February 11, 2018
Transfiguration Sunday (Annual Meeting), Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
The best thing that can ever happen to you is for a child to come and pull on your sleeve and say, “I wanna show you something.” It might be big, fat green caterpillar. It might be a dandelion, or a donut with sprinkles that appears to free for the taking. It might be a dead spider. Whatever it is, there’s only one response that’s appropriate, “Wow, look at that.” We join the wonder. We stop in our tracks and notice. We probably recognize, too, that children help us see the way we should see all the time: a world bubbling with surprise and amazing things.
Jesus takes the disciples up the mountain to show them something. What they see is the same old Jesus, but not the same, really, new: shining, wonder-full, God. The screen gets pulled back, and there’s Moses and Elijah and Jesus. He is transfigured before them. It’s, as if, in that revelation, they see everything they need to see, everything that’s true, everything that’s good.
Ultimately, Christianity isn’t about a set of beliefs that we have in our heads, or a tome of doctrines that stand up under philosophical scrutiny, but an experience of Jesus, an experience of heaven on earth come together, an experience of love embodied.
I want to show you something. Pull out the bulletin insert that has the Gloria Dei mission statement on the top. At today’s annual meeting, we’re introducing these guiding principles that we hope to shape our ministry going forward for the next several years. We hope that they’re not just words on a page, but a sign of where we’re being sent after our experience of the risen Jesus.
My job was to introduce these guiding principles as part of the sermon. I’ll be honest. I wasn’t too sure about this, until I realized that it would happen on Transfiguration Sunday. Notice what’s at the very center of these principles. It’s this experience of Jesus. It’s transfiguration.
We trust, as a congregation, that something happens in this room every Sunday that has the potential to change everything, to give us a glimpse of the world that God intends, to show us who we really are: children of God. It puts us in contact with heaven. In liturgy passed down to us by Christians for thousands of years, we literally act out the world that we pray would come. A world marked by love and grace. A world that offers forgiveness and a chance to start over. A world where people reach out to make peace. A world where our offerings of self and resources are taken up to serve others. A world where the gifts of God’s goodness are placed in every hand. A world where the ethics of public life are kindness, gentleness, vulnerability, compassion, and justice. Every Sunday, we intentionally allow heaven to come close. We say, “Transfigure me.”
We want to make sure we’re never taking Sunday morning for granted. We want it to be alive, creative, relevant, life-changing, in the good ways and the challenging ways. From that flows, all the other five principles.
Think of this whole picture as your hand. In the palm is the Living Christ, and then these five principles are our fingers.
Rooted in compassion, we serve and advocate. God calls us to bind up the wounds of the suffering, feed the hungry, house the homeless, welcome the stranger, and give hope to those in despair. We are called to address the symptoms of injustice and suffering. However, we also are called to address the bigger picture, to advocate for a world that doesn’t produce suffering or oppression. We want to address symptoms and change the entire system. We are called to be a public church, an advocating church. We want to hold those together.
Rooted in justice, we acknowledge privilege and combat racism. We’re living in a time when issues of race and equality are felt painfully in our society. Black Lives Matter, race-related shootings and incarceration, a politics of racial divisiveness call us to be strategic in how a historically white church responds. How do we show up, transfigured, in ways that show our solidarity with people of color? This includes grappling with white supremacy and how whole systems work to privilege one group over another. This is hard work and easy to set aside because it’s overwhelming. We want to make sure we keep it central to our mission, even though we know it challenges all of us in different ways.
Rooted in love, we build intentional and diverse relationships. We’re a big church. It can be hard to know one another in meaningful and transfiguring ways. It can be hard to break into the group here. We feel called to keep working at being a community, a people who know one another and risk being real with one another. We also want to build relationships across the lines that tend to divide us: age, gender, race, even faith. Part of this principle is that our congregation as a whole will continue to deepen relationships with Jews, Muslims, and all religious traditions.
Rooted in beauty, we seek transformation through music and art. Clearly, music is at the heart of our transfiguration. We sing together. We make music together. Sometimes our song carries our emotions and our hopes and dreams more effectively than spoken words. As part of our guiding principles, we want to ask ourselves how we share music and art with the neighborhood. How can our music program be a gift to those around us? In the next several years, likely, we’ll have to make some big decisions about the organ. It’s in trouble. We have to ask ourselves how these projects can serve beyond us. How can they make a difference?
Rooted in generosity, we share our resources and our building. This is one of those goals that touches all of us because we all have something to give for the sake of Jesus’ mission. We have talents. We have knowledge, education, experience, time. We have money. There’s a direct relationship between the growth in our giving and the growth of our mission. One inspires the other. In addition, we just invested a lot of money in fixing our foundation, stopping water intrusion, and building a parking lot and rain gardens that protect the environment. Now that so much deferred maintenance has been completed, we want to make sure our building serves the community. We want to be a site of grace and justice on the corner of Snelling and Highland, a place where our neighbors can be transfigured and assisted in their many needs and interests. Our building has a mission.
Over the next several months, you’ll hear more about all of these. You may even have them memorized by the end of the year. More than anything, we pray today that they bring us back to what is at the center of life together: God’s gracious love, poured out in Jesus Christ, offered to the world as healing and justice.
My prayer is that each time we roll one of these out, or discuss how to make them concrete, we’ll be like the five-year-old, captured by the wonder of it all, the glory of being chosen by God to live right now, in this church, in these days.
All of us together on the mountain top: Wow.