Good afternoon!

Pastor David’s Weekly Reflection:            Matthew 26:69-70           Are there ways that you deny Jesus? How might you acknowledge him more boldly?

++           Lent study is this evening at 6:00pm

Maundy Thursday 6pm joint service with Seder meal at Hood River Valley Christian Church, 975 Indian Creek Rd, Hood River

Good Friday 7pm Tenebrae joint service with HRVCC at Spirit of Grace Church

Easter Sunday 8am Traditional Worship, 9am Easter Breakfast, 10:30 Celebration Service

++           Just a friendly reminder that there is one week left in the voting period for the Seeds of Change grant award. Please vote for the FISH and Spirit of Grace Food Bank Garden. You can vote once per day, so save the link and vote as many times as you can:

Susan Randolph
Volunteer Coordinator
FISH Food Bank Garden

Next week I am out of town, so regular office hours may vary!

Blessings to you all this holiday.

Jennifer Fowler

Holy Week Worship

Palm Sunday: Traditional Worship at 9:00 am and Celebration Worship at 10:30 am, April 9, 2017.

Maundy Thursday: Seder meal with Hood River Valley Christian Church, at HRVCC, 6:00 pm, April 13, 2017.

Good Friday: Tenebrae Worship with Hood River Valley Christian Church, at Spirit of Grace, 7:00 pm, April 14, 2017.

Easter Sunday: Traditional Worship at 8:00 am, Easter Breakfast at 9:00 am, and Celebration Worship at 10:30 am.

Sermon: Breath-Wind-Spirit

Sunday 2 April 2017
The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Ezekiel 37:1-14

ezek 37The vision recorded by Ezekiel comes at a difficult time for the people of Israel. They have been defeated by King Nebuchadnezzar the Great of the Babylonian Empire. The Temple of God in Jerusalem has been destroyed. The King of Judah has been deposed. Most of the people have been carried away from their homes, deported into exile in Babylon.

For the people of Israel, this is nothing short of the end of the world. God had always promised that they were the chosen people. God had promised that a Judean king would always sit on the throne of David in Jerusalem. God had promised to live among the people, to make a home in the Temple of Jerusalem.

But now the people are scattered. Is God still with them in a foreign land? Now the king is gone. Has God been defeated by the Chaldeans of Babylon? Now the temple is destroyed. Does God even still dwell on earth now that God’s home, the temple, has been reduced to dust? Where is God? Has God forsaken the chosen people? Has the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob been defeated by Marduk and the gods of the Babylonians?

These were the questions on the minds of the people when one day, the spirit of God came upon Ezekiel and gave him a divine revelation. He was taken in the spirit to a desert valley. And in the valley, spread out all around him, in every direction, there were human bones, scattered and mingled amongst one another in a horrible puzzle of death and destruction. And when he looked at the bones piled up all around him, he noticed that they were all very dry. These people had been dead a long time, and there was no life left in them.

Now I don’t know how many of you have ever had a dream that you knew was from God. Some of you have, I’m sure. But let me tell you, this dream of Ezekiel’s is not the kind of dream that anyone would want to have. It’s more like a horror film, or some scene from The Lord of the Rings or Indiana Jones than like anything we would expect or hope to hear from God. Stranded in the middle of a valley full of dry bones? That’s not a vision, it’s a nightmare. But that is how the people of Israel felt: dead, dry, lifeless, hopeless.

There are a lot of people who feel that way about the church in general. Not here specifically, but across the nation in all sorts of mainline Protestant denominations. They look at the church now and they see a church in decline, a church that is bound to atrophy away and die a slow, painful death. They think back to a time when they remember the church being strong and vibrant. Some remember the 1950’s and 60’s, when church membership was at its zenith, when church was the place to see and be seen, when just about everyone was expected to go to church. There were over 10 million United Methodists and 9 million Lutherans in the United States. Now, there are only about 7 million of each. And it can be hard to look back at those times and not think that the church is dying, that it is shriveling up into nothing.

When Ezekiel was there, among all those dry bones, God spoke to him and told him to prophesy to the bones. Now, if you thought this was a scary dream before, well, this is when things start to get truly terrifying.

All of the dry bones lying in the valley start floating up and flying around. And they start to find their matches and begin connecting together. And before long, there is an entire army of skeletons surrounding Ezekiel on every side.

And then as he watches, sinew and muscles start to grow on the skeletons, and organs start to appear. And then skin starts to grow on the outside of the muscle. And pretty soon, instead of being surrounded by skeletons, Ezekiel is surrounded by corpses. Hundreds and thousands of corpses standing all around him. What a graphic and terrifying image that is.

