I spent the latter part of last week at the annual meeting of our diocese. The highlight of that meeting was the election of The Rev. Jennifer Brooke-Davidson to be our next Bishop Suffragan. Throughout the election and the process leading up to the election I thought about and prayed for the seven candidates and their families.
I can’t help but wonder, on this day after the election, what those seven are thinking and feeling. In terms of results it might look like one candidate won and the other six lost, that one was chosen to become a bishop and the others chosen to remain, at least for now, priests. At some level that’s true but at another level I don’t think it’s quite that simple. Change, whether we see it as good or bad, wanted or unwanted, rarely is. I’m pretty sure all of them woke up this morning wondering and asking themselves what just happened? What do I do now? Some may be sighing with relief. Others may be weeping with disappointment and sorrow. I suspect there is some celebration and some sadness. Most, I imagine, are happy to just have the election over-with. One, I am pretty sure, is wondering what she has gotten herself into and what it means to be a bishop. All are probably reflecting on what has just happened and what it means for their lives and ministry as they move forward. At some level, all are dealing with change.
You and I know what that’s like. Maybe we haven’t been in an election for bishop but we’ve all woken up to change in our lives, America, and our world. We’ve all gotten up that next morning wondering what just happened and what do I do now? Sometimes it was change we wanted and others times it was change we never wished for or wanted. Sometimes we experienced the change as positive and good. Other times the change was painful and a loss of something we valued or wanted. Whether we see it as good or bad, desired or unwanted, change always comes with consequences, challenges, and questions.
I suspect every one of you could tell stories about the changes you have experienced, the changes that are happening in your life right now, or the changes that you hope for or that you fear happening. How do we live in the midst of change? What handholds are there when it seems the world around us as well as within us is changing?
I wonder if the disciples in today’s gospel (Matthew 17:1-9) might be asking the same kind of questions, and if they too are feeling the wind of change blowing through their lives. Here’s why I say that. Immediately before Jesus takes Peter, John, and James up the mountain he tells them and the others that he must suffer, die, and be resurrected on the third day. He will tell them this again after they come down from the mountain.
What happened on that mountain top took place between Jesus’s two statements of impending change. Maybe that event, what we call the transfiguration, was about preparing and helping the disciples live through the coming change. Maybe the transfiguration story has something to teach and show us about how to live in the midst of change. Maybe that’s why every year the transfiguration is the gospel we hear on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Sunday before we enter the season of Lent, a season that focuses on change. Change, whether on the mountain top of life or in the valley of the shadow of death is a reality for all of us.
“Listen to him.”
One of the things I am aware of the midst of change is how many voices begin to speak. Some are outside of me and some are from within.
There are voice of commentators chattering about what is happening and what should be done, voices of judgment, voices of second guessing, voices of fear. There are voices of self-doubt, self-criticism, and all the “would’ves, should’ves, and could’ves. Some voices tell us to run and hide, and others tell us to fight and resist. Some voices ask questions and want explanations. Other voices deny what is happening, blame, or declare it to be the end of the world.
So many voices cry out for attention. Not every voice, however, is helpful or worth listening to. Some voices may sound sweet but they are not good for us. The story of the transfiguration says there is only one voice to listen to. The voice of God speaks from the bright cloud overshadowing Peter, James, and, John, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.”
What if in the midst of change we sought to hear and listen to that one voice, the voice of Christ? What if we kept our ears open to what he is saying in our life and world today? To let ourselves become aware of and attentive to what he is saying and doing, to let his concerns and desires become our concerns and desires, to let his way of engaging life and the world become our way of engaging life and the world.
It would mean that whatever change comes upon us it does not have the final word. There is another voice. Jesus is always speaking a word larger and more powerful than all the other voices. In the midst of change Jesus speaks a word of life, a word of hope, a word of forgiveness, a word of mercy, a word of beauty, a word of generosity, a word of courage, a word of love, a word of healing.
Jesus speaks a word to and for you and me. Are we listening to that word, to his voice?
I suspect we’ve all faced change that has caused us to stumble and fall, paralyzed us, or left us overwhelmed. Again, this is not about whether the change is perceived as good or bad. It’s about regaining our balance and getting our feet back under us. It’s about stepping into new life when we aren’t sure what that looks like or if there really is a new life awaiting us.
The three disciples, Matthew tells us, “fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.” Jesus touches them and says, “Get up.” But it’s more than just “get up.” A more literal translation would be something like “be raised up,” “be aroused from the sleep of death,” or maybe even “be resurrected.” The word Matthew uses here is the same verb he uses when
- Jesus heals the paralytic, telling him, “Stand up” (Mt. 9:6-7);
- Jesus takes the hand of dead daughter of the synagogue leader, “and the girl got up” (Mt. 9:25);
- Jesus instructs the twelve, “Raise the dead” (Mt. 10:8);
- Jesus foretells his own resurrection (Mt. 16:21; 17:9; 17:23; 20:19; 26:32); and
- The angel tells the women who come to Jesus’ tomb, “He is not here for he has been raised, as he said” (Mt. 28:6).
Jesus comes to us in whatever circumstances of change we find ourselves, touches us, and says, “Get up, be raised” It’s the promise that though life has changed, it has not ended. Somehow new life is hidden in the midst of change, even when cannot see it or do not believe it. God uses the changing circumstances of our lives and world to bring us into new life. I’m not suggesting that God directly causes change to come upon us. I’m suggesting that God never wastes a chance to draw forth new life.
“Do not be afraid.”
Most of us I suspect live with some level of fear. Change often brings about fear – the fear of losing what we love, value, and desire; and sometimes it’s the fear that comes with getting what we want. In the midst of change Jesus says, “Do not be afraid.” He speaks to the heart of the human condition. They are the words we near to hear when we are raised up and back on our feet.
His words do not magically eliminate our fear. Instead, they are the call to take a first step into a new and changed life despite our fear. They are the assurance, once again, that change, does not have the final word, Christ does. We are not called to be fearless but to be courageous in the midst of change and fear.
I don’t know what changes you are dealing with. Maybe it’s in your marriage, or with you children. Maybe it’s the death of a loved one. Maybe it’s about your health, your age, your physical or mental well-being. Maybe it concerns your work, your job, your income. Maybe it’s a dream or plans that didn’t work out. Maybe life is going exactly like you want. Maybe you are on a road to recovery and well being. Maybe everything has fallen in place and for the first time you felt alive. Maybe you were elected bishop. Maybe you were not elected bishop.
Listen to him. Be raised up. Do not be afraid. What if those words are holy wisdom for times of change? What if they are the means by which we step into our own transfiguration? Maybe it wasn’t Jesus who changed on the mountaintop. Maybe it was Peter, James, and John. Maybe their eyes were opened and their seeing changed, so that everywhere they looked they saw “Jesus himself alone.” Maybe they saw Jesus for the first time as he had always been.
If that’s true, and I believe it is, then it means that every change – whether good or bad, wanted or unwanted, joyful or sorrowful – is illumined with divine light and filled with God’s presence.
Listen to him. Be raised up. Do not be afraid.