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More Than This
February 14, 1999

MATTHEW 17:1-8

Your life is more than you realize, more than what you perceive, more than what you can see, taste, smell, hear, and touch. We live in a time of amazing technological advance, but the emphasis on technology has imposed limitations. Art, poetry, music, philosophy, theology have taken a back seat to technology. As a result, we who can walk on the moon, talk to people across the country without even using a wire, do banking by sitting at home looking at a screen, and fly through the air when pilots arenít on strike, are surprisingly, limited. Because of our infatuation with facts, data, statistics, and empirical proof, we moderns want everything analyzed, explained, and proven. And, in so doing, we miss much of the majesty, mystery, and wonder.

Last Thursday morning at the Menísí Prayer Breakfast, we discussed the Transfiguration, when Jesus was transfigured by a brilliant light, where Moses and Elijah appeared in their spiritual bodies and talked to Jesus, how Peter wanted to build shrines to honor the moment and the place, how terrified the disciples were by this experience which they did not understand. Lloyd Hallís observation was very honest. He said, "I have difficulty with passages like this. When I read the Bible, I want to read it like a manual, with steps 1, 2, and 3." Many of us read the Bible with the left side of the brain, when much of the Bible, especially the account of the Transfiguration, speaks to the right side.

Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, our third president, a remarkable inventor, and a very brilliant man, believed only what to him was believable, logical, factual, observable, and provable. Congress once printed a special edition of Thomas Jeffersonís Bible in which he had cut out all references that violated what his mind could prove and accept. Jefferson cut out the virgin birth, the transfiguration, healings, miracles, and the resurrection. The closing, somber words of Jeffersonís Bible are, "There they laid Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the mouth of the sepulcher and departed." What you get when you apply logic, science, rationalism, and proofs that mortal minds can comprehend is a Jeffersonian Christianity without the wonder and fantasy of Christmas; a Christianity without the victory, the grand celebration of Easter; a Christianity without the mystery of Pentecost; a Christianity without warmth, beauty, poetry, music, and myth.

On the other hand, there are those who frantically set about trying to prove that everything recorded in the Bible actually happened. They send expeditions to Mt. Aarat trying to find a remnant of Noahís ark to prove there was a flood, believing that if Noah was not an actual person, or if Adam and Eve were not real people, or if God did not create according to their interpretation of Genesis, their faith in the entire Bible would be eroded. They want a factual, literal, historical, believable faith; but in so doing, miss the wonder, mystery, and poetry. Donít try so hard to prove something actually happened. Donít try to water down the event so that you end up with a puny idea to fit your understanding of what is conceivable! Small minds make for a puny religion.

If we see with the eyes of faith and the wonder of a child, a whole new world opens up. There is more than this, more than what we perceive. There is more than the explanations offered to us through biology, chemistry, psychology, sociology or politics. There is more going on in the world, more going on in us, than our puny, logical, limited minds can perceive, conceive, and explain. Consider the Transfiguration, and let it speak to you. We donít have to explain it away. We donít have to try to prove it actually happened the way it is written. We donít have to justify it. Use the right side of the brain, instead of the left. Let the Transfiguration lift you soaring into a new, beautiful, wonder-full relationship with God.

Harry Emerson Fosdick, the renowned preacher and author was riding a bus in New York City when he observed a young woman with an obviously brand-new diamond ring on the third finger of her left hand. Altogether oblivious to anybody or anything except her own happiness, she sat quietly looking at her diamond. Now a diamond is a form of crystallized carbon in which every carbon atom is symmetrically surrounded by four other carbon atoms, arranged at the corners of a tetrahedron in such a manner that the whole crystal is one continuous molecule. That is a diamond. Isnít that inspiring?

Do you think the young woman was interested in the technical, literal, provable description of a diamond? With face glowing, eyes shining, mind enraptured, she very likely saw a handsome prince charming, her strong, faithful, incomparable hero. Maybe to other people her fiancé was an ordinary, common kind of guy. But, what is real? What other people see in her fellow, or what she sees in her diamond? What that young woman saw in her diamond was something that all the scientists who ever drew diagrams of carbon atoms had never seen. What is real? What the scientist sees, or what the young woman saw? What do the sweethearts we honored earlier in the service on this Valentineís Day see in their diamonds? Jody is leaving for Israel this afternoon. Will she see more than buildings, rocks, and sand? Will she see the stories and the people come alive?

