Scripture Mark 9:2-10
Given on December 29th, 2013 at UPC of Amsterdam, NY
Have you ever noticed that we spend an inordinate amount of our lives seemingly waiting for the next thing to happen. From the very mundane of sitting at a red light to awaiting the birth of a child. Much of our lives are spent casting our vision into the future for something greater, better, different until it is impossible to know whether we we actually dwell in the moment or in some future moment that our expectations have created for us. In the Christian tradition we know something of waiting. Our own Advent journey, our own waiting for the Christ child to be born once again, having just been completed a few days ago. In the midst of that time we are reminded of that which the Christ child will bring when he comes into the world. A new hope. A lasting peace. An abiding joy. An overwhelming love. But what to do once he is born. How are we to share in a new hope and a lasting peace? How are we to share an abiding joy and an overwhelming love? While most in our culture would tell you that Christmas occurs the day of December 25th each year and that all the time between Black Friday and December 25th is the time set aside to prepare for the one-day event. But in the tradition, on the Christian calendar, the season of Christmas lasts for 12 days, hence the song, The 12 Days Of Christmas. And I wonder if part of the reason why the calendar has been created in that way is to ensure that all our waiting, all our preparation for coming of the Christ child doesn’t reach a pinnacle on the morning of December 25th and soon fizzle out. I wonder if we are not called to take the whole of this season, all the 12 days, to prepare ourselves to go out into the world with this wonderful news, this amazing news, this life-changing news. And if that is the case, then the period of time in between Christmas day and Epiphany becomes a time of nervous anticipation, of energy amassing within the body of the church as it prepares to once again depart into the world with a message of hope, peace, joy, and love. The waiting becomes the most important part.
There is something that you should know about me. There are few pleasures I enjoy more in life than the taste of fresh baked bread. I mean straight out of the oven, still piping hot, smells filling up the whole room, the whole house, in which it has been baked with the scents of flour, yeast, and water being brought together to form something so much greater than the individual parts. The kind of bread that is firm enough not to become a million morsels when it is cut but not so dense as to not be able to melt in your mouth when you place it on your tongue. I love baked bread done well. And so yesterday, with my intrepid son, the taller one, I endeavored to bake a loaf of bread. Now, for a period of time a few years back,I had used a sour dough starter, and that made a very good bread, but never had I attempted to create a loaf of bread completely from scratch. So we got a bowl, and some flour, and some yeast and a pinch of salt, a pinch of sugar and we began to bring our creation together. Now, if you have never made bread, there are several steps along the way that are crucial to the success of your loaf. First, you have to accurately measure out your flour, in this case 3 cups, and pour it into a bowl. Second, you have to proof the yeast. A process that includes mixing yeast into water, adding sugar, and making sure the yeast you have is activated. Because if your yeast isn’t alive, you are done before you even begin. Once you have done all that you add everything together and form a dough and then you begin the process of kneading the dough. In this case, that meant around 10 minutes of stretching, massaging, reforming, and so on. What I discovered during this time was that bread, much like God, is extraordinarily forgiving. As I kneaded the dough, it became clear that my dough was too dry and needed more water, a task to which I set Jameson. Who then proceeded to put considerably more water into our dough than was needed forcing me to add more flour. After a few times of this back and forth, the perfect ratio of moist but not too sticky was achieved and we were ready for the next step, this rise. Now, part of the beauty of this recipe was that it called for a lot of yeast thus making the time that we had to wait fairly minimal. The initial rise lasted about 90 minutes. In searching for a recipe that I could do in a single day, I found other recipes that called for overnight rises, or even 12-14 hours worth of rise. That’s a lot of waiting. A lot of rechecking to make sure the dough is in fact expanding in the manner in which it is supposed to while all the while you know that after the rise, you get to bake it and then eat it. For us, after the first rise, we had to knead it again and then put it into our loaf pans, in our case three little ramekins that my wife had gotten me the day before. Another period of rising and then about 30 minutes in the oven and we, my son and I, had created bread. And as God said, it was good. Now, I give you that exceedingly long walk through a one-page recipe in a cookbook to show you all the time spent simply waiting for the yeast to do it’s thing and for the bread to be ready to be baked. Without the yeast doing its thing, without the wait, the bread would have been a hard rock, not fit for man or beast. The bread would be useless. It is in the waiting, the painstaking preparing, that it becomes that which it is supposed to be.
