A Sermon for Coming Down from the Mountain

Unity Lutheran Church + Cross of Life Campus
3 March 2019 + Transfiguration of Our Lord
Luke 9.28-43a
Rev. Josh Evans, preaching

In the week I spent in El Salvador, with several other Unity folks and a handful of others during the 2019 Mission of Healing trip, I was:
An optometrist
A dental hygienist
A massage therapist
A pharmacy tech

None of which is a part of my day job.

And yet:
Los ojos
Los dientes
Las manos y los hombros y la espalda

All of these things are a part of the body. And it got me thinking: At my ordination, I did promise to care for God’s people. And are not all these things part of the human body that our Creator God has made?

Jesus was clear: The kingdom of God has come near. Here and now. On earth, as it is in heaven. Healing the body. The physical body. That’s what Jesus was all about. The body. The whole person. Healing and liberation here and now.

I shared these words with our group during a brief sending service on the patio of our hotel overlooking the Pacific Ocean on our last morning in El Salvador. I had been reflecting on the past week — packing suitcases full of medical supplies, venturing out to remote towns and villages, seeing at least 100 people, if not more, each day, and receiving the best hospitality you can imagine in plates full of arroz y pollo. I strongly believe we caught a glimpse of what the kingdom of God looks like during our week in El Salvador.

But as much as I would have loved to stay in that place — and not just for the 90-degree weather there and the threat of more snow at home — I knew we had to leave. This moment, the mutual blessing of our time in El Salvador, was made for coming down from the mountain.

It’s tempting to want to stay in certain moments, isn’t it? In a makeshift medical clinic in El Salvador where we can actually see the tangible impact of our ministry. In celebrations that mark our accomplishments at work or school. In times of glory on the mountain with Jesus. Such moments are happy and safe and make us feel good. But these moments are also made for coming down from the mountain.

What happens on the mountain is a remarkable thing: Yes, Jesus is “transfigured” (whatever that means). But hear the voice from the cloud: This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him! These are similar words to the words spoken at Jesus’s baptism: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased. Those first words launched Jesus’s ministry with a blessing; these last words today affirm Jesus’s ministry with that same blessing. And here, the words are turned toward us: a reminder for us of what Jesus is all about.

This blessing is made for coming down from the mountain. Not long after those words of blessing were uttered at his baptism, Jesus is quick to begin his ministry. So it shouldn’t surprise us, at this reaffirmation of blessing, that that ministry continues — through the healing story that immediately follows.

This blessing gives Jesus and the disciples and us strength for coming down from the mountain to continue the work of ministry.

There is work to do, not just in El Salvador, but in our own backyards. Unity is blessed with many partners close to home, and Unity is blessed with members in our community who do important work everyday — each and every one of you who do the work of the gospel, whether that’s readily apparent in your job description or not.

In a week’s time in El Salvador, I was an optometrist, a dental hygienist, a massage therapist, and a pharmacy tech — and I have also been a pastor who cares for God’s people. And you — the people of God at Unity in Brookfield — are parents, children, grandparents, doctors, nurses, teachers, business professionals, social workers, students, retired, and so many other things.

In all of our work, no matter what it is, we care for the whole person. That’s the work of Jesus, is it not? Healing the body and nourishing the soul. Proclaiming the good news of healing and freedom and liberation in our words and actions.

St. Óscar Romero, a religious and cultural icon in El Salvador who was assassinated for his own proclamation of the gospel in a turbulent political environment during his lifetime, is spot on when he says:

How beautiful will be the day when all the baptized understand that their work, their job, is a priestly work, that just as I celebrate Mass at this altar, so each carpenter celebrates Mass at his workbench, and each metalworker, each professional, each doctor with the scalpel, the market woman at her stand, is performing a priestly office! How many cabdrivers, I know, listen to this message there in their cabs; you are a priest at the wheel, my friend, if you work with honesty, consecrating that taxi of yours to God, bearing a message of peace and love to the passengers who ride in your cab.

It’s not just in our church sanctuaries where we celebrate mass, where we remember God’s great love for us. It’s in our daily living. Martin Luther called that the priesthood of all believers. In all our work, we are all entrusted with the great joy and privilege and responsibility to proclaim, with Romero and all the saints, a message of peace and love and healing to all the world.

We know, too, that Christ goes with us, every step of the way. To paraphrase a fellow pastor friend who posted her own reflection on a recent trip to Nepal:

God is present everywhere. God’s face is reflected in rural Salvadoran women and men and in suburban Brookfield soccer moms and dads. God’s presence is palpable along the Central American coast and along the shores of Lake Michigan.  God’s grace is the same in the metal folding chairs of Cordero de Dios and in the cushioned pews of Unity. May we remain open to the infinite and surprising ways that God still shows up in this beautiful and broken world.

We gather in this place every week to remember the ways God shows up to renew and bless us in this meal of bread and wine and simply in our being together.

This blessing doesn’t end when we leave this place, this sanctuary, this mountaintop. This blessing is made for coming down from the mountain. The blessing goes with us on the journey, into the week ahead — today, tomorrow, for as long as we have breath.

Thanks be to God.

The header photo on this post was taken during the Mission of Healing 2019 clinic at la Iglesia Luterana del Espíritu de Paz (Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church) in Tepeagua, El Salvador. Photo credit: Josh Evans.

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