Transfiguration B, February 15, 2015

February 16, 2015

Up and Down With Jesus
Mark 9:2-9

9:2 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, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 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.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 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.

Six days ago, Bishop Mueller took Richard and Mark and Mike and Susan and Bud on a journey up to Mount Eagle, where they had conversation about all the United Methodist churches and pastors in Arkansas. I don’t know if any mysterious transfigurations occurred or voices from clouds were heard, but I can testify that it had an effect on me that was very similar to what happened to Peter and James and John. I have been struck by the need to listen to Jesus.

I’m not saying I’m doing a good job of staying focused on the words of Jesus, but this annual custom of the Bishop gathering to confer with all the District Superintendents about pastoral appointments often causes thoughts to arise and conversations to occur that are no more useful than the words Peter blurted out about building three booths to honor Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. I haven’t had such a vision nor have I heard a voice coming from a cloud telling me to listen to Jesus, but I did hear a story on the radio last week that caused me to get quiet and remember what Jesus taught.

I think I’ve mentioned before that this annual institutional process of matching pastors with churches doesn’t really bring out the best in everyone. Maybe it ramps up the prayer life of a few people, but I would want to examine the content of those prayers before I would declare that to be a purely positive consequence. I dare say our pastor appointment system is one of the oddest personnel deployment systems at work in our country. I think if you wanted to design a system that would create as much anxiety, frustration, insecurity, inequality, and jealousy as possible you might well find a blueprint in the way that United Methodist Ministers are appointed to churches in Arkansas. I’m not saying that it doesn’t have some advantages over other denominational systems, and it might even have some strengths, but in my opinion it’s a terribly unsettling creature.

With this being the opening week of the official appointment making season I’ve been feeling a little worked up about it all. I’m sure you are surprised to hear me say that my mind occasionally wanders away from the words of Jesus, but sometimes it happens. I found myself thinking about some what if situations. What if the Bishop decides to do this! What if he decides to do that! I can generate some righteous indignation pretty quickly when I start thinking about what may or may not happen. This appointment process can cause me to lose focus on Jesus every now and then.

Honestly, my mind wasn’t in a very good place as I was driving home last Tuesday afternoon. I was agonizing over some of those what ifs, but my mind was suddenly silenced by this story that I heard on the radio. It was on that NPR show called Here and Now, and it brought to my attention the actual economic hardship that the recent snowstorm in New England has placed on the working poor.

When I think of a huge snowstorm I’m inclined to sort of romanticize the situation. Salaried people like myself tend to equate transportation shut-down with unplanned vacation days, but that isn’t how it feels to the working poor. For those who only get paid for the hours they work – this snowstorm has been a nightmare. Its one form of a nightmare for those whose jobs are shut down by the snow, and it’s another type of nightmare for those who have jobs that require them to show up regardless of the weather. One of the terrible ironies of our economy is that many of the people who are on the lowest end of the pay scale have the most essential jobs.

White collar workers can often stay home or work from home during weather-related disasters, but food-service workers and personal care attendants have to show up if they want to keep their jobs and pay their rent. Buses can’t stay on their schedule, but workers have to show up on time. For many, the nightmare is enhanced by their need to find childcare for their children who are out of school while the parents spend extra time getting to and from work.

The woman being interviewed on this show told this story about how she passed a woman with a sleeping toddler waiting at a bus stop as she was driving home from work at one in the morning. The woman driving the car stopped and picked up the woman and her child and gave them a ride to the shelter where they lived. This woman worked in food-service at a prestigious university, and after getting off work she had picked up her daughter from the person who had been keeping her that day, and she had been riding and waiting on buses for hours.

