Overwhelming.

Luke 9:28-36 (37-43) The Transfiguration

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

Ever had something happen to you that was overwhelming?

Training for a marathon is hard work…lots of hard work… and it’s a bit overwhelming, but I know it takes one day at a time…each workout leads to something more…and, there’s change and growth in the process. When I first set out to train for a marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston, it brought a lot of change in how I structured my day, what I ate and didn’t eat… it also brought change in my body….most of it welcome.

After getting to the Boston Marathon, running it while injured, finishing in that crowd, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know how to process it. I cried and called my daughter.

Qualifying for the Boston Marathon at the Wine Glass Marathon in Finger Lakes, NY in 2015.
Getting our race packets for the 2016 Boston Marathon.
Post Boston Marathon after a trip to the medical tent during the race…overwhelming, and so good to finish!

The Luke story of the Transfiguration comes days after a series of events where Jesus is going around sharing the good news of God’s Presence, a message that was about a different narrative or story that was being lived at the time. A narrative of God’s desire for us to be in deep relationship with one another.

At one point in previous stories, Jesus is asking what others were saying about him. Some said that he was Elijah, John the Baptist. Peter said that He was the Messiah though…he had also healed some folks, one story right before this was a healing from blindness. He’s also beginning to share some hard things about his own suffering that was soon to come, that he would experience deep pain, and that he would die and rise again. As more and more crowds were following him, I’m sure it was hard for them to understand, and even harder for Jesus to convey this message.

We see that Jesus is getting away from the crowds, as he often did. He went up to a mountain with three of his friends. These were good guys I’m sure, but not always on top of things, and they had some issues, like we all do…I guess that’s why we can relate to them so well. Peter seemed prone to making big statements that he couldn’t always back up. He denied even knowing Jesus during his darkest hour a short time later. James and John were concerned with greatness and arguing about who would sit where in eternity. They seemed to be way more concerned by another life other than the one they were living, which, to this day is unnecessary and unhealthy conversation in the church. They seemed consumed with theological discussions and fantasies on power rather than helping those around them.

Yet, through it all, through their anxieties, image issues, and failures, Jesus counted them as friends and believed in them. He invited them into events and life experiences with him that were transformative and meaningful, he extended grace and presence to them.

This event, this mountain top experience had a profound impact on Peter, James, and John. They saw before them Jesus, their friend, changed, transfigured, beautiful. In Jewish understanding from the Torah, when someone’s face or countenance changed, or there is comment about one’s clothes being radiant, that’s a statement about one’s relationship with God and others, it’s symbolic of where their heart is. The disciples are seeing Jesus for who Jesus is.

How did they react? Well, they were overwhelmed, but they were glad to be there, they knew they wanted to be there. Peter was so caught up in the moment, that he wanted to create three dwellings or set up tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. Somehow he wanted to contain that moment. He was terrified, as they all were. They didn’t know where to go or what to do, yet, they knew that things had changed.

It’s interesting that Elijah and Moses were the ones that Jesus was talking to…the author of this passage is making a statement about Jesus. Jesus, like Elijah, engages in prophetic ministry. Elijah’s ministry was marked by a passion for those on the outside of the “elect” or Israel, those on the margins, the poor, and how God had a purpose for them and loved them, and included them.

Moses gave us the law, our relational rules for how to treat one another and God. Jesus embodies the law and demonstrated to us how to live.

Moses also represents the exodus and Jesus’ exodus is representative of us, of everyone being released from bondage to whatever is holding us back from being the persons we were created to be.

Then, the clouds came. Maybe that’s to say that things aren’t always clear. Yet, God says, this is my son, part of me, I love him, LISTEN to him.

They left the mountain. But, notice that Jesus is with them. He’s not distant. Jesus told them not to tell anyone, they don’t have to validate themselves, just wait, there’s more to the story. Jesus would die, but he’d rise again.

