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Fearing Fear

Children's sermon
For March 3, 2019:

Fearing Fear
by Tom Willadsen
Luke 9:28-36 (37-43a), 2 Corinthians 3:12--4:2, Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99

On Transfiguration Sunday, we are invited to join Jesus and Peter, James and John on the mountaintop. The texts shine with God’s glory and images of revelation, with Luke inserting a significant theological detail. Not only are the three disciples summoned to the mountain, but they are invited by Jesus to go “up on the mountain to pray.” It’s an experience similar to and vastly different from our experiences of prayer — certainly, the visuals are stunning and the effects dazzling. As often happens when the glory of God is revealed, the initial reaction of the disciples is fear. Their fear in the presence of the holy is different from the fear that is driving our politics and dividing our nation today.

In the News
In his first inaugural address, President Franklin Roosevelt famously said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” Sadly, in the eight decades since then, Americans have acquired a lot of other things to fear. In 2017 Chapman University released its fourth annual Survey of American Fears.

The 2017 survey shows that the top 10 things Americans fear the most are:
1) Corruption of government officials (same top fear as 2015 and 2016) 
2) American Healthcare Act/Trumpcare (new fear) 
3) Pollution of oceans, rivers and lakes (new in top 10) 
4) Pollution of drinking water (new in top 10) 
5) Not having enough money in the future 
6) High medical bills 
7) The US will be involved in another world war (new fear) 
8) Global warming and climate change 
9) North Korea using weapons (new fear) 
10) Air pollution

There has been some change in our leading fears lately. Four of the top ten reflect a growing concern for the environment. While it’s an inexact science to put these fears into categories, I contend that only three of them, #2, #5 and #6 are fears regarding one’s individual security, while the other seven are existential threats —that is, threats to national security or the whole human race.

If it were possible to do this survey today, I am confident that fears of being “overrun” by people entering the country illegally, and the crime, human trafficking and drug trade they bring with them would be in the top ten.

Last week President Trump declared a national emergency so that the wall he promised to build to hold back people from slipping through our southern border could be built. The House and Senate had not provided enough funding, not funding for the kind of wall he seeks to build.  (It appears that the President has given up the notion that Mexico will pay for his wall.) The House and Senate had something else in mind.

While it’s true that some people who enter the country illegally commit crimes, the current situation is that the number of people slipping through our southern border is near historic lows. In the last two years many people in this country without legal status have “self-deported.” An increasing number of people from Central America are fleeing extraordinary danger because of the breakdown of public safety there. These are the people who have formed into caravans, seeking asylum status in the United States.

The drive to build a wall is a response to fear and misinformation (fake news, anyone?) that has been stoked by the president. We’re wasting our time, passion and energy fearing this situation. How should we respond to forces that threaten life as we know it?

People rarely make good decisions when they’re afraid. Peter thought it would be a good idea to build shelters for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. The cloud covered them and he was terrified, along with James and John. Perhaps we find a solution in Luke’s gospel: “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him.”

In the Scriptures
Luke 9:28-43a
More than most lectionary pericopes, this text requires knowledge of what immediately precedes it. In the three synoptic gospels the Transfiguration comes after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah/Christ. In Mathew and Mark Jesus heads up the mountain with the inner circle — Peter, James and John — six days after Peter’s identification. The trip up the mountain comes eight days later in Luke. It’s possible that Luke’s placing the Transfiguration eight days later was a reference to the first Christians gathering for worship on the first day of the week, the day after the Jewish sabbath, the seventh day. Eight was a significant number for Christians because they understood that Christ rose on the first day of the week. Seven plus one equals eight. This is why many baptismal fonts are eight sided. Luke’s placing of the Transfiguration foreshadows the resurrection and day of worship on what was in effect, the eighth day.

Unique among the stories of the Transfiguration, Luke says that they had gone up the mountain to pray and that Peter, James and John were tired, fighting sleep.

Now here’s something I’ve wondered about for more than two decades, I raise this question hoping that an alert reader out there can offer a satisfactory answer: How did Peter, James and John know that the two figures who were talking to Jesus were Moses and Elijah? These two are never described physically in scripture, nor is anything about them physically mentioned in the account of the Transfiguration. To be sure they are each an important presence in the history of Judaism. One could even say that Moses stood for the Law and Elijah for the Prophets. Legend had it that Elijah’s return would precede the Messiah’s, he was, after all, one of only two people from what we know as the Old Testament who did not die. He was taken up into heaven and Elisha watched him go and thus received a two thirds share of Elijah’s spirit.

