19 February 2012
If Jack said, “That Brad -- his head is always in the clouds.” What would that mean? (Other than that he is very astute?)
Yes, it would mean that my mind has wandered off again and that I was not present but distant.
If I told you that I wrote the notes for my sermon using a cloud-based computer program (which, by the way, I actually did) what would that mean?
Correct, the program that I’m using isn’t actually on my computer but it is distant. It’s located on a server somewhere out there in cyberspace.
I use the internet to connect into it. And if my computer crashed while I was writing, I wouldn’t have to start all over again and try to recover the information but I’d just go to the next computer, log-on, and continue writing. That’s because my information isn’t really resident on the computer itself but it is distant.
We often think of God as somewhere out there up in the clouds -- distant and detached -- standing on a puff of cumulus, looking down.
Interestingly, though, in the Bible when the glory of God shows up in a cloud it is an indication of his presence and closeness. But I’m getting slightly ahead of myself.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday in the church’s calendar -- another important stopping point as we tell and retell the story of Jesus -- which more than anything else is what we love to do.
Mark 9: vs 2
Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, (that is, the disciples executive committee) and led them up a high mountain to be alone. As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, far whiter than any earthly bleach could ever make them.Here it is -- right smack in the middle of the gospel of Mark. Jesus is temporarily transformed -- changed. His body takes on the appearance of a glowing resurrected body. And indeed -- this event is the trailer -- the preview for the resurrection that occurs on the first Easter Sunday.
The disciples are about to enter into a period of great trial -- but it’s not haphazard -- a random story unfolding. We know where it’s going to end up -- with transformation -- with change -- bodily and otherwise.
Then... vs. 4 -- Then Elijah and Moses appeared and began talking with Jesus.
In case you hadn’t noticed, this is an election year.
So all the candidates want to make as many appearances as possible and to be photographed with all the right people. The picture of the candidate talking with the influential person is a non-verbal endorsement of who he is and what he stands for.
Likewise, in this story, with Elijah and Moses -- long gone themselves -- but two of the primary figures in Hebrew history... Moses being the one through whom the Lord gave the law to the people. So he is considered the spokesman for the lawyer’s union -- figuratively speaking.
And Elijah -- he was the most famous of the prophets. So he represents the prophet’s guild. Both of them standing there on the mountain-top with the transformed Jesus -- smiling for the cameras -- connecting this event with all that has gone on in the past...
Now, this seems to be for the immediate benefit of the executive committee because Jesus eventually tells them to keep the whole thing hush-hush.
But Mark says that Peter, James, and John are all quite stupefied by the whole situation -- as you can well imagine.
Peter, always the impetuous one, can’t stand the idea of just standing there -- and well, in vs. 5, he starts to deliver a speech.
“Peter exclaimed, ‘Rabbi, it’s wonderful for us to be here!’”
And then he offers to launch a building program. “Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
We’re the same -- if we’re not quite sure what to do next, the church always wants to start a construction project. At least it’s something tangible around which people can rally.
But something interrupts Peter -- before he can offer another half-baked idea.
Moses and Elijah are still standing there giving their official endorsement. And then, if that were not strong enough to get the point across -- then, suddenly, the mountain top is engulfed in a cloud -- and out of the cloud comes a voice.
vs. 7 -- “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.”
Very similar to the voice from the sky which speaks up after Jesus is baptized and the dove descends on him in chapter 1 where he says, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.”
But it also echoes Deuteronomy 18:15 where Moses tells the people -- “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.”
So here we are back in the clouds -- God speaking from the clouds -- “This is my beloved son, listen to him.”
This, of course, ties the transfiguration account even more tightly to the events of the Old Testament where God makes his presence or glory known through mysterious clouds. Exodus 16:10 --
“As Aaron spoke to the whole community of Israel, they looked out toward the wilderness. There they could see the awesome glory of the LORD in the cloud.”You've all seen clouds that grab your attention and give you the sense that something ominous is happening.
Once, when we lived in Texas, a bizarre greenish cloud abruptly appeared in the sky over where we were having a little league game. Suddenly the game was canceled and the packed parking lot was emptied within three minutes -- just because of some unusual clouds. Of course, North Texas is in tornado ally and people are pretty responsive to anything unusual happening in the sky -- as were the ancients.
In Exodus 24:15-18, God summoned Moses to climb Mt Sinai to receive the law, and we read:
15 “Then Moses climbed up the mountain, and the cloud covered it. 16 And the glory of the LORD settled down on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the LORD called to Moses from inside the cloud. 17 To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the LORD appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. 18 Then Moses disappeared into the cloud as he climbed higher up the mountain. He remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”Cloud on the mountain -- sound familiar?
In Exodus 40, when the Ark of the Covenant (remember Raiders of the lost Ark?) is set-up in the portable Tabernacle,
“Then,” chap. 40 vs. 34, “then the cloud covered the Tabernacle, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle. 35 Moses could no longer enter the Tabernacle because the cloud had settled down over it, and the glory of the LORD filled the Tabernacle.”Are you connecting the dots?
God appears in his glory as the clouds descend on his people at key moments. The cloud is an indicator that God is present -- mysteriously so.
You can’t contain a cloud. You can’t package it or box it in. And you can’t see everything in it.
We lived for 11 years in the Central Valley of California. And during the months of December and January there are periods of extreme Tully Fog that will suddenly appear -- especially in the morning about sunrise. But it can happen anytime.
You can be driving down the road and suddenly you hit a wall of ground fog so thick that you literally cannot see three feet in front of you. It’s a nasty and dangerous cloud.
School buses are equipped with special flashing yellow lights -- but when this fog stuff hits they still delay the start of school for several hours.
And I remember being in tully fog where I could hear people talking -- 10 or 15 feet from me -- and I recognized their voices -- but I couldn’t see them. For all I knew, they could be standing there naked. Not a good idea because 52 degrees in that fog feels like -20 degrees otherwise.
I loved living in the Central Valley -- except in December and January. Nasty nasty stuff.
Clouds cloak the mystery. God cannot be seen or understood -- except as he speaks through the clouds and reveals himself.
Not all clouds are related to the glory of God. But when he speaks from the clouds it’s important to listen. Something is happening. And he has something to say that will change the direction of your life. He wants to re-orient you to the transformation that he is implementing in the world.
You see, the Transfiguration is about transformation. It’s a sign -- a trailer -- a message that there is more to what is happening than meets the eye. Something is coming. Something is happening.
There is a mysterious divine voice coming from the fog of all places -- He is present and he is saying -- “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.”
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and it marks the beginning of the season of Lent -- a time of introspection and preparation for the upcoming celebration of Good Friday and Easter. Events cloaked in divine mystery -- that God would not just allow his son to suffer rejection and death on our behalf but he actually sent his beloved son for that purpose. A sacrificial mission to defeat the grip of death.
Through the cloud God is speaking to us -- to you. “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.”
Listen to him!
There is something going here that is going to change the world -- and your life -- if you embrace it as your own.
And that’s the good news.