Posted in Lent 2016, Spiritual Practices, Uncategorized

Feb 28: Third Sunday of Lent: Keeping Kosher, Keeping Community

 

Deuteronomy 14:3-21

A lot of friends of mine, even those in seminary, say that when reading the Bible,  they skip over the books of Numbers (because it’s about numbers…), Leviticus (because it’s got laws) and Deuteronomy (just more laws…). And during the time of Lent, we’re just supposed to focus on the Gospels, right? Because that’s about Jesus and his life, and the Old Testament (or Hebrew Bible) doesn’t have anything to do with Lent.

Well, sorry, kids, but I’m here to suggest you read Deuteronomy this week! And guess what else? I think it’s going to be interesting because we are reading about eating practices and food purity laws.

Here’s the thing: Deuteronomy is a really cool book because it helps us understand what the community of ancient Israel might have thought about itself. Deuteronomy was written during the 7th century BCE, right as Judea (another name for Israel) was recovering after a hundred years of Assyrian domination. After the Assyrians destroyed the temple in Jerusalem in 722 BCE, the Israelites were trying to figure out how they could live and honor their god YHWH in a world where their temple was destroyed. Therefore, when they were no longer able to worship their god YHWH in the temple like they had before, they turned to issues of behavior to distinguish themselves. Some of this behavior concerned what they ate, as recorded in Deuteronomy 14:3-21: they are prohibited from eating camels, hares, badgers, pigs, eagles, vultures, osprey, shellfish and many other animals.

Because so much of American culture is obsessed with diets and with “clean eating” and knowing what goes into our food, sometimes Lent is transformed into a catch-all get-healthy time where we cut out all the “bad foods” as a “spiritual practice” when really we are just getting sucked into mainstream diet culture. Well, that doesn’t really help us focus on God, does it?

I think the ancient Israelites were on to something by noticing that what and how we eat helps define who we are as a people (remember the food culture discussion from last week?). But they also recognized that there are ways to regulate what we eat that have to do with how we live in community and how we think about what is holy.

Here’s what my friend Jessica, a Conservative (read: conservative legal interpretation) Jew who keeps kosher (observes the dietary laws) has to say about kashrut (the dietary laws):

“I keep kosher because it makes me feel more connected to Jewish tradition, and it makes meals more special and meaningful. For example, because kosher meat is more expensive than non-kosher meat, it is more of a rare treat to eat something like brisket. Therefore, meat meals are reserved for holidays and other special days, like Shabbat… Many Jews ask themselves the same question—what is the point? Jews from the Reform movement (one of the most liberal) have completely abandoned kashrut for the most part, Reconstructionist Jews are the most progressive and choose for themselves based on the community, every Conservative congregation I’ve ever encountered insists everything be Kosher, and then you have Orthodox Jews who argue over whose hashgacha (kosher supervision agency) is most reliable! Something to keep in mind is that as a result, “kosher” means different things to different people…”

Jessica goes on to talk about the difficulties of there being different ways to observe kashrut in communities, involving people having to check the food coming into the synagogue and keep to strict rules about what food is acceptable and unacceptable. Two synaogues she participates in have “two-table” system, where one table basically practices one version of kosher and the other table practices the other kind. This works because, according to Jessica,

“…no one should be put into the trap of saying “I don’t keep kosher” because they eat vegetable products without the OU imprimatur or because they don’t believe that hot cooking utensils store and transmit taste. There are multiple approaches to kashrut, and all can coexist in the same community. And meanwhile, some people really really don’t keep kosher or claim to keep kosher (by any standard), and also participate fully in the same community.”

So, even though some of these dietary laws might seem outrageous to Christian families, they are not necessarily bars to participating in community or enjoying food. Jessica’s claim that they help her feel connected to her tradition is a beautiful way of expressing the need to be in religious community across time and space. Food is one way that we do this, and food laws can free us to enjoy the benefits of community without being so focused on what we are not allowed to do.

Reflection Questions:

  • Some people care a lot about what goes into their bodies, and so are interested in the use of Genetically Modified Organisms in foods. Do some research and figure out your position on GMOs. Are they good for us? Are they bad for our health? Do companies have an obligation to label them in foods we buy at the supermarket?

