Monday, August 13, 2012

Being Excited Over Mars Mission

Last Sunday, August 5th, I took a break from the Olympics to watch the landing of Curiosity (NASA's most recent Rover/Explorer) on Mars.

Now, I have to tell you I'm a BIG fan of the Space Program and always have been. Some of my earliest memories include watching the last Mercury launch, all of the Gemini & Apollo launches - and yes, I still remember where I was when I heard "The Eagle has landed" on the moon. At heart I believe one of the greatest gifts of God to mankind is our (seemingly) innate desire for exploration - whether this is exploration of outer space, the ocean, biology, geology, etc., etc. And I for one believe this is one distinct proof that "God is like this," but more importantly: evidence that we are created in the Image of God!

I have no intention of turning this into a sermon, but I recall two of the particular opening verses in the service of Evening Prayer (BCP 1979):

Yours is the day, O God, yours also the night; you established the moon and the sun. You fixed all the boundaries of the earth; you made both summer and winter.
Psalm 74:15, 16


Seek him who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night; who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out upon
the surface of the earth: The Lord is his name. Amos 5:8

Back to Sunday night...
The thing that first impressed me is that this mission (yes I know its just a rover...) is the most complex space mission in history. Certainly more complex missions will come... but this one tops the charts! The fact that because of the distance, everything involved in the landing had to be accomplished on its own (to see these complexities watch the short clip below).

It was fascinating to watch the Control Room react with cheers - followed by immediate stress - as each part functioned during the descent: "Curiosity has entered the atmosphere" (Cheers! Will the parachute deploy?) "The parachute has deployed" (Cheers! Will the heat shield separate?) "The heat shield has separated!" (Cheers! Will the rockets fire?) ... and so on... until "Curiosity is on the surface!" BIG BIG CHEERS! Everything worked right and as planned! Great job guys and gals!

Now that the "terror" is over the real exploration can begin. And already more and more amazing photos are coming in.  And that leads me to Wednesday...

Wednesday night...
On Wednesday as I was talking about my interest in the mission, a parishioner shared, "Well, you know, it is an amazing thing; but when I think of all the things we could have done with that money here, it seems like such a waste." OUCH! He went on to say, "Yes we went to the moon and now we have digital watches... big deal." OUCH again!

But that got me thinking...

Sunday night one of the commentators said something like, "If any one part of the landing process fails we've just sent a billion-dollar rock to Mars!"

So let's use that figure for the sake of argument - I have no idea how much the Curiosity mission actually cost - but it's an easy one to use. Let's also say before the launch three years of planning went into this effort - so (again for the sake of argument) we're talking a billion dollars over nearly 4 years.

To be honest, my friend brings up an important point: there are concerns here on earth that need to be addressed. And certainly any of them would have benefited had they been given this money to work with. BUT... Let's be clear about a few things...
  1. Space exploration is not an either/or situation: Just because a billion dollars was spent on this mission doesn't mean that we ignored concerns here! It wasn't like we had a choice: Should we go to Mars OR cure cancer? Which one do you want to do? Using that as an example, we are working on cancer research; and, how much do you think was spent on cancer research over the last 4-years? I suspect - but I don't know for certain - I suspect it was way more than a billion dollars!
  2. Space exploration has multiple benefits beyond "digital watches"! Consider for a moment all the education that all these scientists have had? Universities have benefited from having students. Teachers and professors have had jobs teaching them over the years. Scientific research inspires our students to learn and grow professionally. Along with that, how many people were employed who built the Rover and the Rocket? I also recently saw a report interviewing the next generation of geologists and scientists - still students - who are preparing to work on this project. Seems to me - and if you in the least way thing education is an important thing - this is a good thing to see! But along with this...Having interest in higher education and the sciences means that others - who are not interested in space exploration but may be inspired to do other things (like cure cancer) have their place too!
  3. Amazing achievements - even in space - prove that we can do amazing things in other areas as well. The old saying was, "If we can put a man on the moon, why can't we.... whatever?" And if we can land a car-sized explorer on Mars, why can't we cure cancer, end disease and poverty? Why can't we? There is no reason we can't. None at all. And let's not forget that there are amazingly talented people at work on these things (and more) right now!
So here's to all you scientists out there! Keep up the good work! As the video says "Dare Mighty Things" - and keep doing that whatever your field!

And let me also say to those in the Arts...
who may think this is all about Science and Technology... It's not!  Human achievement is inspired by the Arts, and the Arts inspire us too! With education and Universities the Arts live on... and you musicians, actors, and artists feed our imaginations! To "dare" is to "imagine"!

