Worship Where You Are

The Worship Where You Are blog contains what we think of as "first drafts" of the sermon for each week.  They are prepared mid-week for people who might not be able to be present on Sunday morning but wish to still participate in the worship experience.  They contain scripture, the sermon text, a few questions to ponder and a closing prayer.  May they help you in your faith journey.

All Bible verses come from the Common English Bible

Miracles - Resurrection

John 20:1-18

Empty tomb

20 Early in the morning of the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 2 She ran to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they’ve put him.” 3 Peter and the other disciple left to go to the tomb. 4 They were running together, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter and was the first to arrive at the tomb. 5 Bending down to take a look, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he didn’t go in.6 Following him, Simon Peter entered the tomb and saw the linen cloths lying there. 7 He also saw the face cloth that had been on Jesus’ head. It wasn’t with the other clothes but was folded up in its own place. 8 Then the other disciple, the one who arrived at the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. 9 They didn’t yet understand the scripture that Jesus must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to the place where they were staying.

Jesus appears to Mary

11 Mary stood outside near the tomb, crying. As she cried, she bent down to look into the tomb. 12 She saw two angels dressed in white, seated where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head and one at the foot. 13 The angels asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”

She replied, “They have taken away my Lord, and I don’t know where they’ve put him.” 14 As soon as she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she didn’t know it was Jesus.

15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who are you looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she replied, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him and I will get him.”

16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabbouni” (which means Teacher).

17 Jesus said to her, “Don’t hold on to me, for I haven’t yet gone up to my Father. Go to my brothers and sisters and tell them, ‘I’m going up to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

18 Mary Magdalene left and announced to the disciples, “I’ve seen the Lord.” Then she told them what he said to her.

 

John 11:17-44

Jesus with Martha and Mary

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Bethany was a little less than two miles from Jerusalem. 19 Many Jews had come to comfort Martha and Mary after their brother’s death.20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet him, while Mary remained in the house. 21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died. 22 Even now I know that whatever you ask God, God will give you.”

23 Jesus told her, “Your brother will rise again.”

24 Martha replied, “I know that he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.”

25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though they die.26 Everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

27 She replied, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Christ, God’s Son, the one who is coming into the world.”

28 After she said this, she went and spoke privately to her sister Mary, “The teacher is here and he’s calling for you.”29 When Mary heard this, she got up quickly and went to Jesus. 30 He hadn’t entered the village but was still in the place where Martha had met him. 31 When the Jews who were comforting Mary in the house saw her get up quickly and leave, they followed her. They assumed she was going to mourn at the tomb.

32 When Mary arrived where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother wouldn’t have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her crying and the Jews who had come with her crying also, he was deeply disturbed and troubled.34 He asked, “Where have you laid him?”

They replied, “Lord, come and see.”

35 Jesus began to cry. 36 The Jews said, “See how much he loved him!” 37 But some of them said, “He healed the eyes of the man born blind. Couldn’t he have kept Lazarus from dying?”

Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb

38 Jesus was deeply disturbed again when he came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone covered the entrance. 39 Jesus said, “Remove the stone.”

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said, “Lord, the smell will be awful! He’s been dead four days.”

40 Jesus replied, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 41 So they removed the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. 42 I know you always hear me. I say this for the benefit of the crowd standing here so that they will believe that you sent me.” 43 Having said this, Jesus shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his feet bound and his hands tied, and his face covered with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

During Lent we explored six of the seven miracles or signs of Jesus in the Gospel of John. The last miracle is when Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. It seems fitting to look at this last miracle on the same day that we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Jesus’ resurrection is a triumphant moment in our faith story. What we can forget is that it also is meant to herald a promise of resurrection for us as well. We do not just celebrate Christ’s resurrection because he has new life. We celebrate because in it we are offered new life as well.

There are a lot of parallels between the two stories that go beyond the raising of someone from the dead. John is very clearly using the death of Lazarus to foreshadow Christ’s own death and resurrection. Biblical scholars have spent pages and pages expounding on these connections. Rather than dive deep into that material I want us instead to merely hold these two stories together in our minds this morning. The new life we are offered in Christ is not merely a point beyond death it is also a new life that is available to us today.

The role of the tomb is a great contrast between the two stories. There is great fear and sorrow around the tomb of Lazarus because people are certain of what is to be found inside. Jesus weeps when he encounters the tomb. Martha pushes back on Jesus when he suggests moving the stone because she is afraid of the smell. She knows the stench of death, grief, and loss, will be waiting for her in the tomb. By contrast, the tomb of Easter is empty. The stone has already been rolled away. Now the fear is not in what lies behind the stone, but the uncertainty of what an empty tomb means.

