Midweek Extra topics: Creative ministry, Christian nationalism

Camera lens view of Interim Pastor David Mueller

Interim Pastor David Mueller has invited St Mark’s members and friends to send him topics, issues and questions for him to address during these Midweek Extra videos. And the ideas and questions keep on coming!

Today’s topics include:

  • Creative ways of developing Christian service during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Christian nationalism

If you have questions you’d like him to tackle, call or email the church office.

Here’s today’s session:

 

Midweek Extra: Finding joy and making reparations

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Where’s the joy when we’ve got a virus?

Where’s the joy when we’ve got storm troopers in Oregon?

Where’s the joy when we have such animus between various peoples in our own country?

Where’s the joy when we have economic concerns about how we’re going to manage economically and financially?

Where’s the joy?

Interim Pastor David Mueller attends to that subject in today’s Midweek Extra, an informal video discussion of questions sent to him and his thoughts on assorted issues of the day.

He also discusses making reparations for slavery and other injustices.

Have your own questions for Pastor Mueller? Send them to the church office for future consideration.

Thanks to John Lasher, director of music and worship arts, for producing these videos.

 

 

The Midweek Extra for July 15

Interim Pastor David Mueller

He called for questions — and you are sending them!

This week’s “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra” — an informal, half-hour video hosted by Interim Pastor David Mueller and produced by John Lasher — focuses on the social statements of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the denomination St. Mark’s is part of, and what it means to be a congregation in the ELCA.

Pastor also talks about Christian sexuality in an increasingly permissive society.

If you have questions of your own, feel free to send an email to the church office.

Here’s the video:

 

St. Mark’s Midweek Extra starts today!

Interim Pastor David Mueller

Here’s your chance to ask those questions that have been bugging you and  listen in as Interim Pastor David Mueller tackles them and shares his perspective on the past, observations on current events and ideas about the future.

We’re calling it “St. Mark’s Midweek Extra” — a half-hour-ish video hosted by Pastor Mueller and posted on Wednesday mornings. This week, Pastor Mueller will discuss “hating the sin but loving the sinner,” explain what led him to accept the Interim Pastorate at St. Mark’s and share some observations about the future of the Church in general and St. Mark’s in particular.

Check it out by clicking the link below. Then send an email to the St. Mark’s office. with questions you’d like Pastor to address in future encounters.

Exploring the thoughts of modern-day theologians: A discussion group

Modern-Day Theologians Discussion Group

YOU ARE INVITED — COME AND JOIN US!

A discussion group exploring the thoughts of modern-day theologians has been meeting since November 12. With from 10 to 14 attending participants, we have had thoughtful, lively, interactive discussions of the books “Unbelievable,” by John Shelby Spong, “Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most,” by Marcus J. Borg, and nine articles on “The Future of Christianity” by various authors from the journal Oneing, from Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation.

Now we are ready to consider and discuss a new book: “Red Letter Revolution: What If Jesus Really Meant What He Said?” by best-selling authors Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo. This is the perfect time for any interested new participants to join the MDT Discussion Group. We are now meeting by means of Zoom and the next meeting will be 10:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, May 23. If you wish to join us, send your email address to Clifford Smith (whose contact information may be obtained from the church office at (302) 764-7488 or office@stmarksonline.org) and your name will be added to the email membership list. You will then receive all emails regarding the meetings of the MDT Discussion Group, including a Zoom invitation for the May 23rd meeting and all subsequent meetings.

We are a participatory discussion group, more like a book club than an Adult Education Class, guided by the assumption that each person is the “expert” for his/her own responses and expressions of thoughts, emotions, and opinions. We make use of a changing designated facilitator whose task is to keep the group on track but not to be the teacher. Lynne and Greg Landrey will facilitate the discussion of “Red Letter Revolution” for the meeting on May 23. We will discuss “Part I: Red Letter Theology” (pages 3-73).

If you are at all interested, feel welcome to join us and check us out on May 23 or any time thereafter.

