I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
Luke 9: 28
Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
Change is good. You go first.
When I served at a church in New York, we decided to begin an evening service, a more informal worship experience designed for folks who’d been out of town for the weekend, a service where people could come casually, maybe straight from Central Park or the beach. We called it our “Come as you are” service. The slogan for our advertising for this service: “Wear your Sunday worst.”
The design process for the service took six months, an extended period of prayer, discernment and planning. We decided to do a test drive on one Sunday, October 10, launching the first service with great fanfare. It was quite different from the traditional morning worship. As one congregant noted: This is not your father’s Episcopal Church. We had a great crowd, but that first night, the service went on way too long. A lot needed to be tweaked.
In the week that followed, we made changes, implemented the following week, October 17. The service was shorter. A few things eliminated. Others done differently. I thought it went well. Much to my surprise, at the end of that second service, I was met by a few irate parishioners who said: “Why did you change it? That’s not how you did it last week?”
They might as well have been uttering those six most dreaded words: We’ve never done it that way. I realized how quickly human beings, especially Episcopal human beings, settle into tradition. We all want the security of a predictable and fixed experience. We struggle with change. One week was enough to establish immutable tradition. Does that surprise you?
Tomorrow we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, a mysterious story told in the first three Gospels. Jesus climbs the mountain with three buddies. The special effects start. Jesus is changed, transfigured in an amazing pyrotechnic display that includes cameo appearances from Moses and Elijah. It’s amazing and the disciples are bowled over, so much so that Peter, who tends to over-verbalize but who probably says what everyone else is thinking, tells Jesus: “I’ve got a great idea. Let’s fix this moment in time. Let’s make a visitor center here on top of the mountain, a place for you and Moses and Elijah to just stay put. We don’t want this to end.” Peter is looking at institutionalizing this moment, something some religious people sometimes do. Just occasionally.
Jesus will have none of it. He knows this powerful experience is not the destination. It is meant to equip him for what lies ahead, the journey toward Holy Week. In short order, they go down from the mountain.
I don’t want to come down too hard on Peter. He exhibits truth about all of us. We want things to stay the same. That presents challenges, since the Christian life is about growth, transformation, movement, change. And we all know how much we like change.
This week, I invite you to reflect on the story of the Transfiguration. Give thanks for your own spiritual experiences, your encounter with Jesus, however that has unfolded in your life. What have been your mountaintop experiences? How have they equipped you to move forward in your life, to grow? And then consider if there is some new thing unfolding in your life, your work, your neighborhood, your church, our nation? How are you resistant to change? How are you open to it? How can you and I be transformed as the reading from Romans in the column on the left suggests.
Think about where Jesus, where God, where the Holy Spirit might be calling you to grow, to learn, to change, maybe even be transfigured. And know that grace surrounds you and strengthens you as you navigate the growth opportunities ahead of you.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
Leading for Discipleship:
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