Communion Wine Goggles (sermon 2/28/16)

toronto halloween 2014b

For the Church, it’s all about getting from Point A to Point B

At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”

Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. So he said to the gardener, ‘See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?’ He replied, ‘Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”  – Luke 13:1-9

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This passage from Luke, which includes the Parable of the Fig Tree, is a good one to hear and consider during Lent. It’s a sobering reminder that as followers of Jesus, our lives need to reflect repentance and the producing of good fruit that God expects of us. This parable is often used to think about our individual lives – as we examine ourselves, personally, during Lent and other times of the year. That’s important, but I want to suggest that this text has a larger, more communal message, too; a message for the Church at large. It isn’t anything radical to say that as the Church, the Body of Christ, we’re expected to bear the fruit that Christ established it to produce in the world; and if we don’t, there will come some time of accountability – some time when we’re cut down, as it’s portrayed in the parable, and replaced with something more productive.

If the fruit that we’re expected to produce is to express and illustrate God’s love and good news, and to let more and more people see and understand and know that love – and I think that’s a pretty safe assumption – then it’s no secret that most American churches are failing miserably at that task. For several generations now, church membership and attendance, across all denominations, is in numerical decline. That would be bad enough if the overall population had stayed constant, but of course, it’s increased dramatically, making the actual percentage of the population who are churchgoers even smaller and less significant. Overall, the ways that we’ve been proclaiming the gospel through our worship, our words, and our actions, have failed because we’ve locked ourselves into ways of being the Church, and proclaiming that gospel, in ways that resonate with an increasingly smaller and smaller sliver of the population. Many congregations have already folded. Many other congregations have already crossed the point of no return, their failure guaranteed because they’ve failed to produce good fruit for too long. Many others are very near that point.

We’re not exempt from this danger here in this congregation, either. To be blunt, if nothing changes, this congregation is no more than a generation away from unsustainability, and it doesn’t do any good to ignore it. Look at our internal demographics. A substantial block of our membership is more than 55 years old. Look around this morning and think, in just 20 or 25 years, just how many of the people here this morning will sadly have passed away, or will be in assisted living centers or nursing homes or otherwise a shut-in, and no longer a very active member of our week-to-week life as the church? And while we’ve certainly attracted some younger members – frankly, we’ve done better than a lot of other congregations – it’s still nowhere near the rate that would be needed to replace those who will no longer be here in just that short a timeframe. Our new, younger membership isn’t sufficient for us to even maintain where we are now, let alone bear fruit by growing in proportion to the population.

This isn’t complicated. We can all see that this is an unsustainable model for survival, let alone growth as a church. We simply are not bearing the fruit that God established us for, and expects from us. So why are things this way? I suggest it’s because we’re simply not living as people of the kingdom of God in ways that resonate in the hearts of the people around us.

With a few excellent and notable exceptions, we do very little structured, hands-on mission work that’s congregationally sponsored, which is actually one of the foremost ways that many people today, young and not-so-young, tap into and express their spirituality. We’re very proud of our official Welcoming Statement, and we should be, but in reality it’s a passive thing – we’re waiting for someone else to take actions in order to solve our problem of a lack of diversity. We’ve done very little to proactively improve the diversity of our Sunday morning worship.

And when it comes to that worship, to be honest, I think that what it is that we do, we do very well – better than a lot of congregations – and we’ve made steps to make our worship even better. The problem, though, is that sometimes, simply doing what you’ve been doing better, even if you do it better than anyone else, isn’t enough. You might make the best buggy whip in the world, but that isn’t going to do anything to increase demand for it. And the reality is that most people see the way we’re currently being the church, and living out God’s good news, as just being a religious version of a buggy whip. No matter the details, we’re just not producing the fruit that God wants us to.