Thomas Jefferson looked at Jesus and saw a man who taught and ended up dead on a cross. On the other hand, the believer who has experienced the love of God in his/her life looks at Jesus and sees hope, encouragement, forgiveness, love, a Savior, one worthy of following. The believer sees Jesus as one who came into this world supernaturally unique and special; and who left this world supernaturally resurrected. The believer sees Jesus transfigured. Can such a Jesus be proven? No, not logically, not rationally, not scientifically, but what is real? A hunk of carbon or the dreams and myths of a woman in love?

A week ago Saturday, about 25 boy scouts participated in the Walk for Reverence. They visited four churches to learn about faith. Pastor Wang and I met with them. We gave them a tour, talked about our faith, and asked for questions. There were several questions about the symbols in the stained glass windows, and then one little boy, a cub scout, asked, "How do we know there really was a Jesus?", a profound question for a young boy! Off the top of my head, I gave two reasons: one I realize now was a left-brain answer and the other was a right-brain answer. I said we have the Bible which has come down to us through the centuries written by eye witnesses. And, I said, Christians know there was A Jesus because he is with us now. He was raised from the dead, and we now experience his presence.

My plea this morning is for open minds and hearts. Read the Bible, not just with your mind, but with your heart as well. Donít close your mind to what you cannot prove or believe logically or what does not fit your experience. There is more than this!

Three year old Brian had been trapped beneath the automatic garage door for several minutes when his mother found him dead. A neighbor, who was a doctor, performed CPR. The paramedics continued the treatment while they rushed Brian to the hospital. They revived him and the surgeons began operating. The door had crushed his little sternum right over his heart. They worried about both heart and brain damage. 24 hours later, Brian woke up, reached out to his father, and said, "Daddy, hold me." He had no permanent neurological or physical damage.

A month later, Brian said to his mother, "Sit down, Mommy. I have something to tell you." Brian, only three years old, usually spoke in small phrases, so the long sentence surprised his mother. She sat down with him and he began his remarkable story.

"Do you remember when I got stuck under the garage door? Well, it was so heavy and it hurt really bad. I called to you, but you couldnít hear me. I started to cry, and then the Ďbirdiesí came.

"The birdies?" his mother asked puzzled.

"Yes, the birdies made a whooshing sound and they came into the garage. They took care of me.

"They did?"

"Yes, one of the birdies came and got you. She came to tell you I got stuck under the door."

A sweet, powerful, reverent feeling filled the room. His mother realized Brian had no concept of death and spirits, so she asked, "What did the birdies look like?"

"They were so beautiful. They were dressed in white. Some of them wore green and white."

"Did they say anything?"

"Yes, they told me the baby would be all right."

"The baby?"

"The baby laying on the garage floor. You came out and opened the garage door and ran to the baby. You told the baby to stay and not leave."

His mother nearly collapsed, for she had indeed gone and knelt beside Brianís body. Seeing his crushed chest, she had looked around her and whispered, "Donít leave us, Brian, please stay if you can." She now realized that his spirit had left his body and was looking down from above on this little lifeless form.

"Then what happened?" she asked.

"We went on a trip, far, far away. We flew so fast up in the air. Theyíre so pretty, Mommy, and there is lots and lots of birdies."

Brian went on to tell her that the birdies had told him that he had to come back and tell everyone about the birdies. He said they brought him back to the house and that a big fire truck and an ambulance were there. A man was bringing the baby out on a white bed. Birdies told him he had to go with the ambulance, but they would be near him. He said they were so pretty and so peaceful, and he didnít want to come back. And then the bright light came. He said the light was bright and warm, and he loved the bright light. Someone in the light hugged him and said, "I love you but you have to go back. You have to play baseball, and tell everyone about the birdies."

Brian went on for an hour talking about the birdies. He said the birdies are always with us, but we donít see them because we look with our eyes and we donít hear them because we listen with our ears. But they are always here. "You can only see them in here and he put his hand over his heart."

Do you close your mind to such accounts? Or, can you open yourself to the possibility that there is a spirit world all around us, that Moses and Elijah did appear to a transfigured Jesus and his disciples? Can you believe there is more than what you perceive?

ã 1999 Douglas I. Norris