Saturday, February 9, 2013

Sermon for Feb 10, 2013; Psalm 99

Rev. George Miller
Psalm 99
“Why Jesus?”
Feb 10, 2013

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, an important day for the church when we honor a moment in the ministry of Jesus Christ.

According to Luke’s telling of the event, Jesus has foretold his death and resurrection to his disciples. He admits that he’ll endure great suffering and be rejected by the elders.

8 days later he takes Peter, John and James to the mountaintop to pray. While there Jesus’ face changes, his clothes become dazzling white and Moses and Elijah appear.

Peter proclaims “It is good to be here, let us build three dwellings.” Peter receives no response as a cloud overshadows them and they hear the voice of God.

Afterwards, they descend down the mountain where it becomes life and ministry as usual.

Peter has an encounter that is holy and wholly other, but alas it remains but a moment…

…In many ways going to church is a moment, an hour or two in which we take a break from the rest of the world.

Why do we come to church?

That is the question posed for today. Why, when we can stay in bed, go out for breakfast, or hit the golf course, do we go to church?

There are at least two reasons. The first is so that we can experience the Lord, together.

Throughout the week, many of us have been solitary figures, sitting under our own fig trees, wondering what for and how so.

But as this morning’s opening hymn stated, we come to church with hope and longing; we come for assurance.

We come as seekers, searching. We come for a token of God’s grace.

Many people spend most of their life at this spiritual place. For them, church becomes the mountaintop where they can catch a glimpse of Christ and hear a word from God.

Then, there is the second reason why we come to church: so that after we have caught a glimpse of God we can go out into the world to be the hands and heart of the Lord to those who are waiting to experience assurance and grace themselves.

But… what Lord are we referring to? There are after all different variations of God that we hear people talk about.

Are we talking about the angry Lord? The one who smites sinners and strikes people down with diseases and poverty?

Are we talking about the judgmental Lord? The one who looks down upon people and decides who is worthy and not; who is willing to cast ¾ of the world’s population into the fiery pits of hell because they do not worship the right way or live the correct life style?

Are we talking about a soft and cuddly Lord who is nothing more then just a good buddy who is completely happy being our floor mat just as long as we show some attention from time to time?

Today’s Psalm gives us a version of the Lord that is beyond angry, damning or cuddly.

In Psalm 99 we encounter a version of the Lord that is holy, a Lord that is separate and set apart from the people; a King.

But not a king that only cares about the King, but a king that cares about the people.

Look again at the words of today’s scripture and the image of God becomes clear: one who loves justice, who establishes equity, one who acts in a way that’s just and right.

One who listens to the cries of the people, who answers, who speaks, who keeps promises.

One who holds people accountable for their wrongdoings, but who ultimately forgives.

Holy, holy, holy is our God. Just. Listening. Forgiving.

Why do we come to church on Sunday when we can sleep in, eat out or hit a few golf balls?

To experience the Lord in God’s dwelling. To experience God’s mighty grace. To leave said time and place to be the hands and heart of the Lord to the rest of the world.

So simple, so neat.

As members of the United Church of Christ, we can find great kinship in Psalm 99, after all, its words are all over our history.

As participants of our New Member Class can tell you, the four branches that make up our denomination each speak of the ways we have been the hands and heart of Christ.

There are the Congregationalists who spoke out against slavery and created schools for those most often excluded by American institutions at the time: Native Americans, blacks and women.

There are the Evangelicals who headed the call of Matthew 25 and established hospitals, nursing homes and facilities for those living with developmental disabilities.

There are the Reformers who trained their preachers to ensure that everything they did, from giving the sermon to serving the sacraments became moments of experiencing God’s grace.

Then the Christian branch which went beyond dwellings and rode out into the uninhabited parts of the nation to bring the Good News in the form of tent revivals and open-air preaching.

Today, all 4 branches of the UCC come together as we get the opportunity to embrace our polity and to vote on a decision that will have long lasting affects.

The question we will each have to ask ourselves is: are we voting for ourselves or are we voting for God?

Are we deciding what we want or are we listening for what God desires?

Is today’s Congregational Meeting about a dwelling or it is about a ministry? Are they the same, or is there a difference?

How will our vote strengthen the glimpse of glory; how will our vote proclaim what we profess?

In conclusion, Psalm 99 claims that the Lord is King, lover of justice, executor of what is just and right.

Luke 9 tells us that during the course of Jesus’ ministry, he was transfigured and his clothes became radiantly white.

It was but a moment, but a moment that allowed him and the rest of the disciples to continue the work of the Lord.

Are we voting today for a dwelling or are we voting for a ministry?

What is the Lord, who is holy, forgiving, and full of grace, saying to you today?

Amen and amen.

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