There are transfiguration moments in every relationship. There are first moments. I was fortunate enough to see both of our children born at home. That first moment of seeing is priceless. As they grew there were other moments along the way when they were seen in a new light - the first step, the first day at school, the first Father's Day gift, the first rebellion, the first announcement of engagement and then the first day of marriage. Each of these moments helped me see them in a new light.
In today's Bible reading we hear about a transfiguration of Jesus, a new way to see Jesus. The context is that Jesus has just asked the disciples how people identify him and how they are seeing him. They report that people see Jesus in many different ways. People on the street are reported as seeing Jesus as John the Baptist and Elijah and more. Peter leads the disciples in seeing Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One of GOD.
This positive view of Jesus is adjusted as Jesus goes on to talk about his death. Peter chastises Jesus for such negative talk, but Jesus says those famous words, "Get behind me Satan." Jesus would not be shamed into changing his living which he saw being in conflict with his cultural time, and every cultural time.
As Jesus goes up a mountain he takes three disciples along with him. There they see Jesus in a new light. Jesus is now more than simply Jesus of the moment. He is more than a good teacher and healer. Jesus is connected with all the past.
We see through the disciples eyes how Jesus is in conversation with and even holds within himself Moses and Elijah, two of the most important prophetic witnesses of the Jewish experience. Jesus is connected with the first Light when GOD said, "Let there be light." and they hear the affirmation Jesus heard at his baptism, "This is my beloved, listen to him."
Jesus brings to completion all history up to that time. No wonder the disciples were awed and responded by thinking the appropriate thing was to build temples there on the mountain to commemorate this transfiguration moment. Don't we all want to have a way to revisit our past high moments? We do genealogies, trips to our birthplace, setting up of monuments in cemeteries, and other acts to remember meaningful experiences. These tools have some helpfulness, but they also keep us trapped in that moment.
Jesus affirms that this has been a special time of seeing life from a new perspective, but that holding on to it is not going to be all that helpful. This experience was intended to help the disciples and us get a message of building on and moving on from our past. In a sense Jesus is not just reported as being a second image of Moses, but he carries Moses with him and is thus more than Moses.
So Jesus has the disciples sworn to secrecy about this event until after his resurrection. To talk about this special moment outside the context of death and resurrection would leave it simply as a physical shrine to a spiritual awakening. Jesus is more interested in moving ahead than in saying that any particular moment is the end of life. It would have been so easy to fall prey to a last temptation to settle for honor and a building in one's name and not to keep living into a better future, even if that future brought death on a cross. Every moment is one that can be transfigured. High moments like the one the disciples had need to be made even better by going on to more teaching and more healing and more calling a culture to reform. Difficult moments like our coming Lenten journey toward the cross and death need to be resurrected.
Jesus repeats that he is traveling to Jerusalem, toward his cross. This moment of transfiguration affirms the journey of life. From Creation's Light through Eve to the Prophets to Jesus to us. It affirms that this journey to us needs to have us invest in the next stage of the journey. We are called to move on to the challenge before us. For Jesus it was the cross that needed to be risked that he might find new life.
A key question for each one of us is what cross needs to be risked that we might find new life. Do we finally need to stand up for our self? Do we finally need to stand up for someone else? What habit has been holding us back that we finally need to put down? What repetitive behavior needs to be healed and changed?
A key question for Fifth Avenue is what cross needs to be risked by us that we might find new life. How do we invest in our Youth and Children's Ministries, beyond hiring a new director. Russ can't do it alone. Are we willing to put in the time and energy and resources to help him do the work that is needed in the lives of our Youth and Children and the Youth and Children of the community?
How do we look at our Sunday morning schedule so we don't simply get caught in convenience, but can see worship at Fifth Avenue in a new light?
How do we prepare for the future beyond this building? We have had additions before but if we are going to really look to the long-term life of our congregation there needs to be periodic reviews of bigger changes than additions. We may need to think beyond this box that contains so many wonderful memories to a new box that we will invest in like our ancestors more than a 150 years ago invested here for us. I invite you to read the bulletin insert about a new investment in Menasha.
How do we transfigure our giving patterns? How do we forgive and move forward in regard to recent moments of pain and hurt in our congregational leadership? How do we begin to see new possibilities of study to help us transform our minds? How do we recognize that we always need to be thankful for the past, to learn from it, and to then turn and invest in the future?
These are lofty questions and now it is time to come down the mountain, to come back to real life and step-by-step walk toward our resurrection as individuals and as a congregation by living through the risks of our particular cross. Resurrection never happens without significant change and so we rejoice that the Transfigured Jesus is walking with us and still encouraging us to take up our cross and carry it all the way to resurrection new life. Amen.
Your apportionment dollars at work:
The Family Church, Menasha
First United Methodist Church of Neenah-Menasha began a breakthrough planning process in January of 2001 to discern both how to regenerate First Church and to offer the good news of Jesus Christ to a new group of people. Thirty-five planners from First Church decided unanimously to start a new faith community designed for families with young children.
The Family Church held its first worship service on September 8, 2002 in the Community Room at Maplewood Middle School in Menasha. By mid-November the new congregation had outgrown that room and on December 15 moved into the school Commons. The service averaged seventy-six people from September 8 through December 29, and the trend is steady growth. New families show up for worship every Sunday.
The purpose of the Family Church is three-fold: to regenerate First Church; to generate a new church; to become a teaching church for the planting of new congregations. From the first day of planning, First Church leaders worked closely with Don Mendenhall, coordinator of congregational development, and have received start-up funds from the Fund for Discipleship through the board of Congregation and Parish Development. Superintendent Steve Polster helped to generate the new congregation by challenging all district churches to consider launching new faith communities. Most importantly, six surrounding United Methodist congregations have declared their affirmation and encouragement for the Family Church.
The vision came from the hearts of the First Church planners. And the demographic studies confirmed the focus on children. Focus groups with parents of young children shifted the emphasis from children with parents to families with young children. The focus groups indicated a number of desirable strategies for the style of worship as well. Continuing conversations with worshippers indicate what next steps to take including community service/mission and get-acquainted events. Every week Family Church leaders train newcomers in ministries such as room set-up, audio-visual, greeting, food and worship ministries.
The conference is providing staff time for encouragement and coaching, funding for a vital focus group process, a combination of Fund for Discipleship grant and New Faith Builders' Call, and consulting for a stewardship program. It's your apportionment dollars at work!
Congregational Development Coordinator
Wisconsin Conference UMC