Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
February 25, 2001 - Pastor Diane Schmitz
I imagine there must have been people in the time of these stories about Moses and Jesus who would have said something akin to "Oh, these New Age people, they have such strange experiences and tell such odd stories."
Consider this: The Everett Herald newspaper this morning relates a story about a man who was praying on Mount Rainier. When he came down from the mountain he carried mysterious stones that had messages from God on them. Surely we would discount this except there is a picture of this man on the front page. He is smiling and there is an amazing glow around his face; something about him catches our attention. Later we tune in to TV and see him being interviewed. He is radiant; he is passionate. He is a man with a mission and something about him and his words makes us listen.
Stranger yet, we wake up one morning with a radio newscaster reporting the New York Times has printed an outrageous story. According to anonymous sources, a minister, with some of his followers had gone up to a mountain in Egypt to pray. The men and women with him told a strange tale: while he was praying, his appearance changed, his clothes became dazzling white and they saw standing with him the spirits of two key church leaders who had died. The followers heard the three of them speaking words about this man's ministry to come - what his mission would entail. As they tried to comprehend what was happening a cloud came and overshadowed them; they were terrified. From the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my child, my Chosen; listen to him!" Then the minister stood alone. For many years these followers had remained silent about what had happened; they did not expect to be believed. But, the minister went ahead with his mission - difficult as it became - inspired and sustained by his encounter with God.
Mystery and mission, prayer and possibility, transfiguration and transformation. Moses and Jesus went to pray. In their encounter with God they were changed. Something about those encounters gave them insight into their work, peace about their path and the courage to move forward upon it. Those who saw them knew something remarkable had happened. Those who listened to them found their own lives radically changed.
We know these kinds of mystical encounters happen. We know people who, close to death, have had visions of Jesus coming to them or of a sense of being embraced by a white light and it has left them with a sense of peace. There are moments when we know with a certainty that some "voice" has spoken to us so clearly that we understand, deep in our soul, what steps we are to take next. These moments are passing ones but they leave an imprint on us, encouraging us forward and giving us a sense that all will be well.
Our missions will be different, but God calls each one of us in a particular way. We are all chosen. Here's a story about one woman's journey:
Margaret was a friend of mine from church. I first spoke to her eight years ago when I publicized a spirituality group I was starting at my church in the fall. She called, "I'm really interested and would like to come, but I have quite a bit going on right now. Would you let me know if you continue it after Christmas?"
I called her in December and she said she'd join us in January. I had not yet met her. When she walked in, I noticed the brightness in her eyes, her eagerness and curiosity and the upright bearing with which she held herself. Margaret was 81 years old then and full of more enthusiasm and interest than some people I know half that age. She proudly described herself as a "stubborn, old Swede."
Six months after Margaret joined our group she approached me and said she had an experience she wanted to share. She explained how she received shots from time to time to reduce the pain from her sciatic nerve and how, at a recent visit, the doctor decided to give her some Lydacain first to numb the area before the shot. The doctor gave the shot and then, said Margaret, something very strange happened.
"I got dizzy, confused and was fading in and out. The doctor was moving my legs up, my head down; my pulse dropped to 20. And then it was like I was somewhere else. I had the most peaceful, warm feeling I've ever experienced in my life. I could sense all the busyness around me, but it seemed far away. I heard them asking for the IV, heart monitors and stuff like that and I realized that someone must be terribly ill.
"There were white lights above the table upon which I was lying, but they had turned almost golden - it was beautiful. I thought, well, if this is what dying's like, it's not half bad. I drifted in and out and then all of a sudden realized that I was the one they were working on. Then I got scared and concerned and I left wherever I had been.
"I heard a man say, `Well, you know she's 81.'And I said, `No, I'm 82!' and he said, `I think you're going to be all right'.
"I shared what had happened with my doctor. She acknowledged I had been in trouble although she didn't think I was going to die. She said she suspected I got a peek through the window at what some people see and experience when they are dying."
After this happened Margaret had a series of dreams and found herself creating opportunities for reconciliation experiences with some people who had been in her life; she felt as if she had a different focus. Although she had not been able to approach these broken relationships before, she now felt a new strength and sense of possibility within her.
A little over a year later, Margaret found she had cancer; her health began to deteriorate. I spent many days with her as she was dying. "Isn't dying interesting, Diane?" she said to me one day. It was such a "Margaret-type" remark. Even at the end of her life she was fascinated by what was going on with her and around her.
Margaret paid special attention to the staff at the retirement home health center in which she was staying. During her last couple of days I heard her repeat a phrase over and over to people on staff as well as all the friends and family near her. "God loves you. Remember your mission." She said it with such conviction that all of us who heard it felt called to listen carefully to her words. I had never heard Margaret use that phrase before. She never elaborated on what our "mission" might be. But she called us to acknowledge we all have one. Something in her encounters with God had given her clarity of purpose and insight.
The social worker said after her death that she had never seen anyone make such an impact on the staff. Margaret, in some mysterious way, had a particular mission and calling, even in the last months of her life, which she honored.
"God loves you. Remember your mission." What comes first is "God loves you." It is likely that's where God started with Moses and Jesus. That is the place to begin.
"Remember your mission " suggests that we know our mission but have just forgotten it or perhaps placed it way down the list in our order of priorities. Just as likely, we haven't believed that we, insignificant as we often feel, could really have a particular mission in the world.
These stories of Jesus and Moses remind us that one way to get reconnected to a sense of mission in our lives is to pray - to go to the mountaintop, or the quiet meadow, or the garden - away from the crowds - and listen to what God has to say to us. Another step is to open ourselves to the possibility of transformation - to really believe that who we are presently is not the totality of who we will become.
Like the snake that sheds it skin or the butterfly its cocoon, we know that transformation requires a letting go and a giving up. Letting go of the control in our lives and giving up the things that keep us from moving forward into new life.
Next week we begin the season of Lent. Forty days to practice letting go and giving up things which cause deadness in our lives. Letting go of agendas and ideas, giving up our desire to know and understand everything in this mystery we call life. Clearing ourselves, making our lives less cluttered and more transparent so the light of God may shine through us and we may experience a resurrection in our lives.
When we experience that shining it will be a remarkable encounter - for us and for all of those who come into contact with us.
Mechtild, a Christian mystic said about God: "God, You are the sun and I am your reflection. When God shines we must reflect."
We reflect upon whom we are when God shines on us. We let God's love reflect off of us and onto others.
Let us seek and treasure the moments of illumination that occur in our lives - such moments of shining. May such encounters with the Holy Wisdom remind us we are chosen by God for a mission. May we remember what is that mission. Amen.