  • Journal about a food experience that translated across time and space. What was it like? What do you remember when you think about/consume this food?

Resources from Jessica to understand kashrut:

http://mahrabu.blogspot.com/2006/02/hilchot-pluralism-part-i-two-table.html

http://tikkunleilshabbat.blogspot.com/

https://rainbowtallitbaby.wordpress.com/2011/08/14/real-world-kashrut/

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1qRTw3Mnrv5N5ncJr4st0-OqIgW5kG1qd3n3EBPNVV74/edit

 

Posted in Lent 2016, Spiritual Practices, Uncategorized

Feb 21: Second Sunday of Lent: Food Culture and Faith

Feb 21: Second Sunday of Lent

Food Culture and Faith

Genesis 27

What was your favorite food growing up? What kinds of memories are associated with this food? In what context did you eat this food? How did this food relate to your family and friends–did they enjoy it with you or did you just have a taste for it?

The answers to these questions could give some clue as to your food culture. Food culture depends on many things: your geographic location, your cultural heritage, access to different types of foods, etc. For me, I define my food culture as “Anglo-American Midwestern meat ‘n’ potatoes” based. As I grew up, there were only a few ethnic restaurants around my hometown, and they were very Americanized Chinese and Mexican cuisine. When I went to college, I was blessed with roommates from the San Francisco Bay area, who were accustomed to eating a lot of different kinds of cuisine. With my friends as my guide, I experienced Indian, Thai, Korean, real Italian, and Japanese foods and learned more about my tastes. Before then, I had thought that my taste was just “how I was” but I discovered that my tastes were incredibly influenced by the type of food my family grew up cooking, which depended on what was local and affordable, which depended on my geographic location in the Great Lakes area and the history of immigration to this area (read: chicken, corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, grilled cheese, pasties, apple pie).

When I moved to Nashville, Tennessee last year, I ate okra for the first time and learned about the history of the migration of that plant  from Africa due to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. I dined with friends and strangers in a “meat ‘n’ three” restaurant. I ate grits and Soul Food and Louisiana crawdads. I learned how to garden in the south, where the growing season is easily extended into December and January if you cover your crops with frost cloth. This experience of living outside of my homeplace, the Great Lakes region, opened my eyes to a whole new way of living and experiencing food. Did you know you can grow kale in November? Did you know that fig trees thrive in middle Tennesse, far from their origin in Mesopotamia? I am continually amazed by the different food cultures of each place I have called home.

 

Try This!

  • This week, take a look at some of the short films on this website, compiled by the Real Food Media Contest. As you watch, consider how people in these films interact with their natural environment and/or built environment and represent their food culture. Are any of the food cultures engaged here part of your story?
  • Give up attachment to your own food culture by trying some new cuisines in your area and get to know the folks who prepare that style of food. What does their food culture mean to them? How can you relate to each other across different food cultures? What can you appreciate about their food culture in a “holy envy”, meaning a deep appreciation for something from another culture?
Posted in Sermons, Uncategorized

No Heart of Fear

Scripture: Psalm 27

When I was little, I was afraid of a lot of things: being separated from my mom in the supermarket, getting in a car wreck, breaking a bone, losing teeth, the dark, spiders– things that I heard on TV or saw on the covers of cheap tabloids in the grocery aisle would stick in my brain until I was sure they’d happen to me too. Once, when I was too scared to sleep in my own bed, I wound up sleeping on the couch and my mom came in and said something that I will never forget:, “How are you ever going to live if you’re so afraid all the time?”

—-

Flash forward: I had just turned 19 and, having just finished my first undergraduate semester at Oberlin College, was visiting the ecumenical monastery at Taize in southern France on a winter term trip. My first semester of college had been hard: living away from home, getting used to a roommate, a high school relationship breaking up, and right before Christmas, my grandfather, to whom I’m extremely close, had a stroke that ended my grandparents’ independent living. To be honest, I was terrified about being out of the country for the month of January. You might have heard the term “FOMO”, “fear of missing out”? Yeah,  that was me. FOMO big time, but for huge scary reasons like fear of losing my grandfather. It felt like all of my life was converging in a huge, hot wave of worry and fear, and I was losing control. I was forgetting who I was and Whose I was. I remembered what First Timothy 1:7 says, “For God has not given us a heart of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” But in my heart, it just didn’t feel true.