Clifford Smith

Virtual meetings, real connections

Two new online classes launch next week

By now, you probably know a lot about Zoom — the online video meeting platform that allows people to “meet” remotely by computer during these days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Maybe much of your work requires such meetings, maybe your family and friends are catching up that way or maybe you’ve just heard a lot of Zoom jokes.

Some St. Mark’s members have been meeting by Zoom to carry on church business and to study. Among them are: the Leadership Council, the Transition Team, the Worship and Music Committee, the Wednesday Morning Bible Study and the Modern-Day Theologians group.

Now two new studies are forming — one studying Martin Luther, led by Gregory and Lynne Landrey, and one studying the seven churches of Asia Minor, led by Interim Pastor David Mueller. Details are below.

Both require a computer and Internet access. Both are limited to 20 participants. If you have not used Zoom before, we’ll help you get up to speed.

Registration information is listed below, depending on which class you wish to join. If you have any questions, call the church office at (302) 764-7488 or send an email to office@stmarksonline.org.

CLASS DETAILS

WEDNESDAY EVENINGS:

Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed The World

Video and discussion

On October 31, 1517, a young monk named Martin Luther nailed a list of 95 debate topics denouncing the corruption of the medieval world’s largest and most power institution to the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. This act set into motion a series of events that would change the world in ways he could never have imagined.

The PBS documentary “Martin Luther: The Idea That Changed the World” was produced in 2017 to celebrate the 500thanniversary of this remarkable event.

During this six-session class, we will be viewing the movie in its entirety. Each session will consist of watching approximately 15 minutes of the movie, reviewing it, making scriptural connections and discussing how it applies to our lives today.

WHEN: 7 to 8:15 p.m., Wednesdays, from May 6 through June 10

LEADERS: Gregory and Lynne Landrey

CLASS SIZE LIMIT: 20

FORMAT: Zoom

TO REGISTER: Send an email to lhlslp@comcast.net

REGISTRATION DEADLINE: May 4

NOTE:  When signing up, please provide First/Last Name and email contact information. Also, kindly indicate if you are familiar with using the Zoom format or would like to participate in a brief tutorial.

SUNDAY MORNINGS:

The Seven Churches of Asia Minor

(Revelation 2 & 3)

The last book listed in the Christian “canon” has been the subject of abuse by some and neglect by most of us. “Apocalyptic” literature is utterly unfamiliar to us. Apocalyptic literature is characterized by the use of numbers and word pictures employed to assist in giving the best possible understanding of otherwise complex and seemingly cryptic matters.

Revelation can simply be viewed as a series of seven sevens. Do the math and one gets 49. The next number is 50, which in Biblical presentation is “Jubilee” or “The chance to start over again in a fresh manner.” This makes Revelation hopeful even if after some frightening images throughout.

The first “seven” has to do with the Seven Churches of Asia Minor. These are foundational to the rest of the book. Since seven means “complete,” this is a complete commentary by Christ of the Church, today as then.

WHEN: 9 to 10:15 a.m., Sundays, beginning May 10 through June 21

LEADER: Interim Pastor David E. Mueller

CLASS SIZE LIMIT: 20

FORMAT: Zoom. Written copies of each session will be provided via email, each Monday after the session.

TO REGISTER: Call the office at (302) 764-7488 or send an email to office@stmarksonline.org.

REGISTRATION DEADLINE: May 8

Beatitudes: Blessed are the persecuted

Christ is your righteousness

[Editors note: This is the eighth part of an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class  Pastor David E. Mueller taught. To find the previous classes, search for “Beatitudes” in the search box.]

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12) 

The litany of difficult, dangerous and disastrous problems in the world is not one we need to reiterate or elaborate upon, for even the slightly attentive among us know of them. All of us to some extent will know the stress and strain of it. Some are hurt badly.

Decades ago, the book “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” was a top seller. We call bad things tragedies, but often feel persecuted if the bad thing happens to us. “Why me?” That is an incredibly difficult question to answer, but ask it we will; and answer it we will try. It is especially hard to accept living in a world where things can and all too often do get rough without some sort of reason.

