Tag Archives: hope

Students of Life (a sermon for easter sunday)

Students of Life

“Instructions for living a life.

Pay attention.

Be astonished.

Tell about it.” 

~Mary Oliver

Luke 24:1-12
24:1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they [women who followed him from galilee] came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared.
24:2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb,
24:3 but when they went in, they did not find the body.
24:4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them.
24:5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.

24:6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee,
24:7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”
24:8 Then they remembered his words,
24:9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.
24:10 Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.
24:11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.
24:12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.             

Who are these crazy women?

We’ve got some unlikely witnesses here… today’s scripture tells us that it is “Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James”, and then adds “and other women”. Earlier in chapter 23 Luke tells us that these women are the ones who followed Jesus from galilee (Luke 23:55) and earlier in chapter 8 he describes them in this way, “there were women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: [that was] Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. (Luke 8:2-4)

These women from Galilee, have been with Jesus for the long haul, they fed and followed him, sat like students at his feet and prepared for his death.  They witnessed Jesus’ crucifixion (Luke 23:49) – and remained at Jesus’ side when everyone else had fled, Among the “other women” I imagine Martha and her sister Mary walking together and Mary, Jesus’ own mother who ushered him into the world at birth and sat at the foot of the cross when he was crucified, surely, she was there too… All of them climbing the hill to the tomb – a community of women, ready to do the burial work, the grief work – ready with their spices and their oils – to lovingly say goodbye.

But when they arrived at the tomb it was open… can’t you imagine them peering in – too many to all look in at once, they crowd the opening and take turns gaping at what appears to be an empty tomb. But their confusion turns quickly to fear when two men appear… dazzling white like that messenger Mary must remember from so many years ago who brought the first rumor of incarnation…

Can you imagine them dropping together to the ground – in terror and amazement…

And this is my favorite part – according to Luke, these men don’t even bother with trying to calm them, there’s no “don’t be afraid” or “do not fear” like we’ve heard from such gospel messengers before. Instead they ask the women whose heads are on the floor,

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.

Now, all the gospel accounts of these days are rich in their variety and each offers a unique interpretation of the events leading to Jesus death and resurrection but one detail they share is utter silence on the part of the disciples and followers of Jesus in those hours and days between his death and sunrise on the third day… its almost as if the whole community dies with Christ on the cross… after a blow by blow account of the days and hours from Palm Sunday till Jesus last breath and final word from the cross the silence of the following hours and days is deafening.

The gospel of Luke tells us these same women saw his body from the cross to the tomb. and then we get nothing until the sound of their footsteps fall on the sunlit path to the tomb. There is not one account – not in Luke or any other gospel – of a disciple, man or woman, who said “wait a minute, Jesus said this would happen, Jesus is not dead, I know it!” There was silence and there was sorrow, there was disappointment and disbelief – in the face of such trauma, such violence and loss how could they possibly remember…  how could they even think straight, they must have been overwhelmed with such grief. How could they have thought to look for Christ anywhere but the grave?

But when the dazzling men said to them,

Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

They remembered his words and turned back towards Jerusalem at once to tell the others.

This is what a witness does – they see or experience something – something that moves them or marks them or terrifies them and they can’t help but tell about it.
Can you imagine how their sorrow began to ebb making space for curiosity? For joy as they moved, in mass, back to Jerusalem? Can you imagine how what had been a quiet moving vigil towards the tomb transformed into a noisy procession as this crazy news bubbled up from inside them on their way back?

When they return to the disciples still huddled in grief they all crowd in and tell them everything they had seen. I imagine them all speaking at once, telling one another, confirming and affirming their stories – an unlikely bunch of witnesses, chosen to be the bearers of terrifying and exhilarating news.

The gospel of Luke tells us that the story fell on deaf ears, that these words seemed, to the apostles gathered there, an idle tale, and they did not believe them. The words: idle tale are a kind translation, “the greek word here is lēros, (it’s only appearance in the New Testament), is usually reserved to describe the ranting of a person suffering from delirium.”[i]

Which is ironic given that for many of these women such as Mary Magdalene, this is just what Jesus rescued them from in the midst of his ministry and now as the witnesses of his resurrection our thought to be mad. Once again Jesus turns everything we think we understand upside down…

Martin Marty says that “Sometimes stories are too weird to be taken seriously, and sometimes the tellers of the stories are weirder yet.” And this is a weird story – really the whole story of Jesus from beginning to end – like an sixth grader I met recently said, “first God gets born to this random woman and then grows up and does all kinds of weird stuff, healing folks and loving folks… how does that work?” And then instead of loving him back he gets rejected, then  he ends up dying a scandalous death of an outlaw, crucified on the cross… and now… and now, he’s not dead? He’s alive? It’s an unbelievable story told by this crazy community of women,

The tomb is empty – Jesus is not there, Jesus has risen – he is among the living.

