“Ask a Butterfly, ‘Who Are You?’”

Luke 9:28-36

Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Message: “Ask a Butterfly, ‘Who Are You?’”
Hear now the Parable of the Caterpillar
There was a caterpillar much like other caterpillars. It had lots of legs beneath and lots of stripes of black, white, and yellow. And like all of the other caterpillars, it crawled along eating leaves. That was its life.That is it was its life until one day it crawled upon a lovely flower. The flower was so glorious, so spectacular, so beautiful, that the caterpillar began to weep.
“I never knew such splendor existed!” it cried. “Look how the flower reaches for the sky. Look how gracefully it moves in the breeze. Oh how I long to be so beautiful and full of grace. But I am but dull and brown and fit to do nothing but crawl upon the ground. No one will ever gaze upon me and exclaim, ‘What beauty!’”In despair the caterpillar curled into a ball in the center of the colorful flower. Soon it slept. In that sleep, dream formed. A brilliant white butterfly came to him. It was whiter than sunlight on the snow. It glowed with such beauty that it was hard to look upon.In a commanding, yet gentle, musical voice the butterfly spoke, “Wake, my child. Arise, and join me, for I seek a relationship with you.”
“I c-c-can’t follow you,” replied the caterpillar, “You can fly, and I am fit for nothing other than to crawl in the dirt.”
“Then you must stop crawling in the dirt. I’ll give you instruction on how not to live in the dust.”
“I’ll try. However, I still can’t fly.”
“I’ll send my beloved son. Follow him and he’ll teach you all you need to know so that you can join me.”A short time later another caterpillar appeared. It also had stripes of black, white, and yellow. It looked just like any other caterpillar with legs below and stripes above. It was quite unremarkable until it said, “I am the son of the Great Monarch butterfly in the sky. I’ve been sent to show you how to fly.”“But, you have no wings either. How can you teach me to fly?”
“Ah, you need to understand how to live as a caterpillar before you can be a butterfly.”The new caterpillar spoke many things to the old caterpillar. They were wise words about how to live among the flowers, how to behave with other caterpillars, and how to show reverence for the Great Monarch.More and more caterpillars came to listen to the Monarch’s Son as he spoke about how it was going to be when they would live together in the sky. He spoke about how they would be changed inwardly and outwardly.Some caterpillars were upset with these teachings. The words were foolishness in their ears. “How can a worm like you speak of flying? You are just a grub like us.” They were so angry that sought to kill him. However, he was always surrounded by his followers and they feared the crowds more than they hated the new caterpillar.However, one day, a follower of the Son came to them and said, “I know a place and a time when you can come to him when he is nearly alone.” So they came, in force, with others who did not believe the tales told by the Son. They captured him and killed him. “That is the end of that nonsense,” they said, “Let no one speak of him again.”They felt quite smug about killing him until three days later when word came to them that the Son had been seen alive and meeting with his followers. He was continuing to teach them many things about the kingdom of the sky. He taught them that at the end of their life as a caterpillar they would enter a chrysalis and slowly be changed into butterflies in the image of the Great Monarch. As he was speaking, he was suddenly changed into a brilliant white butterfly and rose into the air until he could no longer be seen.
More about caterpillars.
That famous theologian Lewis G. Carol once wrote:
The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice. `Who are YOU?’ said the Caterpillar.
This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’
`What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. `Explain yourself!’
`I can’t explain MYSELF, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, `because I’m not myself, you see.’
`I don’t see,’ said the Caterpillar.
`I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,’ Alice replied very politely, `for I can’t understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.’
`It isn’t,’ said the Caterpillar.
`Well, perhaps you haven’t found it so yet,’ said Alice; `but when you have to turn into a chrysalis–you will some day, you know–and then after that into a butterfly, I should think
you’ll feel it a little strange, won’t you?’
`Not a bit,’ said the Caterpillar.
`Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,’ said Alice; `all I know is, it would feel very strange to ME.’
`You!’ said the Caterpillar contemptuously. `Who are YOU?’
Now I ask you, “Who are you?”
If you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you are a new creature.
Who are you?
How do you explain your transfiguration to others?
Here is the definition of Transfiguration: to give a new and typically exalted or spiritual appearance.
In our scripture reading we see how Jesus was transfigured. “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white”.
For just a brief moment, those fortunate disciples saw Jesus as he truly is.
How often do we let others see our true nature?
And what would they see?
I would hope that they would see the glory of Christ shining through me.
But most likely if you were to see my true nature it would be fragmented.
There would be those glorious, dazzling white clothes,
patched together with filthy rags.
I am not yet complete.
But I strive forward toward that goal.
As Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians 3:12-14
It’s not that I’ve already reached the goal
or have already completed the course.
But I run to win
that which Jesus Christ has already won for me.
Brothers and sisters,
I can’t consider myself a winner yet.
This is what I do:
I don’t look back,
I lengthen my stride,
and I run straight toward the goal
to win the prize
that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus.”
I was a caterpillar.
I was a man lost in sin.
And the worst part of it was
that for the longest time,
I didn’t even know that I was lost.
In mine own eyes
And to the eyes of the world,
I was a good man.
As I measured myself against other men,
I could say, “I’m not a thief,
I’m not a murderer,
I obey the law
(that is the law of man-
For I didn’t truly know God’s Law)
I treated my fellow man as I wanted to be treated,
Most of the time.
I wasn’t a liar,
Most of the time.
I was good to children and small furry animals.
That made me a good man. Amen?
Yes I was a good man.
But still a man lost to sin.
I was so surrounded by
The darkness of the world
That I couldn’t see that
I wasn’t a Godly man.
I may have been morally upright,
But I wasn’t morally clean.
My garments were tattered and dirty.
And then,
And then, Jesus made everything right
I gave Him my old tattered garment
He gave me a robe of pure white.
As the hymn says,
I heard an old, old story how a Savior came from glory,
How He gave His life on Calvary to save a wretch like me;
I heard about His groaning, of His precious blood’s atoning,
Then I repented of my sins and won the victory.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 declares,
Whoever is a believer in Christ is a new creation.
The old way of living has disappeared.
A new way of living has come into existence.”
But, just as a caterpillar,
Doesn’t become a butterfly overnight,
My transfiguration was just beginning.
I was, and still am, in my chrysalis stage.
Paul, in his lengthy, lawyer way, wrote this.
In Romans 8
So those who are believers in Christ Jesus
can no longer be condemned.
The standards of the Spirit,
who gives life through Christ Jesus,
have set you free from the standards of sin and death.
It is impossible to do what God’s standards demand
because of the weakness our human nature has.
But God sent his Son to have a human nature
as sinners have and to pay for sin.”
I love the lyrics to the hymn by Isaac Watts “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed.”
1. Alas! and did my Savior bleed,
and did my Sovereign die!
Would he devote that sacred head
for such a worm as I?
2. Was it for crimes that I have done,
he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown!
And love beyond degree!
3. Well might the sun in darkness hide,
and shut its glories in,
when God, the mighty maker, died
for his own creature’s sin.
4. Thus might I hide my blushing face
while his dear cross appears;
dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
and melt mine eyes to tears.
5. But drops of tears can ne’er repay
the debt of love I owe.
Here, Lord, I give myself away;
’tis all that I can do.
Master, it is good for us to be here.
We have heard your command,
This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
We have been made into a new creature
Lord, we pray that Your beauty shines through us.
Go, you butterflies and share with the caterpillars.
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How Awesome is This Place

