Worship Service, February 14, 2021 “Be Present in the Moment”
Join Holy Trinity church members and Pastor Erik
on February 14, 2021 via YouTube
The message “Be Present in the Moment” by Pastor Erik can be heard during HTLC Virtual Worship Service.
“Be Present in the Moment”
Mark 9:2-9 ∙ February 14, 2021
As human beings it seems like we can often have a hard time just being in the moment. Instead, we can spend a lot of time both dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. It is easy to get anxious and lose our awareness of what is happening in the present. Our attention easily shifts, and we can quickly either get distracted or look for a distraction as we seek to avoid certain situations or certain thoughts.
Every once in a while, however, we can have those times when we might feel fully present, as if we are really just taking in the moment. Every once in a while, we can become completely focused, we can become keenly aware of what is immediately around us. Can you remember a time when that has happened to you?
Maybe it was on your wedding day as you looked into the eyes of your spouse, just before you shared your vows.
Maybe it was as you crossed the stage at a graduation and your diploma or certificate of completion was handed to you. Maybe it was a hug that someone gave you at just the right time when you needed it the most.
These kinds of events and interactions have been times when I have felt fully present in the moment, but many of the times when I have felt “in the moment” have also occurred when I have experienced the awe and wonder of the natural world. One of these times was during a summer when I worked at a church camp. On one of our breaks, a small group of us decided to try and climb two mountains in one day. They were somewhat close together and we knew that other counselors in previous summers had done it, so we thought we could too.
The first peak was the longer and steeper climb, so we did that one first. We make it up and back okay, but as we started up the second mountain it began to get dark. We were a little afraid we wouldn’t make it up to the top before the sun set. We decided to go for it anyway and quickened our pace.
I’m glad we kept going, because we made it to the top just before the sun began to go down. We gave each other high fives and hugs and then we paused in order to watch one of nature’s light shows. It was something I had not experienced before, which was seeing alpine glow from the top of a peak.
Alpine glow is when the fading light of the sun catches the open rock face of a mountain and washes over the entire surface area with a warm light that changes color as the sun goes down. From our vantage point, such a phenomenon was awe-inspiring.
There was no place I would rather have been in the moment and I wasn’t worrying about where I was going in the future. I was completely focused on the shifting hues of pink and orange that danced along the rocky cathedrals surrounding us, dazzling our senses. I was keenly aware of the evening breeze getting colder and the physical presence of my friends as we huddled together for warmth. It is moment that stands out in my mind even today. It was exhilarating, and peaceful, all at the same time.
It seems that Jesus wanted to have a special moment with a few of his disciples in today’s Gospel reading from the book of Mark, and perhaps that is why he takes them up a mountain. He seems to want to get their attention so he can reveal to him more about who he truly is. He doesn’t take all of the disciples. Just a small group composed of Peter, James, and John. The Scripture says that Jesus took them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. It is just the four of them on this windswept peak when all of sudden Jesus changes before their very eyes.
With a light much brighter than the soft alpine glow at the end of the day, Jesus’ clothes flashed with a brilliant light that dazzles the senses of the three disciples. It was like nothing they had ever seen before.
At first Peter seems to be trying to savor the moment as he says, “Rabbi, how good it is for us to be here.” Peter recognizes that something special is happening. He can’t explain it. It seems a little weird. But it also seems powerful and he wants to lift up the positive aspect of this glorious, otherworldly moment. In just the next breath, however, he jumps to a future plan. He says they should build three booths, or memorials. One for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. It sounds like he wants to show that he is keeping busy. The Scripture says, though, that he didn’t know what he was saying, because he was terrified. Peter wasn’t really trying to savor the moment after all. He was just trying to fill the silence. He was confused, and afraid and just desperately needed to do something to avoid his uncertainty and fear.
Perhaps Peter could have benefited from the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a practice of paying attention to a present moment with curiosity and compassion. In doing so, we learn to collaborate with our lives and be with our experiences, rather than resisting or fighting them. This is not giving up; rather, it is being able to engage with what is happening around us without minimizing the circumstances or without over-exaggerating the circumstances by immediately going to worse case scenarios. It is about engaging with what is happening around us without being in denial or being overwhelmed.
