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Love is Life

Sermons

From a Peep to a Quack

April 03, 2011

Bible Reading

Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

(Exodus 34:29-35)


Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

(Luke 9:28-43)

Sermon

Years ago, when I was a child, one of my favorite joys of Easter was getting up in the morning and going downstairs to discover seven Easter baskets lined up along the wall in the living room. We children would dive into the assortment of candy, only to have our feast interrupted by the sound of peeps coming from shoeboxes that were always sitting on the dining room table, tied with fancy ribbons. Inside each box were tiny chicks and ducklings that had been dyed a variety of bright colors—red, blue, purple, and yellow. Their peeps cheerfully proclaimed the dawn of another Easter morning. Without them, it would not have been Easter.

I have no idea why my parents did this each year; it was simply one of our Easter rituals. True, we lived on a farm, and the chicks would grow into chickens and provide us with eggs (and the occasional chicken dinner)—but we already had plenty of chickens, and they dutifully sat on their eggs, ensuring that their species would continue. As for the ducks, well, once Easter had passed, we would load the ducklings into our station wagon and head down the road to our neighbor’s farm. There we kids would say our sad goodbyes and watch the ducklings head straight for the pond behind their barn.

I remember that every year, the day before this exodus was to take place, I would sit and have a conversation with those ducklings. I would try to explain to them many of the mysteries of life. “Tomorrow,” I would tell them, “your life is going to change. You are going to discover that the world is a terribly big place, not at all like the confinements of the cardboard box you now call home. And with that news, I always imagined, their eyes become as large as saucers as they wondered of what I spoke.

I’d go on to explain that their little pan of water was going to become a large pond, and that they were going to have to learn how to swim. I’d explain how they were to move their feet. They would nod their heads as if to indicate understanding. “You’re going to meet other ducks,” I’d say, “but they’ll be your friends.” And they would peep in anticipation of the new acquaintances they would soon make. “There’ll be plenty of food, so don’t worry about that”—and they would shake their small duckling tails in relief. “But most importantly,” I continued, “someday soon you’re going to open your beaks, and instead of peeping, you’re going to quack!”

At those words they would stop dead in their tracks to look at me in total amazement. The ducklings’ eyes would invariably be filled with wonder and disbelief! Swimming they could understand. The fact that the world is a big place offered them a taste of freedom. Meeting other ducks was a source of excitement. But the news that they were about to experience the transformation from peep to quack was beyond them. It was a mystery of duck life.

In just the same way, all of us inevitably come to a point in life when we are confronted with a similar mystery—something that we hear but just don’t understand. Life as we know it seems to lead us to nowhere but toward dead ends, brick walls that fail to satisfy our inner needs. We hear of things of the spirit, we talk of God and the power of love, and we hear that these things will forever change our life. “We see,” as Paul so eloquently noted, “through a glass dimly.” And we wonder what lies on the other side.

We are faced with the reality that we can never understand God until we live in God’s presence, and we hear a call inviting us to experience the Divine presence within us. Yes, just like those ducklings of my childhood, we must leave our little boxes and experience the great realms and depths of life.

The noted psychologist Abraham Maslow based much of his career on underscoring the importance of such experiences in life. He referred to them as “peak experiences.” By this term he meant instances of special enlightenment that are regarded as moments of personal revelation. He wrote, “A peak experience is one that altogether awesome and inspiring, and when we have such an encounter, we are forever changed. We hold them dear to our hearts.” And yes, for a duck it may come when that first quack pours out of its beak. But for us, that moment may come the first time we look into a newborn child’s face, or see the gleam of love in our spouse’s eyes, or watch a sunset over Lake Huron.

One of the most beautiful elements of our faith is our belief that the whole range of human life is fertile ground for such experiences. Swedenborg wrote of this wonderful potential of life when he noted, “We reach a point in life when we are called to enter a doorway into spiritual understanding, and entering through it enables us to view wonderful and beautiful things of life, to touch them, and know that they are real. Seldom seen in the world, [they are] often seen in the eyes of those who have unlocked the Spirit. Such seeing intensifies our understanding of life. We behold the Divine presence with us.”

Likewise, our teachings show that the Bible is filled with hundreds of such experiences. We can sense the power Moses felt upon first holding those stone tablets in his hands. We can feel the wonder that rushed through the disciples’ minds when Jesus was transfigured before their eyes. We feel the overwhelming joy of the woman who did nothing but reach out and touch our Lord’s robe as he passed by and was healed of her disease. In each of these there is an element of the realm of the spirit, which forever affected those who witnessed them and changed their life in profound ways.

But the beauty of these experiences lies also in the fact that they are ours too! Every individual can have, and does have, peak experiences, when the familiar shines with a new glory and radiance. We know of events that call us back to the source of our faith, that renew our visions and covenants with our God. And when we do, we discover anew the meaning of those words, “Lord, it has been good for us to be here!”

Several years ago Sir Alister Hardy, a biologist at London’s Oxford University, underwent such a transfiguration. Here was a man whose entire career was focused on the origins of life. He had no faith, for faith to him was something that had no place in the life of a scientist. He sought truth, and sought it well. He was renowned in scientific circles for his life’s work.

But it happened that Hardy’s wife of many years became ill and was given but a short time to live. As he sat alone in the hospital room, his heart burdened with an overwhelming sense of grief and sadness over his wife’s condition, she suddenly awoke from her sleep, squeezed his hand, and asked, “Now, will you accept that our love is true?”

In describing the events that followed, this scientist, so used to seeking truth in his life, felt that a doorway suddenly opened within his inmost being. He began to pray, and felt a peace that had eluded him all his life. His wife recovered, and to this day their lives are filled with a love that surpasses human understanding.

As a result of this experience, Hardy decided that his scientific career had caused him to lose sight of the spiritual realm of life. He subsequently compiled over five thousand accounts from adults who admitted to having forms of religious experiences ranging from miraculous healings to feelings of unusual harmony with the universe. He found that one in three Britons has had such an experience. But perhaps most significantly, he learned something else: Most of the people sought out the church as a place to share these wonderful events, and the majority agreed on one thing—the church had rejected them. “How sad,” Hardy notes, “that the one institution that speaks openly of God’s love rejects sharing how that love touches people.”

Even in the mundane, we can be open to sharing the wonderful transformation that God’s presence can bring about in our lives. After all, we’re not so unlike ducks. We all experience times when we think we are going to peep and out comes a quack! And by those quacks we are forever changed. The joy of those moments seems to overwhelm us. But if we knew that there was a place where we could go to share our joy, to talk to others whose lives have been changed in similar ways, we’d go—quicker than a duck goes to water. My prayer is that this church will be a place where we all can share and grow from such wonderful events.

Prayers

Blessed be the hour, O Christ, in which thou wast born, and the hour in which thou didst die: Blessed be the dawn of thy rising again, and the high day of thine ascending. O most merciful and mighty redeemer Christ, let all times be the time of our presence with thee, and of thy dwelling in us.

- Eric Milner-White, 1884-1964


God of life, when our lives have no music in them,
when our hearts are lonely and our souls have lost their courage,
flood the path with light, turn our hearts to skies full of promise
and quicken our spirits with the memories of your heroes and saints;
through Christ our Lord.

- St. Augustine of Hippo, 354-430

Rev. Ronald Brugler