I think that this story has a lot to say about us as persons and as a church. We are being changed, all of us. We experience change throughout our lives. It’s inevitable. Sometimes that change can be overwhelming. It can be confusing and also exciting. We know we want change and need it. When it comes, we’re not sure how to respond or the way for us may not be clear. But God says that we are not alone, that he’s with us, going through change with us, and to listen to his son. This Jesus is also rising up within us. He is alive and is working in and through us, calling us to have confidence in ourselves as his friends…to be made aware of ourselves, of God, and of others.

That Son lives in us and his Spirit is moving all around us. I sense that in this church and community.

I believe that Fleming Road UCC is going through a transfiguration. I also believe that each of one of us, together, are experiencing transfiguration in our relationships with one another and those we meet. We are being changed into something beautiful. We are inviting in conversation partners to help us see through the clouds of what that change will bring, we are practicing listening skills to each other, our community, and the word of God. I know I’m listening.

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I want to see this church filled with people of all sorts of ages, color, economic backgrounds, thoughts, opinions, beliefs, orientations, etc.. Folks all being called to live life together in the way of Jesus and folks seeking out a Jesus who is pursuing them. I hope to see all of us living into Jesus, a Jesus who was changed before the eyes of his disciples where they could see him in even deeper ways. It will take time, hard work, and some suffering, overwhelming at times, but it will also be dazzling, encouraging, and wonderful.

I don’t know what is in store for the church that I pastor, Fleming Road UCC, but it will be beautiful, it will be good for you, for me, and for everyone in this neighborhood and in other neighborhoods, wherever we find ourselves in some way. We will be changed, and we will be glad to be on the mountaintop as that change happens. We won’t change overnight more than likely, and we will grow over time together. But, isn’t it so good to be together as we go to the mountaintop and hear God’s voice telling us, I love you, I’m with you, I am present.

Fleming Road UCC.

As we approach Lent, may we use those 40 days as a time of repentance which simply means transformation, growth, of a changing of our minds and hearts and move towards renewal. Just as spring time will arrive, delivering us out of the death of winter, God wants to bring us into new life, deeper awareness, and to know that God has faith in us.

Jesus calls us friend, and invites us to be overwhelmed with something new, his love for us that transcends time and space and is present with us today and everyday. This love is demonstrated by Jesus’ pouring out his life for us and being broken for us and is symbolized in the Lord’s Supper which we participate in with remembrance of God’s action on our behalf and God’s invitation for us to come to the table of life that God shares with us, all of us.

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Release!

The worship service and all other events were cancelled today at Fleming Road UCC.  Here’s the sermon that I would have shared this morning!  

New Testament Reading

Luke 4:14-21 

“Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about him spread through the whole countryside. 15 He was teaching in their synagogues, and everyone praised him. 16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: 18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” 

I have a question:  what makes “news” “good”?  

I remember receiving some good news.  I used to work at a store called REI that sold things like hiking and climbing gear.  I started to work there while I worked as a youth director at a Presbyterian Church in Atlanta to make extra money for my honeymoon with Debbie.  It was a great place to work and I ended up working there for a couple of years, very part time (GREAT discounts on gear) after Debbie and I were married.  One day, about 6 months after our wedding, Debbie came in to tell me some news.  She was about a month or so pregnant with our daughter Debbie.  

At first I was stunned, then happy, then I had to sit down and let it sink in…I couldn’t go back to work, I couldn’t focus, it was overwhelming…it had to sink in that I was going to be a father!  I wasn’t ready at all, even though Debbie and I got married when I was 30, I wanted to wait at least a couple of years or so.  It wasn’t what I expected.  Yet, when the reality of this news sank in, it was truly good news…and I still am amazed about how that good news unfolds every day as I watch my daughter grow and my son, Brennan, as well.

Our gospel lesson this morning is another story about unexpected Good News and release in the Bible.  

Jesus had just returned from being tempted by the devil for several days in the desert.  He resisted the temptation to become powerful or relevant by the world’s measure and stayed true to who he was.  Which, says a lot to us today as we strive for worldly wealth and relevance, God says that he has something better for us if we remember our identity lies in Jesus and live in self, others, and God awareness.  

As was Jesus’ custom, he preached in the synagogue.  Yet, this was different, Jesus was teaching in his hometown.  The folks gathered that day had heard great things about Jesus.  They had heard about the miracles he had performed and the words he had spoken, as well as the large crowds that were following him.  