All of the disciples, Peter, Mary, and the unnamed beloved disciple, all find an empty tomb and assume that the lack of body is not the sign of a resurrection. We do not really know what the men think, other than the scriptures are clear they do not yet understand that Jesus has been resurrected. Mary Magdalene’s thoughts are much clearer. When she encounters Jesus, she mistakes him for a gardener and asks where the body is taken. Her assumption is that someone has come and moved the body. Her fear at the empty tomb is rooted in a lack of understanding and a fear of the unknown.

That I think is the big difference between the two stories and the insight I want to drive home today. In the resurrection of Christ, our fear comes from the unknown. We do not really know what this empty tomb means, and we are afraid of what might come next. By contrast, in the resurrection of Lazarus, we are not afraid of the unknown, we are afraid of the known. We know behind the stone we will find death.

We have probably all seen a children’s message or a sermon illustration that uses the idea of the egg as symbol of the tomb. Plastic Easter eggs make a great vehicle for this because we can leave them empty or put a message in them, or maybe even candy if we want to give the kids (and adults) a little treat. I want to use a similar but different example today, the geode. For those of you who are not familiar, a geode is a kind of rock that contains a hollow cavity, lined with crystals. Most of us have probably seen a geode at one time or another even if we did not know the name of it. Usually we will find a geode cut in half so that we can see both the outer shell of the rock, but also the beautiful crystals within.

The image of the geode has been speaking to me a lot this Easter season as I think about these two stories. In many ways the geode is the Easter egg of the rock world. What is really striking to me is that until you break a geode open you do not know what will be inside. Found in nature, a geode looks like a boring rock, with little outward signs of the beauty that lies within. It is only once the rock is cut or broken open that we can see its inner radiance.

It is probably not surprising, but you can buy geodes kits online. Several companies will happily sell you a bag of rocks and sometimes even a hammer to break them open. You place the rock in a sock and smash it with a hammer. Then you take out the fragments and if you are lucky, inside you will find something beautiful. From the reviews posted on these various sights it is clear that there is not a 100% success rate for finding picturesque geodes. It is probably not surprising but there are a lot of duds, especially given the price you pay for the rocks. There is a certain amount of fear that goes into breaking open one of the rocks. What will you find when it opens? Will you get a perfect geode with a nice open space and beautiful crystals, or merely the dull greyish brown shell and nothing of value in the middle.

Easter is about challenging that uncertainty and fear. Christ’s resurrection is a breaking open of the stone and a revelation of the beauty inside. Our fear of the unknown is replaced with a message of joy and celebration. The courage we must confront the empty tomb and hear the message of Easter is a song for our souls. The refrain to that song is a message of God’s love for us that transcends our fears, doubts, and sins, and speaks to the beauty that God sees within us. We need to hear that refrain because too often we do not see that beauty in ourselves.

I think we are more like Martha. We are standing not at the tomb of Lazarus, but at our own tombs. We are begging Jesus not to roll away the stones in our lives because we are ashamed of the stench of our own sin and death that will confront us when the tomb is opened. We are afraid of letting Jesus break open the geodes of our hearts because we do not believe we will find any crystals inside. We know that we are not worthy of God’s love. We believe that inside us is nothing but dull rock.

The message of Easter is one of new life. Despite our fears God rolls away the stone. What we find inside is not death but new life. What we find is not the stench of our sin and our failing, but an empty tomb and a promise of resurrection. We need to know that inside each of us is a complex, unique, and beautiful crystal structure that God has seen, and that God loves. We need to know that nothing we can do to ourselves or to God can destroy that beauty. Our fears are powerful. It was fear of Christ that caused the crowds to turn on him and crucify him. It was fear of the unknown that kept the disciples from searching for answers at the empty tomb. It was fear of the known that kept Martha from trusting in Christ’s ability to offer new life.

Let us set aside our fears of sin and death. Let us believe in the power that Christ has to offer us new life. Let us have the courage to find the empty tomb and believe in the resurrection. Christ the Lord is risen today. Hallelujah! Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Hallelujah! Let us go forth and share the message of Easter with world!

Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What does it mean to you when Jesus says he is the resurrection and the life?

What are the tombs in your life that you are scared to let Jesus enter?

