Monday, March 2, 2015

Practical Discipleship

The scriptures referred to are Mark 8:31-38.

Recently Lord of the Seas hosted graduation ceremonies for a local martial arts school. There were the usual demonstrations of what the students could do, like breaking stacks of boards. And if you're like me, you marvel at what these people can do. Of course the reason they can accomplish such feats is that (A) they got instruction from someone who showed them how and (B) they practiced a lot. Science says that it takes around 10,000 hours to master any subject or skill. That's about 5 years of 40 hour weeks. If you want to be a professional or just very good musician, athlete, scientist, actor, artist, nurse, teacher, cop, pastor or even bureaucrat you have to invest 10,000 hours in learning it.

It helps if you start out with some experience. When my mom went to nursing school, it was a 3-year program attached to a hospital. She spent half the day in the classroom and half the day on the hospital floor. When she graduated she had a year and a half hands-on experience. My Practical Nursing school was only 18 months but after the first 6 months, it was structured like my mom's old RN program, with the result that after graduating I had 6 months nursing experience. However, a Bachelor's degree in nursing treats the discipline as a major, which means the 4-year program splits its time between regular college classes and nursing classes, as well as management classes. During classes on specialties like psychiatry or geriatrics, the students spend a week or two on the psych floor of a local hospital or at a nursing home. Which is why I often found myself as an LPN showing newly graduated BSNs how to do very basic procedures. They had studied them; they could give you 20 reasons why one would do the procedure; they may even have seen the procedure done, either live or on video, but they had probably only done it once. I'm afraid that nursing is being turned into an academic subject.

There is a lot of talk in churches these days about discipleship. And sometimes they make it sound like an exotic undertaking. But the word “disciple” just means “student.” Jesus was a rabbi and the Twelve were his students. They came to realize he was more than just a teacher, but essentially they were selected to learn both what Jesus knew and how to do what he could do. Unfortunately, discipleship is often treated as if it were an academic subject, mainly a matter of studying the Bible. Studying God's Word is essential, like reading nursing textbooks, and you should make it a lifetime habit, like nurses taking continuing education. But what is often lacking is hands-on discipleship.

In the third season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the title character's trainer and mentor Giles is replaced by a younger man named Wesley. Wesley proudly announces that he has faced a real vampire under controlled conditions. “Well, you won't find any of those around here,” says Giles. “No vampires?” exclaims Wesley, incredulously. “No controlled conditions,” says the older man.

Jesus knew his students would not be benefiting from controlled conditions. They had to be ready for anything. So He sent his disciples out to preach the good news and to heal the sick. He was giving them experience in the field. He was allowing them to face things that they hadn't before, the unexpected and the unheard of. He was giving them the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. He was allowing them to see what they could do. And we are told in Luke 10 that upon returning they were amazed at the power they had been granted over the forces of evil and illness.

And Jesus kept challenging them even when they were with him. For instance, when they realize that they are stuck in the wilderness with thousands of hungry people, Jesus tells the disciples, “You give them something to eat.” (Luke 9:13) I think Jesus was serious. He wanted the Twelve to feed the 5000. But when they balked, citing how little they had in terms of resources, he went and fed the crowd himself.

There is a point in the early career of a nurse when she realizes that her idea of being an angel of mercy, saving lives and being thanked by patients and their families, is far from the daily reality of pill-passing and paper-pushing, of dealing with bodily fluids and ungrateful and non-compliant patients, of working with a full bladder and on an empty stomach. If she can't face those unpleasant facts, she has 2 choices: she can leave the profession or go into administration.

Apparently the disciples thought that their careers would also be rosy ones, healing folks now and soon ruling the kingdom with Jesus. But then Jesus starts talking about his upcoming suffering and death. And if that's his fate, what will become of his followers? As if he read their minds, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to become my follower, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

Jesus' words were shocking. Everyone knew what a cross was and how long and painful a death it afforded one because they had seen it firsthand. Crosses often lined the roads to cities. Crucifixion was a punishment reserved for slaves and those judged as traitors to Rome. Usually the bodies were left up for days as a warning for any considering a revolt against the Empire. It was a horrifying death and Jesus said his followers had better be prepared for it.

There is relatively little chance of being crucified today, however. Does this still apply?

As we've seen in the recent news from the Middle East, there are places where Christians are still facing death for their beliefs. According to opendoorsusa.org, the 10 worst countries for Christians to be in are North Korea, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iran, Pakistan, Eritrea, and Nigeria. They list 25 countries in which Christians face either extreme or severe persecution. For them following Jesus is a possible death sentence. Open Doors estimates that worldwide 100 million Christians face persecution. Each month 322 Christians are killed for their faith, 214 churches and Christian properties are destroyed and 772 forms of violence are committed against Christians, including beatings, abductions, arrests, rapes and forced marriages to non-Christians.

What can we in the West do to help? Open Doors suggests praying, advocating and volunteering to help those who are in prison, who are trying to rebuild their churches and homes and those who are in refugee camps. In America there are 125 million Christians who claim to attend church weekly. And, remember, there are 100 million persecuted Christians. If we all did something to help our brothers and sisters in Christ who are suffering like the first Christians did, we would make a tremendous impact.

But does that mean Jesus' qualifications for following him are irrelevant to those of us who enjoy freedom from religious persecution? Not at all. Jesus said that first we must deny ourselves. A better translation would be “disown.” It is the same word used of Peter's denial of Jesus that awful night before Christ was crucified.

What does it mean to disown oneself? A dictionary definition would be “to repudiate any connection or association with, or responsibility for” or “to deny the validity or authority of” something or someone. To disown oneself is to give up having authority over yourself, to give that to Jesus. It's rather like the relationship of a soldier to his superior officer. If he is told to go on a mission, he can't refuse on the grounds that he could get killed. The whole point of being a soldier is that your life is ever on the line.

As we've said, it is unlikely that in the West a Christian would physically die for his or her faith. But I think that the more important sense of dying, which Jesus meant as well, is that we are to give up all rights to ourselves. It means to stop thinking of our time, our talents, or our treasure as our own. It is to follow Jesus selflessly, putting serving him and serving others in his name ahead of ourselves. Living for Christ can be as hard as dying for him.

