Shifting Gears - from past to future
Matthew 17:1-9
February 10, 2002

Every year, just before Lent, we hear the story of what is called the Transfiguration of Jesus. We hear about Jesus meeting with Moses and Elijah to remember the trials of leading people with their minds and hearts set elsewhere than on GOD. As they talk they get ready for Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and crucifixion.

We are told about Jesus' face, like Moses' before him, shining brightly. Jesus' very clothes seem to shine. An interior light bathes the scene. God speaks from the clouds about delight.

This is grand stuff. No wonder the disciples offer to build tents or memorials or temples to honor the big three of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus.

Those of you who can remember back to Christmas-time may remember Mary being presented with pretty amazing stuff and the report was not that she wanted to build memorials but that she treasured those things in her heart.

This morning I address the important shift between reacting, like the disciples, and treasuring, like Mary. This difference is a transformational difference in us.

We get so caught up in exciting moments that we forget to reflect on what's really important and live into a future built on the best of our past. This is true whether we look at big events like September 11 or seemingly big events like the Super Bowl or truly huge events like the birth of a child.

As we enter Lent we know that our main order of business is two-fold. It is personal as we meet weekly to practice a prayer form to be used in our homes. It is congregational as we meet weekly to study and restate St. Luke's Mission Statement.

When we are able to blend together the personal work and the congregational work in a prayerful and intentional way, we, too, will find ourselves transformed.

The story of transformation is not just for Jesus, but it is for you and for me and for us together.

Listen to some important pieces of our past because we will be building upon these treasures.

In 1885 our presiding elder said, "La Crosse's Second Church (now St. Luke's) is quite different from its mother. Its field is different, so also is its membership and its management ... the Second Church has a grand work to do; an immense field to cultivate."

Things have changed since then.

Here's a quick quiz about our neighborhood, our field to cultivate, from Percept, our United Methodist source for people statistics.

What is the population of the Northside and French Island? (14,810)

Over the next five years how will this change? (-1.3% and put us below 14,000)

What is the average annual household income? ($43,503 versus a national average of $61,904)

How many of our households have no church involvement? (34% or 5,035 households, think about the area from Gillette Street down to Monitor - that's a lot of families)

What do we know about what people look for in a church? (Nationally they are looking for recreation/ entertainment. In this area of low income and low education they are looking for community and social services.)

What do we know about people's readiness for a church that meets their needs? (In our area which focuses on meeting basic needs the receptivity is somewhat higher than the national average. If we provide community, they will come.)

What do we know about finances? (We know that we don't go out recruiting people to follow Jesus all the way to GOD because it is a paying proposition. This area gives less to churches than is done nationally. We cultivate our field simply because is it where GOD has placed us.)

Back in 1885 we heard that they were different because of the people in their neighborhood and who was in the congregation.

Our mission statement, our transfiguration, will grow out of our neighborhood realities. I hope you will be with us after church this morning and on Wednesdays to help us sharpen the transfiguration of St. Luke's.

Two more quick statements from our past:

In 1956 we said, "The first aim of the church ... is ... to work together for the building of God's kingdom here and to the ends of the earth."

What are the characteristics we need to focus on which will clarify the "kingdom of God" for ourselves and others and move us toward its completion? We will look at this and make some decisions by the end of Lent. We pray Easter will find us with a new picture of transfiguration as dramatic as resurrection.

In 1981, at our 125th Anniversary, we said, "St. Luke's United Methodist Church is not a building or a particular pastor. The church is the people who are part of the congregation. Pastors are appointed and they come and go. The people remain.

"We have to be shepherded and we have to be challenged. Sometimes we have to be chided or scolded, but we are the ground breakers.

"Our membership changes. There are those in our congregation who can trace their families back to the beginning of Methodism in La Crosse. But there is the family who just transferred to our church from another. Or there is also the person who recently joined our church on Profession of Faith. These newcomers bring new ideas and new challenges with them. They are a very important part of our membership. We depend on them, both now and in the ground breaking that will be done in the next 25 years.

"The people of St. Luke's Church have broken ground and risen to any number of challenges in the last 25 years. Who knows what the challenges from 1981 to 2006 may be? Whatever they are, the people who are the congregation of St. Luke's United Methodist Church and make it what it is today and those we welcome in the decades ahead will determine what the challenges are and how we will meet them."

Can you hear the possibility of transfiguration in our congregation as we talk this day with our past, as Jesus talked with Moses and Elijah?

Can you hear the possibility of transfiguration in our congregation as we prepare a new Mission Statement outlining our journey toward our Jerusalem and our humble offering of ourselves for others and the world?

Let us pray:

O GOD who called Jesus the "focus of your delight," help us to hear those words echoing from our past and drawing us into the future you promise to us. As we sense ourselves being renewed as focus of your delight, may we treasure this in our heart and use it attract others to your love. Amen.

Copyright 2002. Wesley White, Pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist Church. 1022 Caledonia Street, La Crosse, WI 54603.

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