Where do you experience miracles of resurrection?

Prayer:

God, you are the resurrection and the life. Help us to believe in you when we stand outside the tombs in our own lives. Help us to see the beauty in ourselves that often escapes our notice. Fill us once more with the joy of the new life that is promised in Christ’s resurrection. Amen

Miracles - Walking on Water

John 6:16-40

Jesus walks on water

16 When evening came, Jesus’ disciples went down to the lake. 17 They got into a boat and were crossing the lake to Capernaum. It was already getting dark and Jesus hadn’t come to them yet. 18 The water was getting rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When the wind had driven them out for about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the water. He was approaching the boat and they were afraid. 20 He said to them, “I Am. Don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and just then the boat reached the land where they had been heading.

22 The next day the crowd that remained on the other side of the lake realized that only one boat had been there. They knew Jesus hadn’t gone with his disciples, but that the disciples had gone alone. 23 Some boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they had eaten the bread over which the Lord had given thanks. 24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Bread of life

26 Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. 27 Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.”

28 They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?”

29 Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.”

30 They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

32 Jesus told them, “I assure you, it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 They said, “Sir, give us this bread all the time!”

35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But I told you that you have seen me and still don’t believe. 37 Everyone whom the Father gives to me will come to me, and I won’t send away anyone who comes to me. 38 I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but the will of him who sent me. 39 This is the will of the one who sent me, that I won’t lose anything he has given me, but I will raise it up at the last day. 40 This is my Father’s will: that all who see the Son and believe in him will have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

There are seven miracles in the Gospel of John and two of them come back to back. First, Jesus feeds the five thousand using only five loaves of bread and two fish. Then, that night, he walks on water. These two miracles set next to each other provide several key teaching points. They illustrate the power of Christ. They also ask the question about what we find compelling in the power of Christ.

I grew up watching the Indiana Jones movies. In one of them, Indiana Jones is searching for the Holy Grail and he is asked “For whom do you seek the cup of Christ, is it for his glory or for yours?” That line from the movie has stuck in my head for all these years even though I could not tell you the last time I actually watched the film. I think Jesus is wondering the same thing when he confronts the crowds who have been following them. He is challenging them on the real reason they are following him, not because of the great signs he has performed but because of what he has done for them.

Why do we follow Christ? Sit with that question for a minute because it is an important one. We all need to make sure we know the reason we are following Christ because otherwise, quite frankly, what are we doing here? One of the realities is that it can be hard to answer this question without talking about ourselves and sounding like the crowds. The crowds followed Jesus because they were hungry, and he gave them bread. Are our answers really much different?

For many of us, salvation would be a reason we follow Christ. It is certainly a selling point of the Christian faith that gets used to encourage people to join the church. We have all probably heard one Christian or another preaching and exhorting people to convert so that they might be spared from Hell. Think about the reasoning behind that for a minute. Is that really any different than following Jesus because he gave them bread? Sure, the reward is eternal, but it is still about the reward. We do it for what it does for us.

We could come up with a lot of other reasons that we follow Christ or are a part of a church, but a lot of them would still be about what it does for us. You should join a church because of the community. You should join a church because of the worship service. You should join a church because of the mission work in the community. Why would these things be compelling, because they make us feel good. Too often we root our faith in how it makes us feel. This is human but it has its challenges.

One of the biggest ones is what happens on those days when church does not make us feel good? What happens on those days when following God is hard? What happens when we are not sure that being a Christian is making a difference in our life the way we had hoped. Do we give up on Christ then? Do we turn away from God? Do we walk out on the church? I would hope the answer to all of these is “no,” but if we root our faith in the benefits we get from it we are ignoring the real reason that we should be following Christ.

Look again at the scripture lesson for today and see what Jesus tells us to do. Jesus tell us to follow him because of the signs he does. Now, I think he is making a really important distinction. He is saying we should follow him because of the signs he does, not because of what the signs do for us. The miracles are never about us. It is not about the healing that Christ brings to us, it is not about the abundance that God overs us, none of it. The signs are a demonstration of God’s power, revealed in Christ. It is not about what that power does for us.

We are not supposed to follow Christ because of what Christ does for us. We are supposed to follow Christ, because he is the Son of God. We are supposed to follow Christ because he is the Word Made Flesh. We follow God not because God has made us wealthy or healthy, both of which we know are fleeting gifts. Instead, we follow God because God is the author of all creation and there is no fitting response but to fall down and worship God.

