Category Archives: guest post

Counting the days

Today, I am pleased to welcome my friend, Elizabeth Mangham Lott, to View From the Rafters. After announcing my miscarriage, Elizabeth was one of the first people to contact me and share her own stories of loss. I invited her to share this space and what she is experiencing this week.

Assuming I didn’t give birth early like with my first two children, I would be 39 weeks and 3 days pregnant today. I keep counting down in my head. Four more days, three more days…due date. That day I will be leading in worship with a smile on my face like nothing is wrong and like no grief sits heavy in my heart.

This is my second miscarriage but feels so much bigger the second time. I became pregnant again during what would have been that second pregnancy, and my third pregnancy produced my daughter just five months after the other due date passed. It doesn’t mean that I don’t remember when that lost child would have been born; August. I remember that loss and fear during an emergency D&C, but the joy and gift of my daughter helped chip away at the raw edges of the first loss.

But this, my fourth pregnancy and second loss, still hits so hard. We won’t have another, at least by birth, so the news of an unexpected pregnancy was both terrifying and joyful. It was meant to be, we thought. Until it wasn’t.

I thought I would continue to keep this deep sadness quiet until Jennifer started posting her loss with so much beauty and bravery. It is an act of bravery to put your vulnerable self out there for the world to see. It’s an act of bravery to claim your grief when the culture only wants to hear joy. I have stayed quiet and fearful because even those who love me most seem baffled that I am still counting the days.

Yes, I’m still counting. I still know that I would either be holding a newborn right now or so great with child that I would give birth at any moment. And I’m not. “This really hit you hard, huh?” “You’re really not over that, are you?” No, I’m not. I don’t see how I ever could be.

Note: This is the ninth post in a series on pregnancy loss/miscarriage. Read the first post, “First ultrasound,” here.

1 Comment

Filed under guest post, miscarriage

Guest post: Small Messages for a Large World

Guest post from my husband, Allyn Harris Dault. He preached this sermon January 22 at First Baptist Church, Belleville, IL.

We begin with a story.

There once was a man who loved to fish. Every chance he got, he would pack his favorite lunch, grab his favorite hat, head out to his favorite lake, stop the boat at his favorite spot, take out his favorite fishing rod, and enjoy his favorite hobby. His wife missed him but didn’t mind the long absences so much, especially when he came back with a good-sized catch for dinner (and entertaining recollections of larger ones that got away, as fishermen are prone to telling wild stories).

After one particular trip, a very interesting thing happened. The fisherman came back and told his wife a good story about a 7-pounder that he ALMOST had reeled in before a brief gust of wind took his hat off. Well, thankfully the hat stayed in the boat, but losing it made him lose his biggest catch of the day. He was still miffed about it the next day when he met a friend for coffee and a sausage biscuit at McDonald’s. And, like all good fishermen, this time when he told the story, he told it bigger and better. The 7-pound fish became at least a 9-pounder, and after a 4-minute struggle between them, the wind took his hat two feet up in the air before he caught it like an NFL receiver toeing the sideline. Naturally, his friend was impressed at his quick thinking and sudden display of athleticism.

The next Sunday at church, our fishing friend had a crowd of people mesmerized during the coffee hour with his harrowing tale of the 22-pound fish that drained every ounce of energy from his body before the fierce wind yanked the hat from his head – and miraculously dropped it on the edge of the boat, where our brave hero dove to grab it with one hand while holding onto the fishing rod with the other, the fish tantalizingly close to the water’s surface but just strong enough to snap the line at the last second.

We’re drawn toward big stories, aren’t we? Don’t we usually prefer to hear about a fire fighter who braves numerous dangers to save an entire family over one who switches batteries out of a smoke detector for someone’s grandparents? Or Genesis and Judges over Leviticus and Ecclesiastes?

Our first scripture passage for today is part of the big story of Jonah, and we know at least the first part very well. God tells Jonah to preach to Nineveh, Jonah runs in the opposite direction, hops on a boat, gets thrown overboard by foreigners (who happen to get converted) during a storm, and is swallowed by a fish.

