Tuesday, January 12, 2016

It's Vision Time

(I began a new interim with the First Baptist Church, Pendleton, South Carolina last Sunday. What do
you say on such an occasion? This is what I preached.)

The text for today is that Transfiguration passage. It stands midpoint in the gospel story. The storm clouds were gathering around Jesus already. His enemies were growing in number and the pressure was increasing. In the distance Jesus saw trouble, serious trouble ahead.

And so Jesus took Peter, James and John high up on a mountain. It is a dream-like scene. Some called it a vision. But whatever it was something important happened there. Jesus appeared with Elijah and Moses. It must have been terribly emotional because Peter wanted to stay and build three tabernacles and just worship God. But Mark says the disciples were terrified—it was like one of those out of the body experiences. For out of the mist a voice came. God’s voice. “This is my son, the Beloved, listen to him.” It was the same words Jesus had heard whispered that day he stood waist-deep in the Jordan and was baptized. But on this mountain, Mark says, the dream-like moment was over quickly. Elijah and Moses were not there. The cloudy  mist was gone and the four of them just stood there.

Jesus led them down the mountain telling them to keep what had happened a secret. At the bottom of the hill they found a world in need. Scholars say that this whole experience was a preparation time as Jesus came nearer and nearer to his death. Later those disciples would read back into the story their own meanings. It was a preparation time for them, too—preparing them to face the fact of their Lord’s death and perhaps their own.

Why did the Church keep the story? Three gospels record this incident. And what is there here for us to take home with us today? Two little words, I think. Maybe not little at all. Maybe two of the most important words that we have.

The first word is vision. Who here does not need some vision? Out there it is easy to lose the way. TV blaring, crisis upon crisis, War on terror, Money, money, money. Leaders in Washington not knowing what to do. ISIS with all its complexities. And up and down these roads heartache and heartbreak. It’s a mess out there and unless we are careful we can drown in all that stuff. It is hard to keep a healthy perspective.

photo by Matthew Fang /  flickr
And so turn back to the Scriptures. Jesus’ world was in many ways more difficult than ours. Slavery, people treated like animals, poverty everywhere. Women were only servants. It was a hard world. And Jesus knew that he and his followers would never make it unless there were ways to alter their perspective. And it wasn’t fear he was after. They needed some vision to help them slosh through their troubled times. Jesus found his vision that morning as he was baptized when God spoke and said, “You are beloved…” And now in our Scripture today, high up on a hill, far away from trouble and misery and cries and heartbreak, he heard a voice and the disciples, too. The voice told Jesus: “You are my beloved.” And this was the vision-word that carried him through all he had to face. All-too-human disciples acting like today’s political candidates. The soldiers coming and dragging him away. Beatings. Betrayals. Those same disciples falling away. There were rigged trials and then finally the cross. I think through it all he must have heard this word coming back: “You are beloved.” This was the center of his vision. 

And so Jesus did not keep that word, Beloved to himself. But he reached into his heart and gave to all those he met what God had given him. He whispered, again and again, “You are beloved.” Prostitutes, beggars, old cripples sitting by the pool for 38 years. Rich young rulers and fisherman and tax collectors. Even his disciples. He told them all the same thing. You are beloved. No wonder they followed him. They caught his vision. 

photo by drew Brayshaw/ flickr

What does this story have to do with us? Everything, I think. I served 6 very different churches. I have worked with seven churches as Interim Pastor and I have flunked retirement seen times and I am working on the eighth.  Seven interims. Each one was different—and in some ways all are the same. Without a Pastor, disappointed in themselves, ashamed of foolish mistakes. Sometimes they have pointed fingers at one another. Sometimes they pointed fingers at the Pastor that left. Angry—but more than angry—nervous.  Anxious. What are we going to do? We’re in a mess they all said. 

And so in all seven of these interims we started to work with a Transition Team. Some called it the Dream Team. But in each church we began to ask: When you started back there in 18942. Remember your vision? What did you want? Why start a church in Pendleton? We’re going to examine these together. But I know one reason you came into being. You put it on your bulletin every single Sunday. “Rooted in faith…Growing in love .” Not a bad vision or dream.

