March 3, 2019
Luke 9: 28-36
Rev. Nancy Talbot
Awed by the News
For the past two months we have been learning about and experiencing the Good News found in the teachings and stories of Jesus. We’ve been doing that to gain a greater sense of the heart of the Good News that most clearly defines who we are as a community of faith at Mount Seymour.
What we’ve heard has been instructive but it’s also been quite challenging. It’s been clear these last several weeks that gospel of Jesus Christ is really great if you are hungry, poor, grieving or without enemies that you have to love. It’s been clear that Jesus ministry is compelling for those on the margins and those who are dissatisfied with their lot in life. But for those of us who are rich, happy and with status, we’ve had to listen extra hard for reminders that we are also God’s beloved children, that the Good News is meant for all of us and that we are blessed when we open our hearts, our tables, our doors and our pocket books to share the gifts, the power and the privileges that we have with others.
This has not been an easy series to preach or to experience. It’s been humbling. So I was grateful this week to open my bible to this morning’s scripture reading and after what has felt likes weeks of heady and challenging instruction, to find instead a story full of mystery.
This story, more commonly known as the transfiguration of Jesus, is found in three out of four of the gospels. It is always read in churches around the world on the last Sunday before the season of Lent begins. You may have heard in the story that Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah about his departure that he would accomplish in Jerusalem. Before we turn towards Good Friday and Easter, this story is meant to remind us of who it is we are following when we take that journey each year and what it is that we are caught up in as we journey.
It’s a story full of symbolism. It’s not meant to be interpreted literally. It’s meant to reveal to us something about God, Jesus and ourselves.
Those of you who in the book study group might recognize this story as a moment when we are being told that Jesus is not just fully human, a man who walked with the people of ancient Israel. He is also fully divine. Before the eyes of his disciples he has transfigured from the human Jesus with whom they are familiar into an other-worldly being clothed in dazzling white, his face shining almost beyond recognition. In that moment he is both the pre and post-Easter Jesus, the same person but completely different.
When we are told that Elijah and Moses appear on the mountain with Jesus, what the listener is meant to hear is that Jesus and his ministry is a continuation and fulfillment of the law and the prophets of ancient Israel.
Which is all lovely, but what do these things really have to say to us today.
In part it reminds us that to be follower of Jesus and bearers of the Good News of the gospel isn’t just about doing good deeds, having good values and working to change the world. It isn’t about being so responsible for ushering in the kingdom of God where no one is hungry and everyone is valued for who they are, where weapons have been beaten into ploughshares and health is restored to the planet, that we’ve forgotten our ministry isn’t all up to us. It’s a reminder to carve out times in our lives to “go up on the mountain” to be in touch with and attentive to the mysterious presence at work in us and in our world that we call God. It’s a reminder to let go and offer up and seek guidance and wisdom from the source of life and the very ground of our being. It’s a reminder to be grateful and to rest in awe and wonder of that which is bigger and greater than us but of which we are a part. This is the reminder that we are never asked to minister to others or to endure suffering and injustice without the mysterious presence of the Divine, of Christ, to guide, inspire, care for and empower us. We are not alone.
Back when I was a student at seminary I spent some time with folks who were part of the churches’ task force on Central America. They were people from a variety of Christian churches who got together once a month to write advocacy letters on behalf of people living in and fleeing from El Salvador and Guatemala because of civil war. The first time I met with them they told me that they used to get together, share pertinent information and immediately start writing letters to various governments. But over time they began to experience compassion fatigue and burn out over the never ending lists of people in need and the red tape they were forever having to get through in order to get any action. They began to start each meeting with a reading from scripture and reflection. Then, before they got into the task of letter writing they would pray for each situation before them and the people involved. They said it helped them to remember the work wasn’t all on their shoulders. They realized they needed to be reminded each time they gathered that they could call upon a greater force of good at work in the world. They felt ministered to instead of feeling like they were doing all the ministering by themselves. They continued to take their work seriously, but they held it more lightly.
The story of the transfiguration reminds us we are never alone in the often hard work of sharing God’s Good News and at times changing our own way of living to be part of that Good News.
Another thing the transfiguration story reminds us is not only are we part of a greater mystery at work in the world, we are part of a much longer story.
Mitch Albom’s book “Have a Little Faith” is a memoir chronicling conversations with two men of faith, Rabbi Albert Lewis and Pastor Henry Covington, both of whom are close to the end of their lives.
One of the conversations they have has to do with what people fear most about dying. What they fear most says the Rabbi, is being forgotten. He says that for the most part, even those remembered by their families get forgotten a generation or two down the road.
That is why, the Rabbi says, faith is so important. “Faith” he says “is a rope for us all to grab, up and down the mountain. I may not be remembered in so many years” he says “but what I believe and have taught – about God, about our tradition – that can go on. It comes from my parents and their parents before them. And if it stretches to my grandchildren and to their grandchildren, then we are all connected.”
When Moses and Elijah, two great figures from our Hebrew Bible, appear with Jesus on the mountain in this morning’s reading, they connect us as followers of Jesus to a much broader and older tradition. They compel us to ask ourselves just what it is about our faith in our day and age that is so worthwhile, so vital to our existence that we want to be certain we pass it on so that life-giving connection is maintained. What is the good news of our faith that is so important to us we want to make sure we remember it for generations to come?
These are good questions for us to ponder as we anticipate our annual general meeting today. For years now we have been learning that the way of being church we have inherited from our forbearers is not necessarily the way future generations will choose to be the church. We are familiar with church that meets on Sunday mornings with music and bible readings and a preacher to interpret the word. Younger generations, people with no previous church experience and those for whom our more traditional ways of being church no longer work are already starting to experiment with new ways of being church. They are meeting in homes, cafes and pubs, going for walks in the forest while reflecting on scripture, meeting over lunch in their places of work and cooking dinner together followed by informal worship. All kinds of new churches are springing up in the most unlikely places.
It’s clear that it’s not the form of our church that needs preserving. It’s what’s at the heart of our church that matters. As we continue to reach out to our community seeking innovative ways to live the Good News and share the Good News, we will need to continually remind ourselves of the bigger story we are part of and the bigger presence that guides us.
It is no small thing that Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain with him that day as he prepares to turn his face towards Jerusalem. He knows that following a path of love and non-violence that calls into question those with political power and social status, that honours the life of the most vulnerable and most marginalized, calls us to let go, to be bold, daring and willing to take risks. He knows it is the work of many and can only be done in community. He knows that to take up this work is to be part of a long and faithful group of people who have heard the call for freedom and justice, compassion and understanding, people who have passed on what they have learned and believed in, moving beyond what is only vessel for what is enduring.
The final thing that happens in Luke’s version of the transfiguration comes right before Peter, James and John head back down the mountain with Jesus. A cloud overshadows them and they are terrified. And then they hear a voice from out of the cloud say to them “This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him.”
May we continue to listen, to watch, pray, learn and remember what we know in our hearts, as we take our place alongside Peter, James and John and the faithful of many generations, all of us caught up in the Mystery of life itself, spreading the Good News we have heard and known.