Anne Howard: A Word in Time: The Big Question

We're on the mountaintop this coming Sunday, as the church calendar circles around to the Last Sunday in the season of Epiphany. It's the day we get the story of the Transfiguration.  And it's the day we get the big question, a good question that leads us into the season of Lent.  

It's the question that I've heard avoided throughout most of my career in the church, and throughout my liberal branch of the Christian family. It's the question I believe we Christians, particularly we who call ourselves progressive, need to answer if we hope to have any kind of impact in the public square on the issues of our day. I'm glad to say that it's a question the next generation wholeheartedly embraces more than my own ever did.

It's the question of Dietrich Bonheoffer, "Who is Jesus Christ for us today?"

Peter and James and John carry this question with them as they trudge up the mountain with Jesus.  It's a heavy load, this question.

I can imagine them telling their friends about that mountaintop day many years later, after Jerusalem, after the cross, after the empty tomb, as they continued to  puzzle over that question. They recall that Jesus, just a few days before the climb up the mountain, had asked them the big question: "Who do you say that I am?" They recall that Peter, always the one in the front row with his hand in the air, had the right words: "You are the Messiah." But Peter didn't really get the full picture. He didn't like it when Jesus went on to talk about the risks of claiming his identity, about the high cost of claiming that God could be seen in this world, in this time. Peter didn't like the talk about suffering and taking up crosses and losing life-he  preferred the notion of the keys to the kingdom. (No wonder we founded a church on him . . .)  

Back to the mountaintop: All of a sudden, Jesus changes. The dust of the Galilee is gone. The disciples see Jesus shining bright, his face transfigured by light, his clothes dazzling white. And not only do they see Jesus, they see Moses and Elijah, too, the symbols of their history, the law and the prophets, the reminder of the promise of a messiah.

Peter and James and John are scared. What could this mean? Peter figures, this is it. This is as good as it gets. Let's make this moment to last so that we can prove we were really here and this really happened. Let's build some buildings.

But there's more. They hear something. A voice. Just like that day of the baptism at the Jordan "This is my Son, the Beloved." And then the words "listen to him." Now they are really scared. They hit the ground. And the next thing they know Jesus is telling them, as he always tells them, "do not be afraid."

So they struggle to their feet, dust off their knees, and make their way down the mountain, still carrying the question.

I can imagine them thinking about those three words "listen to him." What might they remember hearing that might give them a clue about who he is, and what that means for them? That's the question-Who is Jesus Christ for us today?

Maybe they remember Jesus' opening words, his inaugural sermon on that other mountaintop when he talked about the blessings. "Blessed are you," he said again and again, blessed are the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, the persecuted"-those troubling blessings that told them what mattered in God's eyes. They remember those words and get clear in their heads and in their hearts that Jesus wasn't describing some far-off future day. They could see now that he was telling them about their lives and their day, and the places they could see God in their world.

They remember that that although they are poor, they already stand in the kingdom. God's blessing can't be measured by the emperor's legions or the temple coffers. They remember that although they mourn, they are already comforted, they've felt that touch of the one who says "be not afraid." They remember that to have eyes to see the suffering, to grieve, is to walk in the way of blessing.

They remember that they are blessed because their rough hands are as empty as their pockets, and yet the earth under their bare feet belongs only to God, not Caesar, and so they are at home on it, they inherit it.

They remember that they are blessed because they can see with clear eyes the footprint of God wherever they look; they walk with integrity, matching their inner will with their outward action.

They remember the path of peace, not the power of the Empire, is the way of God.

Peter and James and John remember all of this, and they remember the words that followed the blessings, their basic job description: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. So shine your light.

They know now that they have been carrying that light inside them ever since he called to them to drop their fishing nets. They've seen that Light again on the mountaintop.  They remember who they are, from the inside out, and so they can recognize who he is. They can listen to him, this "Sweet Jesus. . . tender and luminous and demanding" (see Mary Oliver, below). They can name the Light they see in Jesus and so walk with him the way of blessing, the way of the cross.

And so they head down the mountain, ready to shine the light, the Light of Christ.

Are we ready to do the same?



Echoes from the Edge

New Church Launched!

By Nicole Lamarche, 2012-13 Beatitudes Fellow - February 25th, 2014

It took years and countless prayers and hard work and lots of learning. It required deep listening and open conversations and wild generosity from all directions. It is fragile and beautiful and on Thursday January 30th a bit after 8 p.m. at a sweet little theater in historic downtown San Jose, Silicon Valley Progressive Faith Community was born! We launched our very first service and we told the world that we are progressive Christians, agnostics, spiritual independents and other people of conscience who want to live with purpose and joy in a community rooted in love. We hold a vision of a radically inclusive, deeply spiritual, unapologetically progressive, theologically diverse church for a time such as this.  Some of us called our first service, "presencing the Sacred" together. Others called it live spiritual community and still others called it worshiping God in a postmodern way.

We started with our voices woven together with the words of One Voice by the Wailin' Jennys and we sang, "This is the sound of all of us, singing with love and the will to trust, leave the rest behind it will turn to dust...This is the sound of all of us..." I don't know how I didn't cry.

We remembered together that in Jesus' time, the custom of the Roman world was that whenever someone of lower class greeted royalty they would kiss their hand or their feet or even the hem of their robe. And we shared the word that the early church turned this upside down by trying to live the reality of the message he shared, which is: ALL of us are beloved children of God. We shook hands and told one another: "You matter. You are loved. You belong. Peace be with you."


We lit candles lifting prayers of hope, sorrow, joy and lament. We pushed our prayers deep into bowls of sand and dropped rocks in waters of renewal. We sang and danced to Love is My Religion by Ziggy Marley.


There were so many things that did not go as planned, but somehow the Spirit was there. I have been thinking about the scripture in the book of Acts that is celebrated as the birth of the Church.  " When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting..." There was something forcefully present-something palpably in the room and it was stirring. We have a long way to go as we strive toward sustainability, but we are on a mission is to build a diverse congregation of people dedicated to growing in love of self, of others, of God and all creation and we are grateful to know that we are not alone!

Nicole Lamarche is the church planting pastor at Silicon Valley Progressive Faith Community

Finally, the Poet


By Mary Oliver - February 25th, 2014

Sweet Jesus, talking 

   his melancholy madness, 

     stood up in the boat 

       and the sea lay down,

silky and sorry. 

   So everybody was saved 

      that night. 

         But you know how it is

when something 

    different crosses 

       the threshold -- the uncles 

          mutter together,

the women walk away, 

   the young brother begins 

      to sharpen his knife. 

         Nobody knows what the soul is.

It comes and goes 

   like the wind over the water -- 

      sometimes, for days, 

        you don't think of it.

 Maybe, after the sermon, 

   after the multitude was fed, 

     one or two of them felt 

       the soul slip forth

like a tremor of pure sunlight 

   before exhaustion, 

      that wants to swallow everything, 

         gripped their bones and left them

miserable and sleepy, 

    as they are now, forgetting 

       how the wind tore at the sails 

          before he rose and talked to it --

tender and luminous and demanding 

   as he always was -- 

      a thousand times more frightening 

         than the killer storm.

From the Beatitudes Society blog.