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Keep Church Weird
Dr. Bruce Lancaster
February 7, 2016
A reading from the Gospel of Luke:
Now about eight days after these sayings 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. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 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. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
My daughters were five and three, playing around the couch. I was in my chair, reading the paper and enjoying their game. With little girl giggles, they were up and down, chasing and tagging, bumping into one another, a fun game!
But then, for a brief unmeasurable moment, they stopped…rested their heads against the back of the couch…the sunlight sifted through the window and hit at just the right angle.
And I saw, not my little girls who had just been playing like little kittens with a ball of yarn, but I saw young ladies – fourteen and twelve, twenty-four and twenty-two – calm, reposed, a sense of grace and graciousness.
Then the light shifted or they moved on or I blinked, and the moment was gone.
A moment transfigured – what is is not as it will be!
It was what a great preacher once called a “reality rupturing experience of the transcendence of God.”
A moment transfigured – a “reality rupturing experience of the transcendence of God.” That’s how a preacher would describe our story of the transfiguration this morning, don’t you think?
A well-turned phrase to describe that magnificent moment on the mountain to see Moses and Elijah and the illumination of Jesus and to hear the voice of God.
But let’s be honest – what we know about Peter and James and John, I just don’t hear a well-turned phrase; what I hear from those Galilean fishermen – I mean, I’ve only been in Austin for a few months, but this story puts the weird on the main stage of the Apostle City Limits!
Weird – reality-rupturing weird!
Prior to moving here, I explored the reality behind the slogan “Keep Austin Weird” and I’ve heard all sorts of stories that most of you I’m sure have heard. It seems to have moved from lifestyle to serving as a promotional slogan for the city, with a lot of people saying that Austin is just not like it used to be!
Now one thing I found is that there’s a recently released book that is a scholarly study on the “Keep Austin Weird” movement that goes a little bit deeper and looks at those changes in Austin at the beginning of the 21st century. The book is described as being “written from a human geography perspective…intended to show the relationship between sense of place” and the economic, environmental, and cultural landscape.
And that’s where I believe the Austin ‘weird’ meets our biblical ‘experience of the transcendence of God.’
Because our story is written from the human geography perspective of Peter and James and John – their journey with Jesus from the shores of the Sea of Galilee along the dusty roads and now up this mountain – and our attempt to understand the relationship between their experience in this powerful place and their world, our world.
Yes, it is a ‘reality rupturing experience of the transcendence of God’, that what is is not as it will be.
But from any human geography perspective, this is a weird event…the late Elijah and Moses are talking with Jesus, and we can’t help but wonder what they talked about.
And there are so many questions: For example, how does Peter know that this is Elijah and Moses? Why not Adam and Abraham? Are they wearing name tags? I doubt he had seen their photographs along the wall in First University Synagogue of Capernaum. How does Peter know? And where’s he going to get the tents? Did they have them with their backpacks for their mountain hike?
But that’s not the point, is it?
Luke is telling us that the point of the transfiguration was not the basking in God’s special lighting effects, not to launch a new building campaign. This weird story of transfiguration is a reflection of other stories in scripture – past and future – Moses and Joshua on the mountain, the baptism of Jesus with the same voice and same pronouncement, the resurrection with its blinding light of a new creation in Jesus Christ…
Stories of those times when the presence of heaven and what’s happening on earth come so close together you can almost reach up and touch the face of God – a ‘reality rupturing moment of the transcendence of God’…
The disciples knew that they had experienced something special, something wonderful, something good. That brief moment when God comes to us in such a unique and powerful way that we can only describe it – not wacky weird, but a wonderfully weird moment that is a vision of the life in God that is to come, to teach us that what life is now is not all that life will be, if we will listen…
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic book on the church, Life Together, says that we “Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to them by Him who is Himself the great listener and whose work they should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the Word of God.”
Listening to Jesus means we have to listen to others – and that involves relationship… essentially, fundamentally, and constantly about our relationship with God and what that relationship means for living in that reality-rupturing experience of listening to Jesus, even with weird people like you and me.
But does it seem to you that we have come down from that mountain and walked away from weird, as Richard Rohr said, “We worshiped Jesus instead of following him on his same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion instead of a journey toward union with God and everything else. This shift made us into a religion of ‘belonging and believing’ instead of a religion of transformation.”
Transfiguration is about more than a shiny face and clothing. It’s about the transformation God does in us and with us that is transformative for others…what church is all about.
I think we are a people who are starving for a genuine experience of God. I think we all would like, at least once in our lifetime, to experience the glory and majesty of God – to keep church reality rupturing weird and let the presence of God soak down into your soul.
And life as we know it will never again be the same.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY.