but to save it!” (Take that haters and condemners). And yet, if Nicodemus resists Jesus’ love, whom he met personally… who are we to think we have it all figured out? The good news here, is that our questions are not only OK with Jesus, but they’re expected. Questions are holy – it’s as rabbinic tradition to ask questions. Another problem of Nicodemus is that he based his faith in Jesus on the signs he had done. From v. 2: “No one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” In the story just before this one, the Pharisees demanded the same, after Jesus tipped over the money-changers’ tables: “What sign can you show us for doing this?” (Jn. 2:19)

Jesus knew that Nicodemus had a lot to lose. It’s been said that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night because he was afraid of losing his position… as “a leader of the Jews.” It’s also been said that the two words that caused Jesus’ followers the most grief were: “New” and “Now.”

Jesus wrapped up his chat with Nicodemus by driving home his point: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

It is true… that we need love most when we deserve it least.

But thanks be to God for this immeasurable love that overcomes the greatest of hatred… and even our own unbelief.


Forgiveness via Amish Grace

March 17, 2011

“Forgive, but hate just a little bit?”

Lent is a time to consider what sins we hold tight to that need confession and forgiveness. It’s also a time to consider forgiving others. Here is some dialogue from the film Amish Grace between Gideon and his daughter, Katie. What to do with the hatred they harbor for their daughter’s/sister’s killer?

Katie: I hate that man, too. He did a bad, evil thing and I hate him more than anything.

Gideon: He did do an evil thing. And… I don’t blame you for hating. And you can hate him for as long as you like. But tell me, this hate that’s inside of you, how does it feel? Does it feel good?

Katie: Not very good.

Gideon: No. Hate is a very big, very hungry thing, with lots of sharp teeth. And it will eat up your whole heart. And leave no room left for love. We are lucky that God understands this. He is the one that will hand out the punishments so that we don’t have to carry this terrible hate around inside of us if we don’t want to… if we’re willing to forgive.

Katie: Maybe I can forgive him and still hate him just a little bit.


March 12, 2011

With the tragedy unfolding in Japan and surrounding countries, after Friday’s earthquake and tsunami, we the people of God devote ourselves to prayer for the victims and their families, and our financial support as we are able. Our synod and church is equipped to provide relief both in the short and long term. Contact ELCA Disaster Response to make a donation online, by phone, or by mail. Together we can do so much more than we can as individuals to stand with those who are suffering. Thank you.

ELCA Disaster Response
39330 Treasury Center
Chicago, IL 60694-9300

Who will claim these ashes?

March 12, 2011

A sermon on Ash Wednesday, 2011

Matthew 6:1-21
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2“So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 3But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 5“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 6But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you…

16“And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. 17But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Children’s Time: Introduce “Walk by Faith” theme and handout footprints… Do you like to walk? What if you could imagine Jesus walking with you, every day? In front of you (have someone stand in front) to point the way… behind you (have someone stand behind you and give a little push) to encourage us to grow… beside you (link up arm-in-arm) as a trusted friend… and, when it seems you’re all alone… inside of you, over you and under you, with a peace that no one can understand except BY FAITH!

Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

The first funeral I ever presided over was when I was 6 years old. We were playing in the back alley of our home on Main Street, in Albert Lea. And we found a dead robin. Our home was built onto the back of the gas station, so dad had a short commute, you might say, to get to work. At that time, my older brothers were the only ones allowed to pump gas; but we could all help with squeegie-ing the windshields, or seeing if a customer wanted cigarettes or a dozen eggs with their gas. And we all carried a grease rag in our back pockets, just like dad. And we let them hang down a little, ready to grab for a spill, or to check the oil, or shine a hubcap.

And so, we wrapped this little robin in a grease rag (as his funeral pall), dug a hole under the lilac bush, and buried him there, placing two sticks over the grave in the shape of a cross. I can’t remember if any prayers were prayed, but I do recall laying that lifeless bird to rest. It’s a memory that has stayed with me nearly forty years later.

