There
once was a man who, when filling out a form for a job, came to a question which said, “What is your church preference?”

The
man thought about the question for some time because he really needed the job. He wanted to impress the employer and answered very confidently, “I prefer a red brick church.”

It
is so easy to misunderstand what church is all about.

The
past few weeks have seen some instances of the institutional church forgetting what we are here for.

Just
this past week, hearts were broken as the United Methodist Church decided to re-codify discrimination against God’s LGBTQ children. I know many of us here have watched as friends and family in that tradition have struggled to make sense of how the question
of “whom shall we love” could be answered any differently than “everybody” for the Church.

And
our own tradition is still struggling. The Lambeth gathering of all the Anglican bishops around the world will happen next year. The week before last, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion announced that same-sex spouses of bishops will not be
invited to the Lambeth gathering. Thank God for one of my former bishops Mary Glaspool and her wife, Becky Sander, who have both said they are going to Lambeth anyway, even though Becky may not be allowed to fully participate. Bishop Mary wrote to Archbishop
Justin Welby and asked him when the church would accept the gift of LGBTQ people, and value love as its top priority.

The
inclusion of LGBTQ people has become a flashpoint, a symbol, of a larger cultural shift in society around us.

But
I think for us in the Church we miss the point if we simply make it about who is in and out; about political partisan identity; about culture wars; about conservative or liberal; about whether we prefer red brick churches or gothic cathedrals.

This
is about our identity as Christians. This is about who Jesus is, and what it means to follow him. This is about our tribal identity not as Republican or Democrat, but our identity in baptism.

Today
is transfiguration Sunday. We have the story today of Jesus on the mountain with three very sleepy disciples. And as they are about to nod off, Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus and start to talk about Jesus’ upcoming departure.

Departure
in the Greek is “Exodus.” Moses and Elijah have both already been through their own exodus. They have already departed from one place to go through a wilderness to arrive at a promised land. Now they are here with Jesus to talk about his departure, his
exodus.

Peter
wakes and misunderstands what is happening. He wants to stay on the mountain with these important people, in dazzling white, to set up a place to stay and revel in it. But a booming voice corrects Peter quickly, and the next thing you know the whole group
has descended off the mountaintop down into a scene of sickness, a place where healing is needed, a place where faithlessness abounds in the disciples, a place that seems so distant from the mountaintop. And that is place Jesus goes to rather than hang out
on the mountaintop.

The
transfiguration is one of the most important events for me in all of the Christian story, because it connects the incarnation with the crucifixion and resurrection. The one who came to be with us, born in a manger, revealed by magi who offered gifts, is now
dazzling in glory on this mountain, but doesn’t stay there.

Instead,
this messiah chooses to come down off of the mountain where he is immediately confronted with the brokenness of the world, with sickness, and faithlessness, and with brokenness. Rather than being content to be lavished with gifts and dazzling-ness like a
king, this messiah descends from the mountaintop even though the brokenness below will eventually cost him his life. The glory of this messiah doesn’t really come from living up above. It comes from descending down below. This messiah came especially to be
with the world.

If
Jesus was not content to stay on the mountaintop, so then the Church must not be either. How often does the church seek to recreate a lost past, to set shop on the mountaintop, and keep its hands clean? The arguments recently in the Methodist church and about
Lambeth are so much about who is allowed to reach the mountaintop, and who is allowed to stay there.

But
perhaps that is not the question our head priest asks of his Church.

What
if the call of our head priest, the call of our messiah, is to be an Exodus people; To be “let my people go” folks. We need a place to come and recharge, to get comfort and food for the journey. But what if God could care less about who gets to climb to the
top of the mountain and is much more concerned about whether or not the Church will descend the mountain to reach out to the hurting?

When
the church gets stuck on being gatekeeper for the mountaintop, when it refuses to acknowledge the value of every human being down the mountain like the Lambeth or Methodist decisions, we fail. When we believe the church is here for our own pleasure or protection
and not to be the body of Christ in a broken world, we fail.

What
might a Church built around coming down off the mountain look like?

Could
it look like a showers ministry, where the church is also willing to be transformed as it hears the needs of those in the community around them, resulting in a new community working together to both provide basic needs and friendship for those living outside
in our neighborhood?

Could
it look like a Refugee ministry, where the church offers assistance to those in a literal exodus, and reflects on the history of other people of God who have been in exile, resulting in a community coming together to keep a family together during unjust deportation
proceedings?

Could
it look like a pastoral care ministry, where the church meets the sick, bears witness to physical pain, treatments that seem worse than the illnesses they are intended to treat, and prolonged death, while holding close to our own Messiah who came and suffered
alongside us and died?

St.
Paul’s is involved in all of these things. Living in Exodus, however it looks, is the crux of the Christian life. And it is the crux of the Christian life because it results in transformation, in new life, in liberation. Nobody said that Christianity was
a cakewalk. Christianity, coming down off the mountain to live as exodus people, it is hard. But we follow one who shows us a transformed life of liberation.

It
is because being an exodus people is so demanding that we need mountaintop experiences, of course. We need to be able to come together and be recharged by beautiful music, and sacraments, and the word broken open— the acts of worship that recharge us, and
reconnect us, and help us remember that we, together, are the body of Christ. We are loved. We are loved individually, and corporately. All of us, this who human project. And there is a promised land at the end of this exodus that is bigger than any of us
individually, and that none of us can achieve nor reach on our own.

At
St. Paul’s we have a pretty well defined rhythm of going to the mountaintop and descending down into Exodus. Our worship gives beautiful mountaintop experiences. LGBTQ inclusion is so settled here even some LGBTQ people are tired of talking about it! We have
just adopted a list of peace and justice principles and are working on how to put them into action. How else can we come down off the mountain, even while we make sure to take care of each other coming back week after week to be nourished by our wonderful
worship and community. Without that sustenance we will not be able to do it again and again.

Because
it is the life of exodus- the “let my people go” life- that leads to liberation. It leads to the promised land, on earth as it is in heaven. The Church’s job is to partner with the life-giving God to be that liberating force in the world. And we do it together,
all of us, with God’s help. Thank you for being a part of it!

The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Transfiguration C, March 3, 2019
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
Luke 9:28-43a


Sources
Consulted:
Feasting
on the Word, Year C, Vol. 4.
Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010. 

http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?m=4377&post=5296

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