Listen to Jesus!

Feb 14, 2021

Sermon 2-14-2021
The Transfiguration of our Lord
Text: Mark 9:2-9
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     I am SO thrilled to see people in the pews this morning! For 12 weeks, since mid-November, worship has only been on-line. Before that, last spring, we experienced 11 weeks of on-line only worship. That is why I am thrilled to see people in the pews.
     But I also must say how thankful I am that when we decided it was safer not to meet in-person, it has been possible to do so by live-stream. That is because of our Technical Team and the musicians, singers – most of whom are volunteers - who have been here on Sunday week after week, for whom I am grateful. So, I am happy that we are continuing to do live-stream worship so that those who are not yet comfortable attending in-person, or are unable to do so, can participate.
     On this Valentine’s Day, my heart is full of gratitude for ALL of you. We have made an adjustment during the past year: observing Holy Week, Easter, Advent, and Christmas from a distance, participating in both traditional and informal worship styles at our single service, doing virtual or by-mail Christian Education, holding a ZOOM annual meeting, and that is not a complete list. We speak of getting “back to normal,” but that “normal” will be new, I believe.
     We will reflect on that a bit later. First, though, I want to point out that although it was not planned this way, there is a phrase in today’s Gospel lesson that is perfect for this day at Faith Lutheran Church. Did you notice it? It is verse 5, “It is good for us to be here,” which it is – that is what I’ve been nattering on about. Whether in-person or on-line, it is good for us to be here.
     Now, though, let’s put Peter’s words into context before we decide if they really apply to us today. If you have attended worship regularly, you have heard this account often; it is always shared on the Sunday before Lent begins and is known as the Transfiguration. One piece of important information is that this mountain top experience takes place toward the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry.
     Not long before the Transfiguration, Jesus told his disciples that he was facing suffering, rejection, and death. Information that they questioned and that Peter outright rejected. He had just had a stellar moment when he answered Jesus’ question, “Who do people say that I am?” with “You are the Messiah!” (Mark 8:29). So, he actually rebuked Jesus for speaking of being killed; to him, Jesus + Christ = glory. Not so, said Jesus, and none too gently: “Get behind me Satan,” Jesus admonishes Peter, “You are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Mark 8:33)
     Less than a week later, they make this trek up the mountain, and there is, as one commentator described it, some divine razzle-dazzle with Moses and Elijah, heroes of Israel’s past, showing up. That is when Peter makes a huge blunder, or at least that is how his words, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah,” are often viewed. It could be that he is relieved that something of more significance than his recent rebuke by Jesus is occurring and wants it to continue or, as some scholars point out, he could be making a faithful connection.
     That “connection” is based on these points. First, blinding brightness was associated with God’s glory. Second, Moses and Elijah were believed by many Jews to be God’s precursors of the end times. Third, many believed God would usher in the new age during the “Feast of Booths.” People celebrated by creating and staying in temporary shelters or tents as they remembered the Israelite’s 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.
      So…Jesus shines with heavenly brightness, Moses and Elijah show up, Peter notes, could it be that even though it is not the “Feast of Booths,” booths are still needed? If that is the case, Peter is striving to do what is right when he offers to build them. After all, he and the others are terrified and struggling to make sense out of this cosmic event. It is the first of many unprecedented events; a turning point has come.
     Listen to how biblical scholar Victoria Garvey describes it: “Jesus’ Transfiguration is a clear marker in the Gospel’s story. The preliminaries are over; there is more ministry to be engaged, but life is now changing decisively for him (Jesus) and them (the disciples) even as they are caught up in this moment of transformation. (1)
     It is interesting, I think, that as the disciples face the unknown, God tells them what to do. Did you notice? “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” In this extraordinary moment, a time meant to propel them forward, listen to Jesus. This is not a time for pitching tents and staying put, nor can they return to what was. So, listen to Jesus.
     Isn’t that where we are as we begin to move out (we hope) of this pandemic? As far as the Christian church is concerned, we cannot stay put, and we cannot go back. We must face the new normal. I recently watched a podcast titled “Unavoidable Church Trends of 2021” by Bradly Shearer, which summarized, simply, what we may be (probably are) facing.
     The first “trend” is that in-person church attendance will not recover; it will not return to pre-pandemic levels. He gave a few reasons for this. One is attendance at weekend services has been in a steady decline for the past 10 years, and the pandemic was like throwing gas on the fire. One-third of those who previously attended at least monthly have stopped attending at all, even virtually. People have become accustomed to extra “free” time and the ease of worshipping from home.
     So, that leads us to trend #2, ministry must become hybrid, a combination of in-person and on-line. That is something the church must embrace and define, and we must adjust how we measure participation accordingly.
     The third trend is more a word of wisdom, I think. Pastor Shearer noted that a “Woe is me” attitude impedes ministry because no one outside of our particular “Christian bubble” cares how much our way of doing things has changed.
     Fourth, as we face challenges - for example, buildings that are emptier and more difficult to maintain - new expressions of the church will be birthed to address those issues. That leads to number five; the church will make the biggest impact by focusing on mission (outreach) over attendance.
     And, finally, we need to “win the wait.” That is, make good use of our time, take advantage of this transitional moment to explore options, consider opportunities that we would not have otherwise considered.
     Just those six “trends” may seem overwhelming; I know that is how they first struck me. Our theme from previous years needs to be revisited as it takes on new meaning: we must accept “risk and change,” which requires commitment and creativity by more than just a few. Most importantly, the words spoken today to the disciples at their turning point still apply: Listen to him…to Jesus! AMEN
(1) “Reflections on the Lectionary” by Victoria Garvey, Christian Century, January 27, 2021