A peculiar heresy has arisen in the church in the last century. It is the Prosperity Gospel, the idea that God wants us all to be rich and to live like kings in this life. The problem with this is that it moves the focus off of Jesus and other people and puts it squarely on oneself and one's comfort and personal happiness. It is an unholy alliance between spirituality and materialism. And it ignores the fact that we cannot find true happiness in things outside ourselves but only in the God who is within us and in our lives.

Such a focus on the individual can also lead to people thinking they can be Christians without belonging to a church. But how is one to truly practice loving other people, people who are not friends and family, if we do not belong to a group of disparate people who are trying to do the same thing? It's quite easy to love others if you leave that vague and don't make it specific, like “I love Bob” who has body odor, or “I love Carol” whose politics are antithetical to mine, or “I love Brian” who is a bit too intense a Christian for my taste, or “I love Fiona” who always seems to have drama in her life. Trying to be a Christian without belonging to a church is like wanting to be an Olympic hockey player but not wanting to practice with anyone. You'll never be on the team if that's how you act.

If our discipleship is to be more than just words, we need to reach out to others, both those who can help us and those we can help. We not only have to read the Bible and pray but also join a community of others who are also trying to follow Jesus. We are to worship with others and serve others and tell others the good news about what God has done, is doing and will do in Jesus Christ.

One other thing: Picking up our cross doesn't mean simply dealing with our own problems. Jesus carried that cross for us, not for himself. If he minded his own business, he would never have been crucified. Our cross is the problems of others that we shoulder, the burdens that we bear for others, especially those who are unable to do it themselves. When we run errands for a shut-in, buy goods for the food pantry, help someone learn the language, relieve a sick person's caregiver so they can take a break, hear out someone who is upset, fill out a form for someone who is confused or frustrated by it, give blood, buy a meal for a homeless person, drive someone to their medical appointments, volunteer for Habitat for Humanity or a soup kitchen or a nursing home or a classroom, we are picking up our cross and following Jesus. When you notice a need in your community that is not being met and do something about it, you are picking up your cross and following Jesus. There are a lot of people who won't and don't go out of their way or give up their time for someone else, especially someone who is not a friend or family member. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus showed that our neighbor is anyone we encounter and loving that neighbor can mean committing oneself to the long-term welfare of someone you don't know from Adam.

Jesus' message was not that we need to be just a bit nicer to one another but that we shown emulate him in his self-sacrificial goodness towards others. It's not a matter of meeting people half-way. Some folks can't make it that far. Many won't even go that far to help someone else. Only if we commit ourselves to going above and beyond what is deemed reasonable by the world will we be able to make real changes in this world and in its people.

Stephen Colbert is remarkable for being able to interview non-comedians live and be funny while staying in character. He attributes it to his years doing improvisational comedy. He says that in improv, your attitude has to be “Yes...and...” That is, you have to say “Yes” to whatever premise the audience throws at you, and whatever embellishments your cast members introduce. If the audience suggestion is that you mash up a private eye film with a Godzilla film, you can't balk; you just have to dive in. If then a fellow cast member says Godzilla has just started tapdancing, you can't say, “No, that's silly!” You accept that twist and then you add one of your own.

Following Jesus is very much a matter of saying “Yes...and.” You say "Yes" to whatever he throws at you and bring your personal talents to it. That's how it happened with me. When the folks at St. Francis said, “Will you go through the process and the schooling to be a Canon 9 priest and lead the church you've been a lay member of for 13 years, even though it can only be part-time?” I said, “Yes and I'll bring to my pastoral care everything I've learned as a nurse and to my preaching everything I learned as a radio copywriter.”

When Don Roberts, a Lutheran pastor from Marathon, said,“When I retire will you succeed me as chaplain of the jail and visit it at least once a week ?” I said, “Yes and I'll agree to expand my visits to 3 times a week so I can get to all 10 units in the jail each week.”

When the folks at Lord of the Seas said, “Will you be our interim pastor?” I said, “Yes and I'll make it work despite having two other part-time ministries. Because in my mind I'm still working for the same guy.”

When the Father said to his Son, “Will you give up your prerogatives as my equal, become a human being, subject to pain and hunger and thirst and exhaustion and all the other vulnerabilities that go with it, and will you live in poverty in a violent and unjust world, and try to teach a bunch of stubborn people to change their ways of thinking and behaving, and die at their hands in order to save them from themselves?” Christ said, “Yes, and I'll show them both what you are like and what they can become.”


And when God asks you, “Will you put aside the comfortable life you could easily have in order to live for and like Jesus, even when it means making some sacrifices of the time, talents and treasure I've given you, in order to serve me by serving others,” what will you say?   

Thursday, February 26, 2015

How to Study the Bible

Somebody once asked me how I write my sermons. My impression was not that this person was asking about the actual writing process but the way I string together the ideas. One answer is simply that this is the way my mind works. I have always been a mental magpie, plucking bits of wisdom from wherever I spot them—a proverb, a line in a comic book, a news story on NPR, a pop culture trope—bringing them back to my nest and arranging them in some coherent pattern. Formally, you could call it inductive reasoning, bringing together various observations or pieces of data and deriving a general principle from them.

In most cases it starts with scripture. I read the lectionary texts for a particular day, often in more than 1 translation; I take note of what words, phrases, ideas or questions leap out at me; I look up any interesting Greek or Hebrew words; I read commentaries; I mull them over and look for parallels in other sources, in my personal experience or in the experience of others. Then I organize and write it, verifying facts and quotes and honing the language and the logical and psychological reasoning that connects it all.

But I'm not going to be doing that for these Lenten midweek services. That is, I'll do the research and the mulling but we are going to be doing a series of Bible studies prepared by the Florida-Bahamas Synod. The purpose is to encourage and come up with ideas for local churches to do missions in their area. And the way we are going to do this is by inductive Bible study.

The simplest form of inductive Bible study is to break it down into 3 steps: observation, interpretation and application. First you observe what the Bible says in a passage. Then you interpret it. And finally you apply it to your life—if appropriate. Some passages of scripture are prescriptive. They tell us what to do or give us an example to emulate or adapt to our circumstances. Other times a passage is descriptive. It's a bit of history or background details. Or it might be a bad example for us to avoid, like the actions of Lot and his family. You can regard it as a cautionary tale or just another instance of sin.

That's one big reason why it's important to look at the context of a verse or passage. People are forever taking Bible verses out of context and then twisting the interpretation to justify their opinions or desires. But context can be crucial. Let's say in a story a woman walks in on a man and says, “What are you doing?” To really understand her question, it's vital to know whether the man is scattering rose petals on their bed or standing over a dead body. So context is key to understanding.