Those are harsh words – harsh to hear, and harsh to say. But they certainly aren’t new words, and they certainly shouldn’t be surprising words. I don’t mention these facts to dwell on them, or to focus on the negative, but only to identify the reality of our current situation. In order for the Church to produce good fruit, it has to move from Point A to Point B, and you can’t do that without first being realistic about where Point A is, and that’s what we’ve just done.

But we also have to be realistic about where Point B is, too, and that’s what I really want to focus on. The Church as a whole is at a critical time in its history, and we have to be very mindful, and work very hard, to make the Church bear good fruit, not just for the next generation, but for the next major era in its history. So if we see the Church as the fig tree in the parable, and if we’re the gardener, we need to understand the what the end goal is supposed to be as we water the tree, and improve the soil its rooted in, and prune back the dead branches to spur new growth. So what might that new, better, more resonant expression of the church – the Point B – actually look like?

There’s an old joke about things looking better through “beer goggles.” It’s a bad and  inaccurate claim, to be sure, but today, for just a few minutes, let’s borrow it, turning it in a positive sense for church. Let’s think about seeing a better future church through what maybe we can jokingly call “Communion wine goggles.” If we look through them, what might we see?

Imagine a church that’s recognized that while diversity is important to truly living as the people of God, it isn’t going to happen by itself. So this church formed a partnership, a “sister-church” relationship with a local traditionally black congregation, and together, they committed to joint worship. One Sunday a month, the mostly white congregation didn’t show up at its own building, but instead, worshiped together with the mostly black congregation in their building. And another Sunday each month, the black congregation came over as a group and worshiped with the white congregation. And they worked together on community initiatives, promoting diversity and social justice and racial reconciliation. In the process, new friendships were made, and some old friendships were strengthened, and guards were let down, and without having to say a word, the children in both congregations learned that racial prejudice and separation have no place in the kingdom of God. And people outside their congregations saw that these were people who didn’t just talk the talk; they lived their words out in actual practice. People noticed.

Look through those goggles again, and see a congregation that understood the importance of ecumenical relations and showing compassion and unity as God’s people, so they decided that four times a year they’d not show up for worship at their own building on that Sunday morning, but rather, as a group, they’d become a church flash mob, worshiping together with some other local congregation. Imagine the good will it would engender, how wonderful it would be to worship together with fuller pews and more voices for singing. And people noticed.

Look through those goggles again, and see that this church recognized that no matter how many visits, and cards and letters, or home Communions are shared with shut-ins, it still isn’t the same as worshiping together with your church family. So they decided that six Sundays a year, they wouldn’t worship in their building, but as a group, they’d actually hold their worship service with their shut-in members and all the residents at a local nursing home or assisted living center. Imagine what it means in the lives of those shut-ins to know that their being a valued part of the church family isn’t just lip service. And when they did this, people noticed.

Look through those Communion wine goggles one last time, and see that this congregation realized how many people expressed their faith through their hands, so they committed to hosting one congregationally structured and led local hands-on mission activity every month – in their case, it was a unique blending of a worship service and a free pancacke breakfast that, as a group, they hosted for the local community, working to improve the problem of food scarcity. And they also committed to one out-of-town domestic mission trip per year, and at least once every other year, putting together an international mission trip. And people noticed. They heard, and saw, that this was a congregation that lived the gospel in word and deed and truth.

Just imagine that church of the future, and how it showed to the people around them – and frankly, to themselves – that it was worshiping God in ways that are real, and concrete. How it showed that church isn’t where you are, it’s what you are. That Church is the people of God, and worshiping God is doing things that are pleasing to God. That’s producing good fruit.

Would a church like that attract more people to it? I can almost guarantee it. Would it upset some people, even some much-beloved, long-time members who would end up leaving because their church had become something different than what they were accustomed to? I can pretty much guarantee that, too. But I absolutely guarantee that if a church has any hope for survival in the new era that we’re already in, it’s going to have to stop defining itself in the ways it has been, and move toward these or other, similar ways that will show we’re serious about living our faith, and that will resonate in the hearts and spirits of the people around them.

