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“Shaking Our Fists at God”

Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Vespers Sermon
“Shaking Our Fists at God”
March 19,2017 (Third Sunday in Lent)
Exodus 17: 1-7

We just heard Israel complaining…yet again.

If you read the book of Exodus, you will be struck by Israel’s constant whining. They had not even crossed the Red Sea before they started bellyaching.  When they looked back and saw the Egyptian army in pursuit, they grumbled to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?…It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness” (Exodus 14:11-12).

It is a miracle, not so much that the sea divided, but that God didn’t say, “I have had it with you.  Get yourselves across this stinking sea on your own!”

It was only three days since they had witnessed the enemy army drowning in the sea; rather than celebrating their liberation from brutal slavery, God’s children complained to Moses: “What shall we drink?” (Exodus 15:24).

And yet again, another miracle: instead of zapping God’s beloved people, God told Moses to place some wood in the water and a sweet drink would be created for these desperately thirsty people.

As people are wont to do, only weeks later, yet again, they forgot God’s miraculous love for them.  They got hungry again and began grumbling again to Moses: “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger” (Exodus 16:3).

And again, a miracle.  This time manna from heaven.

And then, what we just heard: the people were thirsty…again.  And, yes, they complained again. “Give us water to drink!  Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?”

And, yes, you guessed it, another miracle: God told Moses to use his staff and water would come from the rock…and it did!

Are you seeing a pattern, by the way?

One commentator has suggested that the greatest miracle among all the staggering miracles, greater than the sea separating, greater than manna falling from heaven, greater than water bursting from the rock, was God’s patience.

And, of course, it is not just the whiny Israelites in the desert so long ago.  We are no different!  Why does God put up with our griping, our everlasting questions, and our pathetic lack of faith?

It would be easy to conclude from all the quarreling and contentiousness that God would prefer us to shut our mouths and never ask a single question.  Some faith, by the way, is like that: it is of the sheepish variety that teaches that if we ask a single question of God, we are terrible sinners destined for the scorching fires of hell.  This is the polite kind of faithfulness, the kind that never raises its voice to God, never asks an awkward question of the Almighty, never clenches its fist toward heaven.

Interestingly and surprisingly to many, Jesus was not nearly as sheepish as some of us when it came to questioning God.  As we near Holy Week, we will hear Jesus ask a few hard-hitting questions.  For those of courteous faith, Jesus’ frank questions will startle us, perhaps scandalize us; they may even force some of us to explain away what Jesus was really asking.

The night before Jesus died, when he went to Gethsemane to pray, he was not a good, little boy in the classic sense, the kind who never raises his voice in the face of doubt and torment.  Much to our surprise, Jesus uttered these astonishing words: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.”  Jesus asked the hard question, of course, he did, and yet—and note this well—he also then waited for God to answer.  Jesus’ conversation was not a monologue with God; Jesus expected God to answer him in the midst of his agony.

In those final hours as Jesus hung on the cross, he shocks us as he screamed the most famous faith question of all, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

And yet, Jesus’ questions were never the final word.  He always, always, then waited for his heavenly Father to answer what he did not know.

We will all arrive at those moments when we complain, when we ask the hard questions similar to those of the Israelites, when we will feel completely disillusioned.  We will be in our own wilderness, on our own cross, as mad as a rattlesnake in the desert sun.  And yet, another miracle will occur: God will listen to us and God will answer, not necessarily as we wish but in a fashion that reveals that only God knows what is best for us.

The miracle, as we have been saying repeatedly during these days of Lent, is that “the LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.”

“The Old, Old Story of Jesus and His Love”

Pastor Wilbert Miller’s Sermon
March 19, 2107 (3rd Sunday in Lent)
“The Old, Old Story of Jesus and His Love”
John 4: 5-42
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-New York City

If that just felt like an incredibly long reading, you are right.  It is the longest conversation Jesus had with anyone in all the gospels.

There is something we dare not lose sight of in this lengthy conversation.  Jesus took the time to speak with another person—not in mindless chatter, but in-depth dialog, the kind where you get to know one another deeply.  I hope you paid attention and didn’t get bored.

