Monday, February 27, 2017

This is What We Came For

Transfiguration 2017  year A
Based on Matthew, Chapter 17

            Being new to Texas, I have gotten plenty of suggestions for places we ‘have to’ see, and believe me, we are making a list – and we plan to hit as many as possible!
            Before coming here, though, my husband and I used to make an annual trip up to the North shore of Lake Superior for a few days.
            We could take the dog, get a little exercise, and there is some pretty awesome scenery there too.
            We like to hike, especially short hikes, well, actually VERY short hikes, preferably a short hike up to a scenic overlook.
            So one day we drove up one of the roads up into the hills – the closest thing to a mountain in that area – and stopped to look around.
            The view wasn’t so spectacular, despite the height, so we wandered around a little, and discovered an arrow with a sign pointing to a trail.
            We both needed the exercise, so we decided to take the trail for a little while and see where it might lead.
            We walked a little while, and then walked a little farther, and then we walked a little farther yet.
            We kept wondering when we were going to see something, when a gorgeous view was going to appear before us.  But it never did.  After about ½ hour we turned around and walked the other direction.

            We both agreed that we didn’t really see anything, but the hike wasn’t a total loss, because we did get some exercise.

            I suppose that we were looking for some sort of unmistakable sign – some gorgeous sight – a panorama, a vista – to have a feeling of “This is it!  This is what I came for!  I came to see this!”
            But we didn’t get it.

            Later I did a little internet research and found that we were actually on a very small segment of the Superior Hiking Trail.
            The Superior Hiking Trail is a 296 mile long footpath running from Duluth up to the Canadian border.
            The ads say that the hike includes a lot of spectacular views, especially of Lake Superior.
            But I suspect that you have to stay on it for more than ½ hour, in order to get that feeling of:  “This is it!  This is what I came for!”
            Just like I suspect that it would be a mistake for me to think – just because I’ve been a couple of places in Texas now – that I have really experienced and know what Texas is like.  Right?  I still have a lot to learn.

            But here today, on this last Sunday after Epiphany – called Transfiguration – well, those three disciples got that, didn’t they? 
            They went up on the mountain with Jesus, a human being like them, their friend and their teacher, and suddenly – there he was, GLOWING
            Transfigured – his face was like the sun, and his clothes were whiter than white, and Moses and Elijah – the two greatest prophets of all, are standing there, talking with him.
            Elijah – the prophet predicted to come to herald the Messiah.  And Moses – the one who led the people of Israel from Slavery to Freedom.
            THIS IS IT !  they must have thought.
            This is what we came for!

            We can call it a mountaintop experience, because literally, it did take place on a mountain, but it wasn’t just a spectacular view – no, it was a revelation.
            It was a revelation of Jesus’ true identity.
            The voice confirmed it.  “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased.”
            Coincidentally, these are the exact words that were spoken at Jesus’ baptism.
            And three more are added.
            “Listen to him.”

            Moses and Elijah are there to confirm that Jesus is indeed the one they are waiting for.  He looks like one of them, like their friend, like their teacher – and he is.
            But he is also the one who shines like the sun, the one who will save them, the one who will save us.
            It is easy to forget.
            It’s easy to forget when you come back down the mountain,
            To deal with everyday life,
            When you walk on those trails of life where – you know – you never see anything – just a few wildflowers, and some kind of berry – you’re not sure what it is – some rocks.
            It’s easy to forget when the path gets steep, and there are no great views, and – let’s face it – there might even be SNAKES.
            There is so much more than meets the eye, so much more than we see, so much more than we know.
            And when you are up there on the mountain – if you even get to be up there – it’s tempting to think, in that moment, THIS is what we came for.”
            This is it.  That vision.  That shining face.