In contrast to the voice from heaven that spoke at Christ’s baptism, “You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased,” the voice on the mountaintop is addressing Peter, with a heavenly rebuke: “This is my Son, the Chosen, listen to him.”  (In my imagination, this is certainly said in “The Dad Voice.”) It also confirms that Peter got it right when he said, “You are the Christ.”

There is no doubt that the phrase “mountaintop experience” is rooted in this passage. The executive committee of the disciples experienced a light and sound show up there. The glory of God breaking into Christ along with a blinding glimpse of the glory of God. Like all mountaintop experiences this one had to end.

The Lord’s speaking at Jesus’ baptism and again, addressing Peter, James and John bracket the beginning of Jesus’ career and indicate the beginning of the final chapter as Jesus comes down the mountain and heads toward Jerusalem.

One final note on Luke: Peter, ever the impulsive one, wanted to build shelters for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. It was an impulsive suggestion that he blurted out because he was afraid. When they were overshadowed by the cloud, they were terrified. The voice came to them from the cloud. Who wouldn’t be afraid?

Exodus 34:29-35
Moses is up on the mountain taking dictation. He’s up there for a long time. He’s earned a mulligan for the Israelites; God’s giving them another chance to get it right.

Moses is up there alone. He’s been in God’s presence so long, or so closely, or so intensely that he is shining — and he doesn’t know it! He returns to the people and they are afraid of him. He dons a veil to shield the people from the blinding glory that is radiating from him. The Hebrew term “veil” appears only in this passage. The Hebrew word “shone” is rooted in the word for “horns” that appears in Psalm 69, there referring to a bull’s horns. In prior ages, artists depicted Moses as having horns, but really the radiance shone from his face as horns protrude from a bull’s head. So, no, Peter, James and John could not have recognized Moses because he had horns.

Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Corinthians 3:12--4:2
About veils
OK, so Moses wore a veil to shield his people from the brightness that flowed from him after he had been in God’s presence. Paul refers back to this in today’s epistle reading. He says, in effect, that because Christians have received the Holy Spirit we need not be afraid, and our receipt of the Holy Spirit is permanent, not fading, as Moses’ glow was. He links Moses’ veil to one that he asserts covers the hearts of Jews to this day. (Preach this very carefully — this is a text from which the seed of anti-Semitism can be replanted in the hearts of modern readers!) For Christians, the veil is not there and we are being changed from glory into a different kind of glory.

It’s likely that one of the things Paul was alluding to in the mentioning of veils is the curtain that separates the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple. This is the “room” that the chief priest was able to enter, once each year, on Yom Kippur/the Day of Atonement. In the synoptic gospels the curtain separating the Holy of holies from the rest of the temple was “rent in twain” [KJV] at the moment Christ died on the cross. The other time that verb appears in the gospels is when the sky was “opened” [KJV] when Jesus rose from being baptized.

In the Sermon — Fear: Its Care and Feeding
There are a lot of frightening things in today’s lessons. Peter, James and John are overcome with fear and overshadowed by a cloud that speaks to them.

The Israelites (having behaved themselves the second time Moses took dictation from the Lord — no golden calves this time!) are frightened by the bright light radiating from Moses.

Many people are not comfortable with the phrase “the fear of God;” in these cases, however, fear is a sensible response to theophany and christophany (that’s a real word; I checked).

What do these encounters with the Holy have to say to our 21st century American mainline congregations? What are we afraid of? Who is leading us into fear? What would listening to Jesus, as the voice instructs Peter — and all of us — mean in 2019?

Build a Tent, It Lasts Longer!
by Bethany Peerbolte

The transfiguration stands out as one of those once in a lifetime moments. It is not often one hears the voice of God, stands in the presence of Moses and Elijah, and is swallowed by a cloud. The scene is so amazing that the disciples successfully fight their fatigue and witness the moment first hand. A performance they will not be able to repeat when they pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. During this incredible moment Peter has the brilliant idea to lengthen the meeting. He suggests they put up tents to house the esteemed guests and entertain their presence for as long as they can. It’s a hospitable response, but it misses the point.

Peter’s reaction is not a new one. When Israel wandered in the wilderness, they often would set up camp where miraculous things happened. They would erect an altar and hang around for a while to solidify the experience in the collective memory. Essentially drawing a circle around that place as important and worth remembering. There is a human need to remember awe-inspiring important moments, to hold on to them for as long as possible. This need is what makes Peter suggest they build tents on top of the mountain.

It is also the need we fulfill when we collect terabytes of photos and videos. Generation Z is the most documented generation yet. We have footage not only of their first steps but also their first twenty attempts at walking. If there is a picture of a first tooth it was chosen from a long series of pictures taken by doting parents till they had captured the moment perfectly. Humans want to remember great moments. We live in an age where everyone has a recording device in their pocket. These combine to give us a generation whose lives are recorded down to the most menial detail.

