Last Sunday after Epiphany
February 3, 2008
The Rev. Robert C. Granfeldt
|667 Mount Road, Aston, PA 19014 610-459-2013
|Small Parish - Big Heart - Inclusive
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“Now the appearance of the Glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the
top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud,
and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and
forty nights.” (Exodus, 24)
“Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among those who call upon
his Name; they called upon the Lord, and he answered them. He spoke to them
out of the pillar of cloud; they kept his testimonies and the decree that he gave
them.” (Psalm 99)
“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power
and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his
majesty. (2 Peter)
“Jesus took Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high
mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them.” (Matthew)
How wonderful for Moses and Aaron and Samuel!
How glorious for Peter and James and John!
To be eyewitnesses to the transforming glory of God – to be present at the manifestation of
God’s Presence and Power – actually to SEE the reality of God’s power and presence
working right here on earth!
And how fortunate for them! How very lucky!
How fortunate to have had an experience that few have ever been privileged to have! To
see what so few have ever seen – God’s glory manifested before their very eyes! To be
among that small number of people in the world who can honestly say, based on their own
experience, without a shred of doubt, that they KNOW that God IS!
Actually, of course, we have no way of telling, or even guessing, how many people in the
course of time have seen God’s glory manifested before their very eyes, like this. We only
know about the ones reported in Scripture and about the claims of a relatively few saints
through the centuries, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened to anyone else!
But other than what we read in the Bible and in the lives of the Saints, we really know only
one thing about that kind of experience: we know we’ve never had one like it!
I guess one could say there are two types of people in the whole history of the world: there
are those who have had this kind of direct, revelatory experience of God – those who Know,
first-hand, that God IS – and those who haven’t.
I certainly am one of the latter, as, I assume, are you.
Oh, I’ve had some pretty amazing experiences – some astounding experiences – but
nothing like a direct, confirming, undeniable experience of the glory of God! Nothing that I
could swear COULDN’T POSSIBLY have been anything else – nothing that couldn’t have
been, perhaps, as Ebenezer Scrooge might have opined, an “undigested bit of beef, a blot
of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato”!
Actually, I guess one could say there are three kinds of people in the world, because that
second group (Group 2), among which you and I are numbered – those who have not
witnessed such things – are obviously further divisible into two more groups: those who,
without anything absolutely concrete to go on, either believe in or don’t: believers and
unbelievers! And in this world in which we live, I think it’s safe to say, the two groups would
be very uneven in number, with believers – throughout history, and today – outnumbering
unbelievers by quite a large margin.
There’s another way to subdivide group 2, as well, though; equally obvious, but not likely to
come so readily to mind. That is, group two could also be subdivided into those who have
really thought about the matter and those who haven’t: between those who have pondered
whether, indeed, there is a God, or whether there is not.
And, again, those two subdivisions would be very unevenly divided, with those who had
never thought seriously and deeply about the matter vastly outnumbering those who had!
Thus it has always been; undoubtedly, it will always be!
An odd aspect of this subdivision, though, is that both of the other subdivisions would be
subdividable in this way – that is, there are both of these types in both of the other types:
believers who have thought about it, and believers who have not; unbelievers who have
thought about it and unbelievers who have not!
Through most of the centuries of history, it is fair to say, I think, hardly anyone ever really
thought about these things – considered the existence of God – so that subdivision
includes the vast majority of human beings who have ever lived. Most people have simply
assumed the existence of God – or of gods – for whatever reasons, while many from the
minority group have simply “chosen” unbelief because it was more convenient!
Some of these things are changing, though – indeed, have been changing for centuries,
though the rate of change has been accelerating, of late.
Even before the 17th Century and the beginning of the Age of Reason, scientific inquiry had
begun to replace intuition and revelation as the bases of humankind’s knowledge and
understanding of the world, and as that happened more and more people began to question
the doctrines of faith. “Is there a God?”, they asked.
And ever since they began asking, the answer has more and more become: we don’t need
to believe in God, any more, because we know how the world works!
All this time, though, still not many, even of the questioners, were really THINKING about the
issue. Most simply ASSUMED the only need there might be for belief in God would be to try
to make sense of the world – of where it came from and what it’s about! So as our race
discovered more and more about the origins of the universe, there seemed to be less and
less place for God! But that’s not thinking!