So there I was, on my knees in front of a small carved wooden cross, my forehead bowed to the ground, weeping. I wept out of fear, out of worry, out of terror that I didn’t know what was happening in my life, where I was going, if my family would be ok, if my grandpa was going to live. I was praying as I’ve never prayed before.

Suddenly, I felt a sense of peace wash over me. I heard beneath my sobs a whisper of “It’s going to be alright. You’re going to be alright.” I felt held, felt cradled in the arms of the Holy. I reached next to me and grasped a Bible, and did one of those “open-it-to-any-page-and-maybe-it-will-speak-to-me” things. In fact, I turned to Psalm 27, our text for today.

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

I’ve held these words close to me for six years, through college and graduation and moving to Nashville and beginning graduate school this past fall. These words continually help me contextualize my fear.

There is a lot of fear in the world, not just my own. As individuals, we might list: spiders, small spaces, snakes, heights, airplanes, the dark. As a western, United States American culture we might list: people who are different from us, terrorism, people who don’t speak our language, nuclear war, losing our material possessions, just to name a few. We have plenty of tangible fears like these, but also existential fears: as a Christian, one of mine has always been: “How do I know I’m really saved? Am I saved ‘enough’?”

What do we do with all this fear?

I believe that fear is often paired with a longing for something…when afraid of heights, we long for groundedness and stability. When afraid of terrorism, we long for security and safety. When afraid of the dark, we long for clarity and enlightenment. When I was afraid of missing out on important moments in my family’s life or losing my grandfather, I longed to be close to my family, geographically and emotionally.

Similarly, Psalm 27 is thought to be written out of the Israelites’ fear and pain when they were held captive in Babylon, away from their homeland and their god. Articulating this fear, the psalm writer describes the longing Israelites felt for their temple. Before the exile, the people of Israel understood their god as being a local deity, residing in the Temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel had not yet written about his vision of God sitting on the wheeled throne that symbolized God’s mobility, and thus God’s presence everywhere, even with the exiles in a different land. The Israelite exile community wished and hoped and prayed to be with their god in the temple: “One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple…I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.”

Psalm 27 combines two psalm genres: psalms of trust and psalms of petition. And you can really hear that pairing of fear and longing, petitions and trust here: “Though an army encamp against me” –and, reading this, we must imagine that this community has indeed experienced this personally, or at least in recent historical memory– “my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.” Wow. What a deep confidence in their God. Reading this in the monastery chapel, I let myself dwell in the comfort of people who lived two and a half thousand years before me.

Let’s return to my mother’s question: “How are you going to live if you’re afraid all the time?” And I still don’t know the answer to that question. My problem is that the world is scary. Climate change,  extreme weather events, natural disasters, domestic and global terrorism, systemic violence, hatred and bigotry and internalized oppression, and even loving people, all make for a really, really scary world sometimes. And fear seems to be an appropriate response to some of the events we read about in the news, and some we experience firsthand. Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark, that “The real problem has far less to do with what is really out there than it does with our resistance to finding out what is really out there.” Sometimes we don’t even want to think about maybe possibly venturing outside our comfort zones to find out what the truth is about this fear–what are our deepest longings trying to tell us, hiding behind our fear? Is it our longing for security, connection, consistency? Do we have a choice of what to do next when facing our fears–do we run away and hide, putting up our walls and forgetting the interwoven community of creation of which we are all a member? Or do we lean into it, embrace it, learn the shape of the fear, befriend it and try to transform it?

Frederick Buechner simply writes, “Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid.” But I say, yes! the world is beautiful and terrible, but–it’s ok to feel afraid. But we must not let it define us. It’s what we do with the fear that matters. I don’t think we honestly acknowledge fear enough; often when hearing someone describe their fears, we can so easily brush them off with a “Well, it’ll be ok. It’ll all turn out in the end. Don’t worry so much.” Or we can judge people with different ideologies from our own who pay attention to their fear such that it multiplies and inspires terror in others, while not examining our own fears in turn.