I am often struck by conversations I have with people and am unnerved by their lack of curiosity.  When meeting people for the first time—often clergy colleagues—I will ask where they grew up, where they went to college and seminary, what congregations they have served, what their families are like. They are more than happy to talk about themselves, at length, with considerable embellishment!  I am often saddened, however, when it is my turn to tell my story; their minds seem to wander and they don’t appear to care an iota about hearing my story; they don’t ask me a single question.  And remember, these are pastors paid to listen carefully to others!

I confess: I am not always the best listener either.  On Thursday, I had a conversation with our illustrious congregational president Craig Wilson.  He showed considerable interest in me: are you working too much, pastor; I hear your dog Cisco is having some struggles. I talked Craig’s ear off.  He had just gotten often a long night’s work, writing news; he was driving home when he received word that his wife, Mary Lou, had been in an automobile accident; he was rushing to see how she was doing.  Craig even told me about his dogs and chuckled about the prayer near my office desk—the last gift my mother gave me before she died: “God, help me be the person my dog thinks I am.” When our conversation was over, I kept wondering: had I shown nearly the interest in Craig that he had shown in me?  Had I listened as much as I had spoken?

In today’s long gospel reading, a model conversation is heard.  Jesus was thirsty and the woman at the well sensed that.  We don’t just hear Jesus talking AT the Samaritan woman or just trying to get his thirst needs met and we don’t just hear the woman talking AT Jesus.  Instead, an amazing dialog occurred: Jesus listened attentively to the woman and, somehow in the process, figured out that she had had five husbands—I assume Jesus did this, not by some magical gift of ESP, but rather by listening carefully.  The woman was so astounded by Jesus’ listening skills that she told others, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done!  He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”

What is most remarkable is that Jesus even had the conversation.  Not only did he talk to the woman, at the well, at noon—something a good Jewish man would never be caught doing—but he talked with a woman who, at least according to his tradition, was a religious outsider (a Samaritan) and had innumerable husbands.  Every religious sensibility exhorted Jesus to steer clear; instead he risked breaking down rigid boundaries and moving beyond ancient resentments so that a community of love might be created. Jesus accomplished astonishing ministry simply by talking with—and not AT—another person, telling his story and listening to hers.

If our community here at Holy Trinity is to bring life to others, we need to listen to one another as Jesus did.  We need to tell our own stories and be equally fascinated by other’s.

And yet, there is something more to high-quality conversation.  It is essential we weave God’s story into one another’s stories because, finally, that story will make all the difference. That story provides hope for those haunted by abuse, embraces a parent who fears their precious little one will never return home again, and gives courage to those who wonder if our nation will continue to be one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.  God’s story must be told.

Little children know this.  As we tuck them into bed, they almost always say, “Can you tell me one more story?  Please, please, please.”  That final story is the one that makes all the difference; it is the one that fends off ghosts, petrifies goblins, and trounces monsters all the while providing hope well into the deep, dark night.

Lent is an opportunity to hear and tell that story with renewed vigor.  I pray you are reading our fabulous Lenten devotional booklet, “O Lord, Throughout These Forty Days”—you wrote it after all!  As you read the astonishing daily devotions, listen carefully to your brothers and sisters telling their stories and listen how they weave their stories into the story of Jesus’ final days.

I sense that many of us are yearning for a better story these days, a story of hope, a story of truth, a story of lasting love. You lamented to me in recent days: “I am fasting from Facebook during Lent; we canceled cable television; I stopped my subscription to The New Yorker.  So much conversation and yet I need something different.”  You are sensing you need a better story to go with your story and the world’s; you are desperately in need of God’s story.

The great German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to American in the 1930s and taught just up the street at Union Theological Seminary at 120th and Broadway.  Bonhoeffer preferred attending the African American churches in Harlem, particularly Abyssinian Baptist Church where the Rev. Adam Clayton Powell, Sr. preached at the time and where Calvin Butts now preaches.  He went there because, as he wrote: “In New York, they preach about virtually everything; only one thing is not addressed, or is addressed so rarely that I have as yet been unable to hear it, namely, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the cross, sin and forgiveness, death and life.”

It’s easy to ramble on about ourselves.  It’s also easy to run on and on, complaining, “Ain’t it terrible,” about the current political situation.  But, deep down, we need more.  We are thirsty for one more story, the one that will quench our horrendous thirst.  We need the old, old story of Jesus and his love for us and for our groaning world.

