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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Two Mountains and a Toddler - 02/07/2016

The tables were turned in our house this past week. Usually Larry is the one who knows what is on TV and what I might like to watch. He's introduced me to a lot of shows over the years. But this week, I actually introduced him to a show.

It's a PBS show called A Chef's Life. There's not a lot of flashiness and glam about the show. It's just the story of a married couple from the restaurant business who leave New York City to go back to the woman's hometown in South Carolina. There, with the help of her parents, they open a restaurant and raise their kids in the midst of family.

I like the show for a number of reasons. It features farm to table cooking, which I'm interested in. I learn a lot about ingredients like turnips and grits. They talk about the importance of using the whole animal when they butcher, not just the choice cuts that justify high menu pricing. I think also I like it because my dad was a chef and he died too young so it sets my imagination going on what he might be doing if he were still alive and cheffing today.

Mostly though, I like it because the people are real. Vivian is the head chef who runs things in the kitchen. Her husband Ben runs the front of the house, mainly. And they have twins, a daughter and a son, who were newborns when the show first started. They get annoyed with each other as they meet stressful deadlines and struggle to balance career with family. They deal with family dynamics that are comically frustrating and probably familiar to any of us in this room.

And the twins are cute. In the episodes we're watching right now they are toddlers and talking and walking more, so they're in the show a little more. We watched the holiday episode this week and it included a side story of the grandma setting up her nativity and talking to the twins about all the figurines. They talked about the three kings and the gifts they were bringing, the shepherds and the sheep they were caring for, the angel that hovers – throughout the entire Christmas season each year –  at the peak of the little barn where Jesus was born … where Mary and Joseph dutifully stand watch in awe over their newborn son.

When the grandma was done sharing the story of the nativity scene with her grandchildren, the camera showed one of the twins trying to walk away with the little baby Jesus in a manger figurine. He was trying to put it in the pocket of his little toddler-sized blue jeans and he was struggling with the project. And then his father asked him, “What are you doing?”

“I'm trying to put Jesus in my pocket,” he said. “But he won't fit,” he added sounding a little bummed. He gave the baby back to Mary and Joseph.

“I'm trying to put Jesus in my pocket … but he won't fit.” Larry and I looked at each other. “That's some interesting theology,” Larry said. So you see, he is coming a long nicely as a pastor's spouse.

You never know how and through who God will show you things about who God is and who we are as God's people. I was delighted to have this happen through this little South Carolina toddler … and it has stuck with me all week.

It seemed like a pretty solid image to start off the week leading up to this day when we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord – the story of Jesus on a mountaintop – gleaming and magnificent and powerful.

He even meets with Moses and Elijah who also appear in this radiant glory. They “were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” This is a glimpse of what is to come, the victorious Jesus Christ, risen from the tomb, death defeated and our eternal lives secured once and for all.

I thought of all the times I've listened to people talk about what was weighing on their hearts and minds – energy-sucking situations at work, worries about teenage children or aging parents, loved ones who were sick, or people who are walking so far from God … “God is bigger,” I often say. “Pray about this. Hand it to God. What seems impossible to us is not impossible for God.”

We cannot keep a God of this magnitude in our pockets – even our gown up-sized blue jeans.

And then something else came across the radar regarding this story of the Transfiguration this week. It was the idea that as we make this transition into Lent this week, we have two mountains, one on either side of this Lenten journey.

On this side we have the mountain of the gloriously-transfigured Messiah and on the other side, we have Golgotha, the less glorious but equally powerful mountain where our Savior was crucified. It is a picture, this person suggested, of the Jesus we want and the Jesus we get.

This idea struck me as strongly as that little boy trying to fit Jesus into his pocket. There's a lot of theology here too.

The Jesus we want, the God we want, is this shining, all-powerful God we see revealed in Jesus in our story today. It is perhaps the God we sense when our most fervent prayers are answered …  when we witness a sunrise that just takes our breath away …. when someone we care about – against all odds – recovers from a serious illness or injury ... when a relationship that seemed impossibly broken suddenly takes a turn into reconciliation and forgiveness and becomes something even richer and more life-giving than before. That is the God we want, and we get that God in the transfigured Jesus.

But today we are also taking our first steps on that path to this other mountain – it's a darker place. It's a place where we come face-to-face with our capacity for brutality. It is the mountain on which we set our faces as we prepare to reflect more deeply on the ways we turn away from God rather than to God. On this mountain is the Jesus we get – the God we get. The One who was willing to suffer with us and for us, to the point of dying on a cross in atonement for our sins. It adds a powerful and perhaps unexpected layer of meaning to what it is to have a mountaintop experience.

This story of two mountains tells us a lot about this God of ours.

In the transfiguration it is revealed that God is bigger – that nothing is impossible in God – that our God's love will continue to be illuminated from the mountain tops for all the world to see. God even speaks … and it transports back to the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River when the cloud descends heavily on Peter, James and John today and a booming voice says “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

We do get that God we want.

But we also get a God who, in Jesus, came down from that mountain into the valley between it and the second mountain called Golgotha – the valley where we reside.

Just look at the next thing Jesus does when he comes down from that mountain. He encounters a man whose mind is not set on the glorious revelation of the mountain top that Peter and the others just witnessed. No, his mind is turned to the all too real and seemingly hopeless circumstance of the well-being of his only child. And his prayers are answered. His son's health is restored precisely because Jesus did not take up residence on a higher latitude with Moses and Elijah, as Peter naively suggested. He did not remain on that mountain top, but rather came down to meet this man where he was and bring the glory of God into the small and dark places of  his life.

As it turns out the God we get on that other, less glorious, but just as powerful mountain, is also the God we need.

It is the God we need who comes down in to the valley to cry with us where we are as we offer up those fervent prayers.

It is the God we need who protects us through the dark night that comes before every single magnificent sunrise.

It is the God we need who comes down from that mountain to walk with our loved one as she endures the treatments, procedures and life changes that lead to that impossible recovery.

It is the God we need who seeps into those dark and scary cracks of a broken relationship and teaches us to hang on to hope for something new and beautiful to spring from that chaos.

The God we need meets us at this table and invites us to dine on the bread of eternal life and the wine of forgiveness AND – simultaneously as we Lutherans like it – is powerful and big enough to get into all the small and secret places of our lives too – even perhaps, the pockets of our blue jeans.


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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