Jesus got this and spoke to it on any number of occasions. He invites us to cast those burdens on him. Human beings have a friend in Jesus who helps them their grief and sorrow to bear. Woven into the fabric of the Beatitudes is the righteous management of living in a complex and evil world, about surviving, indeed, thriving in a hurting world.

As things turn nastier, it is essential that we know well that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:39). The link, established by God’s grace and received in faith, is eternal. “The gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29) Nothing or no one can separate us, but some will try. Leaving God’s presence heart-bent on healing and peacemaking in the world is bound to occasion resistance at least and rage at most. We cannot attempt to sabotage the world’s warring ways without the warriors fighting back.

If indeed we have taken Jesus Christ seriously on the mountain, then things are going to get pretty rough in the valley below, far rougher at times than had we not taken the hike.

It saddens and maddens me when Christians, some quite prominent, proclaim: “Get Jesus and everything will go just fine. From finances to family, from early education, employment to retirement, from birth to grave, all will be just swell.”Bunk! This is false promise and prophecy. Chances are if Jesus gets you, which is a far more appropriate way to put it to begin with, your troubles may just expand and intensify.

When Jesus is Lord and Savior, then our climb up and down, that is, “paths of righteousness” will take us to the “valley of shadow and death” as well as by “pools of still waters.” (Psalm 23) His leading is ALWAYS on paths of righteousness, no matter what may be along the paths. If one doesn’t want to accept the risks of danger, possible death, at least persecution “for righteousness’ sake,” then go walk the flatter, wider, smoother and safer path. Just know that it leads to destruction. Whatever one escapes by walking it, one gets back multifold at the path’s end.

Jesus speaks to this reversal of immediate and ultimate: “Woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:24-26)

The world can stand peacemakers and true lovers of humanity, as God loves humanity, only so long. Turning the cheek may result in getting smacked even harder on the other. If you do give one of two coats to one who has none, you could end up cold yourself. If you do pray for those who persecute you, you might just make them madder than hell. If you really do operate on Christ’s behalf and for righteousness’ sake, then you will be accosted verbally if not physically. All kinds of evil and false accusations will be flung at you because the world cannot and will not accept the truth.

Please note that what is so offensive to the world is our utterly outrageous claim that God in Christ really does forgive sins. Forget the moralizing we are truly tempted to fling back at the patently immoral and amoral sinners in our world. It is about forgiving the immoral and amoral before anybody can genuinely change.

While I hesitate to bring it up because it is one of those issues which could take us off on an incredibly long tangent, the Chik-fil-A matter cries out for comment here. Company management, claiming a Christian duty, pronounced gay behavior outside of God’s will, a position for which they evidently have gotten massive public support. Gays are crying “bigotry” and calling for a public demonstration of an outrageous sort. How can we, as Christians willing to accept persecution and accusation, bring healing to this matter? Merely taking a side will most assuredly only muddy the matter.

The world gets enraged with us because we are right. We are NOT right because we have learned to behave. We are NOT right because we have come to control our unrighteous impulses. We are NOT right because of correct political inclinations, right racial backgrounds, right breeding, right upbringing, right sexual attitudes and actions, right anything in ourselves. We are right because we have been declared right (Romans 3:21-22) in Christ Jesus, washed in the blood of Christ Jesus, given by the Holy Spirit faith in Christ Jesus, and sent to share Christ Jesus in the valley where anyone and everyone can also be right in Christ Jesus.

None of this is easy and there simply has to be resistance throughout your body and soul by now in this sermon of Jesus Himself. We can take no enjoyment or glee in what could come our way because of our eternal Christian connection. We do not have to go looking for it as if it has some sort of sacramental value.

We are attracted to a smooth sweet happiness without hassles, truth without trouble, hope without horror, peace without problems, joy without justice. None of us wants to suffer.