The story of the transfiguration of Jesus is one of my favorites in all the gospels because it is for the ones who are in attendance, perhaps the first time that they are given eyes to see the glory of the one they have been following for sometime. And while the story appears in all three synoptic gospels, that is Matthew, Mark, and Luke, I tend to use the version found in Mark the most. You see, in Mark, Jesus is very concerned with the disciples not divulging his identity, that is as the messiah, the son of God, until the proper time. And so several times in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus warns some or all of his disciples to not give away this bit of information until the proper time, something scholars have dubbed the “Messianic secret” and it is that instruction to the disciples that is of greatest importance to us during this Christmastime season in which we find ourselves today. The story begins with group of the disciples, Peter, James, and John, gathering with Jesus up on top of a mountain. And you kind of get the idea that this is part of Jesus’s normal routine whenever the journey he is on gets too tough. And so maybe he and the disciples that he had taken with him had gathered to pray and just sit in silence. And without any warning, Jesus becomes transfigured, or metamorphasized before the disciples and his clothes became as dazzling white, whiter than any bleach on earth could have made them. And soon thereafter, presumably, the spirits of Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus and the disciples were terrified. So much so, that all the Peter can think to do and probably in an effort to diffuse some of the intensity of the whole experience is suggest that Jesus and spirits of the two prophets are going to need somewhere to stay and that he should be vice-president in charge of making that happen. And next we are told that a voice came from nowhere and everywhere, “This is my child, my beloved. Listen to him!” and like that, the spirits were gone and everything had returned to the condition in which it had been before but the disciples would never be the same. As they were coming back down the mountain, surely with more questions than answers, we are told that Jesus commands them not to tell anyone of this event until after he has been risen from the dead. And I wonder, I wonder if in the midst of the moment, in the immediate aftermath of having seen the spirits of Moses and Elijah, having heard the voice of God, having seen Jesus become dazzlingly bright, I wonder if part of why Jesus told them not to say anything is because to simply blurt out all they had seen and heard would have made them sound crazy bordering on nonsensical. I wonder if without the proper time to let all these things they had heard and seen to percolate, to rise, I wonder if what would have been produced would have been a stone of a loaf of bread, not fit for man or for beast. I wonder if when you encounter the Christ child in your midst, if you have to take some time to ponder all you have seen and heard.
The church, like the disciples in the story from today, finds itself in the midst of a period of waiting, of rising, of pondering the experience of God in their midst. The church, our church, finds itself in much the same position. What it was, it will not be again, and what it will be, no one knows. And for many, myself included, those prospects are incredibly scary. It is scary to dwell solely on faith day-to-day without a proper roadmap into the future and without any sort of knowledge about even what comes next. And yet. And yet, during this holiday season we have journeyed together to the manger and we have witnessed the Christ child being born in our midst again—the one we call Jesus because he will save the people from their sin and that is a story we can tell, that is a story that continues to lead people to the knowledge of God, to hope in God. We have touched the manger of God, been lit by the flame from the Christ candle and it now burns in our hearts and souls. And maybe for some, that experience has them ready to charge out the door and save the world and our own Amsterdam and that’s good. We need those who want to bring all the lost and help them find their place at the table of God and in this community. But without this time to ponder, without this time to percolate, without this time to let the experience of the Christ child rise up in us and form us into whatever it will, then we run the risk of simply being a rock of a loaf, not fit for man or beast.
In the midst of this Christmastide and for all our time we are called to look deeply at the suffering of those in our midst and around the world. We are called to clothe the naked and bring sight to the blind, to end oppression and proclaim a year of jubilee in the name of God. We are called to be as Jesus reaching out to the poor and destitute and feeding them and bringing them into the family of God of which they are already a part. We are called to challenge those who are too comfortable in their living of this life and comfort those for whom each day is a struggle. We are called to rise up above family and tribe and see the unity that is offered with the presence of the holy spirit. We are called to decry injustice and war. We are called to leave the 99 in search of the one. We are called to see the world as God sees it—full of the beloved of God, full of the grace of God, full of the love of God. We are called to tell the story to each person that we meet until it becomes part of the story of the redemption of the planet and the reconciliation of creation with God. And we are called to do it together.
Friends, I have no idea what the next year of our life together will bring. I don’t know to where we are being called. I don’t know what portion of the world’s brokenness will pass before our eyes that we just have to do something about. I don’t know who will join our little family and who will leave. But I do know this, we are stronger when we are a family together. We are better when we take this time to consider that to which God is calling us. We are better when we let the Spirit of the Christ child bubble up within us, rising and forming us into the bread of life that Jesus once said he was. I know that we are only the bread when we allow the spirit to form us together as one mind, one body, one spirit, one family of God. United in the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ. Glory be to God in the highest and on earth peace amongst all God’s peoples. Alleluia, Amen!