Monday, February 8, 2016

Why Don't They "Get It"?

A couple of years ago I was hanging out with pastoral colleagues at a conference.
A newly ordained colleague was talking about her new call.
She was talking about how the congregation needed to change.
How they didn’t “get it”.
How they only thought about themselves and not about the people outside of the church.
This is a familiar story.
I hear many pastors talk this way.
Being a pastor is a weird profession for many reasons but one of them is because our job is all about people.
At the end of the day or a career there isn’t a lot to point to that shows our success in this area.
We don’t build things, create things, we don’t make lots of money.
We bring the good news of Jesus Christ to people.
And at the end of the day often there is nothing tangible to show us that we did that well or we failed.
So we measure our success by how much people, “get it”.
That night I challenged my newly ordained colleague and told her that I think that her congregation will never change, they will never “get it”.
And that it is not our job to change people.
That if she believes that is what she is doing she will end up really disappointed.
Over my 12 years of ministry I have tried to keep this in mind.
It was told to me by a veteran pastor when I was just starting out.
And for the most part I can remember this and not be frustrated.
I can love all of you for who you are, and not who I think you should be.
Every now and then it does get to me.
I get frustrated because I realize that even though I preach every week about opening ourselves up to others it doesn’t seem to get through.
And every now and then I can’t hold back.
I become disheartened and wonder why am I doing this.
What is the point?

What often saves me is realizing my own inability to change.
I would love to be one of those pastors who is always calm cool and collected.
I am sure that is how my grandfather was a pastor.
He always seemed to be graceful knowing the right thing to say and the right way to say it.
But that is not me.
I can’t always hide my displeasure.
I can’t always say the right thing.
So if I can’t change why would I expect you to?
If I fail often in my discipleship why would I expect you to be perfect in yours?

Maybe our Gospel this morning can help all of us.
Because when we read this Gospel about the transfiguration we might want to think about the disciples.
What did it do to them?
How were they changed after seeing Jesus with their religious heroes Moses and Elijah?
How did they change after having heard the voice of God from the cloud?
The answer is they didn’t change at all.
Peter is still impetuous speaking before he thinks.
When they come down off the mountain they are unable to cast out the demon of a young boy, even though Jesus had shown them how to do it before.
After this in Luke there will be other stories of how the disciples are not ready, and don’t get it.
Reading about the disciples always makes me feel better because I see myself in them.
I see the church in them.
Imperfect, fumbling, stubborn, blind.
But you see this is the point.
The story of the transfiguration is not about the disciples at all.
It is about Jesus.
It is not the disciples that are transformed, changed, and transfigured it is Jesus.
Jesus is the one who becomes “dazzling white”.
Jesus is the one who talks with Moses and Elijah.
Jesus is the one that is called “my son, my chosen” by God.
The attention of this story belongs on Jesus.
This is Luke’s way of saying to us that Jesus is the one we should listen to.
Jesus is the one who will die in Jerusalem on the cross to save us.
Jesus is the one who is the savior.
Jesus is the one who changes not us.

And isn’t that the problem.
We have made this all about us.
How we need to change.
How we need to grow in discipleship.
How we need to be different.
How we need to do this or that.
And church is not about any of that.
It is about seeing Jesus in all his glory for what he is our savior.
This is not about us, it is about Jesus.
And that is what gives me hope for our congregation and the Church at large.
As St. Paul says, “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart.”

Not because we believe that we will change and someday we will magically “get it”.
Not because we believe that we will someday wake up and be ready to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.
Not because our efforts to being better people are successful, but because we know the wonderful mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ.
That is what saves us.
That is what our ministry is built on.

At Wednesday worship this week when we were talking about this Gospel lesson people didn’t have a lot to say.
Lots of times we have to end the conversation before we run out of things to say about it.
But this week we ended just sitting there staring at our papers.
That is the correct and really only response to this story.
It is a mystical story that defies explanation.
It is outside our experience.
And we have the same reaction that the disciples had who witnessed it first hand, silence.
And that is perhaps the only reaction we should have in the face of the mystery and wonder of God.
Not some treaties on the nature of God.
Not some list of things that we need to work on and get better at.
But simply silence in the face of a God that is dazzling white.
A God, who gave the law, spoke through the prophets, created the world, and sent his son to fulfill it all.
A God who is filled with mercy.

That is the God of this Church.
It is the God who makes this ministry possible, because it is not built on me as your pastor (Thank God), and my agenda.
It is not built on you.
It is not built on you “getting it”.
It is built on the mercy of God who has called us here together.
This ministry is not here so that you can change, it is because we can’t, won’t, and don’t.
It is here because we are all so imperfect, stubborn, sinful, selfish, and lost that we need a savior.
We need a savior to shine light into the dark places of our lives.
We need a savior to bring us good news.
We need a savior to bring us hope.

And today on this transfiguration Sunday God has done that through his son Jesus Christ.
Today may you see Jesus dazzling white connecting us to the source of mercy that gives us hope so we do not lose heart.

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