            But you know – the vision only lasts for a moment, and only three of the disciples even get to see it.
            Only Peter, James and John.  Sometimes I wonder why that is.
            Sometimes I have been a little jealous – jealous of those who have been to mountains I haven’t been to,
            who have seen visions that I haven’t seen – who seem sure at times when I have doubted.
            Isn’t this what we came for, after all?
            Isn’t the mountaintop the point of it all?

            The vision only lasts for a moment – because that’s how visions are.
            Like a couple of weeks ago during worship –
            When I had the big basket and got out rhythm instruments for the first time
            … and asked the children to come forward.
            And they did –
            They ran up to the front .. and they picked up the instruments and started playing
            It was great!
            Sort of a vision of faith and joy and love!

            Or the day when the little kids all unwrapped Bibles
            And someone unwrapped her Bible and shouted, “I got Jesus!”
            The truth!  A vision! 

            But not everyone got to see it.
            And it only lasted a moment.

            The vision those three disciples had – it only lasts for a moment, although the words linger.  “This is my beloved son with whom I am well-pleased.”
            And then the disciples go back down the mountain, where they will greet the suffering world,
            Where they will walk the paths where everything seems ordinary, or hard,
            Where they will fight among themselves about who is the greatest, where they will follow him,
            And keep following him, even though his face is not shining.
            This is my beloved son.  Listen to him.

            And so they follow him, and do you know – when Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane, to pray before he is arrested – it is those three disciples who are also invited.
            They are invited to watch and pray, to see his face as he struggles with fear.
            And they can’t do it.  They fail.
            The same three disciples who saw him shining, now they see him in darkness.
            This is what we came for.  Is this what we came for?

            Today, on the last day of epiphany, we hold in our hearts the vision on the mountain – the one not everyone got to see.

            But this is not what we came for.
            We didn’t come for the vision, the momentary vision, the spectacular vista.
            We came for the everyday service.
            We came  for the whole, ordinary trail,
            All 296 miles of it.
            Where Jesus is with us always, to the end of the age.
            We came to hear the words
            “this is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased
            and to remember the words
            that he is with us always
            on the whole trail
            as we bend down to serve
            as we give a cup of cold water to a strangers.
            This is what we came for.
            We came to hear each other’s stories
            Stories of where we caught a glimpse of Jesus – on the mountains
            in the valleys
            In the faces of strangers,
            The faces of friends,
            The voices of children.
            Their faces are not shining, the but words are still true, “You are my beloved child”

            Because when Jesus reveals his own true identity, he reveals ours as well.

            See what love the father has given us, that we should be called children of God.  That is what we are.

            This is what we came for.  Amen



Saturday, February 25, 2017

Circling the Building, Before Lent Begins

Every morning I take my dog on a walk around my apartment complex.  Sometimes we go a little further, venturing outside the gate and down the street.  But we always make the circle around the apartments.  Every once in awhile we meet another dog.  Some of the dogs are friendly; others are indignant that there is another dog living here (!).  A couple of times we have met a nice couple who are riding their bicycles around the apartment complex.  They know my dog's name, but not mine.  I don't know their names.

Often we run into a man who regularly walks around the apartment complex.  He does not have a dog, but he takes the encircling walk regularly.  We have talked a little bit; mostly, he has told me about his church.  I have mentioned to him a couple of times that I am a pastor, too.  He doesn't seem overly concerned about this.  He asks me whether I think the world is coming to an end, soon.

I always tell him that I don't know.  Since that was Jesus' answer, it seems a pretty safe one.

He thinks that the end of the world is a good possibility.  He believes that there are signs that this is true.  I have to admit, that the thought has crossed my mind, although I suspect that my signs are not exactly the same as his.  But we never get farther than whether or not the end is near.  He says, "I think it is."  I say, "I don't know."

Then he says, "God bless you."  And he keeps walking around the buildings, making his regular circle.

Pretty soon it is going to be Lent.  Wednesday is for Ashes and Confession.  For forty days we'll be walking with Jesus, in prayer and fasting and repentance.  The end is Easter, God's new life and hope in us.  Our journey is 40 days, no more and no less.

