Thursday, May 14, 2020

Transformation - Jesus Style

"Transformation - Jesus Style"

Rev. Paul Mitchell

Vashon United Methodist Church

April 26, 2020

Acts 2:14,36-41, Luke 24:13-35

We often think of transformation is a fancy synonym for change. But they merely overlap in meaning. We change our clothes or change our minds or change our circumstances, but the underlying paradigms and assumptions may remain – even in periods of profound change. We may change the frequency of washing our hands or the wardrobe we wear when doing our work or the vehicle we take to get to work. Transformation suggests something bigger, deeper, more comprehensive, more essential, more life-changing. We may change to a new way and then change back. But transformation is another matter. In transformation there is no going back. Transformation is “change across the whole” – the whole person, the whole life, the whole cosmos. You probably remember that the mission statement of The United Methodist Church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The second part of that mission statement was added several years after the first part was established. The question was, “What are these disciples of Jesus Christ for?” The answer is the transformation of the world. Discipleship is not just a simple change. Discipleship of Jesus Christ is a never-going-back transformation. I would say it’s also a process. It’s not like you sign up for discipleship and you’re there. It’s more like a journey that rises and falls, twists and turns, and continues to transform every neighborhood it enters and touches.
There’s probably not a lot of agreement about what constitutes an exemplary disciple of Jesus. For one thing, it feels like an individual status most of the time we talk about it. And while that may be true of a disciple of any other master, our master, being Jesus, calls us in our discipleship to be a body – to be the very body that carries weight and significance through humility and compassion. To be a disciple of Jesus means to be in communion with one another – to act in concert, harmony, and shalom. That’s especially a challenge for us in our highly individualistic Western cultural milieu. And now, it’s a challenge for us when we are quarantined and isolated. I’ve noticed, though, haven’t you, that it’s not just followers of Jesus who are yearning to connect more deeply in this time. I’ve been approached by several friends in the community who are not church members asking how they can help, how they can reach out to say, “You are not in this alone. I see you. I care about you. You are essential.” This is a universal human impulse that I suspect just gets buried under our insecurities or obsessions. The transforming power of being a disciple of the embodiment of love – the way of forgiveness, generosity, hospitality, inclusion, and justice – is to embrace transformation.
If we were to set out to find two scripture texts on transformation, we probably would not have chosen the ones we heard today. In one, Peter, the rock who Jesus told would be the foundation of the “church” – the ‘called out’ – lectures a diverse crowd of pilgrims to the Jerusalem temple; and in the other a stranger latches on to a pair of disciples wandering home in shock. But as we know, a story is not about what happens in it. A story is about why we tell it. And a transformative story transforms us in the telling and the hearing of it. Both of these stories were written by the same author.
Let’s look at the later story first. Peter’s speech is in the early paragraphs of the second volume of Luke/Acts – a two volume set addressed to the generic ‘Theophilus’ or ‘lover-of-God.’ The last time we saw him in this two-part narrative, Peter was dazed and confused. Luke tells us “When the women had returned from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and the others. The women were Mary of Magdala, Joanna, and Mary the mother of James. The other women with them also told the apostles, but the story seemed like nonsense and they refused to believe them. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. He stooped down, but he could see nothing but the wrappings. So he went away, full of amazement at what had occurred.”
Now, it’s a scant 50 days later. Devout Jews from all over the known world are gathered in Jerusalem for the next big pilgrimage festival after the Passover. The Roman Legion is again on high alert. Peter, the one who denied even being from the same part of the world as Jesus, gets up in front of the crowd – transformed by the Spirit, and chastises the hypocrisy of those who denied the obvious compassion and legitimacy of Jesus. It’s a passage that has unfortunately been used to vilify Jews and Judaism. But Peter was a Jew, speaking to Jews. There’s a parallel with John the Baptist at the beginning of Luke’s first volume, calling on those seeking God’s mercy to repent and be baptized. John ushered in Jesus in volume one, and Peter will usher in Paul in volume two. According to the Gospel accounts, Peter had given up his former life three years or so before transformation happened. But when it did, it happened in a big way. After he passes the baton to Paul, the balance of the book of Acts is an adventurous journey of maturing disciples. Ordinary people – and not just men! – are transformed and called to follow – Jesus style. As our entire planet presses the reset button, we too have the opportunity to pause and prepare for what it means for us to be mature disciples – an adventurous journey – Jesus style.
