Monday, March 3, 2014

Living the Mystery

Since it was school vacation week I took my kids to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on my day off.
I love museums and art so we had a great day.
I usually don’t love the modern art section of a museum.
Usually it looks like something that a three year old can do.
But this time something happened to me.
It happened while I was looking at the Jackson Pollock (for those who don’t know Jackson Pollock was the 20th century abstract painter who dripped, flung, and randomly put paint unto canvas) they had hanging at the museum.
I was looking at it and thought to myself, “What is this?”
What does this mean?
And then I realized that you can never really answer that question.
There is something about Jackson Pollock’s work that is just unanswerable.
And therein lies some of the point.
It is a mystery.
It is not straight forward like a picture of a chair or apple.
It is just looks like random pieces of paint flung onto a canvas.
But this time as I looked there seemed to be something more to it.
I couldn’t tell what it was but maybe that was the point.
There was room to wander, to imagine, to dream.
It was mysterious.

I always find Transfiguration a difficult day to preach, for exactly this same reason.
There is no easy to discern story or point here.
There is Jesus, there are bright lights, there is Moses and Elijah, there is a voice, and there are confused disciples.
I have read lots and lots about this text and the Transfiguration over the years.
I have read lots this week trying to discern for you what we should take away from it.
And I am not saying that there are no answers.
But really none of them are completely satisfying to me.
Even Peter in our second reading trying to explain what happened on the mountaintop that day seems at a lost for what it all meant.
But it all doesn’t add up to something simple.
And perhaps that is exactly the point.
There is simply some things in our faith that cannot be answered neatly and put into a nice package.

This is good news!
There should be mystery in our faith.
There should be things that don’t have an easy answer.
I know that many people know this and express it.
They say something like, “God works in mysterious ways.”
Absolutely, God does.
And our lives are filled with those mysterious things.
Those moments we can’t explain but know that something really wonderful happened.
Or even those moments that we think God was involved in, but are maybe afraid to say out loud because we might be seen as crazy.
If everything has an answer, if we know all about God then I think we have missed some of the point.
Faith has to be an open question, a place for us to dream, to imagine, to be creative.
If not it could be become stale and dead.
It becomes a series of clich├ęs, and bumper sticker sayings.

Faith is alive, and active, it moves in and through the world.
And all the time it is taking a turn we don’t see coming.
Our lives we think of as Straight lines.
We often do this we put our lives on a timeline.
We put the dates of major events.
I was born in 1973, moved to NH in 1976, graduated Highschool 1992, college 1996, Married in 2000, seminary 2003, ordained in 2002, kids born in 2004 & 2006, called to Concordia in 2009.
Looking at life this way leaves out the best parts the twist and turns that got me to those places, the stories that enlivened each step.
And it also leaves out some major themes of what it meant to live each of those moments.
It leaves out the wrong turns I took that taught me about myself, about God.
For example, it mentions that I got married, but it leaves out all heartbreak and learning I had to do to prepare me to fall in love with my wife.
For if not for that I wouldn’t have been ready when Vicki and I started dating.
It mentions that I went to seminary, but not how I got there, why I felt called to this particular calling.
And that is a great story.

We need the mystery.
We need the paint that is thrown on the canvas in what seems to be a random act, but it makes up more than the sum of its parts.
For all those things shape us into who we are, what we are meant to be, where we are meant to be.
Perhaps this is why so many people are so unhappy with their lives, because what they pay too much attention to is the simply the time line.
They have ideas about what is supposed to go on that timeline.
They have ideas about what type of work they want to do, who they want to marry, what kind of life they want.
In other words they have painted the picture already.
And when it doesn’t look like the one in their head they are disappointed, or not satisfied, or unhappy.
But if life is a mystery, if it continues to unfold in all of its seemingly random ways, then maybe we can enjoy the ride.

This is what happens to the disciples.
They have an idea of what the picture should look like.
It should be like the painting we saw at the museum of George Washington about to cross the Delaware.

By his white horse a confident commander ready to overthrow the imperial evil.
That is who Jesus was going to be the greatest and best figure.
They were not ready for the chaos that came with following Jesus.
They were not ready for the twist and turns in this story.
They were not ready for Jesus to be killed, and they certainly were not prepared for him to be resurrected.
They were not ready for the mystery.
Perhaps that is why Peter wants the booths; because that is what you do with great heroes you make statues of them.
You show others their bravery.
But the mystery of what it all means, what will happen that is harder to live in.
It is hard for us not to know.
It is hard not to have life work out the way we planned.
It is hard for life not to look like a beautiful painting.

This morning I want to encourage us to be content in the mystery of it all.
To be OK with not knowing how it all works out, or what it all means.
But to know a simple truth that is imbedded in the story, but lost among the sensational parts of the story.
At the end of the light, the clouds, the voice from heaven, and Moses and Elijah showing up, in the midst of the chaos and confusion, Jesus simply says what he always says, “Get up, do not be afraid.”
Do not be afraid that all is not as you think it should be I am with you.
It is a mystery to us, but not to God.
God sees something in those splotchy paint droppings that we don’t see.

It is not for us to know, but to live into the unknown, to live without fear, and with faith.
So get up, walk on, and do not be afraid.

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