February 27, 2016

Getting Ready for Change


Text: Luke 9:32: “Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.”

The disciples were weary, but because they managed to stay awake, at least at the critical moment, they saw the change that took place in Jesus up on the mountain. The text tells us they saw his glory; Jesus was praying, and his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white, and he was found to be in the presence of the great ancestors of the faith. Somehow they recognized Moses and Elijah, never having seen them before; somehow they knew the voice they heard belonged to God, never having heard it before.

Jesus goes up the mountain to pray, and from that beginning everything else follows; the change that others see, the change that reveals the presence of the living God, starts there.

This past week I took a walk I often take during lunch hour from my office to the Amherst Bookstore. It’s something I do once or twice a week, but on this occasion a poster that had been put in the window suddenly caught my eye. This was the poster:

RefugeesWelcomeI’m not sure why it struck me as much as it did, but it did, and as soon as I got back to my office I spent what turned out to be a very little bit of time searching for it; it was very easy to find. And I printed out one just to see it for myself.

And then I began to wonder: What would happen if I put this up here?

I could put it up on the door to my office. And then I suppose people would see it and say, oh, there goes Mark again. He’s letting us know that he wants us to think about refugees. That’s what he’s supposed to do, of course... he’s our priest.

Or: I could put it up on the bulletin board in the Parish Hall. That would be a little more, well, public.

You might think it was another part of something we began talking about way back in the fall, how this year we were going to be talking about the Middle East, and all the upheaval and human suffering there. The children have been studying the Holy Land, and we have been praying for Christians in the Holy Land.

But of course more people would see it. We would all see it during coffee hour. The Bowen School parents would see it. What would they think? Would they worry? Would they ask us to take it down?

Or: I could put it up on the front door of the Parish Office, right in front of where Paula sits. Then everyone coming into the place would see it—the letter carrier, and the folks who come in the door looking for help, and the people who do business with the church, the vendors, the repair folks, the contractors. What would they think?

Or there’s one last place it could go. Some of you know how much I love designing banners to go out in front of the church along Lowell Avenue. I could put it out in front of the church. That would be very different, wouldn’t it? That would say something to the whole neighborhood. It would be a lot different from putting it on the door of my office, or in the long hall, or even on the office door.

I sure hope by now you know me well enough to know that I wouldn’t just confront all of us with such a message as this on the part of the whole church without getting a conversation started among us about whether it was a step we were prepared to take.

But the time may be coming when it will be appropriate for us to have that conversation. Just yesterday the New York Times reported that another 50,000 Syrian civilians are desperately moving toward the border with Turkey, because their own government has been bombing their homes in Aleppo.

The question is, how does change like that happen? There are plenty of ways for it to happen in the wrong way; there are plenty of Christian communities that get torn apart when one faction wants the church to take action, or take a stand, or take sides, and others disagree, or don’t feel they can.

But how does it happen when it happens in the right way?

I’m not going to stand here today and preach to all of us that we need to turn the Long Hall into a refugee camp. For one thing, there are plenty of ways for us to help out the millions of displaced people now stretched between the camps in Turkey and the refugee centers in northern France, and most of them are probably going to be more effective than that.

But I am going to say this: Our faith is meant to change us. That is what God intends by giving us this gift of faith. We so naturally grow a shell around ourselves to keep ourselves safe from the world of want and woe; and in that shell we will suffocate. God gives us the gift of faith to call us again and again to break through that shell in order to see the world around us, the needs and the hopes of the people around us—God’s people around us—so that we can actually see, and actually help, others.

Many of us here already have lived that experience. I think of those of you who have worked at the soup kitchen downtown, or the children who have filled backpacks for kids in Haiti, or Peter and Kelly Brown and their sons collecting clothes to take to children in Jamaica, or the food we contribute to the Centre Street Food Pantry, or countless other things you do that I haven’t learned about yet.

But there is always more need around us. And there is always a risk in responding to it. There is always a very sound, very well pragmatic reason to go slow, be careful, wait and see. How does the change happen? Even if we are willing to climb the mountain, how does the change take place in us?

The story couldn’t be more clear; Jesus goes up to the mountain, and he goes up there to pray. If our faith is going to have a chance to make the change in us God means for it to make, we are going to have to get serious about our life of prayer.

This Lent, rather than giving up something, we might take on something—we might take on a discipline of prayer. Five minutes—just five minutes—after breakfast every morning. Thirty seconds, maybe, with everyone at the dinner table in the evening. It’s not home work. It’s soul work. And we all need to do just a little bit of it, at least, every day.

After all, the point of Lent is to change us. Get us out of our routine. Break through the shell. Open us up to new possibilities. And most of all, make space within us for the new life that is coming at Easter—not just life after death, but life before death, too.

We want to be the disciples in this story; we want a chance to see Jesus for who he really us. But just maybe, as we see Lent coming around again to us this year, just maybe we are the ones who are being invited to offer ourselves to be changed.

So many of the people we share this life with are weary, tired after running for safety, worn out running away from trouble, exhausted from trying to climbing up the mountain from the valley of despair. And they are struggling just to stay awake to hope, to say alert to possibility.

Maybe we are the ones, if we start with prayer, through whom others will feel the possibility of God’s grace, catch a glimpse of God’s glory, and hear God’s voice speaking to them, in a way they can hear—maybe for the first time. Amen.