Tag Archives: Change

After Go

A Sermon for 12 March 2017

A reading from Genesis 12:1-4.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”  So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him.  Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!

 

When I was a little girl, I loved Sunday night services with the missionaries.  That was back in the day – at least in the Midwest – when churches gathered for worship both on Sunday mornings and on Sunday nights.  It wasn’t like the early and the late service with two different time options to experience the same service of worship.  These were two entirely different services – with two entirely different sermons by the one same pastor.  I’m pretty sure our pastor also loved the Sundays he’d only have to prepare one sermon because a missionary financially supported by the church was on furlough in the States and available to do their thing among us.  The thing they would do on those Sunday nights varied.  Most told stories about the people they were meeting in places deep in the heart of Africa or somewhere over in like Korea.  We’d be shown pictures of people who looked very different than all the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Dutch descendants living in my little hometown.  Never before had I seen such luscious black hair.  And no matter how long my sister and I tried to tan on the beach, our skin could not get as dark as the beautiful faces we’d see from places like Nigeria.  The dress, the language, the very different climates:  I loved it all!

Some Sunday nights those missionaries would take the mic to tell their own personal stories.  We’d hear of calls from God to folks who left successful businesses to venture to the other side of the world.  A few would say they were born to parents committed too to such work; ministering somewhere exotic was all they ever knew.  Every now and again a missionary would get teary-eyed as they told how different their life had become.  Not anything like they’d ever imagined.  They would explain that since they went, they had learned how to communicate with people whose first, second, or fifth language was NOT English.  They now gathered for worship to the sound of a conch shell or the steady beat of a native drum.  After they sold most all of their possessions to make the trip to the other side of the earth with one simple suitcase and few if any luxuries that were common-place back home, they found out they really could be content with less.  They explained:  gratefully, their lives were nothing like they had been back home in the States after they answered, what they believed to be from God, the call to go!

I wonder how many of us would say the same thing.  That gratefully our lives have become like nothing we knew before – like nothing we ever could imagine – after we answered a call to go.  . . .  Don’t tell me you never have.  It doesn’t have to be to some far away international mission field.  We’ve got plenty of work to do for God right here in our own communities. . .  At some point, all of us have answered the call to go.  For starters, we woke up this morning, did our regular morning routines, and landed here in what may be a long-time favorite pew – or perhaps a spot in a sanctuary in which we’ve never set foot before.  . . .  At some point in our lives we agreed to go – go to worship.  Go to a new member’s class.  Go to a bible or other Christian study with a bunch of folks we barely knew.  Go to serve at a mission project sponsored by this congregation or another local church.  All throughout our lives we have answered the Christian call to go – to serve in the world in something more than just a job.  To understand our daily work as the vocation in which our best gifts and abilities can be used for the glory of God – at the school where you teach, or the hospital in which you serve, or the business in which you practice.  Each of us is called by God to go into relationships with people that end up dramatically changing our lives.  Into families that turn out in ways we never would imagine.  Into friendships that shape us for good.  . . .  At some point in our lives every last one of us recognizes some sort of nudge.  The Spirit of God within beacons through a notion we just can’t get out of our head.  A passion stirs that sets us on fire for the benefit of another.  An emotion nags until we sit down to sort out just what it is all about.  That’s the call of God – directed at every one of us.  The summons to go from what we have known into land that’s absolutely unlike anywhere we’ve been before – even if we only ever travel to our local communities, places of employment, or very own families.  We all are called to go.

It’s the story of our ancestor Abram.  In Genesis 12 we start out in Haran with Abram, Sarai, and Lot.  We forget that Abram’s family already had been on the move.  In chapter 11 of Genesis, we learn that Abram’s father Terah first took his family from Ur of the Chaldeans to Haran where they settled before reaching their ultimate destination Canaan.  All we know is that Abram’s father died in Haran.  For whatever reason, he didn’t forge forward on their trek to Canaan.  And after his death, it was time.  The LORD says to Abram:  “go!”  Perhaps Abram knew the location where God wanted them to be.  But here in Genesis 12, God just says “go . . .  to the land that I will show you” (vs. 1).  So much like God – not to give us clear flying instructions before we’re to venture forth.  . . .  We feel that way a lot today, don’t we, as a church?  Gone are the canned ministry programs of the late 20th Century that were designed to get a church from point A to point B to point C.  The experts keep telling us there is no set way today to re-grow a church, other than get to know our neighbor’s needs, organize afresh for action with impact, and switch our mindsets from luring people in as fresh blood for our pews – switch our mindset from going to church to being Christ’s disciples in the world.  To getting out there.  Go-ing into the world to meet people where they are.  So that we can serve the need they have – not in hopes they eventually will come ‘round to be members here – but just to be with them in their need.  Because they have a need – we all do.  And we, as Christ’s body, now act as he would on earth.

