[excerpts from my last sermon as Senior Pastor of Disciples Christian Church. Preached yesterday, Sunday, Feb. 15, 2015. Today begins my first day of retirement]
With the possible exception of the man I live with, pretty much no one asks me about a sermon before I preach it. Even David has weeks of not knowing anything about what I’m going to preach before he hears it at 9:00 for the first time. But this week was an exception. I couldn’t count the number of people who wanted to know – have you written it yet?, people asked me 3 weeks ago! I bet this one is really hard to prepare for. I don’t envy you! Boy, I can’t wait to hear it.
No pressure! It’s not like it was waking me up at night thinking about it. Actually, the thought of writing this my last sermon as your pastor was waking me up at night. The pressure coming from the outside was nothing like the pressure on the inside. Some of it was knowing how much I love everything about preaching, and it’s impossible to know what it will feel like to not do it every week. I’ve also been told I’m pretty good at it, and I sure wouldn’t want to let anyone down this last week. And, it’s also really difficult for finales to live up to the hype.
So, in my 3:00 am musings about all this, I started remembering famous finales. The finale I thought about the most was Seinfeld. The Seinfeld finale came after 9 seasons. Just one more year than I’ve been at Disciples. Seinfeld produced 180 episodes, but I’m sure I’ve preached far more times than that in 8 years. I don’t get the summers off, and I don’t get to play repeats!
Do you remember the finale? People really didn’t like it. Of course there was enormous pressure for it to be funny. But it wasn’t just that. It was the direction it took that was different from what anyone expected. George, Elaine, Kramer, and Jerry end up in jail. They are on trial for watching a man get mugged and doing nothing about it. They disobeyed a Good Samaritan law by not doing anything which sounds like a pretty typical Seinfeld episode. So what was our disappointment? It wasn’t like we had ever witnessed an unselfish act from any of them. Seinfeld was funny because the characters were the most self-absorbed and socially apathetic people we could imagine. It was a show about nothing, so we could laugh freely about anything and everything.
The finale was guilty only for staying in character. Maybe the wrath of the fan base was that ultimately we wanted more for these people. We wanted something to happen to them that mattered. Though they were friends with each other, they were isolated from the rest of the world. That’s not at all who God created us to be. God does not intend for us to live that way.
And that’s where I’ll part ways with this analogy. Because for whatever this finale of a sermon will or will not be, no one can say that these past 8 years have not mattered. They have. We might want for more time together. We might wish for things to be different. But no one can say that we part ways unchanged. We are not the same today as we were in 2007 when I arrived as your pastor or whatever subsequent year you became a Disciple. And though this is my final sermon as your pastor, nothing else is final about today. For any of us or for any of the ministries of Disciples Christian Church.
Because we do matter. Because we do not live as self-absorbed and isolated human beings. Because we are connected to the living and breathing gospel message, and we are the Body of Christ.
So, enough talk of disappointment or disenchantment, discouragement, denial or finales. This morning we share one of the most beautiful, mystical, powerful and wildly miraculous stories in all of scripture. It’s called the Transfiguration. And oh, my, sweet Jesus what happened on that mountain! What an incredible joy and privilege for this text to fall on my last Sunday. Not every preacher would say that. I have colleagues who’ve managed to make it through their entire careers without preaching a sermon on this text. They don’t like it because it seems too outlandish, too unbelievable, too difficult to explain.
Not me. I absolutely love it. I looked through my files and found that I’ve preached it 8 times in 15 years. I’m not here to explain it away or to make it seem like some ordinary hike up an ordinary mountain on a day with ordinary clouds in the sky. This was a God will knock your socks off sort of day. I won’t try to whittle it down to an explainable size because I want us to be in touch with just how large our God is. It’s OK not to understand how it could have happened. It’s OK to just say. Wow.
Jesus is The One – the one we follow, the one who turns our world upside down, the one in whom our redemption lies – and those concepts are so large that we ought to expect the unexplainable and occasionally bask in the outrageousness of it. Jesus the man who lived and walked and taught and healed. Jesus the man known to hang with fisherman and tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus the man who made some very important people angry enough to kill him. Jesus the martyr and moral teacher and friend of the poor. Wow. But there’s more. Jesus who is suddenly and mysteriously lit up from the inside. To men and women who hardly knew why they dropped everything to follow. Realizing there was just something that radiated from him that spoke of eternal truth. Something that radiated from him that lit up their souls. And on this day, that something lit up the sky.
That’s what we are a part of at Disciples Christian Church. Have been since our earliest days and will continue to be long after I’m gone. What do we do with moments like this? Maybe we are like Peter and we don’t really know what to do. Peter’s first thought is to organize it, contain it, and put a box around it. Church people know what’s coming next. Better get to work on a budget. These building are going to cost something. They won’t build themselves. Better look at our donor pool and start asking for money. Churches are always asking for money. We’ll have to agree of course about exactly what these buildings will look like. This is going to make people mad Peter. Better call for the vote. What do the by-laws say? Do we have a quorum on this mountain?
God love him. Peter came perilously close to missing the point. Peter’s so busy talking about his plan that the voice from heaven has to interrupt him to be heard. God’s voice saying:
This is my Son the Beloved. Listen to him.
Wow. There isn’t a plan that is better than that. Maybe it’s not about a building. Maybe it’s about somehow creating space for people to experience the power and majesty of God. Maybe it’s not about where you sit — in pews or flexible seating. Maybe it’s about standing together in the mystery. Maybe it’s not about stability and order and leadership staying the same. Maybe it’s about wonder and change. Maybe it’s less about worry and more about hopeful expectation. Maybe it’s about Jesus drawing near, no, not maybe – it is about Jesus drawing near, so near that his presence may unsettle our plans. But while his presence unsettles us, it also uplifts us. Uplifted into a relationship with the One who meets us, accepts us, and loves us for who we are and where we are in this very moment.
Maybe it’s not about what we want, but what God wants for us. The great genius of God who made the heavens and earth and all that is in them – that same God reaches out and touches each one of us. Jesus’ hand on Peter’s shoulder was nothing less than God’s own touch. Wow. I have felt that hand on my shoulder every time I have opened my mouth to preach. And if my words have moved you, it’s because that same hand is touching you. It’s not because I’ve hit a home run – it’s because God has.
So … to that last sentence of our text this morning. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. That’s the sentence I always wish we could leave out. It seems to un-Jesus like. Why the command to silence? Aren’t we supposed to tell everyone about Jesus?
We are. But I think I get it. If we were to tell of this moment before we held it inside of ourselves for a spell, it would be more like it was a final moment. And you know, finales never live up to the hype. It would be as if nothing could top it. As if the best of us had already been played out. Let’s box it up. Box ourselves up. WOW moments can take a lot out of us.
But WOW moments are intended to fill us up. What is most important for now is to have had the experience. To realize how profound it was. Jesus would say now take some time and let it work in and through us. To let the experience shape us, transform us, and prepare us for what will come next.
I leave you this morning so filled with WOW moments from every baby I held, every youth I baptized, every person whose life I celebrated at their death. Every person I watched grow in leadership. Every participant who became a disciple and dug deeper. From every word I said that you have heard and every challenge you have taken on from my words. Every kindness you have shared. Words will not do justice today in trying to tell you what those moments have meant. The important thing is that we had the experience. We were witness to the humanity and the divinity of Jesus Christ in our encounters with each other.
What we did together mattered. We are not the same as we once were. And, Thank You Jesus, there is nothing final about this day.
Rev. Kristine Eggert
Pastor. Parent. Activist.