We prefer a “bless this mess” Jesus to a “master this mess” Lord. We like the god who allows us to “do what you want to do, say what you want to say, think what you want to think and, if it is wrong, I’ll forgive it!” “Go right ahead and be too ashamed or afraid to speak a word of healing, love and peace in the hurting, hating, hostile world. I understand!” “I will stick up for you even if you do not stick up for me.” THAT GOD IS A FIGMENT OF VIVID BUT SORRY IMAGINATIONS.

What we are invited to do by Christ on this spiritual pilgrimage up and down the mountain is not to rise above the world’s issues in order to better deal with them down below, but to know and believe that theirs is NOT the real world to begin with. Fighting, drugging, cheating, stealing, killing, spouse abusing, family faithlessness, grabbing, stabbing, nabbing and all the rest of it are NOT God’s design and therefore cannot produce happiness. Neither can the simple opposites of all the above. It has been said: If you win the rat race, you are still a rat.

We will take our hits knowing that earth and heaven belong to Jesus and He has promised them to us. No amount of hype or hurt can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. No amount of radical ridicule, ridiculous reviling, or rambling rationale will make rats of us. We are and will forever remain fully human.

Now watch closely what happens here. I have emphasized that we are together on this holy hike. It is a communal effort. We are not alone. The Lord gives us wonderful spiritual and social company.

In the first eight Beatitudes, the designation is “blessed/happy are those who….” But this last one reminds us that we are loved and led personally as it is said, “blessed/happy are you when you are…” persecuted for what is right and for Christ. The “good news” of Christ Jesus has cosmic, communal and deeply uniquely personal implications.

As a Christian Pastor, though I have known you and you me for mere months, I genuinely desire your spiritual, physical and total well-being. I truly want you to be happy/blessed. But I will not — because I cannot — offer cheap alternatives, false promises, easy answers, when Jesus has offered to us what truly lasts even if along the way it hurts.

The formal interim process, with which I trust we will become increasingly familiar, is not pain-free. Being changed in Christ cannot come without natural resistance. Being the gathering of Christian believers together for mission and ministry into the future, will require far more of all of us than might have been anticipated. None of this, however, is without blessedness/happiness. There can be nothing more important and meaningful than praising the Christ with our lips and serving the Christ faithfully with our lives.

As we close this series on the Beatitudes and spend next week on the Lord’s Prayer, also from this sermon of Christ Himself, may your faith in Him be deepened, His eternal love for you received and His care for the world shared no matter what! Amen.

Adult Forum class: Believe

Cover of the Book 'Believe'

“What you believe in your hearts is what you become.” Randy Frazee

Knowing what we believe and why we believe it is essential to a living faith. The Adult Forum class “BELIEVE,” led by Margie Dodson, is based on the book, video and study guide by Randy Frazee. The goal is to allow God to walk into our lives anew. We will study the core beliefs of the Christian faith to become spiritually strengthened, increasingly mature and able to communicate what we believe to others searching for God.

Join us in the Seminary Room Sunday mornings at 10 a.m.

The Beatitudes: Blessed are the peacemakers

A dove on a branch.

Editors note: This is the seventh in an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class with Pastor David E. Mueller. We meet at 10 a.m. on Sundays (between the 9 a.m. service and the 11 a.m. service). Join us in the Great Room!

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Traditionally, military personnel wear uniforms, which identify their nation, the service they represent and the rank they hold. They are paid; it is their job as well as their duty. Their purpose is to kill enemy combatants in the event of a war and be ready in the meantime.

Peace “freaks” and “niks” are often viewed as scruffy folk, young and old, who hang out in public places displaying signs and shouting slogans. They often appear as if they do not have anything better to do or cannot find reasonable work. If they do work, most do not use their lunch hours to protest. If they did, they would most assuredly not be wearing expensive business suits. “Peacemakers” seem to have an image problem.

I am fully aware that in all the Beatitudes, there are political ramifications, especially to this one. With wars going on, most of us have serious and sincere political opinions. Most Christians of any depth do NOT want to hear partisan political posturing from the pastor. I will not violate that boundary this morning. My political, military and other opinions are not the point here and neither are yours. If a genuine and complete peace is what we seek, then it is God’s and not our will which must be discovered and heeded.

