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God Will Heal the People and the Land – With Us or Despite us

Content Warning: Residential Schools, Racism, Colonialism, Death of Children

GOSPEL: Mark 3:20-35
Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. 32A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, “Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you.” 33And he replied, “Who are my mother and my brothers?” 34And looking at those who sat around him, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

On Monday afternoon, after taking a family drive to make a socially distanced delivery, our household made its way to The Forks. As we drove through the city, the kids asked nervous and fearful questions about the news story that brought us there, trying to make sense of it all. After finding a parking spot and exiting the car, I couldn’t help but notice the symbolism that our family represented. Our children, reminders of the victims of the abuse and tragedy uncovered in Kamloops, Courtenay and I, members of the clergy class who took a central role in perpetrating it. 

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Today, we are turning the page on the first half of the church year, and entering into the more subdued season of green. For most of the next 26 or so weeks, we will remain in green Ordinary Time, hearing the stories, teachings, ministry, healing, exorcisms and exploits of Jesus, as told by the Gospel of Mark. 

Yet, this turn towards Ordinary Time begins in a strange spot. Jesus has been healing the sick, teaching the crowds and appointing his disciples. Then upon his return home, he finds several different groups of people upset with him. His family is searching for him, thinking that he has gone out of his mind. The scribes accuse him of teaching heresy. Crowds are clamouring to hear what he has to say. 

In the middle of it all, Jesus offers a parable-like example of Satan’s house divided against itself, about the strong man’s house being robbed, and about families in conflict and division. 

It is all rather messy and complicated: Jesus’ family, the scribes, his teachings and the crowds.

As usual, Mark is expecting much from his readers. He expects us to see the bigger and deeper picture: what it means for the divine Son of God, the Messiah to enter into the humanity’s messy state.

And this scene from Mark’s gospel is an example of a very human response to the divine Messiah. People got upset, people were confused, people demanded signs and miracles, people just didn’t know what to make of Jesus. 

At a time when our world is full of tragedy and suffering, full ICUs, struggling businesses, lonely seniors, haggard remote learning families and so on… This story comes to us at a particularly poignant moment in Canada. It has been difficult to overshadow the pandemic with news stories this past year. But there have been moments. Last year it was the killing of George Floyd. This year it is the tragic news coming out of Kamloops… the discovery of the remains of 215 children who attended the Kamloops Residential School. 

While the news came out Thursday night, it quickly snowballed into a furor of outrage, grief, sorrow and lament through days that followed. We have not changed. We are still the messy, confused, upset human beings that we hear about in Mark today. 

Just as Jesus points out that a house divided cannot stand, we are reminded that we are a divided and broken house. It was the revelation that opened the eyes of too many to Canada’s colonial history. It was something we should have known, a story that has been told over and over again to settler Canadians:

Six years on from the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission…

After countless stories of systemic racism against indigenous peoples in our country… 

After news stories about the way the RCMP and other police forces target indigenous peoples…

After reports of indigenous over-representation in our prison system….

After it is revealed that indigenous communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19…

After indigenous treaty land rights are routinely ignored by governments for the sake of resource extraction…

After our governments and churches consistently apologize, lament, wring their hands, yet drag their feet when it comes to real action towards implementing reconciliation…

After decades of not providing clean drinking water to too many indigenous communities… 

After many mental health crises on First Nations causing too many young people to die of suicide…  

After all of that, it still took the remains of 215 children to wake us Settlers up, at least for now, to the fact that Canada is a divided and broken house, just like the one that Jesus describes. We are a nation that has yet to truly discern who our siblings and family are.

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When our family arrived at the Oodena Celebration Circle at The Forks, there were about a dozen people scattered around the amphitheater. In the centre was the impromptu memorial. Shoes and stuffed animals, flowers and photos. As we stood at the top of the steps, a boy just Oscar’s age, an indigenous boy, came up and said to Oscar, “Can we be friends?” Oscar looked up at me, and I nodded. The two ran off to explore the edges of the installation. A little indigenous girl Maeve’s age came up to her wanting to see the baby doll that Maeve had brought with her. Together with Courtenay, the two girls made their way down the steps to the centre of the circle to get a closer look at the memorial. They walked around the shoes and stuffed animals, as Courtenay carefully told them the story of why these things were left in this place. 

