Committed to the Journey

Sunday’s Scripture ~ II Kings 2:1-12.

This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday in the Church Year; it is the final Sunday of the Epiphany Season before Ash Wednesday, which begins the Season of Lent. It is fitting that Transfiguration Sunday closes the Epiphany Season, a season of ah ha’s about Jesus, our Savior. In the Season of Epiphany we learned

  • The Magi – Gentile Kings from the East – presented Jesus with gifts. They were welcomed at his nativity – a sign of the inclusive nature of the Kingdom that began with Jesus’ birth. All would be welcome to worship him – inclusive of age, nation, and race.
  • In the Jordan River, following his baptism, God declared Jesus as his Son, the Beloved. With Jesus, God is well pleased. After the example of Jesus, we, too, are to be baptized; we, too, are to become daughters and sons of God. We are beloved to God. With us God is well pleased.
  • And now on Transfiguration Sunday, we hear God’s voice again. Again, God names Jesus as God’s Son, and God gives the following instruction, “Listen to him.”

On a mountainside before Peter, James, and John, Jesus changes. His clothes become dazzling white. Glory shines upon his face. Moses and Elijah join him at his sides; Moses, representative of the Law and Elijah, representative of the prophets. And we hear God tell us to listen to Jesus – to listen to how he fulfills the Law first given by Moses and to listen how he brings a new understanding of reconciliation, a primary subject of the prophets, as our Savior prepares to make the ultimate sacrifice to secure humanity’s reconciliation to God forever. Peter – Jesus’ disciple, Jesus’ student – wants to stay on the mountainside, wants to build houses for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Peter’s offer suggests that he wants them all to stay where they are…and yet Jesus’ journey was not meant to culminate on that hillside, but on Calvary.

Jesus, with Peter, James, and John, head back down the mountain. In doing so Jesus commits to the journey ahead of him – to the teachings he will offer; to the miracles he will complete; to the betrayal, denial, desertion and death he will endure. As the disciples follow him, Jesus bids all disciples – bids us – to follow him. More ah ha’s – more epiphanies await us as we journey with Jesus from glory into glory.

Jesus is committed to us and this journey. Let us commit to Jesus and journey with him to and beyond his cross.

Prayer: “O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”*

*from the Book of Common Prayer according to the use of the Episcopal Church, 1979, page 217.

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We Don’t Have To Go Home, But We Can’t Stay Here

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 9:28-36

I returned from an eight day pilgrimage across Israel on Wednesday and a word that resonated with me and my fellow sojourners throughout our travels in the Holy Land was home.

We visited Bethlehem where the Holy Family had their home during Jesus’ infancy. We visited Nazareth where Jesus lived as a boy and youth and would eventually be expelled from because “no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s home town” (Lk 4:24). We visited Capernaum and journeyed throughout the Galilee where Jesus accomplished most of his ministry before he set his eyes on Jerusalem. And in Jerusalem we visited places where Jesus taught, prayed, worshipped, and wept.

Throughout the course of our trip our group took turns teaching, praying, worshipping, and weeping together. We followed in the steps of our Lord in the land of his home, which each of us came to see as our home as well.

Our guide for our trip was a fella named Mike. He quickly became one of my favorite people…mostly because within 10 minutes or so of knowing me he understood that Sarah is Hebrew for “trouble maker…”

I smiled. Mike smiled. The Bishop smiled. And our journey continued.

Towards the end of our journey across the Holy Land Mike posed this question and challenge to our group: What would it take, what would I need to consider, how would I need for God to transform me so that I could become home for someone else? To be a home for someone else means becoming a safe place, a place of support, a place of comfort, a place of care, a place of sanctuary. Serving as a home for someone does not mean that together we escape reality; rather, it is a means that where two or more are gathered Jesus is there with us, lightening our burdens, easing our hurts, providing for our needs, and walking with us as we commit to walking together whatever the path is before us.

In a sense Peter wanted to create homes for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah atop Mt. Tabor at the time of Jesus’ transfiguration. Peter’s intended to construct permanent residences that would take him, Jesus, and the other disciples with them away from the world. Why would Peter want to do this? Because days before Jesus foretold his coming passion. Luke 9:21-22 writes, “[Jesus] sternly ordered and commanded [the disciples] not to tell anyone, saying, ‘The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” If Peter was successful in keeping Jesus on the mountain, then Peter could keep Jesus from this fate. Jesus could go on teaching and healing and bringing good news without enduring great suffering.

But Jesus was not seeking a savior or protector. Jesus was seeking – and seeks – partners, friends, and homes to serve others. Jesus sought in his disciples – and seeks in us – the commitment he introduces in his continued conversation with the disciples before his transfiguration, “Then [Jesus] said to them all, ‘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'” (Lk 9:23-25)?

The Good News of Jesus was and is that he became and becomes home for all. He put himself to suffering, bleeding, and dying so that we – his followers, his sisters and brothers – would know that while on life’s paths we do not walk alone. Not even death could separate us from Jesus for in three days time he was raised in glory.

