Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Ooooh, the Humanity... by Chris Shade

There are two kinds of people in the comic book loving world. There are Superman people and there are Batman people. What side are you on? If you are not sure let me give you a bit of back story. Superman people love the super powers of their comic book hero. They like that he can deflect bullets with his bare chest, that he can shoot heat rays out of his eyes, and he can fly! He can fly!
Now Batman people don’t go for all of that super power kind of stuff. See Batman is just a regular human. He can’t fly. He can’t shoot lasers. He is not even that strong. He is just your average guy, well, if your average guy was a highly intelligent billionaire with an arsenal of weapons and decades of combat training. Okay, so he is not all that average, but he is mortal; he is human.  
         Now why am I telling you this? Well, I want to come right out and say it. I want to confess on this day in this pulpit: I am a Batman person. I identify with the character who gets his powers from within.  I like the harsh reality that Batman has to face on a daily basis and knowing he could die. In short, I like the humanity.
         So, it is with this kind of knowledge that I come to this story of the Transfiguration that Nancy read for us this morning. I have to say that this story always perturbed me. I have always felt that it is a bit out of place in the grand narrative of Jesus. Here is why: Jesus is a guy who is walking the earth, healing the sick, feeding the hungry, questioning authority...and then, seemingly out of the blue, he takes a minute out of his day to walk up a mountain and have a glorious apocalyptic moment with Elijah and Moses. It just seems a bit out of place to me. But maybe it is because I am looking at it like a Superman story and not a Batman story. Maybe I am missing the humanity that is present in the story. So I invite you to come with me this morning and see if we can find a place for us in the Transfiguration. If we find it, we might just be prompted to utter the title of the sermon: Ohhhh, (delivered like someone who came to a realization, not in anguish) the Humanity.
         Well right off of the bat it says that Jesus went up to the mountain to pray. In fact it was during his prayer that the Transfiguration happened. I can identify with this – this need to get away, this need to go and just have a moment of peace. Are you with me? How many times in your busy stressful day have you thought, boy, I wish I could just get away. I wish I could take a trip to someplace that is quiet, a place that is peaceful. Wouldn’t that be nice? Jesus no doubt had many reasons to want to take a moment to himself. There were the insistent crowds, the clueless disciples, and let’s not forget the powerful authorities that wanted to kill him. Talk about stress.
         But I don’t know if this is the best place to find the humanity in the story. After all, Jesus was the son of God, so his prayer must have been on a whole other level. When we pray, do we pray like Jesus? Can we pray like Jesus? We can certainly pray as Jesus taught us, but is that the same?  I mean he went up to a mountain top and was surrounded by a cloud. Is that humanity? I am not sure. Perhaps we should keep looking.
         Perhaps there is humanity in the connection with the Creator. God’s presence was certainly felt on that day. Even God’s voice came down and spoke. “This is my Son, Listen to Him.” At it is God’s presence that brings about the transformation. It says that Jesus’ face was changed and his clothes became a dazzling white. On the surface this might sound like the toughest place in the story to find humanity, what with all of the theatrics. But I do not think that it is impossible.
At it’s heart, the transfiguration is about change, and as humans, we have the capacity for great change. We have the gift of choice and we can use that gift to make remarkable changes in our lives and in our world. Maybe you have made the transition from addiction to recovery. Maybe you have mended a relationship that you though would never be reconciled. Maybe you have simply begun a new exercise regime. Whatever the case, it is our capacity for change, for transformation that makes us human. And it is the presence of God in this story and in our lives that can inspire that change to happen.
         But if I am to be really honest, I think that our changes, no matter how significant just don’t quite measure up to the power of this story. It says that Jesus’ whole face changed. Even his clothes became new. In all of His glory, I think that we lose a bit of the humanity.
         Perhaps we are focusing too much on Jesus. Maybe we can find connections with other characters in the story. Maybe the humanity lies in one of Jesus’ companions. The scripture says that Jesus was joined by Moses and Elijah, not angels, but humans. Humans that had struggles, humans that wanted to run from their callings. Moses told God he was not worthy of the task God gave him. Elijah ran away when things got too heated in his life.
