Finding Comfort On the Mountaintop and In the Valley

I had to repeatedly reminded myself that this is not Jorie’s memorial service.

I wrote recently about my turn to preach coming up the same time as a fair number of significant events. But this week was different because our colleague, our teammate, our friend, our sister in Christ, Jorie died suddenly.
In those previous times I did my best to rise to the occasion and meet the moment. I tried to do so again here.

It is, frankly, kind of spooky how sometimes the Lectionary text is just exactly what we need on a particular week. It seems to me that today is one such day. Because today doesn’t make sense.
The pandemic rages on yet people refuse to wear a mask, people who are able to get vaccinated are refusing to and it doesn’t make sense.
Yesterday in the US Senate, White privilege and White supremacy continued their 400 year unbeaten streak and it doesn’t make sense.
Our friend, our colleague, our sister Jorie has died. And it doesn’t make any sense.
And this gospel story, the Transfiguration story is perfect for today because this story, It doesn’t make sense. 

Some inspirations this week:
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration from Mark 9
Sister Thea Bowman on Black spirituals.
Dr. Howard Thurman on living with the deep pain of injustice.
Dr. Barbara Holmes’ poem “Joy Unspeakable.”
Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon on transforming the place where you are.
The Velveteen Rabbit.
and Amanda Gorman’s incredible poem, “The Hill We Climb.”

Like the disciples, we have to come down from the mountaintop and live our lives in the valley. But that’s ok because the valley is where the action is. And Jesus continues to be with the disciples in the valley. They don’t understand and they argue and they fail and they deny him. But Jesus continues to live with them, fish with them and eat with them and sing with them and walk with them and teach them and love them. All there in the valley. So in the midst of all their babbling and bickering and betraying, right there in the valley the disciples also produce profound moments of faith and hope and love.

Here’s the full sermon. First is the audio-only version. Then, per usual, WordPress and YouTube don’t play nice together so you have to go to the 38:30 mark for the sermon. Even if you prefer not to watch the whole service, may I recommend Pastor Danita’s statement on Jorie’s death at 8:56. Jorie was our Children’s Ministry Director so I spoke to our children about her. Find that at 20:34.

8:56 for Pastor Danita; 20:34 for word with Children; 38:30 for sermon

If you feel stuck down here in the valley where we are missing Jorie and feeling the full force of the pandemic and the trauma of seeing White supremacy win again, and all the other burdens we bear here in the valley, please remember you are not alone.

We are living in this valley together and God is with us in the valley. There can still be beauty in the valley. There can still be justice in the valley. There can still be art in the valley. There can still be hope in the valley. There can still be love in the valley.
“For there is always light, if only we are brave enough to see it, if only we are brave enough to be it.”

In 25 years as a pastor, I’ve had the privilege of presiding over the weddings and baptisms of many former students of our youth ministries. In 25 years, I’ve had the honor of ministering with families during and after the death of a loved one. But in 25 years at Woodridge United Methodist Church, I’ve never had to preach following the death of a younger person who was also a member of our staff, as well as a life-long member of our church, someone I pastored through Confirmation, and youth group, and mission trips. But I think we did it. I think this came together. Let me know what you think.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels

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