Category Archives: covid-19

Behind-the-Scenes-Philip and the Greeks who Want to See Jesus

John 12:20-33
Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit…

Lent has been long and hard on us this year. Lent has been a long and hard year. Usually, this 5 week season of preparation for Holy Week is about opening us up to Jesus’ work in the world, helping us to see just where God is doing important work in our world. Instead of that, this year has felt like stumbling through the wilderness, learning to trust that God is leading us somewhere, even if we cannot see the way. 

We began Lent as Jesus showed us that wilderness is not the scary place we imagine, but where God meets God’s people. We continued as Peter rebuked Jesus for talking about death, and we were shown how our fears get in the way of seeing God’s work. We then watched as Jesus overturned tables in the temple, accusing people of selling God and we were shown that our own tables have been turned right side up. 

And last week, Jesus reminded us that the familiar verse of John 3:16 is not exactly the verse we hope to use to convert those around us, but instead comes in the context of a reminder of how we are condemned already… and it is in our dark world that God shines a light, even if that light stings a little. 

As Lent concludes this week, the disciple Philip is milling about the busy religious marketplace of Jerusalem. This scene actually comes after the triumphant entry, where Jesus rides into town on a Donkey. 

Unlike Peter, James and John, Philip is not a leader among the disciples. He is more of a background kind of guy. Peter is the one who speaks up as the leader of the group, even if he is putting his foot in his mouth half of the time. James and John are vying to be Jesus’ second in command. The three got to go up the mountain with Jesus. But Philip is behind the scenes. While Jesus is teaching the masses, Philip is finding the boy with 5 small loves and 2 fish to feed the 5000. Today, Philip is away from the action, from the crowds surrounding Jesus. 

And this is where some Greek Jews come to him. They are from far away. They have come to the Holy city for passover… perhaps this will be their only chance in a lifetime to be in Jerusalem for the festival. As foreigners, they are unfamiliar with the city, but they have probably heard about this rabbi and teacher who rode into town like a King.”Sir, we wish to see Jesus” they ask. 

Philip, uncertain, goes to Andrew. Together, they leave the Greeks behind to go and talk to Jesus, who gives them a long speech.

If Philip were a church member today, he would be an usher or greeter. He would be one of those volunteers who likes behind-the-scenes work. Peter, James and John might be up front preaching, reading the lessons, conducting the choir, or on church council. Philip would be in early to make coffee, he would probably have picked up some doughnuts for a snack after church. While others are up front leading or taking charge, Philip was the disciple looking for a place to eat or sleep, he is the one making sure that people are looked after and that everyone has what they need. 

But when the Greeks come looking for Jesus, when that visitor walks in the door of the church, he knows how to pass out a bulletin or a cup of coffee… but he isn’t so sure about taking people to meet Jesus. 

If I had to guess, it would seem that many church members are Philips. Faithful people diligently working behind the scenes, caring for each other.

And up until a year ago, we knew how to care for each other. We had tools and habits that we could rely on to maintain community. The chit chat with a sibling in Christ while setting up communion or washing coffee dishes. The conversations in the narthex following worship, or before choir practice, or in the parking lot after a committee meeting. 

And like Philip, the faithful and diligent behind-the-scenes disciple, we find ourselves out of our normal context. Our usual habits and tools for building and caring for community have been ripped away from us. Instead we have been forced to build and maintain community in the comments section of a Facebook video, and over sometimes awkward zoom calls “Gladys, I can’t hear you, you are on mute!”

And we have had to learn to be intentional about reaching out with phone calls and emails and check-ins. We have had to find new ways to be together and collaborate as community. Finding that nice spot in a house to film yourself doing a reading, singing hymns into your iPhone hoping that it can all be mixed together for Sunday, delivering sermon packages and hymnals, teaching an elder relative in faith how to zoom, sharing the peace with text messages and praying over the phone. 

And even as we have been worshipping from home, we have also been revealed to the world in perhaps uncomfortable ways with our worship being on social media, viewable by people across the world. 

Just when our old familiar tools and habits for being church have been ripped away, we have been joined by folks coming to us, wishing to see Jesus in our midst. 