We are going to use a passage from Mark. Normally I would look at the whole chapter or even the chapters before and after the passage in question, just to make sure I knew the context. In this case, though, this is one in a series of confrontations in which Jesus' critics are lobbing religious questions at him hoping to trap him in some heresy. Read Mark 12:28-34.

What do you notice? Any words or phrases that jump out? Any interesting or surprising details? With a familiar passage I like to take note of what it actually says. And what it doesn't say. Ever read a passage you thought you knew and realized it was different than you remembered?

Now since we are doing a study of a core ethical idea I want you to read Luke's rather different version of this. This topic was quite a hot one in Jesus' time and it's possible that it got discussed often during Jesus' mission. Read Luke 10:25-37.

First look at it as if you had never read any version. What do you observe?

Now what differences do you see between this and Mark's version.

What does Jesus' parable reveal about his interpretation of the word “neighbor'?

The second step in inductive Bible study is interpretation. What does the second commandment mean? What principle can we derive from this passage?

So let's go to the original that Jesus is quoting. Read Leviticus 19:18.

What does neighbor seem to mean in that verse?

One last piece of data. Please read Leviticus 19:34.

Does that cast light on how Jesus sees verse 18?

This time we didn't have to venture outside scripture to interpret it. Read as a whole the Bible often comments on itself and leads us to better understanding of it. That's why it's good to constantly study the Bible.

The third step is application. How can we put what we've learned into practice? In the light of this passage how we should think about other people? How should we talk about or to them? How should be act toward them?

There are other ways of studying the Bible but this is a start. And there are lots of books and tools out there that will help you get a fuller and deeper understanding of scripture. One great website is biblehub.com. Another is biblegateway.com, There are even apps you can use on your phone. 

But the important thing is to first open yourself to God's Spirit. Without the Spirit, people try to read their own ideas into the Bible. But the proper way to read scriptures is to get yourself, your desires and your fears out of the way and listen to what the Spirit is saying to God's people. 

And remember, the center of the Bible is the good news of God in Jesus Christ. Not rules, not theology, not intellectual arguments, not denominations, not your pet idea of God but God himself. Just as no commandment is greater than the two commandments to love that Jesus cited, so nothing in the Bible is more important than the God who is love. He is the lens through which we see the Bible and indeed all of life.    

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Well, There's Your Problem

What is wrong with the world? That's what my wife and I often say whenever we hear of the latest outrage on the news. But actually that is one of the key questions that is at the root of most religious and political movements. Despite the fact that the world is not perfect and that no one has ever experienced a perfect society, most people have a deep sense that something is wrong with the world. We see how in some parts of the world things almost but don't quite work right. In other parts of the world it is evident that very little works right. And we wonder why. Because maybe if we could figure why things go wrong, we could fix the world.

There are lots of answers to the question of what is wrong with the world. The most common among highly educated people is that--surprise!--not enough people are highly educated. Ignorance is the problem, they reason. If we just got everyone enough schooling, the world would be a much better place. Indeed it would, but the problem is that while education may make you smarter, it does not necessarily make you a better person. Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and the person most directly responsible for the Holocaust, graduated from university. Ted Bundy was an honor student at the University of Washington and went on to law school. Osama Bin Ladan had a degree in civil engineering and 3 of his 5 wives were highly educated university lecturers. Education is good but it is no panacea for what's wrong with the world.

A popular answer to what is wrong with the world is “them” as in “us against them.” “Us” is the good guys and “them” is any group of people whom you think is most responsible for the terrible state of the world. Historically “them” has been blacks, Jews, communists, the Irish, the Germans, Asians, immigrants, Muslims, fundamentalists, atheists, gun nuts, welfare queens, bleeding heart liberals, conservatives--in short, anyone who is not “us.” And lest you think this way of seeing the world is not pervasive, let me point out that most of our big budget movies, which now make most of their money overseas, are all about “us versus them,” even if the enemy is portrayed as aliens, robots, zombies or Jedi of the Dark side. It is so satisfying to say “the whole problem is those people.” It makes the solution so easy: get rid of them. Although no one today would dare to call it “the Final Solution.”

The old comic strip Pogo famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Jesus would agree with this misquote of Caesar. He said the problem is not external but internal. In Mark 7:21-23, Jesus says, “For from within, from the human heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immoralities, thefts, murders, marital unfaithfulness, greed, malice, deceit, promiscuity, envy, insults, arrogance and recklessness.” Our problem isn't so much ignorance or evil people as it is our own sins.

We all do what we shouldn't, what we wouldn't approve of in others, what we wouldn't want done to us. We think things that are hateful, say things that are hurtful, do things that are harmful...to others and even to ourselves. Our problem is not that we don't have the smarts to work out our problems, it's more often that it conflicts with what we want. For instance, 3.5 million children die every year from starvation. Yet experts say we make more than enough food to feed everyone. Why don't we? It often has more to do with politics and corruption than logistics.

I am reading a book called The Locust Effect by Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission and federal prosecutor Victor Boutros. It documents the many ways in which the poor are victims of violence. And why is that? Because they are weak and desperate and in most countries law enforcement does not protect them, even if the laws say it should. And you really can't call what those who prey on the poor do as anything other than evil—intentionally harming someone for selfish reasons. “Recruiters” lie to poor women in the third world about job opportunities in cities or other countries and once they separated them from their families and communities, they put them in brothels, using violence to keep them in line. Business owners give new employees an advance and then use the “debt” to keep them working as slaves, paying them poorly and charging them for food and board to keep them from ever paying it back and using violence to keep them from running away, working other jobs, going to school or even seeking medical treatment. You know the biggest reason why girls from poor families don't go to school? The very real threat of being raped either on the way to or from school or at the school itself. Haugan and Boutros show that if we are going to end poverty we must also do something about the violence that most poor people deal with everyday.

Here in the US, a female soldier is more likely to be raped by another soldier than to be killed in combat. In our armed forces, there are an estimated 19,000 sexual assaults yearly. But superior officers frequently retaliate against accusers, discharging 90% of them and often overturning decisions that go against the accused. In fighting a lawsuit over this, the Department of Defense argued that the “alleged harms are incident to the plaintiff's military service...” That is, rape is an occupational hazard. The federal judge agreed.