But, Ezekiel tells us, there was no breath in those bodies. They had been just a heap of dry bones, and now they were restored to flesh and blood, but they were still dead. An army of zombies. They had no breath in them.

Now here is where we need a short vocabulary lesson. The Hebrew word that is translated here as breath is רוּחַ, and it occurs 10 times in this passage of scripture. Now, if you open your Bible and try to find the word “breath” in this passage, you won’t be able to find it 10 times. Depending on your translation, you will only find it 5 or 7 times. That’s because the word רוּחַ doesn’t just mean breath. It also means wind, and it also means spirit. We think of breath, wind, and spirit as three different things. But in both Hebrew and in Greek, they are all one and the same. The breath is the spirit, the spirit is the wind, and the wind is the breath. And so when we read “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” we have to understand that wind and breath and spirit are all the same thing. God is calling the four winds to come and to blow into those dead bodies, to breathe into them, to inspire them with the spirit of life. God says, “Come and make these dead bodies alive.”

It’s like that story at the beginning of the Bible, in Genesis 2, when God forms Adam out of the dust. And even though his body is fully formed, there is no breath in him, there is no spirit in him. And God breathes into him, God fills him with breath and wind and spirit, and he becomes alive. That act of creation is being repeated here, but this time as an act of resurrection. God is taking that which has died and is breathing new life into it.

And God tells Ezekiel, “This is what I am doing for the house of Israel. They think that they are dead and gone. They think that the world has ended, that their existence is over. But I have news for them. I have not abandoned them. This is not the end; this is a new beginning. This is not the end of life; this is a chance for new life.”

And it can be that for us, also. Yes, it’s easy to get discouraged. Churches used to have more members. There used to be more people in worship. We used to have programs that we don’t have any more. But that’s missing the point. God is not concerned about what we used to be. God is only concerned about what we are going to be. And what we are going to be is inspired.

Look at what God has already done here in this place. God has already taken our broken and scattered bones and stitched them back together. And right now God is putting new flesh and new skin on our bodies. And God is ready to do more. God is ready and waiting to breathe new life into us, to fill us to overflowing with God’s spirit, and to set us on our way. God is ready, God is able, God is willing. In fact, God has already begun.

The question is, are we ready? Or would we rather lament what we think we have lost, pine for the good old days? Sometimes even pine for the bad old days, and how nice and dry and clean and bleached those bones used to be. What do we think we have lost that we had back then? Have we lost God?

No! By no means! God is still with us. And God is making us into something new and exciting.  God is reforming us, and resurrecting us, and breathing new life into us right at this moment. We just need to get out of our own way so we can accept the gift of grace that God is offering. We need to loosen our grip on our preconceived notions of success, to loosen our grip on our yearning for the past, to loosen our grip on our grief over what used to be, loosen our grip so we can simply trust in God. Simply trust that God has a plan for us. Simply trust that God will do what God has promised, that God is making something new in our midst, that God is blowing through this place with the winds of change, filling us with the spirit, and breathing into us the breath of life.

A new wind is coming. And it is the wind of the spirit and breath of God. Do you feel it? Can you hear it? Do you see its effects? Will you let it breathe in you? It’s not going to make things the way they used to be. That’s not how God’s spirit works. What it will do, if we let it, is make things new. What it will do, if we let it, is make things vibrant and alive. What it will do, if we let it, is introduce us to new people with new ideas. What it will do, if we let it, is open us up to the community around us, deploy us in mission with our neighbors, build new relationships with those who until now were strangers. What it will do, if we let it—and this is the hardest thing of all—what it will do, if we let it, is change our minds, change our hearts, change our lives.

A new wind is blowing. It is the wind of the spirit and breath of God. Do you feel it? Can you hear it? Do you see its effects? Will you let it breathe in you?

Sermon: God’s Spirit Blows Where It Wishes

Sunday 12 March 2017
The Second Sunday in Lent

John 3:1-17

MafaNicodemus“The spirit blows wherever it wishes, and you hear its voice, but you don’t know where it comes from or where goes to. It’s the same with all who have been born of spirit.”

There is a lot of wordplay in the passage from the Gospel of John this morning. Some of it makes sense easily in English. For example, Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night, but Jesus, we already know, is the light of the world. So Nicodemus comes to Jesus for enlightenment. That’s pretty easy to understand.

But there are other bits of wordplay in this passage that only make sense in Greek. For example, the passage I just quoted, verse 8. In the New Revised Standard Version, it reads “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” I know what it means to say that the wind blows where it chooses and that despite being able to hear it’s sound, it’s hard to tell where it’s going or where it’s coming from. That makes sense. But what does it have to do with being born of the Spirit? There isn’t anything else about the wind in this entire passage. It just seems random.