The people are clamoring for yet another sign. The people are still wanting to be feed. When they ask Jesus for more, he gives them a powerful response. “I am the bread of life.” He does not give them what they are asking for, but he does give them what they really need. He points them away from their own personal needs back to the real purpose for his coming to earth, to help us be in relationship with God. Through the signs and miracles of Christ, we are better able to worship God.

We do not follow Jesus because we need more bread. We follow Jesus because he is the bread. We do not follow God because God created us. We follow God because God created everything. We do not follow God because God loves us. We follow God because God loves everyone. It is not about who we are and what God does for us. It is about who God is and what God does for everyone.

I grew up a Cubs fan, my mother was a Cubs fan, my grandfather was a Cubs fan, and my great-grandfather was a Cubs fan. My great-grandfather lived to be 91 and the Cubs won the World Series twice in his lifetime (when he was three and four). My grandfather is 91, the Cubs have won the World Series once in his life time (when he was 89). He spent his entire life cheering for a team that could never win. Rooting for the Cubs was a source of identity for my family, but it was never about what the Cubs did for us since all they did was lose. It was about loyalty to our team.

We are not called to be fair-weather fans who only cheer for our God when we are winning. We are not bandwagon Christians who only claim Christ when he is working miracles in our lives. We are called to be diehard fans of God. We do not love God because God heals us or provides for us, or even saves us. We love God because of who God is. We follow Christ because he is God’s Son, our savior, the Bread of Life. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What does it mean to you to call Jesus the Bread of Life?

How do we avoid the temptation to think about our faith only in terms of what it does for us?

What does a fair-weather Christian look life to you? What does a diehard Christian look like?

Prayer:

God, you move and work in wondrous ways and for that we love you. Open our eyes to the miraculous things you do around us each and every day. Fill us with joy that we might celebrate your good works. Bless us that we might be instruments of your joy in the world. Amen

Miracles - Water into Wine

John 2:1-11

Wedding at Cana

2 On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and 2 Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the celebration. 3 When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They don’t have any wine.”

4 Jesus replied, “Woman, what does that have to do with me? My time hasn’t come yet.”

5 His mother told the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Nearby were six stone water jars used for the Jewish cleansing ritual, each able to hold about twenty or thirty gallons.

7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water,” and they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some from them and take it to the headwaiter,” and they did. 9 The headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine. He didn’t know where it came from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew.

The headwaiter called the groom 10 and said, “Everyone serves the good wine first. They bring out the second-rate wine only when the guests are drinking freely. You kept the good wine until now.” 11 This was the first miraculous sign that Jesus did in Cana of Galilee. He revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

There are seven miracles that Jesus performs in the Gospel of John. Sometimes called the seven signs, these miracles serve as a testimony to the power of Christ, but also are meant to help illustrate who God is and what God is seeking to do through Christ in the world. During the season of Lent, we will be exploring these different miracles to see what we can learn from them. We will also be asking ourselves what miracles God is doing in our lives as well. The miracles of God are not limited to Christ, or even to his disciples in the Bible. Miracles are happening all around us, we need to get better at opening our eyes and seeing them.

The first miracles in John is the story of Jesus turning water into wine. For someone who is aware of the dangers of alcoholism and the negative effects of a culture of partying, I am not always sure I like this miracle. If you are preaching to a bunch of college kids it can sound cool to say that Jesus turned water into wine, but what does it mean for Jesus to be aiding in drinking to excess? Did the Word become flesh and dwell among us so that we would never run out of something to drink?

My own struggles with this highlight several challenges when dealing with miracles. First, we often want to explain miracles, seeking to define what it is that Jesus is doing in the miracle. Second, we can bring our own values and assumptions to a miracle and in doing so can make the miracle about the wrong things. We will see this at other points when people get upset because Jesus is healing (doing work) on the Sabbath, rather than being excited that he has done something amazing and wonderful. In the same vein, it is easy for me to be focused on the fact that Jesus created wine (alcohol) rather than seeing this as a sign of God’s power, abundance, and generosity. This first miracle is a great practice for us in thinking about how we respond to the miracles that God places in our lives.

The miracle of turning water into wine is not about the wine. Instead it is about how God can do amazing things including turning simple water into fine wine. It is about the abundance that is offered through a life with Christ. Symbolically it creates a link between the abundance of wine in John, with the communion wine of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Just as there is more than enough wine to go around in John, there is more than enough grace to go around in the communion cup of wine that Christ offers to us at the Last Supper.