I found a ledge to sit on and watch while they examined the items left at the circle. The pastor in me wanted to gather people and lead them in prayer. Or least to pray myself. Yet, many wise teachers remind us in moments like these it is good to slow down and listen. So, I let my prayer be listening. 

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In the middle of the disciples, crowds, the angry scribes and his upset family, Jesus’ responses seem odd at first. He rebuffs the religious authorities, telling them that their houses are divided, and unable to stand. Later he brushes off his family, claiming that his family is those who do the will of God. 

And yet, there is something more to what Jesus is doing. As the community around him splits off into factions all looking out for their own, Jesus keeps attending to his business. 

He has been healing, teaching, calling disciples, and soon he will be teaching the crowds in parables that will ring with familiarity to our ears. 

In the middle of this chaotic moment, Jesus holds steadfast to the work of God in the world. Jesus has come for a purpose, to bring the Kingdom of God near to God’s people. Even as the mess of humanity desperately tries to derail his mission, desperately tries to get some more miracles and healings out of him. Jesus sets himself to the task at hand – announcing God’s kingdom come near. 

It isn’t flashy or bold or dramatic, but determined and unmovable. Jesus invites those around him into the mission. Jesus invites those who would hear him into his Kingdom building… but if they will not participate, he will go about his business anyway. If those around him want to join in, Jesus calls them to follow.

Jesus reminds the scribes that he is there to do God’s work. 

Jesus reminds his family that all those who do the will of God are his family. 

Jesus reminds the crowds, that he is there on behalf of the God of all, reconciling creation with Creator.

All too often God knows that we need this reminder. That the work and ministry that we are called to, that Christ through the Body of Christ is doing is the work of the Kingdom. 

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When Courtenay, Maeve and her friend finally left the memorial in the middle of the circle, another family arrived. The two parents, with their three young kids, walked down to the memorial. As they walked, the mother called to her oldest son, about 5, to stand beside her. Her calm soft voice echoed across the amphitheater, she reminded her son of why they came, 

“Remember, these things are for the little ones that I told you about. We are going to offer them tobacco and pray that they go to the good place.” 

She took a pinch of sacred tobacco herbs and placed them in her son’s hands. He gingerly sprinkled them over the memorial, and began to pray. “Dear God, take care of all the little ones. Amen” And then the mother did the same with some more tobacco, praying silently to herself. 

There I was, a member of the Christian clergy, the same clergy that took children away to residential schools, and in this ancient meeting place, where the people of this land have lived from before Jesus was crucified, before the temple in Jerusalem was built, before the pyramids of Egypt were built… and I was bearing witness to the people and to the land, beginning the work of healing. Here were indigenous children and families, just like the ones that the church and government sought to educate, doing the very thing they tried to wipe out. 

It was a moment of grief and sadness, yet also a moment of hope. It was a sign of the Spirit’s work, a sign that, even when humanity drags our feet in the work of reconciliation, God is doing the work of bringing new life into the world. 

In the middle of our human mess, of our various factions being upset and confused and angry… 

Jesus is doing the work of God – with us or despite us.

And God is bringing hope and healing to the land. 

And God is bringing new life into the world. 

And Jesus is bringing God and God’s Kingdom near. 

Amen.

Needing Pentecost more than ever

GOSPEL: John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15
[Jesus said,] 26“When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. 27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning….


After seven weeks of celebrating Easter, we have now moved from the great joy of the Season of the Resurrection to the Day of Pentecost. For much of Christian history, Pentecost has been the third great festival of the Church alongside Christmas and Easter. Pentecost tells the story of the Holy Spirit coming to the disciples and equipping them to proclaim the Gospel. This day is also known as the Birth of the Church. The day that the community of believers called the Body of Christ was established with its mission to proclaim the Gospel to all nations and peoples. Pentecost was a confusing day, with many being uncertain of exactly what was going on. 

