Februrary 19, 2012 – Transfiguration
By Scott Douglas
This is a cookie. Like, a big cookie.
When I was a kid going to church in Morden, Manitoba we would have big cookies like this for the gathering time after worship. And probably coffee and tea too, I don’t remember that part. What I remember is big cookies. And lots of them, such that a kid could take a stack of them and go off and find some corner of the church to consume them, and nobody ever said, “Hey that’s too many,” or “I think we’re going to run out,” or “Let’s save some for next week.” (Or they may have been saying that, but not to me.)
My impression was that church was a place of abundance. I didn’t need anyone to spell out the theological implications for me – it was clear from my own experience: God was so generous and expansive that one could dare to ask for a second helping – of spirit or of cookie.
Some of you will know that Immanuel was my church home when I was an even littler kid. It was a place where kids could run without someone saying, “Hey, church is not the place for running.” (This hasn’t changed, I don’t think.) As a kid I could wander anywhere in the building, and everybody knew me and could help me out if I needed a hand. It was a safe place. The only scary thing was the stuffed wolf head in the stairway – and that wasn’t so much scary as fascinating!
Back in those days the congregation would go out camping at Bird’s Hill Park. (Not the whole congregation, of course, but a sizeable number of families.) And I remember being out at the park and occasionally wandering off on my own on those little paths that lead from campsite to campsite. (As a parent, this kind of freaks me out, but as a kid it made perfect sense. There’s a path – go wander.) And you know that when you’re a little kid, you don’t have a developed sense of geography or where things are in relation to other things. You basically have a big “You Are Here” sign hanging over your head, and that’s about all you know. So I’d immediately get lost. But chances were good I’d end up at the campsite of someone else from the congregation, and they’d know me by name, and they’d be able to say, “Go back down this path, turn left, and carry on halfway around the circle, and you’ll find your tent.” … And it created in me a sense of trust, deeper than any kind of rational argument or evaluation. Those early experiences formed the way I view the world – as a place that can be explored, a place with many paths. And there’s not necessarily a right path and a wrong paths, just different paths that will lead you different places. And some paths will leave you feeling lost and disoriented, but God (and God’s emissaries, God’s community) will be there to watch out for you.
Why am I telling you this?
We all take different paths in our lives. We have experiences. And from those experiences we, hopefully, learn something. We learn something about ourselves, about how the world works, about what’s important and real and profound, about what’s holy and meaningful and inspiring and scary. We learn something about the nature of God. And because we all take different paths, we all learn something different.
Over the last couple of years, we’ve been given the gift in this congregation of people sharing their faith during worship. We’ve had Doug McMurtry reflecting on his life, ministry, and the question: What is saving my life today? We’ve had Kerry LaRoque discussing the transforming role of Al-Anon. We’ve had Kathleen Basanta recounting the impact of the missionary movement on her childhood and faith. We’ve had Peter talking about music with a kind of technical precision is unique. We’ve had Jane Nicholls talking about the role of yoga in her spirituality. Different paths, different insights – into what has meaning and how the spirit moves in our lives.
I was reading an article in the newspaper a couple of weekends ago – you may have seen it too. It was comparing the decline of the Liberal party with the decline in mainstream churches in North America. Churches like ours are aging and shrinking. Meanwhile other, more conservative, churches are growing – perhaps because they provide easy answers to desperate people, but that’s not the whole story. One of the qualities of churches that grow is that their members aren’t afraid to share their faith. They’re not afraid to talk about what they think of God, how they feel about Jesus, how the spirit is active in their lives.
So, that said, I’m putting you to work. I’m going to give you some questions, and I want you to talk to each other. I want you to find another person, and spend just a few minutes talking about things that matter. And I know some of you will hate this. You don’t come to church to talk, you come to listen, to be inspired, to grab a little piece of wisdom to get you through the week. You’re still going to get that. You’re just going to get it from the person sitting next to you. And they may not know that that’s what their giving, so you might have to listen extra hard. And you have to give them something back in return. I’m not talking about a sermon or a theological treatise, just a little bit of a story or a few thoughts to give each other a glimpse of what’s real and true. Don’t worry that your thoughts and experiences aren’t fancy, or well-organized, or in theological language, or, or, or whatever. Different paths, different insights. It’s about diversity.
So here are some questions. I’m going to give you five of them. Don’t try to answer five. Listen for the one that sparks something for you: that’s your question. I’ll give you the questions, I’ll give you a minute just to think to yourself, and then ten minutes to find someone else and divide the time between you to talk and listen as you share an aspect of your faith life. – And don’t get freaked out when I say “Faith”. Everyone frames their story differently. Some people tell stories of how they were lost and then they were found. Other people have passion burning in them, or a worry niggling them, or a fear oppressing them – and they don’t really know what it means but they know it means something important. However you frame you experience…
Here are some questions that may spark a discussion for you…
- What was a “mountaintop” experience for you? (an experience that profoundly affected your view of reality)
- When have you been transformed? (how have you been changed, and what does that mean)
- Who are the Moses and Elijah in your life? (who are the ones who stand beside you, the companions, the mentors)
- What is your “chariot of fire”? (what’s your passion, what lifts you up or gets you moving)
- When has God spoken to you? (doesn’t have to be a voice from the cloud, but when have you had a revelation or a sense of presence, a dramatic whirlwind or a still small voice)
Pick one that speaks to you – or make up your own question. Don’t feel like you have to have it all worked out – just explore. You may feel awkward or impolite. That’s why I’m asking. So you don’t have to be “that person” who inflicts their spiritual opinions on others; you’re just being accommodating by doing what the nice man at the front asked you to.
Take a moment to collect your thoughts…
Find someone to talk to. You’re choice. Try to make sure everyone who wants to has someone to talk to. Bonus points if you seek out someone you don’t know so well. Extra bonus points if you’re a visitor today. I’m not giving you a lot of time, so you may just scratch the surface. So bonus points if you carry on the conversation some time later in the week. And bonus points if you go deep in your conversation. I’m not sure what the bonus points can be redeemed for, but I’m sure we can work something out.
You’ve been given a gift. And you’ve given a gift. Each of us has something to share. And like cookies, there’s never a shortage.
Let us pray:
God, we all have different paths. They’re not all pleasant. Mine have had their share of doubt and struggle. But we learn. And we share what we learn. May we continue to find meaning on the paths we walk, and trust that when we feel lost, we will run into you, God, whatever path we take, and that you will know us by name, and will show us the direct to get back to where we belong.