So whether our fears include not being able to pay our rent, getting bad grades, leaving our homeland, losing our parents, or experiencing prejudice because of our race, gender identity, sexuality, class or citizenship status–know that each of these fears are legitimate. But also think about what happens if we were to let our fears stop us from truly living? Or let our fears stop others from truly living?  We must not lean away from embracing the God who hears our cries aloud; who calls our name; who invites us into the holy tent of community; who sets us high upon a rock, sure and strong; who holds us as we weep and walks alongside us in solidarity with our pain and anxiety and depression and terror–we can’t let our fears stifle our heart’s deepest call to living and loving.

The end of this psalm carries one of the most beautiful promises I’ve read in scripture, and, incidentally, these words have been turned into two Taize chants: “I am sure that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

And, before I finish, just a word about waiting: waiting in the Bible is always active. Remember Mary’s waiting before Jesus’ was born, or any of the other mothers who had to overcome huge obstacles before they conceived children (Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, Rachel and more) who became significant parts of God’s promise for the Israelites. The waiting was always anticipation of God’s handiwork, and in fact, God was already working in their lives, active and creative, and most of all, was present with them. Sometimes when we are engulfed in fear it is hard to wait for it to end, hard to see out of that deep, dark hole.

Barbara Brown Taylor reminds us that  

“…new life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.”

It starts with waiting. So as we wait to feel God’s presence in the land of the living, be assured of God’s presence, and how God has already prepared you for your life—not to live without fear, but to continue living into it. Again, in the words of Barbara Brown Taylor:

“When everything you count on for protection has failed, the Divine Presence does not fail. The hands are still there – not promising to rescue, not promising to intervene – promising only to hold you no matter how far you fall.”

God has given us no heart of fear, but a heart to live in spite of, because of, in and with and through our fear.

No heart of fear can get in the way of the good that God is creating in our lives.  

No heart of fear can cause God to leave our side.

No heart of fear can convince us that we are not worthy of God’s love–that truth is too powerful and vast.

No heart of fear can separate us from the love of God.

 

(This sermon was originally preached 2/16/16 at the Scarritt Bennett Center.)

Posted in Lent 2016, Spiritual Practices, Uncategorized

Feb 14: First Sunday of Lent: What’s Food (and God) Got To Do With It?

If you happened to grow up in a Christian household that observed Lent, you are probably familiar with the idea of “giving up” something during this period of 40 days (46, counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter. Tradition has it that the 40 days of Lent represent the 40 days that Jesus Christ was tempted by the devil (Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13, Matthew 4:1-11), though there are many passages throughout the Hebrew Bible and New Testament that have a theme of 40 days of sojourning into the wilderness for some reason or other (see, Moses, the wanderings of the Israelites, etc.). People in diverse strains of Christianity practice giving something up as a way to make space in their lives to pay more attention to God and God’s call in their lives. Many see giving up something, food and drink in particular, as a way of purifying the temple of the body as a reminder of the importance of Jesus’ body that was to be broken for the salvation of the world. Yet others find it helpful to give up something because it’s a good once-a-year slap in the face to recover your yet-to-be-started New Year’s resolutions (yeah, we’ve all been there).

If you didn’t grow up in a Christian household observing Lent, you are probably either thinking

1) what in the world am I reading this for?

2) so THAT’S why I could never watch TV during the month of March

or 3) I enjoy when my Christian friends do this because I get all their chocolate and/or wine (for you who are of age, of course).

However, there are some darker sides to this seemingly benign liturgical practice of forgoing treats which you habitually enjoy. The way that some people practice Lent is focused very much on penance, on repenting of your sins and thus punishing yourself by giving up things which you enjoy, mostly falling into the categories of Sweets, Alcohol, Meat, and Chocolate (yes, it gets its own category…duh). Though I am generally a fan of dwelling in the shadowy parts of our faith, exploring fear and doubt and spiritual silence as a way of getting to know the different sides of God, I do not wish to perpetuate any damaging thinking arising from theologically reflecting about punishment and food shaming.