It's all connected together. It's supposed to be.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Independence Day 2012: A Reflection

Scriptures: Deu. 10:17-21; Ps. 145:1-9; Ro. 13:1-10; Mt. 5:43-48

The Fourth of July - or more rightly, Independence Day - is my favorite national holiday for several reasons. Judging by my physique, one might assume that it has to do with beer and BBQs. (There may be some truth to that - not including my love of fireworks!) But more than any of these celebrations, Independence Day is my favorite national holiday because deep down I am an Idealist; that is to say, I still believe, as flawed as our nation has become, at the heart of our history we stand on principles derived from Faith in God.

This is something I think all of you already know. And we all know that there is real effort to expunge and erase the mention of God in our government. Yet there are two experiences that continue to give me hope - and I remember them every Fourth of July.

One was when I visited Washington D.C. a few years ago. I was particularly struck by the mention of God EVERYWHERE on almost every monument! The Atheistic task to remove the mention and influence of God is (in my humble opinion) impossibly monumental (no pun intended).

But also, I remember a "Fourth" celebration in Elk Grove, CA years ago. At the time the push to eliminate God from the Pledge of Allegiance was raging. At the park, before all the fireworks, the crowd (and it was a BIG crowd) said the Pledge together. When it came to the part - everyone SHOUTED - "One Nation,UNDER GOD..." And this reminds me that it is the American heart that will keep God alive in our Country!

To be honest and fully true to history, I am not a "romantic Idealist" about our Founding Fathers and Mothers; that is to say, that they were so in touch with Faith as to bring down the Kingdom of Heaven in 1776 nor eleven years later at the drafting of our Constitution. They had plenty of faults. It is honest to say many of our Founding Fathers and Mothers were Christian. And their Faith did indeed shape and influence the American Dream of a free and independent government. But, it is also fair and honest to say that many were in fact Deists (or Deistic in their thinking).

Deism - at its heart - holds that God is far off; distant and primarily unconcerned with the running of human affairs. He has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ and Holy Scripture; yes, and given us the precepts to which we are to live. Yet, that is also to say that He has given us the rules and stands off to say, "Obey them." The Deistic God is not one to interfere or intervene - something we certainly have come to understand - Our God is NOT like that! Thomas Jefferson - as a Christian Deist certainly thought this way. As he drafted the Declaration of Independence, this was certainly his thinking when he writes:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

"Endowed by their Creator" = That we are created beings. Set in motion and gifted with purpose.
"Certain unalienable Rights" = Ways in which God has established Man in creation. We are made this way and set in motion.

And at the conclusion of the Declaration, he writes:
"And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

"Divine Providence", which goes to show that Thomas Jefferson was only one of a Committee (Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston were the others). Divine Providence means, God still provides protection (is active and involved) to His faithful people.

Our scriptures today are somewhat a challenge to this way of thinking. We are reminded of care for the poor and the needy. Paul reminds us to endure and respect all authority (even the Pagan Rome of his day!) Jesus tells us (as He told our Founding Fathers) "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you... Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

One thing is almost certain in our thinking these days: Politics and Religion go together as well as Nitroglycerin in a paint mixer at the hardware store. But again, today I am an Idealist. I believe that the two are vitally dependent upon each other. One cannot govern humanely without Godly principles - to see things the way God sees them - to strive for the "perfection" Jesus calls us to, even though we know our human faults. After all it is only by His grace and salvation that we have been made perfect!

Politically, let me say just this: It doesn't matter today whether you are Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or whatever... What matters today is that you are BOTH an American and you are Christian. And if you are a Christian, Let it be CHRIST who influences your politics. No matter how you vote, let it be Christ who votes through you. If our country needs redirection and strengthening (and I for one believe it does) let us do this and accomplish this together! Let us in our own ways defend the Ideals of Liberty and Freedom which we cherish. Let us not discount them as "pipe-dreams" but hold onto them. Our nation was founded on these ideals... men and women fought only for the dream of a new and independent nation; believing that the hand and providence of God was with them. Our nation and our Faith still depend upon ideals and dreams!

As we remember our national independence, let us not forget or confuse our utter and complete dependence upon God! Although we need no longer to bow to the King (or Queen) of England, we still must bow to Him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. The Freedoms we enjoy today (even beer and BBQs) were paid for by the blood of many - who would gladly join us in our celebrations - but we are made to enjoy even greater joys that come only from Christ!

