Today is the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany. We have read Scripture texts that have revealed who Jesus is to Gentiles, fellow Jews being baptized, and others. Today we have another revelation of who Jesus is and the voice of God pronouncing His identity.
Jesus takes his inner circle, Peter, James, and John, up to a mountaintop to pray. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus often goes away to pray to rest and rejuvenate for key moments in His ministry. At this moment, Jesus is preparing to go to Jerusalem to be crucified. On that mountaintop, Jesus is transformed from an ordinary human to a vision of full glory.
Here, Moses and Elijah meet them. This account evokes for the Jews memories of God’s great work in the salvation history of the Jewish people. Moses had been the one to lead the Jews out of Egypt and through the wilderness – this Exodus is the single greatest act of salvation in the mind of the Jews.
The Scripture text is rich with references to the Exodus. The Greek word for departure, indicating that Jesus and the Disciples departed and left the mountain, is the word exodos. The Exodus was the defining journey of the Jews long travel through the wilderness to God’s Promised Land. Many scholars believe Jesus’ departure from this mountain is the beginning of His long and defining journey to God’s glory in the cross and resurrection.
Further, the Disciples’ desire to make shelters for the mountaintop prophets evokes memories of the Exodus story. The Greek word translated shelter or dwelling or structure is the word for tabernacle, like built in the wilderness by the Jews. The tabernacle was the temporary dwelling place where God lived among the Jews in the wilderness until they enter the Promised Land and built the Temple. The Disciples sought to build dwelling places on the mountaintop to capture God’s glory.
Elijah joined Moses and Jesus and the Disciples. Elijah is held to be one of the greatest prophets delivering God’s word to multiple kings. Many Jews believed they were waiting for the return of Elijah to summons the end of their suffering. You might remember that Jesus and John the Baptist were both believed to have been Elijah at one time in their ministry. This scene makes clear that Jesus is not Elijah and comes with His own mission and ministry.
God announces to the Disciples that Jesus is God’s Son, God’s chosen and the Disciples are commanded to listen to Him. God announces to the Disciples what they have experienced and witnessed, but God’s voice is an affirmation of what they have known. This is the epiphany. Jesus’ identity is revealed as God’s Son and Chosen.
The Bible doesn’t tell us the nature of this meeting between prophets present and past. It doesn’t seem to be important. This transformation or transfiguration of Jesus is temporary. The visit of Moses and Elijah are temporary. Nonetheless, it is a magical moment celebrating God’s past and present redemption all of which have shown His greatness and glory.
Moses and Elijah represent the past and how God has worked in the past to save the people. It is good to remember what God has done in the past. It helps us see God in the present. The Disciples’ encounter with Elijah and Moses on the mountaintop was an opportunity to remember the glory of God in the history of the Jewish people. It was not the time to make shrines. Memories should spur us on to participate in the present glory of God.
We can tell that Jesus didn’t want them to build the shrines because they didn’t stay on the mountaintop long. The very next day they got back to the work of healing and teaching. That is the work the Disciples were called to do, not build structures.
The Disciples encountered a man begging for his son to be delivered from a demon that possessed him. The father had begged the Disciples to help, but they were unable to help. Jesus comes. The father begs Jesus for help telling him that the Disciples hadn’t been able to help. Jesus says to them, “How much longer must I be with you?” Jesus had been teaching the Disciples to do what He had been doing. The Disciples should have been able to cast out that demon, but they weren’t able to. They were too caught up doing things that weren’t important and distracted them from real ministry. Perhaps they were still focused on the building project they wanted to do and that’s what kept them from helping the man. Jesus saved the boy and cast out the demon.
Jesus has been calling each of us to participate in His continued healing and teaching and miracle working ministry. How do we build shrines or structures to capture what we think is important only to find out that what we held dear wasn’t really important? We will be distracted by things that don’t matter and spend all of our energy on the wrong things if we aren’t listening to Jesus’ calling.
There is a joke among church folk. For God so loved the world, He sent a committee. It names how much we all love committees. I suspect we all can agree that committees take a lot of work and energy. And, we love them so much we sarcastically joke about them.
I can’t speak to how departments worked or how committees were once effective. Now, they seem to have bogged down churches. Everything requires a committee decision and Board approval. There’s little flexibility and we’re not able to quickly respond to the need that surrounds us.
Many in the Church have recently recognized how ineffective committees are. Most churches are structured similarly to our structure with committees and a Board. As it exists, an idea must go to a committee for consideration. The committee must discuss the idea and perhaps do some research and definitely lots of planning. Then the idea is submitted to the Board for approval. Then the committee can get to work. It can take at least 2 months for an idea to become a ministry.
Committees keep us building structures and can steal our energy for doing the ministries that Jesus is calling us to do. Building structures keeps us spinning our wheels trying to capture and hold onto the past. It is tempting to continue with our building projects because they don’t require us to listen and respond to Jesus’ calling.
Some churches have recently been trying new models for ministry. For instance, one church I know has suspended their Board and committees and gone to a 3 member council. All ideas originate from the congregation by a person with a passion for an area of ministry. The council considers and approves the ministry then the congregant recruits help and begins the ministry.
Other churches have adopted the concept of team ministry. Teams don’t have chairpersons; they have team leaders. A team leader functions much differently than a chairperson of a committee. Teams have a broad responsibility and recruit small groups to do a specific ministries.
In both models of a council and teams, there is more flexibility. More people get involved in ministries, because they don’t have to spend all their energy attending committee meetings. People get right to work doing ministry instead of talking about doing ministry. Ministries are more flexible to respond to change and better respond to need.
I’d like to challenge us over the next year to consider how our Board and committee structure may be holding us back. We have 7 committees and our Constitution and Bylaws requires each committee to have a minimum of 5 participants. That’s 35 people required to fill our committees and we have a few Board members who don’t serve on committees. That means more than half of our active members need to fill a committee role or Board position. And, the committees often do all the work of the church, not looking to other people in the congregation for help. Those others are willing and capable of helping but aren’t asked.
I think our nominating process is a good illustration of our problem. We had 6 meetings to complete our nominating process. I met with the Board president, the Nominating committee met twice, the Board officers met once, and we had 2 congregational meetings. All that work just to build our structure so we can talk about and plan ministry. The Christian Education department had fewer meetings to pull off Vacation Bible School.
It’s time to think about how we can be more effective and responsive to the need around us. In a few weeks, Rev. Scott Woolridge will meet with us to review our 3-year ministry plan. We can look at the work we’ve done and celebrate that. We can look ahead to the work we have left to do. In this 3rd and final year of our plan, we must also start planning for the next 3 years. It is the perfect time to think about a structure that can help us meet our goals rather than inhibit us.
Let’s recognize that God has worked in the past in ways that were effective, like Moses, Elijah, and committees. And, look forward to ways God is currently working in our lives, like Jesus and effective ministries that address the need of the community we live in. Let’s not get bogged down by our past, but be focused on the demons to be cast out of our neighbors.