Mathew 17: 1-9 2-26-17 ACCUCC Rev. Tony Clark
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
The gospel reading today is called the Transfiguration. Jesus, and a few leaders of the disciples head up to a quiet place to meditate and pray, and while they are there they shared an ecstatic experience. It is an irrational, unexplainable, communal vision of Moses and Elijah meeting with Jesus, who glows bright white with light. After that kind of extreme event the disciples want to mark the occasion. God intervenes and says to listen to Jesus, his beloved anointed Messiah, who tells them not to mark the occasion; in fact, don’t tell anyone until after Jesus died and was resurrected.
The disciples, James, and Peter and John, were in a mode of discernment: they went someplace to pray, they had a mystical experience together, then they decide what action is needed to follow up. They wonder toward what is God calling them with that experience. They looked to a variety of tools to help them discern—the experience itself, as well as scripture symbolized by Moses and Elijah, and their tradition which called for marking big events with altars. They listened for God’s voice and they discerned God’s direction, which was to listen to Jesus, who then said totell people about the experience, but only after Jesus had died and was resurrected.
Today, we are called to make sense of our experiences, relying on scripture, reason, tradition and our community, in order to discern where God is calling us.
Today is the last day for our boat theme. Each week since mid-January, we’ve added one more thing to our boat as we’ve worked through this metaphor of finding our faith and being disciples down by the seashore. We placed a lamp, to guide our journey, and fishnets to catches people. We placed life jackets to save our lives when the storms get rough. We added some provisions, to nurture our faith. We placed some rope to tie us together, and We set an anchor to hold us in this little harbor of love. Yet this little boat of our faith was built to move quickly across water, so we must pull up the anchor, move out of our little harbor, and set sail.
And for us to set sail, we need the ability to steer, to control our destiny a bit. We need something that helps us find our direction.
We set sail for a far point on the horizon, our destiny, God’s desire for our community. To get there we must set and steer a course, and at times we must correct the course. What is it that will steer us there? The rudder of our faith, which is the act of discernment. Discernment is the ability to figure out toward what God is calling us. We cannot sail without a rudder; we cannot pull it up when we are in the middle of sailing; neither can we ever stop discerning toward what God is calling us, and deciding if we are still headed in the right direction, or if we have gone off course. Without discerning God’s call and vision for us, we drift around, moving with the current and winds that take us where they would.
Discernment has gotten a bad rap here at Arlington. We’ve taken on several discernment programs in the last few decades. We took on another last year, the New Beginnings program. Many of these seemed to have fallen by the wayside. We did the discernment program and then the sense was that we did not follow up. Whatever we discerned seemed too tough or too unattainable or too much out of our comfort zone, so we set aside the discernment. We set into port, dropped our anchor, and we pulled up the rudder and maybe even got out of the boat for a while.
Our anchor is love. We love really well here at Arlington. We have deep relationships. We stop by with food and send cards to those who are sick. We hold potlucks and celebrate birthdays with cakes. We make sure that those who can’t drive get here on Sundays. Our anchor is love, and it keeps us safe in this little port, with good relationships and deep love.
Our latest discernment process, New Beginnings, pointed out that our finances are in good shape, our building is not a burden to us, and that we area caring congregation. We do relationships well, we love well.
However, what the New Beginnings’ also pointed out is that we are weak on both mission and spiritual formation. The New Beginnings process was discernment, guided by prayer and listening, scripture and our tradition. It moved us toward discerning that far point on the horizon toward which we sail.
In October, as the New Beginnings small groups came to an end, we gathered our concerns for the world around us, and we arranged them into four sets of core values we hold here at Arlington Community Church. They are: Justice, Making the World a Better Place, God is in the Room, and Living Beyond Ourselves. The group on Justice has met more than the others and is discerning and creating a program for our mission life together. The other small groups meet today as one group to decide how to support the Justice group. The plan is a challenge to all of us to see ourselves, each of us, as ministers, who uphold the values of experiencing God, changing the world, helping others and doing justice. As we said a few weeks ago, we are salt of the earth and light of the world; yet each of us is but one grain of salt, one match in the darkness. It is together that we fill the salt shaker, together we light the world. Each of us is ministers, and together our ministry reaches into the dark places and brings light.
Once final plan and program are finalized, then we as a congregation will discern again whether that the point on the horizon toward which God is calling us. If so, then we need to keep discerning, keeping checking it out to make sure we are on the right course. As a congregation, we need to be in a constant state of discernment, watching for rocks that might get in our way, and for storms to ride out, and how long to set down the anchor and wait in the harbor. We ask, “Who needs the life preserver blessings of God?” and “When do we cast out the net?” and “When do we break out our spiritual provision?”
Discernment is a constant steering device for our faith. It is like the rudder of a boat on the sea. We must continue to discern at all times, focusing on God’s call, or else we will be adrift, without a vision, without a direction, without a way to gauge our progress.
So today we place a rudder on our little boat, to steer us toward God’s beckoning light. And now, with our little boat set with provisions and life preservers, we set sail; we ask you to climb on board. Join us on the journey. Our boat is not intended to sit in the port forever, gathering barnacles and sea slime. It is intended to sail, to move people and ideas to far-away places.
What is that far spot on the horizon? That is the point toward which God is calling us.
May God’s light shine clear, may we see the rocks and shoals before we go aground, may we weather the storms and not be anchored too long, and may we not drift so far that we cannot correct our course toward the destiny to which God calls us.