The Common English Bible translates it differently. “God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going. It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” What happened to the wind? Now God’s Spirit is blowing? What does that even mean? How can God’s Spirit blow? How can we hear the sound of God’s Spirit?
The problem is that John is relying on wordplay that simply doesn’t make sense in English. The Greek word is πνευμα. It gives us the English words pneumatic and pneumonia. But what does walking pneumonia have to do with a pneumatic drill? Very little in English, but quite a lot in Greek. Πνευμα has several different English definitions. It can mean air, like the air that is used to power a pneumatic drill. It can mean wind, like the wind that blows wherever it wishes; you can hear it, but you can’t tell where it comes from. It can mean breath, the part of you that is sick when you have pneumonia. It can also mean spirit, like the Spirit of God, or an evil spirit, or a spiritual experience.

And it can mean all these things simultaneously. For us, spirit, breath and wind seem like rather different concepts. But in both Greek and Hebrew, they are the same. There is very little difference in meaning between the breath of life and the Spirit of God, very little difference in meaning between an evil spirit and a violent wind. So saying that God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes and saying that the wind blows wherever it wishes is really the same.

Nicodemus comes to Jesus, the light of the world, at night. He is a Pharisee and a leader among the Judean people, so we might expect that he will be an opponent of Jesus. But the first thing he says is that everyone can tell that Jesus comes from God, because no one would have the power to do the miraculous signs that Jesus does if they weren’t from God.

It’s Jesus who initiates the conflict in this story. As soon as Nicodemus is finished praising him, Jesus tells him “No one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born from above.” There are too pieces of wordplay going on here. The first has to do with knowing and seeing. These are related words in Greek, too. Nicodemus says that he knows Jesus is from God, literally that he has seen that Jesus is from God. But Jesus retorts that no one can see God’s kingdom unless they are born anew. Jesus is either saying that Nicodemus is incapably of knowing anything about Jesus because he hasn’t been born again, or he is saying that if Nicodemus knows anything about Jesus, its because he has been born from above. But the first option, the insult toward Nicodemus, is more likely.

You may have already noticed the other bit of wordplay. Again we have one Greek word that means more than one thing in English. Ἄνωθεν can mean either again or from above. Some people think that the confusion in this story is that Jesus is talking about being born from above while Nicodemus misunderstands and thinks that he’s talking about being born again. Most likely, though Jesus means both being born again and being born from above.

This is when Jesus starts talking about flesh and spirit. This line of thinking has led to a lot of bad theology over the years. We usually think that flesh is basically synonymous with the body. And so if the flesh is bad or unimportant, that must mean that everything having to do with the body is bad or unimportant. But that’s really a misunderstanding of the terms. Σαρξ, flesh, just means meat. It’s dead. A body contains flesh, but it is not the same as flesh. Even more important, the body isn’t made only of flesh, it is also made of spirit. Without both flesh and spirit, without both flesh and breath, a body is dead. Jesus isn’t denying the body here, but he is talking about two different parts of the body: the flesh and the spirit.

Jesus makes the argument that only flesh can give birth to flesh and only spirit can give birth to spirit. In order to understand spiritual things, one must have spirit, and in order to have spirit, one must be born from spirit, that is, one must be born from above, born again.
This verse has gotten quite a lot of attention over the years. Entire doctrines have sprung up over what it means to be born again. Certain American Christians identify themselves as born again Christians. I remember in the first Presidential election I was old enough to vote in, both major candidates made a point of saying that they were born again Christians. I remember because I was a Christian, I had been a Christian all my life, but I wasn’t very familiar with that language. It wasn’t the sort of thing that Christians I knew often said. They didn’t talk about being born again.

What most people mean today when they talk about being born again is a particular type of religious experience. It’s usually imagined as something that happens only once but has a continuing effect. People don’t say “I was born again,” they say, “I am born again.” People remember the story of when they were born again, the date of when they were born again. It is usually described as a drastic, life-changing event that completely changes a person.

No doubt many people have dramatic, life-changing religious experiences. But sometimes the language of being born again gets used not to build up the Christian community, but to exclude people from it. If I have a had a dramatic religious experience, then I can look down my nose at Christians who haven’t had such a dramatic experience. I can marginalize them. I can even say that they aren’t real Christians. That’s how the language of being born again has often been used: to exclude people. It becomes yet another hurdle that Christians have to cross in order to be accepted as legitimate Christians. Being baptized isn’t enough, you have to accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior using a very specific set of words. Accepting Jesus as your savior isn’t enough, you have to be born again. It’s just another way of saying, “I’m a real Christian, but you’re not a real Christian.”