A month ago, the dreaded alert came over my phone screen, “storage low.” As I muttered all sorts of four-letter words, I opened the settings to see what was taking up so much space. No surprise it was my photo album. I vowed to go through the pictures and delete the non-essentials. That evening I sat down to weed through the excess. Many were easy choices, but I noticed something odd. Pictures of moments I could not remember. The moments were at events where not substances were consumed so I could not blame over indulgence. I was in many of the photos so I could not even claim the phone was taken without my consent. As I scrolled through it was a lovely walk down no-memory lane.

The need to remember drives us to take pictures but gets in the way of us experiencing the moment for real. Slowly scientists are learning that the devices we rely on to record our greatest experiences are also keeping us from forming memories. Research shows if a person goes into an experience expecting to take lots of pictures, they are less likely to physically remember the experience. Exactly why that happens is still a mystery but researchers think it is because we do not actually experience the event in the moment. Knowing there is a backup of the experience allows our brains to off load the short-term memories instead of compiling them into long term memories. Our brains do not want to work harder they want to work smarter. No need to store a real memory if there is picture or video to serve that purpose.  

Photographs have boundaries. They can only capture so much. They can record one angle, one second, one iteration of a moment. Photos are contained in frames, in phones, in accounts. When seen for what they are, limited, they can be the perfect way to spark memories. When relied on to give a full experience they fail. Peter wanted to put boundaries on the transfiguration. He wanted to mark off tent posts and put up walls to hold in the experience, but this was not something that could be captured. The only recording device God wanted them to use were their senses. To engage their whole self in the experience of transfiguration. Experiencing what God is doing requires our full attention.

We will always want to put boundaries around inspiring moments so that we can hold onto them longer and understand them better. As Barack Obama’s hand landed on a Bible on January 20, 2009 many people said that was the end of racism. They wanted that moment to mean something and for the boundary between then and now to be established, but that boundary did not hold. The only way to honor a great moment is to engage our human senses. To see, hear, feel, taste, and smell what is happening and form the memories that will inspire us to keep living. The memories that will allow us to reinterpret what happened in light of what God continues to do.

As we soon see, life goes on even after amazing moments. The people at the bottom of the mountain do not care what Peter has just been through, they do not have time to hear of dazzling white clothes and the voice of God. They have problems! Peter’s need for something tangible fails him when faced with real problems. His tents could do nothing to help the people at the bottom of the mountain. We can show our friends pictures but unless they were there it does not have the same impact. The disciples cannot figure out how to rid the boy of the torturous spirit.

Jesus, who was and always is fully mindful in the moment, can help. Jesus experiences the moment for what it is, a moment, and is ready to be in the next moment without the weight or need to remember every detail. Jesus allows the transfiguration to impact him and remain with him. As he travels down the mountain, he takes the lesson with him. Experiences with God cannot be held onto. Our efforts to contain or explain the experience will only distract us from being in the moment. We must allow the awe-inspiring moments to sink into our senses and be remembered from the inside out.


From team member Mary Austin:

Luke 9:28-36 (37-43a)
Holding on to Memory
In that spectacular moment of top of the mountain, Peter desperately wants to hold onto the experience. It’s hard to remember even the things that move us deeply. Writer Charles Fernyhough is protective of his memories. “I’m picky about memory. I don’t want to remember more ‘stuff,’ like the elements of the periodic table or the names of all the presidents (I’ve got Wikipedia for that). Instead, I want to stay in touch with the events of my own life: that great midnight conversation I had with a friend, or that visit with the kids to the Tower of London on a cold spring Sunday. I want to be like my grandmother, who, when I interviewed her at age 93, could recall how she felt as she saw the bombs dropping on London during the Blitz. Oscar Wilde referred to memory as ‘the diary that we all carry about with us.’ I want mine to be filled to overflowing: not with mere information, but with the stories that make me who I am.” 

Peter might not be wrong about the idea of building three structures to contain a memory of the moment. Fernyhough writes, “We can do plenty of other things to boost our chances of having rich autobiographical memories. A key principle of memory is elaboration, the process of generating new connections among bits of information so that they form a more organized and persistent memory trace. Talking about the past (both to yourself and to others) serves to elaborate the memory. Children whose parents elaborate on past events go on to produce richer autobiographical narratives. Writing about the past, in the form of a diary that can be revisited in later years or decades, might be even more effective. And bear in mind that, when we encode information about an event, we also encode some of the contextual details (like sounds and smells) that accompany it. Those background details, when we re-experience them, can be effective cues to retrieval, which is why going back to a place is one of the best ways of reactivating memories of it.”

