“It’s good to be here.” Those words are probably pretty familiar to most of us. Most of us say them, or something like them, time after time after time. Depending on your job, you might say those words hundreds of times a year.
We say something like that when we’re guests in someone’s home. We say it when we arrive at a new worksite, or when someone says that they’re glad we could join them. I say something like that almost every Sunday that I preach. There have been times in my life when I used that phrase, “It’s good to be here” over a hundred times or so in ten minutes.
I remember preaching at the Manassas congregation years and years ago for the Mid-Atlantic District pulpit exchange Sunday. I preached my sermon, said the benediction, and the worship leader and I marched down the aisle. Then he and I took our positions at the door to greet folks coming out of the service.
You know, I genuinely enjoy visiting with folks after the worship service. I enjoy getting to shake hands, I like hearing how your week has gone. It gives me a chance to catch up sometimes about some of your family or friends who’ve had trouble. Sometimes I have to leave quickly if there’s something going on, but generally the time where I greet people after worship is kind of fun.
It was fun at Manassas too, but it was a little harder. It was harder for a couple of reasons. First, there were a bunch of people – probably 150 to 175 in worship that morning. Second, with very few exceptions, I didn’t know anybody and nobody knew me. Most of the conversations were pretty much the same. “Nice sermon, pastor.” “Thanks. It’s good to be here.” “Glad you could be with us this morning.” “Thanks. It’s good to be here.” “I always look forward to these pulpit exchanges. It’s good to have you.” “I look forward to them too. It’s good to be here.”
Do you detect a pattern? I thought you might. You know what, though? Even though I said “it’s good to be here” over and over and over to almost everyone who came out, it was 100% sincere. It was good to be there. Even if I didn’t know anyone it was good to be there, for some of the same reasons it’s good to be here this morning.
Some of you may doubt whether it’s good to be here this morning. Others of you may think it’s good to be here, but getting here was no fun and going home won’t be either. You might have had to brush off the car and fight off the winds and your shoes may have gotten wet and your hands or your head may have gotten cold. You skin might be dry and itchy. It might have been more comfortable to turn off the alarm clock and stay snuggled in your covers. It may be good to be here, but it may be better to be in Florida, or California, or on a Caribbean cruise. Is it really good to be here?
Yes. It’s good to be here with friends, with brothers and sisters in faith. It’s good to maybe meet some new folks, or get to know some of you better in some way than I do now. It’s good to be here, although to tell you the truth all of that stuff sounds kind of routine, kind of everyday, you know?
There are plenty of other routine reasons why it’s good to be here. It’s good to be praying for each other. It’s good to be singing and worshipping with each other. It’s good to be sharing with each other. It’s good to be in the presence of God. We may not want to say those are routine, but many of those are things that we do most every Sunday, and many of them are things that we can take for granted.
That’s a little bit of what happens in our scripture reading this morning. Peter was missing the glory that’s in the routine, that is in the everyday. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. Probably a long hike. It might have taken them a day or two, I don’t know. They were probably tired, hot and dirty. Peter was not saying, “It is good to be here” at this point. Hiking around to strange places with Jesus is something that Peter did every day. Nothing particularly wonderful about that.
Then suddenly Jesus’s face begins to shine, and Moses and Elijah appear and talk with Jesus. Now this is different. This is unusual. This gets Peter’s attention. And in verse 5 after all of the wonderful, unique, incredible stuff, it is then that Peter says to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here.”
Just the ordinary stuff wasn’t good enough. Just walking and talking with Jesus wasn’t good enough. It is not until the power and the glory shine around him that Peter really notices, that Peter expresses pleasure. Peter has spent so much time with Jesus that unless something truly remarkable is going on, Peter is in danger of taking Jesus for granted.
Us too. We can become so used to whatever is going on in our lives that we take it for granted. It can become routine. It can become monotonous. It can become almost boring, and we will not be satisfied. We will want more.
In The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff tells the story of a stonecutter who was dissatisfied with himself and with his position in life. “One day the stonecutter passed a wealthy merchant’s house, and through the open gateway saw many fine possessions and important visitors. ‘How powerful that merchant must be,’ thought the stonecutter. He became very envious, and wished that he could be like the merchant. Then he would no longer have to live the life of a mere stonecutter.
