Constantly lift your mind as high as possible to me,
but incline as low as possible to your neighbor. †
Moses had been on the mountain before. This was where he had tended a flock of sheep which belonged to his father-in-law. This is where he saw the power of God displayed in the burning bush, where he had heard the voice of God demanding that he return to Egypt.
Moses had gone to Egypt. He had secured the release of the Hebrew people and had led them back to this place to worship God. Thousands of people crowded into the camp at the foot of the mountain. Moses himself climbed up to speak with God.
When Moses came back down, his face was shining. When Moses came back down, his face was radiant. I'm not sure exactly what the Bible is telling us about Moses' face. I have no experience to which I can compare this. What I do understand is that looking at Moses' face made the people uncomfortable. Moses knew that he had been talking directly with God; he did not know how that showed in his face. Moses knew that he had experienced the power of God; he did not realize that he would frighten his people.
God's power is frightening when you actually see it. Even at second hand, even in the face of one who talks with God, God's power is frightening when you actually see it.
Moses pulled a piece of cloth across his face when he was finished repeating God's words, so that the people would not be afraid of him. But when Moses spoke to God, he spoke face to face. And when he spoke God's words to the people, the power of God was visible in Moses' face.
Some of you here will not experience death
before they see the kingdom of God.
About a week later, Jesus took Peter, John, and James up the hill where they witnessed Jesus transformed. They saw the light of God's presence. They heard the voice of God. They saw Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, conversing with their teacher and friend. I am not sure exactly what happened on that hill; I have no experience with which to compare it. What I do understand is that Jesus showed God's kingdom to be present with power.
Going up the mountain, Peter, John, and James already knew that Jesus was God's annointed one. They did not know what power had to do with suffering. They did not know Jesus' mission, or why he would have to suffer, or what rising from death was all about.
God's power is frightening when you actually see it. Peter, John, and James did not know what to say. They did not know what to do.
Simon Peter began babbling, he was so frightened. Even in his babbling, he affirmed his loyalty to Jesus. But God would have none of that. The cloud, which was the presence of God, appeared and loomed over all three of them. Then the voice of God spoke, and they were silent.
God's power is frightening when you actually hear it.
The three disciples said nothing about this experience. Not at the time. Who would have believed them then? They said nothing, but they went with this man who stood in the power of God.
Some of you sitting here will not die before you see the kingdom of God.
Let me tell you about an experience I had when I was a young man. It seems like it was in the late Middle Ages or the early Renaissance, but it was actually Thursday, April 20, 1978. I was buying groceries at Tornow's IGA in Rib Mountain. Tornow's was on the south side of the hill and I lived to the north. (The store is still there, but it no longer belongs to the Tornow family.)
After pushing the shopping cart around the store and picking out all the food that I expected to need over the next week or so, I went to the checkout line. The cashier that day was a high school girl. I don't believe anyone had scanners in 1978, so the girl was looking at each package and keying the price into the cash register.
At the far end of the counter there was a high school boy. The boy was not working. He was clearly there in order to talk to the high school girl. Still, as my groceries began to pile up at the end of the counter, the high school boy decided to make himself useful. He pulled out a bag and began bagging my groceries. When I left, the boy resumed talking to the girl.
This is not a story about a high school girl and a high school boy in a grocery store. It is the story about what I saw when I left the grocery store, with the image of that girl and that boy fresh in my mind. It is a story about seeing the kingdom of God.
In my journal the next day, I wrote down what happened.
The image of a grocery store bagboy whom I saw today is converted suddenly into the image of Jesus Christ standing, preaching in the parking lot of Tornow's IGA, Rib Mountain, Wisconsin, in the body, voice, and manner of that high school boy in the grocery store, a blond-haired, straight-forward, normal, northern Wisconsin boy.
Then I added a line from John of the Cross:
To attain perfect knowledge you must go by a way which you know not. ‡
Before grocery shopping that Thursday, I knew that we should treat every person as we would treat Jesus – if Jesus were here. I knew that the kingdom of God appears whenever we honor each other as children of God. I had no experience to know how it would be to actually see Jesus himself in another person.
God's power is frightening when you actually see it.
I did not know who that boy was. I have no reason to suppose that he was Jesus in disguise or that he was anything other than what he appeared to be. I do know that I saw Jesus Christ in that boy. And I have afterwards always wondered whether each high school boy or girl that I see might perhaps explode into a vision of Christ. Or whether they might actually be Jesus Christ.
Some of you sitting here will not die before you, too, see the kingdom of God. Perhaps you'll see the kingdom with a vision like mine, or perhaps you'll see it more quietly with insight. (Only those of us who are as dull as the apostles have a need for frightening visions.) Some of you have already seen the kingdom of God.
Some of you here will not die before you show the kingdom of God.
Will you be radiant? Will you be transformed? Will you demonstrate the power of God? Will you let the power of God shine through you?
Jesus showed the kingdom to the three disciples in a very dramatic way. But how are we to show the kingdom of God? I will give you step-by-step instructions:
If your home is in God's city, if your heart is there, if that is where your investments are growing, then you will show the kingdom wherever you are. Maybe you will show God's power completely unaware, like that high school boy in Rib Mountain. Maybe you already have been the vehicle for God's self-revelation.
If your home is in God's city, if your heart is there, then your attention will be given to the things which are important to God. If your home is in God's city, then your attention will be given to justice and to peace and to truth. Your attention will be given to mercy and to compassion and to life and to love.
If your home is in God's city, if your heart is there, if your Lord is there, then no one else can touch you. If your home is in God's city, if you follow the Lord, you will learn – not all at once – you will learn the power of suffering.
Are you willing to live in God's city? In John Comenius' Paradise of the Heart, Jesus says to the pilgrim:
Remain in the world as a pilgrim, a tenant, an alien, and a guest as long as I leave you there. But with me in my household you have been given the right of heavenly citizenship. Therefore, seek to have your associations here! … Make use of earthly things as long as you are on earth, but delight in heavenly things. … With your soul serve me alone; with your body, whomever you can or must. What I command, do; what I lay on you, bear. … Be in the world with your body but with me in your heart. †
Whenever I preach, I spend hours thinking about the scripture, listening for the message the Spirit has for you, writing and rewriting the text. Then I spend 15 or 20 minutes speaking to you and I wonder why it is that you don't recall every word the way that I do. I have given you the instructions on how to show the kingdom of God to those around you. This list of instructions is important, so let me read it to you again.
† Comenius, John. [Jan Amos Komenský.] The Labyrith of the World and the Paradise of the Heart. Translated by Howard Louthan and Andrea Sterk. Paulist Press. ©1998. Chapter 53, page 222.
John of the Cross. [Juan de la Cruz.]
The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross.
Translated by Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriquez.
Second edition. ©1979, Washington Province
of Discalced Carmelites.
In my journal, this verse was quoted by memory
from another edition.
In this edition, the line actually reads:
To come to the knowledge you have not
you must go by a way in which you know not.
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