Something in that six-year-old Stiles’ boy couldn’t let that robin’s death go un-mourned. Who would claim him? We can’t just let him lay there. Who will claim me when my time comes?

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
You are a child of dust, child of God.

In yesterday’s paper, there was a front-page story about unclaimed ashes at funeral homes. Many families are opting not to have a funeral right away, but postpone it (sometimes 6 months later) for a time when the whole family can gather. Generally, I’m willing to work with the family on planning a memorial service; but I always encourage them to have the deceased’s ashes present, if at all possible. Or, I offer to meet with them at a later date for a graveside ceremony – or sprinkling of ashes.

There is a grand drama the people of God take part in when one of their sisters or brothers has fallen in death. That is, to bear them on, singing them through the gates of heaven. Walking by faith to the edge of that grave and declaring VICTORY over death, by the blood of Jesus Christ.

Who will claim these ashes?

One funeral director, in this story, showed the reporter a whole cabinet filled with unclaimed ashes, some dating back nearly 50 years! “Ours is the first generation where the presence of the deceased at their funerals have become optional,” says Tom Long, noted author and preacher. It’s a disturbing and growing trend in society, when a funeral that is intended to bear our brother / sister into God’s everlasting care – both body and soul… becomes overly focused on the mourners gathered for a memorial service instead.

To be sure, we must grieve the loss of loved ones, and provide pastoral care for the family. But not at the expense of losing this significant last step in a person’s journey from this world to life everlasting.

Who will claim these ashes? Who will claim me when I am dead in the way I treat others? When I am dirty in my heart, thinking bad thoughts? Who will claim us when no one else seems to care?

Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
You are a child of dust, child of God.

We claim our ashes because we walk by faith. As Jesus said, in our lesson for tonight: “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

What have you got that no one can steal? Where do you put your faith? You may know a lot about the faith, but how do you put it into practice? There’s the story told of an old Jewish man who once prayed, “God, I have been a devout worshiper and I have kept the Law as best I could. I’ve been a good Jew. Now I’m old and I need some help. Let me win the lottery.” Well he prayed, and prayed…. One month went by, then two. Then a year, then 3 years…until in desperation he cried out, “God, give me a break!” God replied, “Give me a break yourself! Buy a ticket!”

How do you claim your ashes? How do you store up the treasure that doesn’t spoil, rust or become moth-eaten? Our theme this Lent is based on Hebrews, chapter 11: Walk by Faith. And my hope is that we will learn how to put that faith in a treasure chest and keep it close to our hearts, by putting one foot in front of the other.

Walking shows movement. It’s good for you!
Walking shows a journey. It doesn’t have to be in a straight line
Walking can be done together or alone
When we walk we never know what we will see along the way
We see our neighbors, we see the sky, we see creatures great and small
When we walk by faith there is something more to be said, and there are all kinds of Lenten disciplines that can help here. Not all are going to work for everyone. You must find what works best for you.

I had a refresher course on this from Bishop Margaret Payne (of the New England Synod of the ELCA) last month. She reminds us of a few tried and true practices of the faith: repentance, forgiveness, catechesis (learning the basics of the faith), fasting, and almsgiving.

Repentance: what is it in your life that is an obstruction / getting in the way of you truly living? Can you sit in quiet long enough to LISTEN to what God may be telling to you do about it… or to receive about it?

Forgiveness: Can you let go of one grudge and one should? A grudge is nothing but a “junior version of forgiveness” We sometimes cover it up well, like a sliver of glass just under the skin, but it’s there… until we deal with it. Shoulds, too, are there, and we beat ourselves up over them all the time.

Catechesis (learning the basics of the faith). We have Bible studies at Holy Cross, and even a new young adult (20s, 30s, 40s) study I’m pulling together for the season of Lent. We all need to go “back to the basics” from time to time. Legendary golfer, Jack Nicholas, the only player to have won 3 of each of the major tournaments, was noted to have… at the beginning of each season, go to a small golf club in Florida and take golf lessons as if he’d never golfed before.

