Monday, March 07, 2011

Glory dazed


Exodus 24: 12-18; Matthew 17: 1-9
Woodmont United Church of Christ, Milford, CT
March 6, 2011 – Transfiguration Sunday

One day in the span of eternity, Jesus and Moses decide to visit their former stomping grounds for old time’s sake. While walking in the Sinai they come to a huge rock; Moses takes a wooden stick, strikes the rock, and water comes pouring forth. Jesus says, “Not bad, old man, not bad.” Upon entering a small village Jesus finds some jugs filled with water; he dips in a cup and the cup is miraculously full of wine. Moses said, “Still got the touch, huh?” Then they come to the Red Sea; Moses lifts his hands in the air, the waters part, and they cross safely. Jesus says, “Wow. That one is my all-time favorite.” After a few days’ journey they come to the Sea of Galilee; Jesus steps out onto the water and begins to walk across the surface. All of a sudden, he sinks like a stone. After he swims to the shore, he says to Moses, “I can’t understand it. I used to be able to do that, no problem.” Moses says to Jesus, “You putz! Now you’ve got holes in your feet!”

We love to relive the good old days, those days of glory when we were younger; things were familiar and comfortable, and seemingly more predictable. Though we would never admit to a desire to live in the past, many times we may find ourselves unconsciously trying to recreate the good memories and feelings we enjoyed in past relationships, events, and patterns of behavior. Even if some of Freud’s theories of psychology were a bit outlandish, he was right about one thing: we tend to project our myopic view of the past onto present circumstances as a way of creating a comfort zone to shield us from the unknown.

Look at what is coming out of Hollywood these days. Many big movies and TV shows are remakes of each other, or of Broadway productions, adaptations of popular books or earlier versions of a familiar story. Recent movies such as Tron: Legacy, Yogi Bear, The Green Hornet, The Green Lantern, and even True Grit are all examples of our longing for the familiar past recaptured by new technology and another generation of magic-makers. In the short term it generates a lot of excitement, but in the end, a steady diet of old-made-new produces a cynical viewing audience who think they’ve seen it all because they have.

When Peter sees Jesus in all his glory, together with Moses and Elijah from those good old days, it’s as if God were back in the house. Before Israel settled down and made a home, a temple for the presence of God, the Ark of the Covenant was placed in a tent that could be packed up and go wherever God led the people of Israel. As you know, the festival of Sukkot, or the festival of booths, is to remind faithful Jews of the wandering in the desert and of their dependency on God. Peter reacts to this holy event like any good Jew would: he wants to build booths for the presence of God revealed in Jesus.

But this isn’t the good old days of Israel. And what’s funny is that those good old days weren’t so good all the time. The people murmured and complained to Moses about the food and water. They turned from God and worshiped a golden calf. They were bitten by poisonous snakes. When Elijah was prophet, Israel was a divided kingdom and there was drought and famine in the land. He had to flee Israel because there was a price on his head from Israel’s foreign queen, Jezebel.

Though God’s people had not had a prophetic leader in a long time, even so they weren’t really paying attention to the new thing God was doing in their midst. Jesus wasn’t God’s version of “Prophet 3.0”—he wasn’t even behaving like the messiah that had been long-expected. God snaps Peter out of his ‘glory daze’ with words similar to those heard at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my son, the Beloved; with him I am well-pleased; listen to him!” It’s a new day! The Good News, fresh words of grace and mercy, peace and justice, are forthcoming—take notice!

Lately I have heard some murmuring here too. Excitement and anxiety levels are rising as the search committee begins to focus on a few talented candidates. There have been comments along the lines of: ‘I can’t wait for the new pastor to come in and take over’. In the most recent set of glory days your last pastor was a take-charge person. So, purposefully, I have not been a take-charge kind of pastor; in fact, that’s not even who I am. When moving on to new leadership it’s good to have another experience of leadership style, to open the community to other possibilities, other avenues of creativity and ministry.

When matching up congregations and pastors, it’s all about a good fit. There are different ways of being church and different ways of being a pastor and both can change in the course of their lives. It’s not about finding the right kind of pastor or being the right kind of congregation but whether or not you’re right for each other, whether or not you’re a good fit.

Receiving a new pastor can be a transfiguring event in the life of a faith community. Hopefully, though, it won’t be like the good old days before but like the new glory days ahead. Both the Exodus and Matthew passages refer to 'six days', recalling the sixth day of creation when humankind was created in the image of God. God is not done with you yet. God is still creating, still speaking.

Six days after Jesus foretells his death and resurrection he is transfigured into glory. Where Jesus leads, the church is to follow. You too will make sacrifices on your way to the cross. You too are called to carry your own cross and to die upon it. But you will also be resurrected into glory, into new life and yet-to-be-imagined possibilities. And not solely because of a new pastor but through the Holy Spirit working through your partnership in ministry.

What are you looking forward to as a church? What are your dreams, your hopes for the new glory days ahead? How open are you to the unexpected, to the surprising ways of the Holy Spirit? What past behaviors, expectations, and habits do you still need to let go of? What do you need to be doing in your own spiritual life to be able to follow Jesus wherever he leads?

Glory to God in the Highest by Cornelis Monsma

God is always coming into our lives in new and fresh ways, still creating, still speaking. We are made new whenever we listen, when we pay attention to Jesus and where he is going next. And when we go with Jesus, we’ll never be able to say that we’ve seen it all. It will be as the beloved hymn: “Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, crowned as saints, we ever shall be lost in wonder, love and praise.” May it be so. Amen.

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