Saturday, February 2, 2008

Sensory Overload

New Life Lutheran Church, Rothsay, MN
Installation of Pr. Paul Huso
Sunday of the Transfiguration Sunday
February 3, 2008
Matthew 17:1-9

Ever since I took office as bishop last September, folks have been asking me: “So, how’s it going, then?”

Most of the time I say: “It’s going great—but it sure is intense. Sort of like drinking out of a fire hydrant. Stuff really comes at you. Often it feels like ‘sensory overload.’”

Sensory overload!

You know what I’m talking about—don’t you? It happens to all of us, now and then. So much comes at us—sight and sound and experience—that it overwhelms us. We just can’t take it all in. Our mental circuits get “fried.”

I think that Peter, James and John are afflicted by sensory overload here in Matthew 17. And can you blame them?

First, Jesus isolates the three of them, away from his other nine disciples. They climb a high mountain—up to where the air is thin, making them a little light-headed. And then, suddenly, Jesus is “all lit up”—his face shining, his clothes dazzling white. Peter, James and John shield their eyes—so intense is the brightness of it all.

That would have been enough to bring on sensory overload—but there was more. All at once they realize that Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest figures of the Old Testament, were there with Jesus on the mountain. Astounding!

And then a cloud, much like the cloud that led the ancient Israelites through the Wilderness of Sinai—a cloud overshadows them and a Voice—clearly the Voice of God--speaks to them.

Whoa! Sensory overload!

No wonder these three disciples are befuddled, beside themselves. No wonder Peter doesn’t know quite what to say. No wonder Peter, James, and John fall down on the ground—trembling, overcome by fear. Sensory overload will do that to you—turn you into a babbling fool.

Their mental and spiritual circuits were fried. Peter, James and John suffered from sensory overload. It’s a wonder they remembered anything that happened up there.

One of the things sensory overload does is to make us lose our focus. It’s harder to concentrate. We lose sight of what matters most, what we really ought not miss.

There are signs here that Peter, James and John were on the verge of doing just that. The sheer experience washed over them—momentarily blurring their vision, losing track of what was at the heart of it all.

Peter imagines that this wondrous vision is about Moses and Elijah as much as it is about Jesus—he wants to erect not one but three shrines on the mountain. The disciples seem to assume that “this was it”—the capstone, the pinnacle of Jesus’ ministry. What could be more amazing than this transfiguration moment? It wouldn’t get any better than this!

But they were wrong—wrong on all counts.

God the designer of this startling vision of who Jesus was—God didn’t let the three disciples take their eye off the ball. God didn’t allow the focus to be on anyone other than Jesus. Awash in light and dazzling experience—God cut through the sensory overload with his Word: This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.

God made sure that the experience didn’t overwhelm Jesus’ three disciples. God’s Word brought them back to what and Who was central here: Jesus and him alone--and the death he was soon to embrace. Everything else that was going on--the light, the dazzling garments, the Old Testament heroes--all of that pointed to Jesus.

God cut through the razzle and the dazzle, fixing the disciples’ gaze on Jesus. And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

That is, of course, what God is always doing—what God is still up to, even now, today, in the church.

The church’s mission and ministry is all about helping us stay focused on Jesus only.

In the midst of all the razzle and dazzle, the sensory overload that’s always coming at us, God keeps redirecting and refocusing us on Jesus, his Cross, his Resurrection, and his Mission still playing itself out in our world.

That might seem obvious, I know, but think about it for a moment.

Think about all the things that distract us from Jesus.

Take the Superbowl, for example. Talk about sensory overload! The Superbowl is about creative TV ads, a thrilling half-time show, eating and drinking really unhealthy food, placing some bets on what the point spread will be—and, oh!, it’s also about FOOTBALL.

There’s so much hype associated with the SuperBowl that we’re tempted to think it’s sort of a world-turning event. But it’s not. It’s just a game. The SuperBowl can’t save you, give your life meaning, or keep you from dying.

The Super Bowl is not Jesus. So, go and enjoy it—but whatever you do, don’t take it too seriously. It’s only a game…

Think about all the other things that distract us from Jesus.
There’s this presidential campaign we’re in the thick of…

We’re 48 hours away from Super Tuesday, and have you seen enough TV ads yet? Have you decided between the candidate of change and the voice of experience? Have you narrowed it down to the black man, the white woman, the preacher, the Mormon or the war hero? Which will it be?

We really make way too much of politics, don’t we? We treat it like the be-all and the end-all, as if it were a matter of life or death.

But it’s not. Politics is important, and it deserves our sharpest thinking….but it’s not going to determine our ultimate destiny, it doesn’t give us our true worth.

This interminable election season is not Jesus….so let’s lighten up, and encourage others to do the same.

What else distracts us from the Lord of all things?
Think about the good things of this life—our families, our work, our studies, our past-times, our wall-to-wall schedules, our daily engagement in so many things that matter. It can be overwhelming at times. But God finds ways of overshadowing us and speaking to us and saying to us: “The ‘good life’ involves Jesus….listen to him. Don’t miss Jesus.”

Then there’s all the bad things in this life. Think about illness and wayward children and friends going through divorces and loved ones dying. It’s enough to give us a “downer” version of sensory overload. All our circuits get plugged up, fried, by grief, by disappointment, by frustration and failure. But God finds ways of speaking to us, out of our pain, focusing our attention once again on Jesus and Jesus alone.

This is a very good day for us to think about these things. You here at New Life Congregation have come through a months-long process of merging into one congregation. It’s amazing all the steps you’ve taken, all the decisions you’ve made, all the paperwork and forms you’ve filled out. I commend you for sticking with it. I imagine that at times you felt like it was just too much—sensory overload again. But God led you, and I trust, God kept reminding you that when all is said and done it’s about Jesus and him alone. It’s about Jesus’ life, death and resurrection—all of it for you and for me and for the whole creation.

And one more thing. This is what pastors are all about, too. Today as you reaffirm Pastor Paul Huso’s ministry among you, as you celebrate your decision to re-call him to serve this merged congregation, please remember what’s central to his life and work.

It’s about Jesus, it’s about helping you clear the fog of distraction away and cutting through life’s sensory overload and getting refocused again on the one thing needful—seeing Jesus clearly, and keeping Jesus at the heart of all you think and say and do.

That’s what Pastor Huso is good for: speaking Jesus’ Word to you, washing you with Jesus’ water, feeding you with Jesus’ body and blood, filling you with Jesus’ hope, catching you up in Jesus’ mission.

Jesus is for real. He is God for us and God with us. Jesus alone brings new life. Jesus cuts through all the distractions, all the sensory overload. Jesus saves us and sends us and that, dear friends, that is all that finally matters.

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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