Like Philip, every instinct tells us to go to Andrew instead. In the before time, we might have pointed a visitor asking for Jesus to the bathrooms, showed them how to use a hymnal, waved the pastor over hoping to make quick exit. These days, being out in the open and in the public space of social media might make us uncomfortable or uncertain about what to do when people we don’t know “show up” for worship. 

Before this past year it was easy for us to forget why people walk through church doors in the first place. To forget why we keep coming back again and again. To forget that the volunteer roles we sign up for, the jobs we agree to do, the relationships that become so important to us, the community we form and become a part of are not the things that make us the church.

But this past year has revealed to us a truth more important than ever. That even with all those things that seemed to make a community, those relationships and connections, those habits and tools, those jobs and behind the scenes things that bonded us together… even with all of those things mostly taken away, here we still are still gathering together, still a community of faith.

This past year has revealed the thing that binds us together… the One who binds us together, the One at the centre of the shared faith we confess… the one who has been dragging us through this long season of wilderness. The one that those Greek Jews asked Philip to see. 

When the always helpful Philip goes to Andrew, and the two go to Jesus not sure what to do with these foreigners… 

The Greeks are looking for the King who rode into Jerusalem. 

Yet, Jesus takes their question and steers it in a new direction. 

Jesus says, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself.”

God is busy drawing all people. All nations. All kinds, young and old, new and familiar, those leading up front and those behind the scenes… God is drawing all of us to the Christ who is lifted up on the cross. God is the ultimate reason that we are all here regular or visitor, seeking and searching or committed and devoted. 

God is gathering us together, and God who is we are ultimately looking for when we show up at church. God is who makes the church the church. God is who finds us, even as we are uncertain at times with what to do with that question, “We wish to see Jesus”

Today, Philip, even though he is not sure how to answer the Greeks, is still trying to be a faithful disciple and follower of Jesus. 

And Jesus recognizes that too. 

Jesus knows that even when our communities are thrown into turmoil and we have to learn completely new ways of being a community and gather using unfamiliar means and struggle with what to with when people come to us ask “We wish to see Jesus,”… Jesus knows that even with all that we are still trying to be faithful. 

And so God keeps gathering us. Gathering us around the word, proclaimed and shared in the most surprising of ways.  

God works with our faithfulness as it is. And from there, God draws us all to the cross. To the place where Christ will be crucified and will die.  

And yet also the place where death will drag us through the wilderness to the empty tomb. To the place where God’s faithfulness is fully revealed, to the reason that we continue to be and gather as community despite all odds.  To the place where God’s faithfulness is on full display when Jesus is lifted up, drawing us all to God’s love. 

Waiting for God’s Answers

John 3:14-21
Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

Each Lent  invariably leads us to and prepares us for Holy Week, for those most important 3 days of the church year: Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. We do so by journeying with Jesus from Baptism to Wilderness and from Wilderness to Jerusalem. Along the way, we hear hints and signs of what is come. In other years, Lent is filled with stories about Jesus’ ministry. He meets the woman at the well and tells her of living water. He heals a blind man by spitting in the mud and putting the mud on the blind man’s eyes. Jesus feet are anointed by Mary and he is prepared for burial. Jesus calls Lazarus from the tomb as a sign of what is coming on Easter Sunday. 

But this Lent is more of a slog than usual. This liturgical year as we focus on the Gospel of Mark, we are dropped into the major themes of Mark’s gospel. No one ever knows who Jesus is the Gospel of Mark, and Jesus tries to keep his identity a secret. He constantly tells the people around him not to tell anyone of his miracles. 

For the last 3 weeks of Lent, have been faced with the fact that we still do not truly know or understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is doing in the world. Jesus began 3 weeks ago by going into the wilderness. Into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. But also into the wilderness to find us… into a wilderness that we have been wandering in for much longer than this season of Lent. Into Pandemic wilderness, into the wilderness of the decline of Christianity, and the wilderness of change. 

