Delivered to the United Church of Jaffrey
February 26th, 2017
Readings: Exodus 24:12-18 | Matthew 17:1-9
A few of years ago I went out sledding with my sons.
You know how a good sledding hill is – it doesn’t take long after a good snow, for the local kids to make piles of snow that turn into snow jumps.
So my sons and I spent several hours sledding down this hill, doing all sorts of wonderfully crazy things.
We did doubles.
We did triples.
We went headfirst
We went backward.
And of course, we went over the jumps and went sailing into the air and came bumping back down.
It was a wonderful afternoon full of good boy-will-be-boys kind of risks.
We laughed, and shouted until our throats were hoarse.
And then, when the sun started to go down, I called it a day and we headed back to the car.
And, of course, it was then…
Not when we were doing all the eval kaneval dare devil stuff, but then… when we were walking back to the car…
That my feet disappeared from under me and I went down!
I went down hard!
I had been carrying one of the sleds under my arm, and so, when I went down, that sled pushed up against my side, knocking my breath away.
As my two boys stood over me, I writhed in terrible pain on the ground.
I was having trouble breathing.
Somehow I managed to get up and drive home, but the whole time I had to breath carefully not to cause horrible pain.
Something was wrong!
When I got home, my wife Cary, who is a Nurse Practitioner, took one look at me and told me to go to the ER.
A few hours later, I lay in an ER room looking at ex-rays of a broken rib.
As soon as they figured out what was wrong, a nurse appeared with a syringe.
“You’re getting the good stuff…” she said.
She gave me the injection.
And before she was half way through the injection, my body started to feel really good.
The pain was gone, and in its place was a lovely warm feeling.
We humans are unique because unlike any other creature we live inside time and we are aware of it.
Unlike any other creature we are conscious that everything in life is fraught with decay and death.
And every moment of our lives, when we bump up against this reality – we bump up against a deep uncertainty – a suspicion that beneath everything, there is nothing.
And so we try, every moment of our lives, to find something that points beyond this tendency to decay – something – anything – that is not essentially uncertain.
This is our search for transcendence.
This is our search for something that has real meaning.
And since we are an incredibly versatile and creative species, we find all kinds of ways to search for this meaning.
We search for meaning in professional success.
Will we find it there?
We search for meaning in material wealth.
Will we find it there?
Art? Religion? Netflix? Work? Athletics? Poetry? Beethoven Piano Sonatas? Alcohol? Heroine?
In all these, and many other places, we search for meaning.
Will we find it?
In the Bible, meaning is found in God.
Human transcendence – this impulse to point beyond the world of decay and death – is described through relationship with God.
A few minutes ago, Liz read passages from Exodus and from the 17th chapter of Matthew that both tell stories that point beyond the human.
Both of these stories involve moments when humans interact with the divine.
There is a scholarly word for this –
The word is “theophany”
In Greek (which is where many scholarly terms come from) “Theo” means “God”
And “phany” means “to show”
So “theophany” literally means, God showing.
The God showing that happened on Mt Sinai is a well-known story.
This theophany is one of immense proportions. It is a terrifying public display of power.
According to Exodus:
the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. And Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.
How does this experience of transcendence effect Moses?.
In the 34th chapter of Exodus, we are told that…
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai… Aaron and all the people of Israel saw him, and behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him.
Moses was changed.
An encounter with something eternal…
With something that does not decay…
that is certain…
and has meaning…
this changed Moses.
It made his skin shine.
Yesterday, I was among a group of about a dozen folks from this church, who went to the annual UCC “Prepared to Serve” conference in Pembroke.
It was a wonderful conference! I learned a great deal about many things. But the highlight for me was a session entitled “The Opioid Crisis – what Churches can do.”
This was a sobering class.
One of the handouts we were given enumerated the scale of the Opioid epidemic that we are facing today.
Since 2014, an average of 27 people per month have died in New Hampshire, of an opioid drug overdose.
That’s nearly one overdose death per day in the state of New Hampshire for the last 3 years.
The number of heroin related emergency department visits during the first 8 months of 2015 is 76% greater than during the same 8-month period in 2014.
Opioid drug overdoses are not a problem of the young. In 2014, 77 people in their 20’s died. 79 people in their 30’s. 66 people in their 40’s. 77 people in their 50’s.
Fathers and mothers are dying of drug overdoses, leaving behind orphaned children.
The facilitator of the session asked us to raise our hands if any of us personally knew people who had died of an opioid drug overdose.
Everyone present raised a hand…
What accounts for this?
This is unlike anything we have ever seen before.
An epidemic of drug overdoses that strikes all of us regardless of social class, race or age?
Why do middle class white insurance agents in Connecticut, Hispanic mothers in Holyoke, and teenage cheerleaders in Manchester, all fall prey to this awful scourge?
The reason is this.
These individuals may seem different, but in one way they are all similar.
They are all searching for something.
They are all searching for something eternal…
With something that does not decay…
that is certain…
and has meaning…
The reading from the 17th chapter of Matthew is a familiar one.
It is called “The Transfiguration”
This Sunday is known, in the Church, as “Transfiguration Sunday.”
Jesus took Peter John and James up a mountain apart from everyone else, and there, the three disciples witnessed a strange thing –
Jesus was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
Peter said some confused things, and then,
a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”
This is a dramatic and very cinematographic moment.
The Transfiguration has come to mean many things in Christian tradition – most importantly, perhaps, that Jesus was acknowledged by Moses and Elijah, and even was recognized as taking their place.
I am interested in something else.
I am interested in two things – ONE: Jesus face shined when he experienced God, and TWO: God spoke to Jesus using the language of family.
This is my beloved son.
I have a friend who recently told me a story about meeting some recovering addicts.
My ears pricked up, because when my friend described these recovering addicts he said:
“Their skin shined.”
I immediately thought about Moses on Mt Sinai, and about Jesus during the Transfiguration.
When we think about heroin addicts, we think of people who are wasting away. People with gray, sallow skin.
But these people, who were filled with a new life – these recovering people – they shone.
Had they experienced a “God showing?”
In a way, I believe they have.
When I came home from the hospital after my sledding accident, I put my bottle of Oxycontin in a drawer.
My broken rib hurt.
I thought maybe I would need it.
But life went on.
My kids needed to be taken to school.
The dishes needed to be done.
The wood needed to be brought in.
Dinner had to be made.
Pretty soon, I forgot about it.
About a year later, I came across the pills.
I took them down to the police station and put them in a disposal bin that the police provide for such medications.
I did not become an addicted.
I wasn’t a better person than people who do become addicted.
I wasn’t a stronger person than people who do become addicted.
But I was lucky enough to have one thing that people who become addicted may not have…
I had an economy that it was up to me to maintain.
The economy of love.
And when you have an economy of love to maintain, you have no need to go looking for meaning anywhere else.
You don’t need to look for a way to shine.
Because you are too busy shining.
Remember God’s affirmation?
This God said, is my beloved son…
Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
Our church is called to action.
We must do our part.
Must we evangelize?
Must we require that people believe in Christ?
Must we insist that our way is the only way?
None of this will help slow down the opioid crisis.
I believe, though, that there is something that we, the church, can offer, that will slow down the opioid crisis.
We can shine.
We can give everyone an economy…
An economy of love.