“Burst Egos and the Glory of God”

Pastor Wilbert Miller’s
Vesper’s Sermon
2nd Sunday in Lent (March 12, 2017)
Romans 4: 1-5; 13-17
“Burst Egos and the Glory of God”

William Muehl preached to my classmates and me on our first day at Yale Divinity School. Our future preaching professor looked out over the proud throng of students in Marquand Chapel and noted how delighted our parents must be that we would soon be pastors serving Christ’s beloved church. He also noted how thrilled our grandmas and grandpas were with our apparent holiness and profound piety. He then paused for what seemed an eternity; he looked over the entire incoming class of seminarians. Then he said, “Admit why you are really here: you could not get into Yale Law School or Yale Medical School”…we had not even yet come to discover that the divinity school was unfortunately known as and euphemistically called the “back door to Yale”—and thus our holy and academic egos were burst very quickly!

…And here I am tonight. I have made it thus far by faith! I join so many of my heirs, a cast of ridiculous characters who ended up doing the Lord’s work in spite of their repugnant flaws and because, frankly, nothing else seemed to work out.

This morning at Mass, we heard about Abram. He and his wife, Sarai, were an unlikely couple for God to call on to be the parents of a great nation. They were well into their nineties; their AARP cards were terribly crinkled and their life savings were almost exhausted. They were supposed to be parents of a great nation and they had no children yet to construct the foundations of such a nation. It was clear: if they were going to be the progenitors of a great nation, God better get busy.

I think you know: a geriatric miracle occurred; Abram and Sarai became the proud parents of a bouncing baby boy named Isaac.

We heard of another unlikely character at Mass this morning—we just read a bit from one of his letters to the people of Rome. His name was Saul…at least for a while. He was a wretched fellow, the unlikeliest of all to do the Lord’s work. This guy made his reputation killing Christians and was proud of it. He kept up his deadly ways until he was struck by lightning. With that, his name suddenly changed from Saul to Paul and he ended up being one of the greatest evangelists the church has ever known—even better than Jim Swaggert!

All these folks were unlikely applicants to do the Lord’s work and perhaps that’s just the way God likes it. It was Paul himself who said that Abraham became great, not because of his goodness but because of the goodness of God and because God loved him.

There are other unlikely characters too—you! I would talk about myself as unlikely but I have already confessed my difficulties getting into law school and medical school. What about you? Do you measure up to do the Lord’s work? My experience is that except for a few self-righteous prigs, most of you feel underwhelmed by your faithfulness and not particularly perky about your holiness prospects. You say things like, “I am a terrible Christian” or “You are the good person who does the Lord’s work, not me” or “I wish I could believe this stuff, but I just can’t.”

We get it into our minds that it is up to us alone to do the Lord’s work and, for whatever reason, many of us don’t feel up to the task. According to Saint Paul, when we do good for the kingdom of God, it is due to the Lord and not to us. The fancy theological term for this, by the way, is the grace of God.

God loves us deeply, each of us. While we may be none too impressed by our contributions to the world, somehow, by the grace of God, each of us in our own way—maybe in a very small way but in our way nonetheless—will do something very good that will tilt this world ever so slightly for the better…all because of the grace of God.

I have told you of a few of my desert island books. One is Graham Greene’s stunning “The Power and the Glory.” The main character is a wretched whiskey priest always searching to wet his whistle. He is a sloshed bum who sickens himself worst of all. He knows his shortcomings better than anyone. But when the powers that be in Mexico forbid the church from preaching God’s word to suffering souls, baptizing little-bitty babies, and giving people the gifts of Christ’s body and blood who hunger for heavenly food, of all the unlikely people, the old drunken priest is the one who tramps over the hot, arid Mexican mountains, from one desperate town to the next, risking his neck so poor peasants might hear and taste once again the wondrous presence of God even while he is always on the lookout for another cheap bottle of booze. By the grace of God and surpassing anything the pathetic priest realizes, he bears mercy for a tormented land.

This cast of unlikely characters should show you how God weaves heavenly wonder in our midst. You may say, “I am not too religious” or even “Pastor, if only you knew the truth about me.” And yet, it is at that very moment, exactly when we think we are miserable foul-ups and sinners that God’s glory shines through us. There is hope, my dear friends; God works through people just like you and me.

“Better or Best”

Pastor Wilbert Miller’s sermon
“Better or Best”
Matthew 4: 1-11
Lenten Vespers at
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-New York City

Just one little question for you this evening: do you believe in the devil?
Call him what you wish, Satan, Lucifer, the Evil One—you pick the name.  Do you believe in the devil, the one who, according to the gospel accounts, tempted Jesus in the wilderness?

