Into the Cloud

Rev. Scott Summerville

Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud…. Moses entered the cloud…..

Exodus 24:12-18… Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 17:2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. ….. suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!
Matthew 17:1-9 17:1

I go to the cloud every day, in fact many times a day. I go looking for my granddaughter. Two or three times a week my daughter posts photographs and videos of Zoe to “the cloud.”

The videos recently have been very exciting: videos of Zoe learning to crawl and pulling herself up to a standing position, beaming with pride and excitement at her accomplishments. She has also taken up a version of finger-painting which is more like body painting. Mommy and daddy place her on the floor on a large piece of brown paper, with globs of paint; she paints all over the paper and all over herself, from head to toe. All of this comes to me through the cloud.

The cloud is an Internet phenomenon — instead of having to physically exchange images, messages, and information or even send these things from person-to-person, you send them to the cloud, and people with computers and smart phones anywhere can pull them out of the cloud.I recently switched to using cloud software. Instead of having computer programs on discs and installing them on my computer, the programs are out there somewhere in cyberspace — just put your dollar down — they give you a code, and you can do your computer work anywhere you go on any computer — because you have a ticket to the cloud.

The cloud is the thing — the cloud is where it’s happening these days. If you are not on the cloud, well…. the world is passing you by.

In the Scriptures – the cloud is associated with manifestations of God.The idea is that the holy one, the divine, is so awesome that human beings cannot have direct contact with God. If they do, they will die. In those rare instances in the Bible where humans come into proximity with the Almighty, a cloud envelopes them, buffering them from the fearful immediacy of the Holy Presence.

The ancient Hebrews were forbidden even to speak the word “God. “ The name of God could only be spoken once a year by the high priest in the innermost sanctum of the Temple in Jerusalem, that place called the Holy of Holies.

Some of our contemporary theologians do not use the word “God” or use it sparingly, because we have become so casual in our use of that word, that it no longer conveys the awesomeness of the holy.

When I was in seminary a visiting clergy woman preached at the Chapel service. Her ministry was with prisoners and ex-offenders. She was intense, to put it mildly. Picture this: you go to seminary. You spend your days attending classes, listening to lectures, studying the history and languages of the Bible, studying the philosophy of religion, trying to figure out the meaning of life, so that someday you can explain it to other people. Then one day you take a break from your studies; you go to the chapel, and someone is talking in a much louder voice than any of your professors use. She is not talking about Augustine or John Calvin or the philosophy of religion — she is talking about a raw encounter with human life. She speaks urgently about life-and-death issues in this moment. This preacher looked at us seminarians and said: “Theology is hot! If you cannot take the heat, get out of the kitchen!”

Books are important. Scholarship is essential. We need to know the history from which we have come. The preacher needs to study the holy Scriptures before proclaiming its truths. But the preacher that day was reminding the students that there is a place where theory encounters life.

Theology is useless that is not tested face-to-face with those passions that rumble in the human soul.
Theology is empty that is not tested where life hangs in the balance.
Theology is dead, if it cannot go face-to-face with evil and injustice.

This preacher was talking about the difference between being in the library reflecting on God and being “in the cloud” – engaged in the world, encountering the holy One in the tangle of life.

Yesterday I drove my wife to the airport. On the way she said to me, “I am wondering whether I could ask you to do something.” I said to her, “Are you really wondering whether to ask me to do something — or is that a circumlocution? You have already decided to ask me to do something, and that is a roundabout way of getting to it, right?”

Isn’t it interesting the way couples converse? She said, “Yes I am going to ask you.” “Okay, so what is it?” I said. She said, “I know you are busy, but there is this book that I promised to give to one of my hospice patients; I do not know whether she will live to see me when I return, and I’ve run out of time to get the book to her before I go. Will you take it to her at the hospital on your way home?” I said that I would. How could one turn down such a request?

I have great respect for the work that my wife does. I have great respect for the work that all the hospice personnel and volunteers do, and for the work of all those people who are in medical fields dealing with the human body and soul in the most extreme circumstances. I confess, I had a twinge of apprehension even about the delivery of this book. It was not just that I was pressed for time and had not factored this additional hospital visit into my schedule. I have not factored into my spiritual schedule that day an encounter with dying. It is one thing to write a sermon. It is another thing to enter the valley of the shadow of death. I said to Mary Ellen, “Should I leave the book of the nurses station?” “Oh no,” she said, “she will want to see you.”

I entered the hospital room and encountered this woman, so thin that she was barely there, but with the most beautiful smile. When she realized who I was and why I was there, she was clearly so pleased. She said, “I love Mary Ellen.” I said, “She loves you too.”

In that hospital room on one side of her bed there was a woman and on the other a man. I learned that these were two of her neighbors. Their demeanor – their body language – conveyed their love and their deep concern for this woman in her suffering. Their visit was not a perfunctory one.

All in all, the scene was different from what I had imagined – from what I had feared. I took from that hospital room and from each of those people a blessing.

We come to this sanctuary – we come to the communion table – each of us seeking some kind of refuge, comfort, shelter from the storm, spiritual food for the journey.

But there is this paradox: Even as we seek to be healed and fed in our souls, we are hearing the challenge to go from here less inhibited by our inhibitions, less afraid of our fears, more willing to speak up, better able to be a source of strength for those who need us to be strong for them.
Even as we seek refuge, we are being offered the power to go to the mountaintop, to go to the cloud, to stay in the kitchen and take the heat.

Shalom

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