Jesus was handed a scroll with the words of Isaiah.  Jesus knew what he wanted to read and began to read the prophecy about the Messiah.  There is an emphasis in this passage of “me”, three times in verses 18 and 19 alone.  In other words, Jesus is quoting this passage, saying that this prophecy is emphatically about him.  

Jesus even makes this dramatic, yet subtle and very powerful statement at the end of this particular passage that we are looking at today.  He rolls up the scroll, hands it back to the attendant, and sits down.  At first glance, that may seem odd, but in Jewish custom during that time, you would stand to read Scripture, then sit down to teach.  Jesus was doing just that.  But, when he starts to teach, he changes a statement.  

The quote in Isaiah actually says at the end, a proclamation about the day of the Lord’s vengeance, but Jesus changes it to say “the day of the Lord’s favor”, flipping it to a different meaning for the hearers on that day…and then ends with the statement:  “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”  Jesus is saying, I am the fulfillment of God’s promise that he would be our God and we would be his people.  Jesus is God present with us…and that we don’t have a God of vengeance, but a God who’s giving us favor, a God who is on the side of humanity.  

The Greek word in this passage for proclaiming good news is one word.  It is also where we get the world “evangelize”. 

εὐαγγέλιον

Evangelize or “Good News”

Originally used for the Roman Emperor, 

reclaimed by Jesus followers…

In today’s culture, that word can often be associated with some not so good things, we can reclaim it for its original intentJesus was saying that had come to proclaim good news to the poor and release to all of those held captive.  It means to bring something, and in this context, it means that the ones that will hear and receive this message are the poor. 

So, who are the poor?  Well, it certainly means those who are economically poor, but poor has a deeper meaning in this context as it does throughout Scripture.  The “Poor” are those who are oppressed, lonely…those who are marginalized.  The “poor” are those who had been ostracized by society in that day, persons such as tax collectors (who were quite wealthy actually), prostitutes, lepers, widows, immigrants, foreigners…you name it, those who weren’t “in”, but felt left out.  To be poor means more than simply not having material wealth, or economically isolated, it means not being in community with others.  Poor has much more to do with status in society, it means much more than what your income is.  

Jesus was saying, if you feel marginalized because of others, then I have come to restore you in relationship with others and with God.  If you are poor or have ever felt marginalized or left out, if you have ever felt like you were on the outside looking in, then you know what it’s like to be in a desperate place, a place that is miserable…a place where you are hungering for good news of being included.

Jesus goes on to say in this morning’s text that he has come to proclaim freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight to the blind, and to set the prisoners, the captives free, released!  He was proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor, again, not vengeance, the opposite really…he was saying in effect, God is on your side!  

When you look at the life of Jesus, he backed this up.  What does he do with the prostitute, but forgives her and restores her to community.  What about the tax collector, the leper, the blind?  He forgives them and heals them, and always restores them to community with others and with God.  Not only does Jesus do that for them, but he does it for us. 

The church is called to be the body of Christ and to participate in Christ’s mission.  We are called to live out and do what Jesus is proclaiming in this passage. We are also asking as a church, how we can build up the communities around us that are fragmented, and how we can share Jesus through relationships, bringing good news to those who feel left out?  We are praying for how we can listen and even minister to those who live within our neighborhoods by simply being friends with them, while modeling the alternative community that we are called to be as a church.  

Identifying with Christ can be messy and uncomfortable.  When you look at the rest of this chapter in Luke 4, you see that the meaning of Jesus’ words didn’t bring a whole lot of good feelings in the crowd that was gathered.  The crowd wanted Jesus to tell them that they were favored, they wanted him to affirm their “way of life”, they wanted to see some of the miracles that he had performed in other places.  They were looking for a performance and not the alternative community that Jesus was envisioning or that the trajectory of Scripture was, and is, pointing us towards.  They wanted their version of “good news” to be good for them only.  They got frustrated and wanted to scapegoat Jesus and looked for ways to cause him harm.  Yet, Jesus’ message and life still went out and continues to this day working in and on us.  Jesus says that in order for news to be good, it has to be good for everyone.  

