Scholarship Sunday, June 26, 2022
Our Old Testament reading for today is a welcome reminder that no matter how things might look in a given moment, God is always about the work of restoration and renewal:
“See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”
Today as we celebrate our scholarship recipients, and this new ministry of love the God has opened up in our meeting, it is good for us to remember that especially in times when we’re discouraged, of facing uncertainty, when worries and troubles and hurts crowd their way into our thinking, there is something important we can remember and hold on to: God is always doing a new thing.
We all know this, we’ve seen it–It’s the nature of life around us: no blossom is exactly like any other blossom, each sunrise and sunset completely unique, our laughter, our prayers, our fingerprints all as unrepeatable as snowflakes. Our lives demonstrate every single day the newness and freshness of God. In things large and small, seen and unseen, God is always doing a new thing.
Peter and James and John saw this with their own eyes—although I’m sure they could hardly believe it. The Transfiguration is a high moment of truth in Jesus’ life, when the all-too-human men who were with him that day suddenly saw his divinity revealed. For a brief moment, they saw “that of God” in Jesus, the One who would be called Christ. In our tradition, George Fox said some 400 years ago, that the Light of Christ leads us to “walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone.” I wonder how different our world would be if we recognized all life as sacred, if we saw God’s handiwork in each circumstance and every character. If we truly greeted God in one another—and not just us here at Noblesville Friends, but all the world round—we’d bring in a new day of hope and understanding and harmony. Anytime we give God the chance, God will do something new.
When I was in seminary, we spent a whole semester studying the story of the Transfiguration. I’d been dreading that class because it was an exegesis class, which is all about deep and critical interpretation of scripture. I thought it was going to be hard–and boring—but it was actually fascinating. We studied the context of the world in which the passage was written. We studied the people in the story—their beliefs, their backgrounds, their traditions, their culture. We went back to the Greek and looked carefully at the words and phrasing. We explored what the Gospel writer might have wanted to communicate in the specific way he told the story, which interestingly has different details from the same story told in Mark and Luke.
Ever since that time, the story of the Transfiguration has been one of my favorite passages. Jesus goes high up the mountain, perhaps to pray, and he takes only Peter and James and John with him. While there, Jesus’ appearance begins to change. His face shines. His clothing becomes “as white as the light,” Matthew says. And in the next moment, Moses and Elijah appear and begin talking with Jesus.
Peter—who is always impetuous—is overcome with what’s likely wonder and excitement. He calls out, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” And he offers to build three shelters for these holy men: one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But before he’d even finished speaking, a huge, bright cloud enveloped them and a voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” There’s an exclamation point at the end of that. These men were given a direct order by God.
As you can imagine, Peter hit the dirt–and fast–and the other disciples alongside him. But after a moment Jesus came over and touched them and told them not to be afraid. As they slowly got up and dusted themselves off and looked around, they saw that their expected reality seemed to be back in place. Jesus looked like Jesus; his clothes appeared normal; and Moses and Elijah were gone. As Jesus and the disciples started walking back down the mountain, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they saw. That might have been a hard thing to keep quiet, especially for Peter, but then—who would believe them? And how could they possibly explain what they had just experienced? God had done an other-worldly new thing, and there probably were no human words that could capture it adequately.
My heart goes out to Peter in this story, because he simply wanted to do what most people want to do with the big and happy moments of life: We want to hold on to them, grab them and hold them tight so they won’t slip away. We want to build houses on that spot—that spot of happiness—and live right there forever and ever. That’s how life should be, we think. In keeping with the best of the high moments.
But the trouble is that because God is always doing a new thing, those structures are outgrown as soon as their built. Life as God created it is all about growth and blossoming and change. Love and Light flows on, blessing hearts and lives, families and nations. Yesterday’s heartaches heal, new paths open up before us, and God draws us into new circumstances where the Love of Christ is sorely needed and can be shared and known.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry, he showed us that his way of being in the world was never about building any lasting structure here—he didn’t want a kingdom, he had no interest in power, he traveled from place to place and spoke and taught wherever there was a need or an opportunity. It was always the mandate of Christ to go where the people are, to share his message of God’s love and care, to minister in ways that make people whole, one yearning heart at a time. Christ could never be contained in a structure on the top of the mountain—his place is with the people, wherever they are, always. And it continues today, as Christ comes to teach each of us himself. It’s a ministry of restoration and renewal, always new, always arriving, bringing God’s love and mercy into the streets and schools and marketplaces and temples. God is always doing a new thing.
I heard someone say once that if God—as the all-knowing, all-present, all-good source of Life—is a noun, then Christ is a verb: Love in action, traveling among us, finding his way into the stoniest of circumstances and the hardest of hearts. Christ on the move brings comfort to the sorrowing and hope to the despairing–just the help people need, just precisely when they need it.
As we celebrate this first ever Scholarship Sunday, God is truly doing a new thing among us. With love and prayer, we are able to support the good work and learning of these three devoted young women. And as they continue their educations and prepare for the futures they envision, they will carry the Light and love of Christ to so many, in so many different ways. Because Christ would never be happy on the mountaintop. He travels with us—each of us—in the large and small details of our days.
We each have a part to play in the healing of our world, and our different gifts and interests are part of God’s plan, fitting us together in what must be together an awe-inspiring masterpiece of love that we only get occasional glimpses of in this realm. I like the way the writer Corrie ten Boom expressed this in her poem, “Life Is but a Weaving,” and I’ll close with that:
My life is but a weaving
Between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He weaveth steadily.
Oft’ times He weaveth sorrow;
And I in foolish pride
Forget He sees the upper
And I the underside.
Not ’til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Will God unroll the canvas
And reveal the reason why.
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver’s skillful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.