Genesis 28:10-18 10. Meanwhile Jacob, having departed from Beersheba, continued on to Haran. 11. And when he had arrived at a certain place, where he would rest after the setting of the sun, he took some of the stones that lay there, and placing them under his head, he slept in the same place. 12. And he saw in his sleep: a ladder standing upon the earth, with its top touching heaven, also, the Angels of God ascending and descending by it, 13. and the Lord, leaning upon the ladder, saying to him: “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac. The land, in which you sleep, I will give to you and to your offspring. 14. And your offspring will be like the dust of the earth. You will spread abroad to the West, and to the East, and to the North, and to the Meridian. And in you and in your offspring, all the tribes of the earth shall be blessed. 15. And I will be your guardian wherever you will journey, and I will bring you back into this land. Neither will I dismiss you, until I have accomplished all that I have said.” 16. And when Jacob had awakened from sleep, he said, “Truly, the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” 17. And being terrified, he said: “How awsome this place is! This is nothing other than the house of God and the gateway of heaven.” 18. Therefore, Jacob, arising in the morning, took the stone which he had placed under his head, and he set it up as monument, pouring oil over it.


        Our reading from the Hebrew Bible really caught my attention this week. The story of Jacob’s ladder is probably among the first Bible stories most of us learned.  And of course the important part of the whole story is the revelation of God to Jacob and the transfer of the promise from Abraham to Jacob.  The promise to bless all families of the earth through his offspring.

        This time, though, here is the part that stood out to me as I read this scripture, “”Surely the Lord is in this place–and I did not know it!” And “How awesome is this place!” It made me wonder – how many times have we been in one of God’s special places – and not known it? This place was so special to Jacob that he built an altar to God on this holy ground and named it Bethel.  That is Beth-El, two words with a hyphen.  It means House of God        

We need to understand the “why” and the “what” of and altar.         

  • Here is the WHY:  The Old Testament altar is used as a physical representation of God.  So that, what was placed on the altar, was symbolically given to God. We most often think of the blood sacrifices – offering goats, sheep, cattle, and birds to be killed and burned on the altar. However, there were also sacrifices of grain, fruits and vegetables, as well as offerings of wine and oil such as Jacob used on his altar. Our modern altars are much more symbolic (and a lot less messy)  We are to be the living sacrifice that is given at the modern altar.
        