But if we focus on the fish tale, we tend to forget that the Jonah story doesn’t end there. Nineveh, called “that great city”, becomes a side note compared to the sorry state of Jonah’s heart and the extravagant grace and power of God. After Jonah is delivered from the fish’s belly, God says again, “Go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” And Jonah does – barely. He goes just a third of the way into the city, and the message he offers is perhaps the worst sermon ever. There’s almost no content – five words in the Hebrew and less than a dozen in our English translations. At best, Jonah is half-hearted about it. “Forty days more, Nineveh, gone.” There’s judgment without mercy, there is no invitation, no call to repentance, no concern for the welfare of the people, just fear-mongering and doomsday. If Jennifer or I were to preach like that, you’d have every right to call Muriel Johnson and ask, “What were you thinking?” And then she’d have every right to call us and ask, “What were you thinking?”

But then this amazing thing happened in Nineveh – like the sailors who threw Jonah overboard, the people of Nineveh got the message Jonah barely preached. Everyone, great and small, repented; the king called for a national period of fasting and mourning and repentance – even including the animals! And because of their response, God – and this scares most of us – God changed his mind. Literally, in verse 10 (of Jonah 3), “God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.” So things kinda worked out in the end. 🙂

Now fast forward to another Bible story about fish and short sermons. When Jesus calls Simon Peter and Andrew, he says, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” It’s a great line, first because it comes from Jesus and he’s usually pretty good with words, but also because it spoke directly to who they were and what they were already doing and the task Jesus was calling them to. Jesus can do all of that in just a few words, and unlike Jonah, he means them! He wants these folks, and also James and John, to go share the good news of God with people, that “[t]he time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). Again, a short message, but a good one.

There’s a real, strong temptation we sometimes have to make this story into more than it is. We usually don’t mean to, and sometimes we don’t even notice it. I hope it doesn’t happen here often, but I’ve seen it happen at other places before. “Follow me, and after 17 years of education and a thorough vetting process I can help you begin to fish for people.” “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. You’ll see it come alive at this year’s church drama, accompanied by our award-winning praise band and children’s choirs and interpretive dance team, now with live camels. Tickets on sale after today’s worship service.”

Now, I’m not saying that education or drama or children’s choirs or camels are bad. I think they’re all wonderful, actually, and all but the camels should have a place in most churches. But sometimes, when we don’t have those things, we start to look around and think that they are the answer to our problems.

Some of you have talked to Jennifer and me about the size of this congregation, how it’s smaller than it used to be. You can remember people who used to sit in what are now empty spaces and you miss them, maybe you wonder what happened. Maybe you know what happened. That can be a really hard thing to notice, and it can make you worry and it can make you sad and it can make you scared.

But if you’re scared long enough, you might start to pray. And if you pray long enough, you might start to hear those same simple messages: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news…. Follow me and I will make you fish for people…. Remember the story of the guy who was fish food? I used him, and he was a lousy prophet!” Because the message behind those messages is that God is faithful, whether our own stories are big or small. My friend Keith, who’s a pastor in Kansas City, reminded me this week through Facebook of the truth of the gospel. He posted, “Big dreams are conceived in quiet thoughts, small conversations, prayers in the closet & faith the size of a mustard seed. Such small beginnings, but what power they unleash!”

As always, the questions we need to ask ourselves are about how we remain faithful to what God calls us to. How do we follow the biblical mandate to care for our recent widows, to accompany them through the good grief they will experience over the next months? How do we reach out to the people in our neighborhoods and workplaces and restaurants and businesses to show them God’s love and invite them to recognize their part in it? In this long time of pastoral transition, how can we plan for the future of our church, how do we continue to support the search committee in their work? In the meantime, what do we call these two people who sometimes preach to us in pajamas?

