Saturday, February 21, 2009

Love Not Fade Away

22 February 2009/Last Epiphany * 2 Kings 2:1-12/Mark 9:2-9
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
Pop Quiz
We may as well acknowledge that this is the singularly most mysterious episode in the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

So the text in Mark begins, “Six days later….” Six days later than what? Than when Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answered, correctly, “You are the Christ!” Then Jesus told them that he would suffer many things, be rejected, killed, and after three days he would rise again. And he followed that by saying those who want to become a follower of his must pick up their cross “and follow me.”

Of course six days later is one way of saying what? “On the seventh day…” which for the Bible means much more than just “a week later.” God created the heavens and the earth in six days and rested on the Seventh. The seventh day is ordained in the Ten Commandments as a day of Sabbath rest. Sabbath rest is meant to take us out of the tedium of our day to day activities and thoughts and use the time to experience the nearness of God.

Which Peter and James and John seem to do on this particular seventh day. Why does this take place on top of a mountain? Because the air is thinner, so there’s a better chance of breaking out of this world into God’s presence. And besides, these kinds of encounters always happen on top of mountains.

Take Moses, for instance, who sat atop Mount Sinai six days and on the seventh God spoke to him. Or, take Elijah, who hid in the crevice of a mountain top only to hear “the still small voice of God” as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob passed by.

And oddly enough the Bible offers no narrative account of either of them dying – Moses just disappears from the narrative, and Elijah, as we just heard in 2 Kings, flies off in his chariot of fire into the wild blue yonder we know not where! They just seem like the kind of guys Jesus would chat with.

So, who better to see with Jesus than experienced mountain top experiencers than Moses and Elijah – the Law and the Prophets. The text tells us they are talking, but fails to tell us what they are talking about. We can be sure it is not about A-Rod and whatever substances he may have abused. Probably not about the Stim Package or bipartisanship either.

Then Peter decides to get into the conversation with this notion of setting up three dwellings, or tents. Why tents? Could be because that is how the people Moses led lived in the wilderness for forty years? Perhaps, it has been suggested, he wants to turn this into an extended mountain top experience. In any event he seems to have forgotten what Jesus had said six days ago, which mitigates against holding this show over for one more week.

Besides, Peter almost gets it just right when he proclaims, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here!” He gives voice to our deepest human desire for a vision of God and close communion with the divine. I say almost, because next of course comes “The Voice!”

Where have we heard this voice before? That’s right. Jesus heard this voice at his baptism in the River Jordan, saying almost the very same thing. Only now it appears to be a corrective to Peter calling Jesus “rabbi.”

“This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” We can imagine it being a thunderous voice, coming out of a cloud and all. So this is no ordinary rabbi chatting it up with Moses and Elijah. This is God’s own Son, the Beloved. Now there are at least three others, and of course those who read and hear this Gospel, who have heard this proclamation – Peter, James and John have now heard the voice Jesus heard at his baptism. They and they alone now know for sure that this is God’s Son, the Beloved.

Just to make sure, Mark puts the same message in the proclamation of a centurion at the foot of the cross, “Truly this man was God’s Son!” Which seems to be the point of all this – to make sure we know just who Jesus is. So that when Jesus asks us, “Who do you say that I am?” we will know just what to say.

A couple of interesting things in all of this. Curious, isn’t it? That God, the offstage voice, instructs us to listen to Jesus. God could just as easily say, “Listen to me.” But of course a Trinitarian view of this suggests saying “Listen to him” is much the same thing as saying “Listen to me.”

Do we ever truly understand how deeply God desires for us to listen to what God has to say? Can we begin to see how it is that God initiates this relationship with us? Do we really take the time to “listen to him?”

Which leads to point number two – this is happening on the seventh day, or the Sabbath. Does it not make sense that they would have a mountain-top experience of the divine on the Sabbath? Is this not, after all, the whole point of Sabbath time and Contemplative-Centering Prayer – to experience the presence of the divine? To enter into more intimate communion with God in Christ? To listen to Him?

All of this rightly sends us back to that moment in the River Jordan when the heavens are torn apart, the Spirit descends like a dove, and the voice proclaims to Jesus, “You are my Beloved; I am well pleased with you.”

Could it be that the point of this most mysterious of all episodes in the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is that wherever we are, whatever we may feel at a particular moment, we will never be truly far from the One who is the source of our life and our hope? By water and the Holy Spirit, we are incorporated into the Body of Christ. We are made God’s Beloved! God is well pleased with us! God loves us. We love God. You know our love not fade away!
You are my Beloved
I am well pleased with you

I am God’s Beloved
God is well pleased with me

I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be
God’s gonna give God’s love to me
I’m gonna love God night and day
You know our love not fade away

Our Love’s bigger than a Cadillac
God ain’t never gonna take it back
God’s love’s bigger than an SUV
No one can take it away from me
You know our Love not fade away

If you don’t believe I’ve been redeemed
Then come on down to Jordan’s stream
Up in the Sky what do you see
The Holy Spirit comin’ down on me
The Holy Spirit comin’ down on me

I'm gonna tell you how it's gonna be
God’s gonna give God’s love to me
A love to last more than one day
A love that's love - not fade away
Love that's love - not fade away

© Sounds Divine/K A Kubicek

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Day In Capernaum

8 February 2009/Epiphany 5B * Luke 1: 29-39
The Reverend Kirk Alan Kubicek, Saint Peter’s at Ellicott Mills, Maryland
A Day In Capernaum
It is really a Day and a Night in Capernaum. And it is the Sabbath at that! When one walks in the gate to Capernaum today there is a sign that proclaims: Capernaum-The City of Jesus. It strikes one as a bit much, but after several hours walking around the ancient ruins of Capernaum, one gets the feeling Jesus was really there. It would be here that he first announces, “God is here for the taking!”