What I have learned from working from these seven other churches is that to move ahead you have to clarify your vision. And then you have to stick with it. And if you can come back to your purpose and build your church around that dream you won’t get lost in blaming or worrying about money or paying off debts or members leaving. 

Our work together will be to help you re-dream the dream. Look at your DNA. Who are you, really? And what is it that God is calling us to do together. We will take your pulse. We’ll have all-church meetings. We will pray and rediscover what the dream means in 2016. And whatever we find it will cluster around what Jesus said: You are beloved. How will we give that out?

And this brings us to the second word:  Task. If the first word is vision—the second word is task.
photo by Leticia Bertin / flickr
Look at our text. After that wonderful experience on the mountain, Jesus and his three friends made their winding way to the bottom of the hill. Reality hit them in the face. No vision now. Just life. A man stood helplessly by as his son convulsed. And the disciples could do nothing. Just standing there not knowing what to do. The text says sadly: they were not able.
They could not help the boy or his frantic father.. And so they argued. About the right cure. Blaming the family. And if it was today they would blame teachers and the church and the President and I don’t know what else. With all this smirking and blaming— the boy convulsed and the father cried: “Help him! Help him!”

Doesn’t it sound familiar? The world aches. Still too many people looking for work. Think of the heartbreak and disappointment. Families sitting in their living rooms today, holding a folded flag—5,000 families. Their boys and girls will never come home. And in Washington politicians so afraid somebody won’t vote for them they do nothing that seems to count. We are like those disciples that stood around the boy that convulsed. Why didn’t you do something? The text said: They were not able.  Jesus reached out and touched the boy. He healed him and whispered: You are beloved.
What is our task here?  It is to put feet and hands and hearts to Pendleton’s vision. We are to reach out and help not just stand around not knowing what to do. Beginning right here in Pendleton—this community ought to be better because we are here. And so in a time of transition—what are we to do? How do we put our vision to work? We meet and pray. We ask, over and over: God, what do you want us to do? Not what you want the new preacher to do. Or even someone in the pew. You ask: How do we put this vision thing to work? We meet and pray and read the Scriptures and find ourselves in the story—and begin to map out some plans together. What are you to do about the unchurched all around us? Maybe they are staying at home watching Joel Osteen. I don’t think he will come when you are in the hospital or needing to talk.All the people on your church rolls…how do you meet their needs? How do you make your dreams of: “Rooted in faith…growing in love” A reality in the days to come. Hispanics are moving in? Are they part of the love? I met with the local Islamic leader in Clemson just weeks ago. He told me that the wives of their members would not go out of the house alone these days. In South Carolina. He said they didn’t go to many malls anymore—they were afraid of what people would say. In South Carolina. Are they part of the love? Where are those who have gotten themselves into trouble—are they part of the love? Hammering out your agenda is your work here. I can’t do that for you—but I can coach you. The boy convulses all around us—will we stand helpless like the disciples. Or will we, with God’s help be able to do something to make this old world better for everybody?

A friend of mine tells the story that comes out of a Christian school in the mid-west. One day in the middle of the class, the principal came in with a new boy for the class. She introduced him to the teacher and the class and left. The teacher said, “Let’s give a big clap and welcome Jimmy to our class.” And so they did. But one of the kids whispered to another: “He just has one arm.” And the word spread from student to student and they all looked. “He only has one arm.” So Jimmy found a seat and became a member of the class. One day the teacher said she wanted to talk to them about the church. “Have you all ever done this?” And she put her hands together and said: “Here’s the church and here’s the steeple—open the doors and here are the people.” So she told them to try it. And the minute she said that she remembered Jimmy with only one arm. She was mortified and did not know what to do. But little Suzie came forward and saved the day. She came over to Jimmy and said, “Teacher, Jimmy and I will join our hands and we will build a church.”

I wonder, things being as they are if we will catch the vision, join hands together and we will continue to build a church. Even without a Pastor. I think you will. I think we will.

photo by Paul / flickr

--Roger Lovette / rogerlovette.blogspot.com

No comments:

Post a Comment