Going is scary.  We’re not so sure what we’re going to find.  Abram never had been to Canaan.  He couldn’t anticipate the Canaanites he’d meet.  Other than through possible rumors, he knew nothing of their customs – what they valued and made a part of their daily lives.  He may or may not have been able to speak words that made sense to them.  He didn’t know what would happen for his family’s needs to be met.  He could not anticipate what would take place all along the way or once they finally arrived.  He’d been told he’d be made a blessing – but how that would take place he could not yet know, before he first set out.  . . .  When I consider the steady decline of Mainline church in America, sometimes I wonder if it’s God’s summons to go.  God’s invitation to follow to a whole other land.  Like an adventure to leave behind the country in which we’ve grown comfortable to journey to the land God will show.  It’s not that the land we’ve been dwelling in is bad or anything like that.  It’s just that sometimes we need new vistas.  To expand who we’ve always thought we were.  We need new ways for God to be able to get in that our trust might be deepened and our faith grown wider.  As we go, we’re changed.  We learn what’s of value to those we don’t yet know, which just might sharpen what really matters to us too.  As we go, we’re made into different ways of being in this world which honor our past and take seriously the present.  We’re blessed to be a blessing in ways unimagined if we decide we’d rather not go.

In the end, it’s our choice.  But talk to anyone who’s tried to dodge it – Moses, Jonah, a whole lot of second career preachers.  No matter how foreign the territory to which God tells us to go, we’d do well to let God use us to be a blessing.  Who knows:  maybe we’ll end up grateful.  Our lives changed in ways we never could imagine, before we answered God’s persistent call to go!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

Come and Change

A sermon for 15 January 2017

A reading from the gospel of John 1:29-42. Listen for God’s word to us in this gospel text assigned to the second Sunday after Epiphany all three years of the lectionary cycle. Listen.

“The next day he (John the Baptist) saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

There’s a word in the English language. It starts with the same letter as Christ. It starts with the same letter as another word prominent in this reading from the first chapter of the gospel of John, which actually brings it all about. The word I have in mind names a process most of us admit that we don’t at all like. Though it’s strange really, that we would have such disdain for this word and for the process. Because even in our own bodies, it takes place daily – naturally without any effort on our part; and mostly without much notice. History has shown that organisms that resist the process named by the word do not last. We label them extinct and include them in museums not only for the enjoyment of future generations but also for the warning we need to learn from them. Resist the process at your own risk. Deny the word starting with the same letter as Christ at your own peril. Fight against it – when it’s upon you for your own benefit and the benefit of others – and you’ll find yourself in the next extinct exhibit. Can you guess the word I’m talking about? The word that’s almost so taboo among too many churches that it’s up there with topics like sex and politics and money – all the hot button topics very few want covered in Sunday sermons.

The word is: Change. Change. Why do so many of us dislike it?

The gospel of John has an interesting way of introducing Jesus. It starts with its very high view of his divinity: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Unlike the other three gospels, John launches then into John the Baptist’s telling of Jesus’ baptism. Instead of the real-time view of it taking place, John the Baptist just speaks out loud, not really to anyone, but just as he sees Jesus in passing one day. It’s as if the gospel of John means to say from the start that the testimony about this incarnate Word is even more important to those with ears to hear and eyes to see, than is the actual event taking place for that Word in flesh. . . . The text we heard this morning is crucial for the church – so much so that, like I already said, every year after Epiphany and Baptism of the Lord, the lectionary gospel reading turns to the gospel of John for one week prior to delving into Matthew in Year A, Mark in Year B, and Luke in Year C.