If you’re at all like me and have a tendency to get bogged down with all these questions, I do have good news. You already know some of the answers. This is a good place with good people. In only three weeks, Jennifer and I have had several things to talk about on the way home after Sunday lunch (almost all of them good). You care for one another. You pray for one another. You do the things that churches ought to do. You step up when something needs to be done. You do the little, mustard seed-sized things that give birth to a bigger, God-shaped world. When you do that, big things aren’t necessary. We know this is true because God has always been able to turn small fish into a great feast.

(photo credit)

5 Comments

Filed under Allyn Harris Dault

Guest Post: Back to the Future

Guest post from my husband, Allyn Harris Dault. He preached this sermon this morning at First Baptist Church, Belleville, IL.

I

 I hope that by now you’ve begun to notice a theme present in today’s worship elements. (Story/Storytelling.) If I may be transparent so soon after we’ve met, I believe the importance of storytelling is impossible to over-emphasize for people of faith today. Perhaps I owe it to several good history and literature and religion teachers, or maybe it stems from my appreciation for country music that briefly caused Jennifer to question her decision to date me (she stuck it out, praise God!), or maybe there were too many Sundays as a child where I read the book of Judges during sermons I didn’t understand. Whatever the reason, if I could only give two pieces of advice to Christians who would seek to grow in their faith, they would be 1) God is gracious and has already called you into a holy and powerful love, and 2) Do all you can to grow in your knowledge and understanding of the story of God’s work in the world.

And what is that story that we must learn to tell? It is that God, before time began, spoke into existence all that we know in this world, and God chose humanity to play important roles in that holy creation. Some time after that, humans sinned; we chose to follow a different script than what God hoped for us, and we continue to struggle against that hope. God, of course, was not OK with human sin, and has repeatedly remained faithful and open toward us despite our faithlessness. Through Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and all the people we named earlier [in a responsive call to worship] and many others, God has been calling the world back to righteousness. And Praise the Lord! – God will get what God wants. The end has been written. Details at 11.

So that’s the banner-sized version of God’s story told by the Bible and believers throughout history. But in that larger story are smaller episodes, stories that stand alone. It can be a challenge to keep both kinds of stories in view at the same time. Sometimes, like with mosaic tiles, our smaller stories leave cracks between them. Or like dot-matrix printers they round off edges that could be sharper with a better layout. Hopefully we will be able to take a look at the beginning of Mark’s Gospel on a grand level AND a mosaic level, and still be able to leave without blurry double vision.

II

If you would, open your Bibles to Mark 1 again and notice a few things with me. First, this is the beginning of Mark’s story about Jesus, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (1:1). This is, of course, a common way to begin stories – at the beginning. The books of Genesis and John start very similarly. You start a story “in the beginning.” But Mark seems to know that the story actually starts BEFORE it begins. He mentions Isaiah and references Exodus and Malachi in vv. 2-3, and the way he writes about John the Baptist is very similar to stories about the Old Testament prophet, Elijah. The wilderness reminds good scripture readers of the Exodus story and several Psalms and many episodes of God’s deliverance. There is an intentional effort from Mark to connect this story to the past. We might even point out that Mark wrote about Jesus at least thirty years after the events happened. For Mark, even the Jesus part is in some way past.

The present of the story is obvious enough. John is “proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem” responded (1:4-5). John doesn’t let this go to his head, but points to a coming figure who will be even greater. By verse 9, that figure shows up. (Mark doesn’t dally around with Baby Jesus stories.) Jesus gets baptized by John, then the Hollywood special effects kick in. The heavens RIP OPEN, the Spirit descends like a dove, and a voice from heaven approves of Jesus as God’s Son.

What you may not know yet is that Mark is setting us up. Like all good Baptist preachers, Mark knows that it’s not just about who Jesus is or what he did; what WE do with this knowledge matters, too. Throughout Mark we find that usually demons and bad people call Jesus “Son of God” – the title we’ve already read twice in these first eleven verses, once from God’s own mouth. If we keep reading, we see that Jesus IS better than John, that Jesus IS the Son of God. At the end of Mark’s gospel, the heavens are torn open again in the form of the Temple veil. God can no longer be contained, but is unleashed on the whole world with the death of Jesus; we have never been the same. Already in the first eleven verses Mark is preparing us for what is to come, the “future” part of the story.

