Monday, February 16, 2015
Sermon Presented by Colleen Kummet
February 15, 2015
Have you ever felt like a pioneer? It’s the feeling of doing something new —starting a new business, finishing a college degree, switching careers. Some of you may have left your home and settled in an unknown, foreign place. I remember stories told by my grandfather of leaving California after the Great Depression to buy land in the Midwest. World War II was raging in Europe, and as a result of the rationing of materials, he had to carefully dismantle various outbuildings on the property, save the lumber and nails to be rebuilt into their home. Do you remember the passion and the excitement of your new experience? Despite the fear, the goal was clear, the road defined, life seemed so real. Yes there was risk but it was all worth it.
Today’s scripture finds Jesus’ disciples in the valley. The disciples of Jesus were constantly on the move after having left their livelihoods with only the instructions, “Follow me.” Jesus had just healed the deaf mute, fed the four thousand, and healed the blind man at Bethsaida, demonstrating the power and saving capacity that the Jews expected in the long-awaited Messiah. The ministry seems to be riding a high. Ironically, it is at this point that Jesus begins to talk about his death, in Mark 8:31, saying ‘the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.’ Jesus was clear in this and continued to say in verse 34, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ Now the disciples were realizing that the full extent of committing to follow would encompass inconceivable divine glory and unfathomable human suffering.
As people of God, we are an unsettled people. We come from a long tradition of pioneers, just a few months ago we celebrated a landmark anniversary of our church; pioneers moving the congregation and building the new church that we enjoy today. Abraham was a comfortable farmer advancing in years when God told him to pick up everything and move to a “land that I will show you.” Moses had settled into a comfortable life as a shepherd when God asked him to return to Egypt, where he was a wanted criminal, and lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land. The stories of the prophets are stories of people who were settled only to be asked by God to leave everything and strike out with a purpose that only God fully understood. In other words, they were asked to “unsettle” to accomplish God’s plan on Earth. In this week’s scripture, disciples Peter, James, and John accompany Jesus to the top of a high mountain. There they witness Jesus transfigured and with him Moses and Elijah. Peter, James and John witnessed, if only for a moment, the glory of God revealed in the Son. This was the true Jesus.
Jesus’ friends had been shattered by his statement that he was going to Jerusalem to die. That seemed to them the complete negation of all they understood the Messiah to be. They were confused, things were happening which not only bewildered them, but broke their hearts. On the mountain, the disciples observed Jesus’ grim decision approved by Moses, the supreme law-giver of Israel, and Elijah, the greatest prophet of Israel.
Most important of all, the disciples heard the voice of God. In Jewish thought, a cloud is connected to the presence of God, a pillar of cloud led the Israelites across the desert to the Promised Land, Moses met God in a cloud to receive the law, and a cloud descended on the disciples now. Out of the cloud, they heard God’s pronouncement of Jesus as his Son. The disciples were afraid, and had no idea what was happening, but there was no doubt that Jesus was the Messiah, that God had spoken. What they saw on the mountain of the transfiguration would give them something to hold on to in the difficult times ahead, even when they could not understand. Cross or no cross, they had heard the voice of God acknowledging Jesus as his Son. The fulfillment of God’s plan and Israel’s future was Jesus’ death on the cross. The interesting thing about pioneers is that they typically turn into settlers. Even Peter on the mountain offers to build shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah so that they could all relax and stay a while. Despite the excitement and novelty of the journey, we have the temptation to settle in and get comfortable.
It is noteworthy that in the history of God’s people, the times they get into trouble were the times when they chose to be settlers rather than pioneers. The people of Israel, after leaving Egypt freed by God’s power, pause in the desert for Moses to climb the mountain to receive God’s law. Meanwhile, the people begin melting gold for an idol to worship. During the time of the Judges, Israel envied neighboring nations and wanted the security of a king, beginning their wretched history of corrupt leadership. Many churches, begun by pioneers have become the home of settlers, who no longer want to venture beyond the known even to further the kingdom to which they claim to belong.
God has created us to be pioneers, people willing to unsettle. God’s word to Peter, James, and John on the mountain is, “Listen to him.” Peter, James, and John obeyed this command, followed Jesus to the cross, and took the good news of his resurrection to new and unknown places, to people who had not heard, and ultimately to their death as martyrs. Your support and prayers allowed this mission team to be pioneers for God in El Salvador. The village where we built the house had never had Habitat for Humanity volunteers working in it. The villagers were amazed that Americans would come all the way to their country to spend a week building a house for their neighbor. We as volunteers felt the exhilaration of the beautiful mountains, good old-fashioned hard work, and friendly faces. We experienced the uncertainty of a strange language and unbelievable poverty. The home we labored to build has been completed, but our journey is not over. We must resist the urge to settle in and savor; instead we must seek and satisfy the needs calling out around us. God’s words for us today are, “Listen to him.” Find time to be alone, allow God to reveal to you the power of His plan, and then follow the lead of Jesus, come down from the mountain and whatever may come – listen to Him. If we were to listen carefully to Jesus, to what endeavor would he be calling us? To what would he be leading us out of our settled, comfortable life? Remember the excitement, fire, and passion of trying something new?
Pioneering looks different for each of us. Each one of us has unique capacities to be used to meet the needs in our community and our world which call out to us in a special way. When we obediently bring the love of Jesus to bear on this need, we are once again pioneers. We rediscover that life is in the journey, and we will not reach our destination until Christ comes again in glory. What would God’s pioneer experience look like for you today?