Banks that crashed the economy by offering bad mortgage loans are now doing the same with car loans. Tobacco companies who are seeing their sales in the US plummet are suing third world countries over legislation aimed at reducing smoking. For a decade a car manufacturer knew about a ignition switch problem that caused engines to shut off while the car was in motion, also cutting off deployment of the airbags, and yet did not recall the cars with that switch until it was sued. A Reuters report linked 153 deaths with this problem. A company which markets a pendant that will signal for help if one falls and can't get up also offers free phones, though they lack the GPS feature other phones have. That feature allows 911 operators to locate people who are in trouble but can't tell the operator where they are, a crucial element in a world where few still have land lines.

It's easy to find examples of how human arrogance, laziness, lust, greed, rage, envy and overindulgence make the world far from perfect. How do we fix it?

Once again people propose education. And certainly some problems can be handled by simply teaching and training people about hazards and the right and wrong way to do things. But no amount of education will stop someone from doing what they shouldn't if they don't want to stop. I remember the reaction to the Columbine High School shooting. Some people actually said that we should put up copies of the Ten Commandments in schools to prevent future shootings. But I don't think the problem with the shooters was that they had forgotten the commandment against killing. They didn't care. In fact they knew they would not be able to kill everyone in their school but said in a recording they made that they knew they would traumatize those who survived. That shows a shrewd awareness of other ways of harming humans and a chilling desire to use that knowledge. That is not ignorance. That is evil.

Deciding who is “us” and who is “them” and then doing something drastic to “them” won't work. For one thing, there is no one group from which all evil flows. Think most suicide bombers are Muslims? If so, you'd be wrong. The largest number of suicide bombers belonged to the Tamil Tigers, a Marxist group in Sri Lanka. Think all terrorists are poor people with nothing to lose? Actually most are educated and middle class young people who get radicalized. This week's This American Life podcast tells how making assumptions about “them” almost got a cop killed. Called to a largely black neighborhood about a random shooting, he expected the perp to be black. Witnesses pointed him in the direction the shooter ran and the cop gave chase. He came upon a Walmart from which people were fleeing in a panic. He knew that the overwhelming majority of mass shootings are caused by white men and changed assumptions about who he was hunting. He entered the store. He spotted a man with a gun in the automotive department and was creeping up on the guy when he came across a woman. Temporarily confused at her presence, he almost got shot. He returned fire, winged her and retreated. He assumed that there was one shooter and that, of course, he was a man. He never considered that the mayhem was caused by a husband and wife. “Them” is an elusive group to pin down. And it is a red herring. Evil is much closer to home.

Sin is an individual thing, even if someone is egging you on or tempting you. It is a choice, even if you are influenced by external factors. And because, as Jesus pointed out, the impulse and intention comes from within, no external fix will do. We must be changed from the inside out. But how?

Bill W., one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, wrestled with the same problem. He knew from experience that his drinking was out of control and that he was powerless to stop it. He was only able to do so after he let God take control of his life. God created us. He can fix us. But like a surgeon, he needs us to consent and comply before he can open us up and fix what has gone wrong inside us.

To change the metaphor, if your computer is malfunctioning, you don't attach more peripherals or just keep entering the same commands; you call an expert. You even let him take control of your computer remotely. And he will probably install software to clean up your PC. He will also give you instructions to periodically run the software to keep malware, viruses and the like from messing up your computer in the future.

That's what Christianity is like. It is not about simply trying to do the commandments you haven't been able to follow anyway. It is about letting the expert, your creator, inside. It is letting him take control and install his Holy Spirit to patiently track down and uninstall the things that are causing you to malfunction. It is periodically running a scan of your spiritual self to see if you need to be cleaned again.

C.S. Lewis used the metaphor of an orchestra to explain the 3 areas in which humans mess up. The musicians have to first keep their instruments tuned if they are to make music and not just noise. But then they must make sure that they are in harmony with the other instruments and that they keep the same tempo and are literally in the same page. And finally they must be playing what the conductor has chosen and is directing. It won't do any good if he is trying to get them to play Beethoven's “Ode to Joy” and they are trying to play “100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall.”

In the same way, there are 3 components to morality. We must make sure our own instrument, our self, is in good repair and in tune. We need to practice working in harmony with our fellow human beings. And finally we must be working for the right goal. Nazi society worked harmoniously but the person they were following was a monster and their goal would have been hell on earth. We Christians should be following Jesus and working to realize his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

But it starts with becoming a Christlike person. Obviously this will not take place all at once. We are works in progress but as we open ourselves to the Spirit and let him work in us and as we grow through the process, we will find that slowly but surely we are taking on his characteristics. We will become more faithful, more hopeful, more loving people. We will see him in others and serve him by serving them. We will work for their well-being and see to it that they have justice. We will tell them the good news of Jesus Christ and invite them to join us in following him.


The problem with most systemic reforms is that they focus on the system. But even the best system in the world will not function correctly if the people running it are untrustworthy, self-serving, or out of control. Whereas a not-so-great system might perform well beyond expectations if the people running it are conscientious, compassionate and have common sense. Character matters. And ultimately that's what salvation is: not merely moving us from the bad side of the ledger to the good but recreating us as God's children, so we grow up to be just like our heavenly Father.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

For Jim Hardiman

For most of us, our discovery of the Keys is first by accident and then we recognize it as serendipity. Jim Hardiman first came to Key West when he was stationed there as a member of the Naval Reserve during the Berlin Crisis. And though he moved back to his native Philadelphia after he was put on inactive status it wasn't too many years before he and his wife Marie returned to the Keys for good.

Though in Philadelphia he had been a sheet metal worker, building outdoor signs, in the Keys Jim turned from working with man-made art to the beauty of God's works. He became a park ranger at Bahia Honda State Park and became known as the person to whom you bring lost and injured animals. When he was to be transferred to a park on the mainland where he would have had to wear a gun, he resigned. He went to work for the DOT, inspecting the work being done on US-1, including, ironically, the new Bahia Honda bridge.

But his love of nature led him to help an ailing friend with his bee-keeping business, which his friend signed over to Jim shortly before the friend's death. For two decades, Jim, Marie and their kids developed and ran Key Bee Apiaries. And when he found a market for them in research labs, Jim collected and shipped cockroaches. I, for one, am grateful he was doing his part to send these creatures out of the Keys.

Jim branched out into trees, herbs and orchids. He also consulted for Little Palm Island, designing their beautiful landscaping and leaving his mark on the appearance and appeal of one of the Keys' most distinctive resorts.