In the two thousand years since, Christians haven’t done much better to figure out exactly what is going on with the Church. But this past year, making sense of what the Church is all about has been especially difficult and confusing. Pentecost comes to us at time when we may be struggling more than ever to know to what and to where God is calling us. 

In the fifty days following the Resurrection, the disciples were left in a confusing and uncertain place. The first experiences of the Resurrection seemingly didn’t offer them much help in figuring out what to do and who to be as a community. The women’s report from the empty tomb had caused much disruption. The disciples who walked with Jesus to Emmaus did not recognize him until the end. Thomas could not bring himself to accept that Jesus had been raised until he was forced to. And when Peter met Jesus on the beach and was asked if he would lay down his life for Jesus, he could only respond by saying that Jesus was his friend. 

The Resurrection experiences hadn’t provided a clear path forward and the disciples were still trying to figure out how they had gone from following Jesus around Galilee to being locked away, hiding from Herod’s soldiers and the Roman soldiers. 

The disciples’ world since Easter had become dangerous and threatening, while also raising questions of who they were now were and what they were supposed to do. They were not yet the Early Church community; they had not yet been given a mission or purpose. They were an aimless, frightened and fearful bunch of former followers of Jesus. 

The Church today is also full of uncertainty and confusion. We had been living on a mostly predictable path before now. One that, even though it wasn’t exactly working great, was a way of being what we thought we knew and understood. 

Many congregations were small enclaves and communities gathered around a common identity, often around families, neighbourhoods, or cultural backgrounds. We had histories and traditions. Before 2020, most churches knew very well what most Sunday mornings or council meetings or Christmas Eve services or potluck meetings or Bible studies and more would look like for them. 

Sure, a lot of folks tended to be aging and resources for ministry tended to be declining, but this was very much in consort with  a nation, province or city also facing declining resources for every other institution. 

Maybe we aren’t quite as intensely confused and uncertain as the disciples were during their fifty days of wondering between Easter and Pentecost, but with 2,000 two thousand years of history behind us, with generations of established traditions and practices, and a lot of ministry to stand on… our Easter-to-Pentecost wondering is rooted in deep questions about what the Church is still called to be, and how the Church, our community of faith, is supposed to fit into our rapidly-changing world. 
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On that first day of Pentecost, as the disciples remained confused and uncertain as ever still fifty days on from the Resurrection: Jesus had risen from the dead, Jesus had appeared to them in locked rooms, along roads and then finally on mountain tops. And now Jesus had left them… but not alone. Jesus had left them a promised advocate… a Spirit. But who among them knew what that really meant?

And then in the midst of all that confusion and uncertainty, there was rushing wind blowing through the group. And then, tongues of fire resting on them. And then, they were compelled to go out into the streets to tell the story of Jesus. They were sent, speaking many languages so that all could understand. They were sent to preach to all the nations. The Holy Spirit gave them what they needed to preach the Gospel.

The wind and fire, the miraculous ability to speak in other languages mark the story of this day. They reveal and point to the Spirit of God working a new thing among God’s people. But they aren’t the most significant part of the story. Instead, these signs and miracles from God serve to orient us back to the main point of the story.

This band of Jesus’ followers, uncertain about who or what they are as a community, what are they are supposed to do without Jesus’ literally holding their hands and showing them the way… The band of Jesus’ followers, confused about all that has happened to them since Jesus called them from their boats, from under the fig trees, from their jobs as tax collectors, carting them around Galilee and then asking them to bear witness to his arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death… only to be surprised by his Resurrection three days later. 
This band of Jesus’ followers is suddenly thrust into Pentecost from their post-Easter hiatus, thrust back into the world. The Spirit pushes the disciples out of hiding with a reminder of the mission that Jesus left in their hands. They are to share the good news with all peoples. 

That is the point of Pentecost — the sending of God’s people into the world for the sake of the mission of the Kingdom. 

