Sermon Preparing for Change
Good morning. I have a question for you. What was your favorite time in your life? I’m not thinking of a particular moment, like a wedding day or the birth of your first child. I’m thinking of a longer period of time, a season, if you will. Perhaps it was high school or college. Or maybe it was when your kids were young. Or maybe it was when your kids finally moved out of the house.
For much of my life, that season was college. I spent most of my twenties wishing I were still in college with all my fraternity brothers. My senior year was the most enjoyable of all; I had finally figured out how balance school work and my social life and it was so satisfying.
When I graduated, I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment. I felt like I had come into my own. I felt so alive when I was in college. I had found my tribe. But there was also something bittersweet about that moment. Graduation meant that my time at that place was over. I had to go home. I had to go back into the world. I had climbed a small mountain in college. After four years of climbing, I reached the top, and then I had to come down.
Maybe that’s why I love the story of the transfiguration so much—that was the story we heard in our reading from the Gospel of Mark. We hear this story every year; it marks the turn of the seasons in the liturgical calendar. Today is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany. Later this week, we’ll celebrate Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent.
Honestly, it feels a little weird to go from the transfiguration into Lent. We go from the ultimate Epiphany—the disciples Peter, James, and John learn Jesus’ true identity—to a period of introspection and self-examination. It would seem like we should all be shouting about Jesus, but instead, we have to turn inward; we have to focus on the events that lead to Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.
We want to see Jesus in glory! On the mountain with Moses and Elijah!
We want other people to see our beautiful church and walk in the door.
We want to remain in that time when the pews and the collection plates were always full, when it seemed like everyone went to church.
It feels like we have to work harder than we used to, to be the Church. And honestly, it feels like we have to work harder to do everything that we do. This was true before the pandemic and it’s even more obvious now. It’s more obvious, and we don’t want to work as hard as we do. We don’t want church to feel like work because work feels like too much, and because everything else feels like work, too.
I understand how you feel. I think I understand how Peter feels in our story from the Gospel of Mark. We can all relate to how Peter feels. Peter, James, and John want to stay in the moment; they want to dwell in the moment. They have hit the high point in their lives as disciples. They may even know that they’re the most important disciples; they know something the other disciples don’t know.
The world that we’re living in isn’t what we expected it would be. That’s true outside of the Church as well as inside the Church. We didn’t prepare for these changes; we didn’t prepare for this future. Now we’re scrambling. We’re anxious. We can’t decide on a way forward.
I still wish I could turn the clock backwards sometimes. I don’t want to go back to college, but I kinda wish I could turn the clock back ten or twelve years, back to that point in my life when I first began to sense my call to ministry. It was a great time!
I was so active in my church. I sang in the choir, I served on committees, and eventually on the Session. I had a wonderful pastor; her sermons really opened up the scriptures for me and she was so generous with her time—I would write these really long emails with questions about her sermons, and bless her heart, she would answer them.
In those years, I had wonderful relationships with all of my church family. I had great friendships outside of the church, too. I had a job that I loved. My dad was still alive, as were a number of those friends whome I’ve lost over the last few years. Sometimes, when I’m feeling a little bit down or disconnected, I think that I don’t want the present, so much as I want the future that I imagined when I first began to understand my call to ministry.
Does that make sense?
When I first felt the call to ministry, I imagined that ministry would be like that church in Pittsburgh. It didn’t occur to me that the church community I walked into in 2007 was the result of a lot of planning and hard work. When things get really challenging, we tend to cling to things that are familiar. We crave the easy answers of the past, as if we could wave a magic wand and make it so.
We didn’t plan for a time when we were all so anxious.
We didn’t plan for a time when money would be so tight.
We didn’t plan for a time when our society would be so divided by politics, race, and wealth. We didn’t plan for a time when the Church would be called upon to fix so many parts of our broken world.
Last Sunday I said, for this congregation, after the pandemic, I don’t want to go back to the way things were. In fact, I believe we can’t go back; we have to be different. And if we want to be different, we have to prepare for change. We have to prepare for a different future.
How do we do this?
The first step is easy!
In our reading from the Gospel of Mark, God speaks directly to Peter, James, and John: “This is my son, the Beloved; listen to him!” There’s an exclamation mark at the end of that statement. Listen to Jesus! Follow him! If we’re looking backwards, if we have one foot planted in the past and the other in the present, then we’re not planning for the future and we’re not preparing for change. More than that, we’re not following Jesus. We might not even be listening.
Jesus isn’t changed in the transfiguration; he’s revealed for who he truly is! After Jesus is revealed as the Son of God, the Messiah, he comes down from the mountaintop. He resumes his work of preaching, teaching, and healing. Like us, Peter, James, and John want to stay up there, but they can’t. That’s why we hear this story every year. We need to be reminded to listen to Jesus and follow him down from the mountaintop.
As we enter into the season of Lent, I’m going to encourage you to spend more time with the Bible stories we hear in worship. Pay close attention to where Jesus is going and the people he meets. Observe the work that he does, then ask yourself some questions:
· How am I called to participate this work?
· Who can I heal?
· How can I share these stories?
· Who can I invite into this work?
The season of Lent is a time for self-examination. Study the stories we hear in worship. Open your hearts to the movement of the Holy Spirit when you study. Examine your practices in the light of these stories. Look for different ways to live into Jesus’ call to discipleship. Look for new people to serve. And by all means, talk with one another about all of these things. This is how we prepare for change. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Beloved, as you go forth into the world, look for new ways to live into Christ’s call to discipleship! Come down from the mountain and listen to Jesus! Go forth and be instruments of God’s peace and love and reconciliation. Do not return evil for evil to any person, but know that we are all loved by God, and that we are called to reflect that love to everyone we meet. Go forth and be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. In the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord, let all God’s children say, Amen!