Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Do not lose heart...

NOTE:  Here are my worship notes for Sunday, February 10, 2013 - the Feast of the Transfiguration - come join us if you can @ 10:30 am.

Introduction
We who have seen something of the Light of the Lord do not lose heart:  that seems to be one of the truths for Transfiguration Sunday.  We do not lose heart – or as Peterson puts it in his reworking of St. Paul:  Since God has so generously let us in on what he is doing, we’re not about to throw up our hands and walk off the job just because we run into occasional hard times.”

Sure, we might get discouraged for a bit, but we don’t give up. We may find ourselves frustrated and even afraid from time to time, too.  But we who have seen and experienced something of God’s light and love in our lives don’t lose hearts.  In fact, as Paul tells us in another writing, we who have tasted the sweetness of God’s grace, are to live in ways that make us look foolish to the rest of the world:  We are the Messiah’s misfits…When they call us names, we say, “God bless you.” When they spread rumors about us, we put in a good word for them. We’re treated like garbage, potato peelings from the culture’s kitchen, but we do not lose heart. (I Corinthians 4: 11-13)

·      That’s what is at stake for us in today’s Transfiguration readings:  our commitment to living as the Messiah’s misfits in a way that expresses grace and joy.

·       So let me ask you, where is the evidence of this in our lives?  Not what do you see in the wider culture that is hopeful, not what is somebody else doing that seems faithful and not some example you’ve read about or seen on TV.  What evidence can you point to in your own life of living in the world as one who expresses grace and joy?

That’s a hard one, I know:  we don’t like to toot our own horns and we often believe that our religious faith is a private matter – something just between God and ourselves – rather than a public display of living like the Messiah’s misfits.  But let me suggest to you that part of what “not losing heart” means has to do with the way you live.  Can you live calmly in the middle of chaos, productively in an arena of waste, lovingly in a maelstrom of individualism and gently in a world of violence?” (Joan Chittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, p. 6)  What is the evidence of God’s grace and joy that you express with your life?

Insights
About a year ago, I heard Carrie Newcomer articulate the way she expresses God’s joy and grace in her life in a song called “I Believe.”  She took an ancient form of public prayer – the Credo, which is a poetic statement of religious belief – and played with it lovingly until it articulated in form and content how she tries to live in the world.  And as I listened to her sing the very simple melody I discovered that there were tears of gratitude running down my cheek.  “That’s how I want to live out my faith, too” I heard myself pray quietly during the concert.  See what her song evokes for you…

I believe there are some debts you never can repay
I believe there are some words you never can unsay
I don't know a soul who didn’t get lost along the way
I believe in socks and gloves knit out of soft grey wool
And that there's a place in heaven for those who teach in the public schools
And I know I get some things right but mostly I'm a fool

I Believe in a good strong cup of ginger tea
and all these shoots and roots will become a tree
All I know is I can’t help but see all of this as so very holy

I believe in jars of jelly put up by careful hands
I believe most folks are doing about the best they can
And I know there are some things I will never understand

I believe there’s healing in the sound of your voice
and a summer tomato is a cause to rejoice
And that following a song was never really a choice: never really.

I believe in a good long letter written on real paper and with real pen
I believe in the ones I love and know I’ll never see here again
I believe in the kindness of strangers and the comfort of old friends
And when I close my eyes to sleep at night it’s good to say, “Amen”

I believe life is comprised of smile and sniffles and tears
And in a worn coat that still has another good year
And I know that I get scared sometimes but all I need is here.

Now, what did you hear in that song?  How does she express her belief in God’s grace and joy?  What mood or feeling did she evoke for you?  Did you notice that there are only four overtly religious words in this Credo – believe, holy, rejoice and amen – everything else is experiential, right? 

·        Let that simmer for a moment:  trust in the sacred, celebration and gratitude – this is how one artist gives expression to God’s grace and joy in her ordinary life and it could be a template for you and me, too.

·        Because that’s what I think the stories of the Transfiguration are asking of us:  like those who go up Mt. Tabor with Jesus, we are also encouraged by the Lord to come back down into the valley and live as those who do not lose heart.

Here’s the context in Luke’s gospel and the big picture is important if we’re going to be misfits for the Messiah.  Our text for today begins with the words, “now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took Peter and John and James up the mountain to pray.”  So, if we’re going to grasp what Luke is getting after, we need to know what sayings are under consideration here, right?  That means we have to review what takes place chapter nine:

·       First, Jesus calls together his 12 best students:  he prays over them, gives them spiritual power to go out into the world to heal and cure, to teach and love the people in pain and make visible the heart of God’s kingdom.  It is not just Jesus any more – now he’s got others sharing signs of God’s grace and joy.

·       Second, as the disciples go out bringing healing and hope to ordinary people, King Herod starts to get nervous and annoyed because he’s heard that another prophet like Elijah is active in his kingdom.  He’s already beheaded John the Baptist but now these misfits for the Messiah are out calling into question King Herod’s political authority and power with their love because their lives document another kingdom entirely.

·       Third, when the disciples came back from their mission trip and told Jesus about all the great things that had happened, he took them on still another prayer retreat.  And while they were away for some rest and renewal, a crowd gathered in the middle of nowhere and needed to be fed.  And what happens here?  Right, Jesus tells the disciples to feed the people – you take care of their hunger and need – and through a combination of blessings and miracles and sharing the crowd was filled full to overflowing.