A quick search of the internet reveals that many clinics, hospitals and medical centers have been posting articles about mindfulness as a way to help cope with the stress of the pandemic. In this time of COVID 19, many of us have experienced a loss of control, a great sense of vulnerability for ourselves and others, and a whirlwind of challenging emotions, including fear, guilt, and grief. With so many unknowns, we are left with no choice other than to live in the present moment, one day at a time, which isn’t so easy.
After looking again at the two readings from Scripture this week, however, I believe they can teach something about how to cultivate this kind of habit of mindfulness. One of the things they can teach us is that if we want to be more present in the moment, we need to be able to stop for a second and be willing to sit in the silence.
We have already seen how Peter missed something of the power of the moment on the mountain because he felt like he had to say something. He felt like he needed to fill the silence with words instead of just soaking in the experience and absorbing his reaction and emotions before proceeding with words. If he had done this, he might not have been so quick to make a plan without knowing what was really going on. He might have been able to interpret more about the purpose of the event rather than just going on about building some booths as a memorial, which is not what God wanted.
In the first reading, we also hear how words can be unhelpful when the speakers haven’t stopped to think about what the best response might be. Elisha is a prophet in training who has been working with his mentor and teacher, Elijah. At the point in the story that we heard from today, the younger student knows that something big is going to happen. God is going to take Elijah away. The young prophet is uncertain what this means exactly. Does it mean that his mentor is going to die? Elisha insists on following his teacher in order to be with him. Along the way he meets some other prophets in Bethel who come out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”
Again, when Elisha gets to Jericho, the company of prophets who were there draw near to him, and said, “Do you know that today the Lord will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.” Twice the other prophets use their words to remind Elisha of something he already knows, but that does not serve to help the situation.
Elisha does not need the reminder that his mentor will be leaving. He doesn’t need them to bring up his grief or the fear and uncertainty of what will happed to his teacher. He just needs them to be quiet. To silently support him and not question his feelings.
Sometimes when we are with someone who is grieving or in a tough situation, we can be tempted to fill the space with words. We can be uncomfortable and have the urge to just say something. But by just saying something, we can also end up saying the wrong thing, like Peter or the other prophets around Elisha. We can end up actually making the situation worse by saying too much instead of just being willing to be with the person in the difficult moment they are experiencing and showing our support, even if that simply means being silent.
Another aspect of being fully present is being willing to stay in the space even if you are a little afraid. The Bible tells us that Peter and James and John were terrified when they witness the transfiguration of Jesus. It is a strange and frightening event, and they are not sure how to respond to it. I can imagine that a part of them may have just wanted to back up and run away down the mountain as fast as they could go, to get away from the blinding light. But although they may have been afraid, they do not allow that fear to drive them from the situation. They stay and hang in there to see what the situation is really all about. As a result, they see and hear that this glory they are experiencing is coming from God who has a special purpose for Jesus.
I can imagine that Elisha may have wanted to run from the pain and grief that was rising inside of him as he followed his mentor and dealt with the fact that his mentor would be leaving soon. But even though the other prophets keep reminding him that God is going to take away Elijah, the young student sticks with his teacher in the midst of the awkward uncertainty of not knowing when or how he would be taken away.
As a result, Elisha gets to witness his mentor being taken up into heaven on the chariot of fire. Because he stayed by his teacher’s side and did not run away, Elisha sees the older prophet not die, but go to join God in a glorious departure.
Being fully present with someone can be a little emotionally scary, especially if they are experiencing some sort of difficulty, pain, or grief. Such situations can make us feel uncomfortable or powerless. They can make us feel like we might just want to run away. But if we can stay in the space and hang in there, we may see signs of healing we didn’t expect to find. We may see signs of new life and hope that can bring encouragement to us as well.
One more thing I think the Scripture teaches us in these stories today, is that being present in the moment involves listening. Because Elisha is willing to stay in the uncomfortable space and listen to his mentor, he finds out what the sign is that his request to receive Elijah’s spirit will be answered. Because they stay in the space and listen to the voice from the cloud, Peter, James and John hear the voice declaring that Jesus is God’s beloved son. We too can learn from being present in the moment, if we are willing to listen, and if are we are willing to listen, we just might hear something that gives us direction or brings answers to our questions. We just might hear the voice of God calling to us and reminding us that we are beloved children for whom Jesus died and rose again, so that we no longer have to dwell in the sins of the past or the worries of the future, but we can experience the presence of God in the here and now. Amen
-Pastor Erik Goehner