There is a passage in one of the Sherlock Holmes stories in which the great detective looks at a rose and says, “Our highest assurance of the goodness of Providence seems to me to rest in the flowers. All other things, our powers, our desires, our food, are all really necessary for our existence in the first instance. But this rose is an extra. Its smell and its colour are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras, and so I say again we have much to hope from the flowers.” I think Jim would have agreed and would have extended Holmes' reasoning to the fauna as well as the flora of this world. I saw this in how Jim immersed himself into each of the areas of his interests, ever discovering fascinating aspects of them.

And Jim was not just passionate about the creation but also the creator of all this beauty. He came faithfully to the services at St. Francis. And when his illness would not permit him to come anymore, he eagerly awaited my visits, where we shared interesting and wide-ranging talks even as we shared the bread and wine of communion with Christ. He read my sermons online and gave me great tips on computers. Jim saw no contradictions between nature and technology or science and faith. The world and God are big enough to encompass it all.

I'm going to miss Jim. I'm going to miss those visits and those talks. Right up to the end I learned new things about his fascinating life. The scope of his interests was inexhaustible.

The good new is that life continues. Jim is with God, the Lord of life, the one who made all the things of this world that Jim loved and pronounced them good. The bad news is that from our perspective we cannot see that. To us it seems that life has ended.

During his last days, Marie said something that struck me. She compared Jim's struggles to labor. It was like he was being birthed into a new world. And she was right.

Were we conscious in our mother's wombs, birth would seem like a terrible thing. There is pain and stress and you are pushed out of the only world, the only environment you ever knew, and then you are pushed out of sight. As far as you know, your life would be over. You could not possibly conceive of what things would be like once you went down that passage and out into that mysterious realm of light.

We are in the same situation in this life. We can't imagine what life will be like nor how it could possibly continue once the cord which binds us to this world is cut and we journey down the tunnel and out into whatever lies beyond. All we can do is, like Holmes, trust in the goodness of what he called Providence and what we call God.

Fortunately, we have hope in Jesus. He's the only one who has died and come back, never to die again. He assures us that life not only continues but does so in abundance. He assured the penitent thief on the next cross that “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The word Jesus used literally means a walled garden, such as a king might have. What a wonderful picture of what awaits us.

And what a wonderful place to imagine Jim awaiting us. His restored lungs drinking in the perfume of the flowers, his curiosity piqued by what kind of flowers they are and whether they are pollinated by bees, his wondering if God still needs a gardener as he did in Eden.

Of course, the garden could be a metaphor. But that doesn't mean it's less real. We use metaphors, pictures of what is familiar, to try to communicate what may not be familiar. Jesus compared the kingdom of God to seeds and bushes and wedding banquets, all things plucked from the everyday life of his listeners, to explain spiritual things that otherwise were too huge, too mind-blowing for human minds to grasp. If heaven isn't a literal garden, it is something much grander and too wonderful for us to conceive of.


In his first letter to the Corinthians (2:9) Paul tells us “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has imagined the things that God has prepared for those who love him.” While we miss and mourn the fact that Jim is no longer with us, we can also remember that not only is his struggle and suffering over, he is now experiencing those marvelous things that God has prepared. And one day we shall join him in that world beyond the womb of this one. And I, for one, look forward to hearing what he has learned and what fascinating new things will share with us on that day.  

For Joan Colasurdo

God gives each of us gifts, talents or qualities that, while we can develop and hone them, we did not choose but just seem to be part of the package of who we are. Joan's gift, I think, was energy. It was the first thing that struck me about her. Here was this little old lady in her 80s and yet she radiated this liveliness. She had the wisdom of age but also this spark that made her seem younger than she was. And that was coupled with a sunniness of temperament, and even a pinch of impishness, that just made you love her.

And so it was a real shock when we received the word that she was no longer with us. We saw and talked with her that Sunday morning during the service and we enjoyed the coffee hour that she presided over after the service and then we find out later that she went into the ER that evening and within a few days, she was gone. This woman who was everything we could hope to be when we get to her age seemed to be the very antithesis of death.

And apparently she was always that energetic. After she met the love of her life, Michael, they built their first home together, brick by brick. And even though she was a great mother to her children, Lynn and Michael, she still had the energy to make clothing, braid rugs, do needlepoint and cross stitch, and teach ceramics. She also enjoyed cooking, baking, gardening, swimming, diving, skiing, traveling and entertaining in her home. Did I mention that she was the manager of two restaurants which she and Mike owned with her brother Bob? Plus she acted as caregiver to her parents, to various aunts and uncles and eventually to her husband.

When she and Mike retired to the Keys in 1987, you'd expect her to take it easy, right? Wrong. Joan volunteered to establish the Summerland Cove Civic Association, served as its first president and later as treasurer. She organized the monthly Ladies Birthday luncheon and the annual February food drive. After Hurricane Georges, she and Mike also got hundreds of palms planted along the streets of Summerland Cove. Because she wanted to maintain the quality of life in Summerland, she also worked against incorporation of the Lower Keys, against short-term vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods and against FEMA inspections of downstairs enclosures. She was also named volunteer of the year for her work at Sugarloaf School. And several years ago, she took over the coffee hour here at St. Francis.

And so we enter into the paradox of grieving as Christians. We don't deny the fact of death. We don't deny its power over our emotions. We don't deny the wound it makes in our hearts. We deny its permanence. We deny that it is part of God's original plan for us. And we deny its power over our way of thinking about life.

And yet we cannot deny that we miss Joan. We know that as Christians we should be happy for her. Any suffering she had from her grievous injuries is over. And while she is not with us, she is in the best hands we could hope for, the loving hands of her heavenly Father. For we who believe, having someone die is rather like having a loved one go on a long voyage. You are happy for them because they are off on an amazing journey and a much needed rest from the trials of this life. And yet, because you will not see them again for a long time, you are sad. As King David said, our loved ones will not return to us but we will some day go to them.

We do have memories and those are a comfort and an immortality of sorts. But they are tinged with the bittersweet knowledge that no new memories will be forthcoming. This chapter on our life with her is over. And so once again happiness and sadness are entwined. We mourn.