Don’t look for him among the dead.

This news the community of women bring is perplexing, and disconcerting… if there’s anything we can count on in the human experience it’s that generally dead people stay dead… we face these losses and we struggle with the grief and we turn to our memories for comfort – but it’s a story we know how to do. We know how to gather together for comfort and burial preparations. We know how to tell stories and reach back into the past to canonize and eulogize…

But Jesus is restless in the grave… Can’t you imagine that skin and boned Christ digging his feet into the ground and getting ready to rise? Thinking, “I’m not leaving this world yet…” I love that the incarnation doesn’t end on Good Friday, no, this is just the beginning – Life wins, love wins… it stubbornly pushes up out of the dirty ground of our grief and says,

The tomb is empty – Jesus is not there, Jesus has risen – he is among the living.

Don’t look for him among the dead.

My dear students of God, resurrection insists on three things:

Resurrection insists that we turn our attention from death to life…

Where are you holding onto that which is no longer life giving? What do you cling to that keeps you from knowing amazement? From experiencing joy? What makes you surge with energy and what fills you to the brim? Have you noticed how much better we do death than life? How much more comfortable we are there?

Jennie and I are getting married in June and it’s gonna be a rockin party – almost everyone we love is genuinely excited. We’ve gotten tons of support, great response from friends, family, communities… so much love. There have been just a few folks who have responded in the negative, and wow how I lived into their rejection. Gone days worrying and despairing over an unkind word. Why? Why do we do that? Why are we so easily overcome with despair when God is pouring delight into our lives?

God is present in our pain but is ever inviting us into the open spaces where the light will nurture in us the story of resurrection… the story of new life.

Resurrection insists that we remember…

Just like the messengers remind the women to remember, we too are invited to remember the ancient story of one who would not be moved, who would not be swayed from the path of love. The one who insisted that a trip to the cross would wound him but could not defeat him, this is not a static put it in a keepsake box kind of remembering, no this is a dig it out and wear it – let it change you again and again memory made new each time we tell it, it is a embodied and reimagined re-membering that will put us back together each time we fall apart.

Resurrection insists that we turn back with joy… this isn’t new we can simply sit on… resurrection insists that we too witness to the this amazing news… that we tell this weird story of love and life winning out over death… of God showing up in human flesh, vulnerable and tiny, the story of how God gets good and dirty, digging into the hardest things that humans face:

Greed, loss, suffering, illness, rejection, insecurity, poverty, relinquishing their power when we really really want to hang onto it.

Again and again offering love in the face of our fears and grace every time we fall short.

Resurrection insists we tell this story even though it makes us sound crazy… just like those women who found the empty tomb… delirious with delight.

Mary Oliver writes this poem: “Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” 

And this is your Easter homework friends. We’ve been students of God all through Lent but we haven’t had a lot of homework… but this is your takehome assignment for the Easter season that begins today and doesn’t end till Pentecost Sunday (you get awhile).

Pay attention – seek out the resurrection… look for signs of life!

Be astonished and amazed… even terrified!

Then report back… tell about it. Tell me. Tell one another. Tell everyone you meet.

Amen


[i]
Bartlett, David L.; Barbara Brown Bartlett (2011-06-10). Feasting on the Word: Year C, Volume 2, Lent through Eastertide (Kindle Locations 12519-12523). Westminster John Knox Press. Kindle Edition.

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Palm Sunday: Take it to the streets.

Sermon: Students of Possibility

Palm Sunday

Luke 19: 28-40

Trying out the human mic… the human mic is a process used by protesters, demonstrators or occupiers… it’s used when a crowd gathers with out permit or permission to use sound equipment in order to be heard. And so they use their voices to amplify the message… let’s try it. I say something and the few people who hear me repeat it – then it gets repeated again until the crowd picks it up.