So I say today, God Bless America, with all pride and dignity. But I also close with this hope and prayer:

Bless God, America... Bless God! Amen.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Question of Spiritual Arrogance: Christian Unity is the Cure!

I am terrified by what passes among us in these days. Anyone who has barely begun to meditate…goes about proclaiming, “God has told me this,” or “I have that answer from God.” But all this is illusion and fancy – such a one has only been speaking of himself….”
-- St. John of the Cross, 16th Century Christian Mystic.

A long time ago I read an article... an issue of Spirituality & Health Magazine that got me thinking – and it still does. The article, titled “A Time for Silence” spoke of the author’s personal disdain for those who claim the authority of the Almighty. At one point the author Sam Keen writes, “I confess I am irritated by the spokespersons for [God], the televangelist of Videoland, the caretakers of revelation – Jewish, Christian, or Muslim – with their unquestioning certainties and their smug claims to be in possession of the definitive knowledge of the Almighty.” He goes on to say, “When their chummy god whispers The Truth in their ears, reveals his eschatological plans and moral absolutes, I want to run away.” Here, here!

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve not abandoned my faith or the truth of God’s word. Nor have I given up on the idea of a direct personal relationship with God the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, it is because of this faith that I agree with Mr. Keen so strongly. Internet Blogs and Comments belie this reality. One is not Christian enough unless they use the “right” Prayer Book. One is not a true minister of Christ if one is female. One is in serious error if they do not share a particular view on the “Salvation by grace alone” issue. Worship is not genuine unless it is “old” or “new” – from the Prayer Book or from the “heart.” One is not genuinely saved unless one has been “baptized in the Holy Spirit” (according to the practice and opinion of whomever)… and so on…. All of this has to stop! Far too often I hear people claim to have heard the (final) word of God on all of these issues (and more).

Indeed, I am very cautious of those who claim to have “heard the voice of God.”
I say cautious because there have been times in my life when I have “heard the voice of God” myself. Often times these have been occasions when I really needed to hear from Him! God’s word has always been specifically personal however; not broad based, global dictates upon others. I also know how easy it is to think I’ve received an answer when I have really needed to “check it out” with trusted people. When I hear this of others the real question I have to ask is, “What is the real answer God has given you?” I do believe that God answers prayer and speaks to us, but there is a difference between seeking God’s will and blessing “our will” in His name. What I am really talking about here is in clarifying prophecy (that’s what hearing a specific word from God is) and scripture is our guide here:

2 Peter 1:20-21 tells us: “First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

Now, scripture also tells us that “prophecy” is not something we should ignore or fear – in fact it is the one gift of the Holy Spirit we are to covet! (See 1 Cor. 14:39 KJV!) Consistency is the key! In the conviction of the Christian Faith, whatever God says today will be consistent to what God has said before. Often what we hear is affirming. More often however, we are aroused to repentance, perseverance, and patience. Furthermore, there are also times when God leads us to make a choice – to go this way or that way – between His ways and our ways. Again there is a real difference between the two.

So what is all this really about?
As we approach the summer months (something I think we are all looking forward to) there is something else just under the surface that certainly will be weighing on all of our minds: What is going on in the Church? Now that the Diocese of San Joaquin has elected its fifth bishop there is still the issue of being together as one church. I personally believe that Fr. Eric Menees is going to be a good bishop for us. Indeed, our Special Convention proved that regardless of the outcome, we couldn’t lose! Yet we honestly remain divided with our own agendas and issues. Small parishes may be more concerned about Diocesan Financial support than the larger parishes. Foreign missionaries are wondering if they will continue to be supported. And of course, larger parishes will have their concerns too. The question for each of us is simply this: What are we willing to sacrifice to be one in Christ (which He demands of us)? Are we Christians are more prone to division and argument rather than seeing (or even trying to see) any sense of unity in Christ? Where exactly is the unity Jesus prayed for in the final chapters of the Gospel of John? The fact is, it is there if we will only allow it to be so.

What we all need is Christian Unity – Christ mindedness!
Three specific passages in scripture come to mind:

Rom 12:3-11 (NRSV) For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.