This year we went from wilderness  beginning Lent, to Peter’s rebuking of Jesus for talking about dying. But Jesus told him to “Get behind me, Satan”. Jesus was reminding Peter, and reminding us, that God has very different plans. God is going to save the world in a way that we cannot comprehend or imagine. 

Last week, Jesus overturned the market stalls in the temple. He told the animal vendors and money changers to get out. Jesus was furious that people were trying to sell a piece of God’s love. Jesus wouldn’t have it. Jesus reminded us that we cannot profit from God’s love, because God freely gives love and forgiveness away. 

This week, we hear some very familiar words from the Bible. “For God so loved the world…”. Christians of all stripes are encouraged to learn these words by heart. Luther called John 3:16 the Gospel in a nutshell. Yet, as we delve into the verses around 3:16, we discover that this verse is so much more than a simple explanation of the gospel taken out of context. 

This familiar verse is in fact Jesus’ answer to a question. A question posed to him by the Pharisee Nicodemus, who has come asking question. Nicodemus whose world has been rocked by Jesus’ coming onto the scene. Nicodemus thought he knew the path to salvation – follow of the law of Israel and you will be righteous. And yet he also sees that Jesus has been sent from God, and Jesus doesn’t seem to live by the same adage. Nicodemus wants to understand how all these things reconcile, he asks Jesus how one can be born again. He wants stability and certainty, he wants to move on from this disruption that Jesus has introduced. 

Each week of Lent so far has felt like it is taking us from one wilderness to another, one moment of uncertainty to the next. A reminder that God’s promises can sometimes feel so very far from us, that stumbling from one uncertainty to another doesn’t always feel like we are getting somewhere. That our desire for answers and certainty are not usually met neatly and straightforwardly by God. 

Nicodemus comes with his questions trying to figure out his own life, and Jesus gives an answer about God’s plan that include all humankind and all creation. Jesus answers from a perspective that Nicodemus… that we… might not be ready to hear an answer from. 

So what does all of this mean? What is God up to? Where is God taking us? We want answers, we want to reconcile this messy confusing world that we are living in. Like Nicodemus we want to move on from the disruption. For him the disruption that Jesus brought to the religious order. For us the immediate and intense disruption of pandemic, the larger and slower disruption of decline, and the even larger and more pervasive disruption of a rapidly changing world. 

Waiting for answers, waiting for things to make sense, waiting to be relieved of our inconvenience and discomfort… waiting for God to finally get us to the next thing… it can make us squirm with anxiety like waiting in a long line-up for the bathroom or for a rainy day to let up so that we can go outside or for a slow moving train to pass by us at a railway crossing when we are in a hurry. 

In the midst of our waiting and discomfort God is working on us and it sucks. God is forming and shaping us, making us ready for the thing that is coming next, opening our perspective beyond ourselves and our inconvenience. 

Today, on the 4th or 40th Sunday of our Lenten wilderness,  God is preparing us for cross and for empty tomb… and it is hard to endure. 

And God’s work on us can hurt at first. It can feel like that first ray of sun light that stings the eyes after being in dark building. It can feel like the pain of a deep tissue massage, working out the kinks and knots. It can feel like those first painful and sharp breaths that come into our lungs after being dunked under the waters of a cold lake. 

This Lenten season, as God makes us ready for the salvation that is on its way, it can be hard to endure without the glimpses of Easter that we get in other Lenten seasons. We will not listen in as Jesus forgives the woman at the well. We won’t see with new eyes with the blindman. We won’t watch as Lazarus walks out of the tomb. Instead, we are reminded of where we are going. Of where we are going with Jesus. 

Jesus is on his way to be lifted up. Jesus is on his way up a cross. And from that most terrible place of suffering and death, from that Roman cross meant to be the most humiliating way to die, God is using Jesus to save the whole world. 

This is the promise that is made to us today, in the midst of our Lenten waiting for answers. Jesus has not come into the world to condemn it, but the world is condemned already. We are condemned already. We are dead already. Right from Adam and Eve we have chosen ourselves first and we have chosen death. We have chosen to be our own God’s. We have chosen to align ourselves with anything and anyone but God. 