And that's OK. It's OK to weep and mourn because Jesus did at the grave of his friend Lazarus. It's just that, as Paul said, we do not mourn like those who are without hope. And that hope sustains us. The fact that just because this chapter is over it doesn't mean that there won't be another. Every week in the creed we say we believe in the resurrection of the dead. Because that is God's basic modus operandi. He is the God of the living. He resurrected his Son. He will resurrect those who are members of the body of his Son. He will resurrect his wounded creation. And he will populate it with his people, in new and improved bodies, our same software, debugged and downloaded to new hardware, as scientist and Anglican priest John Polkinghorne put it.


Our hope in Christ is living with him forever in a new creation. Not only new but better. There will be no pain, no mourning, no disease or death. We will not lose our loved ones there. That's where we will find them, safe forever. And so the only tears will be tears of joy, when we join Joan in God's new paradise. And I don't know about you but I can't wait to see what Joan will have organized for us when we join her in Christ's kingdom. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Give It Up

The two penitential seasons of the church year are all about anticipation. In Advent we are looking forward to the birth of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. In Lent we are looking forward to his death and resurrection. So while the anticipation in Advent is joyful, in Lent it is more somber. Though Jesus' triumph at Easter is sweet, the suffering he endured leading up to that is anything but.

And in response to all Jesus gave up for us, many Christians give up something for Lent. Some fast during the season, either doing special fasts throughout the 40 days or giving up one particular thing that they like. Unfortunately what many people give up is usually some trivial luxury that they can easily do without. Some people however actually try to do without something very important to them, something they will really miss. It needn't be a food item either; it could be an activity they enjoy. One year I gave up Facebook. That was hard!

This year at a clergy retreat our guest speaker was an Episcopal nun named Ellie Finlay. She told us about the 3 vows she had to take, namely, obedience, chastity and poverty. And she had an interesting take on poverty. We tend to think of poverty as a matter of lacking material things. But she found it more meaningful to think about the non-material possessions she needed to give up. She listed 4 and I would like to consider each.

One thing we really ought to give up is entitlement, the expectation of how we are supposed to be treated. People really get bent out of shape when they encounter someone who does not treat them politely enough or with due deference. How would you feel if you asked a waitress for a refill of your coffee and was told “When I get around to it?” Setting aside the whole question of proper customer service, you would probably be upset because you are paying this person to serve you. Of course, her salary is probably less than minimum wage (because that's legal) and she probably is suffering from sore feet and a bad back most days. We have bad days and we expect others to cut us slack. Why don't we do the same for waitstaff? Probably because their job is to serve us and it is hard to remember that that is merely a role and not an indication that the person is inferior to us in some way. Some form of the question “Who does she think she is?” probably floats up out of your subconscious. But what you probably don't say in answer to yourself is that she is a person created in the image of God, just like you, albeit a flawed one, just like you. The tricky bit about entitlement is that, like any privilege or advantage, you don't consciously think of it that way, as expecting others to treat you as the special person that you are. It can lead us to treat others as if they aren't all that special. This Lent examine your sense of entitlement and take a fast from it.

Another non-material possession we think we own is time. We act as if our time is our own to do with as we please. But in no way do we own time. Time is more like a river in which we are floating. We can't stop or conserve or control it. We are at its mercy. And yet when someone comes to us in distress or asking for help, we resent their taking up our time. But our lives are gifts from God and as such we are supposed to give a little back to him (1 day a week—and we don't even give him that much!) and we are supposed to spend some time serving others. Thinking others are taking up our time is like thinking a fellow beachgoer is soaking up OUR sun! This Lent give up the idea that time belongs to you.

Another non-material possession Sr. Ellie says we think we have is escape. Specifically that we have some sort of escape from God. This is the delusion that Jonah possessed. But we belong to God and we live in his world. You might as well try to escape the universe. But we still try to elude the inevitable. We try to ditch God for other gods, for idols, for substitutes, for distractions from the truth of our total dependence on him. We use sophistry or our pet philosophical or theological theories to try to escape from the fact that God exists and has claims on us. We live in a universe dense with connections and interdependence and yet we act as if we can disengage from all of it and from our creator and go off on our own. You might as well act as if you can nullify gravity and still go for a walk on this globe. This Lent give up the idea that you can escape from the reality that is God.

Finally, another non-material possession Sr. Ellie says we must let go of is our survival. If we are weirdly possessive of time, we are even more so when it comes to ourselves. We act as if our life is something we can hold onto. Yet any number of things can snatch it from us and we are powerless to stop them. As the Shel Silverstein song says, “you can have safe sex but you're still gonna die; you can switch to Crest, but you're still gonna die; you can get rid of stress; get a lot of rest; get an AIDS test; enroll in EST; move out west when where it's sunny and dry, and you'll live to be 100 but you're still gonna die!” The question is not is this life going to end but what are we going to do with it in the meantime. 

A lot of people think the fact of our inevitable death means, as a character says in Jesus' parable in Luke 12:19 (cf. Isaiah 22:13), we should “eat, drink, be merry.” But not only is that short-sighted it is selfish. There are lots of people who don't even have that as an option. They don't have enough to eat or to drink. They can't be merry because they are enslaved, or caught up in a war zone, or being trafficked for sex, or just living in a poor and dangerous community. As Christians how can we fritter away the precious gift God gave us on our own pleasure when there are others who live lives that are devoid of justice, peace or pleasure? Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And 2000 years later science has finally caught up with him. Bioethicist Dr. Stephen Post says study after study shows that living a life of of altruism and compassion enhances our physical and mental health, reduces depression, lessens stress, leads to fewer aches and pains and to more meaningful relationships. 

Normally we think if something is in short supply, the thing to do is to hoard it, to hold onto it tightly. But not in God's economy. Jesus said, “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8) It is ultimately a matter of how much we trust God. Do we think that he is limited in what he can give us so that we must be misers of his gifts? Or do we believe what Jesus said when he proclaimed, “I have come that they might have life and have it in abundance?” (John 10:10) Do we believe him when he says that whatever we give up for him we will receive back a hundredfold? (Mt 19:29) Do we believe that our life is truly eternal?

This Lent give up entitlement, all claim to time, all false hopes of escape and deny yourself the rights to your own life. And take on something else: a mission, a purposeful activity based on Jesus' commandment to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” During our joint Lenten services, our two churches are going to be looking at the Book of Acts and asking ourselves fundamental questions as to who we are, why are we here and who is our neighbor. And then we are going to look for concrete ways we can love our neighbors here in our community.