III

There are a lot of different questions we could ask about Jesus’ baptism. Was he immersed? Did other people see the dove or hear God’s voice? And if Jesus is the only one to see or hear, why the secrecy, since Matthew and John make it public domain? When the dove came down, was it a “sweet Holy Spirit, sweet Heav’nly dove,” or a fierce dive-bomber more befitting the apocalyptic scene of the heavens torn apart? (Elton Brown) What did Jesus do when he heard the voice; was he satisfied? stoic? surprised? smug? Why don’t we hear anything about Jesus and John’s family relationship? Why did Jesus receive “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”? If baptism is connected to forgiveness, does the church take it seriously enough? Did Jesus have to hold his nose under water? (Okay, maybe not this last one.)

If these are the questions that interest you the most, there are books, sermons, papers, and people who have offered different answers; ask me and I can try to point you to some of them. What I want us to think about this morning, and for the next several days, is the big question that was on Mark’s mind as he put the gospel together – What does this story mean, and how will you respond? To answer that, we need to go Back … to the Future!

IV

You might remember the story of Marty McFly and his friend, Dr. Brown. The Doc invented a time machine out of a DeLorean in 1985, and he and Marty traveled back and forth through time, first to the 1950s, then to the future (which is only three years from now), then back to the Old West in 1885. Every time they made a trip, one or both of them would manage to do something that upset the space-time continuum, that drastically changed the course of history until they could find some way to put things back together. The major organizing principle of the trilogy was “What you do at one time can have major effects on what happens at other times. The future, the past, and the present are all connected to one another.”

This is not exactly how we think of time’s flow. For us, time flows in one direction – from the past, into the present, to the future. Time flies like an arrow, they say. What Back to the Future and other time travel stories, both fictional and scientific, suggest to us is that maybe time is more circular, like the surface of a ball that wraps around itself and bends in different directions and converges on a point from different angles and slides and spins. In other words, Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd figured out what God had known all along; everything is connected.

To take this back to our biblical text, John the Baptist is connected to Elijah. He’s connected to the texts quoted at the beginning of Mark. He’s connected to Jesus, “the one who … is coming after me.” The people being baptized by John are connected to the ancient Israelites and to the church today. Jesus is connected to all of them, of course. The Baptism is connected to the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion and the Roman centurion and the man with a Legion of demons. And WE – your story, my story, the story of First Baptist of Belleville, IL, your future new pastor’s story – all our stories are connected, and they all help to make up the larger story of what God is doing/has done/will do in the world. How have you seen your life fit into God’s plan for the world? How have you seen your story and someone else’s come together, even for a short moment, in a way that makes the stories seem like twins separated at birth? How can you live your life with a greater awareness of the grand story of God’s redemptive activity, in such a way that your life as one of God’s dearly loved children finds its meaning in understanding Jesus’ true identity as the Beloved Son of God?

V

There’s a big fancy church word for this idea of the future and the past and the present all being connected, and it’s one of my favorite big fancy church words. It’s called “eschatology,” and it focuses especially on how the future affects the present. Again, that goes against the normal way of understanding time, but it’s beautiful and wonderful and amazing and biblical, so I hope you’ll give it some thought. It describes what happened in our biblical passage for today, when the heavens were torn apart. That’s an eschatological event, where something sacred – like the heavens – can’t be contained any longer, and so it explodes into something ordinary – like the sky.

Eschatology also describes an aspect of what happens when we gather together in worship, what happens in our baptism. Baptism is something most, if not all, of us share. It vividly reminds us of Christ’s death and resurrection. Through that, it also anticipates the coming resurrection of all people when Christ returns to judge the living and the dead. Don Saliers describes it like this:

“The central images of baptism show that Christians participate in Christ’s death and resurrection   already…. The witness of baptism is a present way of life, the new creature is appearing. The church as the baptismal and baptizing community is itself to be a sign, a living witness to [the] hope. Hence liturgy [what we do here together] and its consequence in how Christians are to live out the baptized life anticipates the world transformed.” (56, emphasis and bracketed text mine)

Friends, this is one message of Christ’s baptism. How we live is supposed to show people what life ought to be like when God makes everything right again. When God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven. The same thing happens when we partake of the Lord’s Supper, and happens in an extreme way at Christian funerals. We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes, and we proclaim the deaths of those we love, people like [the congregation member who died January 1], who are held tight by the grave until God finally says, “No More!”

