Jesus is a constant surprise to follow. It never fails to surprise me where Jesus takes us. Already we are at the end of February, it was just Christmas. We are on the cusp of Lent, and before we know it we will return to Advent and Christmas all over again. Things will change between now and then. We will change between now and then, but Christ remains our unchanging anchor in all of this. So today it is a unique gift for us to celebrate this Feast of the Transfiguration on the same day as our Vestry, that space where we pray and make decisions about where we are to change and grow in the midst of year yet to be explored while following a God who is constantly calling us into newness of life and ministry in our neighbourhood.
This morning we see and hear another experience of our own doubt being challenged by Christ’s own actions. You see throughout his ministry, there was this deep uncertainty about the trajectory of what he was doing. We know this by how many times we need proof of who he is. Sure, there are the professions of faith, but sometimes our minds override our hearts when it comes to things we think are risky. Remember, this is the same Jesus who called us to leave everything we have and follow him. To live life differently, to stand in opposition to the rule and control of Rome in our lives. Sure, emotionally I can get on board with that, but mentally there is that deeper question of risk. We know the powers of Rome and what they do to preachers like this one, they murder them and often murder their followers as well. There's also the social cost, the risk of being disliked. It's a powerful emotion. It is deeply uncomfortable for us to be disliked. It's why we put on so many masks to protect ourselves from the world. So, in the midst of this personal and corporate risk, Jesus shows us again, knowing we need to be shown, that he is who he says he is.
Jesus doesn't just show us, he surprises us with his transformation. Here we are on the side of a mountain, following him, and suddenly the whole weather system changes and Jesus goes from mortal to glowing. If I suddenly saw someone I knew and loved transfigured in this way before me, I too would be on the ground, probably checking my own pulse to make sure I was still alive. It also makes sense then, that we hear again the phrase from a few weeks ago at Jesus’s baptism “This is my son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.” This is both a reminder from God of what Jesus was to us, but also a foretelling of what was to happen, because at the end of that statement God says “listen to him.” Now at the time, it was impossible to see where we were going with Jesus, but with history and scripture we know that following Jesus means to follow him into the Cross. It is then, that the transfiguration not only asserts the identity of Christ for us, but reminds us of the power of what's about to come in following Jesus, the cross.
The cross is more than just an historical moment. It is also more than just a tool of oppression and shame. The cross is a daily call to walk more deeply with Jesus. By it we are given a deeper look into our relationship with Jesus and what our lives are called to do in this world. Sometimes that happens in the moments when we’ve let someone down, and the shame we feel at doing that teaches us what really matters to us, our relationships. Sometimes that happens when we are burdened with heavy leadership, as teachers, parents, humans, in our lives outside this place, and our decisions affect others lives. We start to see how we are called to lead with compassion, and in community with God in prayer- because without God nothing is possible. The cross therefore, is more than an accessory, it is our very lives. By it we are redeemed, through it we are saved and brought to a wholeness of life which goes onto feed the rest of the neighbourhood we live in. But to do that, we have to get up and not be afraid.
The needs of our world are deep, abundant, and terrifying at times. War, disease, phobias, isolation, poverty, surround us everyday. Listening to Jesus suggests we are to tackle all of these problems because he taught on each of them extensively. However, doing that would cause us to burn out, and sometimes even tremble on the ground in fear in the face of such need. Listening to Jesus is about finding the place within us where our greatest passions meet the world's greatest needs and our action in the world begins to transform this neighbourhood we love. This means, we may feel drawn to ask questions about why we have homeless people on the west side of Vancouver and what we can do to respond, which causes another person and another person to ask the same question and then we started the Neighbourhood ministry. We may ask why our students are so busy and feel so isolated, or how like President Santa Ono we can speak up for mental health in our neighbourhood. Or why is it so hard to find community in Wesbrook Village, or Acadia Park. These were questions that the last seven weeks of prayer practices sought to try and help us ask in the midst of prayer: why do we see a world like this, and how can we respond with our lives. The seven weeks of Lent give us the chance to go one step deeper in that work, by taking a spiritual challenge everyday to help us broaden how we are in the midst of where we are in this place.
As we start to encounter these challenges, they will feel weird and that's okay. That's God stretching us beyond our comfort zone to help us develop our own sense of self and ability to transform our community. Remember back to when we taught our kids to ride a bike? The first few times were unsure and scarry, but slowly with practice they built confidence until we couldn't get them off their bikes for anything. This is the key to developing a deeper and transformational spiritual life, constant practice. So keep practicing, even if it feels weird, try it. We never know what we are capable of until we try it, and by trying it we start to see how we can help transform our neighbourhood by getting up and not being afraid of the ministry Jesus calls you and I to share in this place, for this neighbourhood and its people. So church, get up this Lent and do not be afraid. Christ is with us, transforming us as we transform this neighbourhood we love.