  • Now the “WHAT”. The types of ancient Hebrew altars are divided into two main types of altars.  The Layman’s and the Priestly. 
  • The Priestly altar was what you would have found in the Tabernacle in the desert and later in the Temple in Jerusalem.  It was an ornately decorated altar used by the priests to perform their rituals.
        
  • The Layman’s altar was vastly different. Anyone could erect a layman’s altar.  They were used for a specific one-time purpose.  Such as Jacob’s revelation of the ladder between earth and heaven. The practice was common for a long time before it became codified into the Mosaic Law as found in Exodus 20:24&25.         It reads:  “You must build an altar for me made out of dirt. Sacrifice your burnt offerings and your fellowship offerings, your sheep, goats, and cattle on it. Wherever I choose to have my name remembered, I will come to you and bless you. If you build an altar for me made out of stones, never make it with cut stone blocks. If you use a chisel on it, you will make it unacceptable to me.”             

Lots of “layman’s Altars” are listed in the bible.  I am going to go through these fairly quickly, so rather than have you try and look them up as I go, I will be glad to give a list of the scripture references later, to anyone who wants them.

Genesis 8:20 (after the flood) Noah built an altar to the Lord. On it he made a burnt offering of each type of clean animal and clean bird.

Genesis 12:7 Then the Lord appeared to Abram and said,I’m going to give this land to your descendants.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him.

Genesis 22:9 When they came to the place that God had told him about, Abraham built the altar and arranged the wood on it. Then he tied up his son Isaac and laid him on top of the wood on the altar.

Genesis 26:24-25 That night the Lord appeared to Isaac, and said, “I am the God of your father Abraham. Don’t be afraid, because I am with you. I will bless you and increase the number of your descendants for my servant Abraham’s sake.” So Isaac built an altar there and worshiped the Lord.

Genesis 33:18-22  Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem in Canaan. He camped within sight of the city. Then he bought the piece of land on which he had put up his tents. He bought it from the sons of Hamor, father of Shechem, for 100 pieces of silver. He set up an altar there and named it El-elohe- God Is the God of Israel.

Genesis 35:1-3 Then God said to Jacob, “Go to Bethel and live there. Make an altar there. I am the God who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his family and those who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods which you have, wash yourselves until you are ritually clean, and change your clothes. Then let’s go to Bethel. I will make an altar there to God, who answered me when I was troubled and who has been with me wherever I’ve gone.”

Exodus 17:10-15 Joshua did as Moses told him and fought the Amalekites, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, Israel would win, but as soon as he put his hands down, the Amalekites would start to win. Eventually, Moses’ hands felt heavy. So Aaron and Hur took a rock, put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron held up one hand, and Hur held up the other. His hands remained steady until sunset. So Joshua defeated the Amalekite army in battle. The Lord said to Moses, “Write this reminder on a scroll, and make sure that Joshua hears it, too: I will completely erase any memory of the Amalekites from the earth.” Moses built an altar and called it Adonai-nissi, The Lord Is My Banner.

        Notice the common thread that runs through this scriptures?  These were places marked by a significant meeting with God.  These were places of “holy ground”.

        I’m going to do something here that you are not supposed to do in preaching.  You are not supposed to use “I” or “You”.  Sermons are supposed to be about “Us” and “We”. However, I’m going to relate a personal example of an experience I had with “holy ground” and then I’m going to ask you to tell me your experience of finding a “holy ground”.

        Some forty years ago I was working in a food production facility.  Things were going well for the company and they had just added a new production line and storage freezer capacity. Neither the production line or the freezer were in operation yet.  

     The freezer was huge.  It seemed like about a half a football field. As it was not in operation, it was used for storing 100 pound bags of flour. The place was dimly lit with only the emergency lights. When the big freezer doors were closed it was completely silent in there.     
    
     The first time I went into that room, I felt I was on holy ground. An industrial setting may seem like an unlikely place for holy ground.  But that was the feeling that I had.  I often took my lunch break in there.  I could talk out loud to God and listen and meditate in the silence.        

     I knew that the owners were Christians, so one day I mention to him what I felt in that room. He said that he was not surprised.  That a lot of prayer had gone into the planning and the building of the addition.        

     Over the years I have found other places that just seemed to be special “God places”  or as Jacob called them gateways to God’s house.        

      It is your turn.  Where have you had that “holy ground” experience?

        These stories can help to build up the body of believers. I know and believe that God is ALWAYS with us.  That He never leaves us alone. However, I thank God that He has made us aware of His presence in special places and special ways; so that we can say with Jacob, “Surely the Lord is in this place–and I did not know it!” And “How awesome is this place!”
Amen.

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