And if that future doesn’t get you excited, friends, I’ve got a story you need to hear again.

Pray with me –

Passionate, creative, story-writing God,

We are the characters in your masterpiece, designed by you to play certain parts and to love our Author. Stir in us, now and always, the desire to know the stories you have given us to tell, and to share them with others in compassion and boldness and wisdom and love. Receive our prayer, in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

(photo credit)

Leave a comment

Filed under Allyn Harris Dault, guest post

Guest post: Celebrating Clean Water

Guest post of the day is from my buddy Erin Swanson, Communications & New Media Coordinator for water.org (my favorite organization). She wrote this for World Water Day, which was technically yesterday (my wordpress was down…), but the celebration and awareness is still going on!

Jennifer was on this water thing before I even entered the picture. More than three years ago, she was advocating for those in need of clean water. When God put this passion in my life, I heard about Jennifer and her passion for it from a friend. And then, as I began to work with Water.org in the summer of 2008 [then called WaterPartners, before merging with Matt Damon’s H20 Africa to become Water.org in July 2009], I had the great pleasure of connecting with Jenn many a time, who was an active online voice for the issue. Nothing has changed 🙂

Today is World Water Day, and Jenn asked if I wanted to write a guest post. For her? Of course! (I still can’t believe we’ve never met in person. Someday 🙂 )

Just over a week ago I returned from my first trip to Haiti with Water.org. We were in a rural area in the north called Pignon. I accompanied three popular YouTube video bloggers – Hank Green, Lisa Nova, and Timothy Delaghetto – to visit communities who had broken wells [from previous groups; the communities did not know who had originally put the wells in. Some had been broken for years]. But these communities are organizing themselves to do what they can to fix it. We are about to begin well rehabilitation projects in each of these communities with our certified local partner, Haiti Outreach. The YouTubers documented the trip and made some fantastic videos to elevate the issue and invite their audiences to join them in making a difference for World Water Day.

In celebration of the day, I wanted to share with you two of their great videos that really give you a feel of the places we visited, and the process these communities will go through! I was amazed by our local partner, their solid model, great reputation in Haiti, and the initiative of the communities to take ownership of these projects. I learned a lot, and have been impassioned even more to talk about the importance of community ownership to achieve sustainability, upon my return.

So thanks for letting me share it with you, here! So grab a glass of water, possibly a friend or nearby unsuspecting coworker, and enjoy:

Lisa Nova

Hank Green

Happy World Water Day! I am grateful to work beside you and reach even more people in need with clean water and the dignity of a toilet.

Cheers,
Erin Swanson
Communications & New Media Coordinator, Water.org
@explodingsoul

P.S. If you want to Donate Your Voice on Facebook or Twitter this week in the name of clean water for all, I’d love for you to join me and millions of others online, here: http://water.org/waterday.

P.P.S. Groupon is running a deal today and tomorrow so you can help us bring seven communities clean water! If you donate $15, an anonymous donor matches $10  http://www.groupon.com/deals/water-org

Leave a comment

Filed under Erin Swanson, guest post, Uncategorized

Of Blisters and Ashes, High Heels and Lent

After talking to my friend and fantastic writer, Bert Montgomery, about his experience in “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes,” I begged him to write a guest blog post. After reading this, visit The Faith Lab to read his other reflections. Thanks, Bert!

Love God; love yourself as God loves you; and love others as you love yourself.

As a Baptist minister, Ash Wednesday and the Christian season of Lent are unfamiliar things to me. But as I have tried to understand and embrace them, I have come to believe that Ash Wednesday and Lent are designed to do nothing more than to help us love God, love ourselves as God loves us, and love others as we love ourselves.

