Sunday, February 11, 2018

Phil Kniss: Readings and reflections on transfiguration and membership Sunday

Epiphany 6: Transfiguration and membership Sunday
Mark 9:2-9, 1 Corinthians 12:12, 24-27

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Today is our Membership Sunday, of course.
But it is also a significant day in the Christian calendar: Transfiguration Sunday. Here is Mark 9, our lectionary Gospel reading for today.

Mark 9:2-9
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

In 2012 Irene and I climbed Mt. Tabor, in Israel-Palestine,
a high hill that claims to be the Mount of Transfiguration.
As we neared the top, a large ornate church building towered over us,
called, “The Church of the Transfiguration.”
My first thought was, Peter got what he asked for, after all.
A permanent structure, to contain and protect the glory of God.

Ironic, that a giant marble building sits as a memorial—
to a moment when Peter was basically ignored by Jesus
for coming up with an ill-conceived idea
to institutionalize his experience,
to build a structure for something that cannot be contained.

I think this is an appropriate story to remember now in our congregation,
as we are focusing on some matters that might seem
somewhat institutional, at first glance.

Today we recognize some persons
bringing their formal membership to this congregation.
Today we also begin a time of ramping up our plans
to do some major repairs and renovations to this church building,
this shelter where people often come
to catch a glimpse of God’s glory.

Any connection between these earthly matters of ours, 
and this Gospel story?
What would Jesus say about church membership?
about church buildings in general?

Jesus is not against buildings, per se, or other structural matters.
What Jesus seemed most concerned about
was that structures not become idols,
but rather, tools for extending God’s reign, 
for moving out into God’s mission.
As soon as the glory faded on top of the mountain,
it was time to walk down the mountain,
and face the real world,
with all its pain and brokenness and beauty,
and to keep moving, with God.
Building a shelter, on the mountaintop,
would have been to create an idol out of a momentary experience.
They would have missed out on the activity of God
going on at the bottom of the mountain.

Maybe that’s how we should think of Membership Sunday.
And maybe that’s how we should think of our physical building.

What really matters in the Christian life,
is the act of following Jesus into God’s mission.
It’s the journey of being a disciple,
learning from Jesus,
being on the move with Jesus.
So when we join the body of Christ,
we join a dynamic movement more than an institution.

So Membership Sunday is not really about 
anyone’s formal status in the organization.
It’s not about the church roll,
or any other formal document.
The heart of this service is testimony.
It is bearing witness to a dynamic faith.
We will hear a few stories from pilgrims in faith,
people who are still trying to figure out, like the rest of us,
what it means to follow Jesus in life,
and what it means to be in covenant
with this particular group of Jesus followers,
and to be on the move with us.

And I also want to make this strong claim:
Movement and mission is at the heart
of any decision we need to make about our building.
There is nothing sacred about these bricks and mortar,
or anything else inside these walls.
What makes this physical space holy,
is a people using it to worship and serve God,
and to minister God’s healing and hope to the world.
What makes it holy
is making it safe and welcoming
for all our neighborhood children,
and giving shelter from the cold
for our homeless neighbors at times,
and providing a space 
for people to gather in weekly worship,
for immigrant neighbors to gather in fellowship,
for addicts to meet and support each other,
for knotting comforters and packing school kits for refugees,
for small churches to meet to worship in a different language,
for couples to publicly exchange vows,
and, though it happens all too often,
for the community to gather to celebrate a life that has ended,
to grieve, to comfort each other, 
and to hear the gospel of resurrection proclaimed.

To be a member of Park View Mennonite Church,
and to make this physical space a home,
is to say we are part of this movement—
we are a people moving, together, into God’s mission,
within these walls, and beyond the walls.
Where we are today, may not be where we are tomorrow.

The New Testament often describes the church with living metaphors.
One of the most frequent metaphors is the opposite of institutional—
the human body—alive, dynamic, growing, interactive.

Listen to part of 1 Corinthians 12 . . .
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ . . . God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

This is our high calling as followers of Jesus, to be part of the body,
and function in a healthy way within that body,
to the good of the whole,
and participate with the body in fulfilling its purpose.

That is what these new members will be doing today,
and what the rest of us will be reminded to do,
to offer ourselves, our hands, our heart, our all.

Let’s all reflect on that as we listen to Maria and Christopher
sing the U2 song, Yahweh.


As the song suggests, giving our all, and letting it go, 
may be our ideal,
but it’s one we often fail to fully live into.

So before we hear the testimonies of faith from new members,
I think it would be good for all of us current members,
to confess our sins, our failures to live fully into our calling.

Take your bulletin, and join with me in this prayer of confession:
one Lord Jesus Christ, we are your body, not because we have earned that name, but because you have given it to us. We marvel at this privilege, and we regret our failures.all Lord, have mercy on us, Christ, have mercy on us.   [silence]one God of extravagant mercy, with hands outstretched you poured out your very self  for our salvation and redemption. Restore us to your side,  that we may offer healing and hope to others.all Thanks be to God.

—Phil Kniss, February 11, 2018

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