WORSHIP THIS WEEK: “Increase our faith!” That’s the cry of the disciples in this week’s gospel – and perhaps our cry too. Where might we plant small seeds that God can grow into something beautiful? Join us this Sunday, October 2, at 10:00, in person or via livestream here: https://youtu.be/P916MfOl2c8.
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February 27, 2022
There’s a Catholic church not far from my house, and near it there is a statue of Mary, which is not a surprise, obviously. There’s also a smaller statue of a young woman kneeling before Mary as if in prayer. I’ve walked by these two statues countless times – Mary looking up toward heaven, hands together, and the other young woman, kneeling, her hands in a gesture of supplication. But this week I noticed that the younger woman’s fingers had broken off. From a few steps away it made her hand look like it was balled in a fist. She looked like she was ready to throw a punch. A good left hook.
I hate that the statue has been desecrated in this way, but I was struck by how these two statues now captured how I have felt this week. Part of me has wanted to pray without ceasing about the state of the world. And another part of me has wanted to throw some punches.
I’m not usually a person who wants to throw punches. But sometimes when our hearts are some combination of broken and angry, it feels like punching something would help, even if it’s only a pillow.
And though it’s a really strange story, I want transfiguration. I want to be a bright and shiny kind of Christian who knows exactly what to do and exactly what to say in response to whatever happens, including the ugliest parts of humanity. But a lot of the time I feel more like the disciples who got left behind in the valley to contend with all of the stuff that people were bringing them. All of their own stuff too – including their feelings of inadequacy about how to handle things like a child possessed by an evil spirit. What do you do when a demon dashes a little boy to the ground? If you are a parent or a neighbor or even a friend of Jesus, you feel pretty helpless sometimes.
What do we do in a world where a power-hungry, autocratic ruler invades a country and threatens the lives of millions of innocent people? We watch news reports of bombs raining down and people huddled in basements, of civilians being armed and radioactive dust being stirred up. That feels pretty helpless too. And then, closer to home, there are laws being passed that directly harm LGBTQ+ children – these precious, beloved children of God, who are being told that they don’t matter, that they shouldn’t exist, that they can’t have the health care that they need and deserve.
I often wonder in this Transfiguration story what conversations happened up there on the mountain. We don’t hear much about that, but I sure would love to know what Moses had to say. After all, he knows something about what it’s like to stand up to a power-hungry, autocratic ruler who wants to own people rather than letting them be free. Moses knows that standing up to any Pharaoh’s power has a cost – in his case a cost that comes in the form of ten different plagues and all kinds of death. But that escape – that exodus – leads to freedom for God’s people. An imperfect, messy freedom, but freedom nonetheless.
Exodus literally means “the road out.” A departure. In verse 31 of today’s gospel we get our one hint at what Moses and Elijah discuss with Jesus. Did you catch it? They discuss his departure, which Jesus was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. The next time Jesus is on a mountain, things won’t be at all shiny. He will be hanging on a cross, giving his life rather than giving in to the reigning powers and their oppression. Giving his life to make a way for us out of death and despair.
But before that departure, first Jesus has to depart from the mountaintop. He comes back down to the valley, where he finds a child writhing on the ground and a bunch of people with no idea what to do. Jesus comes down off that mountain and right into the mess of the world, which did not magically disappear while he was having his bright and shiny moment.
That’s what Jesus does for us too. He does not stay far removed from the realities of our lives, shining from afar. He comes to be with us in all of our mess, including the messes of our own making.
Jesus is there in the chaos of our own political and personal turmoil. Jesus is there with LGBTQ kids and their families, whispering in their ears: “You are loved. You are holy.” Jesus is there with Ukranian families huddled in bunkers, tucking their kids in at night in darkened subway cars. More than 80 babies were born in bomb shelters in Kyiv over two nights, including baby Mia. Jesus is with Mia.
What, then, as followers of Jesus, shall we do in these times when it’s easy to feel helpless? As tempting as it is, throwing punches is not the answer.
First, we keep learning. I will be the first to admit that I know very little about Ukraine and its history and the history of that region. But I’m learning more, trying to sort out which sources of information can be trusted. For a while now I have been on a learning journey to understand better the lives of transgender and non-binary kids. I’m not an expert, but I’m happy to be in conversation with you if you are learning too and have some questions.
We keep learning, and we make clear in what we do and what we say that we stand, as Jesus did, with those who are most vulnerable to violence.
We support organizations like Lutheran World Relief, which provides vital care to people whose lives have been upended by war and other forms of violence.
We help our own families process what is happening in the world. We attend to the needs of our kids, try to answer their questions, hold them close.
And we pray. The whole story of the Transfiguration happens in the context of prayer. Jesus takes some friends up that mountain to pray. It’s while Jesus is praying that the bright, dazzling light happens. Prayer and transformation are inextricably linked in this story. Prayers are not magic spells, but they keep us focused on the source of our hope and the ground of our being. And when we cannot find the words, Jesus has given us some. This morning I’m going to lean extra hard into the line “thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
It’s often the poets who have the best prayers, and this morning I want to share one by Ann Weems, titled “I No Longer Pray for Peace.” Let us pray:
On the edge of war, one foot already in,
I no longer pray for peace:
I pray for miracles.
I pray that stone hearts will turn
and evil intentions will turn
and all the soldiers already deployed
will be snatched out of harm’s way,
and the whole world will be
astounded onto its knees.
I pray that all the “God talk”
will take bones,
and stand up and shed
its cloak of faithlessness,
and walk again in its powerful truth.
I pray that the whole world might
sit down together and share
its bread and its wine.
Some say there is no hope,
but then I’ve always applauded the holy fools
who never seem to give up on
the scandalousness of our faith:
that we are loved by God……
that we can truly love one another.
I no longer pray for peace:
I pray for miracles.
S.D.G. – The Rev. Dr. Christa M. Compton, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Chatham, NJ
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