Archive for February, 2017

Divine Human Touch

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 26, 2017 by timtrue

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Matthew 17:1-9

What do you fear?

There’s an awful lot to be afraid of in this world.

Does anyone remember my fist sermon here?  I entitled it, “Making Peace with Ghosts”; and it was all about dealing with a fear I had as a boy of an imagined visitor that lived under my spiral staircase, the Seven-foot Man.  As a boy, I, along with my older brother Andy and especially my neighbor Donny, possessed a great fear of the Seven-foot Man.  We had to learn, as boys, to deal with it.

As I grew from boyhood into manhood, the clothes fear wore became increasingly less fantastic and more realistic.  Questions went from, “What if there’s a zombie living in my basement?” to, “Will I get into the right college?” “What if she doesn’t like me?” and, “How are we going to pay for diapers and baby food?”

More into adulthood now, the fears have increased in scope, becoming more outward in focus: “Why is there such hatred in the world?” “How much more abuse and mismanagement of resources can the earth take?” and, “What if there’s a global nuclear holocaust?”

What are your fears?

Is “Big Brother” watching you?  Are you in jeopardy of financial ruin, or feeling forever enslaved to that harsh taskmaster otherwise known as credit card debt?  Are—or (depending on how you look at it) were—your fundamental human rights of dignity and democracy in danger of being compromised?

What is it you fear?

Today’s Gospel rounds out Jesus’ epiphany. Here, along with Peter, James, and John, we see Jesus in his full glory; that though he is fully human he is somehow, gloriously, also fully God.

Now, that would be something to fear, don’t you think?

Imagine.  You’re walking up a mountain path, following your leader and trail guide, who suddenly is transfigured.  His face is shining like the sun.  His clothes become dazzlingly white.  Two ghost-like figures appear next to him.  And to top it all off a booming voice sounds from the clouds overhead!

These words that tell the story of Jesus’ transfiguration are familiar to most of us.  But a danger here is that their power can get lost in their familiarity.

So, let’s change the scenario up a bit.

Let’s say we meet in the church parking lot one Saturday morning.  Our plan is to hike up Telegraph Pass.  So, since I know the way, it is agreed that I will lead you.

An overcast day, sometime later we pass that last bend in the road near the top, and find ourselves entering and soon enveloped by a cloud.  Then, at the top now—we know we’re there because through the fog we can see the registry box and the bench next to it—all at once you see me with shining white clothes, so bright they even seem to shine through the mist.  And you think, “Man, I’m sure he wasn’t wearing that when we set out!”

And then my face lights up too, illuminating the registry box, the bench next to it, an ocotillo plant, the road, the two other people there with us, even your very arms and legs.  And—whoa!—now there are two more people—Where did they come from?—who by all accounts look just like Thomas Cranmer and Queen Elizabeth—the first!

And then—ah, music to my ears—that voice from above, booming through the clouds, declares to you all, “This is your pastor; listen to him!”

And you think, “Wow, my heart’s beating fast and I’m sweating like crazy and I’m out of breath.  Surely, I must be hallucinating.  This is it!  I’m done for!  Call out the SAR bird!”

Anyway, point being, wouldn’t you be afraid?  At least a little?  For your own health and sanity if for no other reason?

The disciples are so afraid, the Bible says, that they fall down, “overcome by fear” (“sore afraid” in the KJV), with their faces to the ground.

Yet Jesus reaches out and—don’t fail to notice this detail—touches them; and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

There’s an awful lot to be afraid of in this world.  Yet Jesus touches his disciples and tells them, Do not be afraid.

*****

Jesus could have been like Moses.

Along with the Transfiguration narrative in Matthew today, we also heard a passage from Exodus.  In it, Moses went up on a mountain; the mountain was covered by a cloud; the people from below could see illumination on the top of the mountain, where Moses was; and we all know that when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his face shone with such radiance that he kept it covered with a veil.

