Sermon for Annual Congregational Meeting and Transfiguration Sunday, February 26, 2017
Based on: Matthew 17: 1-9 ‘Jesus is transfigured on the mountain’
I want to begin by sharing with you this morning that I am continuing to ponder the meaning of these stories from scripture in light of a recent experience I had when at Epiphany Explorations in Victoria.
Having accepted an invitation from a colleague serving in ministry at a local united church to attend worship with her congregation, I was thoroughly enjoying just being able to be present where I needed to go in my own spiritual journey.
Listening with care to that first part of the sermon on the mount as Jesus describes the gathered body as salt and light, I saw myself eagerly scurrying up the mountainside not wanting to miss any of the message Jesus was offering.
In the midst of all that, however I became very aware that some of the other folks with whom I was worshipping at my colleague’s church who live with a variety of physical constraints that could make getting to the mountaintop a significant challenge.
But, then, with some effort, I recalled that I needed to focus my awareness, not on others’ spiritual wellness, but rather on my own.
I offer this knowing that we here at Knox are often tempted to look out for one another as opposed to attending to our own spiritual wellness and so it is that I offer my own experience of that experience as gentle reminder for us as well.
Indeed, we each do need to be attentive to our own spiritual needs as much if not more so than those with whom we share our various ministries.
Recalling Sharon’s introductions to our readings this morning, I am reminded of how hard it can be to just ‘be’ in those ‘aha’ moments-you know those moments of exposure to God’s divine glory and bring that to this conversation as well. It is hard work to be attentive to what God’s word means for our lives individually before we can apply the same to our life in community.
Knowing that, let us turn then to prayer: Amazing and astounding God, may the words from my lips and the thoughts and feelings we hold in our hearts and minds and bodies, may all of it be acceptable in your sight as we reflect together on your holy word for us this day. Amen.
During the season of Epiphany, I so enjoy our readings from scripture and our ongoing conversations about how God manifests Godself both, to our ancient faith ancestors in these stories, and to us!
Timing being what it is, this morning we have a double celebration of sorts with it being both annual congregational meeting Sunday and also the day when our theme focus shifts from the season of light to the more somber season of Lent as we journey with Jesus towards his death on the cross.
Staying with the theme of light for just one more Sunday, then, let’s consider our readings for this morning. For me, both readings this morning almost sing their shared acclamation of God’s glory revealed to those first intrepid followers.
You know who they are?
They are the ones named in both readings, faithful ones like Moses and Joshua, Aaron, and Hur in the Exodus reading; Peter, and James, and John, and of course our beloved Jesus in the Matthew reading.
Each one charged with taking responsibility for leading and caring for a community of followers in need of clarity of purpose and support in the midst huge challenge and change has their own experience of challenge and change on mountaintops!
The story I am most drawn to this morning, however, is the story from Matthew.
This is partly because I recently had a mountaintop experience as part of my chosen birthday celebration snowshoeing with my family on Mt. Seymour.
It was one of those scintillating days where the sky was the perfect colour of blue, my companions were the best, and the snow, well, the snow was also just perfect.
Everything was so perfect, in fact, that I was loathe to come back down the mountain at all!
I even found myself gazing out of the back window of my son in law’s car as we headed down the mountain, wondering if there might be any overnight accommodation at Mount Seymour so that I could come back and stay longer!
However, life being what it is, we eventually had to come back down to the demands and challenges of everyday living.
I even promised myself every day since then that I would get back up on the mountaintop; but, so far, you guessed it, a goodly amount of time has passed, and I still haven’t made the time to go back up to the mountaintop!
I wonder if that’s what happened to James and John and Peter after their mountaintop experience of seeing Jesus’ face shine line the sun, his clothes become dazzling white, and the appearance of Moses and Elijah, their ancient forebears as they formed a trinity of holy light together on that mountaintop?
Surely, James and John and Peter would promise themselves and each other to get back up on the mountaintop again?
Certainly Peter, like me, was not keen to come down from the mountaintop in the first place. Indeed, he wanted to build a shrine right there on the spot and just stay put. But, Jesus, of course had another plan.
On looking at the reading a little more carefully, I became aware that the impetus to follow Jesus back down from the mountain didn’t come from Jesus, himself, but rather from that familiar voice in the cloud. You recognize it, yes?
It’s the very same voice in the cloud that identified Jesus as his beloved we heard tell of earlier in Matthew’s gospel as Jesus came to be baptized in the Jordan River by his cousin, John. Once again, it’s the same voice reminding Jesus’ fledgling followers who was in charge. It’s the voice of God telling all who have ears to listen: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
I also found it interesting to note that it was Jesus who, once he recognizes the disciples’ terrified state, it is Jesus who shows them by touch and word what needs to happen next. And, that ‘next’ is definitely to instruct them that the must head back down the mountainside to the places where the work of healing and teaching is so badly needed.
I wonder, how, in the in between moments the fledgling disciples of descending the mountainside and in the days after Peter, James and John might have continued to talk about their mountaintop experience with one another, their friends and their relatives. This, even recalling how in the story Jesus admonishes them to keep what they had seen and heard to themselves?
To put it another way, I wonder how realistic it was for Jesus to expect the disciples to keep to themselves what some biblical scholars would call the ‘messianic secret’. Surely that would take confidentiality as we understand it to new heights, yes?
Given that similar versions of Matthew’s account of the story of Jesus’ transfiguration also appear in the gospels of Mark and Luke, it must have been night unto impossible to keep that mountaintop experience a secret.
Indeed, such a pivotal and life altering experience for all present would be central to for the community’s sense of clarity of self understanding and purpose as followers in the Way then and unto this very day.
As I mentioned earlier, after our worship service this morning, we will be encouraging everyone to move over to the fellowship hall for lunch so that we can break bread together, offer thanks to our various staff and lay leaders, and to receive and approve the annual report for 2016.
In so doing, we will also be affirming and celebrating our numerous and varied ministries based on the prophet Micah’s call to love justice, seek kindness, and walk humbly with God. From there, I am aware that we will be also looking at our strategic plan for the coming three years.
Prior to that though, we would do well I think to continue to wonder about this story from scripture that speaks to Peter, James, and John’s peak experiences of God’s glory and how it might connect with our own peak experiences of the holy, our own understandings of Jesus, and how all of that might inform our life together as a church family.
Like our faith ancestors, we, too, are community of leaders and followers called to find clarity of purpose and to offer one another mutual care and support in the midst of a time of huge challenge and change in our churches and in our wider world.
How much different are we really, then, from our ancient forebears called into journeys of courage and commitment in the midst of great uncertainty?
With all of that in mind, let us turn to God in confidence and hope in prayer:
Holy One, we are so thankful for these our stories from our faith tradition that comfort and challenge us at the same time.
We are so thankful for the various renderings of scripture and the scholarly thought available to us for our own further pondering.
We are thankful, too, for the willingness of so many in our church family and in wider church circles willing to engage in thoughtful conversation about the meaning of scripture as it was originally intended, and as it is offered here and now.
We are thankful for the freedom to probe and to question and to wonder and to enter into the kinds of conversations that our denomination encourages so as to better understand and claim our stories from scripture to shape and inform our own lives and the life of this faithful community.
Be with us in our memories, our fears, our struggles, our doubts, our hopes, our dreams, and our desire for relationship with you and in and through our relationships with each other.
On this last Sunday in the season of light and love and in the name of Jesus, teacher, healer, comforter, companion, advocate, friend, and brother, we say, ‘hallelujah’ and may it be so, amen.