With awareness comes transformation, and transformation is on the horizon. For the last few weeks of Epiphany, we’ve been reading about change… at Jesus’ baptism, he is called the Beloved and is re-membered, when Jesus goes out into the wilderness and returns, he is filled with the holy spirit and claims proclaims his mission, and now on the mountain top, he is again, changed. All of these events in the life of Jesus are ultimately pointing the way to Jerusalem, where he will undergo suffering and death, only to be transformed again in the resurrection.
No one likes change. We don’t like to be in a state of discomfort or unknowing. Sometimes in the church (and in our lives) complacency is easier than change. And when we become too comfortable in our complacency, then any kind of change seems dramatic and scary. But change is necessary and important to not only personal, but institutional growth. Think of a child perhaps. While as infants we coddle and make silly noises, we know that it won’t be like this forever. The child will grow up, they will learn to tie their own shoes, ride a bike, drive a car, experience romantic love, leave the home, and start their own adult life. There is change in this process…some of it welcome and some of it not. But if the parents of the child try to stop this change, they ultimately stop the growth and maturation process. And no one wants that. So why is it that when we talk about change in our churches or in our social institutions we all get nervous and filled with anxiety? Is it because we don’t know how to express our grief over what we might lose as a result of change? Is it because we might somehow destroy or defame our “traditions”? Is it because change is ambiguous and sometimes uncomfortable? I don’t know.
The story from Exodus for this Sunday (34:29-25) is about change. Here we have Moses who has come face to face with God (or at least as close as one can to God), and now he returns to the people to share with them what God has taught him. The text tells us that when the people saw him, “the skin of his face was shining”. In the experience with God, Moses is changed. He is transformed. And this transformation not only allows him to continue his teaching with those early Israelites, but it also serves as an invitation to continue to be in the presence of and in relationship with God.
In the Gospel (Luke 9:28-36), Jesus takes Peter, James & John up to the mountain top. And there in that moment Jesus is transformed and is joined by Elijah and Moses. While Peter thinks that it’s appropriate to build tents for the three, what we realize is that he’s trying to make this experience last. Tents would confine the Law, the Prophets, and the Fulfillment in such a way as to make them subject to time and place. Again, human constructions. Instead, God breaks in and says “listen to him”. Up to this point in Luke, Jesus has been experiencing various transformations as he sets his sights on Jerusalem to fulfill his ministry. Jesus’ death and resurrection will mean change. And change implies that there will be loss, fear, ambiguity and vulnerability.
But see, we know the “end” of the story and the disciples don’t. We have the ability to say, “well of course Jesus had to die and be resurrected…it was how the Kingdom was going to happen…it was a necessary change”. But we’re not in the shoes of the original disciples. They didn’t understand how the death and resurrection of Jesus would change the world. They didn’t understand how it would empower them for ministry, to become the prophetic leaders, to heal, preach and teach. They didn’t understand how necessary change was to their mission.
And sometimes we don’t either. The church needs change in order to continue in the role of prophet, preacher, teacher and healer. For those of you who were part of the church before the ordination of women in 1978, maybe you didn’t think there was anything wrong with all male clergy. But I stand here today, because others before me were willing to risk the change of allowing women at the altar as representation of the full body of Christ. Even in our more recent history with the consecrations of Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool, there were those who were resistant to change and those willing to take a risk. Bishop Robinson’s election and consecration have since allowed the door to be open and the conversation begun about our gay brothers and sisters. These changes have not been easy by any means, but they have allowed us to grow in our mission and ministry, and I believe more changes lie ahead.
So what do those early Israelites, Moses and the disciples do after these incredible moments? They engage in their ministries. They don’t stand around looking up to heaven, or hang out on top the mountain. They continue on. Where exactly their journey takes them is unknown at the moment. They have been changed.
And what are we to do when we’ve experienced God’s revelation and been challenged to make changes? What do we do when we’ve come face to face with God? Do we hide under a veil or stay on the mountain, or do we engage in the relationship with God and do our ministry? My hope is that we continue our journeys into unknown places, not always having the answers; that we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and engage and embrace the transformation.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.