Fulfilling Your Exodus

Beloved, it’s the most wonderful time of the year! It’s the hap-happiest season of all! We’ve been waiting all year for it, and now it’s here! You know what it is! Let me hear you say it! STEWARDSHIP SEASON!

Stewardship Season comes but once a year, but all the girls and boys and children of every gender wait in anticipation for it all the year long. Why? Because it is that time of year when we make an intentional transition. At no other time in church life and, perhaps, at no other time in any aspect of some of our lives do we make such a regular, intentional transition.

In the Stewardship Season we as a church go on a journey. We look back over the previous year; we look ahead at the year to come. We evaluate what has come before in our ministry and we prepare for what is coming. We make decisions about who we want to be as a church, what we want to achieve, and how we will make that vision a reality.

And, so, it’s not just the church that must reflect and discern and plan ahead. Each and every one of us is being given an opportunity to join in this intentional process. Everyone among us gets to look back at our own year of involvement and engagement with our church and its goals. And we get to look ahead and make a choice about how we’d like to move forward. How will we give our gifts? What talents will we offer up? How much of our time will we offer up? How much MONEY can we afford to give to our spiritual home and our church family over the next year?

Beloved, I’m being a little silly in my joy for Stewardship, but—no joke—there is no greater spiritual opportunity in the church year than Stewardship Season because Stewardship asks us to take a total account of where we are, it asks us to plan at least a year ahead, it asks us to discern how our personal goals and gifts and our community’s goals and gifts will intersect, and then it asks us to make a decision and a commitment to God and our neighbors. When it comes to practical religion, putting your spiritual commitments into action, and growing in your capacity to live fully and to serve others generously, Stewardship Season is where it’s at!

Our Stewardship Theme this year is “Giving Our Gifts” and we’re being guided by this quote from psychologist David Viscott: “The purpose of life is to discover your gift. The meaning of life is to give your gift away.” And that’s exactly what Stewardship Season gives us the opportunity to do—to reflect on our purpose and our meaning, to reflect on what our gifts are and to make commitments about how we’re going to give those gifts away—to put them to good use back in the world.

Stewardship Season is about not getting stuck. It’s about making an intentional transition from one point in life to another. It might not be big change for everybody, but it will be a transition, with discernment and a renewed commitment. Intentional transition is kinda in the air right now. This week the season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. And there’s no other seasonal transition in the Christian year that we mark so intentionally and boldly, right? I mean, Mardi Gras on Tuesday and covering ourselves with ashes on Wednesday. When you participate in the events of Fat Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, you feel yourself crossing the boundary from one kind of season to another—from feasting to fasting.

And throughout Lent we have a great Adult Ed opportunity being led by our Pastoral Intern Lance Hurst and a man who just made a very intentional, very big life transition last Sunday when he got married—David Seiple. We’ll be reading a book by Richard Rohr called Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. And—you guessed it—much of this book is about preparing ourselves to make an intentional transition from the first half of life to the second half of life at the appropriate time. One way of summarizing the first half and the second half of life would be to return to our Stewardship theme and say that the first half of life is primarily about discovering our purpose and our gifts. And the second half of life is about fulfilling our meaning by giving our gifts away. It’s a wonderful book that gives some really good spiritual perspective and practical advice for young and old and I hope some of you will join Lance and David in their explorations.

So, for all of us here at Broadway UCC, Stewardship Sunday is Sunday, March 24th. That’s the Sunday that our discernment period is over and our commitment begins. We’ll all bring our pledge cards with us to worship and we’ll all turn them in and bless them and then get to work fulfilling the renewed promises that we have made to God, to ourselves, and to one another.

For Jesus, I think, his “Stewardship Sunday” was whatever day he took Peter, James, and John up the mountain with him to pray—our scripture lesson this evening. The Transfiguration was also, I think, a moment of intentional transition from one kind of life, from one kind of ministry to another. Reread that opening sentence in Luke that tells us that Jesus goes up the mountain about a week after Peter declares for the first time that Jesus is the Messiah and, in response, Jesus predicts his death for the first time. This mountain climb is marking a critical moment of transition.

The story of the Transfiguration is told to us in three gospels—Mark, Matthew, and Luke. The basic story is the same in all three accounts. One difference is that in Mark and Matthew we’re told that Jesus is speaking with Moses and Elijah, but we don’t hear what they’re talking about. They leave it to our imaginations.

But Luke tells us what they’re discussing. Luke says they were speaking of Jesus’ departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. The word translated in our reading this evening as “departure” is the Greek word “exodus.” And the word translated as “to accomplish” (which is a very modern, American word in my opinion) is literally translated as “to fulfill.” So, they were talking about Jesus’ exodus that he was about to fulfill. Now, in Greek, exodus, basically meant “exit.” But to anyone who had read the Hebrew Scriptures in Greek (which would have been what Luke’s audience had done) those folks would know that the Greek word Exodus was also the name given to the translation of the second Book of the Bible all about Moses leading the Hebrews out of captivity in Egypt into the Holy Land. So, again, as we have seen over and over as we’ve moved through Luke’s Gospel, Luke isn’t just talking about death, is he? He’s talking about the fulfillment of God’s liberation for God’s people. This is what Mary sang about in the Magnificat; it’s what Jesus said when he read from the Isaiah scroll in Nazareth; it’s what Jesus preached when he preached the “Sermon on the Plain”: everything that Jesus has been saying and doing is leading him to now fulfill his Exodus which he has been building all this time.

Jesus is transitioning from the purpose of his life to the meaning of his life. He’s transitioning from building his life up to giving his life away. And this is the mountaintop moment, the mystical, magical, sacred moment that Jesus’ whole ministry revolves around. Before this Jesus was climbing the mountain. After this Jesus will always be going back down the mountain. He will always be headed to the crowd and the sick boy, headed to Jerusalem, headed into Lent, headed to Holy Week, to Good Friday and the cross.

On the mountaintop Jesus is literally transformed by this transitional moment, literally shining, he is so full of his gift. And Peter—poor Peter! Peter, who Luke makes every excuse for—the poor guy was exhausted, and sleepy, and he didn’t know what he was saying. Peter saw Jesus’ gift shining at its fullest. He saw Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, the prophet, speaking with Jesus, and suddenly Peter knew what he had to do. He tells Jesus that we three disciples are going to build three little houses! One for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah. Peter sees the gift and he wants to keep it. This will be the Mountaintop of the Gift! We’ll start with three huts and one day we’ll have a great shrine. It will be the center of our religion. And the whole world will come here to get a peek at the gifts we have!

But as soon as Peter says it, the cloud covers the mountain. God speaks to remind them to listen. Moses and Elijah have disappeared. Jesus isn’t shining anymore. It’s time to go back down the mountain. Our gifts cannot be enshrined somewhere and kept forever. At some point we have to turn back down the mountain to give something away. That is the meaning of our lives!

It’s easy to hear a story like this one, the Transfiguration, and think it’s just about Jesus. But it’s not. It’s about a moment of great and intentional transition. It’s about being filled with a gift. It’s about making a commitment to doing the hard work of giving that gift away. My prayer for us, Beloved, this Stewardship Season is that we all really give our attention to the mountain. We all need to climb up, take a good look around, feel the presence of God, feel the gifts that we have been given, and then we need to make the commitment to those who are waiting for us: We need to go back down the mountain, with a gift to give away. What will your gift be this season, Beloved? What do you have? What would it mean to you to give it away? Amen.