Yet we also hear that God so loves the world. God so loves the world that has chosen anything but God. The world that would rather die than let God be in charge. This is the world that God loves. Love is how God chooses to judge the world, rather than with what we justly deserve. Our discomfort with waiting, our desire for answers and certainty push us so often towards darkness and death that God should let us have, but instead God gives of Godself over to our death dealing ways. God in Christ is given over to be lifted up and then shows us something new. 

God shows us life. Life instead of death. Light instead of darkness. Healing instead of suffering. And yes, it hurts to wait for that promise to be realized. It hurts to have those wounds and scars covered over. It hurts to look into that light when our eyes were accustomed to darkness. It hurts for our hearts to start beating when they have stopped and for breath to be forced back into our lungs when they are empty. 

But this is the God of John chapter 3 verse 16. A God who so loves… so loves… the world that God gave the son. God’s only son to a world that wants to die, but that now, because of the cross and because of Christ, will find out that death is the path to life. God loves us so much that God will come and be wherever we are in order to save us. 

God is going to save a world simply cannot wait through anymore discomfort or uncertainty.  God is going to save the world by dying, no matter how much we protest with Peter. God is going to save the world freely no matter how many market stalls we set up in God’s house.. God is planning to save the world, even when we just cannot wait a moment more for salvation…   

Even we cannot look beyond ourselves and our problems of the moment… Today, we are reminded that God’s salvation plan is for more than we can imagine. God’s salvation is given freely for us and for all.  

The Anxiety of Lent

Mark 8:31-38
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Last week Jesus went into the wilderness as is always the case on the first Sunday in Lent, and there he met us where we have been lingering for what feels like a year. The liturgical season came around again to meet us where we have been this whole time. And with that, we entered lent as the church, remembering that we are ash, and our alleluias put away. 

Our Lenten journey continues this week with some contradictory statements from Jesus. Statements that speak to the way Lent challenges us to examine ourselves: If try to save your life, you lose it. If you want to follow Jesus, deny yourself. If you want to live, you must die first. 

These kinds of contradictions define the the way that Jesus encounters creation, encounters us.  And in the season of Lent we take the time to consider what these contradictions from Jesus mean. 

Jesus begins by teaching his disciples that the son of man must be suffer, be rejected and die before rising again after three days. And Peter doesn’t like it, and he lets Jesus know. But like an old fashioned school teacher Jesus sends Peter to the corner of the room with the dunce cap. Jesus does not take kindly to Peter’s rebuke. Jesus has no interest in Peter’s fears. Jesus is not worried about dying, Jesus is talking about life. 

Peter is busy worrying, while Jesus is telling him, and the disciples and crowds, about God. And yet usually we are still with Peter, and these days more than ever we know about worrying about drying. Our lives are full of worry and fear and other myriads of concerns, so much so it is hard to live. Our fears and our anxiety seemingly control us and the world around us. And rightly so… we continue to live in an extraordinary time. Peter gets it, what is Jesus missing?

It is hard to not to have our fear and anxieties fed by the world daily. Turn on the news for a couple minutes and there is no escaping worry. Pickup a newspaper and try to find story without the word pandemic or COVID-19. Check social media or the internet and find people angered by government actions, whether they think pandemic measures are too much or too little. 

Fear makes us feel powerless and week, unable to see any hope. Anxiety has a hold over our economy, over our politics, over our communities, over our churches… over our very bodies. Like Peter, our fears cause us to do things that don’t make sense, like scolding our teachers or speaking before we think. Our fears hold us back, keep us from acting, keep us from risking, keep us from experiencing the world around us because we cannot imagine things turning out well for us. Like Peter, our fear and our anxiety prevents us from seeing God in our midst. 

This confrontation of our fears and anxiety is one of the inevitable meetings of Lent. Our fear makes it hard, impossible even, to see what God is up to in the world, what is God is doing in our very lives, despite our fear and anxiety. 

Peter’s fear is keeping him from hearing what Jesus is doing. And if Peter could get past his fear of Jesus’ death, he might take a moment to think a little longer about the rest of Jesus’ statement. Peter is planted too deep in his anxiety… he cannot hear the part that he should be asking about. “After three days rising again?”