But a shift in those subdivisions was taking place! In the Western world, at least, there were
increasing numbers of unbelievers, and a decreasing percentage of believers! Even so,
though, I don’t see much evidence that a lot more people have actually been thinking about
There’s another change in the air, however – a more recent and unexpected one. Through
all these centuries there’s been a feeling in many quarters that science was on the way to
answering all the questions; that eventually, there wouldn’t be any room at all left for God,
and that sooner or later belief in God would simply fade away!
But science, itself, held some surprises for those that thought that – and for the rest of us,
as well! Beginning even before Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity was published in 1905,
strange things were happening in the world of science, and, with the emergence of the
uncertainty principle and quantum physics, they got stranger. Some thought – and a few still
do – that these things would (or will) lead to theories (or a theory) that would explain
everything, but instead the surprises and questions have continued to mount until, today,
we have a dazzling array of such things as String Theory, and superstrings. We have a
Theory of Everything, and we have branes (no, not b-r-a-i-n-s, but b-r-a-n-e-s – you can look
it up!)), and we have multiple dimensions – far beyond the three or four we always thought
we lived in. We have multiple universes, as well – even to the extent of a “Bubble Theory”
that posits an infinity of universes. And throwing a curve into everything are the emerging
understandings of, and theories about, dark matter and (even more mysteriously) dark
And if that all makes your head spin, let me stop and quickly add, right here, it ALL MISSES
As interesting and as important as all the wonderful, creative work being done in science, in
general, and in physics, in particular, may be, none of it has anything to do with whether or
not there is a God!
Because the IS-NESS of God can neither be proven nor disproven by any means or on any
basis, whatsoever!: even, I fear, by eye-witness accounts!
Those few who have really, truly thought about the issue have known that for some time,
now. They’ve known that belief in God is not just an attempt at a simple explanation of what
the universe is, or why.
They’ve known that belief in God is not just an attempt at understanding or explaining why
things happen the way they do.
They’ve known that belief in God is not just an attempt at finding “meaning” in the universe.
Those who have truly thought about it have long realized that non-belief in God is a choice,
just as is belief – a choice that has been called a “leap of faith!” That the leap into belief and
the leap into unbelief are equivalent leaps: a leap into faith that God is, versus a leap into
faith that God is not - because there can be no more proof for one than for the other!
But – having made the choice, having made the leap – then, on the other side of the leap,
then there is indeed a difference! And what a difference!
I’ve long thought there truly is something of an heroic element to the leap into unbelief! It’s
heroic because it’s a leap into an understanding of the world, and an understanding of life
that can have no real meaning – no ultimate meaning! In a world without God, life is simply
an accident of chemistry and physics. To call humanity a “higher” form of life – much less the
“highest” – is just a conceit of that life form that gives its members an illusion of importance
that makes its own existence tolerable, brings with it the possibility of an equally illusory
sense of meaning to an otherwise pointless existence. Heroic, perhaps, but so very, very
sad – leaving one with a need to invent meaning or pretend meaning, just to be able to carry
on with life!
But, to chose the leap of faith! Ah, what a difference!
Choosing to believe that God is, opens all sorts of wonderful possibilities! It opens the way
for me to believe that my life matters – and that yours matters; to believe that there is a
point to my life and to yours, even if there may be times when you or I can’t see the point; to
believe that what you or I do makes a difference, and what we don’t do; to believe that we
matter because we belong to a universe that matters – matters to the God who created it,
and us, and me.
And as those possibilities open to me, and I enter into them, everything changes, those
possibilities come to be, and I come to see that all really is that way: as everything I look at
becomes brighter, everything I do more real, everyone I meet more important.
And most importantly I truly see that love is not just our human animal’s rationalization in an
attempt to explain the survival of the species, because it is the word that best describes
what must be the creator God’s relationship to what God has made – God’s relationship to
you and to me, and our relationship to one another in God!
And it does something else, as well: one final thing! It makes stories like those we read this
morning possible! It makes them make sense! It gives them meaning! It makes them real!
It makes this a universe in which we can see the Glory of God in the world about us, shining
in those we know and love. It makes life in this universe a precious thing – and a precious
preparation for what comes next!
And it makes the soul say “Yes!” Yes to God, and yes to God’s creation! And that, like the
shining revelation of God in Christ on the mountaintop, is a glorious thing – a glorious “Yes!”
In Jesus Christ’s Name. Amen!