Monday, March 10, 2014

Comin' down the mountain...

From Prairie City, IA
Pastor Tim Peter, signing my home congregation's ordination gift to me
It's been just over a week now since I was ordained as a minister in the Church of the Brethren, an event which took place at my home congregation south of Prairie City, Iowa. It was a joyous day that felt much like the best possible family reunion. There were beloved people - family, friends, pastors, all sisters & brothers in Christ - from all points along my life and ministerial journey. Two of my friends that I used to play music with surprised me during worship with a run-through of "Amazing Grace." Everyone gathered around me to lay their hands on me and petition God's guidance, correction, and provision for my ongoing ministry and that of my family. We ate together and celebrated Communion together... And on and on. It was a lovely day that truly felt like the sublime gift that it was.

A particular gift was my former professor/pastor, Sara Wenger Shenk, president of Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, preaching the sermon during worship. The sermon text was taken from the lectionary: Matthew 17:1-9, the Transfiguration of Jesus. Sara's title was: "Moments of Clear Shining," and her treatment of the text with respect to the notion of ordination for ministry in the church, and how it impacts me, my family, the faith communities and neighborhoods in which we serve & worship - it all had the ring of Gospel truth. I heartily recommend giving it a listen...

Her main image/theme was the notion of "mountaintop experiences," and how they can become temptations to dwell in the glow, as Peter was keen to do upon seeing Jesus transformed before his eyes into his full glory - but that Jesus models well that we must come down, back into the "valley" of the everyday, the hurly burly of the radical ordinary. God's redemptive mission in the world is to be found there, with only brief and periodic flashes, or "moments of clear shining."

This became a bit more clear to me in the intervening week. After returning to the humdrum of daily life, I was struck by a phrase my NuDunker friend, Josh Brockway, used to describe his own recent ordination; that it is a kind of "Change without a Change." I'm still the same old me, prone to the same temptations and predilections that hook and snare, but also the same gifts through which God has been working in the course of my life and ministry. And that prayerfully, in communion with other saints-on-the-way and God's Spirit - the former would wither and the latter flourish.

But on that topic of temptation: Yesterday I prepared a short worship service and homily for a local nursing home. The Gospel lectionary text was: Matthew 4:1-11, the temptation of Jesus in the wilderness, coming immediately after his baptism by John. The thematic echoes to the later Transfiguration text grabbed me. Baptism followed by temptation. Transfiguration followed by Jesus predicting his own death. - These "moments of clear shining" followed by the real stuff of life. This theme resonates deep down lately...

The petition "Lead me not into temptation" continues to be one of the most-prayed prayers to cross my lips. It's what came to me right after I graduated from seminary/grad school nearly two years ago (another "moment of clear shining!"). And it's a prayer that Jesus gave to those who would follow him and go the way of the cross, unable as we are - then and now - to be completely faithful to all that entails (i.e. everything).

Jesus was hungry and he resisted the voices in his head. - "Give us this day our daily bread."
Jesus was offered worldly power and he stayed true to his vocation of servant. - "Lead us not into temptation; deliver us from evil."

This prayer from the Lord is a marching prayer, to be uttered alone and together, without ceasing on the dusty roads between mountaintops that constitute most of our life's experiences, be we well-educated ministers with credentials or otherwise. It's a prayer that should set the rhythm to the church's beating heart, animating its many members.

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