If this bothers you, then you are welcome to try to escape to another god or philosophy. But if you believe that God is love, that Jesus is the God of love incarnate, come to save us from our self-destructive ways of thinking, speaking and acting, if you believe that God implants in us his Spirit to renew and guide us on our pilgrimage to follow Jesus and become more Christlike, then this is our task. And if we are to call ourselves Christians, then we have no other option than to learn to love one another as he loves us. We all say that love is our highest and most treasured experience, and yet we balk when we have to face how difficult and messy it is. But you can't have the beautiful baby without the ugly diapers.


The world tells us our lives are our own. The world lies. They are gifts from God. And in this season we think long and hard about how, just as Jesus had a mission of love to accomplish, so do we. Jesus knew his time was not his own but his Father's. Neither is our time on this earth. All that we have here, our lives and our talents, is on loan. And talk about truth in advertising, it's been there all along in the name of the season: Lent.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Real Glory

The scripture referred to is Mark 9:2-9.

Though I don't work as a nurse anymore, I still follow medical news. And this week I heard of a really great advance we've made in treating cancer. Researchers were asking themselves why, when our immune systems fight off so many things that seek to harm us, they don't go after cancer. And they found out that cancer hides itself from our immune systems by tricking our T-cells into thinking they are part of the body. So scientists have developed checkpoint inhibitors to stop cancers from using their “invisibility cloaks,” so to speak. Once the immune system sees the cancer as the threat it is, it attacks the mutant cells. It seems to work well on lymphoma and on cancers of the head, neck, kidney and bladder and possibly breast and lung cancers.

How can you deal with something if you don't know what it is? How can you work with someone if you don't know who they are? That is what the apostles are wrestling with. Yes, they know Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed one promised by God to save his people. Peter just said so in Mark chapter 8. But then Jesus started with this crazy talk about his getting arrested and killed and rising again from the dead, and that was not at all what Peter and the rest of the twelve were expecting. And when Peter tried to set Jesus straight, the Messiah called him Satan, literally “the adversary,” for opposing him.

In fact, Jesus says, if you want to follow him, you better check your personal rights at the door and pick up your cross. If you don't, Jesus says, he will be ashamed of you when he returns.

It's 6 days later. Apparently nothing of significance happened between that incident and the subject of today's gospel. I imagine the disciples have been unusually quiet and reflective. Have they backed the right man? Is Jesus the one to lead them against their enemy? Have they made a mistake?

And that's the setting for the Transfiguration. Jesus takes Peter, James and John, his core group, up a mountain. They probably thought they were going up there to pray with him. But suddenly Jesus is transformed, his clothes go all “Clorox 2 commercial” white, and he has two guest stars: Moses and Elijah. And the three disciples are flabbergasted. I was going to say speechless but Peter can't keep his mouth shut. He starts babbling about building some houses for Jesus and his famous friends. Then a cloud descends on them, and out of it they hear a voice saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” and just as suddenly this vision is over and all they see is regular old Jesus. On the way down the mountain Jesus tells them to keep the whole thing under their hats till later.

What's going on here? In the Torah, where does Moses meet God to receive the commandments? On a mountain. How does God manifest himself on the mountain? In a cloud. Where does Elijah have his signature encounter with God? Again on a mountain. And who are these two prophets of God now meeting and talking to? Jesus. What happened to Moses after he spoke to God? His face glowed. What is said about angels, God's messengers, when they come to this world to speak to men? That their garments shown brighter than the sun. All of these things are coming together in this vision on the mountaintop.

The disciples see Moses, who prophesied that God will send a prophet after him to his people that they must heed and obey. They see Elijah, who learned that God isn't always manifested in lightning and wind and earthquake and fire but sometimes in a quiet voice. More importantly they see Jesus as he really is, radiating God's glory. He is the divine person that these two, the greatest of the prophets, are talking to. Finally, God himself tells them that, yes, Jesus is his beloved son and so they should listen to him.

What is the purpose of all this? Elijah had his mountaintop tete a tete with God after he had just scored a great triumph over the prophets of Baal. He revealed that Yahweh was the only true God. But then Queen Jezebel threatened his life and Elijah flees into the desert, afraid that he is the only prophet of the true God left. But the still small voice assures him that he is wrong and all is not lost. Here the disciples are coming off of a tremendous declaration. They realize that Jesus is the Anointed One of God and they tell him so. But then Jesus' talk about his impending death creates doubt. So in the Transfiguration they are assured that they are wrong and that what Jesus has predicted is not a disaster. They need to keep trusting in and listening to him, even though things are going to start looking bleak.

I tell inmates that the time when they really need to trust God is when it is the hardest to do so. It's easy to trust God when everything's going your way. But it's when it's all turning to crap, when it looks like God is doing nothing, or even orchestrating the cascade of calamities that are burying you, that you need to trust that in fact he has a good reason for letting this happen and that it will turn out to be ultimately for the good. And that's tough. Actress Julianne Moore says she stopped believing in God when her mother died. Former Saturday Night Live cast member Julia Sweeney stopped believing when her brother died of AIDS. I had a real crisis of faith when my long-time friend and parishioner Corinne Wade died of a brain tumor. Bad things happen to good people. And because that violates what we see as God's promises to us, we are wracked by doubts. “Hey, God, that wasn't part of the deal! I'm supposed to believe in you and you protect me and mine and cause us all to prosper. Go punish the wicked! Leave us believers untouched.”

But the thing is that the Bible itself says that bad things sometimes happen to good people. After 40 years journey Moses never makes it to the promised land. Jonathan, David's ally even after his father Saul turns against him, dies ignominiously at the hands of the Philistines. King Josiah, who renews God's covenant with his people, whose reforms include ending pagan worship in God's temple and destroying all the pagan worship sites in Jerusalem and Judah, who reinstitutes the celebration of Passover, dies in battle against Pharaoh Neco. Jesus himself says, “In this world you will have trouble...” Anybody who thinks that God promises his followers a smooth and stress-free life on this earth is just not paying attention.

Why? Why don't all the bad things happen to the bad people and all the good things happen to the good?

Well, for one thing, nobody is all good and nobody is all bad. If you are honest with yourself, you will have to admit that you do not always do what you know to be the right thing. You cut corners at work. You don't always listen to your spouse and you have lied to him or her about why certain things didn't get done or got done in a way they explicitly ask they not be done. You don't always drive the speed limit, occasionally text while driving, maybe even get behind the wheel after having a couple of drinks. You aren't as scrupulous on filling out your income tax forms as you should be. And you may have even darker secrets in your life, things you would not want anyone to know. Would you willingly take truth serum and let Nancy Grace quiz you about every aspect of your life? Probably not. No one is that good.

