“The Renewal of Our Faith: That’s What Mountaintops Are For” March 3, 2019
“The Renewal of Our Faith: That’s What Mountain Tops Are For”
Exodus 34:29-35/ 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2/ Luke 9:28-36
Transfigure, transfigured, transfiguration: these are words we don’t use quite so much. Most dictionaries will tell us that to transfigure a thing means that we have transformed or changed that thing, but that’s not all. We also have transformed that thing into “something more beautiful or elevated.” If a frog turns into a prince, he is transfigured; but if a prince turns into a frog, he is, what…disfigured? I don’t know. Today, as you probably noticed, is the Sunday we set aside to celebrate the transfiguration of Christ. This mountaintop experience is recorded in all 3 of the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, & Luke – and is important. When Jesus appeared to Peter, John, and James as this intense and bright and beautiful spirit, it wasn’t by accident. It was meant to impress, it was meant to inspire, it was designed to be remembered for all time. They needed that mountaintop experience to get them through some of the rough times ahead. They needed a vivid memory of what it is to see and to hear and to touch and to taste and to breathe in the power and the glory of God. They needed that because sooner or later, they were going to have to come down to the valley floor; and that’s when they will need to shine, that’s when they will need to be the light of Christ.
So this is the story of Transfiguration Sunday: the last Sunday before the Lenten season begins. It’s all about power and majesty and ends with the voice of God telling the disciples, and all who have ears, “This is my son whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” Every time I read through this text, I know it’s a little far-fetched but I can’t help but myself: I can feel the crackle in the air, I can see the bright light. It has always been the perfect uplifting and inspiring story to take us into the Lenten season. But not this time. Right about now, I’m having a hard time feeling elevated or beautiful or even spiritual, for that matter.
Most of you are aware that our denomination held a special General Conference last week in St. Louis to settle once and for all the church’s position on homosexuality and same sex marriages. The debate is based on paragraph 304.3 in the United Methodist Book of Discipline which reads, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” This ruling was made in 1972, and a movement has been growing for the last 40 years or so to change this language, especially in the United States; other parts if the world, not so much. Anyhow, it got to the point where the ruling was being openly ignored: clergy was officiating same sex weddings and we even elected an openly gay bishop to the Rocky Mt Conference and the council of Bishops agreed to meet and hold a special conference on “A Way Forward.” The United Methodist Church was announcing to the world that it wasn’t going to kick the can down the road any longer and the world was watching.
Four plans were put forward and I would encourage you to research the efforts our bishops made to keep the United Methodist church united, but in the end the Traditional Plan is the one that won by a fairly slim margin. In short, this means the language remains unchanged and clergy and churches who defy it will be held accountable. The vote broke my heart, but it didn’t surprise me, especially because I was aware that if paragraph 304.3 had been removed from the Book of Discipline there was a good chance that the entire African Conference of the Methodist Church would have left. I allowed myself to be hopeful that the people of open hearts, open minds, and open doors would jump at a chance to be changed into something more changed and beautiful and even spiritual, but like all mountaintop experiences, coming down is tough.
I’ll admit to you all – it was a rough day. As your pastor, I felt it my duty to speak to this issue but in truth I didn’t know what to say. Some clergy were talking of quitting the church, others were pounding their chest and doing a victory dance. Me, I was trying to figure out how it’s possible to hate someone or something so much and after an afternoon of watching Michael Cohen testify before congress, I needed a mountaintop experience bad. That’s when I found myself at Dutch Bros. I figured if I’m going to feel like crap, I might as well brighten up someone else’s day, so I stopped to get Margie a mocha. There was long line and after the young gal took my order I found myself waiting and, once again, staring at the Dutch Creed painted on the side window that I can never read because the lettering is too dark in places. But I was desperate for some good news and I really studied it this time, and for the first time read it all the way through. Now, I’m not a complicated guy. My theology is pretty simple: I believe in a God of love that is greater than any kind of love that I could ever imagine. And I believe he wants more than anything for us to keep on imagining that kind of love until we get it right; and I believe that he sent his son to live among us to show us how it’s done. That’s what was going through my mind when I read the Dutch Creed on the window and was wishing that could have been the creed of this special General Conference. It may sound corny now, but it made my day to read the words: The Dutch creed
To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.
To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.
To make all your friends feel there is something in them.
To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.
To think only the best, work only for the best, expect only the best.
To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.
To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.
To wear a cheerful countenance at all times and to give every living creature you meet a smile.
To give so much time to the improvement of yourself that you have no time to criticize others.
Be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.
Like I said, it made my day. It made my day because it made me realize that no matter what vote or policy or ruling that might have come along, it really wouldn’t have changed what really matters. And it made me realize that real change, real love, isn’t going to come from the global jurisdictional level – it’s going to happen right here … in our families, our congregations, in our districts. Will Willamon was quoted at this General Conference as saying, “I have more faith in your congregations than anything going on here.” I have to agree.
Next week begins the season of Lent. And so let’s start it on that mountaintop with the words of the Lord saying, “This is my son with whom I am greatly pleased. Listen to him!” for we are a resurrection people, we are an Easter people.
Amen & Shalom