It’s about change. The whole story of those who would heed the call to come is the unfolding adventure of their lives. As John points others to Jesus as the lamb of God who will take away the sins of the world, Andrew and another curious disciple of John begin following Jesus. Their lives never again will be the same. . . . If we were to see this on the big movie screen, we’d see John hanging out with a few folks around him. Jesus might have been just strolling by on his way home from a carpentry job ready to relax for the night, when John raises his voice to say: “Look! The lamb of God!” . . . It’s enough for Andrew and another one to take off after him. Was it a crowded village street, Andrew and the other ducking behind carts and doors as they tailed Jesus that afternoon? Or were they bold enough to just start walking right behind him. Step after step until Jesus, aware of their presence, over his shoulder turns to ask: “What are you looking for?” . . . It might it have been as simple as: “why in the world are you shadowing me?” Or maybe from the start Jesus was confronting these seekers with the much deeper question of what really it is in you that longs to be fulfilled? What is it for which you seek? . . . There’s no satisfactory answer about why they wanted to know his address. Though it’s of interest that, according to the text, they want to know where he is staying. I’m pretty sure it’s foreshadowing that though this enfleshed Word of God has a place to stay that night, he’s soon to set out on a journey that will lead to not one of the faithful ever staying in one spot again. According to the text, they will remain with him that day (1:39), as will the Spirit of God with us according to the resurrected Christ’s promise. But staying – settling into one secure little spot, metaphorically and literally, never again to change, will NOT be an option for a faithful follower of Christ. . . . Come and see he says to those who want to lay eyes upon where he stays. . . . It’s an invitation to a journey. A road Christ calls them to walk, which will be filled with twists and turns and changes all along the way.

We know it intellectually, even if we resist it emotionally. The Christian life is all about change – leaving behind the vices that bind us as we daily grow in the virtues of Christ. Finding increased in us things like love and patience and wisdom and mercy. Can you even remember now what you were like before you started to follow? Who was in your life then and what was typical of how you spent your time? For many of us our lives have been shaped from the start by the call of Christ. By our commitment to being his disciple through childhood in the church, our teen years, young adult and even until now. For others of us, there was a moment. Something brought us onto the journey – whether a wife that told you you were coming because the kids were going to be raised in the church. Or a first service here or elsewhere that really resonated within when you were looking for some direction in your life. Maybe it was a mission project with a population that mattered greatly to you that perked your curiosity around the kind of folks that would care about such a thing too. . . . Can we recall where we started and how incredibly far we have come? We have changed. Every last one of us. We have become witnesses to the way of Christ by the way we live our lives. Our pursuits have changed. Our priorities have shifted. The way we spend our time has become patterned after the things that matter to God. The very nature of who we are, if we’re really following after Jesus, begins to change as we grow with him in God’s Spirit.

I’m sure I’ve shared a hymn with you included in the latest publication of the Presbyterian Hymnal, Glory to God. The song is entitled “The Summons.” And unlikely many hymns, the second phrase of all five stanzas of the song come back to the same words. They are: “and never be the same.” It’s a little annoying when you sing it and perhaps necessary in order to keep the rhyme with the end of each first phrase that goes: “if I but call your name.” Imagine what would happen in you with a regular singing of such a hymn. Here’s how the first two phrases of each stanza goes: “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name? Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same? . . . Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name? Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same? . . . Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same? . . . Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?” Then, in the fifth stanza, the singer finally addresses the One calling in the other four stanzas. “Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name. Let me turn and follow you and never be the same. In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show. Thus I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me.” (Glory to God, Presbyterian Hymnal, 2013. Text John L. Bell and Graham Maule © 1987 WGRG; “Will You Come and Follow Me: The Summons,” #726). . . . May it be so.

In the name of the life giving-Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN 2017  (All rights reserved.)

From the Inside Out

A Sermon for 16 October 2016

A reading from the prophet Jeremiah 31:27-34. Listen for God’s word to us.

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say: “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge. The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

 

If you’ve ever been put on a diet, then you know how hard it can be. The doctor tells you your pants are fitting just a little too tight. Or maybe for another health reason you have to cut out sodium, or caffeine, or sugar. You’re sent home with the list of what you can and cannot eat. The list that’s to dictate whether or not you can enjoy all your favorites like chocolate cake and deep fried green tomatoes and beer or wine or whatever. Out of sheer willpower, some people can handle such external directives – for a little while or maybe even for the rest of their lives. Most cannot, which ends up causing other problems when we cheat. But maybe, just maybe somewhere along the way you came to your own conclusion that you only will eat what truly will be healthy for your body. Fresh vegetables and ripe fruits. Grains and nothing processed. These your body begin to crave and when you stop to really listen to exactly what your system needs, you find it’s an ice cold glass of water instead of half the bag of chips. Living like that – hearing from the inside out just exactly what your body needs – makes a shift in nutrition doable. Energizing even.

