God in the Cloud
Second Sunday in Lent
A cloud seems to sit over the barrio, like cloud that followed the character of Pigpen in Charles Shultz's Peanuts cartoons. It is just there, a cloud of poverty, a cloud of domestic violence, a cloud of drug and alcohol abuse, a cloud of illiteracy, a cloud of hunger—a cloud that hangs over the barrio, blotting out any reason for hope for generations. I serve as executive director of Houchen Community Center in the poverty-plagued El Segundo Barrio on the border between El Paso and the deadliest city in the world, Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. People flee to our barrio to escape the violence and poverty of Mexico only to find that the cloud has followed them. It is easy for us to believe that there is no hope in such a place. It is easy for us to write off the barrio and resign ourselves to the inevitable conclusion that it can never change.
Maybe you are in a similar place. Maybe it seems there is no hope of escape from the situation or consequences of your place in life. Maybe a cloud hangs over your head: clouds of doubt, clouds of despair, clouds of fear, clouds of guilt or shame. How can we make it through today? How can we make it to tomorrow? Where is the answer to the dilemmas of our life?
Perhaps we need a new perspective. Perhaps the answer lies not in seeking the sunlight through the clouds but, indeed, we might find the answer in the cloud itself. How can that be? Today's reading shows us Jesus hiking up the mountain with Peter, James and John. Why are these fishermen climbing a mountain? Jesus is using a dramatically divine event to let them know of his impending death and resurrection. This is not good news to them at the time. All their nationalistic hopes and dreams of the coming Messiah are being crushed by this turn of events. These simple fishermen knew that the Law of Moses and the writings of the prophets proclaimed a coming day when Messiah would come and bring about the Reign of God. Why this hike to the top of the mountain? This is nothing like what they were expecting the Reign of God to be!
But suddenly there is a cloud. Jesus appears in the cloud, speaking with Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets), and the fishermen hear the booming voice of God speaking for only the second time those powerful words, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" Now these fishermen didn't ever want to go back to their boats—they wanted to build tabernacles and stay in this cloud in the presence of the Lord on the mountain and worship. Jesus has been transfigured, but Peter, James and John have been transformed in the cloud. Peter, James and John must return to the daily world now that they have experienced God in the cloud.
If we do a quick review of scripture today we will find that this event is not really that unusual. We find that God often shows up in the clouds. God was in the pillar of cloud leading the Israelites along the way during the Exodus (Exodus 13-14.) Moses was on the mountain and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud that covered him as he received the Law (Exodus 24). This same glory cloud of the Lord filled the tabernacle or tent of meeting in the wilderness (Exodus 40). In Acts the Lord is taken up to heaven in a cloud after promising the Spirit to his disciples.
So, here we have it: God is present in the cloud! If we are in that place where it seems there is no light, we need to discern the presence of God working in that place. Throughout the scriptures God was present in the clouds. In fact the cloud was indeed a sign of God's presence.
A mother came to my office recently with her 12-year-old boy. He had been assigned community service hours by a judge. He sat rigidly in a chair and nervously told me he had been caught with marijuana at school. I told him I was on his side and wanted to help him find a better way. After my usual "lecture" about drugs and scheduling his hours of service I gave him a tour of our center. As we talked I had learned he liked basketball and was interested in boxing. His eyes lit up when I showed him the gym, and they got even bigger when he saw the boxing ring and our martial arts room. As he got ready to leave he turned and asked,
"How late is the center open?"
"So if I do my service hours and finish at 6, can I stay around and play until 8?"
"That's why we are here, young man. You can join the boxing program and play basketball and make some new friends!"
Yes! There it is! The cloud, the glory, the presence of God surrounding and working in a 12-year-old boy finding a new and better way. We children of John Wesley call this prevenient grace, God's presence working in our lives even before we are even aware of it.
So here in the clouded barrio we sense God's presence and see God working through the most difficult situations. We see God's presence overcoming the cloud of poverty, the cloud of domestic violence, the cloud of drug and alcohol abuse, the cloud of illiteracy, the cloud of hunger. Each day we see lives transformed as the glory cloud of God permeates our community.
In this Lenten season, let us be aware of God's presence in the clouds. In today's scripture, Jesus was transfigured, but perhaps more importantly, Peter, James and John were transformed by their experience of God being present in the cloud. In each day may we sense God's presence in the clouds of life speaking to us and revealing to us that indeed Christ is with us. In the middle of today's problems and issues may you sense the cloud of God's presence surrounding you and leading you to a new and better future.
O God, today in the midst of my clouds, may I sense your presence working for my good. May I feel your presence surrounding me even in the most difficult areas of my life. Speak to me and show me your glory as you did Peter, James and John on the mountain and transform me. Thank you that you are with me even in the cloudy days of my life. Surround me with your presence, your love, your glory cloud as I journey this day. In the name of Jesus Christ the Transfigured One, I pray. Amen and Amen!