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Pushing through fear

Pushing through fear

“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Matthew 14:27

The Reverend Luther Zeigler

August 13, 2017 – 10A Pentecost

Our granddaughter, Emerson Ann, came into the world this past Wednesday evening. She is healthy, beautiful, and doing well, as is our daughter, Kate, and her husband, Hunter. For all these things, we give God thanks and praise. Pat and I are now blessed with two grandchildren, with yet another one on the way in December, God willing, and we intend to do our best to spoil them all.

As human experiences go, the birth of a child is about as close as we come to both the beauty and the power of the divine, and it elicits an equally wide range of emotions: there is great hope but also anxiety; there is great joy but also pain; there is great courage but also fear.

It’s much easier for the grandparents, of course, sitting on the sidelines, but even so, I was struck by how anxious I was just waiting for reports from the labor room of how things were going. And as I waited, I couldn’t but help re-live in my own mind the experience of watching Emerson’s mom, Kate, come into the world some thirty years ago.

I remember standing there in the delivery room of Stanford University Medical Center, awkwardly dressed in the unfamiliar green gown and mask of the maternity ward. I crouch behind one of the nurses, desperate to get as clear a view as I can of this amazing moment, but also fearful of getting too close to such an awesome sight. I know that I am on holy ground, simultaneously attracted to the sheer mystery of life bursting forth into the world while also afraid of its power. With one hand, I reach out to Pat, as she struggles in the painful throes of childbirth, wanting to comfort her; but truth be told, I am hanging on to dear life as much as she is. And then, with that last great push, a little body emerges into view. Like all fathers, I find myself counting fingers and toes, arms and legs, making sure everything is there and in its place, waiting for that first, noisy squeal of assurance that another life has begun, and that all is well.

To witness the birth of a child is miracle enough, but to know that she is your own makes this moment unlike anything else. Suddenly, as a parent, you feel an overwhelming desire to do anything for this new life, to nourish her, to share with her all the joy and beauty that is in this world, but also to protect her from life’s many dangers.

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Be Thou My Vision

Be Thou My Vision

“And while Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Luke 9:29

 The Rev. Luther Zeigler

The Feast of the Transfiguration – August 6, 2017

It begins innocently enough. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to a mountainside for a quiet moment of prayer. But then, like a Salvador Dali painting, the mundane contours of just another day with Jesus explode into a scene of spectacular surrealism. His dingy cloak suddenly become whiter than the whitest snow. The familiar features of his face have a new radiance. Glory is the only word Luke can think of to describe it.

But it must have been the appearance of Moses and Elijah out of thin air that really sent the disciples’ heads spinning. They can only overhear bits and pieces of the conversation, something about Jerusalem, death, destiny, departure. The disciples don’t fully grasp what they are witnessing, but they know enough to want to cling to Jesus and his friends, to capture this divine interruption into their dreary lives by making homes for them.

But no, that’s not the plan. The intimacy of this strange conversation among three prophetic figures is ominously overshadowed by darkening skies, and then from nowhere comes the Voice. The Voice that sets Jesus apart from the others, singling him out, not merely as another prophet, but as ‘Son,’ the ‘Chosen One.’ But the Voice has something more to say: ‘listen to him!’ And then, just like that, it’s over.

Let’s confess our bewilderment. We moderns don’t know what to do with this text. Does this purport to be a literal account of an historical event? Is it the report of a dream or a vision? Or is this merely a poetic and imagined interlude in Luke’s gospel designed to teach us some theological truths about who Jesus is?

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Grant Us Wisdom

Grant Us Wisdom

“’Give your servant therefore an understanding mind . . . .’” 1 Kings 3:9

 The Reverend Luther Zeigler

July 30, 2017 – 8A Pentecost

An angel appears at a faculty meeting and tells the dean of the college that in return for his exemplary leadership, the Lord will reward him with his choice of infinite wealth, wisdom or beauty. Without hesitating, the dean of course selects infinite wisdom. “Done!” says the angel, and disappears in a cloud of smoke and a bolt of lightning. Now, all heads turn toward the dean, who sits surrounded by a faint halo of light. The dean feels the expectations in the room mounting, all these brilliant minds waiting for a pearl of wisdom to spill forth from the mouth of their freshly anointed leader. At length, one of his colleagues whispers, “Say something.” The dean looks at them and says, “I should have taken the money.”

It is worth pausing for a second to reflect on why we find a joke like this funny. It is not, I suspect, because we really disagree with the dean’s answer to the angel. In our hearts, we know the immense value of wisdom, and that choosing wisdom over money is a sound choice. The reason we laugh is because we also know, as the dean feels intensely before the expectant stares of his colleagues, that living into a life of wisdom is daunting work; that it by no means is a guarantee of happiness; and that it carries with it responsibility to others. By contrast, money is everybody’s fantasy of instant happiness, and has the promise of providing an escape from hard work, expectations, and the demands of other people. We all realize that wisdom is what we should be seeking, but it is so much more fun to dream of having money.

The story of King Solomon, a portion of which we heard this morning in our first lesson, reflects this same human dynamic. At least at the beginning of his reign, Solomon appreciated that it isn’t enough for a king to be merely powerful. Effective leadership requires more; it requires wisdom. So, when asked by God in a dream what one thing Solomon might want if he could have anything he wished, Solomon replies: wisdom.

Or, more specifically, Solomon says that he wants an “understanding mind” coupled with “the ability to discern between good and evil.” The underlying Hebrew word is even more nuanced; as scholar Eugene Peterson points out, the word could just as easily be translated as a “God-listening heart.” The Scriptural understanding of wisdom includes both the head and the heart, and is centered in God.

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