Fasting: Some people give up chocolate for Lent – or a meal each day – or, hopefully not: a bath! Maybe you’ll commit to eating only locally grown/produced food, or “take on” something for Lent. The point is about learning & regaining control over our physical appetites. Might it be limiting your screen time (for all you techno-philes). Whatever the case, you’ll know you’re on the right track if you commit to it and it drives you crazy.

Finally, almsgiving: Is there a special monetary gift you might consider – or cause you would support? Rather than think: “give till it hurts” think “give till you notice.” That might mean just simplifying your life, using less energy or stepping outside your normal field of operations.

However you observe this coming Lent, remember faith holds us in our walking. Walking by faith means hoping for what we do not yet see.
It means doing one’s part for others – getting up, getting out, and showing up when it matters.
Walking by faith means believing there’s more to this life than we know.
That our bodies and souls matter to God in this life and in the life to come.
Walking by faith means dying each day to our sins, and rising again in the waters of baptism to new life.

That’s why we wear ashes. Because we’re not afraid to claim them. No one of us can avoid death. We can put off talking about it, or deny it’s going to happen. We can live in fear of it, worrying about what it might be like. We can smooth it over and never shed the tears necessary for watering the soul.

Or, we can claim these ashes,
knowing that in baptism we ourselves are named and claimed.
hearing both promises loud and clear:
“You are a child of dust.
You are a child of God.”


An ancient Coptic prayer:
Let the shadows of darkness be full of light.
Let the angels of light walk before him.
Let the gate of righteousness be opened to him.
Let him join the heavenly choir.
Bring him into the paradise of delight.
Feed him from the tree of life.
Let him rest in the bosom of our ancestors,
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, in your kingdom.

(Quotes from Tom Long, author of Accompany them with Singing: The Christian Funeral)

Swaddling Clothes vs. Dazzling Clothes – How is God getting your attention?

March 9, 2011

A Sermon on the Transfiguration of Jesus

Matthew 17:1-9
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; 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.”

Children’s Time: Who can whistle really good? That’s a great way to get someone’s attention. When my mother was dying, God got our attention by helping us to trust she was going to be okay. Here’s a story that helped me with that. When mom was helping to plan her funeral (for after she died). She said, “I want you to sing ‘Go tell it on the mountain!’” Well, that’s fine, we said. It’s a great Christmas carol. Well, the day she died, we were walking out the door of the nursing home where she was staying and what song do you suppose was playing over the radio by the front desk? “Go tell it on the mountain!” We were comforted because we believe God was trying to get our attention. That mom was safely home with Jesus and reunited with those who had died before her (my dad and my grandparents). How is God trying to get your attention? Those are special moments in our faith. Jesus didn’t want the disciples to tell anyone about what they saw on the mountain… until after Easter. But today, this is how we share our faith and teach others about God’s love for us.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

So, how has God gotten your attention over the years? Do you remember? Has it been a spectacular vision? Or maybe something as ordinary as a song playing on the front desk radio?

From the very beginning, Jesus’ followers told their stories of how God had gotten their attention. We read it in our 2nd lesson for today from 2Peter 1:16

“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord… but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 2Peter 1:16

In other words, “We didn’t make this up!” This is our story.

The transfiguration happened in the presence of Jesus’ disciples – there on the mountain. No one saw it coming – maybe even Jesus was surprised. All the lights and the clouds overshadowed them… and suddenly, Jesus is joined by two juggernauts of the faith: Moses and Elijah (the one who led the Hebrews out of slavery and into the promised land – and the one who raised the dead, brought fire down from the sky, and was taken up in a chariot of fire)… and they’re just talking with Jesus. And then there was this voice from heaven (sounding much like the one that they heard at Jesus’ baptism): “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

What started out as a typical hike up the mountain, turned into a dazzling display of Jesus’ divine nature. All through his life we encounter great mood swings with Jesus, from being bored stiff to being scared stiff – from thinking nothing’s new under the sun – to standing with the Son, on holy ground! From casting nets in a smelly fishing boat – to walking on water!

