Friday, February 26, 2010

A Sermon, delivered on Feb. 21, 2010

I delivered this sermon on Feb. 21, 2010 at First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Augusta, Ga. If I remember, I'll post more sermons as time and opportunity allow.

Exodus 34:29-35

Ex 34:29 When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD.
Ex 34:30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him.
Ex 34:31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them.
Ex 34:32 Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the LORD had given him on Mount Sinai.
Ex 34:33 When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face.
Ex 34:34 But whenever he entered the LORD'S presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded,
Ex 34:35 they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.

So, I was working on my sermon Friday afternoon in my office up in the corner room above the fellowship hall. I was wrestling with this encounter that Moses had with God up on Mount Sinai, and the way it affected him. How he was confronted with the very presence of God, and it changed him in a way that people couldn’t help but notice.

I was wrestling with it mightily. I was in the throes of sermon making – and the doorbell rang at the back door. I was the only one in the building. And the doorbell rang – and I may have said something unpreacherly. I set my notepad down and trundled downstairs.

It takes a little while to make the trip along the catwalk and then down the stairs, on to the back door. The doorbell rang another time or two while I was making the journey – and I may have muttered another unpreacherly word or two while I was making my way.

I opened the door and there stood a young couple. It was cold, so I invited them inside. Alex is a soldier stationed at Fort Gordon, and Krystal is his fiancé. They had a marriage license in hand, and they were going from one church to the next throughout downtown, looking for someone who could marry them.

Apparently, all the other preachers had caught wind of the fact that a snowstorm was on the way, and had had the good sense to go home. So, they showed up finally at our back door – and found me.

I talked to them. Learned that they both had Christian backgrounds. He’d been raised Lutheran, and she had some experience in the Christian church. He didn’t know where the Army might take him, but he wanted Krystal to be his wife – and to have the benefits that the Army affords the spouses of soldiers.

So, I printed out a copy of a wedding ceremony that I’d used before, and sort of adapted it on the fly. I put on my robe and stole – and Alex, Krystal and I made our way into the sanctuary, where the three of us conducted a wedding ceremony.

I told them that we usually charged $975 for the use of the facility – but that we’d waive that this time, as we had not even turned the heat on. We had witnesses of a sort. Krystal set up her cell phone on the communion table, recording video for her grandmother.

We finished the ceremony – and chatted. I filled out their marriage license and said a prayer – and sent them on their way. And I retreated again to my office to again ponder Moses, and the effects of his encounter with God up on Mount Sinai.

I was just getting into it – really starting to get focused on the reflected glory of God that was visible in Moses’ face – when the doorbell rang again. And I said something unpreacherly – and trundled along the catwalk and down the stairs. I opened the back door and there was my favorite street person, whose name is Eddie. And it was cold, so I invited him inside.

A few of you know Eddie. He always has a smile on his face, and he talks to everybody. And so he walked in and brought me up to date on how things are going in his life. Eddie has found a place to live – and is covering the rent with income from odd jobs. He’s looking for help with clothes – underwear, socks, and that sort of thing. If any of you would like to help, I have a list of his sizes in my office.
I gave Eddie a couple of the bagged lunches that we keep in the fellowship hall. And I wished him luck – and sent him on his way.

Shortly after Eddie left, the first flakes of snow began to fall. It was just a few at first. Then, they started really coming – big, fat flakes twirling their way down from the sky. I didn’t even make it back into my office. First, I stood on the catwalk in the fellowship hall, watching the snow fall. Then, it intensified.

Finally, I walked outside into the rear parking lot. And the flurries kept coming with no sign of letting up. The last time I’d seen anything like it, I was visiting friends in upstate New York. Anybody who happened to drive past our church at that moment might have been amused – or maybe a little startled – to see the preacher standing out in the middle of the rear parking lot with his arms outstretched, his face lifted to the sky, welcoming the snow.

The parking lot was empty except for me and my car. Everybody else whose cars would normally be there on a Friday afternoon had had the good sense to go home. But I wasn’t alone. God was there with me, dancing in the snow.

Sometimes, sweet people, I am slow to understand when God is talking to me. The truth is that I was blessed with three distinct encounters with God, all on a Friday afternoon.

When that young couple said their vows here in our sanctuary, God was here with us – as surely as he was with Moses on Mount Sinai. The three of us stood here, but a fourth person was also present. God stood here with us, too, and he blessed their union.

When Eddie visited, God was a partner to the conversation. The ministry of this church extends to all who come knocking at our back door. And when I shared with Eddie a couple of the bagged lunches that members of this church have so lovingly prepared, God blessed that act of ministry. And he was present – just as surely as he was on Mount Sinai.

And when the snow fell, God was present in that, too.
Ps 29:1 Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Ps 29:2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.
Ps 29:3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders, the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.
Ps 29:4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is majestic.
Ps 29:5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
Ps 29:6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox.
Ps 29:7 The voice of the LORD strikes with flashes of lightning.
Ps 29:8 The voice of the LORD shakes the desert; the LORD shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
Ps 29:9 The voice of the LORD twists the oaks and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

You hear the voice of the Lord in the storm. And you feel the touch of God’s hand in the snow.

I was blessed with three direct encounters with God, all on a Friday afternoon. You cannot experience God that way and not be affected. The spirit of the Lord touches you when you least expect it, and it changes you.

Thursday evening when we held our monthly board meeting, some of us talked about the coming snow. I told several folks that I remembered being a boy and how excited I’d been when the snow came – excited in a way that only southerners, really, can appreciate. For us, snow is a rare and precious gift.

But I wasn’t excited about this week’s snow before it came. And that worried me. It made me think that maybe I’d lost some of my capacity for appreciating life’s joyous moments. That maybe I’d finally become a dull grownup.

My heart was not filled with anticipatory joy before Friday’s snow came. But then, I conducted an unexpected wedding. And I had a talk with Eddie. And the snow came – and in the twirling flakes, I felt God’s hand touching my face. And unexpectedly, I found myself standing in God’s parking lot, my hands lifted to the sky, crying “Glory!”

I don’t know that my face glowed with God’s reflected glory the way Moses’ did. But it changed me, the way only God’s holy spirit can change you.

God confronts you when you least expect it. He touches you through encounters with other people – or you hear his voice in the storm.

I invite you to remain open to encounters with God this morning. Listen for his voice. Wait for his touch. It will change you.

1 comment:

revjanepage said...

Thanks Charlie! You know this sermon reminded me of the old story of the preacher that kept getting interrupted while trying to write his sermon. And he called out, "Lord God, I am trying to do my work -- but I keep getting all these interruptions!" And the Lord said, "Son, the interruptions ARE your work."