When we struggle to believe the miracles we find in the gospels, it is usually for two reasons. The first it that we cannot explain what has happened. Those of us who understand science know that there is not a method of changing the chemical make-up of water, which is simply two elements, hydrogen and oxygen, into something that is far more complex and contains several other elements without adding something to the equation. Second, I think we struggle to believe miracles because we don’t believe what they tell us about God. Even if we can believe that what occurred is possible, we struggle to believe that God made it happen.

The wedding of Cana is not meant to teach us that God can turn water into wine. It is instead meant to show how God wants us to live lives of abundant joy. The miracle is the miracle of celebration. The question is not do we believe the God who created the universe and everything in it can turn water into wine. The question is do we believe that God wants us to celebrate and have a good time. The first miracle of Jesus shows us that God does indeed want us to be filled with joy.

Now I get that this can be a hard thing for us as Minnesotans to grasp. We are a down-to-earth group. We do not like to make a big deal about things especially good things that happen to us. We spend far more time complaining about how much snow we got than we do celebrating the sunshine and the good weather we are enjoying. As Howard Moore observed in his book How to Talk Minnesotan, we say “‘it could be worse’, because it can always be worse, it can be worse more often than it can be better.” We are not wired to celebrate and have a good time.

God wants to celebrate. God wants us to be filled with joy. We follow a God that turns the simple into the extraordinary and uses a wedding to display the wondrous power that God has to turn our lives into something wonderful. Are we able to believe in that? Are we able to believe that God wants our lives to be amazing? We are like the wine-steward, who tastes the wine and thinks the reason for it is simply the host saved the best for last. We look for rational answers to the good things that happen in our lives because we cannot believe that there is not a rational explanation but rather an irrational one, that God loves us.

I know that a lot of us are feeling the winter blues as the snow keeps piling up. I know a lot of us are tired of seeing negative temperatures on our phones when we wake up. We are in the season of Lent, a time of austerity and gloom, but I challenge us to look instead for the joy. Maybe God is not going to turn all our water into wine, but God is providing us reasons to celebrate each and every day. God’s miracles are all around us. We need to start opening our eyes to what God is doing in our midst.

What can you do to live a life of joy? What can you do to enter into the wedding feast that God is providing for us? What do you need to do to accept the grace that flows abundantly in God’s presence? Do we act like Mary, believing that God can transform our lives and make a difference, or are we the steward who tries to understand what just happened? God is moving and working in the world. Rather than standing around and wondering how it happens, let us join in the dance and celebrate our God. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What do you do with the stories and miracles you read about in the Bible?

What is something you need to celebrate in your life?

What is a miracle that has happened in your life that you cannot explain?

Prayer:

God, you move and work in wondrous ways and for that we love you. Open our eyes to the miraculous things you do around us each and every day. Fill us with joy that we might celebrate your good works. Bless us that we might be instruments of your joy in the world. Amen

Mountaintop Moments

Luke 9:28-36

Jesus transformed

28 About eight days after Jesus said these things, he took Peter, John, and James, and went up on a mountain to pray.29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes flashed white like lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, were talking with him. 31 They were clothed with heavenly splendor and spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he would achieve in Jerusalem. 32 Peter and those with him were almost overcome by sleep, but they managed to stay awake and saw his glory as well as the two men with him.

33 As the two men were about to leave Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it’s good that we’re here. We should construct three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—but he didn’t know what he was saying. 34 Peter was still speaking when a cloud overshadowed them. As they entered the cloud, they were overcome with awe.

35 Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him!” 36 Even as the voice spoke, Jesus was found alone. They were speechless and at the time told no one what they had seen.

 

Thoughts on the passage:

What do you do  when you are going on a trip? If you are like me, one of the things you do is think about where you are going. Jesus does the same with his disciples. He is taking them on a journey, from being fishermen to being fishers of men. He is transforming them from humble men and women into apostles who will bring the Good News to the ends of the earth. In order to help them on this journey, Jesus takes moments to prepare them for what is coming and to give them a glimpse of where they are going. The transfiguration is one of those moments.

When Jesus took a few of disciples up onto the mountain to pray, he used it as a chance to teach them about what was to come. He did this in several key ways. He allowed them to see his radiance and divine nature. Through the visions of Moses and Elijah he allowed the disciples to understand what was to happen with his death and resurrection. Finally, the voice of God reinforced what they were seeing, that this was the Son of God that they should be listening to. All of these combine to help the disciples understand what was coming.