This Exodus passage is a clear parallel to Jesus’ Transfiguration.  Which led me, in my preparation for this sermon, to read up on Moses, the larger context; and to compare and contrast this story of Moses with Jesus.

There are numerous similarities:

  • Both Moses and Jesus go up on mountains.
  • Both have companions with them.
  • Both are enshrouded by a cloud.
  • Both hear God’s voice.
  • Both are described as radiant in one form or another.
  • And, in both accounts, other people hear God’s voice and are afraid.

But there is a key difference between the two accounts.

And here, in this key difference, Jesus could have been like Moses.

But he wasn’t.

And I’m glad he wasn’t.

And because he wasn’t, this key difference is what stands out above all for me from today’s passages, our take-home lesson.

So then, what is it?  What is this key difference between Moses and Jesus?

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai and saw that the people were afraid—well, let me just read the account:

When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.”  Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin” (Exodus 20:18-20).

Moses comes down from Mount Sinai and sees all the Israelites cowering in fear before the might and glory of God and he says, “Do not be afraid.”

Fine and well.

But he doesn’t stop there.  No, Moses has to seize the moment, to capitalize on the opportunity; and thus goes on to say, in effect:

But, well, yes, since you are afraid, it’s for good reason!  God is testing you.  In fact, this is the reason God has come: to put fear in you “so that you do not sin.”

Now, Jesus could have been like Moses.  Jesus could have done this too.

But he isn’t.  And he doesn’t.

And I’m glad for that.

Instead, when his disciples see fearsome, wonderful, and awesome visions and hear the very voice of God, Jesus reaches out and touches them; and says, simply, “Do not be afraid.”

No lecture.  No admonition.  No teaching moment.  Just words of comfort and human touch.

What, then, is the key difference between Moses’ transfiguration and Jesus’?  One offers chastisement; the other, positive reinforcement through human touch.

Which approach do you respond to better?

There’s an awful lot to be afraid of in this world: “Big Brother”; financial ruin; the collapse of democracy; ISIS; terrorism; our own sin.  Why would I ever want to add to all of this an irrational fear of God?

In Jesus, God touches us gently, reassuringly, and humanly.

*****

So, from our starting point of Jesus’ Transfiguration, we looked back to Moses and have learned a valuable lesson. Now I want to look forward, to us, the church, today.

What is it we are doing here?

In ancient times—both in the time of Moses and in the time of Jesus—mountaintops were considered a kind of liminal space, a threshold of sorts, between earth and heaven.  They were seen this way topographically—a mountain peak is physically higher than any other place around it—as well as figuratively—places to encounter God.

Moses encountered God on top of Mount Sinai.  Jesus was transfigured on top of a mountain.

We see this concept in other traditions too: the Greek and Roman pantheon dwelled on high, above the peaks of Mount Olympus; and the Delphic Oracle was delivered high on the slopes of Mount Parnassus.

In fact, even in our own day we refer to personal divine encounters as “mountaintop experiences.”

Mountain peaks were understood to be liminal spaces.

Today, here is our liminal space: church.  Here we come, setting aside for a time our cares, concerns, and preoccupations in the world; to meet God.

Now, take it a step further.  In a few minutes we’ll have opportunity to commune together.  Well, what happens when I stand up at the altar and lead us through the Eucharistic Prayer?  Somehow, mysteriously, the bread and wine become Jesus’ own body and blood.

And then, best of all, when we partake here at this liminal space, just like on that Day of Transfiguration when Jesus reached out and touched Peter, James, and John; so Jesus touches us.

God touches humanity in Jesus; God touches us in the bread and wine.

He picks us up from our knees, puts his arm around us, leads us back to our pews, prays with us, and, last of all, best of all, he blesses us and says, “Alleluia, alleluia.  Go in peace, without fear, back into the world, to love and serve the Lord.”

Meet Genevieve

Posted in hiking with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2017 by timtrue

This is Genevieve.

