The Sapphire Tablets

When Moses was on top of Mount Sinai, God spoke to him saying, “I am going to give you ten commandments etched on two tablets but you must first bring to me the two tablets.” Then God showed Moses the two sapphire stones the law would be written on and commanded Moses to bring them into his presence. Moses tried to lift the two stones and found that they were much too heavy for a single man to lift. After struggling with the stones, Moses finally gave up and said, “I am sorry. These tablets are much too heavy for one man to lift.”

God answered, “I wanted you to see this for yourself so that you would know the miracle I am about to perform. The words I am about to etch into these tablets have such power that they will lift the tablets for you.”

So God approached the tablets, his glory obscured by the cloud, and he began to etch in the sapphire tablets the words, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me…” And each Hebrew word, as it was written by God’s own hand, blazed with holy fire, then glowed deep red. And each letter etched into the stone tablet took on a life of its own and sang a psalm of thanksgiving to the Creator.When God finished writing the commandments on the stone tablets. Moses picked them up and they were light as pillows. It was then that he realized the power that the words had given to the heavy stone.

As Moses came down the mountain with the two tablets in his arms, he heard the sound of laughter and drunken singing. As he came closer to the camp he could see the Hebrews had fashioned for themselves a giant golden calf and that they were worshipping it and engaging in all manner of perversion. When the glowing red letters on the tablets saw the revelry and apostasy, they were truly disgusted and they fled the stone tablets and flew to the top of Mount Sinai back to their divine source.

Suddenly, in the sight of all the people, the tablets once again became too heavy for Moses to carry and he dropped them on the ground where they smashed into a thousand pieces.

This midrashic tale was written in part to explain why Moses smashed the stone tablets when he came down from Mount Sinai and saw the Hebrews worshiping a molten image. The original story in Exodus 32 sure makes it seem like Moses smashes the tablets in anger but the ancient rabbis couldn’t fathom that a great man like Moses would behave in such a reckless way. They came up with many explanations but this creative story is far and away my favorite. More important than getting Moses off the hook, this midrash teaches us something profound. God’s word has power! It can lift even the heaviest burden but it cannot abide sin. God’s Word, even when etched in stone is living and dynamic. Those who walk in the way of Jesus are reminded by this parable of the Word who put on flesh and dwelt among us and lightens the burden of the law for us in bright red letters. Why would we bow to something manmade when we could follow the living Word back to the divine source of all things?

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

Is Anybody Up There?


A man was hiking on a large mountain when suddenly he lost his footing, tripped, and went stumbling off the side of a steep cliff. Luckily, he had the presence of mind to reach out and grab a branch half way down. Clutching his branch, he looked down at the jagged rocks below and then at the impossibly steep cliff above. Not knowing what else to do, he looked up at the sky and cried with all his might’ “Is anybody up there?”

Suddenly some clouds parted, revealing a bright shaft of light, and a deep thundering voice sounded from heaven, saying, “It is I, God! You must have faith my child. Let go of the branch and I will catch you.”

The man thinks for a second, looks up at the sky, and cries, “Is there a body else up there?”

This funny little parable has a serious message. Faith is casting your lot entirely with God, no matter what. There is no plan B. The life of faith is letting go when it is not clear that we will be caught. If we knew how everything would work out, it would take no faith. The saying may seem trite but it’s also true: there comes a time in which we must let go and let God. Sometimes it is when we are at our most desperate, not knowing where else to turn that we finally look to heaven. What would our lives look like if we didn’t wait until we were hanging off the side of a cliff to ask, “Is anybody up there?”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer

WHEN I HEARD THE LEARN’D ASTRONOMER

When I heard the learn’d astronomer,
When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me,
When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them,
When I sitting heard the astronomer where he lectured with much applause in the lecture-room,
How soon unaccountable I became tired and sick,
Till rising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself,
In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time,
Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.

Walt Whitman

This classic poem by Walt Whitman is a profound reminder that the knowledge of something and the experience of it are two very different things. It is one thing to listen to lectures about the stars, it is another to look up at them in wordless wonder. A few minor tweaks to this poem and it could be: “When I Heard the Learn’d Theologian.” All description of God pales in comparison to the experience of God. Those of us who are charged with communicating the Gospel must often resist the temptation to tell everything we know rather than relate the experience of being known. Our theology and our arguments may be met with much applause in the lecture room, but if we are not connecting people to the presence of the living God, chances are they may leave our church tired and sick.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The King and the Maiden


Suppose there was a king who loved a humble maiden. The king was like no other king. Every statesman trembled before his power. No one dared breathe a word against him, for he had the strength to crush all opponents.

And yet this mighty king was melted by love for a humble maiden who lived in a poor village in his kingdom. How could he declare his love for her? In an odd sort of way, his kingliness tied his hands. If he brought her to the palace and crowned her head with jewels and clothed her body in royal robes, she would surely not resist-no one dared resist him. But would she love him?

She would say she loved him, of course, but would she truly? Or would she live with him in fear, nursing a private grief for the life she had left behind? Would she be happy at his side? How could he know for sure? If he rode to her forest cottage in his royal carriage, with an armed escort waving bright banners, that too would overwhelm her. He did not want a cringing subject. He wanted a lover, an equal. He wanted her to forget that he was a king and she a humble maiden and to let shared love cross the gulf between them. For it is only in love that the unequal can be made equal.