Our task today is not to discuss peace keeping but Christian peacemaking. THIS IS NOT OPTIONAL! Mercy was the last thing known and shown before reaching the top of the holy hike and seeing God. Mercy is what flows with us as we descend back to the valley below. To refuse peacemaking obligations for the Christian is no less a failure in duty than a soldier refusing to fight. In both cases, it is cowardice.

I have to believe that those who have faithfully climbed and seen God are now descending with a powerful and beautiful sense of God’s presence and promise, short-lived though the audience may have been, and terrifying as it may be to face what lies below. As we descend, peacemaking as children of God is far removed from what is usually thought to be peace. The world at war will refer to us by all kinds of names, but “children of God” is not one of them. All periods of world history involve war.

Christians are not to be striving for the absence of conflict or for simply treating a particular tension. Peacemaking is both the most difficult and dangerous exercise there is. The dangerous part we will need to address next Sunday. The difficult part is that peace, by Biblical definition, has to do with all and not some aspects of life. It is, therefore, very long and hard work. It is comprehensive!

The techniques and strategies for war are studied. We have military academies and other institutions for that purpose. Can the techniques and strategies for peace be studied and learned? Why don’t we have peace academies? We do! They are called “Christian congregations.” This congregation is a peace academy or is not fulfilling its purpose.

War has to do with two or more sides fighting for death. Peace has to do with working for life. Both cost time and money. War destroys property and people by its nature; peace builds and preserves people and property by its nature.

War can be waged on the ground, in the air, or at sea. Peace is to be in relationship to everything. “Shalom” in Hebrew; “Salaam” in Arabic; “Pax” in Latin; “Erineis” in Greek, all speak of peace in every way, in everything with everyone, even if those who use those languages have difficulty equal to our own in achieving it.

It is especially difficult and demanding for Christians to be called upon to make peace where there exists conflict: between nations, neighbors, spouses, races, political parties.

Imagine the six-pointed “Star of David.” Peace with God and with oneself in Christ is at the center of the star. To whatever point in the star one turns, there is opportunity for peace.

Every family has disputes. One could take a side, cast the problem aside indifferently, establish a tough position of one’s own, or prayerfully seek to make peace. This is true with neighbors, friends, enemies, work and schoolmates, and all other points of the star. Are we stars who shine brightly in peace or people who whine nightly in conflict?

Peace, as Jesus gives it, and as we are to make it, is not as the world gives (John 14:27) precisely because it is peace on every front. As we will note next week, much of the world’s people will despise us for being serious about achieving true and complete peace.

Christians, whether we like it or not or are called upon to participate or not, fully understand that war happens. When war is unavoidable, it must be fought with killing and not kindness. Evil is real in our world and cannot be ignored.

Today there are Christians who believe that Jesus is returning to rule the earth for a millennium either before or after a period of tribulation. I am not judging this; Christians can and do differ on Biblical interpretation and theological/ethical position. I wonder, however, why so many of these seem so merciless about the punishment to be dealt out when Jesus returns? For some, even peace is the sign that things are wrong and not right. Why then, does Paul write unconditionally, “Pursue the things that make for peace.” (Romans 14:19) What did Paul have in mind when he wrote: “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18) David the Psalmist sang: “Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it!” (Psalm 34:14) Are these authors of holy writ trying to fool us?

What Christians ought to share above all else is the love of Christ, deep and abiding prayer in Christ, and the peacemaking Christ Himself has given us to do. It is this “peace that passes all understanding and keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Philippians 4:7) It is the absence of this peace expressed which has caused many outsiders to be stressed about Christians. Jews can rightfully ask: where is the peace?

I served as a “Mediator” for over 15 years in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. I was formally trained as a “Peacemaker.” Peacemaking is at the top of a curve, with slippery slopes on each side of the top. On the one side is “peace faking,” which at its extreme leads to suicide. On the other side is “peace breaking,” which leads to murder. Clearly in the conflicts I have been asked to mediate, neither of the extremes were realized and on occasion, genuine peace making was experienced.