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She is a 24 year-old Geo Tracker, from coastal Oregon, with two doors, a hardtop (relatively rare, mind you–called “tin top” by those who care, to distinguish it from an aftermarket fiberglass hardtop), and air-conditioning–a must for Yuma.  She is mostly stock–no suspension or body lifts–but check out those sweet rims!  A bargain for $2500.

Our first adventure together was getting her home from Oregon.  Picked her up last Thursday in Eugene after finding a $39 one-way flight to Portland and shuttling to Eugene to meet her in person at last.  Once I determined she was the one, we raced a winter weather advisory into California.  Got a little hairy around Mount Shasta with strong wind gusts and driving rain threatening to freeze.  But we both lived to adventure on.

So, this post is about our second adventure together, which happened yesterday.  And it happened like this.

About a year ago I attempted to hike to a peak not far from Yuma called Stud Mountain. For a refresher, see https://timtrue.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/stud-mountain/

Well, since I didn’t summit it that time, and since the road there was a little too rough for that other, two-wheel drive car I own, our adventure was clear before us.

Taking you through it in pictures, then:

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We find the real trailhead this time!  Also, this time I pack enough water.

But right here I realize I didn’t pack everything I should have.  For, just as I reach to shut off the ignition, Genevieve, my new SUV with miniature attitude, stalls.  Radio’s silent.  No buzzers.  No lights.  Dead.

I check my cell phone.  No reception.

And I think, “What kind of idiot takes a 24 year-old car he’s not too familiar with out into the middle of nowhere desert without at least a simple set of tools?”

And I begin to look for a low hill to climb to seek cell reception.  Even so, who would I call?  My wife?  To drive the aforementioned 2wd car out onto a 4wd road she wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how to find in the first place?

And then a local search-and-rescue helicopter flies overhead, from the local Marine base, probably training.

And I think about waving it down.

But, instead–heaven stays my hands I suppose–I unlatch the hood and immediately see that the positive cable has slipped off the battery terminal.

Looking closer, the clamp’s broken, snapped at the bend.  But the nut and bolt are still on and maybe I can just twist it all just so and hand-tighten it this way and pound it onto the post with my fist like that and . . .

It’s back on now.

And Genevieve starts right up.

And I say a prayer that it stays on until I get home.

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Anyway, it’s as good a place to park as any.

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So I grab my water bottle (three of them, actually) and am on my way.

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This is my trail ahead.  In other words, I’ll be trailblazing.  By the way, recent rains have left the desert quite green.  Do you see it?

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Ascending now.

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And a look back.  Genevieve is the dark dot in the middle of the photo.

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As I turn back around, “Hey, is that a path on the next ridge over?”  Mental note to self: go down that way.  (Paths are almost always easier than trailblazing.  And at 48, easier factors in prominently.)

By the way, it’s even warmer today than it was a year ago.  Which reminds me: I forgot something else: Advil.  My head tends to produce debilitating migraines when heat and fatigue work in tandem.  But at least this year I’ve got enough water.

Then:

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A vulture is watching me!  Really?

If I were into omens, I might find this disconcerting.  But, hey, this is the third millennium; augury is out.

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Oh well, might as well take another photo of Genevieve.  She’s there in the background, just to the right of the rocky precipice in the foreground.

Speaking of rocky precipices, I have found that when trailblazing it is often easier to walk on the tops of ridges than to traverse slopes or ascend steep washes, at least in this region.  Slopes are much more shaley and slippery, even though more attractive; ridges much more stable, though scarier.  And there’s this: debris falls onto slopes and into washes; yet away from ridges.  Still, if you’re afraid of heights or suffer from vertigo or have had one too many, well, you’re probably wise to stay away from ridges.  But if you can stomach harrowing appearances, trust your footing, and have decent balance, they often make your life easier.

Like some people I know.

Just then, wouldn’t you know it?

