Wednesday, December 18, at 7:30 pm
We are all carrying something that feels heavy. Even in a festive season like the time leading up to Christmas, we carry the weight of grief or worry or fear. Join us for a special worship service the week before Christmas that will provide a space of hope and healing for anyone who is grieving the death of a loved one, trying to make sense of a difficult relationship, or struggling to stay spiritually grounded in our crazy world. The service will include prayers, time for reflection, and music, including portions of the beautiful Holden Evening Prayer setting. There will be an optional opportunity for individual prayer and anointing with Pastor Christa at the end of the service.
5:00 pm – Worship with Youth Ensemble and Kids’ Choir
10:00 pm – Candlelight Service with Adult Choir and Violin
“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.” Mark 9:2b-4
At the beginning of the week the light bulb went out in my refrigerator. To be honest, I’d forgotten that my refrigerator had a light bulb, but I became keenly aware of it once it wasn’t working anymore. My refrigerator is positioned so that most of the light in the room is blocked from shining into it. So until I installed a replacement bulb, I either fumbled for a flashlight or risked grabbing some mustard for my toast.
It’s a small thing, that light bulb. But I had taken its light completely for granted. I gave it not one bit of thought. I just expected the light to be there always.
I wonder sometimes if that’s why we have some of the weirdest stories in the Bible, stories like today’s account of what we call the Transfiguration. To make us aware of things we take for granted about Jesus.
I am usually drawn to the stories that depict the humanity of Jesus. Let’s face it. That’s one of many reasons we love the Christmas story. We like to imagine Jesus as a baby, gurgling and waving his fat little baby arms and even crying. Crying is what human babies do. I love the stories of Jesus eating with people because it’s one of my own favorite pastimes – to gather around a table of good food with folks whose company I enjoy. I’m not great with boats, but I love hearing about Jesus hanging out with his disciples out on the water. I even like the stories where Jesus gets angry, flips some tables over in the temple. If Jesus can get that angry, then he really must be one of us.
But too often I take the divinity of Jesus for granted. It’s there in all the stories we’ve heard throughout the Epiphany season, the healings and the exorcisms and the bringing of Simon’s mother-in-law back from the brink of death. Jesus has this incredible power, but I can breeze right past it without being fully in awe of what he’s doing.
So when Mark’s gospel leads us up a mountain with Jesus and Peter and James and John, I’d be perfectly content for it to be a normal day of hiking to get a few minutes of peace and quiet after another round of healing people and feeding people. But of course there’s nothing normal about this particular trip. As soon as they reach the top of that mountain, Jesus is transfigured – in the Greek, he experiences a metamorphosis – a complete transformation. His clothes are dazzling white, brighter than anything that your ordinary washing machine could achieve.
And as if that weren’t strange enough, Jesus is also standing there having a chat with two of the biggest figures in the Hebrew scriptures – Moses and Elijah.
And as if THAT weren’t strange enough, we hear a voice from the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Three times in the Gospel of Mark there is a voice that reminds us that Jesus is the Son of God. We heard the voice from heaven when Jesus was baptized: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
At the end of his life, as Jesus breathes his final breath hanging on the cross, a Roman soldier will say, “‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’*
And in the middle…on this mountain…we hear it too. This is my Son. Listen to him.
It’s one of the most profound aspects of who Jesus is. The Son of God. And yet we so easily take it for granted. Something incredible is happening up on that mountain, full of enough mystery and blinding light to leave us, like the disciples, feeling terrified. But most of the time we aren’t terrified. We aren’t even a tiny bit scared. On a daily basis I’m not sure we give Jesus enough thought to let ourselves be terrified.
I’m not saying that Jesus wants us to be scared of him – or that terror is a necessary condition for faith. I am convinced, though, that we would be surprised at what would happen if we allowed ourselves to be amazed by this Jesus, this Son of God, this shining light.