Christians, who know the healing of their own relationships with God, self and others, see the potential for peace in the relationships of others as well. Some marriage partners in conflict would seem rather to kill than heal. Just read any newspaper. We know some nations at war would rather kill than seek peace. Just read any newspaper. We Christians keep believing in the “Prince of Peace,” and would rather die for him than kill. We break nothing, we fake nothing, we make peace.

The symbol of our peace is not an eagle with olive braches in one claw and arrows in the other, although I, like you, respect that symbol for what it means. Ours is not a buzzard, which feeds on death, a hawk which looks for prey, or a duck which quacks, but a dove which lights gently on hearts burning to heal in newness and life.

Luther initially wrote the tract: “Can a Soldier be saved?” because his friend, Assa von Kram, a soldier, had a conscience problem and was unable to reconcile his Christian faith with military service. Luther concluded that military service was not inherently in violation of Christian conscience. This is a decision, however, which each Christian must make in his or her heart. Some might in conscience choose not to serve and seek alternative service to military service. THERE IS NO CHOICE IN PEACEMAKING. IT IS OBLIGATORY!

Here also, is a piece of what Luther wrote in his commentary on this Beatitude: “With an excellent title and wonderful praise, the Lord here honors those who do their best to try to make peace, not only in their own lives but also among other people, to try to settle ugly and involved issues, who endure squabbling and try to avoid and prevent war and bloodshed … (others) have no other goal than to stir up unrest, quarrels and war. Thus, among the priests, bishops and princes nowadays practically all we find are bloodhounds. They have given many evidences that there is nothing they would rather see than all of us swimming in blood. If a prince loses his temper, he immediately thinks he has to start a war … they cannot rest until they have taken their revenge and spent their anger, until they have dragged their land and people into misery and sorrow. Yet they claim to bear the title ‘Christian princes’ and to have a just cause.”

Note that Luther had no patience or respect for either secular or spiritual leaders gone awry. He went on to write: “All this comes from the shameful, demonic filth which naturally clings to us.” He further pointed out how Christians must be peacemakers in both their personal and communal lives.

Things have gotten far worse since Luther, in terms of the numbers, nature and nastiness of conflicts and in the amount of damage that has been and can still be done, most usually in the name of good and not evil. This is the very nature of evil, that is, deception. Perhaps the Psalmist is most timely today as we hear: “Depart from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (34:14) Maybe Paul was right on when two millennia ago he commanded us “to pursue the things that make for peace.” (Romans 14:19)

Take peace out of the Scriptures, cut the word out every time it appears, and watch the Bible begin to look like Swiss cheese.

Unfortunately, wars and rumors of same will continue to increase. It is the nature of fallen humanity. Christians will not be blessed by being agents of conflict and war. We are told nowhere in our Bibles to go and wage war. Even President Dwight Eisenhower said that every bomb built, whether dropped or not, is bread and butter taken from the mouths of children. But there is hope and we need to be agents of peace in anticipation of it.

Possibly one of the most troubling matters these days is the apparent complicity of the Syrian Christians with the Assad regime. They seem to be saying little or nothing about injustice and violence on both sides. German Christians were similar 75-80 years ago. And what of us right now?

Listen to this: “Let me hear what God the Lord will speak; for he will speak peace to his people, to his faithful, to those who turn to him in their hearts. Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land. Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet, righteousness and peace will kiss each other.” (Psalm 85:8-10)

The Beatitudes: Blessed are the pure in heart

Climbers reach the top of the hill

Editors note: This is the sixth in an Adult Forum series on the Beatitudes, a class with Pastor David E. Mueller. We meet at 10 a.m. on Sundays (between the 9 a.m. service and the 11 a.m. service). Join us in the Great Room!

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

With all the Beatitudes but especially this one, I need to rely entirely on the promises of Jesus Christ. I am utterly unable to make God appear.

In time, each of us wants to be in the presence of God. This is our ultimate hope realized fully when temporal life ends and eternal newness in Christ begins. While “hope that is seen is not hope” (Romans 8:24b), “we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25b).