Another way to be sure we remember is to tell ourselves to remember. “In one vivid memory of early childhood, the novelist A. S. Byatt recalls telling her young self, ‘I am always going to remember this.’ She did. Studies show that if we are motivated to remember something, we will often do it better.” Our important memories are made of layers, and like Peter, we want to hold onto as much as we can.

* * *

Luke 9:28-36 (37-43a)
Expanding the World
The trip up the mountain with Jesus enlarges the understanding that Peter, James and John have of Jesus. If they have been seeing him as simply their teacher, and one with the gift of healing, this trip dramatically expands their vision of him. Peace educator Dr. Maya Soetoro-Ng belives we all need that kind of spiritual and mental expansion.  She remembers, “When I was in New York [as a young teacher], I noted that a lot of the problems were from a sense of isolation even in a city as thriving and bustling and diverse as New York City. A lot my students, even though they had subway passes that could take them all over the boroughs to many places and anywhere for free, they never really left their 10-block radius because they didn’t feel the outside world beyond their little neighborhood belonged to them, and they didn’t feel they’d be welcome and that sort of thing. And it really kept them hearing and knowing only one story. And it also kept others who might have benefited from knowing them and being connected to them and knowing their story from doing so.”

She believes that even the most mundane pursuits can expand our view of the world. “I ask students to give me anything they aspire to do…One student’s only ambition was to build golf courses and design them. I worked with him — we talked about how golf is regarded as an elitist sport (expensive to play), so why not transform it to look at issues of environmental justice, to allow others to play, to connect to community outside, transform golf so games create adjacent community library — how can we use golf course design to think about waterways; create a walk along golf course to create personal peace; have golf be an opportunity to think about mindfulness (putting small ball into small hole). Why not create a space where people are not separated from one another but that allows for dialogue, communication? There really is so much opportunity that is untapped for people to begin engaging in peacebuilding leadership, and have that be a part of what seems like an unrelated profession.”

Our views of the world can always be enriched and enlarged, in ways similar to what Peter, James and John experienced with Jesus, or in much smaller, everyday ways.

* * *

Luke 9:28-36 (37-43a)
Mountain Climbing
Jesus and his disciples appear on the mountaintop in this story, somehow without equipment and not at all out breath. Climber Ian Overton had a different experience climbing a mountain in Pakistan. Overton was attempting a winter climb of Nanga Parbat in Pakistan. “Standing at an elevation of 26,660 feet on the eastern edge of the Himalayas, Nanga Parbat is a looming monster with skin of steep, avalanche-prone faces that sometimes develops its own weather systems.” For this kind of climb, equivalent in height to Mt. Everest, but more dangerous, climbers need equipment — expensive equipment. Often that comes from sponsors. Overton recalls, “After striking out with every sponsor I contacted, I finally got one to agree to supply the gear we needed to survive ... although I think it's fair to say that the only reason they did so wasn't my climbing resume, but the simple fact that it was an attempt at the Killer Mountain in winter. Climbing Everest doesn't get you sponsors anymore — you have to go absurd or go home.”

After spending a night sleeping outside in the cold, falling into icy crevasses and experiencing an avalanche, the climbers didn’t have enough remaining physical and mental strength to make the rest of the climb. “My body had finally had enough, and it told me so via high-altitude cerebral edema, a delightful condition in which fluid builds up around your brain and gives it a hug in much the same way an anaconda hugs a pygmy goat. On the way back to base camp, I heard birds that definitely were not there. I believed David was shouting at me in his native Hungarian. I spent the next three nights in base camp hallucinating that I was a mercenary's assistant in a sci-fi novel I was reading and trippily wandering outside into the sub-zero nights.”

Overton was physically ill for some time. “In addition to all this,” he says, “I'm a thin guy — six feet two inches, around 165 pounds. After the expedition I was weighing in at 145 tops, nothing but ribs and spine. I had to buy new pants in Budapest because my jeans would slump right off. I finally returned to a healthy weight around May of that year, and felt physically fit again toward the end of summer. As for the future? Well, David, Zoli and I have begun making plans for a summer 2016 return to Pakistan for a dual summit attempt at Gasherbrum I and Broad Peak. And one day, despite it all, I hope to return to Nanga Parbat. That mountain beat the ever-loving shit out of me and hit the reset button on my identity as if I were a glitchy Xbox.” Like with Peter, James and John, his mountain experience taught a wealth of lessons.