When understanding Jesus’ parables, it’s important to understand who the characters in the parable might represent. Sometimes, the parable can be understood in different ways, depending on who we assign to those representations. In this case, I think we could be seen as simultaneously being the fig tree, as well as the gardener who has the ability, and who’s been given the task, to nurture the tree back into production. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s take off the Communion wine goggles, and get to work.

Thanks be to God.

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Mind the Gap; or, Einstein and Jesus Will Walk into a Bar Yesterday (sermon 2/21/16)

mind_the_gap

At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’”- Luke 13:31-35

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There’s been a lot of talk in the news and in scientific circles the last week or so about the news that recently, a full hundred years after Albert Einstein mathematically predicted their existence, scientists have been able to detect the existence of gravitational waves in the universe. According to astronomers, this is huge, it may be the most important astronomical discovery of the century, and could possibly rewrite the way we understand the universe. After reading a number of news stories about the event, each one incrementally dumbing down the details until it was simple enough for me to get even a basic understanding of it all, it seems that gravitational waves are wrinkles, or ripples, in the fabric of space and time, that are produced when objects of immense mass move through space at very fast speed; comparable to a boat on the lake produces waves that move outward as it’s pushing through the water. In this particular discovery, the scientists discovered an infinitesimally small ripple, which they say was produced when two massive black holes – each one having 30 times the mass of our sun – got caught in each other’s gravitational pull and began orbiting one another, gradually drawing closer and closer together and moving faster and faster as they did, sort of like a galactic version of an Olympic figure skater picking up rotational speed in a spin as they draw their body mass inward.

I’ve gotten to the point where I understand the basic concept, but I still haven’t been able to learn what the actual applicable significance to the discovery is. I mean, if this phenomenon created a distortion, a ripple in space and time that does something meaningful for me, like, if I could catch one of the waves just right, like a surfer, and suddenly, someplace that’s a four-hour drive is now just five miles away, and I could actually arrive there two hours before I’d even set out, now *that* would be a big discovery.

Well, any kidding aside, I think this discovery is fascinating, and it can lead to some really interesting theological conversations – but it has caused people in some Christian circles to be troubled. Their anxiety stems from the idea that science has just increased its ability to understand and explain the universe in ways that don’t require a supernatural presence to make it all work. This can be a threat to those whose belief in the existence of God relies on what’s become known as a “God of the Gaps” – that is, that proof of God’s existence is that there are some things that we can’t understand; great, unsolvable mysteries that can never be explained other than to say that that’s where we see the indisputable hand of God. The problem with relying on this kind of thinking for a belief in God, though, should be pretty obvious. Every year, we learn more and more about the nature of the universe, from the smallest to the largest scales and everywhere in between. Belief in a God of the Gaps, then, means that every day the God you believe in becomes smaller and smaller, and weaker and weaker, until you reach the point where it wouldn’t seem make any sense to believe in God, or at least to consider who or what you do believe in to be any kind of “God” at all. The idea of limiting the nature and definition of God has been a real problem in our faith, and especially for people outside the faith.