But even when Peter misses the point, Jesus continues to make it. Jesus is not above contradiction. In fact, Jesus knows that it is in seeming contradiction that God’s work is done. Die and after three days rise again Jesus says. Lose your life to save it Jesus says. Take up your cross, follow and you will live, Jesus says. 

Peter is so busy being afraid and anxious, that he cannot hear that with God, death will lead to something new. 

So often, Peter’s fear is our fear. So often, we just can’t shake our fear to see God’s work around us. But that doesn’t mean that God isn’t doing the work. It just means, like Peter, we are going to be really surprised when we peer into that empty tomb on Easter morning. 

It is easy for us to look at Peter and wonder why he didn’t get it, but God’s work among us is just as shocking and just as hard to imagine. Jesus tells Peter that crucifixion is coming, and Jesus tells us that there is drying is happening all around us. Of course there is the tragedy of human death, but there is also all kinds of other deaths. Death and change. Changing communities and neighbourhoods, dying relationships, dying habits and ways of being, dying and changing institutions and structures. Our past is and so much of what was an old world is just slipping through our fingers, and there is a new world knocking on our doors. 

And all this makes us anxious. 

 Yet, Jesus isn’t giving us a warning, Jesus isn’t trying to get our hearts racing or making want to just pull the covers over our head and stay in bed each morning. 

Jesus is pointing us to the places where God is at work. 

Jesus is telling us what God’s work looks like. God’s activities in the world simply do not ease our fears or quell our anxieties. God’s work does not ease us into the future, or protect us from the unknown. Instead, God is doing something much more amazing than fitting into a box that our anxiety can handle. God is turning death into life. God is transforming us into disciples and evangelists. God is reconciling a broken world. God is showing us what it means to gain life. 

God is showing that us letting go of all the things that we hold on to, all the things that we fear losing – a world that we spent so much time and energy holding on to, that seems so foreign now –  God is showing us that fearing these things is not living. But rather, God’s version of life means being open to future, open to the other, open to God doing something completely unexpected in our midst. 

Jesus will have none of Peter’s fears today, nor will Jesus have any of ours. Instead, Jesus calls us to let go. Let go and God’s activities in the world will completely surprise and shock us. And still, even if we don’t let go, like Peter cannot, there is going to be an empty tomb waiting for us when we least expect it. 

Still the Season of Lent

*This is a guest sermon by the Rev. Courtenay Reedman Parker (Sorry for getting it up so late in the week!)

GOSPEL: Mark 1:9-15

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

“And the Walls Come Tumblin’ Down”

Early in January I took part in a preaching seminar and text study for Lent, led by Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis, professor at Luther Seminary, St. Paul. My sermons and our mid-week Lenten devotions will be informed and inspired by her study which was entitled “Sir, We Wish to See Jesus.”

Here we are, again (still?) in the the season of Lent. 

And for the third time since the start of Advent, we are hearing the story of Jesus’ baptism. For the third time in as many months we hear “and just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him”

This gospel of Mark, for as short and succinct as it is – and with its less than satisfactory ending – has so much packed into it. Which is, perhaps, why we keep coming back to the beginning. Back to Jesus’ baptism. Back to pick up on a detail we missed the last two times: the heavens are TORN apart. 

Just as Jesus is named and claimed God’s beloved the heavens are torn apart. There is a split. A schism. The Greek word that is used here is “schizo” and the only other time that it is used in Mark’s gospel is the tearing of the temple curtain in Mark 15: “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:37-38).

And usually, talk of splits in churches often cause us to feel uncomfortable and maybe even bring up uncomfortable memories or experiences of splits or other trauma we’ve experienced. 

But that is what Mark records at Jesus’ baptism: Just as Jesus comes up out of the water – breathing his first breath as a baptized child of God, the heavens are torn apart.

Torn apart. 

Split. 

Broke open.

