When walking, walk. When looking, look. When loving, love. A Sermon preached on Feb 14, 2021

I want to invite you this morning to join with me in an imaginary journey toward Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-9).

I shared in a conversation earlier with week with some colleagues and we briefly touched on the text for today: the story of the Transfiguration, and in that conversation, I was reminded of an earlier conversation with a student I was supervising at the time, who on their third trip through the lectionary lamented in one of our supervisory sessions, “What will I say, this is the third time in three years that I’ve had to preach on essentially the same story?”

To which I replied, “Most of the folk gathering on Sunday won’t even know what Transfiguration is and if they do, they’re likely more worried about how cold it is and whether their pipes are going to freeze…”

This story of Jesus going with three of his followers to a mountaintop is what we call an archetypal story in literary circles.  That is to say features of the story are strikingly similar to other stories… there are common themes, it follows a certain pattern and has similar images…

Like many other biblical stories of significance, it takes place on a mountain top… and there is light in the midst of poetic tension.  

There are words attributed to the Divine, words that echo from other stories in other places and times… and, there is that most well used literary device, the incomplete ending that has you needing to turn the page, or in the case of Netflix, click quickly on the next episode button so that you become a binge watching couch potato…

And who among us has not been such at one point or another over the past 10 months as we’ve navigated this pandemic?  I know I have, and my Netflix history is there for all in my family to see: Greenleaf, Longmire and Rust Valley Restorers and on Amazon Prime the list includes Yellowstone and Hell’s Kitchen just to name a few…

So, get off the sofa, or out of bed, up from the table, and lace up your walking boots… no, sit down, I didn’t really mean that – I meant it as I mean most stuff I say from the pulpit – figuratively – and come with me on that journey up a mountainside…

Because after all, we never just arrive at those mountaintop experiences… we have to get there, and more often than not, unless you are lucky enough to find yourself at the bottom of a mountain with a gondola or a chairlift, the only way you’re getting to the top is by walking.  

So let’s walk awhile and imagine our walking as that of the journey of a church or pastoral charge…

The walk begins easy enough, the agreement of a shared destination – no matter that there is no idea of where it is or how long it’ll take to get there… No matter.  

The Realm of God, the Kingdom of God sounds like a good place to go and so it is, together this ragtag band sets out, and other people join in walking, some really intent on the destination, others asking lots of questions, trying to discern the best way, the most efficient speed…

And others, they just plod along, putting one foot in front of the other doing their best not to trip over their own feet, and not step on the heels of those in front of them or slow down those behind then…

As these pilgrims make their way… and that’s what they are, that’s what we are – pilgrims – because no one has been this way, in this time before… there are the inevitable disagreements.  

Someone has stepped on someone else’s heels.  Someone else is complaining about how much they need to carry in their backpack.  Others are anxious because the movement is not fast enough and still others are anxious because things seem to be moving too fast…

Sometimes it is the case that the dynamic within the group of pilgrims changes, and what was one group, over time, sometimes quickly and other times slowly, divides into one or more groups… each still deeply committed to the destination but maybe picking slightly different pathways toward that still shared destination.

Good leaders on such pilgrimages are the ones who are in the midst of the people trying to offer encouragement and inspiration.

Good leaders, like Jesus does for the disciples, remind the pilgrims of the invitation to join the journey and offer encouragement:​  Come and follow me…. Blessed are you… Go and sin no more… Take up your mat and walk…

But pilgrims being fallible and leaders being imperfect human beings, mistakes are made.  

Sometimes in the desire to get to where we’re going, some will agree to carry too much and end up being resentful for having to carry so much, and others will get angry because they feel they just can’t carry anymore and feelings of inadequacy threaten to overwhelm them.

In such moments it may be helpful for us to try and hear the voice of Jesus in the words of Marilyn Lerch, whose words Ruth Buckinger quoted in our Preacher’s Help Group on Tuesday: “when one is hiking it is best to walk when you are walking and look when your looking.”

It’s a Zen Koan.  When walking walk.  

When eating eat. And we can add, “When looking, look. “

For if you try to look while you are walking you can lose focus, drift off the safe pathway, stumble, trip, or at worst, fall and get hurt or fall behind and get lost trying to catch up.  

And as for eating when walking and looking?  That’s a recipe for disaster… we all know how hard it can be to just chew bubble gum and walk straight!

When walking walk.  

When looking look.

On our best days we manage to do this, and we arrive at one mountaintop experience after another… the Easter service that everyone remembers, the Christmas eve service when the warmth of the woodstove was overpowered by the warmth of our feeling of togetherness, the beginnings and baptisms that bring us together and the endings and funerals that remind us of why its important for us to be together…

Mountaintop experience after mountaintop experience…  holy and beautiful moments in which are touched by the melody of a song, the words of a preacher or the embrace of a neighbour…

We’d love to hold on to these moments.  Like Peter we want to build tents and hang out, savour the moment and not let it go… but, as Jesus urges Peter, James and John down the mountain and tells them not to speak of the experience, so we are called down off the mountain and into the next valley of opportunity and challenge with the promise of another holy hike…

Others, perhaps out of the hurt of having their heels stepped on or some other injury, want to build tents not only to hold onto the holy memories, but to hold onto the hurt – unable to let it go.  These folks too need to hear the words of Jesus that urges them onto more walking…

To the water of life experienced in the river of baptism and then into the wilderness and forty days of temptation…

Back to the dust of the road with the echo of a call that is both invitation and warning: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Then to the temples of greed and markets of exploitation where tables are overturned, and we can either stand idly by watching or take part in turning the right side up by turning the broken upside down…

And then back to the road where we are reminded, “For God so loved…” and urged again and again to help others know they are loved…

As we hear, again and again the reverberating echo of Jesus call to servanthood “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” 

And before we know it, another walk into the valley and climb up the hillside will be behind us, another Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday but a memory, and we’ll be tempted again, to build tents and camp out in that moment… because we’ll look – and see in yet another new way…

Friends, there is no knowing what lies beyond the dip in the faint pathway that lies before us… how steep the path is, where it will lead or how long it will take for us to get there – wherever there is – but we can be certain of two things and only two things:

First, there is not here.  We have not arrived.  The journey is not over. Jesus calls us into tomorrow, again and again.

And second, we is us together.  Jesus didn’t call a church of one or even two or three… he called together community, 12, 12 times 12 times 12 and 12 more and on and on, again and again… and we is us stronger together in our diversity as we work through both the fractures and the blessings of being community.

So let us pause for this moment and look at the giftedness of the community we are privileged to be part of… look, really look and see the care and commitment of those faces that come to mind as you recall moments of the journey thus far… and when you’re ready, slip on your sandals, tie up your walking shoes, lace up your boots and lets fall into step with Jesus and see where he’s leading next… knowing that when, in the walking and the looking, when we love, transfiguration takes place and we see in a new way.  Amen.

A very special thanks to Jennie who responded to my challenge to rewrite the words to “These Boots are Made for Walking”

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