“Mountain and Valley Experiences”
February 11, 2018 – Year B – Transfiguration Sunday – Annual Meeting
Imagine that a mountain is before you. Jesus, Peter, James and John are climbing it. You are itching to join them. But, it is a venture that is for the 4 men only. Much happens on this pilgrimage. It is transformative. In fact – it is transfiguring for Jesus.
With this story as our backdrop, I want to tell you about my experiences of worshipping in 3 unique congregations over the 3 months, November to January, that I was on medical leave. The 3 churches presented 3 very different styles of worship. All 3 services had a time in the worship service where you stood up and shook hands with one another. All of them had greeters at the door who offered a warm welcome to everyone who entered. However, in one of the churches that I worshipped in for 5 weeks, only 1 person came to me and introduced themselves. It was a warm and friendly church on the surface, but when it came to inclusion. It fell very short. The other 2 churches did a better job of welcome, but, failed to print in their order of service, or offer verbally, the directions in order to follow along in the service. So, for a newcomer, one was lost. 2 of the churches offered services that ran an hour and 20 minutes to an 1 ½ hour and there seemed to be no concern about the length of the worship time. It was only in 1 church that the sermon consistently tied in to our personal lives and gave us food for thought for being a little more faithful. 2 of the 3 churches had a music leader at a microphone in addition to the choir, assisting in the singing of the hymns. At one of the services, the choir got into a disagreement with the Choir Director and the tension was obvious throughout the service. All 3 churches had a coffee time following the worship service. I found it uncomfortable to attend unless someone personally invited me and asked me to sit with them.
I offer these reflections as feedback on our own worship experience. What does a newcomer encounter when attending one of our worship services? Is it a mountain-top pilgrimage with Jesus, or is it a dark valley time that is never to be repeated? Do we honour Christ, God’s beloved, in the very best way possible? Are we open to change, so that we might welcome the stranger, and listen with attentiveness?
I love transfiguration Sunday, for it gives us an opportunity to reflect on our mountain and valley experiences. For us as a congregation, the fact that we are celebrating 90 years of faith-filled ministry is astounding. I remember 2 years ago stating emphatically that we definitely would make it to 90 years actually shocking the persons with whom I was talking. They were sure we would be closed by this time. I believe we have experienced a mountain top high as we celebrated 4 adult baptisms in just over a year. However, our valley has been deep as we have mourned the deaths of 17 friends and loved ones. I had the privilege of standing with 4 jubilant couples as they married in 2017. Our church has handed out nearly 400 bags of food to the hungry in our community, this past year. We closed the year in a much better financial position than we anticipated, giving us hope and courage to continue doing the good works that we are called to do. Several of you have welcomed great grand children into your hearts and lives. Many of you are experiencing health challenges that are disturbing and frightening. This leaves you vulnerable in ways you never anticipated. It can feel like walking in a valley. In all these realities, Christ walks with us. Up the mountain and down in the deep valley we are not alone. But – rest assured, that God’s voice heralding “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” is for us all to hear. When we slow down long enough that we actually can pay attention to God’s murmurings, it is a glorious message. When we open our hearts and spirits, there is a nudging that invites us to lean in and experience the wonder of God with us.
I have sat at the bedside of persons as they make the transition from life to death. I am always astounded how I see the face of Christ as this transition takes place. It is as if I am on a mountaintop and I have seen the power of God working in that experience. Each time, I am changed. It is such a privilege. So – even though we fear that our church – Big Blue – may be facing some big changes, we must not loose faith. Perhaps we must die in our present form, so that we can resurrect in a new form. Possibly we may have to look seriously at shared ministry, or some kind of amalgamation. Might we look at taking on a new focus in our ministry? In a couple of minutes, we will begin our Annual Meeting. Let us go into it with hearts, minds, and spirits open to the possibilities that are before us. Let us be gentle with one another. Let us venture up the mountain and descend into the valley, knowing that Christ walks with us. Amen.