And Nicodemus becomes the model of all of those who are not real believers. He may have come to Jesus, but he couldn’t accept Jesus as the light; he stayed in darkness. Jesus was offering the spirit, but Nicodemus, as a man of the flesh, could not understand or accept it. Jesus is powerful to those who are born again, but Nicodemus could never take the leap of faith to believe and be born again.
There is often a heavy dose of anti-semitism mixed in with this interpretation. Nicodemus can’t understand or accept Jesus because he is a Jew. And he represents all Jews, who are confronted with Jesus but are too dense, too fleshy to understand Jesus’s spiritual message.

I don’t think that’s what’s going on in this passage, though. Nicodemus comes to Jesus as a true seeker. He recognizes that Jesus is from God. That’s the first thing he says to Jesus. He knows that God’s spirit is with Jesus, because no one would be able to do the sorts of things Jesus does without the power of God’s spirit.

And Jesus continues to push Nicodemus further. He makes Nicodemus think more deeply about his faith. And perhaps Nicodemus doesn’t figure all of it out the first time. Perhaps he struggles to understand. But at least he keeps asking questions. He keeps on engaging with Jesus. He comes in darkness, not able to fully understand. But he keeps moving forward. Four chapters later, when the religious authorities are upset with Jesus and claim that no one with education would ever follow Jesus, Nicodemus stands up for him. He identifies himself as a follower, demands that Jesus get a fair hearing before he is condemned, and is derided by the other religious elites for doing so. And at the end of the story, after Jesus is crucified, it is Nicodemus who shows up with Joseph of Arimathea to take care of Jesus’s body.

Nicodemus is not hopelessly ignorant, as many interpreters have claimed. He is a disciple. He seems to understand Jesus’s strange ways as well as anyone else does. After all, even Jesus’s closest disciples always seem to be misunderstanding him. He may come to Jesus in the ignorance of night, but he leaves Jesus with a spark of light. He stays devoted to Jesus, even though he may not always understand. He keeps on coming back, keeps on asking his questions, keeps on struggling with the mystery of faith.

And that is not unlike many of us. Some of us have had those flashy religious experiences, those dramatic conversion moments, but not all of us. Many of us have experienced a much more gradual journey of faith. Some of us have an unwavering sense of confidence, but not all of us. Many of us continue to have questions about matters of faith. Many of us continue to wrestle with the mysteries of who God is and how God works in the world.

As Jesus says, for those who have been born from above, it is like the wind, that blows wherever it will. Perhaps we can hear it, but we can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going.
And that is certainly true. Even for the most faithful Christians, even for the most enlightened among us, much of the time we don’t understand completely what God is doing in the world. No, we are constantly surprised by the ways God chooses to work among us. We cannot predict it ahead of time. We can’t always explain it even after it has happened. God’s ways are mysterious. God does things we don’t expect. God leads us on paths that we wouldn’t have predicted. God uses people that we would never have imagined. God shows up in places we never would have bargained for. God is mysterious. God’s spirit blows wherever it wishes, and we can’t always tell where it is headed or where it came from.

But when we are in the spirit, sometimes we can at least hear it in the moment. Sometimes when God acts in the world, we can recognize it for what it is. Sometimes we are just perceptive enough to notice that what we are experiencing is a God thing.

And often, that is enough. Often our incomplete understanding is enough to allow us to follow. Often our blurred vision is enough to help us see the spirit’s movement when it happens. Often our flawed perceptions are enough to help us do our part for God when the moment comes.
It was enough for Nicodemus. When the religious authorities dismissed the idea that anyone of understanding would follow Jesus, Nicodemus raised his hand in protest. After Jesus died, Nicodemus was there to do his part. He was perhaps an imperfect believer. But that is what we all are: imperfect believers who sometimes stumble around in the darkness, imperfect believers who have incomplete understandings of how God moves among us, imperfect believers who don’t always get it the first time, but who keep coming back, keep asking our questions, keep struggling with the mysteries of faith.

We don’t have to be perfect in order to follow Jesus. We don’t have to be perfect, because God is perfect, and sometimes God’s perfection lives in and through us. Even when we are imperfect believers, we can have the assurance that God continues to move, God continues to surprise us, God continues to work in us in spite of ourselves. God can work in people like Nicodemus. God can work in people like you and like me. Thanks be to God.


Good Morning!

Pastor David’s Weekly Reflection  John 3:16     Who first taught you this well-known verse? What has it meant to you over the years?

++           Lent Study has begun! Sunday mornings at 8am and Wednesday evenings at 6:30pm, following a 6:00 soup supper. Study focuses on spiritual practices. Pastor David is using the Animate Practices by Spark House.