Just as we like to have a map, a plan, or an idea of where we are going, Jesus outlines things for the disciples. He knows that they will need to leave the mountaintop and go back into the valleys of the world again. He knows that they will be distracted by the day to day busyness and the trials and tribulations of what is to come, but he wants them to have a greater sense of where they are going. The transfiguration on the mountain is meant to lead and guide them to their destination.

The morning after I arrived in Saint Louis, I walked from my hotel to see the Gateway Arch and found it shrouded in an early morning cloud of fog. The clouds where thick enough that you could not see the top of the Arch, only the base. You knew it was up there because you could imagine it, but you could not see it. You had to trust that it was there, beyond our vision, something yet to be realized.

Saint Louis was not a mountaintop moment for me. Instead for me it was a moment in the long and difficult valleys of the world. For the last 25 years I have been working in different ways to make the United Methodist Church a fully open and inclusive place for GLBTQIA people and an inclusive place for everyone. For years I have been working for that vision of a church where everyone is welcome, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, questioning and certain, Republican and Democratic, everyone. I have seen glimpses of such a blessed community over the years, and I have been working to make it possible.

At the special General Conference, our denomination made the decisions to uphold our stated beliefs about homosexuality and even to tighten our standards, adding more penalties and rules to prevent people from breaking the rules we had created about ordaining gay clergy or performing same-sex weddings. For many, this was a step in the right direction, helping to bring our churches stances more in line with their understanding of scripture and rein in acts of disobedience. For me, it was a painful moment, where my denomination caused harm to people that I love who have been working and longing for a sense of welcome that has been denied them by our institutional church since 1972.

The General Conference was not a mountaintop moment for me. Instead it was one of the moments in the valley where I had to remind myself of what it is that I am working towards. Thankful, I did get glimpses of what I am working towards in worship services and even points when everyone gathered together to pray and worship before taking a meaningful vote. In the end, I must hold on to that vision that God has given me of a beloved community united by our love for God and our love for our neighbor. I need to let that be the image that leads and guides me in the work that I do as I seek to faithfully follow God in my life.

I share my experiences and struggles with you today not because I expect all of you to be in the same place. I believe that we are not of one mind as a congregation on what scripture teaches us about human sexuality. Some of you may share my pain and others might not. My point in sharing is to let you know where I am, but also to help you think about where you are.

We all have had mountaintop moments in our lives where we have had a glimpse of God or visions of what God Is calling us to. These moments are a guide to us when we go back into the valleys of the world. They are there to help us in the hard times when we feel like we are losing our way. They are meant to give us the strength and courage to push forward when things can seem too painful to go on. In those difficult times, we look back and remember those mountaintop moments and use them as a beacon that leads us to God.

Mountaintop moments are important, and they are amazing. The challenge is to avoid wanting to linger on the mountain and stay in that moment. When Peter experiences the transfiguration, his instinct is to try and enshrine it, and linger on it. He wants to build a monument to it and remain in that sacred place. He is not alone in his desire to dwell on mountaintop moments. What we need to remember is that those moments are meant to give us fuel to do the work that God is calling us to do.

Bishop Ough, in his closing thoughts after General Conference challenged all of us in Minnesota and the Dakotas to go back to work. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are called to feed the hungry, give shelter to the homeless, tend to the sick, comfort the grieving, and do so many other things in the name of Christ.

It is my hope that every Sunday is a mountaintop moment for you. It is my hope that each week when we gather in worship we can get a glimpse of God and God’s vision for our world. We can use those glimpses and visions as fuel for the work we do in the week. It helps us to be better parents and better sons and daughters. It helps us to be better neighbors and community members. It helps us to be better co-workers and friends. It gives us the strength to face whatever the week might throw at us, because we have seen the transforming power of God’s love through Jesus Christ and we have known God’s grace in our lives. Amen

Questions to Ponder:

When is a time when you feel you had a “mountaintop moment”?

How do you hold onto mountaintop moments when you face valleys in your life?

What is the work that God is calling and equipping you to do in the valleys of the world?

Prayer:

Holy and loving God, may your presence shine down on us and your voice once more call us to bigger and greater things. Grant us a vision of your enduring love and grace that we might use it as a beacon as we seek to do your work in the world. Forgive us when we linger to long on the mountain and walk alongside us as we descend back into the world. Amen