Thursday 7 February 2013

Who's listening?

On our church calendar, the season of Epiphany concludes with Transfiguration Sunday.  It's a powerful way to end the "season of revealing:" with a story revealing the glory of Jesus as the Son of God.

Lewis Bowman's "Transfiguration"
Jesus takes three of the disciples with him to the top of a mountain.  While there, Jesus appears to be transfigured.  That is, his appearance is changed and he shines with a dazzling light - with "glory," Luke says - and Moses and Elijah appear next to him.  The disciples want to build three "dwellings' for them, but suddenly there's a great cloud and a voice is heard saying "this is my son … listen to him."  The disciples are fearful, Jesus is alone with them again, the moment passes and they go down the mountain and on with their day.

Okay, I didn't mean to sound like I'm trivializing the ending there.  After all, I think that's pretty much the most important part of the story, but I'll come back to that.

The story appears in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, and there are some details that are a little different, but that's the gist of it: Jesus' transfiguration reveals the very human man to be also the Son of God, the meeting of human and divine.  We should listen to him because he is more than a messenger of God, he is the Word made flesh.

It's Luke's version of the story we hear this year and, I have to say, I like Luke's story.  Each of the gospels give us ways to break open the story, discover what it might mean and imagine how that might become part of our lives.  Luke, I think, gives us a little something more to take away here, he gives us a way forward.  Like I said, a way on with our day.

Luke writes that Jesus and the disciples went up the mountain to pray.  In fact, "while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white" (Luke 9:29).  Prayer is a theme throughout the gospel of Luke.  Thank goodness.  How else might we listen?

Right: listen.

I can imagine the wonder of the moment.  I mean, I can imagine my own sense of wonder at the moment.  How do you imagine the glory of God or the voice in the cloud?  Or the awe and fear of the disciples?  And, with some study, I can explain various aspects of the story and what they might mean.

But what happens when I leave the mountain top?  After the wonder and the understanding, where do I take this story, how do I "listen to him?"

First, I wonder if Luke isn't trying to remind us that we can hear the stories of Jesus and we can hear Jesus' words as the story reports them, but to "listen to him" demands more of us.  It demands that we understand the words and put them into practice in our lives, not just as behaviour, but as living.  And to understand, we must listen for what is true and experience that in our own lives.  The story must come alive for us.

And second, we must pray.  We so often think that prayer is about asking or thanking, but it's more than that.  Prayer is a critical part of our relationship with God.  It's our communication with God, our conversation with God, our sharing with God.  And God shares with us.  So when you pray, do you leave God some space to answer?  

Sunday 3 February 2013

Luke 4:21-30

The recent Inauguration of the US President took place on Martin Luther King Day.  An historic moment.  But the lead stories in the media seemed to be more concerned with Michelle Obama's new hairstyle (bangs!) and the possibility that Beyonce may have lipsynced the national anthem (she did).

So the sketch comedy TV show Saturday Night Live opened their show that week with a sketch that made fun of that.  In a Dickensian moment, the President is visited by the ghost of Martin Luther King Jr.  Obama wants to talk about how things are going, but all MLK's ghost wants to talk about is Beyonce and Michelle's bangs.  When Obama seems to get impatient and annoyed with Dr. King's seeming lack of seriousness, King's ghost says "Can't we just sit and talk like a couple of real guys.  Why do I have to be serious and stately for all eternity?"

Good question.

The actor Daniel Day-Lewis, currently being praised for his portrayal of Abraham Lincoln, admitted that he was at first reluctant to take the role.  How do you portray a character whose words and actions have become so huge in history, so legendary that those same words and actions have eclipsed the human-ness of the person?

I imagine actors portraying Jesus would feel that way, too.  We have almost 2,000 years of interpretations, images, ideas, traditions and dogma that inform our understanding of how to be more like Jesus.

I was pondering that this week because of the story of Jesus preaching in his home synagogue.  The people hearing him are "astounded" at what he says and question how he could possibly be so wise.  After all, they know him, he's just that carpenter's son from down the street.  They're offended at what he would presume to tell them.  Jesus replies with the popular proverb that a prophet is never welcome in their hometown and goes on his way.

But hang on, as Mark and Matthew tell it, the people seem to take instant offence to Jesus' preaching because they think they know him.  At least, they've already labelled him as a local boy of a certain status and therefore he can't possibly know or say what he does.

In the Gospel of Luke, however, the story is a little more elaborate.  Jesus reads from the prophet Isaiah "the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour."  He tells everyone listening that this scripture is fulfilled in their hearing.  "All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, 'Is not this Joseph’s son?'" (Luke 4:22).

That sounds to me like they're proud of him, willing to hear what he says.  But, as Luke tells it, Jesus responds by saying something along the lines of "I know what you're thinking, you're just expecting me to do miracles like I did elsewhere.  Well, I'm not going to because you don't really accept me or the truth I must tell you."  When they hear that, that's when the crowd gets mad.

Who is this Jesus?  The Jesus Luke describes seems to be confrontational, a very real life, honest and "in your face" kind of prophet.  No wonder they didn't like what he had to say.  It seems to be a different Jesus than the one on the short end of his home town's assumptions.

Or is it?  Perhaps Luke's Jesus reminds us how important it is to be honest and say what needs to be said, even when it's easier and more comfortable not to.  Perhaps this Jesus reminds us, too, how hard that can be in our own lives.  And perhaps that might also remind us to look and listen beyond the surface appearance that challenges our acceptance.

Another question worth pondering here might also be how Jesus knows what they're thinking?  Is he, too, making assumptions about them or does he truly know them?

Who is this Jesus?

The point is that we need to know Jesus to follow Jesus authentically.  And to know Jesus, we need to get close, to realize he's more than a sterile, one dimensional character who speaks and acts in a way we've come to expect.  Jesus is full of surprises, just as we all are.  Jesus "the Word made flesh" and "God with us" is also Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, the ordinary working, playing, living and loving person like you and me.  To live like Jesus isn't about being more "godly," it's about being more fully human, to be more fully true to the image of God that is at the heart of each of us.

We can do that.  Just as we can make Dr. King's "dream" come true.  Not because it's great oratory, or because it's engraved on a monument, but because it's true to our God given humanity.

In the beginning

Well, alright.  A blog.  It's my first time, and I was reluctant at first, so thanks for the encouragement everyone.

I'll explain why I called it "On the way" in a minute, but thanks first to Coleman who suggested "Rev Rob's God Blog."  At least his title gives you a clue as to what you're getting.  Kind of.

Here's the thing.   I preach on a Sunday morning without notes.  So on Monday, I start with the scripture passages for that week and over the next few days I read as much as I can and think about where I want to go with it.  By Wednesday, I'm planning the service.  By Friday I have in my head what I want to say and, with the Spirit's help, something meaningful might come out Sunday morning.  Somewhere in there, I've also figured out how to approach the theme with the children, too.

In the midst of all that, two weeks out of three, I write a column for the local newspapers.  That's due on Thursday afternoon.  So by the time I've got that done, I should be - wait for it - on the way.

So that column is really some ponderings on the way to a more fully formed expression on Sunday.  That's pretty much what you're getting here.  Sometimes it might be where I went in the end, sometimes I might have taken a left turn, or even a right turn.  Maybe.  The point is - and I remind people of this as often as possible - my goal is never to tell you how it is or what you should think, but to invite you to think about it.  Maybe you've got a thought, an idea or a question that needs more exploring.  Maybe you'd like to share it.

After all, I hope that's what we're doing here, exploring ... on the way.