Saturday, February 6, 2016

Experiencing God

February 7, 2016
Exodus 34: 29-35; Psalm 99; Luke 9: 28-43a

Our scripture readings today describe experiences people had with meeting God face to face. In ancient times, the belief – the fear – was that if you saw the face of God, you would die. Yet Moses went regularly up the mountain to meet with God. There are several stories of these encounters. In today’s story, Moses’ encounter with God gives him a shining face. Because the shining face scares the people, he puts a veil over his face until the glow fades.
Isn’t this how we feel when we have an encounter with the divine? We feel an inner glow of joy and love that shines within us and through us. But then, we return to “normal” life and the glow fades. We even forget what the glow feels like.
For the Jewish people, this story reminds them that God does appear once in a while, and Moses lived to tell them about his experience with God. They also remember others who had direct experience with the Divine, especially Elijah. In the back of their minds, they can hear God calling them to have such an experience, too. But they never expect to have one, not really.
Jesus and the disciples go up a mountain to have a time of prayer. Certainly, Peter, John, and James are not expecting an encounter with the Divine. They doze off, and wake up to see Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah. Because the synagogue calendar says it’s time to celebrate Sukkoth – the Feast of Booths – the disciples make the assumption they will celebrate it with Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. They offer to build the booths for the celebration.
Just as quickly as Moses and Elijah appear, they disappear. But the disciples are amazed. Instead of seeing what they expected, they saw Jesus glow with divine light, just as the old stories said Moses did. More — he glowed as if he, Jesus, was divine. Now, Jesus has their attention. Who IS this guy? they wonder. Is he more than a healer? more than a miracle worker?
It’s helpful to remember that not long before this event, Jesus has told them for the first time that he will go to Jerusalem and suffer and die and be raised. The disciples do not understand, and tend to ignore what Jesus has said. Yeah, right, they think. They do not yet understand that his real glory will come from dying and being raised. For now, they have this glimpse of Jesus as a bearer of divine glory. They have seen something amazing.
Just like Moses, however, the image of divine glory doesn’t last. Once they are back in town, Jesus and the disciples are confronted with the real life of illness and demon possession. They are confronted with powers stronger than they can deal with, and are quickly reminded that they need Jesus’ divine power.
And, isn’t it the same for us? We get moments of divine glory, divine presence, and then must return to real, messy, daily lives. But those moments refresh us, remind us that we have access to God’s presence any time we want it by simply stopping and looking for it.
Sometimes we find the Divine presence in big moments.
I worked with Women of the ELCA for two years while I was at seminary and was present as a staff member at a Triennial Convention. One evening during worship, we turned off the lights and lit flashlights. I was on stage looking out at the assembly. It was an amazing sight to see, 3,000 women waving flashlights in the dark and praising God. God’s Spirit was moving among us that night.
Sometimes we find the Divine Presence in very small moments. At many church camps, there are outside worship spaces and prayer labyrinths. I have found it easy to connect with God while walking a labyrinth or sitting alone in a worship space. Last fall, one of those moments was late afternoon as I sat on a bench and prayed at the Life Enrichment Center in Leesburg.
Sometimes we find the Divine presence when we sit together over coffee or cola and discuss important topics like racial justice. Pr Alec, from Greater Dimensions Christian Assembly, and I are discovering how much we have in common, and together we are hoping we can work together to bring positive change to our community.  
Sometimes we find the Divine presence when we do something kind for the community. A year or so ago, Wade’s Eagle project was discovering and restoring an old cemetery near Floral City. As the remaining family gathered, it was clear how meaningful it was to them to have the burial site of their ancestors discovered and refreshed.
Sometimes we find the Divine presence when we come to church to worship. And, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we come expecting God to show up, and when we leave, we know we have been in the presence of God. And sometimes we are so distracted by worries and fears and frustrations, it’s hard for God to break through our shell. Sometimes the world, with its illnesses and “isms” and demons, intervenes, as it did for the disciples the day after their mountain top experience. At those times we need Divine help to cast them out.
When we need help getting rid of those things that keep us from God, it can be helpful to use a breath prayer. A breath prayer is a simple sentence that is repeated several times. The sentence is broken into two phrases; one phrase is prayed as we breathe in, the second phrase is prayed as we breathe out.
You can use any short prayer or scripture passage. The longer you pray, the more you focus on listening for God, instead of on the specific words you are praying. And the more we listen, the easier it is to hear God’s voice.
Many people use the sinner’s prayer – Lord Jesus Christ … have mercy on me, a sinner. I often use Psalm 46:10 – Be still and know … that I am God.
For today, let’s use a line from the psalm. The Lord our God … is the Holy One. Let’s practice it. It works best when we get comfortable and relaxed. Take in a few long breaths, breathing slowly and intentionally.
Now add the words. As you breathe in pray, “The Lord our God” and as you breathe out pray, “is the Holy One.”  I’ll speak for you, while you breathe. Let’s do this for a couple of minutes. What do you think? Is that a helpful way to pray? If you spent some time praying this way, could you have an experience of the Holy Spirit?
A breath prayer is a simple way to calm our minds and bodies, to let go of those things that get in the way of our connection with God. It can be done anywhere, and anytime, though I don’t recommend getting too deep into it if you are driving a car, or a motorcycle, or a bicycle! J

Please pray with me. Lord Jesus, you are the Holy One. You come to us in glory, and in the mess of our lives. Help us to see you, to find you everywhere. Help us to breathe you in and breathe you out with every breath we take. Amen