This part of the story informs so much of what happens next: where God is, where Jesus goes – where we go next – into the wilderness. Not by choice. God’s Spirit drives… compels Jesus… and us there. Or as one seminary professor put it, the Spirit grabs Jesus by the scruff of the neck and tosses him into the wilderness. This wasn’t a weekend camping trip. This is a wilderness experience that will take Jesus from one place to another. 

It is Lent after all. 

And Lent takes us places. Specifically from one place, from the place of sin and death, to another… to forgiveness through the cross, resurrection, new and abundant life. 

PAUSE

Last year, we began Lent in some typical ways: we gathered here, in this place for Ash Wednesday. We confessed our sin before God, and we remembered that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. We began our midweek worship practice of Soup Suppers and gathering for Holden Evening Prayer. 

And mid-way through our Lenten discipline, our wilderness journey, the world changed.  We were thrust into wilderness. It is the Lentiest Lent that ever Lented we said.

It is now a year later. We have moved through every liturgical season together in and through pandemic. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. New life and new ways of doing and being church together even as we are apart. We have moved from Ashes and dust to new life of Easter. From growing in our faith in the season of Ordinary Time, marking festivals and feasts, and moving into the season of watching and waiting for our Lord to appear. We have celebrated the birth of Emmanuel – God with us – and have been led by the Epiphany star to see and hear and understand God in new ways. And just like that, we’re back to Lent once again… once again thrust by the Spirit back to the wilderness that is Lent… the wilderness that moves us from the mount of Transfiguration to Golgatha; from one way of being to turn us and re-turn us back to God. The wilderness that challenges our assumptions about who God is, and who we are as followers of Jesus (like, why am I STILL  in the wilderness?!).

We might be wondering how and where we encounter God in this time and place when the physical place we have long known and trusted to be the place where we encounter God and God’s people, our people, is not available or accessible to us – it might feel like we’ve been wandering the Lenten wilderness for longer than the 4 days between Ash Wednesday and today!

Because We have been in the wilderness… we are IN wilderness. 

And like God’s faithful before us, wandering the wilderness is not easy. It does feel at times like we are being torn apart. That our way of life is being torn apart. That we are separated from God… from one another… from the places and people we love… we might even feel torn from ourselves. Because we are being changed in this time too. 

On Ash Wednesday we are invited into the discipline of Lent – we confess our sin and remember our own mortality before God, our need for God’s saving grace in our lives and or world because we cannot save ourselves. We acknowledge and ask God to come to us… to be returned to God. 

So we really shouldn’t be that surprised when the Spirit drives us out the places where that will happen. 

Recently, I heard Bishop Jason reflecting on wilderness journeys asking, “are we wandering in the wilderness or living in the woods?”

Is this a transformative wilderness experience of listening to and for God, and being changed by God or are we simply hanging out in in this particular location? 

What does it mean for us, to us, that the heavens are torn apart?

What does it mean that we are torn apart – separated? From God and from one another?  That God comes into our messy and messed-up world, into the separations of life and death, rich and poor, religious and ethnic separations, socio-economic and racial barriers. All which separate us from one another and from God. 

What does it mean that God tears heaven apart to descend on us – into our world and into our being?

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the beginning of Jesus’ life as a baptized child of God includes the reality of God tearing the world open so that God can come down to be with Jesus as he is driven into the wilderness… so that God can be and WILL be and IS with us as we are driven to the wilderness places. 

This might not sound so much like good news. 

It’s messy and hard to look at – things being torn apart. 

It’s jarring and maybe counterintuitive. 

God comes to us, not on our terms, but on God’s terms. God’s Spirit descends into us in baptism and drives us to places we would not go and do not choose for ourselves. God’s terms turn the world upside down and tear the world apart in order to make the world new again. 

We can’t go back to the way things were before – we can’t un-see the tear… we can’t un-see the brokenness or simply go back to normal. We simply cannot just patch it back up and have it be the same as before. There will always be a tear. That is the point.

God comes into the world to change the world… to change us. 

And that happens in and through Jesus. 

