We tease Peter for always saying the wrong thing.
He’s all heart, that Peter.
That fisherman gone falling in love with Jesus,
worshiping the ground he walks on and the storm he stills.
This fisherman with a raging heart to match the sea he sails.
He knows the holy when he sees it.
He flips his lid for it, all the time.
He climbs out of the boat to walk on water when Jesus says “come on!”
He jumps out of the boat and swims a hundred yards to shore one morning,
because he sees the risen Jesus there cooking breakfast.
He’s all in. Always.
This week he’s exuberant about building some tents!
It’s what his Hebrew upbringing taught him about what you do with The Holy.
You build your life around it.
That’s what his ancestors did in the Wilderness after they escaped from slavery in Egypt. They built the God-Tent in the middle of the community, then circled it around with the people-tents.
This Holy presence of cloud by day and fire by night. Right there in the middle.
Up on this mountaintop, Peter suddenly knows himself to be in the presence of the Almighty and feels compelled to build some tents, [ tents, booths, tabernacles, . . . all of these are just different Bible words meaning a branchy structure that you can get inside of, some of them more elaborate than others].
Spot on Peter! Go for it!
Name the Holy One as Holy;
See him, love him, grab hold of him;
build your life around him!
Great instincts! What a beautiful wild heart!
But Jesus tells Peter, “we won’t build our tents up here, but we’ll go back down the mountain together, and for now, we’ll guard our Holy experience with silence. We’ll stay inside of it, together, while we go out into the world.
We’ll live inside of it, out there.
So, my thought about this gospel text, as our crescendo of light culminates and transitions into Lent, and we descend into the wilderness with this Incarnate Holy One, Jesus,
is this. . .
I want to think of Lent as a practice of tenting with the Holy One. Sans branches.
So how do I build this walking talking sleeping waking tent-life, with this precious sacred presence?
What could I do, to weave together a keeping place, guard some kind of silent stillness, with a structure of loosely bound branches (aka ~ a Lenten discipline) for keeping close company with the Holy One?
I’m thinking about what I could put in place.
What could you put in place,
that would make you, as you move about in your daily life, acutely aware that you are the temple, the tent, the booth, the house. . . of God. . .and that you live in this transitional housing called the human body, with God, night and day, day in and day out?
What about you?
What would help you guard, keep, tend, the presence of this brilliant new light of Epiphany that shines in your heart?
What would help you live inside of it, the presence and experience, of the holy one?
How will you structure your tent, this Lent?
Clergy often say, that Sunday morning is not their own worship time. Because they’re working. On the job.
I am not that clergy person. Yes, I am working, but I am deeply engaged with you in the Sunday morning experience of actual worship, even though I am 'the celebrant’.
And, as the celebrant, I am keenly aware of the moments, the energy, the movement, within the liturgy.
Last week I was ‘keenly aware’ of the water of baptism and the sacramental drama we engaged in, when we sang “Down to the River to Pray” and everyone processed to the font, encircled it, and stood together for the reading of the gospel and the story of Jesus’ baptism.
I know it’s a vulnerable thing, to do something like that as a congregation. Might make you a little uncomfortable, because its a vulnerable act.
Getting up from your seat, and moving out of the pew.
Singing and walking around and going somewhere.
Embodying the definition of Liturgy, which means in Greek: the work of the people.
Attempting to follow new rubrics (liturgical directions) gracefully, like Episcopalians are want to do.
But we gave it a whole-hearted try, and it was rugged and beautiful.
When I felt your nearness and gathering, your presence, your voices coming close, the movement of your feet, your circling around; It was powerful. The energy changed. The human element animated and transformed. It became a living symbol. I wanted to just stay right there, for a long time.
It’s not like the moment happened ‘by accident’, the Worship and Music team planned it that way.
And, although we cannot orchestrate spiritual experience for one another, the Worship and Music team thought about, talked about, mused and envisioned, what the season of Epiphany might mean for us and how we could create liturgy in just that purposeful way.
We chose the Font as a center-piece for the season, to move it front and center as a sacramental gesture, “an outward and visible sign for us, of inward and spiritual grace". We chose it because it is overt and obvious, as a symbol of gathering and becoming community.
We are born of this holy water. We’re kin.
We are born of God;
We are born, like Jesus was born, of Holy birth waters, Holy womb, Holy human flesh.
We gathered around the font, and then we saw Jesus, dip down into the water with John. And we got in, too. Down into the Jordan River.
And suddenly, there in the water with them, we realize our sameness.
We see Jesus in the water with us and realize that He is like us.
He is human.
The water ripples and parts and encircles us together with him in the water.
Our human form immersed with his human form.
You and me, in the water with the Holy Incarnate One.
We see Jesus in the water with us and realize that we are like him.
We are holy.
Even in our humanity. Even, born of a woman. Even, ordinary, physical, and earthbound.
We are holy.
He got in the water with us, so that we would know it.
That He is human, and that we are holy.
He got in the water with us, by way of his Incarnation, and by way of his Baptism.
Splashing about in the water with you, for the humanity of it, and for the holy.
We’re missing one essential piece: A Crib!
Of all the Christmas kinds of things to say,
“We have room in the inn and we need a crib for the infant child to lay his head. . .”
Yes, we’re having a baby!
Well, actually, we're having a toddler.
Daniel is 3 years old.
We will open our doors and welcome the holy family, on January 8th, this coming Tuesday. Toni and Katerina Makela, from Helsinki, Finland, will be our guests for one semester, from January to June, as Toni begins his studies at Candler School of Theology at Emory University.
Jesus said the Greatest Commandment is this:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength”.
It’s called: the Shema.
It is from Deuteronomy chapter six.
Deuteronomy cradles that commandment with an initiative:
It says to write the love on the doorposts of the house, to strap it to our foreheads, and to twist it around our hands, wrists, and up our arms. In other words: an initiative to live the love with our full being.
It says to talk about the love of God as we’re sitting down and rising up, when we eat and when we lie down, and when we walk out the door and onto the lane and into the world!
In other words: Words! Love language. Think it, say it, speak it.
Fill up, bubble up, overflow with love!
And that is what we are doing with this open door of hospitality. A second opportunity to be home for some from a faraway land, to welcome in, to love, to offer respite. To be a place to live in love with God.
We’ve done it before, and we are good at it!
God delights in our big hearts. Our generosity. Our vulnerability.
Our entrepreneurial spirits. Our willingness to risk.
Here we go! For another experiment in love!
God inhabits our house,
and even you and I, in our very bodies, are his holy habitation.
Keep the love.
Live the love.
Keeping and living, with you,
Reverend Ruth Pattison
Rev. Pattison serves the people of Highpoint Episcopal Community Church as the Parson, exercising her gifts for collaborative leadership through preaching, liturgy, and the pastoral arts.