Mic check… mic check…

Blessed is the king…

Who comes in the name of the Lord…

Peace in heaven…

Glory in the highest heaven…

Blessed is the king…

Who comes in the name of the Lord…

Peace in heaven…

Glory in the highest heaven…

This is the story of Palm Sunday as told by Luke… it’s the story of a community organizer… Jesus, organizing his people and staging a demonstration – This day we’ve come to call Palm Sunday – although no palms appear in our Luke text – is a staged move. It’s intentional and particular, an on-purpose, enactment of the words familiar to his own tradition found in Zechariah chapter 9… Jesus sends his disciples on a mission to get not just any animal but a donkey – and not for just anyone but for the Lord – words echoed in the song of Zechariah:

9 Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he,
humble and riding on a donkey,

on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Jesus could have ridden into the city on any day and attracted attention. There was already talk of his arrest, he had been driven into hiding and had just resurface the day before at the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha where many had heard of his return and had gathered to see not only him but the resurrected Lazarus as well…

But Jesus chooses this day, this time – this is beyond a public demonstration – this is a particular time set aside for the celebration of Passover – when thousands of Jews from far and wide are entering the gates of Jerusalem – the very home of God – the place in which heaven touches the earth – and they enter in a way that symbolizes the exodus of their people – this a time already steeped in the memory of how God rescued their people from the hands of a powerful oppressor.

This is a time in which emotions are running high. Imagine the atmosphere – the fervor of celebration – and in remembering an exodus of old there is a longing to be free again. Free of the Roman occupation, free of the rules, regulations and taxes, free from poverty, free from the violence they’ve encountered each time they’ve risen up – for generations they had been conquered, oppressed and even exiled by Babylon, Assyria, Persia, the Greeks, and finally Rome. It was the Persians that allowed the Jews to return to their homeland after so many years of exile; but freedom had never arrived; just a new kind of exile.

So even in the midst of this ‘celebration’ there is an ingrained hope that a “new exodus” would free God’s people from the “oppressive weight of empire.”

Imagine the hope of celebration mixed in with the fear and discontent. Imagine this swelling crowd pushing it’s way into the city. Imagine the fear in the hearts of the temple officials and the Pharisees that had been forced to collaborate with Rome and were now expected to control this crowd.

And here comes Jesus and his multitude of disciples… (cue the human mic)

Blessed is the king…

Who comes in the name of the Lord…

Peace in heaven…

Glory in the highest heaven…

It’s a movement… a street theatre and a political action… Jesus touches on the crowds longing for deep change, for something to hope for, for the promise of a revolution.

But what kind of change is Jesus really offering?

A regime change? Just a change in political party? A hostile take over?

Some who were gathered there – some of Jesus’ own disciples truly did believe Jesus was there to execute a hostile take-over of the Temple, even of all of Jerusalem, that he would in fact become their King on earth

There were also some who were just thrilled to finally see this Jesus in person… the one who crosses all kinds of boundaries… they have heard the stories of teaching and helping, of Lazarus’ Resurrection, the blind man’s tale, the mothers’ whose children were healed and the teaching about a God who has come near to hear, see and feel the pain of the people.

And this is the key– all kinds of boundaries – remember at the beginning of Luke when Jesus first claims his role in fulfilling the prophecies? Remember when his hometown nearly throws him over the cliff because he suggests that God’s dream for the world includes more than just the folks sitting in the temple? Jesus doesn’t just touch the lepers and feed the hungry… he also sits at table with tax collectors, Pharisees and other collaborators of Rome. Jesus offers a vision… a possibility greater than the multitude of disciples, the crowd, the Jewish or the Roman officials, and even we… all these generations later can quite imagine.

Jesus takes it to the streets as an agitator for peace… Yes – to offer an alternative to Roman Rule and Rome’s collaborators… but not an alternative that simply means flipping the power structure – it’s an alternative that means abolishing it completely.

And yet, again and again it is so difficult – almost impossible to see another way – a truly new way. So the crowd – while some of them might say yes! Here comes the one who will make for peace! Others might be saying, hooray! Here comes the one who will not simply save us but will cut down our enemies…

 And how often do our cries for peace turn to cries for revenge?