In United States American culture, food is fraught with positive and negative connotations reaching from warm community dinners to the rising prevalence of food-related self-harm diseases, such as anorexia and bulimia. In a certain way, giving up food we usually enjoy cannot only have the side effect of making us a wee bit healthier for 40 days (no one gives up “salad” or “beans” for Lent, amirite?), but it can also attach painful ideas about shame and controlling one’s urges/desires under the guise of being a spiritual practice, and can trigger emotional responses to these very serious diseases.

Food and how we eat is also gendered. Men don’t want to order “girly” drinks at bars, and women feel weird drinking “man’s beer” and are often worried about how much food they can eat on a first date so they don’t “look like a glutton.” How many times have I been told that I should only order a salad on a first date? A ridiculous amount of times. I’ll eat whatever I feel like eating, thank you very much. And so will he. (or she/they/whoever you like to date). Preparation of food is another place where gender intervenes; many girls and women are taught that the place for them is in the kitchen and are expected to make the bacon after the men bring it home…and it’s 2016?!

Another important aspect of our culture’s relationship to food is fat-shaming. It’s dangerous and a socially accepted version of shaming. There are multiple projects that are dedicated to fat acceptance, some showcasing what folks who identify as “fat” go through when eating something (ice cream, donut, etc.) that thin people around them disapprove of. Also, have you ever verbally slurred someone by saying, “Oh, you look so good, did you lose weight?” or slurred yourself by saying, “Damn, I look so fat today. No one is going to find me attractive.” Beauty and desirability and fitness for life or a relationship have 0, that’s right 0 things to do with what people eat/how they eat/how their bodies process food and store fat. All the numbers on the scale can read “beautiful creation and child of God.” Check out these cool resources about fat shaming and fat acceptance. (Fat Acceptance and Body Love: http://theadipositivityproject.zenfolio.com/; http://www.haleymorriscafiero.com/; http://thebodyisnotanapology.com/magazine/tag/weight-size/; http://ineedfatacceptance.tumblr.com/.)

For these reasons, I’m going to encourage us to spend this Lent being a bit more intentional about what we are “giving up,” if indeed we choose that route. A dear friend of mine from college always “took on” a new practice instead of “giving up” something, though she did try to abstain from desserts. This “taking on” took the form of a new volunteer project, a self-improvement task of not gossiping but sharing joys, and learning how to knit. So, your Lenten practice can take a lot of different forms, but I want to encourage you to join me in rethinking our relationship with food during the next 40 days.

Here are some ways to think about this practice:

  • What is your favorite food? why is it your favorite? are there nostalgic memories attached to this food? or is it simply delicious?

  • Have you ever been shamed for eating/not eating something? reflect and journal about that time in your life and how it has affected you afterwards

  • Have you ever gone on a diet? What was that decision like? What did you notice in your body differently while you were on a diet? How do you see diets portrayed in USAmerican culture?

  • What have you always wanted to know about food? Wondered where it comes from? How does it get from farm to table? Take some time and research something that interests you!

That sound like a lot? Here are some (easy-ish) practical things you can do:

  • Keep a journal! Write down how you feel, what you are thinking and how you are keeping track of your body over this time.
  • Interview people around you about their relationship to food.
  • Try to cook for yourself more throughout this Lent.
  • Jesus eats A LOT in the Bible. Find some of these passages and read them with friends over a meal once a week during Lent.

If you feel like you want to embark upon this journey with me, please let me know and keep me updated on how you are thinking/feeling. Write to me, post on this blog, follow me on Instagram, do whatever y’all feel like doing to keep in touch and build a community around re-imagining abstinence/sweet deprivation/etc. over this holy season of communal retreat.

