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Sermons

Glimpsing the Mystery

February 19, 2012

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.

(Luke 9:28-36)

Sermon

One of the best things about autumn is the stargazing. Have you been outside then and seen the planet Mars in the southwestern sky? It’s the time of year when it’s still warm enough to go outside in the evening, but cool enough so that we get some crisp crystal-clear skies. The winter constellations are beginning to appear earlier and earlier, so you can see some very interesting stars without having to stay awake too late. If you can get away from the city lights, it’s even clearer. Out on the prairie at night, it seems like the sky just goes on forever. Areas of the sky where we didn’t think there were any stars we discover are actually dusted with these faint little jewels billions of miles away—so far away that it takes those stars’ light billions of years to reach our eyes.

There have been plenty of times when I’ve been lying out there under the sky and found myself overwhelmed by the vastness of the universe and the simple, singular beauty of all creation. It’s sort of the same feeling you get when you hear some really fantastic music. Have you ever had a piece of music just lift you out of yourself and remind you of how wonderful just living can be? I’m not sure exactly what does that, but it is an awesome experience—to be enveloped by music so beautiful that it brings tears to your eyes, to hear music that expresses a truth so well that, for a moment, it raises the level of your awareness. Even though both feet are firmly planted on the ground, you realize that you’re dancing with angels.

Music has a way of doing that sometimes, as can a sky full of twinkling stars, or the flickering light of a campfire. These things can guide our attentions to the deeper realities of our lives. And when we’re in that peaceful, reflective state, inspirations and insights come so easily to us, and sometimes the underlying patterns and possibilities of our lives become clear to our perceptions. Some of the things God has been telling us all along finally hit home. We catch a glimpse of the mystery—and it’s a transfiguring experience.

If only that feeling could last a little while longer! But unfortunately, the music ends, the campfire dies, and the stars become hidden by the light of the sun. And it’s probably just as well. I don’t think we can sustain that level of rapture for very long. But one thing I have discovered: that if you have enough of those transfiguring, life-giving experiences, pretty soon you can generate that feeling from memory. You aren’t dependent on the external stimuli. You can close your eyes and see the stars and feel the grandeur of the universe. You can hear that music in your head and feel your heart quicken, and your mood begins to lift.

I believe that all the music and stars do is remind us of who we are and put us in touch with a deeper part of ourselves that is just as beautiful and awesome: God’s presence in us. I believe that when we are moved in response to something that we see or hear, it is the divine spark in us rising to the surface and harmonizing with the deeper truth of that something. Since I have moved to Minnesota, several people have shared with me that there have been times when they’ve been reading Swedenborg and some string of words on the page has moved them into a deeper understanding of the inherent spirituality of their life. A couple of you have even been moved to tears. All the words are doing, whether they come from Swedenborg or another author that has been truly inspired, is reminding us of something that’s been written in our souls since the Creation. The angel in us is rising to meet the angel that wrote those words. I’m certain that many of you can relate and agree that it is an awesome experience.

But it doesn’t have to be something as grand as the night sky or a symphony orchestra or Swedenborg to elicit that response in us, because God is present in the smaller, more mundane things as well. God is present in the craftsmanship of the objects around us. God is present in every leaf and flower and blade of grass. God is especially present in every person. We can allow the divine in us to respond and “shine in our faces” when in the presence of each other.

If you’ve ever been in the same room as someone who is exhilarated by life, then you know what I’m talking about. Children are especially skilled at bringing out the divine in us, simply by being who they are and being fascinated by the world around them. I once saw a child in the waiting room of a doctor’s office who was totally and completely thrilled by all the toys that were sitting on the table there. Every single thing his parents showed him brought squeals of delight and laughter, to the point where everyone in the room, regardless of their illness, was filled with joy by watching him. Just this last week, my daughter was downstairs with her grandmother. My daughter was taking Lincoln logs out of their bin and tossing them on the floor. Her grandmother was picking them up and tossing them back in the bin, and my daughter thought, for some reason, that this was the funniest thing in the world. Every time the logs would hit the bin, she would explode into the purest laughter I think I’ve ever heard. It was intoxicating!

I heard another man just recently tell about looking into his rear-view mirror to see his four-year-old son sitting in the back seat, gazing out of the window with a peaceful smile on his face. He asked his son, “What are you thinking about?” His son replied, “Candy.” When was the last time you let yourself enjoy a peaceful meditation about candy? When was the last time you allowed yourself to feel that happy about something that, to our adult minds, is so trivial?

Latch on to that feeling. Whatever gets your heart to spread its wings, don’t ever forget it. There may be a plethora of things in this world that seem more important and can absorb all of our attention and energy, but don’t let them make you forget the music that lifts you, the stars that lead you, the laughter that brings your spirit to the surface for all to see and makes you glow. That feeling will take you places and show you things worth remembering.

Prayers

Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life:
Such a Way as gives us breath:
Such a Truth as ends all strife:
Such a Life as killeth death.

Come, my Light, my Feast, my Strength:
Such a Light, as shows a feast:
Such a Feast, as mends in length:
Such a Strength, as makes his guest.

Come, my Joy, my Love, my Heart:
Such a Joy, as none can move:
Such a Love, as none can part:
Such a Heart, as joys in love.

- George Herbert (1593-1633)

O burning mountain, O chosen sun,
O perfect moon, O fathomless well,
O unattainable height, O clearness beyond measure,
O wisdom without end, O mercy without limit,
O strength beyond resistance, O crown of all majesty,
The humblest you created sings your praise.
- Mechtild of Magdeburg, 1207-1294

Rev. Eric Hoffman