How often do our cries for justice (getting what we need, what is enough and sustains us, what gives us meaning and preserves our integrity, our humanity) turn to cries for retributive ‘justice’ instead (a desire for punishment, eye-for-an-eye, by any means necessary ‘equal treatment’ and violence)?

Let’s go back to Zechariah for a moment, after he sings about one who will enter both triumphant and humble he sings this:

  and he shall command peace to the nations;
his dominion shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth. 

Jesus takes steps on this day that mean no going back – he offers a possibility that he know will not be understood – that continues to be so very difficult for us to hear, to embody.

Just after our scripture reading for today ends Jesus stops at the edge of the city, takes a long look at Jerusalem and then weeps. He says aloud, “If only you knew on this of all days the things that lead to peace. But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43  The time will come when your enemies will build fortifications around you, encircle you, and attack you from all sides. 44  They will crush you completely, you and the people within you. They won’t leave one stone on top of another within you, because you didn’t recognize the time of your gracious visit from God.”

Jesus is telling the people – all of them, his disciples and the Jews gathered from near and far, the Pharisees and officials, the Roman guards… your thirst for power, your anger, your desire to push another down and to trample those whom you hate will destroy you.

 How hard this must have been to hear for the most oppressed? Where was their ruler and King? Where was their savior? What do we do when our leadership disappoints us?

How often is that our salvation doesn’t come in the way we are looking for? How often do we confuse success… and coming out on top with being rescued by God?

As I was finishing my sermon yesterday I kept thinking about how we took to the streets for the CROSSwalk on Friday night (protest and solidarity with those who are being overwhelmed and oppressed by gun violence in chicago’s streets)…

There were several things the crowd heard chanted and chanted back in return… We walk… Let justice roll down…

Many people, parents, siblings, community members spoke that had lost a loved one – often a child to gun violence. I imagine – like the community of folks who couldn’t escape the oppression of the Roman empire they were tired, and angry and sad – and yet the gathering gave them hope – the people who were willing to take to the streets created a sense, however small, of possibility.

But really it wasn’t enough… I think of how many folks turned out into the very same streets to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day last weekend… and I don’t mean that in a judgmental way at all – celebration is good. But what does it mean when we turn out in the millions for celebration but only a in the hundreds to stand for peace? To offer solidarity to those that are suffering so immensely?

As we walked another member of my church asked me, “You’re queen for a day, how would you fix it?”

And I really don’t know. I know there are deep and troubling issues at the intersection of poverty, racism and cycles and cycles of violence and hopelessness… but I don’t know and this unknowing makes me angry… how I wonder can we make for peace in the streets? How is it fair that at my kids school every third grader has an ipad and in other neighborhoods students don’t have notepads? How is it that we build things like Trump Towers downtown where we walked and there are kids without homes to go to in neighborhoods all over the city? I encountered an artist this week who each year recreates the stations of cross around the story of a different marginalized people. She suggests that the face of the crucified Jesus is their face. If these communities are where Christ Crucified lives then how do we respond?

I’d certainly like a Jesus figure to come in and lay down the law… I’d like a powerful Jesus person to come in and redistribute the wealth… and yet here comes Jesus and he says yes, of course you’re right Shawna. Every single one of these kids, the ones who are getting shot and the ones carrying guns, and their folks and their families, they are welcome at the table. But then so are you Shawna and right next to you is going to sit Donald Trump, and I’ll give you Anne Lamott (I mean as long as we’re dreaming) across the way but then you can’t just talk to her,  you’ve got to make friends with Donald too. You’ve got to lay down all the prejudice and anger and assumptions and pull up to the table and work out your plan for peace together.

What are the things that make for peace?

Luke tells us that the crowd laid down their cloaks in order to make way for Jesus… to clear the path and make his way down the Mount of Olives and across the valley towards the gates of Jerusalem easy –

What will we lay down in order to make a way for peace?

Can we lay down our own coats? Our own protective garments – the ones that we wear to protect us from strangers? The ones built of armor to protect us from being hurt or broken-hearted? The ones that cover our heads and faces, keeping us from seeing the how systems of poverty and oppression continue to flourish when our eyes our covered?

How far are we willing to go to make for peace?

Most of the crowd that gathered this day couldn’t stay with him all the way to the cross, the journey became too dangerous, too fearful, too painful – some even turned against him.