And just the same, the Holy Spirit is swirling around and among us, too. Long before the pandemic, we gathered and huddled away in our churches for too long, waiting for people to just start coming to church. People like us, people who already knew who we are were. Waiting for the world around us to figure out that going to church is what good, decent people are were supposed to do. But they weren’t just showing up, no matter how hard we hoped. 

Now, after we have been huddled away from each other, the Spirit is pushing the Church again. Pushing us to quit waiting and to go out. Tongues of fire have been sent to us, like Facebook, YouTube, Zoom and other online platforms that connect us to the entire world. Christianity and local churches have gained interest  more interest from the news media (both good and bad) in the past year then in the previous decade. The Spirit is making us known again to the world. Our Pentecost moment is upon us. 

Like the disciples who went out to preach the Gospel, the Spirit is calling us to adapt our message to our hearers, to meet people were they are, to preach to all nations. The Spirit is reminding us that God speaks in many voices, in our voices, allowing all to hear.

And the Spirit is telling us not to expect everyone to become like us, not to wait for the world to come to us. But to go out with the story of the Jesus whom we have experienced. To announce the crucified and risen Christ, to announce God’s plan to save all people and all creation. To tell of God’s grace given for all. 

The Holy Spirit is working here and now, among us. The Holy Spirit is with us preparing us to be a new Church, yet still the Body of Christ, the same that we have always been. 

The Spirit is blowing and swirling the Pentecost wind in and through us right now.

So this year, when we find ourselves in a state not terribly different from that of those disciples  locked-away disciples who were about to be thrust into the World… we hear again that the wind of the Spirit is blowing all around us. Pentecost is here and now. The Gospel is being preached with our many voices and God is speaking God’s creation. God is announcing God’s plan to save all of creation, to forgive sinners, to heal the suffering, and to bring the dead to life. 

 God is telling the World that the crucified and risen Christ has come to save.

Amen. Come, Holy Spirit.

Easter that has not felt like Easter

John 17:6-19
Looking up to heaven, Jesus prayed, “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

It is the last Sunday in the season of Easter, for 7 weeks have been moving through the great season of celebrating the resurrection. 50 days of rejoicing. Yet for the second year now, Easter has not felt like Easter. Paused have been the normal spring activities. Yard sales and graduations, flower planting at the church and congregational picnics. Drive around most neighbourhoods these days, and you might see friends and neighbours skirting public health orders by visiting on the city sidewalk just off of private property, or families having mother’s day visits in lawn chairs in city parks. 

Certainly, celebration, feeling joy, living that Easter life hasn’t been front and centre this year. Just a few days ago we passed a grim milestone in Manitoba. 1000 deaths from COVID-19. A number that is hard to fathom for our province. 

As we land on this 7th Sunday in Easter, and for 3 weeks now, we have been making the transition from being witnesses to the resurrection of Christ to becoming Easter people. From Jesus’ image of the vine and branches, to the reminder that God chose us and not the other way around, God has been making us ready to become new community of disciples.

Today, Jesus implores God the Father that his followers be protected and cared for, remembered and given a place. And even if the prayer is just as much for Jesus’ followers to hear as it is for God the Father’s ears, it maybe doesn’t exactly feel like God has been remembering us these days. In fact, it is pretty easy to wonder what exactly is going on in the world and to ask what God is doing with us?

The disciples know this feeling we are having. They know exactly what it is like to be living in a world fraught with danger. Jesus is praying this prayer in the garden of gethsemane, just moments before he is about to be arrested. The disciples know that Jesus is in trouble with the crowds, religious authorities and police. They also know that he has been talking about dying lately. 

As Jesus prays to the father, he prays out of concern for his friends. While it sounds like he wants his father to care for them, to make sure they are okay, his prayer is rooted in the knowledge of what they are about endure. The hardest 3 days of his life and theirs is about occur, Judas and the soldiers are already on the way to arrest him. 

Yet, here we are on the 7th week of Easter, and we know the story. We know what is going to happen, we know the path that Jesus will walk, we know what the disciples will do and how they will indeed fall apart in the midst of it all. We know that Peter will deny Jesus, we know that the women will run away from the empty tomb afraid, that the disciples will not recognize Jesus on the road to Emmaus, that Thomas will not believe, that Peter again will not be able to express out loud his love for Jesus.  

