Monday, February 22, 2016

Homily: "Conceivable or Inconceivable Presence of God?" by Donna Rougeux ARCWP

2nd Sunday of Lent 2016
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 9:28-36
Donna Rougeux ARCWP

Have you seen the movie “Princess Bride?” It is one of those movies you have to see more than one time so that you can appreciate the lines that use subtle humor to make profound points. In one part of this movie the dread Pirate Roberts is following Vizzini and Indigo Montoya.  Every time Vizzini thinks that he has hindered the dread Pirate Roberts from staying on his trail Roberts not only remains in sight but he gets closer. Roberts is like a super hero who seems to defy the laws of gravity and exhibits great strength and power. We hear Vizzini say “Inconceivable” many times as he turns to see the dread Pirate Roberts getting closer. Finally Indigo Montoya confronts Vizzini on his use of the word inconceivable and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Vizzini is having trouble understanding what he is seeing but Mantoya points out that since these things keep happening maybe he has the wrong word to describe this mysterious person. Or does he? Vizzini’s experience of trying to understand the dread pirate Robert’s powers and abilities is similar to what we find in the scripture passages today regarding the human experience of trying to understand God’s power and abilities. Is God’s presence conceivable or inconceivable?

In Luke’s transfiguration story the three disciples are learning more about who Jesus is.  This prayer experience with Jesus on the mountain is a mystical experience. They are in direct connection with the divine. They are experiencing God’s glory. Peter is so amazed that he wants to erect booths so as to contain this glorious experience. He thinks Jesus, the Messiah of God, has completed his mission. God corrects Peter’s desire to contain the divine in booths by enveloping him and his friends in the presence of the divine, which came in the form of a cloud.

God’s transformative presence is all around us but we like Peter either may want to contain it so it can not contain us or we may be afraid of its power and turn instead toward worldly and human power which takes us away from God.

We get glimpses of God’s presence or glory in many ways. Seeing the Grand Canyon or a mountain for the first time can be a powerful experience of the sacred. When we hear a beautiful song or see a work of art that opens us to the divine we can conceive of God’s power. Holding a new, born baby or seeing the sunset at the ocean can leave us speechless. God’s presence is conceivable but it is up to us whether we are open or closed to its effects.

 In the story found in Genesis, the smoking fire pot and flaming torch symbolized God passing between the animals that were split in half. This is the way covenants were ritualized long ago and in essence says the one who goes between the split animals would rather be spilt in half, themselves, than break the covenant. An interesting detail in this story is that God is the only one who goes between the animals. Abram does not. This powerful story of God wanting to be in a covenant relationship with humans continues to echo as Peter, John and James encounter God ‘s glorified presence in the transfiguration story. In both stories God wants to be in a meaningful relationship with humans. Inconceivable!

But there is more mindboggling information for Peter and his friends. Jesus, the Messiah of God must go to “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!” Jesus’ mission includes going to Jerusalem, being sentenced to death on a cross when he did not commit a crime. He will then be resurrected. Jesus’ suffering and death is transformed into new life and eternal glory. Inconceivable!

So why would this loving God who wants us to be transformed allow his son to suffer and die? Why did Jesus’ mission include suffering and dying on a cross? This is the part that Peter could not understand. We like Peter have trouble understanding suffering. How can there be children in the world who die each day of starvation? Why are so many elderly people suffering due to severe loneliness? Why does racism and sexism still exist? Why do we continue to be in wars? Where is God? Where are the people?

Could it be that the sinful human response to the Messiah of God is what needs transforming? Jesus came to offer love and the love was rejected. It is not God who wants or needs suffering. When people reject God there is suffering. Love came into our world in the form of Jesus and he was rejected, he suffered and he died. Because God loves us, suffering and death do not have the final say.

As we heard in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, “For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.” We are born into a world of sin and find God’s glory inconceivable until we allow the transformative power of God’s presence to create us into our full selves.

Have you seen glimpses of God’s glory lately?
God’s glory is conceivable. We experience the divine in similar ways that are described in these scripture stories. Scripture scholar Joel Green writes, “In the Old Testament and Jewish tradition one’s countenance is a mirror of one’s heart and a manifestation of one’s relationship to God.”  The disciples witnessed Jesus praying and saw his face and clothes become radiant. Jesus models a close transformational relationship with God. A common expression used today is to say that someone is glowing. It means the person has a joyful and loving essence that comes from the inside out. Have you ever known someone like that? Are you someone who radiates with the love of Christ?

Hopefully we can all attest to the transformational power of love in our own human relationships which can seem to makes us shine brightly. So maybe we can conceive of a God who longs for a loving relationship with us. If human relationships are transformational how much more will a relationship with God transform us? We unfortunately have also seen the destructive power of human relationships. Some people may be surrounded by relationships that destroy their spirits. When someone is caught in unhealthy life destroying relationships with people the answer to their suffering is to listen to Jesus and turn to God. When human relationships threaten to destroy us we must come to God. A relationship with God is the one relationship that we can trust. New life and powerful transformative healing is always available to us in a relationship with the Divine Holy One. Will you allow a loving relationship with God to transform you?

May we use this season of Lent to become more aware of God’s glorious presence that surrounds us, like a cloud. May we come to a better understanding of who Jesus is, in a way that strengthens our relationship with God. May we courageously bring the transformational power of love into this world full of people who suffer.  And may the inconceivable presence and glory of God become conceivable.

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