Another way we’ve engaged in this kind of limitation of God comes into play in today’s gospel text. As I pointed out in this week’s Westminstergram, Jesus exhibits a bit of cynicism, sarcasm, even snark in his comments regarding Herod, and the fate he’s about to meet at the hands of the people in Jerusalem. And yet, in the middle of his dark mood about what’s about to happen to him, Jesus still reaches out and talks about the people of Jerusalem, these same people who in just a short while are going to reject him, and he does so in the most tender and loving way. He talks about his desire to gather them to himself, and his desire to guard and protect them, using the imagery of a hen sheltering her chicks under her wings. This is one of a number of scriptural passages that describe God in terms of female imagery. We all know that during most of the history of the Christian faith, and the Jewish tradition before that, God has traditionally been imagined and discussed in male terms. We also know that for the last several decades, many in the church, including our denomination, have tried to adopt a more inclusive way of imagining and talking about God – referring to God in ways that aren’t tied to gender, or at least not exclusively to one gender. In fact, the very first hymn we sang this morning, “Come and Seek the Ways of Wisdom,” draws on some of the female imagery of God found in scripture, particularly in the Book of Proverbs, where God is portrayed as the female Sophia, or eternal Wisdom. And we’ve made a lot of progress in the church; we’ve adjusted liturgies and readings to get rid of a lot of exclusively male references to God. And this is important, because when we see God as only male, no matter how hard we might try not to, we impose a lot of assumptions about what God is like, based on our social, cultural presuppositions about what it means to be male, or a father, and whether those assumptions are right or wrong, they end up giving us a distorted image of God. It’s just another way of limiting God, just like the God of the Gaps.

It’s true, sometimes, our attempts at inclusive language can get a little difficult. We can end up twisting our tongues like pretzels trying to avoid referring to God as “he,” “him,” or “his,” but most of the time we can find good wording to achieve it. We’ve made progress. But there’s still a lot of work in order to break the habit of thinking of God as male. As evidence of that, think how you’d feel, how it would jar your ears if I started always referring to God as “she.” And yet, that would be no more inaccurate than if I did constantly called God “he.”

So I guess I’d invite you to think about two takeaways from this passage from Luke. First, as we can see from the whole text, Jesus’ compassionate words in the midst of his own obvious hurt and anger regarding his situation show us that even when we’re at our worst, even when our thoughts and actions grieve and even anger God, God still reaches out to us and offers us love and protection, in a way and to a degree that defies any sense of human logic. Second, for Jesus to point out that God can’t possibly be imagined as exclusively male or female speaks powerfully to God’s equal accessibility, and equal love, and equal call, to all people. Getting rid of our older, limited way of imagining God, and moving toward the more inclusive, comprehensive God that Jesus illustrates here, means that no matter who you are – whether you’re male, or female, or frankly, someone who doesn’t feel they fit completely in either of those two black and white categories – you can have assurance and trust, knowing that you are in no way “less than” in God’s eyes. His image is big enough to encompass you. Her love is broad enough to embrace you. Their wings are wide enough to protect you and strengthen you and keep you, now and forever, across all space and time. And the implications of that are just astronomical.

Thanks be to God.

 

The Temptations (sermon 2/14/16)

temptations my girl

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’” Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’” Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
– Luke 4:1-13

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This is one of those Lectionary texts that just begs us to imagine it in our own minds. It’s full of rich imagery that draws us in and invites us to see it in our imaginations, as if we were part of the action, or at least right there in the moment, a witness to the action. Doing that can lead to all sorts of images, based on our own viewpoints and perceptions. And you can do that exercise any number of ways. For example, you can imagine being part of the story in as historically accurate a way as you can imagine, or you might mentally recast the story in a totally different context. For example, I remember one year when I was preaching about this text, I recreated the scene for the congregation as if it were a gunfight in an old western movie: Jesus and Satan facing off with each other at opposite ends of a deserted street somewhere in the Old West. Townsfolk peeking from behind curtained windows to see what’s going to happen. A tumbleweed blows across the street between them, kicking up dust. And as I recreated the scene, I wore a Mexican serape and a black Clint Eastwood hat, and I had the theme music from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” playing over the speakers in the background.

Well, I’m not going to do that again here this morning. 😉

My point is that there are a lot of ways to picture this story, or any story from the scriptures, and that’s a good and valuable exercise, having the intention of hopefully hearing more deeply how it speaks to our own lives.

But I have to admit that before I even get there, any time I think about this particular story about Jesus’ temptations, I instantly get sidetracked to a personal memory from when Erica, our older daughter, was born; a story that dealt with Temptations from Motown rather than the ones from Judea.