I can't get the picture of the man, walking in circles, out of my mind.

We do our daily tasks, praying and walking and wondering.  When someone crosses our path, we say "God bless you."

And we pray, not just in Lent, but in every season, that God uses the circles that we walk in, that God uses our feet and our hands and our poor bruised hearts, and blesses the world, through us.

Friday, February 17, 2017

A Pause to Notice

Sometimes you just have to stop for a moment and look.

I did that one day this week.  I looked out the window and I saw an eagle soaring, and I just focussed on that eagle for awhile.  I watched how it soared effortlessly, noticed how wide its wingspan was, considered for a moment where it might be going.

And then it came to me how seldom I just stop -- and look -- and consider.  

More often than not I am moving, trying to stay active all the time, checking things off of my list.  There is a lot to do in life, after all.  Life is getting things done.  Or not.  And when I stop, I just stop.  I stop and go straight to bed.  I stop and turn on the television.   I don't look around, I don't notice what's going on, I don't see that beautiful huge eagle, or that child holding out the tiniest flower, or the look on the face of the clerk at the supermarket.

But when I found myself looking at that eagle, I realized how many things I don't notice, how many times I walk right by someone or something without paying any attention.  But it is really essential human activity.  Noticing gave me joy.  I felt human, and not separate, but connected with the world.  Just for a moment.

I believe this is true not only about eagles, but about our relationships with God, and with one another.  It is part of what worship is about.  Worship is not about doing, although we are doing things in worship.  Worship is the pause when we take time to notice, to acknowledge, to praise God.  Worship is the pause when we take time to look into the heart of God.  Worship is the pause.

And then we stop and look into the image of God in one another.  

Sometimes, you just have to stop for a moment and look.  Or maybe for more than a moment.  If you are lucky.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Who You Are

Recently I have been visiting a young woman who had a traumatic brain injury after a car accident.

Her mother called us, from Montana, asking if someone could go visit her daughter.  She is living in a rehabilitation facility not far from my congregation, getting therapy and hoping to heal.  It's a large, impressive campus, but until last month, I had no idea that it existed.  Her mother called at least in part because her daughter wants to go to church.  She was brought up Lutheran.

This young woman has short-term memory issues.  It's difficult to remember what just happened, or what you just said to her.  What is the name of my church?  What time do we worship on Sunday?  Even though I just told her those things, she doesn't remember.

Before her accident, she was a pre-med student.  She remembers her studies well.  She was a good student.  She wants to go back and continue her studies.  She still wants to be a doctor.  Her father even told her, there must be a reason that you survived the accident.  There must be something that God wants you to do.

She is sure that God wants her to be a doctor.  That is who she is.  It is frustrating not to be able to get going.

When I read the end verses of the gospel reading for this week, I can't help thinking about her.  "Be Perfect, as your Heavenly Father is Perfect."  There are lots of ways to think about being perfect.  I was an oldest child, so I know a lot of them.

Get a perfect score on the test.
Be perfectly well-mannered.
Be perfectly attractive.
Never make a mistake.

I don't know this young woman well, but I wonder if she learned some of these ways of being perfect.  You have to be pretty over-achieving to be a doctor.  You have to be pretty close to perfect.  

"Be perfect, as you heavenly father is perfect."  Some of us spend our whole lives striving for it, and also spend our whole lives believing we are not good enough.

But what if this is what it means to be perfect:  To be who you are, just as God is perfectly who God is.  We are all broken, but we are also becoming who God wants us to be.  We are all broken, but we all have a purpose, a reason we are here.  And to trust that is to be perfect.

Maybe it is to be a doctor.  But maybe it is just to be You, in all parts of your life, and to strive to be more and more You through all of your life.

This young woman wants more than anything to come to church.  She doesn't remember everything, but she remembers that she is a child of God.  It is a start.