SERMON ~ 02/19/2023 ~ “Kabod”

02/19/2023 ~ Transfiguration Sunday (Last Sunday before Lent) ~ Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2 or Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9 ~ VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE:


“Then the Glory of God came to dwell, settled on Mount Sinai. The cloud covered the mountain for six days; on the seventh day God called to Moses out of the cloud.” — Exodus 24:16.

In my comments last week I said when Bonnie and I met and got married it was the classic case of country mouse/city mouse, classic country mouse/city mouse story. Except I left out the part of the story which says how we met and what happened when we met.

How does someone from New York City meet someone who resides in Maine? Well, Bonnie’s cousin, Paul Lee Johnson, was and is my best friend. Paul lives in New York City. I was on vacation with Paul, his wife and their young daughter at a family property in the Deer Isle area.

I said Paul is my best friend. Indeed, I am the Godfather of Paul and Mary’s daughter, Barbara. I also had the honor of not only officiating at the wedding of Barbara and her husband Henry but I’ve also Baptized Barbara’s and Henry’s son Thaddeus.

Now, to offer location and context to meeting Bonnie, it was on an island off the coast of Maine, on a property which has been in Bonnie’s family and extended family since 1898. We met there in the Summer of 1987. We got married a year later.

While it is incredibly beautiful on an island off the coast, there is one drawback. It’s this certain occasional atmospheric condition called fog. Maine and fog— if you look those two words up in a dictionary I think you’ll find them listed as synonyms.

Well, back in 1987 a group of folks, including the two of us, arrived on the island one morning just as the fog was rolling in. It was Maine fog— better known as pea soup— perhaps 30 feet of visibility.

And so, on Saturday we had fog. On Sunday and on Monday and on Tuesday we had fog. By Tuesday night some of us had played at least 1,000 games of charades. Others had read War and Peace…. twice. Then Wednesday morning dawned… bright, sunny, blue, not a cloud in the sky, dead calm, no wind, the ocean as smooth as glass.

Outdoor activities began. Some hiked. Despite the ocean temperature some decided swimming was the way to release pent up energy.

I don’t know who suggested it but either Bonnie asked me or I asked Bonnie if taking a canoe out onto Penobscot Bay together was an acceptable activity. We agreed, grabbed a couple life jackets, paddles and out into the bay we went, the water still as smooth as glass.

No wind meant it was very quiet. A considerable ways out the both of us heard a noise. Simultaneously we stopped paddling and remained silent.

All at once we were surrounded by porpoises, on our right, on our left, backs humped out of the water, spouting water, making noise. Then suddenly it was quiet again. Several minutes later that phenomena happened all over again. (Slight pause.)

I hope you won’t think this is an overstatement. Both Bonnie and I thought of this and still think of this as a “God moment,” a sign, something that happens at a time and a place were there was and is a sense of the love of God as that love is expressed through creation, a time and a place where we had a sense of the real presence of God.

I am of the opinion that God moments— times when and places where the real presence of God is with us— occur often. I am also of the opinion that most of the time we are too distracted to be aware of these God moments. (Slight pause.)

These words are found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Tanakh, in the section known as the Torah in the work commonly referred to as Exodus: “Then the Glory of God came to dwell, settled on Mount Sinai. The cloud covered the mountain for six days; on the seventh day God called to Moses out of the cloud.” (Slight pause.)

It seems to me in our society too often movies instruct us about what the real presence of God might look or feel like. These representations, artistic ideas, run from the serious to comedic: God appearing to Charlton Heston, God being played George Burns.

The problem here is not these artistic expressions in and of themselves. I think the problem is we buy into these representations lock, stock and barrel as explanations of what God might look like or feel like instead of being aware of our own experiences of God, instead of being sensitive to the presence of God in our lives.

Perhaps more importantly, we fail to listen to and understand what Scripture tells us. The words we hear in Exodus say that the Glory of God came to dwell on Mount Sinai for six days. Obviously, based on that description, there was a cloud. Who knows? It may have even been fog.

