Sermon February 22: Divine Meetings

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Faith United Methodist Church

February 15, 2015

Transfiguration Sunday

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Mark 9:2-9, 2 Kings 2:1-12

Prayer of Illumination:

O Lord, in the light of your presence we turn our attention to your teaching, seeking what you have to say to us. Bless O God the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts as we reflect upon your word. May your message to us inspire us and may the light of your love shine through us. We pray this all in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Sermon:  Divine Meetings  

Here at Faith United Methodist Church we know about meetings, don’t we? On any given night of the week you may find a few of us gathered here for a meeting of one sort or another. We have outreach team meetings, Trustees meetings, worship team meetings, Church Council meetings, Stewardship team meetings, and even meetings to arrange our meetings. Thinking about our fondness for meetings I am reminded of the old light-bulb joke. How many Methodists does it take to change a light bulb? At least 15, one to change the light bulb, and three committee meetings to approve the change and decide who brings the potato salad. (That’s another thing about Methodists, we know how to do a good pot-luck.)

My friend and instructor Rev. Barb Lemmel, whose father is also a pastor, shared a story about her childhood at a recent Tending the Fire session. When she was a little girl Barb went to a friend’s house to play. After dinner the friend’s father when to the living-room and began watching TV. Barb asked her friend something to the effect of, “What’s wrong with your Dad? Doesn’t he have a meeting to go to?” Barb was so accustomed to her father going off to church meetings every night that she thought that’s what everyone’s parents did.

Meetings, though, do date back to Biblical times, right? Our meetings aren’t without purpose. We meet for the very good and real purpose of furthering the Kingdom of God in our small corner of the world and beyond. We come from a long history of people of faith trying to do the exact same thing.

So it’s no surprise when Jesus, in this morning’s Gospel lesson, called Peter, James and John to a mountain top meeting. Perhaps these chosen disciples thought Jesus had some special task for them or wanted them to evaluate the other disciples’ work. They probably felt special being summoned when the other disciples were left behind.   Who wouldn’t want to be picked for Jesus sub-committee?

But then, when the got to the meeting place, something strange happened. Jesus’ clothes turned dazzling white. Moses and Elijah joined them unexpectedly. A voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him.” This kind of think doesn’t usually happen at our Church Council meetings ~ or at least not when I’m there. John Wesley, and other long dead heroes of our faith, don’t usually show up. Our winter coats don’t suddenly become as radiant as the freshly fallen snow. What kind of meeting was this?

It is likely that the three disciples wondered the same thing. At least Peter’s struggle to understand it all was captured in his plea, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here…” Peter, forgetting about the agenda, thought they all should stay right where they were and bask in the glory of it all. As Madeline L’Engle put it, this one moment broke, “…ordinary chronology into a million fragments.” There was, for a moment, a ‘Thin Place’ where heaven and earth met. And just as soon as it all began it ended. The meeting was adjourned and the three disciples stumbled down the mountain with Jesus, not sure what had happened or what they were to do about it.

In the Lutheran Book of Worship there is a prayer that begins, “Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet un-trodden, through perils unknown…” In the case of the disciples, they new they were on an adventure with Jesus and already amazing things had happened. And such it is with us as well. We are on an adventure, too. Amazing things have already happened, and amazing things are yet to come. But no matter how many meetings we attend or planning session we organize, we still have no idea where this adventure will take us. One day we may be called to the mountain top and the next we are brought into the valley. One moment the light dazzles us and we are celebrating the glory, the next we are stumbling down the mountain. So often Jesus’ agenda is not our own.

In the Old Testament lesson we find another ‘Thin Place’, another mysterious meeting. Elisha followed Elijah (his mentor) to Bethel, through Jericho, and on to the Jordan. Indeed he followed him right up to the moment of Elijah’s death. He watched as Elijah was swept up into heaven in a whirlwind of chariots and horses of fire. Elisha stood by watching this holy and mysterious event ~ a meeting of heaven and earth. A meeting that gave him strength as he returned to God’s people to lead them into the unknown.

And such meetings don’t just happen back then. Such divine meetings still happen today. I want to take a moment to tell you a little bit about the life of Leontine Kelly. Leontine was a woman who was called to the mountain-top and sent back to the valley. She was born in 1920. She grew up the daughter of a Methodist preacher at a time when the church was still divided between North and South, with African American Methodists prohibited from attending ‘white’ churches. Leontine divorced while in her 30s and went back to college to become a teacher. At 49 she was widowed by her second husband, a Methodist pastor.

After her husband’s death her church met with her, listened to God’s voice and encouraged her to become a pastor. By that time the United Methodist Church was integrated and had even been ordaining women for a little more than ten years. Yet it was still a challenge for a woman ~ especially an African American woman ~ to be accepted as clergy. In her 50s Leontine set out on a new adventure to become a pastor. In fact, Leontine broke through barriers of many kinds, becoming the second woman bishop in the United Methodist Church and the first African American woman bishop in any major Protestant denomination in 1984.

Leontine retired as bishop 1998 and continued working for justice in the church and the world. She brought awareness to the need for an end to nuclear arms, the issue of AIDS, and acceptance of gays and lesbians in the church. Leontine died in 2012 at 92 years old ~ an activist and a pioneer.   The fruit of that meeting with her church so long ago continues to flower today through her legacy.

 So what if it takes 15 of us to change a light bulb, right? We meet because we know that we can do more together than we can do alone. Jesus brought Peter, James and John up the mountain because he knew they would need to draw on that experience ~ and each other ~ to spread the Gospel message. Elisha met with Elijah on the day of his death because he knew there was more he needed to learn from him. We meet with each other ~ in prayer and fellowship and with agendas and minutes ~ because we don’t know what the future will bring and Jesus says that when two or more gather in my name I am with you. We meet, in part, to open ourselves to those ‘Thin Places’ where God touches humanity. So even as we gather to organize the Silent Auction or plan next month’s worship themes or pray in a small group there is, among us, a meeting of heaven and earth.

Let us pray: “Lord God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet un-trodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Lutheran Book of Worship)