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Litter!  Right here in the middle of nowhere, Desert, California!  So,

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always the good hippie, or, eh hem, the faithful steward, I pack out what litter the wind blew in.  But,

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“What,” I call out, “now there are two of you?  Don’t you know I’m trying to clean things up for you?  Quit following me, would you?  Besides, augury is dead!”

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Probably also a result of the recent rains, and maybe suddenly a little more wary of my surroundings, I suddenly spy more fauna.  There are at least three bighorn sheep in this photo.  One can be seen in the middle, a little more than a third of the way up.  Zoom in and see if you can spot the other two.

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And for something really spectacular, nearing the summit, traversing the top of a knife-blade ridge, I come across these white rocks.  And I realize here are eagle eyries.  So I look around and see several large birds of prey circling in the air currents below–not just eagles but red-tail hawks and peregrine falcons, soaring, swooping, even fighting in mid-air.  Sadly, my camera isn’t fast enough to capture any of it.

At last, I reach the summit.

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And I gain my bearings:

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To the north and a little east, Picacho (in CA).

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To the east and a little north, Castle Dome (in AZ).

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To the east and a little south, Telegraph, Planewreck, Flag, and the Goldwaters (in AZ).

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To the south, Pilot Knob (in CA); and, on the horizon, the Sea of Cortez (in MEX).

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And to the west (all CA).  On the horizon lie the mountains between me and San Diego.  Glamis (Google it) is in the sandy looking swath in the middle, sandy because, well, they’re sand dunes.

And now, to descend.

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It’s a little blurry, I know.  But Genevieve is there, down in the bottom of that valley, just in front of a little hill jutting up in the middle of the photo.  Do you see her?

Onto my third water bottle by now, head throbbing, and coming to grips with how far I’ve got to descend, I wish I’d brought my base jumping suit with me.  But, alas, that’s something I gave to my wife on our wedding day, a sort of pre-nup, and haven’t seen since.  I bet she doesn’t even know where it is.

A couple good tips, though, for any base jumpers out there: eagle eyries generally make good bases from which to jump; and you Yosemitites won’t find any antagonistic National Park Rangers in these parts, not even in the middle of the winter when it’s 75 degrees here and the Valley is socked in.  Just saying.

So, next best thing, I turn my attention from fauna to flora.

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Cool flora, eh?

And I’m back with Genevieve.

She starts right up, no hint of broken circuitry.  The windows are rolled down and, hey, well, I really haven’t tested out the 4wd in earnest yet.  So instead of making a right towards home on the BLM road home we turn left.  “I looked at a map last night,” I assure Genevieve.  “This road will curve around and put us out on Picacho Road.”

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But it never curves right–north then east.  Instead, it goes to the left, north then west.  Which leads to some excellent vantages of Stud Mountain:

And to this road:

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But truth is truth.  Genevieve and I are lost in the middle of the nowhere, Desert, California.

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We have no tools, no Advil, and the water is gone.

No matter.  Genevieve is a 24 year-old Geo Tracker.  And I have enough boy-scout sense to know west from east.

And, if I remember correctly, there’s a road not too far to the west, Ogilby Road I think, so let’s just keep going that way.

Which we do.

And it pans out.

And soon we are on I8 heading east into Yuma.

And our second adventure is over.

Genevieve, you proved yourself mightily, hardly flinching in 4wd low, navigating one of the toughest local Jeep roads (I discovered later) with dignity and aplomb.

So, anyway, there’s got to be some great take-home lesson in here about risk-taking and how it’s worth it even if you have to navigate eagle eyries and fend off territorial bighorn sheep and defy vultures and suffer bad migraines and fix broken cars in the middle of the desert with no tools or means of communication and who needs a $30K Jeep anyway?  But I’ll leave that for you to figure out.

Genevieve, here’s to many more adventures to come!

(But first I’m gonna fix the broken battery cable clamp.)

(And don’t be offended if I pack some tools next time.)