So if nothing can separate us from Jesus – our eternal Savior and home – then why would we who are faithful separate ourselves from opportunities to be like Jesus and continue his ministry by becoming home for others? We can only be these homes if we open ourselves to be used by Jesus in this way and if we draw near to the portions of Christ’s Body that are in pain. Being a home cannot be accomplished at a distance. Jesus did not complete his servant ministry from on high; he was so close to humanity he could literally and did literally rub his nose in all of our hurt. And he redeemed it.

We can enjoy our times on the mountains, those high points in life. My trip to Israel is certainly one of them! And equally I believe Jesus wants us to enjoy our times in the valleys because that is where he served and calls us to serve by becoming home for others – for all.

Prayer: “You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat. As when the shepherd calls his sheep, they know and heed his voice, so when you call your family, Lord, we follow and rejoice. You give yourself to us, O Lord; then selfless let us be, to serve each other in your name in truth and charity. You satisfy the hungry heart, with gift of finest wheat. Come, give to us, O saving Lord, the bread of life to eat.”* Amen.

*”You Satisfy the Hungry Heart,” The United Methodist Hymnal 629.

God In A Box

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Mark 9:2-9

This week the Tuskawilla Community welcomes back Rev. Melissa Cooper to share with our congregation. Melissa serves as the Program Coordinator for our Conference’s Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. She is the genius behind our Conference’s LECFamily Camps and Retreats Ministries and a visionary for cultivating intergenerational ministry cultures within churches across our Annual Conference. Melissa has recently started working with a team at Tuskawilla. She is helping us learn about and from our organic intergenerational nature as well as learn new ways to expand the intergenerational impact of our ministries.

Melissa is also one of my favorite people. Ever.

The friendship that Melissa and I share started out as a mountain top experience, plummeted into a valley, and then came back up to a middle ground where we continue to flourish in relationship, moving as life does between the mountain tops and the valleys.

We met at a conference retreat where I could talk and she could not! Melissa was training as a facilitator for this conference program and her task for that retreat was to be a silent observer – to look, to listen, to journal, and then when the conference was over, she and other trainees like her would dialogue about their experience during the training. I was a participant at this retreat, and I confess, I was not too keen on being there. And when I add “not too keen to being here” to several days of several hours of group work that is then reported back to the larger group and we do not receive a break until all the groups have reported in – oh I was all the more willing to share to move the whole conference along! So I talked quite a lot and Melissa did not…and somewhere in the midst of what I said, what she heard, and what God did in the midst of all of that, when the retreat ended Melissa made a beeline for me!

I think her first words were “Let’s be friends!” and I was like…”ummmm…okay?” We made plans to connect later that Fall. We hugged and said good bye.

Mountain top.

By the time Melissa and I got back together, I had received disappointing news about a project I had been working towards for over two years…and I was angry. I really did not feel like seeing anyone, but I keep commitments once I make them and I headed to meet Melissa for dinner. She walked in as her joyful, sassy glasses wearing self and oh, I hurricane’d all over her parade. I griped. I complained. I aimed anger at her – someone that, HELLO!, this is my first real opportunity to spend time with her! – and ate my dinner like a sullen, soaked house cat.

Poor Melissa. She was probably thinking “where’s the other girl!? I want to be her friend…get this one out of here…”

Valley. Deep, deep valley.

I remember sitting in my office a few days later wondering if I would ever hear from Melissa again when my phone buzzed. It was a text message from her. I think it said something blatantly obvious and wholly comforting, something like, “So that was a rough night, huh!?” I laughed. And texted back, “Yeah…that about sums it up.”

Out of the valley to the gift of middle ground where all people can grow. And I give thanks that our friendship continues to grow.

In the Scripture passage for this week we read about Peter’s mountain top experience with Jesus. Jesus’ transfiguration occurs. His clothes “became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them” and Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus (Mk 9:3). The persons representative of the Law, the Prophets, and Eternal Salvation are all in one place!

This mountain top experience is the complete package!

And Peter wants to stay. He wants to build tents. He wants to set up camp. But after the cloud descends and he hears “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Jesus leads Peter and the other two disciples back down the mountain (Mk 9:7). Moses and Elijah are gone. The moment is gone.

Valley. Deep, deep valley.

Jesus and his disciples return to a place of middle ground. They return to their work of continued growth in relationship with one another and service of their neighbors. They return to their ministry of healing, of teaching, and of preparing the people – preparing themselves – for Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.

This middle ground is a place of growth. In a way mountain top and valley experiences are static. Not much happens there. It is in the place between where we move towards a mountain top or away from a valley or the other that we learn about ourselves, that we learn about our God, that we strengthen relationships, and that we strengthen our faith.

I give thanks for the gift of the middle ground I continue to receive in my life…and I especially give thanks that Melissa did not wash her hands of me after that awful, awful first date. She showed me grace and understanding. Jesus showed Peter grace and understanding. May these be the gifts that you share with yourself and someone else as you explore the middle ground this week.

Prayer: “Holy God, upon the mountain you revealed our Messiah, who by his death and resurrection would fulfill both the law and the prophets. By his transfiguration enlighten our path that we may dare to suffer with him in the service of humanity and so share in the everlasting glory of him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God for ever. Amen.”*

*”Transfiguration,” The United Methodist Hymnal 259.