Updated: Dec 20, 2022
In Native American culture there is a rite of passage called the Vision quest.
Typically an adolescent boy goes into the wilderness alone for four days, fasting and praying.
In this intense environment of personal endurance, the boys encounter a vision--
An animal or other spirit that tell them who they are and what they are to do.
It’s an opening to the spiritual world that shows them their path in life, And he boy returns to the community as a man.
Many traditional cultures have similar rites of passage, and you can find evidence of them in the bible as well. They are liminal experiences, where people are caught between the spiritual and material worlds, And a vision is revealed. Think of Jacob wresting the angel and receiving a new name. Moses meeting God in the burning bush. The wandering of the people of Israel in the desert could be considered a collective vision quest As they grow into maturity by learning to depend on God for food, water, and direction. You could look at Jesus baptism as that encounter with the divine that reveals one’s true identity Or see Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness is as a liminal experience, Testing his strength against the devil and confirming his mission on earth.
I think today’s story in the gospel of Luke is another one of these vision quest stories.
First of all, Jesus goes up the mountain—the sacred place where people meet God.
Secondly, Jesus goes up the mountain to pray. Prayer is key to spiritual experience.
And last but not least, Jesus has an intense religious experience, witnessed by Peter, James and John This is not simply a waking dream, this is a reality that is present to onlookers. It’s kind of an odd story, really. What’s up with this shiny Jesus?
I’ve spent most of my time thinking about what it meant to the disciples—
A display of Jesus’ glory, on par with the greats of the faith, Moses and Elijah
His identity reaffirmed as God’s beloved. Surely part of the intent of the story is to inform the disciples as well the reader of the gospel who Jesus is. But this time around I began to wonder what this experience was like for Jesus. Jesus transfiguration on the mountain is sandwiched between two ominous conversations with his disciples
where he predicts his upcoming suffering, death, and resurrection. And here on the mountain, Jesus discusses his ‘departure’ with Moses and Elijah. The word that is used for departure is the word ‘exodus’ Jesus is not only departing this world, but also enacting another exodus from bondage into freedom If Jesus needed reminding that his mission on earth was to proclaim good news to the poor And release to the captives, as he said at the beginning of his ministry in the synagogue, this was it.
Jesus mission of liberation and ever more inclusive community was confirmed.
Perhaps we all need a reminding of our purpose, confirmation that we are on the right track. Three years ago, you all participated in survey that identified strengths of the congregation people wanted to build on as well as priorities that members wanted to expand. Among the strengths build on were meaningful worship, education for all ages, and care for one another. The priorities to develop were reaching out to new people, especially those in younger generations healing those broken by life circumstances, and outreach to those on the margins of society. These strengths and priorities were used to select both pastors you have now called. Since those call processes, the council has reviewed them for their continued applicability, and found they are still live priorities for our ministry.
As leaders, this is where we feel God is calling us to be good news. And just yesterday, your council began brainstorming ideas for each of these priorities while on retreat. Our work will continue over the next months as we prioritize these ministry ideas And solicit congregational input for further refining our plan and adding new elements. A vision is slowly coming together of what we are working toward and how to get there. The vision that God is giving us is rooted in the rich soil of our spiritual practice. Fortunately, this is strength of St. Matthew! There is a deep spiritual hunger here, an appetite for learning about prayer in all its forms.
Consider Jesus as our model: At each juncture where he received a vision of his purpose, he was in prayer or ‘filled with the Spirit.’ In the synagogue, the place of prayer, he proclaimed, The spirit of the Lord is upon me. At his baptism, as he was praying, the heavens opened and the Spirit descended on him. During his 40 days in the wilderness he fasted and prayed. And here on the mountain, he prays and is suddenly surrounded by the glory of God. If we want clarity on our mission, let’s emulate Jesus and pray on it!
The truth is that in all the gospels, Jesus often goes off to pray. It was what sustained his ministry, his fuel for the journey. His disciples noticed, and asked that Jesus teach them to pray. It wasn’t easy. Jesus asked his disciples to pray with him the night of his betrayal, and they fell asleep. But here at the transfiguration story, Luke makes a special note that the disciples don’t fall asleep. They get in on Jesus’ vision because they are awake Awake to the realities that Jesus will face in his departure- his suffering, death and resurrection--
And awake to the knowledge that something greater is going on with Jesus,
The awe and mystery of the Son of God in their midst.
That’s what I would like to invite you to pray with me as we are on our vision quest:
That as a congregation we would be awake to the gifts of our community
And realities of hurt and suffering around us that are an opportunity for us to serve.
That God would open our eyes to doing the new, as well as the tried and true
that God would give us courage and fortify us with prayer and scripture and one another and that we might know God among us, and listen to the voice of Jesus, his Son.