Friends, may we be the body of Christ, bearing news that is truly good to a lost and lonely world.  We have been given the power to proclaim release to all of those held captive to a narrative of separation and absence as we model the presence and love of Christ.   In so doing, not only will the world see hope and experience release and know that they have God’s favor, but we will as well.  

May it be so.  

Rich and Travis’ Community Hubs Fundraising Link!

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Here’s the link to make online donations for Rich and Travis’ Marathon Race in October to raise funds for Cincy Community Hubs…or to make general donations to Cincinnati Community Hubs:

https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=PRAZND2N7BWQL

Thanks!

Rich and Travis

ALL DONATIONS TO CINCY COMMUNITY HUBS THROUGH COMMON EXCHANGE ARE TAX DEDUCTIBLE. 

Community Hubs in Cincy!

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We are excited to post today on my blog about an opportunity that we (Travis and Rich) have been in conversation about for several years.   It is a conversation centered on our shared belief in the importance of persons and organizations engaged with each other in meaningful ways for community transformation.  Out of these conversations (many of which we’ve had on long runs together) between us and others, we are developing what we have termed “community hubs”.   A hub is rooted in a local neighborhood for the purpose of building relationships and highlighting services already in the community, and where there are needs, finding ways to service those needs.

This is a growing discussion that has also included a wide range of other friends and colleagues from diverse backgrounds, but all who share a desire to see communities come together for the common good.  These friends are corporate leaders, educators, community leaders, church leaders, artists, high school students, and young adults.   We are inviting you to participate in a fundraising project for community hubs.

There are discussions around specific projects in several neighborhoods in Cincinnati where there could be potential hubs emerging.  These communities include Finneytown, Clifton, Norwood, and Wyoming for now, others could be added in the future.

Some specific projects that have been discussed and that we’d like to raise seed funds for are:

  • A Finneytown summer camp program starting in 2015.  This will be a camp for elementary-aged students with educational, nutritional, and recreational opportunities.
  • A community garden in Finneytown.
  • A community youthworker in a nearby neighborhood mainly financially supported by several churches, but  possibly under the umbrella of the Community Hub.
  • A gap year exchange program for young adults from Cincinnati to work, learn, and grow in London, UK with OasisUK, and for UK young adults to come and serve in Cincinnati.  As of writingt this letter, it looks like we  will have one young adult (and possibly 2) going to the UK to work with Oasis this fall (2014).
  • A high school student gathering, that has decided to call themselves the “hubba” group.  These students met for several months at Finneytown last spring in Lynn Volz’s classroom for lunch and discussion centered on community building.  They have discussed several issues and ways that they can be leaders for positive change and growth.  For example, they have had discussions on economic, religious, and ethnic division and how to honestly listen to one another.  They have also come up with several ideas for community building at Finneytown such as hosting a community potluck, taking surveys, etc.  Many of these projects will come to fruition this fall.

We (Travis and Rich) have several passions.  One is this community hub concept, another is running.  So, we have decided to raise funds for these community projects by running a marathon this fall.  We will be running the “Wine Glass Marathon” in western New York on October 5, 2014.  Would you please consider donating a certain amount per mile or a flat donation to this endeavor?   Your donation would be very appreciated and also tax-deductible.  100% of your donations will go to Cincinnati Community Hub projects.  You can donate online through Common Change using the PayPal link on Rich’s blog at https://rdjonesy2013.wordpress.com or you can mail checks to: Common Change, 484 Lake Park Ave #665, Oakland, CA 94610.  Please make checks out to “Common Change” and in the memo write “Cincinnati Community Hubs”.

Thank you for your consideration of helping out with this project.  If you would like to know more about Cincinnati Community Hubs or other ways of getting involved, please feel free to contact us (Travis and Rich) any time!  Travis’ contact info:  glendenningt@wyomingcityschools.edu or (740) 974-2738.  Rich’s contact info:  rdjonesy@icloud.com or (513) 295-5818.

Sincerely yours,

Travis Glendenning

Rich Jones