Named and claimed in the waters of baptism. “You are my beloved son” – Jesus needs to hear this so that he can do what he is called to do. We need to hear it too! If God is going to tear everything down, we need to hear that we are God’s beloved AND that God’s Spirit descends on us as the Spirit drives us into the wilderness. 

We need to hear that we are God’s beloved AND that God’s Spirit is with us here and now in our wilderness wandering. We are not simply living in the woods but being led through wilderness with the Spirit leading and the angels attending even in the midst of wild beasts and temptation that want us to believe we can go back to normal even when we know that’s simply not the case. 

So, now what?

What will our ministry look like?

What shape will our faith and the way we live that faith out in the world and in our community and communities of faith look like – not just this Lent, but moving forward? What does it mean to DO ministry, to follow Jesus, to embody Jesus as the Body of Christ in this time and into the future God is leading us towards and in – to? 

The promise of Lent – the promise of God in Jesus – is that God comes to us. And that means… that requires breaking barriers… it means and requires the heavens being torn apart. God transcends all those things – places and people – even our selves – to bring the kingdom of God near, to proclaim the good news for all to hear. 

That God stops at nothing, not the barriers we place upon ourselves and others to, will tear open the very heavens God created to name us and claim us beloved – God’s own, to descend upon us so that even as we are thrust into places we do not choose for ourselves, we go trusting that we belong to God and that God does not leave us alone in our wilderness wanderings but walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death to new life so that we too can proclaim “the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news” believing, even with it’s cracks and tears, that it is good news. 

May it be so. AMEN. 

Transfiguration from the Valley

GOSPEL: Mark 9:2-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

The mountain stands high before us. 

Today is Transfiguration Sunday, a touchstone moment in the church year. In so many ways Transfiguration looms in the background right from Advent. But certainly from the day of Epiphany, the revealing of the Christ child to the Magi. From then on, this next revealing of the Christ is on the way. The words spoken at the the Baptism of Jesus are foreshadows of the words spoken again today: this is my Son, the beloved. 

And this mountain stands before the valley to come, the valley of Lent that will push Jesus towards that next hill, the hill of Good Friday and another revealing of the Christ. 

This Transfiguration comes to us when we are little more tense and stressed than usual. Normally this time after Epiphany and these green Sundays before Lent are some weeks to catch our breath after the excitement of Advent and Christmas while preparing for Lent, and the wilderness Journey that we are about to embark on. 

But for right now, everything seems to be about Jesus’ journey up the mountain. Like so many faithful patriarchs of the Old Testament, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Moses and Elijah (who show up today!) Jesus goes to a mountain to be seemingly be closer to God. And Jesus brings with him 3 of his disciples… maybe the 3 leaders. Peter, James and John. 

It should be noted at this moment that we have skipped through half the book of Mark (don’t worry we will come back his summer). For three weeks we lingered in chapter 1, only to jump right to chapter 9 of 16, the half way point. 

And Jesus is transfigured, meaning his outward appearance is changed. 

He shines like the sun. Moses and Elijah appear beside him. Jesus not only goes up the mountain to be closer to God, in Jesus God comes closer to creation, to Peter, James and John. 

Peter blurts out the first thing that comes to mind… or maybe the extremely well thought out idea he has been holding onto the whole hike up the mountain. Peter suggests that like good and faithful jews who know a holy place when they see it, that they should build a dwelling place. An alter to worship God. Just like his forebears, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who built altars on mountains. 

But maybe it isn’t Peter’s thoughts are relevant, but his feelings. Here on the mountain, he is away from the struggle and chaos. The mountain top is removed and calm, quiet and enlightening. The mountain top is a place to escape the reality of the world. The mountain top is a place to leave troubles behind. And Peter knows a world of trouble. Living under foreign occupation by the Romans, conflict with the religious authorities, experiencing unclean spirits, dealing with demanding crowds, and managing a moody and enigmatic Jesus. 

We get it, escaping the struggle and chaos is worth staying a while, worth lingering and holding on. 

Most times we hear this story, we imagine ourselves standing right beside Peter, there on the mountaintop, there witnessing the transfiguration of Jesus and having to contend with our strong desire to remain in this safe place. 