++           Coffee & Compassion meets Thursday March 16th 10am in our fellowship hall. Led by Gigi Siekkinen.

++           A special charge conference will be held Sunday, March 19th at 10:00 am to approve Gigi Siekkinen for candidacy for ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church. All members of the congregation are eligible to vote. Rev. Eilidh Lowery will preside. –Pastor David

++           FISH Food Bank Duty      Mon March 20th, Wed 22nd, and Friday 24th.

++           Spirit of Grace Women’s Retreat      Friday evening, March 31 and Saturday April 1st at church (not an overnight!)

The book for study is Rediscovering the Book of Faith. Pastor Jonette Blakney will be leading our studies. She is from Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Stevenson, WA.  Learn how, why, when and where the Old and New Testaments were created; explore how the Bible was put together; and examine the impact of the Reformation on our encounter with scripture. Enjoy dinner Friday night, breakfast and lunch on Saturday, study and quiet time, as well as fellowship and fun! (Schedule is posted on the bulletin board). All this for only $10.00 to cover the cost of the book and supplies. Please let Jennifer in the church office know by Wed March 15th if you plan to attend so we know how many books to order. What is nice about this retreat is that you can come to all, or just some, or even one part of the weekend retreat!  If you need a ride to the retreat, please call Jennifer in the office and we will try to accommodate you.

++         Attention gardeners! The FISH and Spirit of Grace Food Bank Garden is presently seeking volunteers to work in the food bank garden this 2017 season. Located behind the FISH Food Bank on Tucker Rd, we grow our own variety of food justice by producing nearly 2000 lbs of fresh, organic produce for clients at the FISH Food Bank each year. No experience necessary, just bring a pair of gloves (we have extras if you need them!) and be ready to spend some time with the soil. Family friendly and open to all ages, the garden is a great place to learn about vegetables and enjoy all that the growing season has to offer. We will start planting in March and will have lots of opportunities throughout the summer. Contact Susan Randolph at for more info. Thanks!
—Susan Randolph         Volunteer Coordinator, FISH Food Bank Garden


Jennifer Fowler

Sermon: Into the Wilderness

Sunday 5 March 2017
The First Sunday in Lent

Matthew 4:1-11

Once again we come to the season of Lent. Once again we follow Jesus into the wilderness.  Once again we walk alongside him for forty days and forty nights. Once again with him we fast and pray.

The wilderness is not an unfamiliar place in the stories of the bible. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years before they came to the promised land. David fled into the wilderness to hide from King Saul. Elijah ran in despair into the wilderness, only to have a mystical experience of the living God. John baptized and preached in the wilderness. And now Jesus is led by the Spirit into the wilderness.

But what is this wilderness? And what is its significance to the story of Jesus, or to our stories today?

Some English translations of the Bible tell us that Jesus went into the desert, but wilderness is probably a better word to use. We’re not talking about a barren, sand drenched landscape from Lawrence of Arabia. The wilderness includes any area that is outside of human control, any land that is uncultivated, unfenced, and is open to the forces of nature.

The wilderness is certainly inhospitable. It is usually dry, with little vegetation. There are wild animals to contend with. It is also a hiding place for fugitives, so going into the wilderness one risks danger of attack. Dying of thirst or starvation are real possibilities.

The wilderness represents the forces of chaos. It cannot be controlled by humanity. It acts according to its own laws and timetables. It is a place of danger, a place of desolation, a place of unpredictability. It is sometimes described as being inhabited by demons and other supernatural creatures. And it is sometimes considered to be in opposition to God, a chaotic force that God has to continually beat back and hem in in order to maintain order in the world.

On the other hand, the wilderness can be a place to meet God. The newly-freed Hebrew slaves fled Egypt and met God on Mt. Sinai, in the wilderness, where Moses received the law, and they were fed from God’s hand in the wilderness with manna: bread from heaven. The prophets were often going into the wilderness and meeting God, like when Elijah heard God in the “still, small voice.” And many people came to hear John the Baptist preach in the wilderness, and were convicted and repented of their sin.

The wilderness is a place of fear, of danger, of loneliness, of desolation. But it is also a place of possibility, a place of discernment, and a place to meet God.

And that is the wilderness that Jesus enters. Forty days. Forty nights. Fasting and praying. And then the devil comes to test him, to tempt him. To see if he really is the Son of God, if he really is ready to be the Savior, if he really has what it takes to be the Messiah.

Matthew tells us that it was a three-part test. First, the test of bread. The devil encourages Jesus to ease his own physical hunger by turning stones into bread. You can do it, can’t you? Aren’t you the Son of God?