* * * * * * * * *

From team member Chris Keating:

The Lenten Pre-game (Sort of)

Laissez les bons temps rouler
Transfiguration Sunday’s mystery and dazzling allure bear a striking resemblance to the gawking-gaudiness of Mardi Gras (at least a PG version). It’s all a bit of a carnival on the mountain as the cloud of God’s glory descends and the disciples see Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah.

With that in mind, here are few Cajun flavored, though not necessarily scripturally connected, sermon illustrations for the intersection of Transfiguration Sunday and Mardi Gras:
  1. New Orleans isn’t the only spot to celebrate Mardi Gras anymore. Folks from Mobile, Alabama to St. Louis, Missouri, and Savannah, Georgia to Galveston, Texas will all find ways to let the good times roll. (That may not include going to church, however.) Even a publication as typically reserved as the Readers Digest cites St. Louis’ Mardi Gras as the nation’s second largest party. San Diego’s Gaslight Quarter’s Mardi Gras is listed as a “must attend” event on the West Coast.
  2. Shrove Tuesday, the traditional Mardi Gras day, originated as the day of clearing out all the foods Christians would typically abstain from eating in Lent. It became, writer Greg Tobin says, a day of confession as well as the last day to indulge. Tobin notes that in 1699 a Frenchmen named Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville recorded the first observance of Mardi Gras in Mobile, Alabama which was then the capital of the Louisiana Territory possessed by the French. Le Moyne was an early French explorer who noted in his diary that the men in his camp marked the occasions with dancing, feasting and masked revelry. And thus the good folks in Mobile have been partying ever since.
  3. Bakeries are going well beyond the traditional Polish recipes for Shrove Tuesday’s sweet paczki donut delights. The Cleveland Plain Dealer listed the best places to buy the Polish confection, while the Detroit News highlighted the hundreds of types of paczki available in the Motor City, including vegan, gluten-free, and dairy free options. Paczki for all!

* * *

Now on to the scriptures…

Exodus 34:29-35
Scripture’s transforming radiance
Moses came down from his encounter with God, carrying the two tablets of the covenant, unaware that his skin reflected God’s radiance. Britain’s Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, a brilliant exegete, points out a critical difference between Moses’ descent here and his earlier trek down the mountain. Sacks’ offers a poignant reflection:

Receiving the first tablets, Moses was passive. Therefore, nothing in him changed. For the second, he was active. He had a share in the making. He carved the stone on which the words were to be engraved. That is why he became a different person. His face shone.

In Judaism, the natural is greater than the supernatural in the sense that an “awakening from below” is more powerful in transforming us, and longer-lasting in its effects, than is an “awakening from above.” That was why the second tablets survived intact while the first did not. Divine intervention changes nature, but it is human initiative — our approach to G-d — that changes us.

* * *

2 Corinthians 3:12--4-2
Transforming hope
Paul reminds the Corinthians that their lives are characterized by the hope of Christ. That hope offers freedom, as well as the ability to be transformed “from one degree of glory to another.” Theologian and cancer patient Kate Bowler writes of this sort of faith that does not lose hope, in spite of the struggle, trauma, and daily realities associated with stage IV cancer.

No denying — it can be a real challenge to engage with someone who reminds us of the fragility of life…Facing uncertainty or messy stuff can be, well, awkward.

I am now living into a future I didn’t expect. And while my head is still reeling to capture all of this, I’m trying to be open to wonder and joy. As my new friend, Bob Crawford, told me during our conversation at Oak Church, “the human heart is big enough to hold absolute joy and absolute sorrow at the same time.” As I live into my unexpected days, I have to ask — how can I live into a breadth of experiences instead of being re-defined by the same (bad) experiences? How can I face the absurdity of life with gusto and not escapism?

* * *

Luke 9:28-36
The cloud, the glory, the appearance of prophets — as astonishing as all these are — are dwarfed by the most astonishing aspect of the Transfiguration story: God’s voice speaking from the cloud, calling the disciples to listen to Jesus. For the disciples, and perhaps for us, the most important transformation comes as the result of listening.

For example, Virginia’s Governor Ralph Northam, under pressure since admitting to wearing blackface as a medical student in 1984, is embarking on a “listening tour” of his state in an attempt to deepen his understanding of Virginia’s history of racism, white privilege, and racial injustice. Paul Harris, a Republican legislator from Virginia, and the first African-American Republican elected to office since 1891, says that the tour may offer Northam, a Democrat, the chance to improve his standing.