In my pastoral care training I encountered the phrase, lead from behind… it always stuck with me. I like the idea that a person can lead the way to their own wholeness, to their own recovery. That one-way of ministering to another is to listen to their story and their cues. To lead them by following them… to stay with them. And as holy week unfolds, we are charged with staying awake – staying with Jesus.

But Luke’s Jesus is a prophet and prophecy is all about getting out front not following behind, and that’s what Jesus teaches us on this Palm Sunday. He gets out front and cast a vision that more than a thousand years later we’re still catching on and catching up to.

What is Jesus’ vision? Is it a hostile take-over? Is it a revenge or retribution? No… no it’s not. It’s this crazy idea that every single person… the tax collector who collaborates with the enemy and the crazy folks possessed by demons and the unclean folks and the blind folks and the once dead folks are all welcome to participate… they are all a part of this kin-dom vision…this heaven meets earth, and peace engulfs them both vision.

Can you imagine it? It sounds risky and foolish really…  Can you imagine the possibilities if we took to the streets and invited them all in? Every person we encountered? If we continue to take our tables out to the streets and feed all kinds of people, even the ones you don’t think deserve it?  If we truly welcomed not only the poor but the rich? The really smart and the ones that seem a little crazy? The kind and the unkind? The lost kids like that prodigal son and the know-it-all been around forever folks like that annoying older brother? Argh…. Don’t you hate this vision?

And yet we’re invited to follow – to follow in Jesus’ prophetic footsteps. What will make for peace? What will bring us to the streets? How will we agitate for peace?

It could get us in trouble… it certainly did Jesus. This is the time of year you really start questioning the choice of following him isn’t? I mean all the way to the cross? It could get you killed –

But… it might also get you resurrected.

AMEN

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Let Your Faces Shine

Last week I attended #salic or the Six Agency Leadership Consultation in Baltimore which is a fancy way of saying that the PC(USA) sent representatives from the six agencies that make up the denominational institution to consult and dream about the future and about the 21st Century leadership in the church with 30 -40 pastors from around the country. For much more in-depth description of the conversation you should read Nanette Sawyer, Dawn Hyde, Adam Walker-Cleaveland and Jeff Foels reflections… or you could check out Adam’s storify event which is a wonderful compilations of reflections, tweets and images of our time together.

Instead of adding to the reflection pool which has been wonderfully representative of our time together I am posting here, my sermon from Transfiguration Sunday in which I attempt to integrate some of what I encountered in our conversation as well as speak to the call of leaders in my own context at Friendship Presbyterian Church. We ordained three new officers and installed four, two ruling elders and two deacons. Due to the conversation at SALIC I reformatted our constitutional questions so that they were read responsively  If you would like a copy of the questions send me a note, I’m happy to share! My sermon is below and the images came from my time listening and dreaming at SALIC2013.

Ebb & Flow: Visual Notes from  SALIC2013

Visual Notes from SALIC2013

Transfiguration Sunday

February 10.2013

“Let Your Faces Shine”

We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent, and God is shining through it all the time.

~Thomas Merton

 

 

Scripture: Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
Now about eight days after these sayings 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.

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”

Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

Baptized By the Fires of Change: Visual Notes from SALIC2013

Baptized By the Fires of Change: Visual Notes from SALIC2013

Sermon: “Let Your Faces Shine”

Most of the time repetitiveness and redundancy doesn’t make for a good story… we usually experience them as a sign of literary laziness or boring content… but our biblical texts are an exception. In the bible when we notice a pattern, a repeated theme, something happening again and again… and again, it is usually a good sign for us to pay attention. You would think even the disciples would have figured this out by now – I mean we share a common ancestry, a common story – for Peter, John and James the mountaintop was a familiar place, in their own lives and in the stories of their Jewish ancestors. I’m not sure I’d go anywhere near a mountain with Jesus, especially if I had an inkling of what who he really was, which according to Luke (chapter 9), they should have – Jesus the messiah (which he has just confirmed for Peter in their last conversation those eight days before they find themselves climbing this mountain).