This past Monday (just prior to Ash Wednesday) I participated in the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event at Mississippi State University. Men – students, faculty, and community leaders – donned high heels, slippers, pumps, etc., to draw attention to and stop sexual assault, rape and violence against women.

Then Tuesday morning arrived, and I became very aware of several blisters on my toes and on the bottoms of my feet. My ankles hurt. My knees hurt. My wife told me she was proud of me for doing the walk, and she was sorry I was hurting.

But as I was putting bandages on my sores, my thoughts turned to the deep hurt and unspeakable pain experienced by a college friend who was raped; my thoughts turned to a co-worker who, as a young girl, was sexually molested by a trusted family friend; and the fact that when I look out over the students in my classes, I will be looking out upon several young women who, just while being at college, have experienced sexual aggression and violence – and perhaps I will even be looking out upon some of the young men who have committed those acts.

In the days since walking that mile in women’s shoes, with each pinch of pain that comes with each step, I’ve noticed that I am praying for those women I know whose pain is deeper and far more severe than my blisters and aches will ever be. A few blisters and sore ankles created a level of empathy for others I had not had before.

I often show a documentary on Islam to my Introduction to Religion classes. In it, a Muslim man talks about Ramadan – the Islamic month of fasting. He speaks of this being a period to learn patience, humility, spirituality; a time to focus on God and prayer; a time to ask forgiveness for sins, to pray for guidance, and to take steps toward developing self-restraint.

He talks about Ramadan and fasting in the larger context of the Five Pillars of Islam, which includes almsgiving (or, charity). The man says that for almsgiving to be pure, it should not be simply done out of guilt or obligation, but out of genuine empathetic concern for others. He suggests that to be empathetic with someone who is hungry, he must first know the pains of hunger. Thus, the month of fasting helps this man focus on his sins, his repentance, and his need for God, but it also forms within him a physical connection with those who hurt and suffer throughout the year.

Being a Baptist, I’m still quite new to the rich Christian traditions of Ash Wednesday and Lent. I do know, though, that it’s more than just “giving up” something or trying to “pick up” something else.Jesus doesn’t speak of Lent (obviously, it developed in the Church), but he does tell us that everything comes down to loving God, and loving others as you love yourself.

So, whatever Lent is, it certainly has to be a means to the end of helping us love God. And with all of the “giving up” and “taking on” and fasting and discipline and confession and repentance, it is also has to be a means of helping us love ourselves as God loves us.

And, maybe it is also a means of helping us love others, too.

Maybe in our humble confessions beginning with Ash Wednesday which we remind ourselves that each of us comes from dust and to dust each of us shall return; and maybe in whatever it is we will be doing (or not doing) during the season of Lent which helps us love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength, and helps us love ourselves as God loves us; maybe in all of this God will also grow within us a greater sense of empathy for others.

It could very well be that in some self-denial, even with a little pain, God draws our attention to the pain and needs of others.

You may not have blisters on your feet, like I do, but many of us had ashes smudged on our foreheads recently. At the very least, may God take the ashes from our foreheads and place them in our vision so that everyone we see has the cross of ashes on their forehead – reminding us that they, just like we, come from ashes and to ashes we all will return.

And may God use whatever discipline you may be practicing to nurture a greater sense of empathy for a neighbor, a friend, a stranger, an enemy.

Love God. Love yourself. Love others. This is the purpose of Lent.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I still have some blisters to tend to.

2 Comments

Filed under Bert Montgomery, guest post, lent

When is a door not a door?

Guest post by Allyn Harris Dault

Sermon preached Jan. 16 at Third Baptist Church, St. Louis

One of the things that often bothers me about sermons is that they’re pretty much one-sided.  Normally I would get to do all the talking, and you’d have to sit there patiently, wondering what I’m talking about (on a good day) or when I’ll be done so we can all go have lunch (on a bad day).  And while I’m not yet willing to free-form the whole sermon time today, I would like to start by getting some of your thoughts on this passage.  The text is included in your bulletin, if that helps, but hopefully you’re familiar enough with the story that you already have some ideas as to its meaning.  What is the Transfiguration about?  How do we interpret it, or how have you heard it interpreted before?