Jesus stands up there on the mountain as part of God’s story of salvation. That’s why Moses and Elijah are there too – to remind us that the story is much bigger than we remember most of the time. And Jesus is transfigured there, transformed, “metamorphosed,” if you will, so that we do not take for granted the transformation that he can bring about – on that mountaintop and in our own lives.
Remember that Jesus does not come down off the mountain to wild acclamation. He returns to all the stuff of his ordinary life. There’s a boy with an unclean spirit that needs to be cast out. The disciples will squabble about who is the greatest among them. There are other children in need of attention.
Jesus comes down off that mountain to begin his journey to the cross. Jesus comes off the mountain and runs headlong into the darkness of his own death. And because he does that, we are given the gift of transformation too.
When we take the power of Jesus for granted, we miss opportunities to share it. When we assume that his light will shine when it’s convenient for us but otherwise ignore it, we give up on the possibility that he can transform our lives and the lives of others. When we withhold our own light, it usually means we’ve forgotten where our light comes from in the first place.
We’re about to enter into the season of Lent, when we spend forty days remembering that Jesus makes possible new beginnings, new directions, new pathways. Having been claimed by this Son of God, having been bought by his life and death and resurrection, our lives do not stay the same. Our lives can shine with a holy light, not because we somehow have it all together, but because we reflect the light that Jesus carried off that mountain and into the world.
Among my favorite Super Bowl commercials this year were the ones for Tide.[i] We’d see an image that suggested another kind of ad – a celebrity driving a car, a Clydesdale horse, people playing tennis. We’d soon realize, however, that while they had led us to believe it was an ad for beer or arthritis medication or insurance, the commercials were all, in fact, about Tide detergent. All of them pointed to the brightly gleaming clothes in the ad. There was one after another after another of these ads, so that eventually we went into every commercial expecting it to be about Tide.
Now I’m not suggesting that living our faith is like a big advertising campaign, but I wonder what would happen if every aspect of our lives in some way pointed to the Jesus we claim to follow. What if we reflected the light of Christ wherever we are – home, school, work, gym, car, grocery store? What if people came to expect that all of our identities – parent, friend, colleague, citizen – were rooted in our identity as Christians?
I’m willing to bet that something – or someone – would be transformed. Including ourselves. Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
“And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me and I will make you fish for people.’ And immediately they left their nets and followed him.’” Mark 1: 17-18
I am not an impulsive decision maker. I tend to agonize over decisions. Sometimes it feels like I need a multi-level algorithm just to buy a pair of socks. Black or blue? Solid or stripes? Wool or Cotton? Ankle-length or knee-high? It’s silly, really.
For decisions that are far more important than a pair of socks, like making a career change or moving to New Jersey, I’ll deliberate in several ways. I pray about it. I consult with people I trust. I make a list of pros and cons for the different options. I pray some more. I try to figure out what my gut is telling me. And it seems to work. All of the big leaps of faith in my life have opened the way to new adventures and relationships that have profoundly shaped my life – not without some struggle along the way, but I have no regrets about the big decisions.
Every time I hear this story of how Jesus calls Simon, Andrew, James, and John to follow him, it absolutely knocks me over. They follow him immediately. Immediately. They drop their fishing nets and hit the road. We don’t hear anything about packing up their belongings or saying goodbye to loved ones or staring wistfully over their shoulders as they walk off with Jesus into the sunset. Jesus says, “Follow me,” and off they go.
It’s true that most things happen quickly in the gospel of Mark. By my count the word “immediately” appears 28 times throughout Mark, two of them in today’s passage. It seems to underscore the haste with which these four men change their majors from fishing to discipleship.
But come on. Deciding to leave your home, your family, your livelihood in a split second? I can’t imagine it.
That’s the thing about this story. It’s tempting to look at the rapid response to Jesus’ call as a kind of spiritual heroics – to think, “These guys were so faithful, so brave, so committed that they immediately set off on this new path without hesitation.” Maybe they deserve some credit, but we miss something when we make it solely about what those four guys did.
