“Seeing Through the Clouds”


I was at the United Methodist Church of the Highlands (341 Main Street, Highland Falls, NY 10928) yesterday (6 March 2011), Transfiguration Sunday.  The Scriptures for Sunday were Exodus 24: 12 – 18, 2 Peter 1: 16 – 21, and Matthew 17: 1 – 9.

Their service starts at 11 am and you are welcome to be a part of the worship.

Notes added on 12 November 2013 – To get from Newburgh to Highland Falls requires driving over Storm King Mountain.  As I recall, on this Sunday, the cloud cover that morning was rather low and you entered the clouds as you drove up the north slope and then back through the clouds as you came down on the south slope.  It made for a very interesting drive and relationship to the Old Testament reading that morning.

I have also removed the link to my publications list; if you are interested in seeing this list, please contact me.

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There is a new phrase floating around these days called “cloud computing.” Essentially, it is a way for two members of a family to share pictures or videos or some other file through the Internet. It is a great idea, except for one thing; it is not a new idea.

Sharing files was one of the primary reasons that the Internet was invented back in the late 1980s. And the sharing of files so that two individuals in different locations can work on the file at the same time has been a part of most office computer networks since the invention of the local area network. What “cloud computing” does is to expand the range of the collaboration. But again, that is nothing new, at least as far as I know.

Back in 1991, Marcin Paprzycki and I co-authored a series of manuscripts that focused on the use of computer networks in the classroom. We foresaw a number of situations that are in place today. And after the publication of one of our papers, George Duckett contacted us about a possible collaborative research project. Now, some people will say that this is no big deal; collaborative research projects are part and parcel of academic life. The only thing about this project was that George was at the University of Tasmania in Australia, Marcin was at The University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, Texas, and I was at St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota. The only contact that the three of us had was through e-mail communication on a regular basis. I was fortunate to meet George when he came to the United States in 1995 but Marcin never met him in person. In addition to the research papers generated by the project, what was, I believe, the first paper to outline what was needed for an on-line collaborative project was also published. Some aspects of what we wrote are no longer applicable but I believe the general ideas expressed are still valid. (A list of the papers that Marcin, George and I wrote from 1991 to 1995 can be found on “Publications of Tony Mitchell”; if you are interested in a copy, drop me a note. The outline for doing research on the Internet is still available – “Research Methods Using Computer Networks”, with Marcin Paprzycki and George Duckett, The Electronic Journal of Virtual Culture, 2(4), August 1994.)

Now, what do you ask does all this have to do with a church? Well, there are a number of churches who see “cloud computing” and what one can do with it as their, excuse me for an obvious pun, salvation. There are a number of churches who have been recording their Sunday morning worship services and sending the tapes around to the home-bound members and that is good. Some have even video taped the service and sent copies of the video. With “cloud computing”, it is possible for any church with a minimal cost to broadcast on the Internet, extending the range of the church from the local community to the whole world. There is the possibility of interactive communication, of people in one place conversing in real time with people in another. This will open new avenues for the church, such as an on-line church (which some are trying to develop right now).

But at some point we have to realize that the church is still in the “people” business. I have said on numerous occasions before but it bears repeating. Technology is nice; after all, I used a laptop computer to prepare and print this sermon; I will post it to my blog so that others can read it later in the day. But it always comes down to the people.

It does not matter how many people you reach on-line. For one thing there are certain aspects of the church, baptism and communion, that I truly feel cannot be done on-line; they must be done in person. It doesn’t matter if you make either an audio or video recording of the service and take it to the home-bound if you don’t spend time with the people when you take the recording.

It may be nice to do church in “the cloud” but I would much rather be there as well.

Of course, Moses spent forty days in the cloud with God but he was alone and all the Israelites saw was something that looked like a raging fire (to borrow a phrase from The Message’s translation of the Old Testament reading for today). And while Moses was on the mountain with God, he could not see what was happening to the people at the foot of the mountain.

He could not see or sense their panic as the days passed and he did not return. He could not see them begging with Aaron and the other elders to create the golden calf so that they would have tangible evidence of a god.

We all know what happened when Moses and Joshua came back down from the mountain and discovered the unfaithfulness of the people. So we will leave that for another day and jump forward to the Gospel reading when Peter, James, and John join Jesus on the mountain top.

We aren’t told if the mountain was shrouded in clouds as was the case when Moses climbed to the top. But we do know that Peter, filled with the excitement of the moment, wanted to build a monument to mark this moment and place. But who would have seen this monument? How would the people have gotten to it?

If this mountain were shrouded in clouds, the people would not have seen it and the fact that it was on the mountaintop meant that it wasn’t easily accessible. That’s not what a church is supposed to be. A church is supposed to be visible and accessible, available for all the people of the community, not just a select few.

What Jesus did and does today is call us by our own name. He has removed the clouds of mystery that surround our lives and keep us from seeing God. Each one of us has a unique and different relationship with Jesus and it is this fact that we each individually have this in common that brings us together every Sunday. We are reminded that I cannot answer your call when Jesus calls you by your name. Nor can you answer when Jesus calls me. But because we are a collective group of individuals who are joined by a similar experience we can help each other. (I want to thank John Meunier for his thoughts on this relationship – “What you can’t do for me”)

And that is what prompted Peter to write his words. He was there that day; he saw the Light that was Christ but instead of keeping it secret or private, he chose to share it with others. As was written, “Prophecy resulted when the Holy Spirit prompted men and women to speak God’s Word.”

The clouds have rolled away and the sun shines brightly. And we have been challenged to tell others what we have seen and what has happened. Some may choose to use new technologies and this will allow many to know about Christ for the first time. But many more others will come to know who Christ is and what He means by what each one of us does. Peter, James, and John were told not to speak of what they saw on the mountain that day some two thousand years ago because the time wasn’t right. But the time is right today for each of us to go forth in the world and let the people know who Christ is and what He means for each one of us.

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3 thoughts on ““Seeing Through the Clouds”

  1. Thank you for the shout out, Tony.

    I love the way you bring your technologly experience to the texts. I would have never made that connection.

    • John,
      In turn, let me say thanks for the “nudge” I got from reading your post. It pointed out that why, I believe, the church is still valid and important in today’s society.

      I might also add that getting to the church was almost as if I were living the Old Testament reading for Sunday. It was raining and to get to Highland Falls from Newburgh, you have to drive over Storm King Mountain. Because of the rain, the mountain was shrouded in clouds and visibility was down to feet. It brought the perspective of what the people saw into play quite well.

  2. Pingback: Notes on Transfiguration Sunday « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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