It was a heartbreaking story, but I was glad to hear it. That voice from the snowstorm redirected my thinking. It silenced my peer rivalry and my speculative thinking for a moment and it reminded me of my good fortune. I and my family will be fine – regardless of what the Bishop decides to do. You and this church will be fine regardless of what may transpire – as long as we all can remember to listen to Jesus. I don’t meant to ramp up appointment season drama for you, but the truth is that change is always a possibility in the United Methodist Church. I assure you I don’t know if anything’s going to change in regard to the pastoral leadership of this church, but it could happen, and I think I hear Jesus saying it will be ok if it does.

I don’t always hear Jesus well – in fact I don’t always try to listen for what Jesus taught, but I’m reminded that as Christians, this is what we are all called to do. We need to be reminded to listen to Jesus because it’s easy to lose focus on his words and to allow other messages to fill our minds with anxiety, jealousy, fear, and distrust. Fortunately we are in good company when it comes to having a hard time keeping our minds focused on the words of Jesus. Simon Peter, himself, had a hard time listening to Jesus.

There on the mountain, Peter had started talking when he needed to be listening. And six days earlier Jesus had rebuked Peter for not listening to what he was saying – that was right after Peter had recognized and announced that Jesus was the messiah. Peter could get it – and then he could lose it. And get it again, and lose it again.

I’m so familiar with this holy roller-coaster. I go up and down on it all the time. I do it every week – several times a week. As a preacher, I find myself needing to think about the things Jesus said and did and what he wanted us to see and to do, and I try hard to figure out how to get you to see what I’m thinking Jesus would want us to understand. I get real focused on Jesus almost every week – for a little while. I don’t know if I’m able to communicate what I hear Jesus saying, but on some level I try to listen to something Jesus said every week, and sometimes I get it. I get it – and then I lose it.

I can turn around quicker than Peter. I can go from loving Jesus and wanting to follow him to strategizing about how I can get what I think I need to make my life a bit more comfortable or interesting without breaking my stride. It’s an amazing quality that I share with Peter. Maybe you do too.

It’s easy for me to get confused about what’s most important, and I’m so grateful to the people who remind me of what’s really important. It’s so easy to get focused on what we think we need and what we want to happen, and what Jesus talked about more than anything else is the need for us to live with compassion for others and the importance of reaching out to those who are in actual need right now.

It’s interesting to me that the name of the radio show that got my attention is: Here and Now. Jesus never used those particular words, but I think those words resonate well with his words. Jesus didn’t want us to focus on what might happen in the future. I think Jesus wanted us to be alive right now and to be sensitive to what’s happening right now.

I’m not sure how the words of Jesus fit in with our appointment making system. I don’t doubt that the Bishop and the cabinet are doing their best to place people wisely and appropriately, but the truth is that there’s so much money involved in this preacher appointment business it’s probably pretty hard for them to keep the words of Jesus front and center. Money screams loudly. Jesus speaks quietly. I know it’s hard for me to remain unconscious of the figures, but Jesus doesn’t want us to look for the most financially lucrative and prestigious positions in order to find true life.

Listening to Jesus is hard work. In fact it’s probably impossible for us to stay focused on his words, and I’m so grateful for the ways in which my life gets interrupted by the words of Jesus. I’m sure I’m not finished getting worked up about what may or may not happen within our Arkansas United Methodist family, but hearing that story of the woman and her 3 year-old daughter who are struggling every day to stay warm and fed and housed provided me with some much-needed spiritual perspective.

Peter went up and down with Jesus a number of times, and I’m guessing we are all destined to do the same, but I also hope we can learn a little something along the way. God provided a voice from a cloud that got Peter’s attention, and God continues to provide us with stories and experiences that enable us to see what’s truly important.
Thanks be to God for providing us with the grace to occasionally get it! Amen.


One Response to “Transfiguration B, February 15, 2015”

  1. Bill Waddell Says:


    Once again, you have captured the essence of our faith dilemma: because we do not have the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5), we fret over more temporal things and often miss the eternal joy in the here and now. And we also fail to give an effective witness to others of what it looks like to truly be a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), which is perhaps our semblance of transfiguration. I am grateful for your insight that challenges and inspires.


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