The first thing we miss is the role of Jesus. His voice is powerful. As we keep reading, we learn that Jesus rebukes an unclean spirit and brings it out of a man with just a sentence. He heals Simon’s mother-in-law, cures many other sick people, and chases off more demons. He cleanses a leper. He tells a paralytic to stand up and walk. He does it all with very few words.
When Jesus speaks with a command – “Follow me” – it doesn’t sound optional. So rather than make the disciples into superheroes, we should give credit to the power of the One who summons them. Jesus is where the call originates. He gives them the ability to listen and obey.[i]
Besides, as we know, the disciples were not perfect. There will be times throughout Mark’s gospel when they will be confused, stubborn, and downright difficult. In the end, as Jesus is being led to his death, these guys who seemed so eager to put down their fishing nets and follow him will run into the darkest shadows and hide out. In a crucial moment they will not defend their friend and teacher. They will not even admit that they know him. It’s right there in Chapter 14: “All of them deserted him and fled” (14:50).
To be called to follow Jesus does not mean that we will do so perfectly. That’s important to remember as we consider what Jesus is calling each of us to do and to be in the world. Too often in the church we speak of “being called” too narrowly, limiting it to discussions of those who are called to public ministry in official roles like pastors or deacons.
The language we sometimes use is vocation, from the Latin vocatio, which means “calling” – a special role to which we are summoned and by which we contribute to the world.[ii]
Every person is called. Each and every one of you. And furthermore, each and every one of you is called to multiple vocations – as you work, as you volunteer, as you go to school, as you play on a team. You are called as a family member, a friend, a leader, a colleague. We have so many callings that balancing our vocations can often feel overwhelming. We worry that work is keeping us from being the best parent. Or that being engaged with our families keeps us from volunteering more. Or that working hard on algebra keeps us from improving our hockey game. I find that when I’m feeling the most guilty about juggling vocations, it’s usually because I’m trying to rely on my own energy and motivation rather than leaning on the One who gave me these vocations in the first place – the One who says “Follow me” every day.
The person in today’s gospel who usually gets overlooked is Zebedee. This week I’ve thought a lot about the ways Zebedee was called. He was called to be a fisherman. Maybe he learned how to fish from his own father. Maybe his parents wanted him to be something else entirely, but he felt the call of the sea and loved the idea of hauling in the daily catch and working until his hands were calloused.
Zebedee was also called to be a business owner. We hear that he has hired men, so part of faithfully living out his vocation as an employer would be to treat those workers with dignity, pay them a fair wage, and mentor them in the trade he knew so well.
And Zebedee was called to be a parent. We don’t have any idea what kind of father he was, but I like to imagine that his guidance as he raised his sons prepared them to be people who could set out into the world with Jesus. It would have been much better for Zebedee if his sons had stayed home and continued the family business, but Jesus has other ideas. Zebedee, like every parent, had to let his kids follow their own path.
You may find it strange to think of your daily roles and responsibilities as vocations, but they are. They are holy work, blessed by the one whose voice is calling you to follow him. So follow him. Follow his commitment to doing all things in love. Follow his way of finding the people who need the most help. Follow his path of forgiveness – which includes forgiving yourself when you feel lousy at your vocations.
Writer Debie Thomas observes:
We don’t follow Jesus in the abstract. We don’t heed his call “in general,” as if Christianity comes down to nothing more than attending church or being a nice person. If we’re going to follow him at all, we’ll have to do it in the highly specific particulars of the lives, communities, cultures, families, and vocations we find ourselves in. We’ll have to trust that God prizes our intellects, our muscle memories, our backgrounds, our educations, our skills, and that [God] will multiply, shape, and bring to fruition everything we offer up…in faith from the daily stuff of our lives.[iii]
The daily stuff of our lives, however messy or imperfect it might be. That’s where faith matters most.
Listen. Do you hear it? It’s the voice of our Savior saying “Follow me.” Amen.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
[i] I found this essay by Debie Thomas helpful: https://www.journeywithjesus.net/lectionary-essays/current-essay?id=1623
[iii] From Debie Thomas’ essay cited above.