So, can we see some humanity in these folks? Have you ever been in a situation that you did not want to face? Have you feared failure, rejection, or the stresses of leadership? Have you ever felt like staring God in the eye and just saying, “No.” Well then you might identify with these two characters.
But to be honest, they are clearly not in this story because of their human faults. They are in this story because of what they accomplished. Both encountered God on a mountain top, both went on to do great things for their people and both are revered. They are the equivalent of Jewish super heroes: Moses representing the law and Elijah representing the prophets, two pillars of Jewish faith and teaching. And they show up in this story as a way to link Jesus’ life to theirs, to link a traditional faith to a new revelation.  
So that leaves us with Peter. Poor, naive Peter. He sees this miraculous event and proclaims, “It is good to be up here. We should build some dwellings. Let’s make three houses. One for you, Jesus, and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Now we can certainly feel for Peter. I mean which of us would really know how to handle that situation? Historical figures that have been dead for thousands of years just show up one day on a mountain. What would you do? He was just trying to be helpful. Now there is humanity here, but Peter’s character definitely leaves something to be desired. Thankfully the story does not end there.
         At the end of the day Jesus came down off of that mountain top. And do you know what he did? He got to work. And this is where I think our best glimpse of humanity lies. Jesus did not ascend into heaven on Elijah’s chariot. He did not stay up on that mountain and set up camp. No, he came down. For though it is His connection with God that makes Him divine, it is his connection with the earth that makes Him human. So He comes back and He gets back to work. In the very next story He heals a boy and restores a family. So maybe the humanity is not on the mountain top, but in coming down off of the mountain and getting back to work.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think that mountain moments are crucial. They are essential in our lives and in our work. Taking time to be alone. Taking time to pray. Being available to have encounters with our God that renew us and change us: they all vitally important. But we cannot stay there. Just as Jesus came down and got back to work, so should we.
         And what a load of work there is to do. I feel like we can have a wheel of issues and just spin it and see what comes up. Take your pick. How about feeding the hungry? According to the U.S. census, in 2011 over 6 million people in California alone are below the poverty line. 6 million! That’s more than any other state. And 1 in 5 kids live in a household that struggles to put food on the table.
You want to talk environment? 2012 was the hottest year ever in the United States and experts say that this decade is no doubt going to be the hottest. You hear about the loss of crops, the wildlife being displaced, and don’t forget the weather patterns like hurricane Sandy.
You can take gun control, human trafficking, health reform, the prevalence of corporate influence in our government. The list goes on and on.
Now I am not just here to spout doom and gloom and throw a bunch of statistics at you. I am merely pointing out that there is work to do. A lot of work to do. And who better to do it than us. What better time that now? And we have made progress. This church has raised over $2000 for the Habitat for Humanity build in Walnut Creek and we are sending five workers to give their time and talent to help further. We contribute time, food, and money to our local food bank. The youth collected $165 here last week. We inform ourselves about the issues and stay informed.
But there is more work to be done and we can only stand up on the mountain for so long before we have to follow the lead of Jesus and get back to work.
Now you know that I am a Batman person, right, but I found this story of Superman that seems particularly appropriate to end on. It’s called Superman: Grounded. It begins after a long series of events that lead the people of the U.S. to feel like Superman has lost touch. He has been away for so long he no longer understands what life is really like in their world. So Superman agrees to come out of the skies and walk. He walks from one end of the country to the other. He does not fly. He barely uses his powers. He just walks and sees what is around him. He looks at the joy and tragedy of everyday life. In the end, he finds his humanity.  
So I invite you to do something this week. Take a walk. Not just a figurative walk down from the mountain top but an actual walk. In your neighborhood. Investigate your surroundings. See where the need is immediately around you. And if you can’t find it, keep walking. Keep looking. For though our connection with God may renew us and invigorate us, it is our connection to this earth that makes us human. And the people said...Amen

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