Scripture Reading - Luke 9:28-43
Luke 9:28-43 (NRSV)
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 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. 33 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. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 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.
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 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. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 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. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
*Hymn - Holy Ground (FWS 2272)
If I’m being completely honest this morning, when I first approached this text earlier this week, it was with a healthy dose of cynicism and skepticism - not so much doubting that these events transpired or dismissing the glorious, miraculous nature with which Jesus was transformed before the disciples’ eyes or diminishing power displayed during the banishment of the evil spirits from the man’s young son...but more so wondering what in the world does this story have to tell us here today when the denomination this church belongs to was on the brink of transformation and not only fell short, but took a giant, massive step backward in its witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I’m not just talking about the vote to enact stricter, more punitive laws around clergy who stand up for our gay and lesbian sisters and brothers or those who identify as such seeking ordination. I’m also talking about the way in which the denomination handled that business together - a process full of political maneuvering, allegations of vote buying, dismissal of one another’s humanity - even after a full day of being in prayer together.
One bystander, an ordained United Methodist elder, shared his observation of General Conference on Facebook, writing these words:
It would seem that the famous observation of one of the leaders of the early church, Tertullian, has been reversed. In referring to Christians in the 3rd century, he said that pagans were baffled by the witness of the followers of Jesus: “See how they love one another,” they would say.
Now, in our modern day, in the wake of our General Conference, those outside the church are equally baffled by the witness of some of the followers of Jesus: “See how they hurt one another,” they must be saying.
Contrast this scene to the ones we have from scripture this morning - first where Jesus is depicted in all his glory, standing side by side with Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest figures from Jewish history - representing the law and the prophets - dressed in brilliant white. Peter, James, and John, not knowing quite what to do with it all, but seeing that something important was going on and wanting to capture the moment, offered to erect tents - one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah - but before they could do anything, they hear a thunderous voice from the cloud proclaiming Jesus as God’s chosen one. And then they descend the mountain, amazed - if perplexed - by this display of God’s greatness….and again see Jesus in action with the healing of a boy tormented by demons - a boy, incidentally, that the disciples were unable to heal. The story ends with “all were astounded at the greatness of God.”
All were astounded at the greatness of God.
Both stories reflect God’s greatness - God’s work - God’s movement and healing and glory. What happened in our texts wasn’t based on human maneuvering, wasn’t rooted in the disciples agendas or plans - even the healing of the boy wasn’t something the disciples could even accomplish on their own - it’s not about human work, our initiatives, our plans or machinations - but about the power of a God who acts and moves in ways beyond our understanding, that leave us astounded and amazed and that reminds us that God meets us at the limits of our own power and planning and does that which we cannot do...all so that it can be God who is glorified and made known.
God’s work and greatness - not our own.
This isn’t to say that God doesn’t give us hopes and dreams and visions to accomplish...but those hopes and dreams and visions aren’t for our own sake, but for the sake of building up God’s kingdom of peace and justice - for the sake of revealing God’s greatness in our lives and in the world - for the sake of God’s movement among us to establish a more loving, just, and hope-filled world.
And where the plans and hopes and dreams of many may have failed this week when it comes to a more inclusive United Methodist Church...where our own maneuverings may have compromised the witness of this denomination...where we wanted to build tents and shrines to the way things have been and how the church has operated for the past 50 years...the Holy Spirit picks up in those places we fail, and I believe that whatever comes next, we are in the middle of God birthing a new thing - a new transformation - something that God alone can accomplish provided with follow the movement of the Holy Spirit. We don’t know what that looks like - and we don’t know what the journey ahead will entail - birthing is a difficult process, filled with hard work, pain, and uncertainty - but one also of joy as new life takes shape and grows.
Here in this place, as we think about our island, our Chebeague community, and the witness of our church - it’s a reminder that our role isn’t one of grand schemes or brilliant plans for ministry - it’s about being faithful to the work of God in our midst and trusting that as we follow the Spirit’s lead, as we make God’s kingdom our priority, and as we trust in the power of Jesus to transform our hearts - God’s greatness will be revealed through us and the witness of our church will not be about how wonderful we are - but how great God is to do such things in and with and through us.
I do believe God is calling this community to commit to being a church that includes all people, particularly our gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning sisters and brothers - and the reason such welcome needs to be explicit is because of the degree of harm that the church universal - including our very own denomination - has caused. I know that we all know in our hearts that this church is a welcoming place, but for those who have so often been excluded from so many churches, hearing those words of radical welcome makes a world of difference. As I mentioned in the letter I wrote earlier this week, our Administrative Council is in the process of planning a congregational vote later this spring on becoming a Reconciling Church, and we will have opportunities over the next few months for conversation and learning around what that means, both in practice and from a scriptural standpoint.
But that’s only one piece of what God is inviting us into. The greater journey is this one into deeper trust and faithfulness to Jesus - the journey that takes each one of us to the edge of what we know and what we can do and leaves us there - perhaps on the mountain top, perhaps in the places of our failings - leaves us there to meet the God who waits to reveal great things among us...who beckons us to be transformed by the depth of God’s love...and who is ready to do a new thing among us all.
This week - may we be moved by the transfigured Christ - amazed by the brilliance of his love and compelled to listen to his word - as we seek to follow the Holy Spirit and be the body of Christ for this community in this time and space, and to rely ever more fully on God’s work with us - so that all may be astounded by the greatness of God in this place. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.