1 Cor 1:10 (NRSV) Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.


Phil 2:3 - 5 (NRSV) Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

Christian Unity is the cure to our Spiritual arrogance; and the unity I am speaking of is not the superficial “everybody come” unity that is so often proclaimed– that’s not unity, that’s a picnic! There is a horizontal aspect to unity that brings us together in fellowship; there is also a vertical aspect that binds us to Christians past as well as to those of the future. This unity is in God not to an institution. Nowhere, does God say we will agree on everything, but to be united in the same mind and purpose! We are not the same in skills, talents, and gifts; but serve the same Lord! We should not seek to make everyone else conform into our particular expression of faith; but, love what is genuine, hold fast to what is good; and yes hate (that is, stand firm against, avoid, not capitulate, or accommodate) that which is sin.

The days are coming – even here now – when we must choose to set certain differences aside to be the icon of Christ to our broken world. The “revisionists” in our Church are counting on our failure! They are predicting that we (who are clear about who Jesus was and is) will continue to shatter. But to use an analogy, we are like a battle damaged ship on a mission. We’ve taken some serious hits but we are still on our course. There is no time to stop for repairs; we will have to make them en route. To do that, we have to work together. We cannot say to one another, “We have no need of you.” (Sounds like Paul to me!) None of our differences are insurmountable with the real guidance of the Holy Spirit! The call now is unity in Christ, to come together as ONE in the Lord.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Lent 4: Situational Awareness

(John 9:1-38)As he walked along [Jesus] saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”…

Eph 5:1-2) … be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

I’d like to share a bit of my former experience with you. Up until 1992 I was an Air Force Officer, an Instructor Navigator on B-52’s and a teacher at the SAC (Strategic Air Command) Tactics School.

One of my jobs was to teach Aircrews about the things that could kill them in combat and how to avoid them. We would talk about Antiaircraft guns and missiles. We would learn about enemy aircraft that could shoot us down. But there was something else – just as deadly – that all of us instructors were expert in recognizing. It was a threat that could cause a pilot to fly a perfectly good aircraft into the ground…It could cause a navigator to direct the crew into a hazardous area or fly the airplane into a mountain in bad weather…It was a condition known as “Loss of Situational Awareness (SA).”

A person who had “Lost SA” became so focused that they were literally useless. There are a number of times (and you’ve read about them in the papers) where pilots were so concerned about a burned-out light bulb in the cockpit that they forgot to fly the plane… and crashed! That is why – as a crew – we trusted and relied on each other. Quite simply we depended upon each other to help keep us focused on what really mattered: Staying airborne and alive! It would be nice if this kind of situation only existed in battle situations. But our Gospel proves otherwise.

The Gospel of John (Chapter 9) tells us a healing event where a man – blind his entire life – has more vision than those who were supposed to be the visionaries of the community. The Pharisees were so focused on their own points of view their stubbornness became spiritual blindness. Quite simply: The Pharisees had lost Situational Awareness. But so had the disciples!

The Pharisees were pent upon proving Jesus a fraud. The disciples were sure that there must be a cause (sin) as punishment for a man to suffer blindness from birth. Yet Jesus proclaims that even a situation such as this, was an opportunity for the Glory of God to be revealed. It seems to me that the season of Lent is a time for the church to remember that we need to trust and rely on each other. While so much is emphasized on a “personal relationship with Jesus;” we have also to know that it is He who has given us to each other as the Church.

In the early days when the followers of Jesus came to be known a “Christians” originally that phrase was intended to speak of us as “little Christs.” That meant for us to be like Christ for one another. We have the gift of each other to help us see and understand the truths to which we ourselves are blind. Gentle reminders are all it takes: “Brother, how is your prayer life going?” “Sister, how is God helping you with your struggles?”

We can all lose our SA from time to time. Maybe (even in Lent) we’ve forgotten to pray as we should. Maybe we’ve forgotten that God is always there for support when we are struggling…and that at times when we’ve overstepped God’s will, God always is there to take us back through confession and repentance. St. Paul directs us: Be imitators of God! Imitate Him. Act like Him. Be like Him – in all things!

This is not some sort of “fake-it-till-you-make-it” theology; it is letting God transform us into His likeness. For if Christ is our God then God calls us to be doing what Christ did. That means we bring God’s light to those who are in darkness. It also means that occasionally we will confront – and witness to - those who need to have their own blindness revealed.

As a friend of mine says, “You are the only Bible some people will read.” How you live, act, and are is always on display (even if only to God). So we are there for each other…but remember…be careful to listen when others need to help you see through your own blindness, too! It’s not about judgment - It is about being Christ to each other. Its about the grace we all need. Thanks be to God for the Church - for you and for me. May Jesus' Name be praised!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Transfiguration this Sunday

This Sunday is the Last Sunday in Epiphany. I've been much too busy lately to post; however, I was reminded that this past post is worthy to hear again! Blessings to you this Lent!