The presence of God in the meantime eludes us when we seek God and can spook us when God shows up unexpectedly. We are perhaps more comfortable with the “real” world down below, despite imperfections and even evil the likes of which occurs every day. The presence of God is almost too much to take. Just yet!

Travel back with me to an incident in the Hebrew Scriptures (Exodus 3:1-6). Moses was out and about keeping sheep. On Mount Horeb, he encountered the burning bush. He was intrigued and looked closer, at which time the Lord called out and said: “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father … Abraham … Isaac … and Jacob.” Moses then “hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”

A few thousand years later, Jesus invited Thomas to touch His post-resurrection wounds. Jesus went on to speak about the blessedness of those who do NOT see and yet believe (John 20:29). While at first seeming to be a contradiction, Moses not touching and seeing is complementary with Thomas getting to touch and see. We need to explore this!

With today’s Beatitude, the pure in heart are promised an audience with God that is visual. We must be careful, however, not to make more of the sense of sight employed than the presence of God enjoyed. Moses was to take off his sandals so that he might feel the sacred earth beneath his feet. Feeling God’s presence, hearing God’s word, knowing God’s will, smelling and sensing the holiness and majesty of God are at work here, too. Our whole being needs to be engaged in experiencing the presence of God.

Remember that this Beatitude is the highest point of a hike that included five previous stops. This one, like the others, builds on, flows from and requires the previous ones. Each needs and leads to the next. We arrived at this point having made the whole holy hike. We are on holy ground. How are you doing? How are those around you? We are in this together. We may not all be in the same faith place right at this moment. This, however, does not change the nature of the moment. This is a communal and not merely a personal encounter.

The promise of Jesus is utterly essential. I would never try to conjure up God. We do not practice some goofy form of Christian voodoo. This is not about saying the right words because this is not about words. The marvel of this moment is beyond comprehension and verbal expression. Are you seeing and otherwise sensing God? If not, the clouds blocking vision are not on the mountain but in your eyes: spiritual cataracts perhaps.

Like a pilot waiting to take off, we need to go over the checklist one more time. Have you shown and known mercy? Is there something going on in you that you do not believe God forgives? Are you holding back on forgiving someone else?

Ophthalmologists can look into your eyes with precise and expensive equipment to determine if you have heart disease, which your cardiologist may not have picked up on. Speaking of hearts, the organ of note here, plaque can clog an artery, throw a clot and cause great damage, even death. Sin is like that. It blocks the view and (or) can cause a heavy heart to die and faith to fail. Mercy is the spiritual surgery you need. Jesus died for every sin of every person every where in every time. Believe that or there is no seeing God. A small sin is an impurity; only the pure see. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:10) The only way to be absolutely and completely pure in heart is to be purified.

God is not hiding. God wants you to see! Again, this is not my promise but that of Jesus. “The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sins.” (1 John 1:7b) Either “all” is all or all is nothing at all. This is a time to take sin seriously and to take mercy faithfully.

Have you been hungering and thirsting for what is right and just or for something else? The “something else” may be blocking your spiritual vision.

How is the meekness coming? Non-meekness is genuine weakness.

Is the mourning over what and who was given up to take this hike? Tears of grief and fears of grace can affect the sight every time.

Do you remain humble and poor in spirit? Only the poor in spirit can be lifted to pure in heart. You have to be perfect at nothing here. Jesus is the perfect one. The Holy Spirit is working hard to allow you, move you, empower you to set aside that which blocks you from being purified and seeing clearly.

You SEE, the audience is on God’s terms and not ours. We are NOT forgiven our sins and empowered to see God in order to continue on our silly, sick, and sinful ways.

