Sunday, February 11, 2018
Transfiguration: Antidote for Tiny House Theology (Sermon)
“Transfiguration: Antidote for Tiny House Theology”
Jonesborough Presbyterian Church
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.
7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. (NRSV)
Up on a mountain, standing before a transfigured Jesus, Peter is thrown into a kind of spiritual confusion. Overwhelmed by all that bright holiness, the disciple offers to do something selfish and short-sighted. Knowing Peter, it’s not a surprising suggestion. Knowing Jesus, though, it is absurd.
“Rabbi,” he says, I like being here. Let’s just stay. I’ll build each of us a tiny house.
The story of the Transfiguration illustrates one of the fundamental tensions in the Church – the tension between the call to be Jesus’ body in and for the world and the temptation to stuff him inside a Tiny House. To contain and control Jesus by building physical and philosophical walls around him.
When we read the stories of Jesus, we’re introduced to a man who goes out of his way to get into our way. He calls us to live as signs of life and love in a world rocked by death and fear. He does this consistently and without reserve. While Jesus does slip off to pray on a regular basis, moss does not grow under his feet. And everything he says and does challenges his disciples to follow him in faithful service.
Very early on, the Church forgot that. In the days of Constantine and Theodosius I, the Church began to teach that consenting to prescribed dogma, reciting formulas, and feeding the church coffers were more important to discipleship than loving God, loving neighbor, and feeding the poor. That led to the individualistic credo that a Christian’s only real concern, was to achieve a happy afterlife for himself or herself – more specifically, to avoid an unhappy one. The Church has earned the criticism of being “so heavenly minded that it’s no earthly good.”
Having said all this repeatedly, I imagine some of you thinking, “Here he goes again.” But I really do think that Christianity, especially in first-world cultures, inclines toward Peter’s Tiny House understanding of faith and discipleship as its default position.
Tiny House theology explains why congregations tend to face bigger arguments about paint and carpet than missions.
Churches use it to justify building up large investment portfolios and not even tithing from them.
Tiny House theology shapes a passive, sit-and-wait-to-be-served practice of celebrating the Lord’s Supper.
It makes congregations nervous about opening their doors to people who need ministries of healing and support like AA, NA, and Al Anon.
From the collusion of the Jewish leadership with Rome in the ancient Middle East, to the violent and corrupt papacy of medieval Europe, to the religious right of the modern West, Tiny House religion has sought to secure status and future by bedding down with the ways and means of empire.
One of my own weekly struggles against Tiny House theology is choosing hymns. So much of the doctrine in our hymnody proclaims a god of retribution, a god who can be appeased only through blood-letting. Or it has us fluttering our eyes at a diaphanous Jesus waiting to welcome us into the “Sweet By and By.” And in my opinion, those images tempt us with a god who allows and even encourages us to get comfortable with violence and superficial piety. That god engulfs us in smallness.
Now, I am aware that we live in chaotic and frightening times. And this place is called a “sanctuary.” We come here seeking peace and assurance.
We come here to be reminded that we’re not alone in the universe.
We come here trusting that the timeless Spirit we call God loves us and gives meaning to our lives.
We gather to hear the music, the words, and the silence that both grounds us in God’s good Creation and releases us from the crushing gravity of life in a broken world.
We come here to meet Jesus, and to sit in his presence.
We come here to share each other’s awe, and wonder, and love of God, and to be sent forth renewed and empowered for grateful and joyful service.
Here, in this sanctuary, in the company of Jesus, God’s voice affirms our faith, saying, Yes! “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
That’s why we’re here: To listen to Jesus. And what does Jesus say? He says, Follow me. Not, Follow protocols.
He says, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) Not: Sit here in sanctimonious compliance for an hour, then go joke about beating the Baptists to the Sunday buffet.
Jesus says, ‘When you show compassion to those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, and imprisoned, you are showing compassion to me.’ (Mt. 25:40) Not: When you look right, act right, and don’t rock the boat, you make me proud.
He says, “In my Father’s house are many mansions…” (John 14:2) Not: Build yourself a tiny house.
Jonesborough Presbyterian has about two hundred people on its roll. Anywhere from ninety to a hundred and twenty people are here on a normal Sunday. While we are not, thank God, a megachurch, we don’t do God or ourselves any favors by dismissing Jonesborough Presbyterian as some quaint, “little church.” Listen, there’s nothing tiny about Jesus. We’re a mission outpost in the worldwide Body of Christ! And Body of Christ doesn’t exist for its own sake. Any congregation, regardless of membership, who sees itself as a “little church,” as a tiny house for Jesus, is just trying to avoid the call to be, to do, and to experience all the things disciples are called to be, to do, and to experience “through Christ who strengthens [us].”
As Presbyterians, we’re not a Tiny House church. We are part of a connectional, relational denomination. What any one church does is done on behalf of the wider church. That’s why, officially anyway, we don’t send out “missionaries” anymore. The PC(USA) sends out “mission co-workers.” We send out men, women, and families whose work around the globe is our work. God hasn’t called you and me to labor in the fields of Haiti, Puerto Rico, Sudan, Malawi, the Philippines, Bangladesh or any other nation in which God’s beautiful and beloved people cry out for help. But we are co-workers with those whom God has called and sent. They need our prayers and financial support. We may be stationed here, but we’re part of a vibrant, global body.
It follows that those of us who don’t personally participate in Family Promise, or the food pantry, or Loaves and Fishes, are still there when members of this congregation do take part. We’re in this together.
Jesus’ Transfiguration calls us to “Listen to him.” And he is calling us to our own ministries.
Listen, and your life will reveal your ministry to you.
Listen, and your heart will speak to you when you recognize suffering to which you can bring relief or meaning.
Listen, and your heart will call you to joy that you can enter and increase.
Even now, the voice of God saying to you, “Listen to him!”
And Jesus is saying to you, “Follow me.”