The king, convinced he could not elevate the maiden without crushing her freedom, resolved to descend to her. Clothed as a beggar, he approached her cottage with a worn cloak fluttering loose about him. This was not just a disguise – the king took on a totally new identity – He had renounced his throne to declare his love and to win hers.

This, perhaps the most beautiful of Søren Kierkegaard’s parables (I kept his wording intact), is a profound illustration of the greatest Christian mystery: that God would give up all His holy splendor and don flesh and bone– that He would forsake His crown for a cross. The answer is “love.” As disciples, we are called to imitate this same love and humility. As the apostle Paul wrote in the second chapter of Phillippians: “Therefore in your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Cliff


A man was traveling along a treacherous  mountain path when a tiger suddenly leapt from the bushes. He was so startled that he lost his footing and began to tumble down the side of a steep cliff. As luck would have it, a climber had left some rope fastened to a tree at the top and the the man was able to grab hold of it halfway down the cliff. Looking up, he saw the tiger waiting for him at the top,  gnawing on the rope. Looking down, the man saw jagged rocks sticking out of a violent river. The man realized his situation was hopeless until he looked forward and saw, growing out of the side of the mountain, fresh strawberries. They were juicy and ripe so he reached out and grabbed them.  They were the sweetest strawberries the man had tasted in his entire life. 

This Buddhist parable demonstrates the importance of living in the moment. We cannot change our past and our future, this side of the veil, is certain. But if we pay attention to the moments we are in, there is so much beauty and wonder to be had. Buddhist call this “mindfulness.” When the Apostle Paul famously instructed the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing,” I doubt he meant that they should spend their entire lives on their knees speaking to God (though, there are way worse ways to spend a life). I think Paul was telling us that we need to be constantly mindful of God’s presence throughout the day. We spend so much time distracted by guilt and worry that we often miss what God is doing right here and now. In the last months of his life, musician, Warren Zevon, knew he was going to die soon of his terminal cancer. When David Letterman asked what he had learned from the experience that he wanted to pass on, he simply said, “Enjoy every sandwich.” May we not be so preoccupied with our circumstances that we forget to see and appreciate the blessings God has in store for us every day. It would be a shame to miss all those wonderful strawberries.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…


Dear Paco


Once in Spain, a father and his young teenage son, “Paco”, had a falling out. After a huge fight, the boy cursed his father and ran away from home to make his own way in the city of Madrid. After a year went by, the father’s heart softened toward his son and he grieved his absence. He set out to go search for Paco and bring him home but he soon learned that it was near an impossible task. Madrid was such a large city that looking for a single boy there was like looking for a needle in a haystack. He spent day and night searching but made no progress. Finally, not knowing what to do, he took out an ad in the local paper before returning home. The ad read:

“Dear Paco,
All is forgiven.
Meet me at the Hotel Montana at noon on Tuesday.
Love, Papa.”

When the fateful day came, Paco’s father took the train to Madrid and walked from the station to the Hotel Montana. When he got there he was stunned by what he saw: a crowd of about 700 young men named “Paco”, each one waiting to be reunited with his father.

There is something at once beautiful and sad about this little parable found in Earnest Hemingway’s short story: “The Capitol of the World.” It describes so perfectly the human condition: one of alienation from our Father, in desperate need of forgiveness. Jesus once said to his disciples, “the harvest is plenty but the workers are few.” He urged them to be “fishers of men”, and he told them stories about a shepherd in search of a single lamb and a father waiting by the door. To walk in the way of Jesus is to continually bear an invitation of love and forgiveness to a world of Pacos waiting to come home.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…

The Great Blondin


In the middle of the 1800s, the most famous tightrope walker in the world was a man called “The Great Blondin!” Blondin was famous for crossing Niagra Falls on tightrope and people came from all over the world to watch him perform the feat.

On one such occasion, Blondin, known for his showmanship, called out to the crowd, “I am The Great Blondin! Who believes I can cross over Niagra Falls on this tightrope?”

The crowd was excited and called out to him, “We believe, Blondin, we believe!”

Next, Blondin pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket, tied it around his head and called out: “I am The Great Blondin! Who believes I can cross over Niagra Falls on this tightrope, while blindfolded?”

The crowd, more jazzed up than before, called out, “We believe, Blondin, we believe!”

Then Blondin whisked away a sheet and revealed a wheelbarrow standing behind him. He called out once more to the ecstatic crowd, “I am The Great Blondin! Who believes I can cross over Niagra Falls on this tightrope, blindfolded, while pushing this wheelbarrow?”

The crowd was practically roaring now! “We believe, Blondin, we believe!”

Finally, Blondin, summoned the crowd to silence and spoke once more, “I am The Great Blondin! ….. Now, who wants to get in the wheelbarrow?”

The crowd fell silent.

This parable, based on a true event, reminds us that it is far easier to trust God in word than to trust Him in deed. We can say we believe from the safety of the crowd but it is a completely different thing to ride in the wheelbarrow. In the gospels, Jesus says, “Whoever would be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Discipleship is a risky proposition. Our safety is not guaranteed. Jesus offers only this assurance: if we surrender ourselves and put our trust in Him, He will never leave us nor forsake us. 

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear…