Sunday, March 05, 2000


Asbury First United Methodist Church
Transfiguration Sunday

Text: Mark 9:2-9

Whence Saving Insight?

When and how does a moment of insight come? What are thesteps up along the mountain trail that give a moment of clarity that can saveus?

Peter must have heard our Lord’s ageless command: "Ifanyone would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, andfollow." (Mark 8: 32). Then Peter is led, step by step, up a high mountain,where something…unearthly…occurs. He sees what cannot be seen. And, fromthis mountainview, for a moment, there is insight and there is clarity.

When and how does such a moment arrive, a moment of claritythat can save us from an anger that leads to murder, or a heartache that leadsto suicide, or a despair over a gun-totting nation drenched in violence, or achagrin about a country that ever more closely approximates Fosdick’s verse,"rich in things and poor in soul"?

Today’s Gospel promises you a mountain view, clarity andinsight, found step by step along the rocky trail of life, that can lift us upabove sin and death and the threat of meaninglessness.

Walk along with me, if you will, for just a few minutes…upthe mountain path we go…and take, Come Sunday, a divergent road, like our Poetsaid,

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood
And sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler
Long I stood and looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth
Then took the other as just as fair
Though having perhaps the better claim
For it was grassy and wanted wear
Though as for that the parting there
Had worn them both about the same…
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence
Two roads diverged in a wood and I
Took the One less traveled by
And that has made all the difference.

  1. Insight Through the Thicket of Personal Need
  2. One step toward insight lies through the thicket of personalneed. Careful, step carefully here. Here you recognize your mortality. "Itis a great life, but few of us get out alive." Here you admit that the actsof desperation in news reports come from conditions you also know. Fear, anger,jealousy, hatred, dread. Here, step lightly, you see the shadow, and your shadowin the greater shadow. One called this "the feeling of absolutedependence". Here we are confessional. We say, "Hello. My name is JohnSmith and I am an alcoholic." We say, "We have erred and strayed fromthy ways like lost sheep." We say, "There but for the grace of God, goI."

    Today’s Baptism reminds me of the first time I was leftalone with our first child, to give her mother a night out. She had been themost pleasant of children, happy and bright, sleeping through the night. Shehardly cried. But that hot August night, at the very moment the door closed andthe car drove off, she began to wail. Not to whimper or weep, but to wail andshriek and scream. Five, twenty five, fifty minutes. I was really shaken,terrified, angry and frustrated, at my wit’s end, and probably at the edge ofsome irrational behavior. Over the din of the howling daughter, I heard thedoorbell. In came our church’s lay leader, Bernice Danks, a veteran nurse andteacher of nurses who wordlessly took the child and somehow the howling ceased."Oh, I like to make a few house visits a week. It’s a little routine ofmine…You know I tell my nursing students that we call the things that are mostimportant, ‘routine’…and I came by the parsonage and for some reason Idecided to stop. I hope you don’t mind the intrusion…What a pleasant babyshe is!"

    When we are helpless, insight can come.

    Wesley is still with us to ask, "will you visit fromhouse to house?" From Brentwood to Brighton and beyond? Insight sees insidethe closed door of personal need, and measures the distance between publicappearance and private reality.

  3. Insight Over the River of Others’ Hurts
  4. A second step toward insight lies over the river of another’shurt. Here, we’ll jump the river at the portage path, where we bear each other’sburdens like canoes carried in tandem. A moment of clarity can come when youtruly see another’s plight, and feel it in your heart. Some insight comes fromserving others, some from sensing others’ hurt. It is really a matter ofunderstanding power, this insight about others. Think of the Prince and thePauper, or of Lazarus and Dives. Insight happens in the chorus of the commonlife, when we sing out, "so that’s what is like to be you…"

    The progressive tradition, theological and political, whichis Rochester’s hallmark (Rauschenbusch, Douglass, Anthony, and others) may becriticized as a "johnny one note" presentation. But if you have tochoose just one note to play, this is the one to pick. Jesus means freedom. Tolearn about the nature of power, and the effects of power, we listen to thepowerless.

    Men, listen to the women about whom you care, as theydescribe being pulled over on the thruway in a winter night. With red lightsflashing…sirens wailing…car door thudding…a tall male figure in uniformand wide brimmed hat…a revolver in the belt… "May I see your licenseplease?"…Men, listen to women.

    Majority, listen to the minority describe the feeling ofbeing stopped on the front porch step, at night, after a long day of menialwork, again with the lights flashing and the uniforms and hats and.."Gun!"41 bullets later a tragedy—unintended to be sure—has occurred. Not a gun buta wallet. Such a tragedy for all. But maybe it can help us to gain insight, tofeel what others feel. Majority, listen to the minority.

    Insight comes through the common song that recognizes another’shurt.

    You know, we recognize this chance for insight every Sundayas we sing hymns together, to recognize that we are all in this together.