This is how God works – through ordinary circumstances – through a lowly son of a carpenter from Nazareth – through the renegade Moses, with a speech impediment – through a woman going to fetch water at the well – through people like you and me… who encounter God in our everyday lives.

We see it most clearly in Jesus – who went from swaddling clothes at birth to dazzling clothes on this holy mountain. In the manger, the poor baby wakes to the smell of manure and itchy straw… but the angels light up the sky with Hallelujas! At his baptism, the Nazarene went down to be baptized with the others, only to find the heavens opened and a dove descending in glory. As he hung on a cross and breathed his last and the temple curtain was torn in two – and three days later he rose in a glorious victory over sin and death.

So, which one is he? The swaddling clothes God or the dazzling clothes God? The manger God or the mountain God? When have you found yourself on holy ground – totally caught off guard – with your jaw open – in awe of God’s presence? When have you been struck with fear and trembling?

Do you prefer the thunderbolt, flash-in-the-pan Jesus. For whom angels sang at his birth? The Jesus who walked on water and healed the sick? The Jesus who knocked Saul off his horse and made him blind until he could see the errors of his ways? The Jesus who rose triumphantly from the grave on Easter morning? This is the Jesus who knows who he is. He is bold and decisive – he is more than we expected – this dazzling clothes Jesus.

Or are you drawn to the Jesus in the swaddling clothes? The Jesus who is in the hay – the one we may not even recognize? The Jesus who goes down the mountain with us back into the daily chores and duties we face. The Jesus who doesn’t say much but is there always, as we sing in the hymn Away in a Manger, “close by me forever and love me I pray.”

Our St. Paul Area Bishop, Peter Rogness preached at our ministers’ gathering last week about the “thunderbolt” God vs. the “permeating” God. And which one would you want on your side? The God of quick fixes is quite alluring and affirming… but is not very healing.

He reminded us of the story of Elizabeth Edwards (ex-wife of former Vice-Presidential Candidate, John Edwards) and her story of perseverance through the death of a son at age 16, her diagnosis of having stage IV breast cancer; along with the infidelity of her husband, who had an affair, causing her to divorce him.

At one point in her journey with cancer, she was reported as saying that she had given up praying for a cure… that she was at peace with whatever the outcome would be. Sadly, the bloggers and conservative talk shows lamented that it was too bad she had lost faith in God. Or was it that she had met the permeating God? The God who promises to be with us always and everywhere? The God who walks with those disciples back down that dusty trail, into the valley of the shadow of death… all the way to the place of the skull where he would be crucified.

Well, one thing I’m taking home from all this is Jesus’ commitment to stay with his disciples. He comes to them in their fear, touches them on the shoulder and says, “Get up. Don’t be afraid. All is well. Oh, and let’s just keep this between us until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

The messianic secret: It probably wouldn’t have gone over too well if people started hearing that Jesus had been schmoozing with dead prophets from of old (Elijah and Moses!). So Jesus told them to keep it to themselves. Jesus, on several occasions, sternly orders the disciples to tell no one of what they have seen.

Even if they couldn’t tell anyone else… one thing was clear: not only was Jesus transfigured before their eyes… but they, too, would never be the same, as they walked down that trail together back to their everyday lives. Knowing what they now know… it had to affect everything else from then on.

So, where does that leave us today? Knowing what you know about God and Jesus and the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life… what’s your story? Where have you encountered God? How has Jesus been trying to get your attention? Let’s share those stories. Let’s tell them to others, not as cleverly devised myths… or as coping mechanisms for life’s hardships… but as eyewitness accounts of God getting our attention.

If you leave here today and don’t take anything else home with you – take this: your story matters (whether it be on the mountaintop or in an ordinary manger). Embrace it, share it, go tell it. Others are hungry to hear the good news of God’s love through you, his disciples. Amen.