Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 22, 2009

2009.02.22 “Listen to Him” Transfiguration of the Lord

Central United Methodist Church

“Listen to Him”

Mark 9: 2 – 9

Transfiguration of the Lord

Pastor David L. Haley

February 22nd, 2009

“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.  Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” – Mark 9:2 – 9

       In order to boost attendance, from now on we have decided to vote on a controversial issue once a month.  Next month’s vote will be whether to offer Roland Burris sanctuary in the Log Cabin, that is, if we can get the Blagojevich family out.  Oh, I’m sorry, we didn’t tell you?

        I know many of you have come today with one thing on your mind, and indeed, that is the issue of the day: our vote to decide whether to renovate or to remove our precious but pitiful log cabin.

        No preacher should be unmindful of his audience or context, and I am not. In fact, I spent a lot of time this week thinking about whether I should address the issue before us, or stick to the text, and finally decided, “Yes”, to do both.

However, if there’s anything I’ve learned at times like this, it’s humility, that it’s doubtful anything I say would change how you intend to vote, even if I had an strong position one way or the other, which I don’t.

  I shared – on a previous occasion – a lesson I learned from one of my former professors, Martin E. Marty. When he was young and naive, he was a new preacher in a urban congregation where the neighborhood was changing, and the congregation was seriously considering “white flight”: selling and moving out.  After an initial vote of something like 92 to move; 10 to stay, Marty decided to preach a sermon series from the prophets, hoping to persuade them to stay. After the series, another congregational vote was held, and Marty found out that not only did he change no minds, six MORE people switched to the column of those voting to move.  So much for persuasive preaching.

Sometimes, especially in the midst of controversies and critical decisions, the best thing we can do is to return to our sacred texts and sacred stories, and see what insight they give us.  And that’s what we do today.

Once a year, just before Lent begins, we Christians head up to the mountaintop with Jesus and three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John. 

Every now and then, we all need to find a mountaintop, a place we to which we can retreat, in order to gain fresh perspective and seek insight and inspiration.  Good luck finding a mountaintop in Chicago.  (Although the observation deck of the Sears Tower can be quite inspirational.)

Of course, it doesn’t have to be an actual mountain, just a place to get away from the rush and the routine, seek renewal, and put things in perspective.

I wish our congregation had had such a mountaintop experience, and frankly, after today, I would like for this to be one of the next things on the calendar: a vision or planning retreat, which is not a meeting with an agenda or a controversy with a vote, but a time after to pray, to reflect, to brainstorm, to vision, and ask, “What kind of  church – now and in the future – is God calling us to be?  Because once you know what you want to do, that determines the tools – including the buildings – that you need to do it. But this is never an easy task, and our congregation has not done this yet, so today, on the issue before us, we must use our best judgment.

Mark doesn’t say what the disciples were doing, although Luke says it was praying, and suggests that the disciples were doing as much sleeping as praying. Sound familiar? It reminds me of Garrison Keillor’s Lutherans, who as he says, weren’t much into the raising of hands or even the holding of hands, but were into, “Be still and know that I am God.”  Except that, sometimes they were so still it looked a lot like sleeping.  We Methodists are not that different.

Suddenly, in a vision or a hallucination or even a dream, Jesus was transformed before them, dazzling in the darkness, talking with Moses and Elijah. They were as we would be, which is to say terrified and dumbstruck.

Except for Peter, who always had something to say.  And what he said was, “Master, it is good for us to be here. I know, let’s build three dwellings, one for you, one for Elijah, and one for Moses.”  But before they could call a Church Conference and take a vote there was a voice, which said, “Build?  Build?  Build?”  No, what the Voice really said, was the same thing said of Jesus at his baptism, “This is my Son, marked by my love, LISTEN to him.” 

There’s something about us human beings makes us want to institutionalize our sacred experiences. You can see them all around the world: the Buddha’s tree of enlightenment or the Dome of the Rock or Jesus’ tomb. They are memorials to a memory of an experience.  Some of them are still holy places and others places where the glory has departed. In some cases, sadly, it is the institution, or the memorial, or the building which has become the thing worshipped, a more subtle form of idolatry. Winston Churchill, speaking of buildings specifically, was correct when he said: “We shape our buildings, and then our buildings shape us.”  Don’t we know it?