Let me quit playing sophomoric games with you.  I believe in the devil.

Now, not for a minute do I think this wily one has a tail, dresses up in a red suit, and totes a pitchfork.  The devil—at least the one I believe in—is far craftier than that.  The devil I believe in is a devious virtuoso.

I fear we do not give the devil his due.  He weaves his diabolical magic with a technique almost impossible to detect or, at least, to call evil.  The devil loves to get us believing we are doing so well when, in fact, we are up to our necks in evil.  Martin Luther claimed the Satan does his most malicious work when we think all is going swimmingly.

Soon after Jesus had been baptized in the Jordan by John and God had announced from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” just when Jesus had the world at his fingertips, the devil pounced.

Again, give the devil his due: he had done his homework. The only way he could get close to Jesus was by making a few proposals too good to resist.  The devil wove his wicked web by offering Jesus an opportunity to solve the world’s worst problems; all Jesus had to do was make a few paltry concessions.

“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  The devil played to Jesus’ loving side, the side yearning to feed every hungry soul in the world. If you could feed just one starving baby with a distended belly—or even a few—just by doing a little dance with the devil, wouldn’t you mull over the proposal?

Satan tempted Jesus to be spectacular as well.  The whole world could belong to Jesus if only he bowed ever so slightly Satan’s way…just slightly mind you, not so terribly far.

The devil is ingeniously shrewd: he tempts us with choosing between better or best, not between worst or best.  The devil tempts us to make a little compromise here, a tiny concession there, nothing particularly offensive and, in sacrificing the best, this world might just be a better place in the process.

The earliest Christians were wary of the colossal dangers of opting for better rather than best.  The emperor asked them to offer just a pinch of incense on his altar and he promised all would well—just a smidgeon; no one would ever know the difference or care that you had bowed just a little Caesar’s way instead of God’s and you would soon forget the ugly compromise you made anyway.

I promise you, the devil is coming our way if he hasn’t already.  The devil knows how fond we are of power and prestige and yes, of doing the right thing even if for the wrong reasons.  All this, of course, to care for the world—nothing unsavory or vulgar.  Churches often measure success by the friends we have in high places: we know the price exacted, the silence we must observe, and yet rubbing elbows with such lofty folks is so intoxicating that the price of not speaking the truth seems well worth it.

Better or best…You know the choices; you face them every day.  A little compromise here, a slight bow to evil there—nothing much and all for the good of the cause—kind of like jumping off the temple top in order to save the world.  Not too much to ask, wouldn’t you agree?

Being a child of God is almost always costly unless, of course, we opt to just get along.  We can make believe there are two sides to every issue, never making a decision that is costly and never siding with the downtrodden if it might upset a solitary soul.

Jesus’ wilderness journey was a painful one that led straight up Calvary’s hill to the cross.  He could have saved himself but that would have been opting for better rather than best; he could have received the adulation of adoring throngs by playing footsies with a few brawny politicians and a handful of smooth operating, compromising religious officials.  Jesus would have none of it. He refused to turn his back on the outcasts—you and me, declining to make concessions to the devil in the process.

We are now on a forty-day journey called Lent. We will face countless opportunities to choose better or best.  We can say that jobs matter all the while letting poisonous gases suffocate God’s good earth; we can say that tough cuts must be made to the poorest so that the ravenous appetites of the deadly military are fed in the name, of course, of peace.

The real Lenten journey occurs, not just for forty days, but throughout our lifetime.  It is an arduous sojourn. We stumble and fall, scrape our knees and bloody our noses.  God understands how hard it is and God welcomes us home every time we have been satisfied with better rather than best.  And at that very moment when God embraces us, we know what is best, God’s son dying for us even when we have tried and failed.

“Finding Solace in Fierce Places”

Pastor Wilbert Miller’s sermon
“Finding Solace in Fierce Places”
Matthew 4: 1-11
March 5, 2017 (First Sunday in Lent)
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-Manhattan

When we moved to San Diego twelve years ago, we were thrilled to be living only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean.  Surprisingly, we never dipped our toes into that great expanse of water, not once.  We fell in love with something else instead, the desert, a place we had no idea existed in California until we arrived. We went hiking and camping in the Anza-Borrego Desert and Death Valley every chance we got.