This hike is distinctively Christian. We are NOT as Christians to be judging others: (Luke 6:37 & Romans 2:1-11), including Jews, Muslims, Hindus or atheists/agnostics. It is our responsibility to witness to others. “Believe like us or you lose!” “Drop your pagan ways, misguided theologies, conceptions of God which flow from vivid but limited imaginations.” Is that our testimony? Fine, but what credibility and integrity do we have if we fail to follow the very teachings and leadings of Christ ourselves? DO WE REALLY BELIEVE IN AND DO WE PRACTICE SPIRITUAL POORNESS, MOURNING, MEEKNESS, RIGHTEOUSNESS, AND MERCY? We are judged for being Christian rather than for avoiding the pitfalls of other faiths.

The Ten Commandments, or “The Law” in Biblical language, are thought by some to need promotion anywhere and everywhere. But do WE keep them? The whole seventh chapter of Romans, along with many other Christian Scriptures, proclaims that we do not and cannot. With the Law comes the increase and not the decrease of the sin. We tend to judge others who break laws we are good at. That’s hypocrisy! We may be judging others in this very room right now for doing something other than what we feel we do right ourselves. It is blinding us, deafening, numbing, dumbing, destroying us.

The Commandments are demands on us which we cannot fulfill adequately. The Beatitudes are a trip Jesus takes with us to encourage us, empower us, enjoy us. He picks us up when we fall or fail along the way. He draws us together in community not of competition but cooperation, not of duty but of delight, a community of faith and not fright. He dies for us that we might walk with Him in newness of life (Romans 6:4).

Listen to this wonderfully appropriate portion of Romans 7 (4-6): “In the same way, my friends, you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. While we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.”

It ought to be fascinating to us that the Christian life begins at Baptism, a moving down into the depths of water. Here, however, we have climbed in faith to the pinnacle, the height of holiness, where only those who have been washed are pure enough to see God.

This “holy hike” is not a one-time excursion into the incredible mysteries of God, but a daily journey into mysteries that in Christ have been revealed. There is nothing cryptic or complicated about any of it. It is as plain as day.

We are invited by Jesus to follow Him, empowered by the Spirit to believe in Him, freed and forgiven in His blood to serve Him. If anything else in this precious pilgrimage is also clear, it is that we need to make this trip together. You cannot believe for me, but you can believe with me. It is only together that we can see God. I actually need to go one step further. It is only in each other than we can see God.

It has been said that spiritual sight is not like a camera shot of a panorama as much as a surgical scope that a physician might use. With the scope there is more precision and perspective. The camera is more of a broad angle. We could translate all the Beatitudes as “Blessed are the focused, for they will be forever fixed.”

What has happened or should have is that the distractions are gone. We are here looking up and not back down. I like panoramic views, but this is NOT one of them. As we look up to view God, God invites us to look at one another. What we see, indeed, who we see, are not sinners, but saints. We are living saints, “holy ones” not holy in ourselves but having been washed, cleansed, declared holy by THE HOLY ONE!

Down below, in the valley to which we shortly must return, people often look at each other and note the nastiness, focus on the flaws, failures; the fights and the blights and the dark nights. Down there, it is rare to treat others as we would be treated. People are too busy being rude, crude and causing a feud. In all too many instances, there are senseless deaths. Is there any question that at times we can see the devil in certain individuals?

Not us, not up here! We are too near the presence of God. God calls us to look upon each other as He sees us, forgiven; given a new chance. We belong to God; we were “bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). We belong to each other because we have bought-ness in common. The “unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3) holds us together with God and one another. We see God in each other.

How could it be different? “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. NO ONE HAS EVER SEEN GOD; IF WE LOVE ONE ANOTHER, GOD LIVES IN US AND HIS LOVE IS PERFECTED IN US.” (1 John 4: 9-12)

In closing, there are two things I would ask of you:

1. Close your eyes and imagine being on the top of the mountain on a clear, crisp, beautiful day. It is in the silence that God is: no volcanic eruption, no thunder and lightning. Let there be silence! “Be Still and Know That I am God” as the hymn goes and as the Psalmist says (37:7).

2. Look around at each other! Let go of the past and the arguments over whatever! Look into the eyes of each and every person here, redeemed in the Christ, and see in Christ’s people here, God! The future of this congregation depends on your faith in Christ and your love of one another.