I am in interim ministry at the moment, so my preaching is focussed on the communities I am serving, exploring what it means to be faithful in decline. We have some big decisions to make in the next few months, and we are keenly aware of and grateful for the traditions, faith and resources that we are being asked to manage.
The Lenten readings for Year B are strongly focussed around discipleship and living a life that reflects the compassion, love, joy and burden that comes from a personal relationship with Christ. Perfect Lenten themes, but right now, we are looking a little more outward to one another. Oh what I wouldn’t give for consecutive readings through 1 Corinthians, or Philippians, to take us through Lent.
Instead, I am working with our readings and exploring themes of Life and Death. In particular, what signs of life and death are we seeing all around us? What deaths have we experienced in our congregations, not just people, but ministries? What life has carried through and survived in spite of all our struggles?
For us, the exchange between Peter and Jesus can hit a little too close to the heart. Who of us wants to die? Or see someone we love die? Who wouldn’t protest?
Imagine Peter’s dismay, in the midst of this incredible community, lead by the Son of Man, now being told he is going to lose it all-his Rabbi, his friends, his very life. Who of us would not avoid that possibility with kicking and screaming, let alone rebuking Christ?
It is interesting that Jesus says quite openly that he will not only be arrested and killed, but that he will also rise again. And yet, Peter still tries to stop it. Like Peter, it is hard for us to see past the struggle and death to believe in the resurrection. There is too much fear, disappointment and grief in the dying for us to even imagine what a resurrection would mean for us.
This exchange happens just before the Transfiguration, that mountain top experience that sears into the memories of Peter, James and John. When they were at their lowest, in the most doubt, they could remember that moment, the presence of Moses and Elijah, the impossible whiteness, to carry them down the dark roads to come.
When we talk about losing our lives, we have to spend some time with it. Otherwise, it is so impossible we don’t have to resist it, we just ignore it. Instead, reflect on those times when we have been most aware of our mortality, and recall the images or experiences that have given us the courage to carry through.
Finally, Jesus doesn’t guarantee success or glory for the disciples. Jesus asks us to consider what we are working for. Does it give us life? Are we seeking to follow Jesus, or to gain the world for God’s glory? My people are facing the possibility of losing a great deal. Or it could be they have lost enough and new life is just around the corner. We just don’t know.
Part of losing our life is letting go of the expectations we have laid on our own backs and trusting the call of Jesus to simply follow. What do we have that has already died? What legacies are we carrying that were never meant to be eternal? What are we ready to give up, just waiting for permission? What traditions and ministries will be our Transfiguration story, to carry us down this bumpy road?
Perhaps a way to come to this gospel sideways is how we understand, “gain the world”? What are we gaining, really? Pressure to succeed? Pretending we are something we are not? We are losing our life by trying to be more like the world. Can we remember who we are when we are not seeking the world?
These are the questions we are facing. How do these questions resonate in your parish? In your relationship with God?