        I was just recently at one of the world’s largest sacred places, St. Peter’s, in Rome.  What began as the secret burial place of Peter became a shrine, then a basilica, built by the Emperor Constantine in 326.  But that wasn’t big enough so in 1506 Julius II had it torn down and hired Michelangelo, among others, to build a bigger and better one, complete with markings on the floor to show how much bigger they are than others, a symbolism I won’t go into. 

A huge irony, I might add, given this text. “No Peter, don’t build anything, because after you’re gone somebody will build the biggest church of all, as it turns out, not for us, but for you.”

What the voice said was not, “I second the motion to build,” but “This is my son, LISTEN to him.”  It was, I think, good advice not only for them, but for the Church and for Christians through all ages and circumstances. “Listen to Him.”

        As it is asked in our time, “WWJD (What would Jesus do?)” 

        There are some things about which Jesus spoke, about which he is clear about what he would do:  war, for example, or loving your neighbor, despite who that neighbor might be, or the necessity of love and forgiveness. 

But there are other situations in which we have no idea what Jesus would do, because he never addressed nor likely even thought about such things, including some very controversial things addressed vociferously by Christians, like abortion or birth control or stem cell technology or even homosexuality, not to mention what we should think about the stimulus bill. In such situations, since we have no idea what Jesus would do, what we often do is project upon Jesus what we would do. As the German philosopher Frederick Nietzsche was supposed to have once said, “If Jesus had lived to be as old as I am, he would believe what I believe.”

In such situations where we have no idea what Jesus would do, what we must do – while looking to Jesus – is to use the minds God gave us, educate ourselves, and make the best decision possible on the basis of the information and resources available.  That’s what we asking you to do today.

        I won’t presume to tell you WWJD about the Log Cabin. For a man who didn’t own a home or set up a school or even write a book, I’m not sure Jesus would have cared one way or the other; except in regard to whether it either helps or hinders his favorite cause, which was ushering in and making real the Kingdom of God in people’s lives. And, I do believe, either option we choose could equally serve this purpose.

It is a difficult decision. Personally, I can see advantages either way.  As I walk by the Log Cabin each day, I alternate.  (M-W-F renovate, T-Th-Sa remove; on Sundays, the day of rest, I try not to think about it.) 

I can see the truth in the arguments of those who say the Log Cabin is distinctive, a place of character and history, not only the birthplace of our congregation, but its image in the community for many years. If it can be renovated, and it appears, from the research of the PTF, that it could, it would remain a notable alternative to the blandness of much affordable modern construction. I could see a renovated, accessible, and functional log cabin serving as a “mountaintop” place, a place for retreat and inspiration, not just for our congregation but for those outside our congregation.

On the other hand, I can also see the arguments of those who believe that the Log Cabin represents the past, not the future, that in its present state it is a money-pit, and that the best use of our limited congregational resources might be to choose not to preserve it, but replace it with a modern building that is modern, maintainable, accessible, and functional.

And of course, the biggest question of all is, can we afford either option?  Well, in regard to this, I have good news and bad news.  The good news is that, “Yes, we have the cash to what we choose!  ”The bad news is, “It’s still in your pockets!” 

        I can’t give you an easy answer, but what I know from this text is that when they listened to Jesus, there was no dispute about whether they should stay or go, or whether some would stay and some would go off to find their own mountain; what I know is that when they listened to Jesus they saw only him, and were immediately summoned by him back down the mountain to the masses of people in need. 

        Church consultant Bill Easum, in his book, Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First, puts it in this enlightening way: “It’s not about me, it’s not about you; it’s all about the mission.”

        Brothers and sisters, today as we make our decision, let’s keep this before us. Ultimately, it’s not about me, it’s not about you, it’s all about the mission of our church, Central United Methodist Church, as we follow Christ and serve others.  In your prayerful and considered judgment, which of these options before us would best facilitate that? Which of these would you most conscientiously out your money into?

        Whatever our decision, I call upon you to do what I pledge to do, which is to support our congregation – and the decision we make today – with my prayers, my presence, my gifts, my service, and my witness.

        Because even from here on the mountaintop, especially in these desperate times, we can hear the cry of the masses down in the valley, the cry of those in need.  It is to them we are called, and to them we must go.  Amen.

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