But Jesus doesn’t give in. He knows that he isn’t the Son of God in order to fulfill himself. He is the Son of God in order to fulfill God’s will and in order to bring God’s salvation to humanity. And he proves himself as a good son by using God’s own words from scripture, “People won’t live only by bread, but by every word spoken by God.”

The second test: the test of fame. Throw yourself down from the temple. If you really are the Son of God, then the angels will come and catch you, and everyone will know who you are. Everyone will recognize you as the Son of God. Because, you are the Son of God, aren’t you? Or are you afraid they won’t catch you?

But Jesus doesn’t fall for it. He knows that being the Son of God isn’t about showing off, it isn’t about making a flashy spectacle of himself. No, being the Son of God is about bringing people to God, it’s about being a humble, suffering servant. And he proves himself to be a faithful Son by using his Father’s words from scripture, “Don’t put the Lord your God to the test.”

Well, now the devil is in trouble. He’s tried appealing to Jesus’s physical needs, but Jesus doesn’t give in. He’s tried appealing to Jesus’ ego, but Jesus doesn’t fall for it. And he’s tried calling Jesus a chicken. If you really were the Son of God, you could do it. What are you afraid of? But Jesus does not fail.

So the devil tries one last test: the test of power. Look, Jesus: I am the prince of this world. I have authority over all of the nations. You know that it’s true. But look, I will give my authority to you. You can have control over all of the nations of the world. Isn’t that what you want? Just think of all the good you could do. And all that you have to do in return is acknowledge me as your benefactor. That’s all.

But Jesus will not give in. He knows that being the Son of God is not about flexing his own political muscles, and it is not about accumulating power for himself. Being the Son of God is about working for God’s kingdom, about bringing people into the fold of God. And he proves himself to be a loyal Son by using his Father’s own words in scripture: “Satan, get lost! Worship the Lord your God and serve only him.”

That’s what the wilderness was like for Jesus. It was about proving himself worthy and ready to do the work of the Son of God. And he proved himself wonderfully.

But what does the wilderness look like for us? What is it like for you and for me? What dangers and temptations lie in wait for us? And what is it that God is calling us to?

As we make our wilderness journey together in these forty days and forty nights of Lent, let us keep our ears and our eyes open to the messages that surround us. Let us keep our ears and our eyes open. Some of those messages will tempt us, will try to draw us away from God’s path, will try to distract us from God’s mission for us. Those voices are so prevalent in our culture.

If you are a child of God, don’t you deserve to treat yourself? Don’t you deserve to pamper yourself? Why don’t you buy this product? Why don’t you wear this clothing? Why don’t you drink this beverage? Why don’t you invest in this stock? You deserve it. It will make you happy. Why don’t you, if you are a child of God?

If you are a child of God, why don’t you hate your neighbor. After all, you are better than them, aren’t you? You are chosen by God.  You are blessed, aren’t you? You live in the most powerful, the most affluent nation in the world. It’s because God has chosen you. Shouldn’t you take advantage of that blessing? Shouldn’t you get your way in the world? Shouldn’t you let the rest of world know that you are the chosen ones, if you are a child of God?

If you are a child of God, why don’t you take pride in your salvation? After all, you are the ones who will receive the eternal reward. You are the one’s who will receive the promises of Christ, aren’t you?  It’s not those other people. It’s not those other religions, not those other cultures, not those people that don’t look like you and don’t speak your language. Why not let them know that you are the elect, if you really are a child of God?

If you are a child of God, why don’t you just sit back and relax? After all, Jesus has done everything for you and ensured your salvation. Shouldn’t you just enjoy it? Shouldn’t you just wait idly for your promised reward, if you are a child of God?

But there are other voices in the wilderness, voices that lead us on into God’s path. Voices that say, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Voices that say, “I have come to proclaim recovery of sight to the blind, healing to the sick, to set the prisoners free and preach good news to the poor.” Voices that say, “Whatever you have done for the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done it for me.”

So as we take this wilderness journey, let us be careful which voices we listen to. Because we know that being a child of God is not about buying every new thing that promises to make us happy. Being a child of God is not about flaunting our power, it’s not about basking in our privilege. And being a child of God is not about sitting idly by waiting for our glory in the sky by and by.

No, being a child of God is about lifting each other up and sharing one another’s burdens. Being a child of God is about loving our enemies, and praying for those who persecute us. Being a child of God is about feeding the hungry, visiting the sick and the imprisoned, clothing the naked, and setting the oppressed free.

As we walk this wilderness road together, let us remember that. Let us remember who we are, and whose we are. We are God’s children, and we belong to God. So let us live lives worthy and fitting of those who is blest to be called beloved children of God, following the one who came to share our burdens in order to set us free, Jesus Christ our Lord.