When Erica was born, she had a mild case of infant jaundice. That meant that she had to hang out in the NICU for an extra period of time in an isolette, under bililights until the jaundice cleared up. During that time, every day as soon as work was over, I’d immediately head to the hospital so I could spend some time with her. I’d take her out of the isolette, and take off the little mask that was velcroed to her temples to protect her eyes from the lights. And I’d gaze into her eyes, and hold her close to me, and as I did, I’d sing the Temptations song “My Girl” to her, and I’d dance with her. I didn’t just love her; I fell in love with her. I was totally mesmerized by this miracle, this amazing, beautiful, beloved child, and in those moments it was just the two of us in the whole world, and I was oblivious to anything else.

About a week into Erica’s extended hospital stay, when I arrived at the hospital there were a handful of nurses standing at the nurses’ station, and when they saw me coming down the hall, they started giggling. When I reached them, one of them smiled and asked me, “Are you going to sing to her again today?” It was only then that I noticed, for the first time, that for the whole week, my private, intimate, one-on-one bonding time with my newborn daughter had been playing out in front of a big plate glass observation window that looked into the room.

So that’s my confession to you this morning; every time I read this particular story from Jesus’ life, this story about temptations, my brain always detours into that memory, at least for a few minutes. But eventually, I refocus on the actual text itself, and I think about these temptations that Jesus faced as he was going through this time of crisis. Dealing with feelings of insecurity about food and other basic needs in life. About having power, and being able to control the way things will play out, so things will work to one’s own advantage. About being certain in one’s own security; that there’s a trustworthy safety net offering protection in the event of the unexpected.

These temptations that Jesus faced all have to do with instilling a mistrust – mistrust of God, and of himself. They’re all about instilling in him the belief, the fear, that somehow God isn’t big enough, or powerful enough, or loving enough; that God isn’t sufficient to keep him safe.

We get this fear, don’t we? It’s all around us, all day, every day, cast in only slightly different language from what Jesus heard. We have entire industries and social institutions in our society that are built upon instilling and stoking these fears and insecurities in our own lives. Just look at the constant barrage of advertising and marketing we’re subjected to; all of it intended to convey the idea that whoever you are, whatever you are, it isn’t sufficient. We’re incomplete, inadequate, unsafe; and we’ll continue to be, until we buy the solution that they’ve convinced you we have. Political candidates trying to gain votes by playing to our fears of terrorists, or immigrants, or corporations, or whoever; and trying to make us feel like we need the deliverance and security, the safety net, that only they can provide.

All of us, every single day, face the same temptation that Jesus endured – the temptation to believe that the love and protection that God has promised us is ultimately not enough, insufficient, and because of that, we’re tempted to offer our trust and allegiance to someone or something that claims to be a better and more trustworthy substitute for God.

As our lives play out, in times of uncertainty and crisis, it can be very tempting for us to give in to the temptation that we ourselves aren’t worthy of God’s care and protection, and that frankly, even if we were, God isn’t up to the task. Believe me, I know. So maybe an important part of our journey through Lent, our time of self-reflection and our contemplation of our relationship with God, is to refocus on, and to reinforce, our understanding that God does, in fact, love us, beyond our wildest imagination. To refocus on the great truth that God does consider us acceptable, and worthy. That God understands our struggles and temptations by having known them in person, in the flesh. That even in our darkest of times, when it’s the hardest to see, God is more than sufficient to provide what we need, and to lead us in the right direction. That there’s nothing that can separate us from God’s love. And that every day of your life, God holds you, embraces you, is mesmerized by you. Every day of your life, God sings to you. God dances with you.

This past week, we began Lent by marking our foreheads with ashes in the sign of the cross, recognizing that we were created from dust, and that we will return to the same. Maybe an equally important thing for us to do, every day in Lent and every day beyond, would be for us to start every morning by looking at ourselves in the mirror, tracing the cross on our own foreheads, and telling ourselves, “I am a beloved child of God.” And recognizing that because of that, as the song says, “I don’t need no money, fortune, or fame; I got all the riches, baby, one man can claim.”