Long before we knew that we would be locked down and locked in and locked apart – though if we had been realistic and more Jesus-like we probably should have known it would come to this – I had planned to focus during this season of resurrection life on mature discipleship. It seems even more salient now. As a framework, I planned to use the penultimate chapter of Ronald Rolheiser’s book Sacred Fire: A Vision for Deeper Human and Christian Maturity. In it, he describes what he calls “the ten commandments of mature living.” They are:
  1. Live in gratitude and thank your Creator by enjoying your life.
  2. Be willing to carry more and more of life’s complexities with empathy.
  3. Transform jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred rather than give them back in kind.
  4. Let suffering soften your heart rather than harden your soul.
  5. Forgive – those who hurt you, your own sins, the unfairness of your life, and God for not rescuing you.
  6. Bless more and curse less!
  7. Live in a more radical sobriety.
  8. Pray, affectively and liturgically.
  9. Be wide in your embrace.
  10. Stand [in humility] where you are supposed to be standing and let God provide the rest.
Rolheiser says they are more like invitations than commandments, and indeed, evangelism, which is the act of sharing good news, ought to be more like an invitation than a commandment. I have re-ordered these ten invitations to mature discipleship mostly to align them with the lectionary readings – though I will from time to time wander a bit from the lectionary. Today, I’m addressing number three: “transform jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred rather than give them back in kind” because we plainly see that Peter has been transformed before our very eyes from a denier to a proclaimer – from merely eager to energized. Part of the good news – the gospel – of this account is that just as God uses Peter with all his flaws to lead the first wave of being ekklesia – being called out and transformed – so God uses each of us to partake and lead in the next wave.
The role of the church, according to our mission statement “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” is to prepare and participate in that next wave. I struggle a bit with the statement because it is full of hubris and presumption – or it can too easily be heard that way. Who is making disciples and of whom are they made? Does everyone need to be a disciple of Jesus Christ to participate in the transformation of the world? No. Is the transformation of the world simply for the benefit of disciples of Jesus Christ? Absolutely not! Instead, we are in continuity and partnership with all of creation to love God and neighbor to love the “other” – the hungry, thirsty, alien, naked, sick, and captive. Discipleship of Jesus means moving from being right to being love – from good works to good relationships. It takes more than change to live that way. It takes transformation.

The primary transformation of the world begins within. We are transformed and continually transforming. And as we are transformed and transforming into the body of Christ, Jesus is transformed, too. On the way home from Jerusalem, still unsure of the disposition of the body of their master, brother, and teacher – their companion in transformation, Cleopas and the other disciple are in shock at the cataclysmic change that has just transpired. They’re not sure what is going on – whether to grieve or to rejoice or to isolate themselves from further change. Has Jesus somehow escaped? No one has seen him yet today. Had the women been mistaken? Did they go to the wrong tomb? Where had this stranger along the way been the last few days? Did he not know the magnitude of the events? But their hearts were on fire in his presence – refined and transformed. And their vision was restored. How did they know it was Jesus despite his transformed countenance? They knew him in his presence, his teaching, his comforting assurance, and most of all, in serving them a meal in their own home. Jesus was transformed from stranger to guest to host. And so are we. Today, we celebrate communion – one Body and one Spirit, and the Body and Spirit are also one. Though we are scattered, like grain in the fields, we are also connected, like fruit on the vine. Beloved, be transformed – Jesus style.

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