The desert, at least for us, is hauntingly beautiful: sand as far as you can see, like the ocean in a way; the only disruption, a prickly cactus here and there.  The sun beats down unmercifully, the wind howls, the sand bites; it is utterly quiet, maddeningly so at times.

Jesus went to such a fierce landscape, the place where the devil chose to weave his diabolical web.  Give the devil his due: he waited until Jesus was hungry and thirsty, until there wasn’t a peep of noise.  He came knocking when Jesus was susceptible to a tempting deal or two.

The desert’s ferociousness can cause you to hear strange voices and see bizarre things, especially when you are thirsty and disoriented.  That’s when the devil strikes.

“Jesus,” he said, “if you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.”  Jesus was hungry, the world was hungry; this was a good deal for everyone involved.

“Jesus, if you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”  Jesus was feeling helpless so why not opt for this offer of power and glory?

And then, in perhaps the craftiest of deals, the devil said, “All these I will give you”—pointing to the lands that stretched as far as Jesus could see—“if you will fall down and worship me.”  At a moment of extreme vulnerability, Jesus was offered the world.  Imagine what he could have done with such authority at his fingertips: he could have fed every hungry heart and ruled the world with his own vision of love.

There was a catch to these enticing, devilish proposals as there almost always are when supremacy and grandeur are offered.  Jesus would have had to sacrifice a few of his ideals—just a few—for an apparent greater glory of ruling the world.  Was the trade-off worth it?  What do you think?

As we gather for our Sacred Conversations downstairs in the community room immediately following Mass today, we will engage in an exercise which will reveal how brutally difficult it is to listen amidst solitude and loneliness.  Most of us prefer the incessant chatter of radios, Smartphones, and television talking heads to soothe the evening just a tad.  The ruthless New York City Desert exacts a brutal toll at three in the morning, in our bedroom, with its own cruel silence: our minds run wild and we are terrified.  We ponder our looming deaths, our shortcomings, our failures.  Absolute silence…except the winds howling…the hawks circling overhead…and an occasional screaming police siren.  Being all alone in the harsh urban desert, even for ten or fifteen minutes, is grueling.

Our Quote for the Week in today’s bulletin says: “Most people’s wilderness is inside them, not outside…Our wilderness is an inner isolation. It’s an absence of contact. It’s a sense of being alone—boringly alone, or saddeningly alone, or terrifyingly alone” (H.A. Williams).

It was in such isolation that Jesus was tempted; it is in such isolation that we are tempted as well.

Here’s an invaluable Lenten learning, a gift for you: the way Jesus withstood every devilish temptation was by reaching for Holy Scripture on his desert nightstand.  Of course, the Bible was not exactly there for Jesus simply to pull down from the nightstand but it didn’t matter: Jesus had committed God’s word to memory for such a time as this, words like “One does not live by bread alone…Do not put the Lord your God to the test…Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him”—all these memories of God’s Word bolstered Jesus to find solace in the fierce landscape of life.

These forty days of Lent are our desert in the city.  We have stripped our liturgy to barebones: the “A-word” (you thought I was going to say it, didn’t you?) has been buried until Easter; the crosses are draped in purple reminding us how our sin blocks out the splendor of God’s love; Jesus’ words from Calvary, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me,” echo deep in our souls.  Ashes, purpled cross, loneliness, tomb, mortality…We can barely stand this fierce landscape and yet, if we face the silence with God’s word at hand, all will finally be well with our souls.

Ivan Illich writes, “The emptiness of the desert makes it possible to learn the almost impossible: the joyful acceptance of our uselessness.”   Yes, in our uselessness we reach for God.  At our most desperate and vulnerable, we discover our salvation.

When all our tricks have been tried and failed—our intellect, talents, and winsomeness, all that and more—only then do we feel compelled finally to reach out for God’s hand.

The quirky New York poet, Walt Whitman, said it so well in his “Leaves of Grass”:

After the seas are all cross’d, (as they seem already cross’d)
After the great captains and engineers have accomplish’d their work,
After the noble inventors, after the scientists, the chemist, the geologist, the ethnologist,
Finally comes the poet worthy of that name,
The true son of God shall come singing his songs.