(answers from the congregation)

Thanks to all of you for being brave enough to share with us.  What I’d like to do for the next several minutes is to offer another idea for this passage, one that, at least to me, makes a little more sense and is easier for us to apply to our own lives.  I think this passage is like that old joke, “When is a door not a door?  When it’s ajar.”  We can get so used to hearing things a certain way that we get stuck in that spot, unable to see new life in an old text.  The teacher-part of me wishes that “stuck in the mud”-part of all of us didn’t exist, that it would be replaced with a double portion of curiosity and a love for discovery.  So, if you would, put on your curious explorer glasses with me.  We’ll look at the content and structure of the passage, see how it connects to other themes in Luke, and then ask how we might live differently in light of our discoveries.  Then we can all go have lunch.

My reading starts with the parts of the text we only find in Luke.  First I want us to look at the text printed on your insert.  Many of you probably know that the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) share a lot of material about the life and ministry of Jesus; the Transfiguration is one such piece of material.  All the Gospels except John mention it; Luke, however, adds a couple of segments.  These are in bold print on the insert, but in a nutshell they are the mentioning of prayer, then a big chunk that includes information about the conversation between Jesus Moses and Elijah, two mentions of the word “glory”, and more space for the disciples in the story than they get in the other gospels.

This bold chunk is significant; it changes the shape of the entire passage.  It’s like when you’re looking under a car hood.  Everything fits in there just fine, but if there’s a new do-hicky part thing that could improve the function of your engine and battery and whatever else is under there, where can you put it?  You have to make a space to fit it in.  Luke has the parts from the other Gospels, but the stuff in bold print is Luke’s do-hicky part thing that he fits in between the other stuff.

What this does, structurally, is it creates what bible nerds call a chiastic structure.  It’s described there on your insert; basically, it is an in-and-out kind of movement that looks like one half of the letter X (which in Greek is called a “chi”, hence “chiastic structure”), but acts like a sandwich.  The beginning and end match up like pieces of bread, the pieces just inside those match up – like putting veggies  and cheese on the top and bottom, continuing until you get to the meat in the middle.  That middle part is generally the focus of the passage.  This goes against our usual framework of beginning-middle-end, with a focus on the end, but in ancient times it was a very common way of structuring a piece of writing.  As a side note, if you’re looking to figure out how a biblical text is put together by the author, one way to do that is to look for these chiastic structures.

As you can see on your insert, the chiasm here is pretty straightforward.  It starts with Jesus and the three disciples going up the mountain and ends with them coming back down the mountain.  Well, actually, that happens in verse 37, but I hope you’ll give me that one.  The next pieces show Jesus praying and having the appearance of his face and clothes changed at the beginning, then at the end it says “Jesus was left alone.” The focus of these verses is all on Jesus.  As we continue moving toward the middle from either end, we read of heavenly messengers – first Moses and Elijah, then the cloud out of which God speaks.  We’re then left with the center of the passage, the focus on the disciples, which if you’ll remember is one of those parts that are unique to Luke.  By making them the focus of the story, Luke has turned a story about Jesus into something else.  Our door has become ajar.

If the disciples are the focus of this story, what exactly are we supposed to be focusing on?  From that piece in the middle, we get this idea that the disciples were not quite seeing clearly, that they’re not sure of what’s going on.  Then Peter gets the idea to become a construction worker, but all we learn from this is that he didn’t know what he was talking about.  The only other significant information we get about the disciples is that they were silent when they came down the mountain.  They didn’t know what to say.