 

Posted in Sermons, Uncategorized

I’m Not Ready Yet…

Transfiguration Sunday 2016

Scripture: Mark 9

When I step back and think about the Transfiguration on the mountain, I wonder what that word refers to more: Jesus’ transformation or Peter’s? Many Christians identify with Peter–do you? At times, I do. I think it’s because, to put it simply, Peter is human. He makes mistakes and when he doesn’t know what’s going on, he responds anyway. He, like the other disciples, seems kind of dense sometimes. Peter had been hanging out with Jesus for a while. He knew the guy, ate dinner with him all the time, listened intently and was learning to trust Jesus through lots of frightening situations. You might think he had picked up a little bit of, you know, the point of Jesus being on Earth, by hanging out with him so long. In fact, in Mark chapter 8, the passage directly preceding our text on the Transfiguration today, Jesus and the disciples are at Caesarea Philippi and Jesus asks that famous question: “Who do people say I am?” The disciples answer, “John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets”–all the good answers. But Jesus then asks, “Who do YOU say I am?” And Peter answers, “You are the Messiah.” This is the first time one of the disciples confesses knowing Jesus’ true identity as the Messiah sent from God.

But even though Peter confessed Jesus’ identity, Peter wasn’t so sure what that meant. He had a lot of questions. Continuing on after Peter’s confession, the author of Mark describes how Jesus began teaching about how “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again” (Mark 8:31). But Peter wasn’t ready to think about the deeper meaning of what Jesus was talking about, and took him aside to “rebuke him,” the text says in verse 8:32. Peter must have felt something like that nagging feeling, that intuition that comes when you know there’s more to the story but you’re not ready to deal with it yet.

But Jesus turns around and rebukes Peter, saying, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mark 8:33). Jesus then, in true Jesus fashion, teaches to the crowd and the disciples about what it means to be a disciple– “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Six days later, Jesus takes his closest friends (Peter, James, and John) up on Mount Hermon and is transfigured before their eyes.

Now, it should be known that the Gospel of Mark, written around 40 years after Jesus’ death, is the most “miraculous” gospel. It contains the most miracle healings, exorcisms, and otherwise extraordinary events. The Transfiguration in our text today is actually thought to have been written as part of the Passion narrative of Jesus’ death and resurrection—this was possibly supposed to be a resurrection appearance! However, the author of Mark moved this passage earlier in Jesus life, maybe to emphasize the unique-ness and chosen-ness of Jesus as sent from God.

Malcolm Guite, a college chaplain and priest in Cambridge in the UK, writes this poem imagining what Jesus’ friends experienced on the mountain.

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,

On that one mountain where all moments meet,

The daily veil that covers the sublime

In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.

There were no angels full of eyes and wings

Just living glory full of truth and grace.

The Love that dances at the heart of things

Shone out upon us from a human face

And to that light the light in us leaped up,

We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,

A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope

Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.

Nor can this, this blackened sky, this darkened scar

Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

“How things really are.” That’s exactly what Peter was having trouble with. He doesn’t know how to respond to Jesus’ teaching after being named the Messiah because he doesn’t want to think about what being the Messiah really means. He doesn’t know how to respond to Jesus’ talking with Moses and Elijah on the mountain in our text today because he hasn’t let the message of Jesus’ mission sink in yet. And much later, while Jesus is being tried in the Sanhedrin court for treason, he denies Jesus because he doesn’t even want to consider that all Jesus has been telling him and the disciples is true. Peter is constantly in denial, constantly oscillating between confessing Jesus’ true nature and saying, “I’m not ready yet” to Jesus’ call to follow him in the mission that would ultimately lead to Jesus’ death.

Think about a time in your life when you were about to learn the truth of something you really didn’t want to think about. For us, these moments can be anything from learning who Santa Claus really is when we were children to the revealing of a family secret to owning up to the fact that we are complicit in systems of oppression, whether racism, sexism, heterosexism, nationalism or war. Like Peter, it is our natural instinct to say “I’m not ready yet” when the transfiguration of Jesus occurs. Because if Jesus can be transfigured before the very eyes of his closest friends, taking his place among the great people in the history of Israel, Moses and Elijah, then that must mean that Jesus is a really special guy…and that must mean that he’s not just any guy, but kind of divine too…and that must mean that he’s the messiah (which is kind of a problem, when you think about it) because people who preach and teach the kind of good news that Jesus preaches and teaches get hurt.