That, my dear friends, is why you have come here this morning.  You have tried everything and you still live in this desert called “Manhattan;” you are still hungry and thirsty.  Here the true son of God comes singing his songs.  These songs are your hope; they are your friend when you are all alone and all else fails.  Reach across your bed stand for the poet worthy of that name, Jesus Christ.  Tasting his bread of life and sipping his cup of salvation come down from heaven, may you be lifted up on angels’ wings.

“Resting in the Lap of God”

Pastor Wilbert Miller’s sermon
“Resting in the Lap of God”
Matthew 17: 1-9
Bach Vespers
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-New York City
February 26, 2017 (Transfiguration of Our Lord)

O Lord, how good to be here, here on this mountaintop with a gorgeous view of Central Park, here where we will soon pray: “O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
We have longed for this place of holy rest and blessed peace.  However we say it—“I love Bach,” I love incense,” “I love Vespers,” even “I like the refreshments”—we come here where the busy world is hushed and where we can pray and sing and listen to glorious music.  We feel as did Saint Augustine so long ago when he said, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”

Three little words in tonight’s reading, “six days later,” tell us volumes.

Do you know what occurred six days before Peter, James and John climbed the mountain with Jesus and gloriously witnessed the astonishing sight of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus together?  Six days earlier Peter had the audacity to suggest to Jesus that he need not suffer and die.  Peter was doing what dear friends do, protecting Jesus the best way he knew how from dying a horrific death.  We often say a similar thing to those we love, “You will not die,” though we know they will soon breathe their last. We cannot bear their suffering and death and we really do not know what to say so we say what we think is best no matter how flimsy our words may be.

Jesus would have none of Peter’s dismissive words even though Peter meant well.  In what may be the most stinging rebuke in all of Scripture, Jesus said to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.”

If your best friend called you Satan, how long would it take you to get over the scolding—twenty-four hours, six days…a lifetime?  Harsh words hurt!

From what we can tell, Jesus began the healing process with Peter six days later as they hiked up the mountain.

I don’t know exactly what brings you here tonight, what stuff won’t go away—the sting of a relationship gone sour, the heartache of declining health, the discouragement of a country in turmoil.  My guess is, whether it is sickness or health, joy or sadness, your heart is restless and you have come yearning to rest in the lap of God.

As I mentioned, the three words, “six days later,” are important.  When you hear “six days later,” do you perchance think of creation?   God toiled for six days, creating the heavens and the earth, giraffes and bumble bees, beautiful baby girls and ornery little boys, gleaming oceans and towering mountains.  I don’t know why, but whenever I think of the seventh day—the one that came after God had worked so hard on the previous six—I imagine God plopping down in an overstuffed La-Z-Boy, kicking off huge, dirty work boots, falling asleep and snoring away.

Jesus, Peter, James and John trudged up the mountain on the sixth day.  The seventh day was to be their delight.  Oh, how they needed to kick off their work boots and to rest awhile.

God knows we need our rest day as well. God also knows just how suspicious our culture is of rest.  And so, protecting us from the beguiling temptation of incessant work, God gives us the gift, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” God realizes all the silly stuff that tempts us: “I don’t have a free day until May 22…I work 169 hours a week”—all this trying to prove our worth, all the while forgetting that God loves us just the way we are.

I worry about people who don’t rest and I sense people worry about me when I don’t rest.  We are frightened when we watch people lose their centers of gravity; they have been seduced to believe they are the only ones who can make this great big world go round.  We quickly forget that God makes the planets spin and not us!

This evening, on the Transfiguration of Our Lord, we rest just as did Peter, James, and John, and, yes, even as did Jesus.  During these holy moments, we do absolutely nothing to prove our worth; it is, as the theologian Marva Dawn suggests, “a royal waste of time.”

By the way, it is a good idea, if you haven’t done so already, to turn off your stupid phones.  I was taught in seminary by the good Benedictine monk, Aidan Kavanagh, to take off my watch before worship begins—that was, by the way, before we had these stupid phones and instead communicated home to our parents with carrier pigeons.  Father Kavanagh told us just to rest in God’s presence and not to worry about time; in fact, he said, these holy moments are beyond space and time.

For now, I beg you, remember the Sabbath, delight in the music, and rest as the shadows lengthen and the evening comes.  Remember: when you leave here tonight, there will be no bragging rights as to who worked the hardest because you will have done nothing.  You will have wasted an hour and twenty minutes in God’s lap as Jesus was transfigured before your very eyes…and that is more than enough.