Internal motivation just seems to work better over the long haul. Athletes with that drive to be the very best in the world at their sport tend to reach their goals more often than those who have to be prodded along by an over-bearing coach. Ones who are naturally curious tend to really learn – and keep at it long after being handed a diploma at 12th grade. Those who appreciate beauty find a way to create something themselves, somehow. Being guided from the inside out – from the life-giving passions within instead of the external expectations of others leads to happier, healthier, persevering people. From the inside out assures we have matured in who we are and how we freely choose to live our lives.

From the inside out could be the title of the promise of God declared here by the prophet Jeremiah. For all we know at this point in their history, most of the people are in exile. Jeremiah seemed especially upset because Judah sought to put Temple worship as the pinnacle of religion – the abiding sign of the Davidic dynasty. And because they did, they sought to resist exile. Unpopular though his opinion be, Jeremiah was opposed to fighting against Babylon. He saw it as the road to national disaster. Rebellion against what seemed inevitable would only lead to more harm from the stronger kingdom. Besides, Temple worship, the royal religion of Jerusalem, was a “false religion, sure to fail,” Jeremiah proclaimed every chance he got (The Harper Collins Study Bible, 1993; p. 1111). They did not need to risk it all to try to retain it. Instead, the people needed to return. Return to the faith of their ancestors. Be changed from the inside out. Embrace the road map for what will work in life together and what will not. Making sacrifices in the Temple would not do. Clinging to practices that certainly would no longer be possible for waves of those exiled to Babylon or heading out to Egypt; fighting for the kinds of outer practices in the Temple that no longer could be was futile – at least as Jeremiah saw it. Rather, the good news Jeremiah proclaims here in chapter 31 is that another way is possible. A better way that God indeed promises to give the people. “The days are surely coming,” says the LORD through the prophet Jeremiah. When “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord” (Jeremiah 31:27-34). . . . The days surely are coming when we will have within us all we need to live as God desires – no matter if we find ourselves exiled to Babylon, fleeing to Egypt, or left back behind in the ransacked city of Jerusalem as the poorest of the poor were. One commentator writes: “The remnants of both Israel and Judah would enter into a new covenant and faithfully follow God’s law, for it would be written upon their hearts” (Ibid.). They will know it from the inside out.

From the inside out. . . . It’s possible to think of this inside out living in a few different ways. Take, for instance, the return to living according to the commandments – to having the ways of God written in our hearts. Once upon a time long before the supposed security of the bricks and mortar of the Temple, the people understood the whole moral code of the commandments as God’s gift to them of the best way to be the people of God together. The Light of God shining to all the nations. But if it wouldn’t get inside them; if they started to see it as something other than a gift. If they grew spiritually lazy and stopped being truly led by the love of God; then there were going to be problems. If the love of God isn’t within, we can have an external list of all God’s laws to follow; but we won’t likely carry them out. Or we’ll live by the letter of the law and forget the whole reason behind it. We’ll get caught up in trying to earn something by how many from the list we can follow. We might even start comparing ourselves as better, or worse, than everyone else. We’ll be led from the outside and sooner or later it will cause problems on our insides – bitterness or arrogance or fear.

From the inside out – God’s law written on our hearts –also is a beautiful metaphor for the Spirit of God living in us. The Divine dwelling inside – as happened when first God put the breath into us. God’s ruah, God’s Spirit exhaled right into the very first ones and every one of us since. We may not always feel that Presence within; but rest assured: it is there. Just waiting to be awakened. Waiting to be stirred up – moved as when we feel compassion, or love, or righteous anger over the violation of human dignity. That too is the law of God written on our hearts. God internal – in us – to be the compass that points us in the right direction, to the right action, to the needed word that we do know when we do as the Psalmist said: when we be still (paraphrase of Psalm 46:10) to let the swirl of angst and external expectations and voices of everyone else settle like muddy water finally calming into a crystal smooth pool in which we clearly can see. Be still, like that, on the inside and indeed we will know the prompting of God’s Spirit in us. Hearts transformed by God.