Good morning!

Pastor David’s Weekly Reflection
Matthew 4:1-2
Which spiritual disciplines are you focusing on during this Lenten season? Why?

++           Tonight at 9:00 p.m. on PBS (OPB) watch the Rick Steves Special “Luther and the Reformation”, an examination of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. This program repeats Sunday April 16th 7-8pm.

++           Women’s Spirituality meets this Saturday, March 4th in the fellowship hall.

++           Spirit of Grace Women’s Retreat coming soon. Save the dates – March 31 and April 1 here at our church.   Learn how, why, when and where the Old and New Testaments were created; explore how the Bible was put together; and examine the impact of the Reformation on our encounter with scripture.  More retreat details soon.      –Jan Dutton

++        There will be a Wednesday Night Soup Supper each week to accompany Pastor David’s Lenten studies. The first is March 8th at 6.00p.m. There will be a sign up sheet on the bulletin board.                     –Jill McBee

++        The Lenten study this year will focus on spiritual practices. Pastor David will be using Animate Practices by Spark House.

It is offered Sunday mornings at 8:00 am beginning March 5th and on Wednesday evenings at 6:30 (following a 6:00 soup supper) beginning March 8th.

Jennifer Fowler

Sermon: Cloud Covered the Mountain

Sunday 26 February 2017
Transfiguration Sunday

Exodus 24:12-18Matthew 17:1-9



On this Sunday, every year, we celebrate the festival known as the Transfiguration of the Lord. It is the day we remember Jesus, up on the mountain with his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, surrounded by a divine cloud, visited by Moses and Elijah, transformed in appearance. This Sunday, though, I’d like to focus on one of our other readings in order to get a better perspective on Jesus’ transfiguration.

When one text in the bible harkens back to another text in the bible, we call that intertextuality. The story of the transfiguration depends on a great amount of intertextuality. One of its intertexts is the story we read today from the book of Exodus  And exploring that story from Exodus is going to give us a much better understanding of the transfiguration story, that is partly based upon it.

Exodus, as you may know, recounts the story of Moses leading God’s people, the Hebrews, out of slavery in Egypt and toward their new home in the promised land. This particular part of the story happens after the people have been freed and left Egypt. God has led them to a great mountain, where God’s presence dwells powerfully.

As you may know, Sinai is where God granted the holy law to God’s holy people. We know that Moses went up on the mountain and received the ten commandments. When he came down later, the Israelites were worshipping a golden calf and Moses broke the stone tablets of the law.

If you try to read the account in Exodus, though, it’s a lot more complicated than that. The whole encounter starts in chapter 19. By chapter 20, God is speaking the words of the law. God keeps on talking all the way into chapter 24. Then we get to the bit we read today, which is followed by more instructions from God. Moses doesn’t come down off the mountain to find the golden calf until chapter 32. Over the course of those 12-chapters-worth of commandments, it’s hard to keep track of who is on the mountain, who is off the mountain, or where on the mountain various people are.

At the beginning of our chapter, chapter 24, Moses goes at least part way up the mountain along with Aaron and several elders. We are told that all of these elders saw God, even though just a few verses before it was claimed that they would not be allowed to see God. Then, we are told that Moses and Joshua went up the mountain to receive the stone tablets. Did they just go farther up the mountain? We don’t know. All of the commandments have already been spoken. Did everyone hear them? It’s not clear.

In any case, at this point in the story, we are told that Moses and Joshua go up the mountain to receive the tablets. Presumably the elders stay at some point farther down the mountain. Then we are told again that Moses goes up the mountain, this time with no mention of Joshua. It’s all very confusing.

Clouds begin to cover the mountain. We had been told the same thing at least two times before, but again, clouds cover the mountain. God’s presence, which is usually described as looking like fire, is also on the mountain. Is Joshua up there with him? Maybe. He seems to come back down the mountain with Moses eight chapters later, but he doesn’t do much in the intervening time.

Moses has gone up to get the stone tablets that God has inscribed with the law. But he doesn’t get them right away. He just stays up there in God’s presence for six days and we aren’t told what happens. On the seventh day, a voice comes out of the cloud and calls to Moses. Then we are told for a third time in these very few verses that Moses goes up the mountain.

So, to review our tiny section of chapter 24, Moses goes up the mountain with the elders. They see God, and they have a meal. Then a cloud comes upon the mountain, and Moses goes up the mountain with Joshua and enters the cloud. He waits for six days. On the seventh day, God calls from the cloud and Moses goes up the mountain. He stays there for forty days and forty nights.

The point I’m trying to get across is that this narrative doesn’t make much sense. Everything is jumbled. We could work really hard unravel the complexity of all of the strange details, but really, this section of Exodus just defies understanding.

