The other day my wife Regina and I got in line at the Village Express chair lift at Snowmass. It was one of those glorious bluebird Colorado days. To my delight, when we got on the lift, four children, roughly ages 7-10, sat next to us, per the request of their instructor who was one chair ahead. As we rode along I found out the kids were from Hawaii, Washington, D.C., and Florida and here on spring break with their parents. Needless to say they were cute as buttons as the saying goes.
After passing the mid station I asked them what the name of their instructor was. One little boy said, “Her name is Rosa.” “What is her last name?” I asked. A third grade girl said, “It must be Parks.” I then asked, “Have any of you heard the name Rosa Parks before?” Two children said, “yes”. I asked, “Can you tell us about Rosa Parks?”
One of the children replied, “Yes, one day a long time ago she got on a bus.” “Really” I said. I followed up with, “Did anything happen on the bus?” “Yes, she got arrested”, said one little one. “That must have been very hard. Do any of you know why she was arrested?” I asked. Without a one second pause another child replied, “Because of congregation.” “Congregation”? I asked. “Yes, congregation.” Needless to say, Regina and I nearly fell off the chair lift with joyful laughter.
While there is much that is serious, devastating, and tragic happening every day in the world, I believe God invites us in the midst of it all to find joy, laughter, levity, happiness, and gratitude, among other things. In our journey in faith, I believe one of the saddest things that can happen is that we lose sight of what is good, right, pleasing, uplifting, wonderful, and even silly. Laughter is God-given, as is joy.
Perhaps an invitation for all of us this Lenten season is to balance out our attention to everything that is amiss with an intentional focus on all that is delightful and extraordinarily right, like the small children on the Village Express.
Yes, Muslims, Jews and Christians face hatred and violence. Yes there are all the woes out there we are compelled to address and respond to through action. But the flip side is happening every second all around and, I believe, God invites us to joyfully savor and share all that is as it should be. My hunch is that our national hero Ms. Parks, despite having suffered from segregation, would delight in young children speaking of congregation.
One story that is often read during Lent is the story of the Transfiguration. The story is about the time when God markedly changed Jesus’ outward appearance up on a mountain. The story from the 17th chapter of Matthew is also told in Mark and Luke. For a moment, let’s take a closer look at what happened.
For days, Jesus told His disciples that He was headed to Jerusalem and that once He arrived, that He would be killed. The disciples didn’t like this news and struggled to accept it. It was during this time that Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain to be alone.
When they are on the mountain, Jesus’ appearance suddenly and dramatically changes. His face shines and his clothes become white. Then Moses and Elijah show up on the scene. When Peter, James, and John hear God’s voice, they fall to the ground terrified. Jesus comes to them and says, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.”
It is interesting to point out that when Jesus says, “get up,” the phrase here actually means “be raised.” It is as if Jesus is saying, “Peter, James, and John. Now that you know who I am, stand up, rise up into a new life. Now that you know me, begin a new life. There is nothing to be afraid of.”
The Transfiguration of Jesus that day on the mountaintop meant a lot of things when it happened. It showed Peter, James and John who Jesus was. It gave them encouragement after they had heard Jesus speak about his upcoming death. And clearly when the going got tough in the future, the disciples would remember what God had said that day.
But the transfiguration of Jesus Christ is more than just an historical event. It is more than a story about God changing Jesus’ outward appearance. It is a here and now reminder that God offers another kind of transfiguration to you and to me. A transfiguration of what lies within us.
Whether or not we are aware of it, accept it, or are in tune with it, each one of us is becoming something. Even if we don’t think we change over time or over the years, the reality is that each one of us is different than we were years ago. Compare your inner self now to when you were 10, or 20, or 70.
Sure we have some of the same characteristics, dimensions of our personality, and opinions, but we are not completely the same as we used to be and we are all in the process of continually becoming something else. As someone once said, “we are continually becoming something different, continually changing, continually being transfigured.”
So here is the question. What are we becoming? What are you becoming? What am I becoming? It’s a pretty important question.
We are each in a continual process of internal transfiguration and I believe the reason we are alive is because God wants us to become what God has in mind. God wants to transfigure each of us and the more we transform into what God has in mind, the more our lives will be characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.
Many of us at times spend time looking within ourselves. I think when we feel this way, it is because God is trying to get our attention to pay attention to what we are becoming. That it is God’s way of reminding us He wants to transform us from the inside out, and not just once, but on a continuing basis every day of our lives.
And so I offer a prayer we can use as we explore who we are and who we are becoming.
Lord Jesus, I come before you today seeking something different within. Seeking transformation. Seeking more of some things and less of others. As I work toward accepting the transformation you continually offer me, teach me to let go of what keeps me stuck, to listen to your voice, to be willing to act to make changes, and to let go of fear. Teach me these things Lord Jesus, and help me to become whom you envision. In your strong name, Lord Christ, I pray, Amen.
Although I typically use a keyboard on my computer or voice writing on my iphone, I use pens daily. While a pen is much slower than a keyboard, there is something about a pen I prefer. Things slow down and there is more time to think before moving a word from the mind to paper. Perhaps this is why I miss slower attached ski lifts where there was more time for conversation and taking in the scenery with friends. Clearly faster is not always better.
This week, on Ash Wednesday, we began the 40-day season of Lent. The season in which we ponder and pray about the cross and resurrection of Jesus. It certainly is an opportunity to come clean with ourselves and others with regard to things we have done we wish we had not and things we did not do we wish we had. And of course, these 40 days are invitation to intentionally spend more time with our loving, gracious, and forgiving Creator.
A day or so ago I was putting some ideas down on paper for some upcoming sermons and for a variety of programs we are doing at the Chapel. I was sitting in a comfortable chair with a footstool. Before I fell asleep for a 15-minute nap, I slouched lower and lower in the chair, meaning the paper pad I was writing upon moved from a downward position to an upward position against my knees.
Just before dozing off, I noticed the ink was becoming lighter and lighter as I wrote, not because it was running out of ink, but because the tip of the pen slowly became pointed upward as the paper pad moved in the same direction. Wanting to get some more thoughts down quickly, I stopped writing, adjusted my position, and began to write a bit more.
Stop and adjust. As I think about it, stop and adjust are two great concepts and ideas to act upon during this season of Lent. Perhaps there are ways of being, ongoing conversations, manners of thinking, or methods of approaching situations and people in which we need to simply stop, adjust, and start over again.
Sometimes we have to simply stop to get perspective, to create an opportunity for things to start flowing again in the right direction, and to give ourselves a moment to collect ourselves and make needed adjustments. It can be hard to adjust without stopping sometimes and stopping without making any adjustments can keep us stuck in non-beneficial ways.
Over the days ahead, I invite you to join me in thinking about those situations or relationships in life in which, like a pen pointed toward the sky, things are just not flowing like they should. To think about hitting the pause button and while stopped, to think about needed adjustments on our part.
The idea of stop and adjust is what repentance (to turn around or back) is all about. It is about stopping and turning ourselves back toward God instead of away from God. The Good News is that God never needs to stop and adjust when it comes to you and to me. God is always in the right position in that regard, which is one of joyful welcome and unbounded love no matter where we are or have been.