Of course, from the inside out presumes we trust enough not only God, but also ourselves. How many of us see ourselves as so incredibly marred that something so Holy as God’s Spirit never could dwell in us? Could something as pure as God’s unconditional love move us from the inside out?! Jeremiah’s words shout yes! Notice the depth of God’s love in Jeremiah’s prophecy? This is a re-start between God and God’s people. A chance for true forgiveness after the people of God have transgressed. What husband – as God is named here in reference to God’s people – what husband re-commits to a new covenant after the original vows have been trampled all over? What partner is ready to begin again when actions have caused such heartache? One able to honestly declare this: “I will forgive and remember the violation no more.” (paraphrase of Jeremiah 31:34). . . . It seems almost impossible for us, so much so that we often hear someone say, “I can forgive, but I never will forget!” According to Jeremiah, that’s not what God says. God forgives AND God forgets. Together we are free to begin again. . . . I’m not sure this is something anyone of us really can do, which might be why so many harbor guilt for whatever ways we’ve messed up. We hardly can forgive ourselves, let alone forget the disasters we’ve done in our lives. But God’s not like that. Not according to the promise of the new covenant initiated by God. . . . It’s an act of the greatest love that God hopes will get in us – stick in us and stay there so that we might begin to live a little bit more like that. God desires so deeply to be in this intimate dance of life with us that God changes us from the inside out. And it all is done by God’s love – transforming the hearts of every last one through God’s amazing gift of grace.

Here then is the new creation: God in us, transforming from the inside out.

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit. Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)

Life from Death

It was so uplifting Saturday to be at a regional meeting of church folk (a.k.a. a Presbytery meeting).  I know!  If you’ve ever been to one, then it may not seem a credible statement.  But it was for me.

I’ve been doing a lot of research and reflection lately on the church, contemporary culture, and change.  In many ways, it’s been my passion for the past decade.  Inevitably, it leaves me wondering often about what of the church needs to die.  I dream too about what might be able to grow if in fact those within the church (like me) let go of what we’ve always known.  It’s scary.  It calls me to dig deeper into that vow to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.

I used to care about needed changes in the church for reasons like job security, and to ease my frustration over things that drive me bonkers about the church, and to create ways that might be easier on all.  The deeper I go in it, the more I see that I care because my own life is full of all sorts of people who I love immensely and who want nothing to do with communities of faith in which I have lived my whole life.  Many of the folks in my life used to want to be a part; but for whatever reason, they no longer can be.  Some have been burned badly, or been raised with terrible theology that still haunts them, or find themselves totally bored in worship by things that seem absolutely irrelevant to daily life.  I even find active church folks who desperately want something different, something more; but don’t have the foggiest idea what that looks like or how to get there.  Of course, I know there always will be people who aren’t at all interested.  They never have been and they likely never will be.

My heart breaks for us all.

Just to be clear:  I think it’s wise to turn away from a people who label themselves with Jesus’ name but act like the antithesis.  I think it’s tragic to feel isolated or lonely or unloved or unlovable and have no community to turn t0 — especially because some expressions of church today are at their best and do offer the needed healing balm.  I think it’s deplorable to be seeking — or worse yet:  to already have connected deeply to the Life Force — only to be told that such things are NOT of God (which, in fact, they are!  The Divine is about the journey of awe and wonder; not certainty and fact).   I think it’s sense-less that the hearts of a people who claim the name Jesus aren’t breaking for the eclectic array of people Jesus went out of his way to welcome home.  It’s not ok to me for people to be unaware that they are beautiful, cherished treasures.  And it’s even worse to me for any to be deemed unacceptable by others who believe they know.

Recently I saw an amazing clip on The Work of the People in which Rachel Held Evans made a matter of fact statement that rocked me to the core:  “Empires worry about death.  Gardeners do not worry about death”  (To watch the clip go to http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/creating-something-new).  A few day later I watched a clip by John Philip Newell on “Dreaming Forward” (http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/dream-forward).  Newell quoted the Dalai Lama regarding hope for the future.  He said:  “‘Of course I believe there is hope for the future.  The future hasn’t happened yet.'”  My mind once again blown, I went off to the Presbytery meeting Saturday where we heard from three different young adult women (interestingly all were women) who spoke passionately about the meaning they have been finding for life through their involvement in Presbyterian Campus Ministries.  They have connected with others and that which is beyond, they have built relationships and learned from those much different from themselves, they have helped the hurting and shown love to those battered by life.  I left that meeting so excited that these young women are the church today:  the future hope in our midst.  The people who passionately and honestly seek to follow the Way of Love.  Ones who want to make a difference in others lives, not just seek to have their own needs met.