And yet, this group of disciples that falls apart and fails at every turn in a scary world is the group of people that is entrusted with the message, they are made to be the church, the first community, the first group of believers that will embody, that will become the very Body of Christ still in the world, even after the Ascension. 

So Jesus prays for them knowing both what they will endure but also who and what they will become. 

Still, here were are disciples who know the story and yet are still in danger of falling apart. Our gatherings have not been what are are used to or what we need them to be for over a year, and though it feels like there might be an end in sight, we don’t know exactly when. 

And we also know that the group, the community we were 14 months ago is not the community we are not, and nor will it be the community who finally gathers back together again. Some of us will not and cannot return, And some of us will be new and unknown. And all of us will be made different by this experience. 

And then of course, all the problems we faced before the pandemic of perceived decline, transition to the 21st century along with a healthy dose of uncertainty will still be there for us to contend with, and now without knowing yet what the effects of the pandemic will have on us. 

As much as the disciples with Jesus in the garden need to hear Jesus pray on their behalf, we also need to hear again Jesus’ intercession on behalf, we need to hear that reminder that Jesus has walked with us this far and that we will not be abandoned in the chaotic events and swirling winds of change to come. 

50 days after Easter Sunday after Pentecost, the story which we will hear next week when the Holy Spirit descends on the disciples in tongues of fire, the disciples remained small scared group of followers. 

And yet, yet, somehow in the mist of all that they experienced, they were changed. They were changed by the Christ who forgave their fear and denial, the Christ who met them at the empty tomb and said their name, the Christ who revealed himself in the breaking of the bread, the Christ who reached out his hands to a doubting disciple, Jesus who still made these flailing, uncertain, fearful disciples the ones entrusted to be the church, to be his body and to proclaim the good news. 

This prayer that Jesus prays to the Father just before his arrest, does not turn out the way the disciples or we might expect. Things were still dangerous and scary and difficult. 

Yet, that small band of followers still managed to become the early church community, the followers of Jesus that spread across the Roman Empire, and then eventually across the world. And though the church has not been perfect and made many mistakes, though the world has still been a dangerous and scary place at times, the Gospel promise is still proclaimed. The body of Christ has continued to gather and continued to tell Christ’s story, to tell God’s story, to tell of God’s story become our story. And generations have heard it. 

And this Easter community of fearful failing disciples has become a global community of Jesus’ followers enduring for 2000 years. 

Now, as we consider again what it means to be followers of Jesus, as we hope for good news and promise that God is caring for us in the midst of trying times… we know that God has been transforming God’s people, God has been transforming us since the beginning. From the manger to the cross, from the empty tomb to tongues of fire, from the ACTS of the Apostles to the Early church councils to the reformation to now. God has been making us ready to be God’s easter community. 

In the small acts of mercy and new life of this past year, in neighbours looking out for each, in phone calls, text messages and emails sent to friends on our minds, in gifts left on doorsteps, drive-by birthdays for young and old, mother’s day park visits, in staying home and visiting family over zoom instead of gathering for the holidays, in booking vaccine appointments and encouraging our hesitant family members to do the same.  In a myriad of unexpected ways God has been opening us to our neighbours, God has been placing signs of new life in our midsts, God has been making us Easter people, even as feel like a scared failing group of disciples.

So even in in the midst of an Easter that has not felt like Easter for the second year, even when the world feels fraught with danger all around, with a pandemic that seems to want to push us to crumble as a community, God is Christ is walking with us, Jesus is interceding on our behalf, and God the Father has been transforming us, in the most unexpected of ways. 

Like those first disciples who seemed the unlikeliest group to be entrusted with the mission of God’s Church, God is calling us into the same mission. God is turning us, even separated and apart, into the bearers of the good news for the sake the world, the ones called to proclaim in whatever way we can to the risen the christ. 

This Easter season we are again transformed into Easter people, even when it seems hard to believe. God is preparing us to be a new people, a new community of faith, to be the Body of Christ for the sake world. 

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. 

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.