One more important detail takes place before the Transfiguration:  Jesus goes away by himself for some silent prayer and solitude but the disciples follow him.  So he takes the opportunity to teach them more deeply about his ministry.  “Who do the people say I am?” he asks and they reply, “John the Baptist raised from the dead – or the prophet Elijah or one of the other prophets” – until finally he asks, “But who do you say that I am?”  And Peter tells him… what?  “You are the Messiah of God.”   To which Jesus replies:  the Messiah of God follows a unique path in life – and so do those misfits of the Messiah – to most of the world it looks like an upside down kingdom.  Jesus says:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?

I like Peterson’s reworking here for he puts the words like this: “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat—I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you?” In other words, you are going to have to give expression to God’s grace and joy in the hardest moments of life.  You are going to show the world that we do not lose heart.

·       And then he leads James and Peter and John up the mountain for even more prayer – that’s the context – those who are called to be misfits for the Messiah are going to have to document with their lives what it looks like not to lose heart.
 
·       So what finally happens when they get to Mt. Tabor in today’s story?  Everybody – Jesus as well as Peter, James and John – have some type of mystical, experiential encounter with God’s grace in prayer.  Jesus is filled with light – his clothes and body radiate truth and love in ways that are inexplicable – and he converses with Elijah and Moses about his own exodus.

·       Did you catch that?  We’re told that while speaking in prayer with Elijah – who represents the prophets of Israel – and Moses – who represents the tradition – they were all speaking of his departure – literally his exodus that would be accomplished in Jerusalem.

·       So why is the word exodus so important do you think?  What symbolic value does the word exodus have for the people of Israel?  It is about freedom from oppression, trusting God, celebrating justice and mercy every day, being led by the Lord into a new way of living and so much more.

All of which becomes too much for Peter, James and John and what happens to them?  They start to fall asleep!  Man, these cats are ALWAYS nodding out at the most important times but apparently they were startled out of their slumber by all of this wild, mystical prayer involving Jesus, Elijah and Moses.  They saw the light transform their rabbi from the insight out and they were filled with blessings.  So much so that Peter can’t keep his mouth shut.

·       Now here’s an aside:  in the presence of the sacred – when you have encountered the beauty and power of the Lord – it is best to keep silent.  Try to savor and discern what is really going on so that you might respond with celebration and gratitude.

·       But what does Peter do?  He starts yammering about staying on the mountain top so that they might remain in God’s loving grace forever.  And while he was jabbering at Jesus the text says they were all overshadowed in a holy cloud that terrified them into silence.  And from within this experience, they heard a voice say:  This is my Son – the Chosen – listen to him.

Hmmmm…. be still.  Listen and then follow – don’t try to lead – give expression to the mystery of grace and joy with your lives – and do it all after leaving the mountain top.  And just so that can be NO ambiguity about this last truth, the first thing Jesus does after leaving his mystical prayer time with Moses and Elijah is to bring healing to a child who shrieked with agony and is convulsed with spasms that cause him to foam at the mouth.  Scholars are quick to point out that all of this happens as a whole – the mountain top and the shrieking child in agony – the prayer as well as the healing.

Because, you see, “our experience of God, rather than being for our own private pursuit and comfort, is inextricably linked to our response to the suffering of the world” (Kate Matthews Huey).  Mountain tops have their place – even Jesus needed them – but they are not our destination as misfits of the Messiah.

Conclusion
Our calling is to come down off the mountain – to embody God’s grace and joy in our lives – to give witness, shape and form to our trust and gratitude – to become vulnerable to the suffering all around us – for those who have seen and experienced something of the Light of the Lord… what?  Do not lose heart.  We offer alternatives to the cynicism and busyness, silence to the noise and chaos and hope to all fear that surrounds the mountain of the Lord.

·       But here’s the rub:  we can’t be misfits for the Messiah if we haven’t tasted the light. We can’t give what we don’t have – we can’t share what we haven’t practiced – and we can offer to the world what we have not yet experienced or nourished. 

·       That’s why we have Lent:  every year it comes around one more time to give us yet another chance at being emptied that we might later be filled full to overflowing.  In the midst of all the tasks and challenges, Lent comes to because: 

(Not all of) life is not all about joy.  It is also about the power to endure what is not joyful as well… However much Christmas may revolve around gift giving… Lent revolves around sacrifice… This part of the year tells us that God is not a magic act, not a sacred vending machine of Christmas cookies.  God is life writ large.  And this means we must be able to deal with all of its dimensions if we are going to live it well.  We must learn how to give up some things if we intend to get other things that are even more important. (Joan Chittister)

There are three practices that over time have become the soul of Lent, do you know them? 

·       Fasting or emptying ourselves so that we might be filled by God

·       Sharing resources with those most in need so that we practice coming down off the mountain every day

·       And prayer – nourishing silence and gratitude and grace within – so that we might truly listen

The disciples on the mountain with Jesus heard the voice of God say:  This is my chosen – the time has now come for you to listen to him – and this is what is being asked of us, too as Lent comes upon us.  So, we will practice more silence – more sharing – more listening so that even in times such as these, we do not lose heart.

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WHEN LOVE COMES TO TOWN

U2 mixed the blues and the gospel - rock and roll and B. B. King - to create the best blend of faith and testimony in contemporary music. This blog is a summary of my weekly meditations at church - my stories of faith, hope and love. I hope to mix culture, art and biblical stories with the best of the progressive Christian tradition to express my take on God's love coming to town in the 21st century.