That’s a pretty common thing for the disciples, though, isn’t it?  They miss the point over and over.  In fact, the disciples don’t ever seem to understand things until after Jesus ascends to heaven in the book of Acts.  Jesus teaches them about the importance of service and servanthood, but they ask who will be the greatest in the kingdom.  Moses and Elijah come to talk to Jesus about his departure, or more literally, his Exodus toward Jerusalem, but Peter wants them all to hang out on the mountaintop, saying “It is good for us to be here.”  Three times in Luke Jesus predicts his death, but the disciples never seem to pick up on it.  They’re hoping for a king and all the benefits that go with it: lavish banquets, political influence, swanky robes.

It’s sort of sad how the people on the inside, the ones who ought to understand the point of Jesus’ teachings, just don’t get it.  Of course, we have two millennia of hindsight through which to figure it out and we still miss a lot, but notice how often the upside-down kingdom of God appears in Luke. In Luke 1 an old, barren couple conceives and gives birth.  Then Mary says that God’s lowly servant will forever be called “blessed”, that the powerful will be brought down and the lowly lifted, that the hungry would be filled while the rich would be sent away empty.  In chapter 2 a 12-year-old confounds the old men in the Temple.  In chapter 4 Jesus’ message in the Nazareth synagogue is one for release to the captives and sight to the blind.  In chapter 5 Jesus calls his disciples, convincing them to give up their responsibilities to their families (a bigger deal than even in our day) to follow him.  I could go on, but hopefully by now you get the idea.  What we can read in Luke 9 is connected to the ideas in the rest of the book, namely that the normal natural human desire for glory and renown is in tension with God’s desire for us.

Of course, it takes more than reading something in the Bible to be able to take my own desire for glory and really offer it up on a sacrificial altar.  Even the work of ministry feeds my ego.  When I’m preaching or directing the choir, I’m in the spotlight.  At school, I have this inner urge to be the center of the teacher’s attention.  I want to be in the limelight, I want to be praised, I want to make sure everyone knows I’m qualified and competent and responsible and brilliant.  And I’d take a swanky robe, too.

God wants something else from us, though.  We can take our example from Luke.  What I really like about Luke’s Gospel is that he wasn’t willing to leave the storytelling to other people.  In his message to Theophilus in Chapter 1, he is clear that he is not the first to tell this story; he just sees something that hasn’t been told before, and he makes sure to tell it.  And the disciples finally got it; they went from boneheads to servants after the resurrection, making sure that people got the chance to hear what they knew.

Great stories have power.  Our country remembers another great story this weekend, the story of Martin Luther King’s courage, how his tragic death has kept him from seeing the progress we’ve made toward fulfilling his dream,  an agenda that “proclaims justice for all, service to others, and a love that liberates,” as Tavis Smiley described it on a recent radio program.  Mr. Smiley continued, “Sometimes, when you have that as your agenda, you’re not popular. When he dies in this country, he dies persona non grata. Over 55 percent of black folk had turned against him by the time he died and probably because they thought he was too soft. He wasn’t radical enough. Others, because of his position on the Vietnam War. And almost three quarters of the American people at large had turned against Dr. King.  When he dies on that balcony in Memphis, he is persona non grata.”

It’s too bad that the great stories leave their heroes in such a state, but there’s no denying that this happens often.  Our hero, Jesus, was persona non grata, rejected, abandoned.  Some probably thought he was too soft, not radical enough.  Maybe some didn’t like his position on Rome.  And so he dies for a few days in order to change everything.  It’s a pretty good story.

When’s the last time you’ve heard that story?  When’s the last time you’ve told that story?  What in that story is worth sharing?  Who in your life is worth sharing that story with?  What’s keeping you from sharing it?

The Transfiguration wasn’t written to inspire us to be more like Jesus, I think.  None of us are going to get shiny faces or have God say out of a cloud, “That’s my kid!  Listen to this one!”  In Luke’s version, at least, it’s more about what we do with what we’ve seen and heard.  Will we be silent, like the disciples here?  Will we be like Luke, always finding new things in the old stories, eager to talk about them?

As we sing our invitation hymn, take a moment to ask yourself – how have I been changed by the work of Christ and the Church?  What will I do as a result?

Leave a comment

Filed under guest post