“I think we are seeing that Virginians across the board are showing a tremendous willingness to forgive him, in part because he has acknowledged what he did was wrong and he has accepted responsibility for his actions,” Harris said. “That's a good start, but he now must explain how he plans to make things better. He needs to do that with specificity, and he needs to do it quickly,” he said. “This outpouring of goodwill reflects well on the commonwealth and hopefully will serve as a starting point for the difficult constructive engagement we need to have on issues related to Virginia's complex history on race.”

* * * * * * * * *

From team member Ron Love:

2 Corinthians 3:15 “a veil lies over their minds”

In the newspaper comic strip Peanuts we have Linus van Pelt and Charlie Brown leaning with their forearms on a brick wall. Linus sees that Charlie is bothered about something, and asks his friend what is troubling him. Charlie begins to share his thoughts, gesturing emphatically with his arms. “I keep having this dream. I see myself years from now a huge banquet. The Master-of-Ceremonies is introducing the head table, and when he gets to me, I am introduced as a ‘Former Great.’” Linus, never shy about offering unsolicited advice, says, “Before you can be a ‘Former Great’ Charlie Brown, you have to be a ‘Great.’” Charlie, discouraged, elbows resting on the wall, his chin resting on the palms of his hands, says, “That’s what bothers me!”

* * *

Psalm 99:7 “they kept his decrees”

In the newspaper comic Ziggy, written by Tom Wilson, we have this non-descript character with a big nose, no pants, who represents everyone and everybody who struggles with the daily adversities of life. Though Ziggy might be an ordinary sort of guy, he does possess an uncanny wisdom regarding life. In this episode we have Ziggy sanding on the bathroom scale. Disappointed at what the scale reads, he thinks to himself, “Well, time to start skipping dessert…or start skipping rope!”

* * *

2 Corinthians 3:12 “act with great boldness”

In the newspaper comic strip Peanuts, we see that cute little yellow bird Woodstock, flying here, flying there, but getting nowhere. He then perches himself on Snoopy’s doghouse. Both are sitting up as Woodstock begins to explain his perplexing situation. Since Woodstock is only ever seen speaking with “/ / / / / / / / / / / / / / /,” the reader always has to wait for Snoopy’s interpretation. Now, Snoopy lying comfortably on his back and Woodstock perched on the toes of Snoopy’s feet, Snoopy says, “Woodstock wants to fly to distant horizons, but he doesn’t know where they are.”

* * *

Exodus 34:32 “he gave them commandments”

In the newspaper comic strip Peanuts, we see Sally Brown standing in front of their curbside mailbox, with her brother Charlie standing behind here. The door of the mailbox is open, and it is obvious that it is empty. Sally is upset because she still has not received a letter from her pen pal, and wonders aloud what she should do. Charlie suggests, “Well, you could write a nice tactful letter asking if something is wrong.” They then go inside the house together, and we see Sally at her desk writing a letter. It begins, “Dear Stupid Pen Pal.” She picks the letter up off the desk, leans back, and reads the opening line to her brother, saying, “Now for the tactful part.” Charlie, arms folded resting on the desk, can only grimace at what he hears.

* * *

Exodus 34:32 “he gave them commandments”

In the newspaper comic strip the Born Loser, we see Wilberforce Thornapple sitting on the edge of a chair, and at his feet Hurricane Hattie O'Hara is lying on the floor. Wilberforce begins the conversation by saying, “Ever since we watched Super Bowl LIII, I’ve been wondering is there anything else they use Roman numerals for?” Hurricane Hattie, always one for uncompromising advice thoughtfully replies, “They’re reserved for the most important, history-altering events, like Super Bowls and World Wars!”

* * *

Exodus 34:32 “he gave them commandments”

In the newspaper comic The Family Circus, Bil Keane is sitting in a chair, reading the story of George Washington to two of his four children. Listening are 5-year-old Dolly and 3-year-old Jeffy. With arms folded Dolly asks her father, “Does every president have to pass the cherry tree test?”

* * *

Exodus 34:32 “he gave them commandments”
2 Corinthians 3 “or to falsify God’s word”

In the newspaper comic strip Frank and Ernest, we have two motley characters who somehow possess uncanny wisdom. They are standing at the back of the room at a campaign rally, watching the candidate shake everyone’s hand who is standing in line. Frank says to Ernie, “His campaign promises are like pieces of rubbish…They’re never kept, but they are recycled.”

* * *

Luke 9:42 “demon”

In the newspaper comic strip the Born Loser, we have Brutus P. “Thorny” Thornapple, who is the “Born Loser,” sitting at his kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee placed before him. He is wearing a business suit. He has a very sad look on his face, as one arm rests on the table, and the other arm, elbow on table, supports his chin. Brutus, in a soft quite voice of discouragement, “sighs,” and then says to the reader, “I’ve got the Monday blues. I haven’t felt this depressed since…last Monday!”