I mean think about it… every time Moses, or Elisha or Jesus climbs a mountain something crazy happens… the sky breaks open, God speaks or reveals something… like the laws of Moses or the promise land, there is always some insane weather wind, earthquake, fire, deep silence (like an eye of a storm) or enormous thick clouds or bright shining lights… When Luke tells his listeners that Jesus and his favorite three disciples are heading up the mountain it’s a clue that something brilliant, something revealing, something revolutionary is about it happen. It’s Luke’s way of beating God to the punch line, “Pay Attention!” “Listen Up!” he says – what happens here… and what will happen next is IMPORTANT…

Ruth Everhart, a writer and pastor in DC traveled the Holy Lands in Israel and Palestine and wrote a book about her experience. She tells this story about visiting Mount Tabor… even though our biblical text (Luke or any of the other gospel writers) does not give a name to the mountain Jesus climbs in today’s story the early church (348 CE) chose to commemorate it or celebrate it on this mountain because it is central to the area and communities in which Jesus ministered.

Ruth writes:

When I was on a pilgrimage in Israel, we visited the Mount of Transfiguration. Our itinerary allotted thirty minutes for this taste of mountaintop glory. As the bus rumbled toward the base of the mountain, I thought: It’s a ridiculous timeframe, of course, but maybe it will be enough.

In the story, Jesus manages to “get in and get out” of glory rather quickly. It’s Peter who tries to hang onto the moment.

At the foot of the mountain we pilgrims had to switch to taxis. The only road up is a series of hairpin turns that a bus can’t manage. We ascend, sloshing back and forth across the seats, the vista switching abruptly at each turn like looking through a viewfinder held by a child.

When we emerge at the top, we are breathless and rumpled and disoriented enough for glory. [Imagine…] That this was the very spot, this mountain tiptop, where Jesus shone like the sun, the veil between heaven and earth pierced for a moment.

They’ve built a church up there by now, of course. Peter’s way won out. After all, we humans are like that. We like our hammers. We all know what it’s like to be the onlooker, the disciple in ordinary clothes, gawking at the dazzlers. We want to hang onto our brush with a moment of glory.

Like plain-clothed Peter, we humans are well-meaning and awkward, helpfully offering to do unhelpful things. “Let us make three dwellings . . .” And don’t we all feel for Peter? He was being so goodhearted, so helpful. So entirely human. “Hey, I know how to use a hammer. Let me use it. Let me build a booth. Let me nail this moment down.”[i]

This is a Sunday I really appreciate the lectionary… in both our Exodus and Luke accounts both Moses and Jesus demonstrate the two essential pieces of what it means to be people of faith… to be responders to God’s call.

There is the work of the mountaintop and the work of the valley.

There is the listening, seeking God, seeking peace, seeking illumination and there is the response… the reporting back, the testimonial, healing, doing work of God in the world.

These two pieces are like two halves: not so much in tension or competition with one another but two halves that make for a holistic and meaningful life of faithfulness, two halves in which we are called to move in and out of and back and forth and in-between in the pattern of our own lives.

And both… both halves result in transfiguration and transformation.

The first half is this – We are called to climb the mountain – that is to find the places where we can see, taste and know the presence of God. For some folks this looks like a church or a synagogue… a house of worship, a gathered community. For others it’s the quiet moment at the start of the day, before the world wakes up, a moment of connection with God.

We are called to seek God out. Luke makes a point of telling us multiple times that Jesus was setting aside this time for prayer. This wasn’t a moment of care-giving or activity. It was a moment of worship – a time of centering, a time of infusion.

Luke tells us that Jesus’ face changed, that he was infused with the light of God, so much so that his face and clothes shone brilliantly.

Where or when are you infused with God’s light?

Luke also tells us that when Peter suggested they build three dwelling places… God engulfs Peter in a cloud and seems to be speaking directly to Peter and the other disciples:

“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

Instead of speaking to Jesus, like God did at Jesus’ baptism – God urges the disciples to listen, to listen to Jesus and to pay attention. When I think about Luke’s community… early Jesus followers – waiting and wondering what they should do next… how to be and become the church – folks who would also very much like to build some dwelling places… find a place of safety, a place where God seems to live. A place to live and worship and build community… and yet they are urged to listen to Jesus… to follow Jesus’ lead – to do as Jesus does.

Which brings us to the second half… the other part of the story. Some scholars believe that God tells the disciples to listen to Jesus because God wants them to understand who Jesus was – the messiah, and this might be the case. Understanding and believing in who Jesus is was incredibly important to the early fledgling community of Christ followers that Luke writes to.

