Sometimes, when you are ready to give up, God gives you a transfiguration.
We got a late start on our cross country trek to South Carolina when I began
My godmother, who is also my aunt, had generously rented a minivan and packed it full
with things she was convinced I needed.
It was also the intended rescue vehicle for my 1981 Oldsmobile which might get
overheated and die in the desert if I cranked up the eight track player too loud.
We knew we had to push, since we only had four days between the end of my summer
job and the start of my orientation at seminary, and we assumed that if I arrived
one minute late for that, the church would never let me be a pastor.
But we had a Plan, which was foolproof until the first morning.
Family drama meant a late start, which meant extra stress and speed catching up
with The Plan, which left us on the side of the western Arizona road in the searing
heat as steam rose from both the rental van and the woman driving it.
We left our unplanned hotel room the next morning at 4:00am with three days to
exchange the rental, unload and repack its contents, and complete the drive from
Kingman to Columbia, South Carolina.
If you've ever watched Smokey and the Bandit, you have the basic idea.
Driving east through a pounding rain, I worried about the timeline and Auntie's
mental health and the family I was leaving behind and wondered whether I should
just forget this pipe dream of being a pastor.
Was I being selfish, delusional, stubborn?
Was God trying to protect the church from me by keeping me out?
Is God angry at me for this?
Should I just pull over and turn around and do something else with my life?
The rain thickened, the thunder boomed.
And then, in one narrow blue ribbon of sky, the sun rose.
I pulled the Oldsmobile off to the side of the road and stepped out into the storm.
Lightning flashed to the north; sunrise blazed to the east, and against the pitch
black western sky, spanning a desert valley carpeted with flowers, blazed a fully
half-circular double rainbow.
Nature was transfigured.
Auntie asked what was wrong now?
But I just stood there in that baptismal rain, soaked to my soul with new clarity.
That glimpse carried me the rest of the way, that long drive and ever since.
God knew that the disciples of Jesus had a long, hard road ahead of them, much more
daunting than the climb up the high mountain.
It began six days earlier with the outset of the crazy journey named church.
After some time on the gossip and rumors, Jesus asked his disciples, But who do
you say that I am?
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."
Jesus handed him the keys and said "I'm starting my church."
It was a beautiful moment that vanished like a rainbow.
Jesus quickly gave the disciples a gag order and told them he was headed to
Jerusalem to die.
Peter took him aside to correct him.
Jesus called him Satan and a stone that trips people.
Within five minutes of starting the church there was a disagreement and name calling.
Within a week Pastor Peter was pitching a capital campaign for new buildings.
Two thousands years down the road, have we come any farther?
God knew the Jesus journey named church had, and still has, a long way to go.
God also knows, from personal experience, that the road to true glory goes downhill.
The path to salvation leads Jesus from heaven to here.
The path to Easter goes through the cross.
The path to joy goes through pain.
The path to love goes through sacrifice and loss.
Parenthood means sleepless nights and championships mean sweat and ache and the mission of God, to reconcile all creation, means birth in a barn and death on a
cross and a lot of sore, dusty feet and broken hearts in between.
God knows it will be hard for these disciples to hang in there with Jesus.
Building life on the foundation of his words in the real world is much harder than
building three homes in the hills.
Living the Jesus way of loving enemies and blessing those who oppose you and going
the extra mile or six for peace and forgiveness and reconciliation in a human body is a much longer, harder journey than dashing across country in an Oldsmobile.
The disciples will need both a vision and a voice to carry them through.
So Peter and his two friends are given a glimpse of who Jesus truly is, and the
terrifying voice confirms it:
This is my Son, the Beloved ... KEEP LISTENING TO HIM!
Because the Cloud spoke Greek, the disciples heard it clearly: not just listen to him, but keep listening to him.
When love gets hard, don't tune him out; keep listening.
When you are ready to give up, keep listening.
When you doubt, when you are disappointed, when you are fighting, keep listening.
When you are confused or overwhelmed or burnt out, keep listening.
When the cross becomes too heavy or too expensive, keep listening.
When the road leads downhill, keep listening.
When your grandkids don't come to church, and the church keeps giving them reasons
not to, keep listening.
When the Jesus who shines on the mountain says that when you do something to the least
of these, you do it to me—when the face of God says the poor and the prisoner
and the sick and the eyes you avoid looking into are his face—keep listening.
The sheer terror of this is enough to make anyone fall on the ground in fear.
When Jesus says that he, the Messiah, the Beloved, is heading to Jerusalem to die,
keep listening to him.
And because the path to glory is down, normal, no-shine, human-face Jesus bends down
and taps his buddies on the shoulder.
Get up and do not be afraid.
At every altar, at every baptism, in every prayer circle since, even once on the
side of the road in Arizona, he has stooped down and said it again and again.
Church, I know you are scared.
I know you think decline is bad.
I know you want to stay where you are.
I know that loving this hot mess world is painfully costly and exhaustingly hard.
Get up and do not be afraid.
Keep listening to him.