Maybe it’s just a handful and maybe as they get older the flame will fade.

Or maybe . . . just maybe, their lives (and the fruit of who they are) are the new growth.  And maybe, just maybe, all can learn a thing or two from them as we seek to breakdown in ourselves the walls of cynicism, self-focus, and indifference.

Then . . . maybe, just maybe, our own fresh growth will unfurl under the blazing sunshine in the grand garden of this world.

Here’s hoping . . . here’s to hoping!

 

Peace & Love prevail,

RevJule

 

Transfiguration: A Transformation Metaphor

DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.

May the Spirit Speak to you!
RevJule
______________________

15 February 2015 – Transfiguration Sunday
Click here to read scripture first:  http://www.biblestudytools.com/nrsa/mark/passage/?q=mark+9:2-10

Even though I wasn’t good at the guessing last week: for those of you who attended our church history celebration last week and brought in your baby photos, wasn’t that fun? Seeing so many of us from just a few years back? . . . Being able to see the dimples that remain in some, the eyes that gave you away, the smiles that never change. It was so good to see each other at different stages in our lives. It got me thinking about how much each of us has changed over the years. I mean, think about it: since those baby photos were taken, how much have you grown, learned, done? Aspects of us might always stay the same so that we remain recognizable – at least to ourselves. But so much more of who we are has changed dramatically. We no longer are just those sweet lil faces in the photos. Each of us has grown and adapted on such unique journeys through the path that is called our, individual life.

For some reason, those photos from last week remind me of the other change we’re hearing about in the gospel reading for today. It’s Transfiguration Sunday so it’s not just any old change the gospel of Mark writes about. It’s Jesus. Pretty much at the half-way point of the story between his baptism and his death and resurrection, it’s almost as if Jesus deliberately wanted to transfigure for them. According to the gospel of Mark’s record of it, six days after Jesus first tells his disciples that the path he’s following will lead to his death, but not to worry because three days after that he will be raised again. Six days after Jesus first tells how this all is going to go down; he leads Peter, James, and John up a mountain.

Now, mountains are important for Jesus and his people. Those first disciples certainly knew that. Significant encounters with God took place on mountains. On the top of a mountain, Moses too ended up with a glowing face. On the top of a mountain, the great prophet Elijah came face to face with God. And on the top of this mountain Jesus and his friends are climbing, a voice is going to tell these three lead disciples to LISTEN to what Jesus had to say. And, it wasn’t some big pronouncement he was about to make – like the transfiguration and the voice were the trumpets pre-message to get everyone’s attention for the most important words that are about to be spoken. No: Jesus already had told them the most important words they needed to hear.

In Caesarea Philippi – the ancient place where folks retreated for restful restoration at Mount Hermon’s Banias Waterfalls, which happen to be the source of the north to south waters that make up the eastern border of the land of Israel. There at the geographic start of it all, Jesus asks them who they believe he is. After Peter correctly answers: “You are the Messiah” (Mark 8:29), he and the others refuse to accept the definition of Messiah that Jesus gives. Because Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One of the God who isn’t quite as some might expect. Jesus tells that he is going to suffer, be rejected, and killed, before he finally rises again (Mark 8:31). It’s a natural human response, I think, to want it not to be so. I mean, who among us wants to suffer. Rejection hurts – it can crush our egos all together. None of us actually want to be killed – literally or metaphorically. We know this or things like swallowing our pride, and starting over after a divorce, and saying goodbye to our loved ones on their deathbeds wouldn’t be as hard as they always seem to be. Though Jesus never attempts to tell why it must be this way, it just is. Resurrection comes only after death. And just to be sure those disciples actually LISTEN and ready themselves to live likewise, the appearance of Jesus changes dramatically as a voice calls: “This is my Son, the Beloved. LISTEN to him!” (Mark 9:7).