But I think God was getting Peter (and the Luke’s community… and ours for that matter) ready – God is getting us ready for what comes next. God says: “This is it friends, this is my Son, I have chosen him and you will listen to him… now watch what he does next.”

He goes down the mountainside and into the valley. He doesn’t stay long in this holy place, this thin place where God’s radiance pierced through the atmosphere and recharges him. He returns to the work of ministry, he returns to the place where there is deep need. Where a man waits, frightened by his son’s illness, distressed that no one can help him –and Jesus uses his power immediately to help another, to rescue the boy.

enterhope

Enter Hope: Visual Notes from SALIC2013

It’s two parts – two halves… personal and public. Mountaintop moments of transfiguration and valley work of transformation… Light infused and light reflected… both moments holy…

I’m interested in this idea of trans… transfiguration… transformation, transfusion – the prefix trans or tran means to cross over, go beyond, to change thoroughly…

Transformation has become a bit of buzz word in the church – not just ours, I mean the whole denomination, even the whole Church Universal. And I think sometimes we do that with words that both inspire and scare us… we domesticate them, write them into our mission statements and goals, we long for new life and growth and yet we also long to contain such things…. Or to control them… incremental change sounds a lot more manageable than transformation… or transfiguration.

It’s scary to imagine utter and complete change. What if don’t recognize ourselves or one another? What if we lose track of who we are? Of where we’re going?

Earlier this week I participated in a conversation about the Church… where we’re headed and what it means to be leaders at a time of such rapid change. We kept talking about all the changes… social change, technology, pluralism, transient communities, increase diversity…

We kept talking about it as if we had some choice in the matter… should we or shouldn’t we as the Church change too? And after a bit I thought wow, it’s sort of hilarious that we’re having this conversation (myself included). We’re like Peter and the disciples on the mountaintop, sleepily rubbing our eyes and looking around asking ourselves – in the midst of utter change and upheaval, in the midst of transfiguration – we’re asking if we should change when, in reality, it’s already happened – when really the question in front of us is not if… but how?

How will we respond to the change in us and around us? Will we claim God’s power to transfigure us? To refigure, refine and transform us? Will we claim God’s brilliant light like Jesus does and move back into the world to be a beacon of healing and hope?

Often times, once we’ve experienced transformation we’d rather nail it down (like Peter) than risk losing it… and like Ruth Everhart says, “we humans are well-meaning” – there are even times that building something facilitates God’s work. But on this day, in this story, the mountaintop wasn’t meant to be a permanent residence. It was meant to be a flash point for transformation… for experiencing God so fully, so overwhelmingly that Jesus and the disciples are empowered – are imbued with the holy light of God that will enable them to return to their valley work.

In a memoir (Breathing Space) about ministry at a church named after the transfiguration—Heidi Neumark writes:

“Living high up in the rarefied air isn’t the point of transfiguration … [It was] never meant as a private experience of spirituality removed from the public square. It was a vision to carry us down, a glimpse of unimagined possibility at ground level.”

Charge to newly ordained/installed officers and to the congregation:

In just a few minutes we’re going to ordain and install our new elders and deacons. When teaching elders are ordained and installed there is often a series of “charges” – that is words of direction or advice for them and the community. In preparation for this ordination and installation today I offer these words of charge to all of you:

God speaks of Jesus in today’s text saying, “This is my son, my chosen, listen to him!” and yesterday when session and deacons met together we read portions of the Book of Order – in a section about our call to openness and to change we read that we are called to a “more radical obedience to Christ”[ii]

Radical and obedience are not two words we normally see together… and I imagine many of us are attracted to one of these words much more than the other… but here it is again these two halves. In our obedience we seek Christ out, we seek to worship and pray and to love God – we commit to ways of practice and service, of becoming more like Christ… and yet what we discover in doing so, like Christ we become a radical people – radical in our openness, radical in our love, radical in our forgiveness, radical in our ministry of generosity and hospitality…

To those of you entering into or serving in leadership positions – for the time you are in this role – called to be leaders of our community, remember to visit the high mountaintop but do not linger there. Seek ways of renewal and restoration, seek God out and be imbued with God’s holy light but stay on the move… carry the brilliance of God’s love with you down the mountain and into the world… As leaders urge and prod and entice us to follow your lead, your movement, help us in our transitions, cast a vision for our transformation, and together we will be transfigured.