  5. Insight Scaling the Cliffs of Reason
  6. A third step toward insight lies over the cliff of reason."Come let us reason together" says the Psalmist. God has entrusted uswith freedom, and with minds to think through our use of freedom. While reasonhas its limits, it is reason, finally, that will help us learn the arts ofdisagreement—at home, at work, in church, in the community. We say, "tryto be reasonable". And reason often prevails. If you ever doubt the powerof reason to bring insight, remember the words of the Psalmist, and the voicesof great minds through the ages. Josiah Royce’s Sources of ReligiousInsight, which provides the outline for this sermon, comes to mind. Come letus reason together…

    You know, we recognize this chance for insight, this momentof clarity, every Sunday through a sermon, a word fitly spoken (we hope).

  7. Insight Across the Gorge of the Will
  8. A fourth step toward insight lies across the great gorge ofthe will. Look before you leap. We are here ever closer to the mountaintop. Realinsight comes in a moment of decision. Some say we learn to choose. But ourexperience is that we learn by choosing. Viktor Frankl spent his wholelife developing the "logotherapy" around this one conviction: we growby deciding. Choose. You cannot lose, in the fullest sense, and in the long run.Choose. Either way, you have learned, you will grow, you have changed, you willimprove, you have developed. Choose.

    Faith is not a matter of emotion or feeling or soul or heartor intellect only. First, faith is a decision. "If anyone would come afterme, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow."

    As Kierkegaard put it, "either\or"… Either Godexists or not. Decide. Either you see God in Christ or not. Decide. Either JesusChrist has a claim on your life or not. Decide. Either every day is a chance forlove or not. Decide. Either the way of love means particular consequent actsregarding your time, your money, your body, your community…or not. Decide.

    Faith is not as much thrill as it is will.

    You know, we recognize this chance for insight every Sunday,in a moment of invitation—to devotion, to discipline, to dedication.

  9. Insight Upon the Summit of Loyalty

A fifth step toward insight brings us to the summit. There.Take a breath. Up here, the air is rarified. Up here, you may have a moment ofclarity. For the fifth step toward insight brings us to the altar of loyalty.

Forgive the use of archaic words—loyalty, duty, chivalry.Beware though the sense that loyalty is a matter of sullen obedience. On thecontrary! Loyalty is the red flame lit in the heart’s chancel, lit with themixture of personal need and social concern, illumined by the reason and ignitedby the will. Loyalty combines the conservative concern for morality with theliberal hunger for justice. Loyalty is life, but life with a purpose.

Insight, real clarity, can come with a brush up with loyalty.Tell me what you give to, and I will tell you who you are. Tell me what yousacrifice for, and I will tell you who you are. Tell me what altar you face, andI will tell you who you are.

And real loyalty is magnanimous. Real loyalty is bigheartedenough to honor an opponent’s loyalty. At the summit, there can be a reverentrespect for another’s loyalty, truly lived, even when it clashes with our own.Maybe especially then. US Grant felt this at Appomatox as he took the sword fromRE Lee. It is chivalry, this honoring of loyal opposition. We were once knownfor this kind of chivalry, a reverent respect for divergent loyalties, as longas they did not eclipse the one great loyalty.

Such a memory could help our political conversations,reminding us that at depth loyalties converge out of difference. Surfacedifference can occlude deeper agreements. Look at our supposedly variedpolitical leaders, for example. George W. Bush is a Methodist. Hillary Clintonis a Methodist. Bob Dole is a Methodist. Tipper Gore is a Methodist! Loyalty hasa magnanimous depth that honors other’s divergent loyalties.

One of the strangest turns in the New Testament is found in 1Corinthians 15. After Paul has reached the very summit of our faith, and singsof the resurrection in such heavenly tones, then, immediately, he turns to—doyou remember?—the collection! A matter of loyalty.

Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

You know, we recognize this chance for insight every Sunday,through the presentation of gifts, an expression of loyalty, at the altar ofgrace and freedom and love.


Several years ago, we worshipped in the tiniest church in ourarea. A little Adirondack chapel, at the end of the trail, high up in thenorthern mountains. Beyond Owl’s Head, and Chasm Falls and Wolf Pond, there isthe summit of Mountainview, with its chapel and pump organ and wooden pews andsimple pulpit, and humble service, still though a service like this one or any--- a chance for saving insight as we recognize personal need, others’hurts, the power of reason, the importance of will, the force of loyalty—inthe prayer of confession, the music of community, the preaching of the Word, theinvitation to decision, and the loyal offering of gifts.

Let insight abound on the curvaceous slopes of personal need!Let insight abound on the majestic mountains of social holiness! Let insightabound on the prodigious cliffs of reason and will! Let insight abound on thepurple mountain summit of loyalty—from every mountainview, let insight abound!So that, to paraphrase the spiritual, we might sing, insight at last, insightat last, thank God Almighty, we have saving insight at last.

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