God is Speaking!

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Last Saturday, Brandon and I cuddled up on our gigantic couch in the family room, turned on Netflix, and proceeded to binge watch an entire season of a new show.
There was no waiting to see what would happen next… the episode played automatically.
There were no spoilers, because the series, Altered Carbon, had just come out and there wasn’t any buzz about it yet.
We just curled up, stuffed our faces with popcorn, and had the opportunity to experience the entire wild ride.

That is very different from how we used to watch television.
I can still remember in seminary how obsessed I was with Grey’s Anatomy. On Fridays, a girlfriend and I would meet for coffee and we would recap the previous nights episode. There had been one particularly harrowing cliff-hanger and to spend an entire week waiting to see what would come next felt brutal. We spent most of our time debating whether or not we wanted to go online and glimpse at the spoilers on the fan sites to get a clue as to how the situation might turn out.
In the end, we decided we wouldn’t be able to concentrate on our class work if we didn’t know if the character lived or died… We were invested in the story, in the people… as ridiculous as it sounds, we needed some kind of hope, some glimpse that things were going to be okay. So we sought out every single spoiler alert we could find.

Over these past few weeks, we have ever so briefly followed the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. In reality, we’ve only scratched the surface, living mainly in the first chapter of Mark’s gospel. And already, we’ve encountered God, watched ordinary people become disciples, and have witnessed any number of miracles of healing.
The gospel of Mark moves so quickly from one moment to the next… just like those episodes on Netflix play automatically and keep you engaged for just one more…. In fact – I bet if you went home after worship today and opened your bible you’d find that reading through Mark is a breeze and it would be over before you realized it.
We find out Jesus has the power to not only cast out demons and heal, but to calm the waters and miraculously produce food out of crumbs. Like any great season of television, the energy is building towards triumph and freedom and release over the first eight chapters of Mark’s gospel.

And then we get to chapter 8.
As we reach the very end, Jesus begins to teach the disciples that the path towards victory and life and God’s salvation for all people was a journey through death.
He began to warn them about the suffering and rejection and brutal punishment that awaited.
And it was not an easy message to swallow. Peter even had the audacity to scold Jesus for saying such things.
Yet, this was the path before them.

Imagine, for just a moment, that you are in the very last episode of the season and THIS was the dialogue that was taking place.
You begin to realize that the next part of this story was going to look very different than the first. What was full of joy and celebration and miracles is going to be darker and more dangerous.
You are now invested in this journey, you’ve left everything you have to follow Jesus and now the path looks so different…
How are you going to make it through to the next season?
How are you going to manage the wait and the anxiety and the unknowing?

And so before this part of the story ends, Jesus shares with a few of the disciples a gigantic spoiler alert.
He takes them up the mountain and as they reach the summit, Jesus moves a few paces ahead and then turns around to face them.
And as he does – he changes before their eyes!
His whole body seems to radiate with an inexplicable glory and even his clothes shine brighter than the sun.
Just as the three disciples begin to adjust their eyes to this brilliance they see two figures appear beside their Master… two figures who could only be Moses and Elijah.
As Peter and James and John cower in fear and trembling before this amazing visage – the three figures have a conversation.
Now, if I’m Peter, if I have been learning at the feet of Jesus for a few months, if I have been a part miracles that have taken place, and if I’m led up to the top of a mountain where my teacher suddenly begins to glow and radiate glory… and if I am terrified to face a path of suffering and rejection… then I might grab a hold of this moment and think that THIS was what they had been preparing for.
He interrupts them, offers to build shrines and temples, essentially trying to re-direct the entire journey and turn season two of this story into a show on top of the mountain.

But that is NOT why they are there.
A cloud overshadowed the trio of disciples like a fog rolling in. The glory of Jesus, Moses and Elijah was concealed by the dense cloud and in a rumble of thunderous glory the voice of God spoke to their hearts: This is my Son, This is my Beloved! Listen to him!
Just as quickly as the cloud moved it, it dissipated, and the three bewildered and terrified disciples opened their eyes to find their teacher Jesus, standing before them alone. With hardly a word, apart from telling them not to talk about what they had seen until after the resurrection, Jesus leads them back down the mountain.