Working at the jail, I see people who have done things that society frowns on. Some are really bad; some are relatively minor breaches of city or county ordinances. Should God strike all those bad people down? Should he leave their children orphans? Should he strike down addicts who are trying to get better but still sometimes fall off the wagon? Should he only strike down murderers? Should he strike down those who didn't intend to kill? Should he strike down those who killed accidentally? Should he strike down all soldiers who kill? The result of what they do is the same, regardless of intention. What about those who fought and harmed someone but not fatally? What about those who tried to harm someone but didn't succeed? 

Should God strike down rapists? Should he strike down 18 year old boys who have sex with their 16 year old girlfriends and so committed statutory rape? Should he strike down people who have only viewed child pornography? Should he strike down those who have ruined the lives of others through identity fraud? Should he strike down those who have ruined people financially? Should he strike down all the bankers and brokers and CEOs who ruined our economy and caused such suffering worldwide? Should he strike down people who buy products whose raw materials or manufacture cause suffering to poor people in other parts of the world? That would include all who use electronics which cause pollution, who eat chocolate which is often harvested by child slaves, who buy wooden products that encourage deforestation.

There is a video on College Humor entitled “Why it's socially unacceptable to do anything.” In it a bunch of 20-somethings are unable to find an activity that doesn't harm the environment, patronize a company that exploits people, support entertainment that encourages stereotypes, or tacitly approve of a celebrity who has done bad things. Finally one person says, “Want to sit in a dark, dark basement until tomorrow comes?” And that's the only unobjectionable thing they can agree on. It's done for laughs but the point is valid. In our globally connected world, there is no completely innocent option in many areas of human endeavor. Even eating a salad could be making profitable the use of overworked underpaid migrant workers. If God were to wipe out all traces of evil...well, it reminds me of the X-Files episode where Mulder encounters a genie and asks for world peace. What he gets is a world devoid of people.

There is no way to design a world where bad things never affect relatively good people or where good intentions never have unintended negative effects. Unless you replace humans possessing free will with robots. That's why grace and forgiveness and healing are so central to our faith. It's not that there aren't people who do harmful things intentionally; it's just that sometimes all of us are one of those people. And remember that the Bible comes down just as hard on those people who don't do what they can to help people with unmet needs or who are suffering injustice. In fact Jesus' parable about the last judgment in Matthew 25 is all about sins of omission. What we do or don't do to the hungry, those without drinking water, those who don't have sufficient clothing, those who are sick, those who are imprisoned, those who are not welcome outside their homeland, Jesus will take personally. Every single person on this earth was created in God's image and Jesus sees each one of us as a brother or sister. And nobody better mess with one of Jesus' siblings.

Right now God is giving everyone the chance to realize this and ask for help in fixing our own messes. And God wants us to tell everyone else that he will forgive and help them with their messes too. But that means things are still going wrong and bad things still happen and we can suffer the effects of what we do or what others do. Some of it is minor and some of it is major and will make it hard to see past it to God's grace.

Jesus realized that his disciples needed this mountaintop experience before entering the valley of the shadow of death. In the same way, we need to see him for who he really is before we enter into the fray. He is the one who created the universe yet notes each sparrow's fate. He is the Almighty who champions the weak. He is the Holy one who forgives sinners. Jesus is the Embodiment of God who embraces the leper, the outcast and the imperfect. He is the man in a patriarchal world who teaches women as well as men and who protected the woman taken in adultery. He is the righteous one who ate with sinners and celebrated the fact that prostitutes were entering the kingdom of God ahead of religious leaders. He is the pacifist whose kingdom is still expanding without any weapons. He is the one who, before his death, said he has conquered the world.

The weird thing is that the disciples witnessed all this but just didn't see Jesus for who he really was. They saw him feed thousands but didn't realize the abundance of his power. They saw him heal many who were sick in mind and body but didn't see him as the source of all health. They saw him raise the dead but didn't recognize him as the Lord of life. So Jesus had to reach them visually, giving them a eye-popping sight they couldn't unsee.

We can't literally see this event but we do have the evidence of what he said and did, as well as the effect he had on the people who encountered him, not only in the 1st century AD but in every century since. The first Christians followed Jesus despite the threat of persecution and death. They impressed pagans by not fleeing plagues but staying in cities and taking care of the sick and dying, again despite the risk to themselves. They often freed their slaves and even selected slaves to be bishops. As the centuries went on, Christians built and staffed hospitals, schools, and universities. The first scientists were largely clergy, people who believed that because human beings were created in the image of God, they could also examine and understand the products of the mind of God. Christians worked to abolish slavery in both the US and the UK. They set up and ran the underground railroad, defying federal law that all runaway slaves must be returned to their masters. In the Second World War Christians hid Jews from the Nazis. In the 1950s and 60s Christians worked for civil rights. And, yes, a lot of establishment Christians opposed these things. And this paralleled the confrontations the Pharisees and other religious leaders had with Jesus. They were defenders of the status quo and Jesus was the defender of the marginalized and oppressed. They felt that the rules trumped the needs of people and Jesus said that healing and forgiving people came before the rules because no rule was greater that the commandments to love God and to love others.


In the Gospel of John it becomes clear that Jesus identified his glorification with his being lifted up on the cross. The glory of God is revealed in Jesus' self-sacrificial death for the world. That act is the ultimate manifestation of the depth of God's love for us. It would have been wonderful to have been on the mountain and to have seen what Peter, James and John saw. They needed that. But for the rest of the 12, and for us, the true moment where we see just who Jesus is occurs on not a mountain but a hill named Golgotha. And Jesus is not dressed in blindingly bright garments but is stripped naked and bathed in red. It is not a glorious sight as the world sees it but for those of us who see through the worship of power, what Jesus did in those hours on the cross is more glorious, more worthy of worship. True splendor is not that which dazzles the eye but that which pierces the heart: an act of love so pure, so freely given, so bereft of selfishness that the only reason we have trouble looking at it is because of our tears of joy. And that explains why when Jesus appeared to the disciples in his resurrection body, he still bore the marks of his crucifixion. His greatest glory was not to be seen in his new body but in the old scars, the lasting signs of his love for us, his fallen creatures, who once were lost but now, thanks to his sacrifice, are forever found.