And perhaps that is understandable. After all, this passage is trying to describe a direct experience of God. It’s no wonder that it’s hard to make sense of. It’s no wonder that everything seems confused and confusing. This is the most important event in the Hebrew Bible. This is when God makes a covenant with God’s people. This is when God grants the law and the instructions that have guided the lives of billions of people. That kind of an experience cannot be explained or contained by a simple narrative. It’s no wonder, when it comes to such an indescribable event, that the biblical writers have a hard time describing it.

A couple of millennia later, Jesus leads some of his disciples up onto a high mountain. “Six days later,” the passage begins, reminiscent of the six days Moses waited. He brings with him his inner circle: Peter, James, and John. It gives bit of the sense of the layering that we got on Mt. Sinai, with the people on the plain, the elders a little higher up, and Moses with his most trusted advisor up a bit farther. Presumably, something similar happens here, with the people and crowds below, the disciples up a little closer, and Jesus and his three closest disciples farther up the mountain. His face begins to shine. It’s not unlike Moses, whose face would shine after he had conferred with God in the tabernacle. His clothes turn dazzlingly white. Moses and Elijah suddenly appear alongside Jesus.  Of course, we are not surprised that Moses is there.

The three disciples are a bit dumbstruck. They know that this is the sort of thing that hasn’t happened since the time of Moses. They know the stories of Moses on the mountain, in the presence of God, receiving instructions directly from God. They know that this is no ordinary mountain and that they are having no ordinary experience.

Peter, who is the only one who can manage to speak, suggests that he could build three shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. During the festival of Sukkoth, Jews build little shelters and live in them for a week to remember the forty years that Israel spent in the wilderness. So, Peter offering to build these shelters means that he expects another Sinai. He knows that this is some kind of direct experience of God. He expects that God is going to give a new law, just like God gave to Moses on the mountain at Sinai.

While Peter is still talking, all of his suspicions are confirmed. Suddenly a bright cloud appears on the mountain, the glorious presence of God, just like it appeared on Sinai centuries before. And then a booming voice speaks from the cloud, the voice of God, just like it spoke from the cloud on Sinai.

This divine voice has a message about Jesus. “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” In other words, Jesus is the expected Messiah. He can speak directly to God, like Moses did. And he is a new lawgiver, a new Moses. Listen to him. Listen to his instruction, just as the people listened to the instruction of Moses long ago. And of course, this reminds us of the mountain top experience that we have been hearing in the gospel readings for the last month—the Sermon on the Mount—when Jesus takes on the role of lawgiver, just like Moses did centuries before.

Nearly every word of Matthew’s story of the transfiguration harkens back to the story of Moses on the mountain. And the story of the transfiguration is just as confusing as the story of Moses. Things appear and never disappear. But it’s the sort of thing that we should expect of a story about a direct experience of God. Those sorts of experiences never make sense to the rational mind; they can never be explained in mere words.

This story of the Transfiguration, taken on its own, is impressive. It reveals the divine identity of Jesus. It shows him in his glory. But when we read it along side the story of Moses at Sinai, it becomes much more rich. Suddenly the lights and the smoke and the special effects take on a new meaning. Jesus, and the covenant that he represents, is tied intimately to Moses and the covenant that he represents. Jesus is a new thing, but he is also tied to the old. He takes the covenant offered to God’s chosen people, and he expands it. He offers gentiles a chance to become part of God’s family. But he does not abolish Moses or the old covenant. He does not abolish it, he simply expands it, and he offers us the chance to be a part of the special relationship that God has already established with the Jews.

Jesus makes a new covenant. In it, God promises to be our God, to accept us as God’s people, to forgive us, lead us, bless us, listen to us, guide us, change us, redeem us. And we promise to be God’s people, to seek God in our prayers, in our praise, in our searching the scriptures, in our interactions with neighbors, in the way we use our money, in the ways we offer our service, in the choices we make, in the ones we love.

In Jesus, God makes a new covenant with us, a covenant that is founded on the older covenant with Moses. And in it, we find the foundations for the other covenants in our lives. The covenant God has with us informs the sacred covenant between spouse and spouse, the sacred covenant a parent has with a child, the sacred covenant we share within this congregation, the sacred covenant we share with those in our community, the sacred covenant we share with all of God’s children, no matter where they come from, what language they speak, or how they worship.

In the transfiguration, we see and remember the covenant God has with all people. We see and remember the covenant we share with each other. And we are called to live as children of the covenant, who worship God as our God and who seek always to be God’s people, formed by the love God has shared with us, and moved always to share that same love with everyone we meet. Thanks be to God.