But this year feels different. Transfiguration feels far away. Escape and relief feel far away. 

This year we are not on the mountain top. We are down in the valley. We are witnessing Transfiguration from afar. 

Our perspective has been shifted, and Transfiguration isn’t an insiders journey that we get to witness up close. Instead we only hear about it from Mark, we only get to catch the wisps of light emanating from the mountain top, we only hear the whispers that Peter, James and John cannot keep to themselves once they get down from the mountain. 

We are living in the valley and stuck there this year. The valley of struggle and suffering, the valley of the shadow death. The valley that Peter is so happily escaping as he tries to build a dwelling and an altar on the mountain top. We would much rather have that moment of escape that, break from the chaos, that chance to just catch our breath, to feel free, to relax and be safe, to forego our daily vigilance just for a moment. 

And yet there is no escaping our predicament, no mountaintops where we can hike above the fray… we are in a moment, a shared moment, a global moment of struggle and hardship, chaos and suffering. We are all stuck together down in the valley. 

A valley where struggle and suffering multiply struggle and suffering. Where one threat to our heath and safety requires sacrifice and struggle, where trying to fix one problem creates two more. Where one person refusing to buy-in and share the sacrifice can jeopardize us all. 

This is a valley we were unprepared for, one that is wearing us down, one is harder to bear than we ever imagined. 

And  this valley changes the way we see and hear the story of Transfiguration. This valley pulls us down from the mountain and keeps us far from that mountain top escape. 

So we long to be Peter, we wish we could foolishly think that living on the mountaintop was a good idea because we long to feel, even if just for moment, Peter’s sense of relief. 

And then almost a quickly as it started, Jesus is headed back down the mountain. 

Jesus tells these privileged three not to tell anyone about what they have seen, at least not until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. 

At least not until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. 

Jesus took these three up the mountain, Jesus was transfigured and met with Moses and Elijah, the voice of God speaks from the heavens, yet Jesus seems most concerned about something beyond this mountaintop experience. Peter wants to stay and linger, but Jesus is back on mission. 

Jesus is focused on the being raised from the dead. Which means Jesus also knows that he is headed towards Crucifixion. Headed towards, arrest and trial, towards conflict with the plotting religious authorities, towards more demands for healing and miracles from the crowds, more encounters with the surpernatural. 

Jesus is focused on going back down into the valley, back down into the depths of suffering and chaos, back down into the place of human need, back down to where creation is thick with finiteness and mortality… 

And Jesus is doing what he has said he has been doing since the beginning. Bringing the Kingdom of God Near. Bringing the God of all Life close again to creation that feels so far. Bringing God into the struggle and suffering that seems so far from the mountain top, so far the high minded dwelling and altars where the space between heaven and earth feels thin.

Jesus is on the way to the places that feel far from the divine, far from God’s love and mercy and grace. 

And that makes all the difference. When you are on top of the mountain like Peter, it makes sense to stay. But when you are stuck in the valley, when you feel far from the shining light of God, far from the dwellings and altars where God seems close enough to touch…

Seeing the God made flesh, the Christ come to save, the Messiah on the way…. To see Jesus coming down the mountain, coming down into the valley of the shadow of death changes everything. 

Today, we get that feeling too. We might be used to feeling like we are on the mountaintop, but, this year we need to be reminded that God is coming down the mountain to. 

Jesus is coming down into our lives, into our communities, into our chaos. Jesus meets us in the shadows of pandemic, the shadows of lockdown, of loneliness and isolation. The valleys of suffering and sin, of racism in our institutions, division in our politics, stress in our neighbour hoods

And Jesus is doing the work of the God. Confronting our mess, confronting our chaos, confronting our sin, confronting death. And in that confrontation Jesus is on the way to the new thing that God is doing among us. Bringing comfort where there is suffering, forgiveness where there is sin, and life where there is death. 

Here today, down in the valley, far from the mountain top, far from the escape of transfiguration, Jesus is coming down to us. Coming down to us in word of promise, joining us to one another through the spirit, making us alive again in the Body of Christ.