And to the gathered community — the congregation – we must stay awake, there are times we long to build a dwelling place, to plant ourselves and refuse to be moved. But we have learned, in this community, that movement, transition and flexibility can also be life giving. We are called to follow the lead of these ordained and installed elders and deacons, to go with them to the high mountain places and to the low valleys, allowing our faces to reflect God’s light to the world, to shine God’s light into into the dark and shadowy places of own lives and into the lives of those we seek to serve.

AMEN


[ii] PC(USA) Book of Order F‐1.0404

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Repairers of the breach…

WPGrace Space

Wicker Park Grace is a community that is close to my heart and a vital part of my own life. Wicker Park Grace is a pcusa new church development in Chicago that values hospitality, justice and an inclusive theological perspective. We dig into biblical texts and ask questions in the midst of our worship space and experience, inviting everyone to be part of the ‘proclamation’. Tonight at Wicker Park Grace we discussed a text from Isaiah (58:1-12)…

Shout out, do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; they ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God.

“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?” Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

As we sat, and sang and discussed together I began thinking about this breach… the breach between who we are and who it is we’re called to be. The breach between what we claim to believe and value and honor and how it does or doesn’t manifest itself in our lives in day by day and hour by hour. The breach in our relationships to one another, in our families and in our communities, between our rights and lefts and our privileged and poor. There is indeed a wide and long breach between us.

There’s a part of me that cries out to God like the voices lifted up in the passage… I’m doing everything right… why don’t I get wholeness, abundance, vindication? But as I read and talked it through with the folks gathered around me I began to see the challenge Isaiah spoke… it’s on us isn’t it? To stand in the breach and do the work of repair and restoration, the light is already with in us, waiting to break forth. The breach between the Church and world is the place in which I hope this blog will stand. That it will lift up the places where the hungry and tired, the powerless, disenfranchised, hurting and harmed are being invited, and attended by faithful folks and communities that understand that each of our healing, as individuals and communities is dependent on one another’s.

I am part of the community of Wicker Park Grace because this is one place where presbyterians along with many others from various faith backgrounds and traditions and lived experiences are working together to offer such a place of hospitality and invitation. Where mutual teaching, learning and loving is the basis of our community’s movement in the world. We’re a small community and we’re still changing and growing into our call to be a force for justice in our community and in the world but there are certainly repairers of the breach at work in this place.

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PR for the PCUSA… because, clearly we need it.

so occasionally something goes down in the presbyterian church (usa) — the denomination in which I am ordained as a ‘minister of word and sacrament’– and I have a need to respond… and then I realize that so much of the world including my own small communities will have no idea what I’m talking about.

And that awareness… that this denomination that I love and have so much invested in is becoming more and more insular as it declines into a relativism of it’s own making that I become paralyzed in my effort to respond. Therefore I am going to begin a new project.

Instead of responding out of despair, anger or frustration when news that I dislike, disagree with or am disheartened by breaks I am going to start posting news each day of a pcucsa someone or somebodies doing active, proactive, community centered, outward work of justice, love or hospitality in big or small ways. In short, I am going to start a small PR campaign on behalf of the PCUSA and I am going to do it for six months as a personal spiritual practice, as an effort to build up my own (and those who follow along) knowledge that we as a particular slice of Christian community can be and already are a force for justice and wholeness. Selfishly I will do this project in helps of restoring my own faith that we can be a relevant, nimble and creative Christian community of the future… one that I can be a part of with integrity.

Public perception of the Church overwhelmingly negative. Many experience the Church as homophobic, xenophobic, racist, hypocritical, self-righteous and judgmental. Rather than spend time pointing to where these observations are evident (because this is indeed a reality for many) I am going to use this space to celebrate the welcoming, hospitable, loving work that individuals and groups that are affiliated with the PCUSA are doing.

I will begin this project by claiming that I do so from a progressive theological, social and political perspective. I am a white, well educated and grew up in the midwest. I am committed in my professional life to work towards an unabashedly inclusive church and for me the beginning place for doing theology, biblical study or liturgy is the rule of Love. I am interested in stories that lift up the Church’s commitment to Do Justice; Love Kindness; Walk Humbly with God… If you know one, I’d love to hear, post it or link to it.

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