* * *

2 Corinthians 3 “or to falsify God’s word”

In the newspaper comic the Born Loser, we have Brutus P. “Thorny” Thornapple, who is known as the “Born Loser” because in his innocence he remains unappreciated. Brutus is standing in front of his boss Rancid Veeblefester, who has his hands folded behind his back and has a proud and boisterous look on his face. Veeblefester is known to be an unagreeable as well as an uncomplimentary individual. Brutus, with a smile on his face and arms gently hanging to his side, asks, “What did you think of my speech, Chief?” Veeblefester, with that scowling look he always has upon his face, responds, “It was like a longhorn steer — a point here and a point there — with a whole lot of bull in between!”

* * *

Luke 9:42 “demon”

Ziggy, who appears in our daily comics, is a small, bald, trouserless, barefoot, almost featureless character, save for his large nose, who seems to have no friends, hobbies, or romantic partner, and who it appears that the problems of life are always confronting him. In this one episode he is standing before a sign that reads: DO WHAT YOU LOVE AND THE MONEY WILL FOLLOW. Ziggy, with a look of despair says, “If that’s true, my money must be stalking me!”

* * * * * * * * *

by George Reed

Call to Worship:
Leader: God is sovereign; let the peoples tremble!
People: God sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
Leader: God is great in Zion and exalted over all the peoples.
People: Let us praise God’s great and awesome name.
Leader: Lover of justice, you have established equity.
People: You have executed justice and righteousness.


Leader: We come into the presence of our awesome God.
People: Our God in robed in light and splendor and love.
Leader: The God of might and strength is the God of tender care.
People: We rejoice that God loves us and dwells among us.      
Leader: God desires all to know of the awesome love in which they are held.
People: We will share God’s love in our words and in our actions.

Hymns and Songs:
Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
UMH: 89
H82: 376
PH: 464
AAHH: 120
NNBH: 40
NCH: 4
CH: 2
LBW: 551
ELA: 836
W&P: 59
AMEC: 75

Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise
UMH: 103
H82: 423
PH: 263
NCH: 1
CH: 66
LBW: 526
ELA: 834
W&P: 48
AMEC: 71
STLT: 273
Renew: 46

O Wondrous Sight! O Vision Fair
UMH: 258
H82: 136/137
PH: 75
NCH: 184
LBW: 80
ELA: 316

O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee
UMH: 430
H82: 659/660
PH: 357
NNBH: 445
NCH: 503
CH: 602
LBW: 492
ELA: 818
W&P: 589
AMEC: 299

Dona Nobis Pacem
UMH: 376
H82: 712
CH: 297
ELA: 753
Renew: 240

Rise, Shine, You People
UMH: 187
LBW: 393
ELA: 665
W&P: 89

How Firm a Foundation
UMH: 529
H82: 636/637
PH: 361
AAHH: 146
NNBH: 48
NCH: 407
CH: 618
LBW: 507
ELA: 796
W&P: 411
AMEC: 433

Give to the Winds Thy Fears
UMH: 129
PH: 286

Shalom to You
CCB: 98

You Are Mine
CCB: 58

Music Resources Key:
UMH: United Methodist Hymnal
H82: The Hymnal 1982
PH: Presbyterian Hymnal
AAHH: African American Heritage Hymnal
NNBH: The New National Baptist Hymnal
NCH: The New Century Hymnal
CH: Chalice Hymnal
LBW: Lutheran Book of Worship
ELA: Evangelical Lutheran Worship
W&P: Worship & Praise
AMEC: African Methodist Episcopal Church Hymnal
STLT: Singing the Living Tradition
CCB: Cokesbury Chorus Book
Renew: Renew! Songs & Hymns for Blended Worship

Prayer for the Day/Collect
O God who is robed in awesome splendor:
Grant us the courage to not be afraid of your wonder
and the faith to let the moment go;
through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.


We praise you, O God, because you robed in splendor that invokes our awe and wonder. Help us to have the courage to not be afraid of your presence. As much as we desire you, help us not to try to cling to moments of glory but to trust that you are always with us. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Leader: Let us confess to God and before one another our sins and especially our fear of the God who loves us.

People: We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. You come to us in love and splendor and we cower before you. We see you too much through human eyes who expect retribution and punishment. We forget that you always come to us in love. When we do experience that wondrous moment of being in your love, we want to encapsulate it and keep it forever. Help us to let it go knowing that you hold us and we hold you forever in our love. Amen.

