by Pastor Randy L. Johnson
Recently I read how one set of grandparents provided reassurance for their grandchild while they cared for her. The grandfather wrote: “My wife and I babysit for our young granddaughter Eliana during the school year while her Mom and Dad are working. We do many things to try to make her feel at home. For example, we put pictures of her and her parents on our refrigerator at ‘Eliana level.’ That way she can see them or carry them around with her during the day. We want her to think of her Mom and Dad often throughout the day. Why do we do this? Is there a chance she would forget them? Of course not. But it is comforting for her to have an on-going remembrance of them.”
When Jesus left this earth his followers were given several on-going remembrances of him. Probably the one we first think of is the regular practice of sharing in the meal of communion, which Jesus specifically designated as a way to remember him. In contrast to our monthly practice of communion, we lift up the remembrance of Jesus known as the Transfiguration usually only once a year. Yet, for those first disciples this event was something that helped provide significant comfort and clarity for them about the importance of Jesus in their lives and the power that Jesus gave them to carry out their mission. The Transfiguration was a sign of glory to come as it provided a glimpse of the resurrection and of the power of God to overcome all the powers of darkness, even death itself.
The Transfiguration story ends with Jesus’ words to his disciples to “not tell anyone what they had seen until after he had risen from the dead.” In Matthew’s account of this story, Jesus also touches his disciples and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
With these signs and words, Jesus was preparing his first followers for the same challenge faced today by all who seek to follow Jesus: what can sustain us in faith and strengthen us for mission when we confront a world of so many demands and difficulties, a world in which Jesus himself is no longer with us in bodily form?
As people of this particular congregation, we share an over 150 year history of faith and service in mission to our community. And as part of the greater United Methodist Church, we share an equally rich heritage of faith and mission around the world. Today we are celebrating that local and global mission. As we celebrate, we also recognize that such a long record of faithful and loving service has not been without times of discouragement, doubt and fear.
This is why as we celebrate our mission today, it is important that we once again connect to the source of our faith and of our power to make a difference in the world. As Jesus invited Peter, James and John to get away from the crowds, to come with him to the mountain top, so Jesus through his living Spirit continues to invite us to come with him, to gather in sacred places to find rest and renewal for our souls. Like those first followers, we gather to pray for reassurance and to seek a sign from God that our faith is not in vain. We gather in hope, longing for God’s grace to set us free from the things that bind us and weigh us down. And we gather in anticipation that being here will give us the courage we need to go back into the world to share our faith and to extend Christ’s love in our daily lives.
The power of gathering together to worship, to pray, to hear God’s Word was illustrated in a story told by a church worker who assisted in a ministry to the city’s homeless. He wrote: “Mary was known as a “bag lady,” homeless and ill, with several physical and emotional problems. She had turned to our church’s outreach ministry for help. Over time, she had come to know all of our church staff and many of the faithful volunteers. She had also heard that they prayed together. One day, Mary shyly asked a volunteer to have the outreach staff pray for her. In response, the volunteer said, “Mary, why don’t you come by early tomorrow morning and pray with us?” The next day happened to be a dreary, overcast Good Friday morning. Mary came and sat quietly, watching these people praying. After the prayer time, a volunteer read the gospel reading for the day. As she read about the death of Jesus, the attention of all was fixed on the sadness of the words. When the reading ended, silence filled the room. Mary broke the silence when she said to the group, “You know, if there are people like you in the world, just maybe Jesus really was raised from the dead.”
On the mountain of Transfiguration, the disciples got a glimpse of the resurrection power of God. Their remembrance of this transforming experience gave them hope to carry out their mission of bringing the good news of God’s love to all people. Of course, at the time, Peter and his friends preferred to stay on the mountain top.
Like those first disciples, it is tempting to try and stop time, to focus our spiritual energy into all the uplifting experiences we share inside this beautiful, safe sanctuary. But Jesus reminds us that our mission is not to erect shrines that keep us distant or distracted from the world outside these walls. As with his first followers, Jesus touches us and says, “get up, go out and do not be afraid.”
This courage to go forth was demonstrated by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as he led the struggle for civil rights for African Americans. During February, Black History Month, we may recall King’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. In it he declared that he had been to the mountaintop and had seen the glory of the Lord. We well know that he did not stay on top of the mountain. Rather, King’s glimpse of God’s glory gave him the vision and strength to go with Jesus from the mountain back into the streets of conflict and pain in the struggle for justice.
As we celebrate our church’s 150 plus years of mission and join in the Litany of Mission Celebration, we affirm our commitment to go with Jesus into a world where there are real crises and needs in peoples’ lives. When we return here this coming Ash Wednesday, we will take up the sign of the cross, the visible reminder that a closer walk with Jesus requires courage and commitment as we take up his mission to confront the powers of darkness with the light of God’s justice, peace and love.
In his wonderful series of stories about the land called “Narnia,” C.S. Lewis writes a final word from the Messiah-like figure of the lion named Aslan: “Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly. I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearance. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.”
The Transfiguration, like the baptism before it and the cross and resurrection after it, was one of the signs God provides for us who follow Jesus to help us maintain our faith and sustain our mission when we go back out into the world. These are signs of God’s grace, glory and presence which shine in our lives in worship and which we are to carry as light into the world.
Recently a visitor to our church commented to me how good it was to be here. She was especially taken with the beautiful stain glass windows and how the morning light shines through them during worship. In a similar way, Peter was struck with the way God’s light was shining on the mountaintop and, as he put it, “it’s good that we’re here.” It is good that we are here. And, like so many of you, I also love being able to worship surrounded by our beautiful stain-glass windows. But, just as Jesus invites us to come with him, he calls us to go with him. We are to be like stain-glass windows out in the world – our mission is to have Christ’s light shine through each of our lives throughout the week wherever we go. So let your light- the light of Christ- shine for all to see and, in response, may all give God glory and join in faith and service in Jesus’ name!