“To his great surprise, he suddenly became the merchant, enjoying more luxuries and power than he had ever dreamed of, envied and detested by those less wealthy than himself. But soon a high official passed by, carried in a sedan chair, and escorted by soldiers beating gongs. Everyone, no matter how wealthy, had to bow low before the procession. ‘How powerful that official is,” he thought. “I wish I could be a high official.
“Then he became the high official, carried everywhere in his embroidered sedan chair, feared and hated by the people all around, who had to bow down before him as he passed by. It was a hot summer day, and the official became very uncomfortable in the sticky sedan chair. He looked up at the sun. It shone proudly in the sky, unaffected by his presence. ‘How powerful the sun is!’, he thought. ‘I wish I could be the sun.
Then he became the sun, shining fiercely down on everyone, cursed by the farmers and the laborers. But a huge black cloud moved between him and the earth, so that his light could no longer shine on everything below. ‘How powerful that storm cloud is!’, he thought. ‘I wish I could be a cloud.
“Then he became the cloud, flooding the fields and villages, shouted at by everyone. But soon he found that he was being pushed away by some great force, and he realized it was the wind. ‘How powerful it is!’, he thought. ‘I wish I could be the wind.
Then he became the wind, blowing tiles off the roofs of houses, uprooting trees, hated and feared by all below him. But after a while, he ran up against something that would not move, no matter how forcefully he blew against it – a huge, towering stone. ‘How powerful that stone is!’, he thought. I wish I could be that stone.
“Then he became the stone, more powerful than anything else on earth. But as he stood there, he heard the sound of a hammer pounding a chisel into the solid rock, and he felt himself being changed. ‘What could be more powerful than I, the stone?’, he thought. He looked down and saw far, far below him the figure of a stonecutter.”
Since the beginning of the Church of the Brethren we have emphasized simplicity, contentment with what we have, finding God in the everyday moments of our lives. We don’t measure what’s good by what is the strongest or the most powerful like the stonecutter. We don’t measure what is good by what is the most glorious or the most remarkable like Peter in our scripture. We don’t measure what is good by what is richest or biggest or prettiest like the world tells us to.
We measure what is good by what brings us closest to God.
I can honestly say that for me it is good to be here. Not because of any particular wealth or power or anything like that. It is good to be here because this is the body of Christ, gathered for worship. It is good to be here because we can feel and claim God’s presence in the prayers, in the music, in the midst of our neighbors. It is good to be here because God is here.
That doesn’t end when we leave the building soon. God is with us always. God’s Spirit is within us, closer than our own breath. What makes a place good, what makes a job good, what makes a day good, or if not good at least bearable, is the knowledge that we are not alone, that wherever we are God is with us.
There is an old story about a man who left his village, weary of his life, longing for a place where he could escape all the struggles of the earth. The man set out in search of a magical city – the heavenly city of his dreams, where all things would be good and perfect and wonderful.
The man walked all day and by dusk found himself in a forest where he decided to spend the night. Eating a crust of bread he had brought, he said his prayers, and just before going to sleep placed his shoes in the center of the path, pointing them in the direction he would continue in the morning.
While the man slept, someone walked by in the night and turned his shoes around, pointing them in the direction from which he had come.
The next morning, unaware of what had happened, the man got up, gave thanks to the God of the universe, and started on his way again in the direction his shoes pointed. For the second time he walked all day, and toward evening finally saw the magical city in the distance. It wasn’t quite as large as he’d expected. As the man got closer, the city looked kind of familiar. But he pressed on, found a street much like his own, knocked on a familiar-looking door, greeted the family he found there, and lived happily ever after in the magical city of his dreams.
What God does sometimes is turn our shoes around and point us toward home. What God does is bring us to the good place, the place where we are closest to Him. Actually, what God does is make us aware that the good place can be wherever we are, as long as we’re aware of God’s presence.
It is good to be here. Remember that when you leave this morning and go on to the next good place on your schedule. Wherever it is, it will be good to be there too, because God will be with you. Amen.