Leader: God’s is awesome in love. Receive God’s grace and share that joy of God’s presence with others.

Prayers of the People
Worship and praise are yours by right, O God, because you are the Creator of all. You are wrapped in splendor and light.

(The following paragraph may be used if a separate prayer of confession has not been used.)

We confess to you, O God, and before one another that we have sinned. You come to us in love and splendor and we cower before you. We see you too much through human eyes who expect retribution and punishment. We forget that you always come to us in love. When we do experience that wondrous moment of being in your love, we want to encapsulate it and keep it forever. Help us to let it go knowing that you hold us and we hold you forever in our love.

We give you thanks for your presence among us. We rejoice that you come to us in love and grace. In your great majesty you still come to us as a loving parent. We thank you for those who have helped us learn of your love for all your children.

(Other thanksgivings may be offered.)

We pray for one another in our need. We pray for those who do not know you as a loving God. We pray for ourselves so that we may be so filled with your Spirit that your love is evident to all we greet.

(Other intercessions may be offered.)

All these things we ask in the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ who taught us to pray together saying:

Our Father....Amen.

(Or if the Our Father is not used at this point in the service)

All this we ask in the Name of the Blessed and Holy Trinity. Amen.

Children’s Sermon Starter
Sometimes things are wonderful and scary at the same time. I am afraid of heights and yet I love a wonderful view from a cliff across a valley or from a tall building. God can also seem wonderful and scary at the same time. God is so awesome and powerful that God may seem scary to us. But we need to always remember that God is love and desires only to care for us and help us.

Too Many Selfies
by Dean Feldmeyer
Luke 9:28-36 (37-43a)

Theme: Our desire to capture an experience in pictures can get in the way of the experience.

Overview: Sometimes, the best way we can honor God is by being quiet and listening to what God has to say to us through Jesus Christ.

You will need: A cell phone that takes selfies.

Good morning little brothers and sisters! How ya doin’ this morning? Great? Me, too. I’m doing wonderful. This is great, isn’t it? I mean, us all being here together in the house of the Lord, worshiping God together like a family. Isn’t this cool?

And the lesson! This is such a great lesson! I can’t wait to talk about that and share it with you all.

It’s about how Peter, James and John were present when Jesus was visited by a vision of Moses and Elijah and, at first, they were scared — Peter and James and John, not Jesus and Moses and Elijah — and then they realized how cool it was to be there at that moment and Peter says he wants to try to make it all last because it’s really cool. So Peter says to Jesus, “Jesus, this is really cool, let’s make a camp and spend some time here, together. Okay?”

And then there’s this big clap of thunder and…

Wait a minute! You know what? This, right here, what we’re doing, here? This is kinda like what Peter and James and John experienced, you know? It’s just way cool, I mean, the lesson and all of us being here, together and everything — it’s all so cool that I think we should get a picture of it so I can always remember how cool this moment was. Let’s take a selfie, okay? Okay! Come on, everyone squeeze in, here.

(Squeeze everyone in as tightly as possible and take the “group selfie.” If you have a large group and some are left out of the frame, note that and take another selfie including them. Do this several times if you need to in order to get everyone included in a selfie. When the selfies are all taken, spend some time admiring them and noting how cute some of the kids are and how silly some smiles are, etc.)

Okay, that’s great. But, back to the lesson…

(Look at watch or clock on the wall…)

Uh, oh. Looks like we’ve run out of time. We spent so much time taking the picture and trying to preserve this experience that we forgot the important thing — listening to Jesus and paying attention to the lesson. Oops! My bad.

Well, fortunately, it’s all written down, right here in the Gospel of Luke and we can go back and read it again, and this time paying attention that Jesus wants us to hear.

Because it’s the lesson that’s important, isn’t it? And what’s the lesson? Well, the lesson is, “Listen to Jesus.”

Simple, huh? Just, “Listen to Jesus.”

Simple, as long as we don’t let ourselves get distracted like Peter did, wanting to build a camp. Or like we did, wanting to take selfies.

Listen to him. Important lesson, huh?

Ending prayer
End with a prayer asking God’s help in keeping us focused on God’s will and God’s word and not getting distracted.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Immediate Word, March 3, 2019 issue.

Copyright 2019 by CSS Publishing Company, Inc., Lima, Ohio.

All rights reserved. Subscribers to The Immediate Word service may print and use this material as it was intended in sermons and in worship and classroom settings only. No additional permission is required from the publisher for such use by subscribers only. Inquiries should be addressed to or to Permissions, CSS Publishing Company, Inc., 5450 N. Dixie Highway, Lima, Ohio 45807.
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