Transfiguration and the Season of Lent
On the Last Sunday of Epiphany we heard the Gospel Story of the Transfiguration, but now we have fully entered into the Season Lent. Lent is a penitential time – when the Church refocuses us on our personal need to do a bit of (or a lot of) “spiritual housecleaning!” That can mean some very hard work needs to be done; yet, the result is that we are transformed – transfigured, if you will – into what God fully intends for us. So as a Lenten Reflection for us, I’d like us to return to that mountain with Jesus and just maybe we can find reason and purpose for Lent.

Read: Matthew 17:1-9; Mark 9:2-10; Luke 9:28-36

Poor Peter! Here he is the Apostle of Apostles, the keeper of the keys to the kingdom, the rock upon which Jesus will build his church. Once again, Peter demonstrates that he is more human in his saintliness than is often depicted. I, for one, am thankful that Peter's most human moments are preserved in scripture rather than simply glossed over, cleaned up, or even left out. For those who continued to transcribe and produce our scriptures, the temptation to "fix" his apparent blundering must have been tremendous. Yet I believe that we are more like Peter than we realize.

Like Peter, we live in a matter-of-fact world. Even though our modern world is vastly different from the ancient world and we are so-called enlightened individuals, it remains true, that we still have our own particular ways of explaining the mysterious and the unexplainable. For example, through science, we now know how living creatures reproduce. From our DNA on up, we can identify patterns in a person's genetic code that indicate specific characteristics. Yet, with all of our scientific knowledge, we still can't explain what Life is! Although our species still keeps trying, we still cannot create "life" – even if we can “manufacture” important bits of it. Life is still a mystery to us – because life is more than just a biological being that pumps blood and has awareness.

Like Peter, we experience events of the supernatural with misunderstanding. Part of this is we are limited by our language. We can only explain these events in analogies; however, the importance of biblical supernatural events lies not in trying to explain how they happened. Meaning is found by seeking the practical importance of God's action. In fact, seeking importance in the Transfiguration is so significant, the church calendar requires us to focus on it twice every year. Why is that?

The yearly reading of the Transfiguration serves a number of purposes for us. First there are biblical reasons. In its context, this event is directly tied to Peter's confession of Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God. If there was any doubt remaining in the disciple's minds, the transfiguration stood to prove that Jesus is more than a carpenter; he is not John the Baptist, nor Elijah, nor even one of the ancient prophets who has come back to life. Jesus is the anointed one of God who will redeem and save creation from the power of sin and death. It was at this moment when all was fully revealed to our Lord. In a moment of seclusion and prayer, the Kingdom of God intersects human reality and Jesus speaks with the two most important figures in Hebrew history: Moses and Elijah. Though driven to Jerusalem by the Holy Spirit (knowing the prophecies about his final arrival) Jesus is now fully informed of his journey's cost. For God's beloved Son and for the disciples the events that follow will test every part of their being. Knowing the future doesn't guarantee that they will have the courage to face it.

This event served the practical and mystical purposes of giving both Jesus and his closest friends the supernatural courage to go on to Jerusalem and face the cross. This was the hardest thing for them to do. Is it any wonder that some of the earliest heresies of the church involved explaining away the agony of the cross? To some, God somehow “possessed” Jesus' body and was immune to pain. To others, Jesus' death was simply unnecessary; therefore, somehow he avoided the whole affair. One ancient legend has it that the Romans were stupid enough to crucify Simon of Cyrene by mistake, while Jesus scoffed in victory at his executioners. These heresies show how easy it is to forget the real anxiety and apprehension Jesus humanly faced on his way to the cross.All of us share the need for profound vision to carry us. The events of Jerusalem and the cross are simply too much for us to bear without it. We cannot depend on our optimism, for we are all faced with the eventuality of death. “Wishful thinking” will not sustain us when the journey becomes difficult. “Positive thinking” forces us to deny what lies ahead. The point here is that "taking up one's cross" is not possible unless God has first "taken us up" by the power of the Holy Spirit. We simply cannot do it alone. The event of the Transfiguration calls us to put the “religious experience" back into “religion”. What is it that draws you to religion? Is it an experience with the Holy?