Amen.

 

On and Off the Mountain (sermon 2/7/16)

hello my name is

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.

And all were astounded at the greatness of God.   – Luke 9:28-43a

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I’m not sure about you, but I always thought it was a bit odd for the Christian calendar to jam Christmas and Easter so close together in the year. From a logistical standpoint, wouldn’t it have been easier to observe them further apart, even a full six months apart? I mean really, we just got Jesus born and out of the manger, and we’re already getting ready to kill him off – and it’s more pronounced this year, when Lent and Easter come so early.

Be that as it may, today is Transfiguration Sunday, when we hear about the amazing things that took place on the mountaintop. This event is a pivot point in Jesus’ life. It’s a literal high point, after which Jesus comes down from the mountain and resolutely heads toward Jerusalem, where he’ll face rejection and the end of his earthly ministry. And of course, it’s this journey toward Jerusalem, the days leading up to the crucifixion, that we’ll walk with Jesus symbolically by way of observing Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday this week.

It must have been an incredible thing, really – Jesus, dazzling white; the appearance of Moses and Elijah, symbolizing the Law and the Prophets and that Jesus himself was the fulfillment, the very personification of them both. Just as a sidebar here, did you ever wonder when you heard this story just how the disciples actually knew these two strangers were Moses and Elijah? When they appeared out of nowhere, were they wearing name tags, “HELLO, My Name Is _____” Did they have a little meet & greet? In any case, we hear how the story progresses. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are talking about… well, something, we tend to imagine Moses and Elijah giving hope and comfort to Jesus as he approaches his time of crisis. And in the middle of this incredible, surreal experience, Peter starts running off at the mouth, because, well, that’s what Peter does, and because he doesn’t really know what to say but he thinks he should say something, so he suggests that this is such an incredible thing that’s happening that they should build three booths, like they do in the Jewish festival of Sukkot – they need three structures, three dwellings, for the three of them to stay in and settle into – showing us all that from the very beginnings, the church had a tendency to get all wrapped up in its real estate, until God steps in and cuts Peter off, telling him to be settle down, be quiet, he’s missing the point of what’s happening in front of his very eyes. This is my Son; listen to him.

We can all imagine for ourselves what this mysterious encounter on the mountain must have been like, but the one certain thing is that it had a profound effect on the disciples who witnessed it. So profound that they didn’t want it to end; as misguided as Peter’s idea was, it came from a place in his heart that recognized this, and he wanted to keep it going, just as it was in that moment.

But we all know it doesn’t work that way. Whether it’s some incredible “mountaintop experience” we have while attending a spiritual retreat, or anything else for that matter, we know that the ordinary always returns. The next day, the next step, the next thing always comes, and God tells us, just as with Peter, to be obedient and step into it in faith.

And it’s interesting to note that that’s exactly what Jesus and the disciples did. Apparently after a good night’s sleep, they came down from the mountain, they got right back into the thick of things. Back into the daily routine of their work. Even knowing what lay ahead, Jesus continued to proclaim the good news, and continued to heal people.

It’s easy for us to be distracted in our own lives of faith by voices other than the ones we should be listening to. It’s easy for us to want to settle in and set roots when God actually wants us to sprout wheels. It’s easy to hear voices like Peter’s instead of God’s. Instead of the voices of poor, the sick, the marginalized and oppressed; the voices from down off the mountain; the ones we’re called to bring good news to. The mountaintops of our lives of faith can be amazing, soul-nourishing experiences. But we have to realize that they aren’t there just for no reason. They’re meant to nourish us for the things that God is drawing us toward, the things that God is leading us to do for the good of God’s reign, and for the good of others. They’re meant to nourish us for life off the mountain, wherever and whatever that might look like; and whether name tags are needed or not.

Thanks be to God.