There are the ruins of at least two synagogues, neither one very large. The only one old enough, however, is right next door to Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. But we need to remember, before heading into her house, Jesus spent time in the synagogue. Ordinarily this was where people read and disputed scripture. Those who were sick or possessed by demons were simply given explanations as to why they might be the way they were.

So earlier on this Sabbath day, Jesus casts aside any use for the disputation over scripture and casts out demons, plural, from a man who no doubt had sat through years of Scribal teaching and had been unmoved and unchanged. In the process they cry out, “Have you come to destroy us?” Jesus’ actions proclaim, “Yes, indeed!” For all kinds of reasons this would have stirred things up in Capernaum and the surrounding area!

On the way out the demons give a loud cry, a sign of defeat, but even more so to protest that the demonic reign in this world evidently was coming to an end. The next time in Mark’s gospel that we hear a “loud cry” will be another sign of the demonic attempting a last-gasp grip on this world, when Jesus hangs on the cross.

Then it is next door to Peter’s mother-in-law’s house. She is sick. Jesus raises her up and not only restores her, but makes her a co-worker in his Father’s kingdom! She becomes a paradigm of disciples “raised up” for the work and life of the kingdom. In just a few short verses of Mark, and in the course of the day, Jesus manages to cross religious (don’t work on the Sabbath), social (don’t touch the sick), and sexual (don’t touch a woman) boundaries. Not to mention raising the status of women as co-equal workers and disciples in his Father’s kingdom. No one can ever accuse Jesus of not moving quickly in the name of Change!

Oh, and by the way, this appears to be the beginning of what can be called the domestic or house church. That is, the center of God’s work and worship has moved from the Temple and synagogue into the home. Gatherings in simple homes will be a place where the Risen Lord will be “at home” in all his power to heal both the spiritual and physical disruptions of life.

Meanwhile the rest of the town mobilizes after sunset. That is, they honor the Sabbath and then coming knocking on the door. The whole town, we are led to believe, is standing at the door with all manner of sick and possessed people. Jesus obliges.

Note two things here. They are standing at the door. That is, they have not yet crossed the threshold of faith. They come not for who Jesus is, but rather what he can do for them. They have only begun to get a glimpse of who he is and what is to come. So they are healed not because they believe. Their healing will lead to belief.

By now we are wondering, “Just how does this Jesus do all this? Where does he get this new power that transcends anything that we have seen before now?”

The text is unhesitating in answering this question: he sneaks off to be alone with God in Prayer. We are told he leaves well before dawn, under the cover of darkness, without telling anyone where he is going.

Jesus’ reliance on private prayer with God tells us several things about the life of Faith. Jesus relies on God. Although he engages in corporate prayer in the Synagogue, at least three pivotal moments drive him to private contemplative prayer alone with God: here at the outset of his ministry, after the feeding of the 5,000, and in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus is directed, sustained and inspired by God in moments of solitude and prayer.

Second, Jesus is not a magician – he relies on the power of God to help others. He does as God wills him to do. He seeks God’s direction in his battle against the forces of evil.

Finally, Jesus’ times of private prayer speaks to us of the importance of solitude, quiet and contemplative prayer in the life and practice of faith. More than a refuge from life’s pressures and stress points it is an opportunity for time spent in the presence of God. As Jesus receives a larger vision of his work and mission in the world, so do we. When Jesus emerges from this time of private prayer, or more accurately is yanked out of it by the disciples who hunt him down, he does so with renewed energy, new clarity, renewed purpose, and a wider vision of what God has in store for Him and for us.

One might sum it up – there is no time to stay in one place. One cannot remain stuck in one place. One cannot let the demands that seek to constrain us to one way of doing things hold us back from moving on.

Oh, how we hate to hear that. The Church as much as individuals loves to remain stuck in one, same familiar place, even if it is a place running rampant with demons, distractions, and physical problems of all kinds.

Yet, the irony appears to be that to be reenergized, reinvigorated, re-inspired by God’s Spirit Wind, one needs to stop, be still, keep quiet, and reconnect with the God who put us here in the first place.

Be still and know that I am God, says the psalmist. God is at home, it is we who are out for a walk.

In the whirlwind of activity that is the first chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus takes time to be quiet and alone with God. Jesus needs solitude and contemplative prayer time. He knows he needs to do that. Can we as His disciples possibly survive without doing the same?

The final lesson from A Day in Capernaum seems to be to stop whatever we are doing, be still, spend quiet, private time with God in prayer. We need to. The Church needs us to. The world needs us to.

It is the only way to keep up with Jesus in the work he calls us to do – to go throughout the nearby neighborhoods and towns proclaiming his message for all to hear: God is with us for the taking! Amen.