Story of “Mary” and “Martha”
Some time ago, as part of my seminary education, I worked as a chaplain for a hospital. There were several other seminary students as well, from various other denominations. One of our responsibilities was to meet regularly as a group to share case studies and offer support. One of the students was a Unitarian Universalist and her faith consisted of a combination of Judaism, Buddhism, and Christianity. For “Martha” (as I will call her), Jesus was simply a great teacher but no more the “son of god” than you and I are “children of God”. For Martha, there is no afterlife, no unity with God.I'll never forget one occasion where Martha shared a faith struggle with our group. One of the patients that she had been visiting was dying of breast cancer. The doctors had tried everything to save “Mary” (as I will call her), but the cancer had hopelessly spread throughout her entire body. All they could do for Mary was to keep her comfortable on morphine while they waited for her to die. Mary had two daughters: one a proclaimed atheist, the other a New Age mystic. Mary had begun to have visions, which deeply disturbed the atheist daughter. Mary would refer to these visions as a spiritual pilgrimage. She would be visited by and have conversations with angels. Much to the amazement of the nursing staff and her two daughters, Mary knew everything about her condition. When asked how she knew so much about her condition, her answer was always the same: “The angel told me.” The atheist daughter had come to Martha and asked in desperation, "Is my mother 'really' seeing angels, or is it the morphine?" After a short conversation with her, Martha finally answered, "I don't know."

When Martha got to our group she tearfully confessed, "I lied to her; I just couldn't tell her I believe that death is the end of all life. I copped out, there just doesn't seem to be any hope in that answer." All of us in the group tried to reassure Martha that, "I don't know" was actually the most honest answer she could have given. The rest of us also witnessed to her that our faith, the Christian faith, had a different answer. We can never really know for sure whether Mary saw and conversed with angels, but her experience with the Holy was REAL. Mary died peacefully in her sleep, knowing her destination. She simply went with her friends and this time stayed with them. I don't know how Martha's faith was changed by this event, but I do know that she was asking some very deep questions of herself after the summer was over. Mary's witness to Martha was a gift.

Peter's experience there on the mountain was also a gift. It was a gift that he would later draw upon. Faced with a community that had come to doubt the promises of Christ, Peter could state with boldness: "We were there! We saw it! We heard the voice borne from heaven!" (See 2 Peter 1:16-18) Peter states clearly: no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation; prophecy comes not from men but from the Holy Spirit. (See 2 Peter 1:20-21) If our scriptures are simply a collection of human reflection, then it is truly Peter who is wrong, and we truly do follow "cleverly devised myths". And if this is true, then there are truly no dreams left for us. The transfiguration shows us otherwise! Just like Jesus, and the disciples, we too need visions to give us courage.

Are you a visionary? What are your visions? Peter himself tells us that we are to be visionaries and it is the Holy Spirit who brings us these visions and dreams. In the Acts of the Apostles (2:17) on the very day of Pentecost, Peter quotes the book of Joel to his skeptics and says: “In the last days it will be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

The Holy Spirit sows in our hearts and minds the seeds of dreams and visions. Life in the land of dreams and visions, with God, is a life that transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. That is what Transfiguration is all about. It’s also what the Season of Lent is about: Transforming us from a life of sin by the Power of the Cross and making us into men and women of the Kingdom of God. In other words, transforming us into men and women of vision. And what is so different about being men and women of vision? Again, years ago, I read this from Pastor Dale Galloway, then Pastor of New Hope Community Church in Portland OR on what a difference visions and dreams can make:
  • Men and women of vision and dreams have no trouble praying because they have something to pray about.
  • Men and women of vision and dreams have no trouble tithing because they believe in it wholeheartedly.
  • Men and women of vision and dreams have no trouble believing in God for success because they know that God can do the impossible.
  • Men and women of vision and dreams have no trouble with drifting and laziness because they know where they are going and they're turned on for Jesus…
  • Our calling from God is to learn the life of the Spirit and to be men and women of visions and dreams.

I know there are visionaries here in our midst. Young and old we come together each week to experience the presence of God and to worship Jesus Christ. Sharing our visions with one another is a step in the right direction. Praying for our visions is the next. But unless we take the chance in carrying out the vision that God has given us, we are simply “dreamers.” Lent is before us to be more than “dreamers.” It’s here to make us “doers” too! Jesus, Peter, John, and James dared to climb a mountain. Their intention was to pray. Their reality was an experience of the Kingdom of God. Lent can be that for us too – if we will but dare the journey!

May your Lenten Journey be Blessed! And may you be transfigured this Season!

In Christ,

Fr. John Riebe

Friday, December 24, 2010