I can vividly remember pouring over still images on websites with my friend, trying to guess what was going to happen next in our favorite show based on a few glimpses. We would speculate based on the characters or where they were standing or what else was present in the background and try to make meaning out of the signs so we had something to hold on to.

In many ways, this brief moment on the mountaintop was that kind of spoiler alert, giving the disciples something to hang on to.
The voice of God rang out, shaking them to their very core, and reminded them that God’s power and purpose was present in their teacher, Jesus.
The presence of Moses and Elijah, affirmed that the law and the prophets were being fulfilled in the ministry of the Son of God. Everything they had been taught and believed about the restoration of Israel… of all creation… would come to pass.
And, it was a reminder that even though the next part of this story would look different, they had a glimpse of the light and the glory that would give them hope on dark days.
In Mark’s gospel, Jesus has now set his face towards Jerusalem. They were leaving behind the healing and the teaching and were heading straight towards the seat of power… not to be a force that would overthrow it violently, but through a display of righteous love.
They didn’t quite understand what the resurrection meant… but they saw a glimpse, a spoiler, of the things to come, that they could hold on to when the going got tough.

We were never called to build tents and tabernacles to enshrine these moments forever.
This story is not yet finished.
We have to keep working.
We have to keep seeing what changes need to be made.
We have to keep hearing the voice of God speaking into our lives.
And that means coming down from the mountain, rolling up our sleeves, and getting to work.

After all, that is what Jesus did.
The light of glory revealed on the mountaintop was meant for the world.
And Jesus knew that for that light to dwell within each of us, he was going to have to shine even in the darkest places of the world.
He was going to have to confront evil powers.
He was going to have to withstand betrayal and abuse.
He was going to have to carry his cross and enter the grave of death.
But he did it all so that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God could shine on us.

Unlike the disciples, we know how this next part of the story ends. We’ve seen our way through Jerusalem, through the cross, and have watched countless generations listen to God’s call to let their light shine.
What we sometimes forget is that we can’t stay on the mountaintop either.
This is not simply a story we curl up on our couches to experience.
Our season, our part of this journey is still being written.
And God is still speaking and still calling us to follow Jesus.

So as we enter the season of Lent, we, too, will set our faces towards Jerusalem.
This Wednesday, we will remember our mortality and our own journey through death with a cross of ashes on our foreheads.
We will once again have the opportunity to redefine ourselves in the light of the one who came to save us.
Over these coming weeks, we’ll explore what it means for Christ to be our hero and our savior and perhaps we will discover all over again what it means to be a disciple.
Friends, let us come down from the mountain where we have tried to wrap up our faith with a neat and tidy bow. A whole new season is beginning and this time you are ones God is calling to let your light shine.

celebrations and transitions

This Sunday is when we celebrate the Transfiguration and after five weeks of exploration on the Lord’s Prayer – I am more than ready for something new in worship.

I have been thinking a lot about what the Transfiguration symbolizes for the life of the church. Besides simply being a remembrance of the event witnessed by the disciples, besides being an affirmation that the law and the prophets were fully behind the ministry of the Son of God, the Transfiguration comes at an important juncture in Mark and in important juncture in the church year.

In Mark, Jesus is setting his face towards Jerusalem. Life as it was for the disciples would never be the same. And in many ways, we too are setting our faces towards Jerusalem as we enter the season of Lent.

But I think that the Transfiguration also serves as a transition point in which we need to remember where we have been and let that be seen in the light of God’s glory, but then set it behind us and move forward. The disciples got the glory part, but they wanted to enshrine the moment, build tabernacles, and stay in that moment. We need to take a moment to sit in the glory of what we have accomplished, but then let it go and realize that our journey has only just begun.

So that idea of celebrating a moment and then moving on is really in the back of my mind.

In our congregation, we have a lot to celebrate. We just had a hugely successful dinner to raise money for our youth ministry. We gave money to many valuable missions in the last year. We increased our involvement in worship and other activities. And the thing that amazed me, we paid our apportionments 100% for the first time in years.

But we can’t say – oh, well, we accomplished that, look how great we were, and be done. We have to keep working. We have to keep seeing what changes need to be made. We have to keep following the guidance of the spirit. And that means coming down off of the mountain top, rolling up our sleeves, and getting to work.