Jesus changes – transfigures with the light of God shining right on through his eyes because he needs his disciples to know that they will need to change too.  Step by step becoming a little bit more like him.

It’s the path of transformation to which he calls us. Of dying to self daily in order to follow behind this God revealed in-full in Jesus. And transfiguration, at least according to the gospel of Mark’s telling of it, shows some of the classic human responses to change. Did you notice that? As soon as Jesus is transfigured and a few other bodies appear along with him, Peter proposes they hold on to the moment. Settle in to things as they are and never let go. Resist all future change. He suggests they make three dwellings – perhaps reminiscent of the annual Jewish Feast of Booths which originally celebrated God’s provision through the 40 years of wilderness wanderings and eventually commemorated the magnificent harvests of the Promised Land. Perhaps Peter intended those dwellings as symbolic of the one Moses came down Mount Sinai the second time with instructions for. He had been told how to build the Tabernacle or the place for the Dwelling of God. Either way, Peter is missing the point. The glorious change of Jesus they are experiencing is not for the purpose of clinging to that exact spot. It’s for them to heed the warning that the life of discipleship will look like his: giving ourselves away, no matter the cost, in order to be raised again. It’s a new way of life they are to learn. Being transformed bit by bit.

As the story unfolds, fear sets in next. Of Jesus transfiguration, the gospels all record the human response of absolute terror. Fear. We know this stuff, right? . . . Fear so often is a part of any process of change. Transformation is tough. Opening ourselves to being changed is consenting to a process in which one thing is certain:  uncertainty.  Something most of us don’t really like. We never can know what it all will be like as we change. Those disciples never could have guessed they eventually would break away from their Jewish ways as they gathered and grew into a whole new way of being. They couldn’t have imagined traveling to far-away places or staying close to home to tell people they didn’t really know about the gracious love of God, which they experienced in Christ. The healing and helping and outpouring of the Holy Spirit they came to know as they followed after him. We know they were afraid – they scattered in the garden when Jesus was arrested. They hid while he was crucified. They were in shock at the message of his resurrection. . . . Do you know those wonderful words of Eleanor Roosevelt? Cuz it sorta seems like the first disciples needed her pep talk: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face . . . You must do the thing you think you cannot do” (Eleanor Roosevelt, pinterest.com/overcoming fear quotes). This week I also came across these words regarding fear: “Fear is an idea-crippling, experience-crushing, success-stalling inhibitor inflicted only by yourself” (Stephanie Melish, Ibid.).

This process of transformation to which the transfigured Jesus calls us reminds me of the practice of courage I once heard about. It was an assignment for some class. To come up with one daily discipline and journal about it for 30 days prior to the start of the class. I guess one woman found her life incredibly settled – probably because she felt afraid of everything. So she created the practice of courage to see what might happen. Every day for her 30 day assignment, she had to shake it up. She had to do one thing she had never done before – especially if it was something she was afraid to do. She reported to the class that some days were little things like taking a new route home from work or eating at a restaurant she’d never been to before. Some days things were a bit tougher, like actually having the conversation with her boss about what had been bothering her for months at work. One thing she did, as a novice violinist who had never played in front of anybody but her teacher and her teacher’s other students, that woman practicing courage entered a talent show and played an introductory solo violin piece in front of 500 people. She reported to the class that her fingers nearly sweated off the strings and it might not have sounded like Yo Yo Ma, but she did it. She looked fear in the face and did something she never dreamed she could accomplish. During the practice of courage, every night she kept the journal required for the class. There she’d tell of what courageous new thing she did, what she noticed as she did it, and any other insights she was gaining from that intentional commitment to doing something new. She told how it was getting a bit easier to do new things and how fear was beginning to be less of a driving force in her life. . . . Upon reading the student’s final paper on the practice, the instructor of the class was so inspired by the process that she decided to give the practice of courage a try too and even encouraged others to do so as a way to grow deeper in discipleship of Christ.

Maybe it’s a practice some of us might want to take up for the season of Lent that’s sneaking up on us. A great way to begin to gain a little more breathing room in the face of any fear. Try one new thing each day – especially something that terrifies us – and pay attention to what happens in us along the way. Bit by bit changing. Transforming into who God intends for us to be. Be it scary. Slow. Unwelcomed even. But what a glorious journey the transfigured Jesus calls his followers to undertake. May we open ourselves a little bit more to the amazing process!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015