Summary: The splendor of holy moments does not fade in the ordinary times of life.

First Presbyterian Church

Wichita Falls, Texas

February 22, 2004


Isaac Butterworth

Luke 9:28-36 (NRSV)

28/ Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29/ And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30/ Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31/ They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32/ Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33/ Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ —not knowing what he said. 34/ While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35/ Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36/ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Can you recall a time when you were close to God? So close, I mean, you could swear you heard the rustle of angels’ wings? Maybe there was an expansive feeling within, perhaps a tear at the corner of your eye?

I recall such a time. Believe it or not, I was in church. I was a student at Austin Seminary, and I was worshiping at a church just off the campus of UT, right there on Guadalupe, or “the Drag,” if you know Austin. We were singing. The hymn was Isaac Watts’ “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” The organ swelled. The voices of the people swelled with it. The moment was intense. And I sensed that I was in the presence of God. I almost couldn’t sing. I couldn’t contain the joy. I wept. I wanted the moment to last forever. It didn’t.

Within thirty minutes, I was back into my routine. Out in the heavy foot traffic of hurried figures, racing along the Drag to some appointment they were, no doubt, already late for. Cars buzzing by, honking obtrusively, trucks rattling along in careless disregard for my fast-fading ecstasy. No one I saw the rest of the day had felt what I felt. I had almost touched “the hem of the garment,” if you know what I mean. I had felt God close, and now he seemed galaxies away.

No wonder Peter wanted to “make...dwellings” on the mountain! Who wouldn’t want to settle in permanently where the air is rarefied and the vision of holy things is clear. We are tempted to stay in such a place, or at least to mark the spot so that we can find it again...retreat to it when life gets to be too much to handle...if there’s time, of course. I don’t doubt that Peter wanted to make camp on the mountain.

When I was doing my doctoral studies at McCormick Seminary in Chicago, I took Carl Dudley’s course on culture. One day in class, he raised the issue of where people sit in church. It is so easy for us, when we’re young, to criticize those who, in our minds, get too possessive about the seat on which they stake their claim in worship. But Dudley challenged us to try something.

“Ask one of your parishioners,” he said, “someone who has a place they absolutely have to sit in the sanctuary of your church -- ask them to meet you there some weekday. And sit down with them where they ordinarily sit, and ask them to tell you their personal history of the place.”

So, in time, that’s what I did. I asked a woman many years my senior, who was a member of a congregation I was serving, to meet me in the sanctuary on a Thursday afternoon. We sat down in her “spot,” and I asked her to tell me whatever she could remember that had happened to her there, in that pew. And she did. She told me of sermons she had heard and anthems that had melted her heart. She told me about the times she presented her children for baptism. She told me about sitting in that very spot the Sunday after her husband died. She told me about laughter and about tears. And she tried as best she could to tell me about being close to God there. Moments of splendor -- that’s what she told me about.

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