When confronted with information that we’re not ready to hear, or that we’re not ready to take seriously, what holds us back from listening deeply and entering into the discomfort? Sometimes learning negative information is painful. It can change how you see someone or how you understand your relationship with them. It can even make it clear that YOU are the one who must change your behaviors or beliefs. You must change how you live. And change is frightening sometimes, mostly because it is unknown. Often we have resistance to finding what is really out there. For an example of how many of us resist the unknown, think about going on a road trip to a new place. Most of us like to have road maps (or a GPS) or friends or family in the front passenger seat, helping us navigate. When walking in the nighttime, most of us like to have a flashlight or a lantern or our iPhone to help us illuminate dark paths.

But Peter didn’t have those tools, and sometimes we don’t either. Peter just had a close friend whose inspiring good news to the poor, healing of the sick and defending of the needy was getting him a lot of attention–maybe a little too much attention, in Peter’s view. Maybe Peter would agree with Shane Claiborne, one of the ministers who founded the Simple Way community in Philadelphia, who writes in his book The Irresistible Revolution, “The more I get to know Jesus, the more trouble he seems to get me into.” Jesus kept talking about “the Son of Man” and “righteous” people vs. “sinners” and asking questions– “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?” (Mk 3:4); “Who are my mother and my brothers?” (Mk 3:33); “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mk 4:40). He kept teaching in confusing and muddled parables–the sower and the seed, the fig tree, the lamp under a bushel basket. Hanging out with Jesus must have been really frustrating and confusing! Imagine yourself in Peter’s place: not understanding the stories your friend was telling, not being able to answer any questions intelligently, not being able to comprehend what seemed to be the most important story ever told.

Maybe all Peter needs–all we need, with our own issues–is time. Time to let it all sink in. Time to be contemplative, to hold the words and stories and deeds of Jesus in our hearts and minds. Time to figure out how to respond.

Lent starts this week, and for those of you who observe this 40-day period before Easter, you know that Lent gives us just what we need sometimes–time to sit with the story of Jesus and again try to comprehend it. During Lent, we try to understand the actions of this holy human in a new way, try to understand why he was killed at the hands of the state for loving and lifting up the poor and marginalized. We try to understand, again, why he matters to us still.

Christopher Moore, author of Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, writes: “Faith isn’t an act of intelligence, it’s an act of imagination.” Lent is a time when we can stretch our imagination while we sit with our many questions. We walk through Jesus’ life alongside the disciples, perhaps emulating Peter. We walk with Jesus and we hear the stories afresh. And again, as with every year around this time, we feel a tension: No, Jesus, don’t leave us! We’re not ready to hear that you’re going to die. We aren’t ready! And we don’t even want to hear the reality of the good news that comes after your death–we’re not ready, so let’s just play ignorant for a little while longer…let’s just join Peter in denial for a little longer…”

I said this at the beginning and I’ll say it again: When I step back and think about the Transfiguration on the mountain, I wonder what that word refers to more: Jesus’ transformation or Peter’s? When we encounter both the humility and the glory of the Good News, how are WE being transformed? But will we ever really be ready to hear Jesus talk about the end of his earthly life? Will we ever really be ready to see the underside of the stories he tells about being kind in this life and truly grasp the deeper meaning of the parables, the illustrations about the kingdom of God being at hand, right-here-right-now? How do we move from that strange comfort that comes with ignorance or denial to the discomfort of knowing the truth? Knowing how we truly must live and love our neighbor and welcome the stranger and visit those imprisoned and humanize our enemy? That’s uncomfortable…how do we move from “I’m not ready yet” to “Ok. I’m with you, I’m all in.” ?

That’s the beauty of being in relationship with Jesus. Though at times frustrated with the disciples, Jesus stayed with them and kept teaching them, convinced that even when he wouldn’t be physically with them, they’d know what to do because he taught them how to live. Jesus isn’t going to stop loving us because we’re not ready. But he’s also not going to stop the world and wait for us to catch up. Instead, he’s going to invite us to join him on his journey to Jerusalem.

“Take up your cross.”

“Come follow me.”

 

(Sermon originally preached at Central Christian Disciples of Christ)