But what is the Glory of God? What does that phrase mean? (Slight pause.) The underlying Hebrew word we translate as the Glory of God is Kabod. You probably noted that’s the sermon title. A transliterated version of the word would spell it this way: k-a-b-o-d.

Now, in Hebrew what any word means often depends on the context of how it’s used. Hence, it is difficult to say there is one way to translate any specific word with exactness outside of the context. This makes Hebrew a very hard language to learn and to translate. But in the context of the Mount Sinai experience it’s likely that Kabod, which we translate as glory, means the real presence and the full presence of God.

And so what this story calls the real presence of God, Kabod, comes and dwells on the mountain for six days. And there is a cloud. And nothing is recorded, written about what is happening, except the real presence of God, the Kabod, is there.

And then Moses goes into the cloud for forty days and forty nights. Forty days and forty nights is not a counting, an enumeration, but a sign of completion and completeness. And for those forty days and forty nights when Moses goes into the cloud nothing is recorded, nothing is written about what is happening, except the real presence of God, the Kabod, is there. (Slight pause.)

When this reading was introduced it was said this story is a theophany. A theophany is manifestation of the presence of God and we, too often, approach such narratives in awe and wonder about how God manifests God’s own self, be it in a cloud, in a burst of light, in a burning bush, instead of being in awe and wonder about the amazing fact that God is willing to make God’s own presence known.

In short, we become distracted. Like buying into movie narratives about God, too often we concentrate on the artistic details which we read in the narration rather than on the fact that real presence of God, the Kabod, is with us, is among us. (Slight pause.)

Let me offer this for your consideration. Suppose you are on an island off the coast of Maine and some pea soup fog rolls in for four days straight. And suppose you are bored silly. Despite the fact that you are bored silly, here’s the question which needs to be asked: is God there, in the fog?

You see, Bonnie and I noticed the possibility that God was present when the dolphins surrounded us, which for us signified the reality of the love of God in creation. Why? That was dramatic. But perhaps we should also have noticed the reality of the presence of God in the fog.

My point is no matter how many games of charades you play and no matter how many Russian novels you consume— God… is… there. Further, God… is… here. The full presence of God is with you, is with us, no matter when, no matter where. (Slight pause.)

I suppose that still leaves obvious questions: what is the full presence of God? Where is the full presence of God to be found? (Slight pause.) Let me be so bold as to suggest the full presence of God is found, among other places, in joy, in equity, in hope, in peace, in freedom, in truth, in love.

And, rumor to the contrary and even contrary to the messages we get from society, God relies on us— you and me— God relies on us to embody the joy, the equity, the hope, the peace, the freedom, the truth and the love of God. I also think, if we strive to embody the joy, equity, hope, peace, freedom, truth and love of God a strange yet wonderful thing happens.

The Kabod of God, the real presence of God, can and will break through to our consciousness as we strive to embody these aspects of God. The Kabod of God can be and will be seen in our distracted lives as we strive to work with God on reflecting joy, equity, hope, peace, freedom, truth and love.

And yes, the presence of God is and can be felt— felt— especially when we strive to reflect the love of God. When we do strive to reflect these aspects of God, when we do this hard work — and it is hard work— that is when we can and will become much more aware God is with us always, at all times and in every place. Amen.

Elijah Kellogg Church, Harpswell, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “Bonnie has always said if she had left after the fog lifted we may never have seen one another again. After all, the only thing she knew about me at that point in time was I was terrible at charades. That segment of this story— Bonnie staying— is not about the presence of God but about God’s timing. And that is yet a different sermon topic— God’s timing— not going there. I will say this, however— I believe we are called to strive to embody the joy, equity, hope, peace, freedom, truth and love of God. And unless we do that and in so doing recognize the presence of God, God’s timing and God’s time will never be given a chance to be acknowledged, never be seen.”

BENEDICTION: Let us go in joy and in love and in peace, for our hope is in the one who has made covenant with us. God reigns. Let us go in God’s peace. And may the face of God shine upon us; may the peace of Christ rule among us; may the fire of the Spirit burn within us this day and forevermore. Amen.

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