Called to Be Surprised

This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on February 23, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts.


Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”


In October of last year, something unexpected happened in the life of our church. What began as a meeting I had for coffee with some people in the San Diego area, turned into a new ministry of Mission Hills UMC.

In early September, I was tagged in an instagram comment from one of my friends, on a photo of this couple announcing their move to San Diego. About a week later, we met for coffee to get to know each other. I talked about this church, and they shared about their experiences being let down by churches in their past. Both of us talked about our desire to create a space for people like us, queer people of faith, to be able to ask hard questions and feel accepted and affirmed. 

A month later, The Voyage was born, an in person and digital space for LGBTQIA+ people of faith. Every other week, we post a video discussing various topics like spiritual practices, creative passions, or calling, and the following week, we meet at this church, to discuss the topic with all who show up. 

On our first meeting, the three of us were so nervous that nobody would show up. We thought this was a failure, a nice attempt at something that people didn’t actually need. And again, we were surprised. Among the 8 people there that night, one in particular stood out. A young, queer woman was listening to me introduce myself as the pastor of the church we were sitting in. I told people it was a Reconciling Church, and a little about what that meant.

This woman, in response, asked me a question that I was in no way expecting. She asked: “So, are we going to get in trouble for being here? Are you going to get in trouble for having us here?” It was in that moment that I felt God so clearly speaking to me, and to my fellow organizers. We need to be here, and not for the reasons we expected.

Church, you provided, and continue to provide ministry opportunities for people in our communities in ways we may not have been able to plan for in our budget or our calendar. 

Today’s scripture is the transfiguration story. It’s the story of Jesus transfiguring, which means metamorphosing, undergoing a full change, right in front of the disciple’s eyes. Think about the miraculous moment a caterpillar turns into a butterfly. We all know the full story, but the people in the story, Peter, James, and John, they had no idea what was about to unfold. 

You see, the three of them, they were invited by Jesus to go up this mountain. Maybe he told them why, and maybe he left it a surprise. But for sure, he said nothing about this transfiguration moment. So maybe the guys thought they were going up for a picnic, for Jesus to show them something, or to listen to another important sermon. Because Jesus was involved, they probably expected something good to happen, but what the story says did happen, they could never have known that was coming.

Often, we can anticipate something happening, something good even, because of what has always happened, because of what makes sense, or what logic tells us will happen. Like we know that there are certain events even, in the life of our church and community, that happen every year, things we anticipate, things we get excited for. God speaks in those moments. For instance, for me, I knew that having a queer affirming place in the church would be good, even for just my own spirit. So I joined together with some friends to make it happen. And then God spoke louder than I imagined, bringing together people who shared the same desire I had, answering my prayers to God, wondering what might be next.

There are also moments that God speaks, where we never would have been able to predict, never have been able to anticipate. 

When was the last time you were surprised by how God was showing up in your life? 

This transfiguration was one of those moments for those who gathered on that mountain. The passage says that suddenly, Jesus’ face shone like the sun and his clothes became white and sparkly. And then Moses and Elijah appeared magically and started speaking to them too. And then on top of all of that, God started speaking too, bringing life to the divinity of Jesus, saying “this is my Son, the beloved, with him I am well pleased”. 

And so you see, these followers who followed Jesus up a mountain, probably to hear him preach or share a meal with him, they had expectations. They knew who Jesus was, and they had even seen some of the great things he had done. And then, time and time again, the followers were surprised. They were surprised by the dazzling clothes, and by Moses and Elijah, and by God’s voice, and by the end of the encounter on the mountain, I’d imagine they were surprised out. Maybe they were even in shock, in disbelief about what they were seeing. 

As they were going down the mountain, Jesus said to them, ‘tell nobody about this vision that just happened until the Son of Man (aka Jesus) has been raised from the dead’. To me, this serves a sort of proof to the followers, that yes, that just happened. And there is more to come. 

  • How are you showing up, willing to be surprised by what God is doing, or what God is showing you?
  • Are you willing to be surprised over and over, again and again?

We have to be open to Jesus showing up in unexpected ways, because Jesus keeps shifting what’s expected for him to do right in front of the disciples, and he challenged the idea of just doing what was expected, or what people are ‘supposed’ to do. Jesus teaches us that part of the Good News, part of the Gospel, is about being surprised by what God is doing in our lives. We as people of faith are invited too, to be surprised by Jesus’ story. 

As we leave this place, my prayer is that we allow ourselves to expect great things from God, and still give God room to surprise us. May we look to our faith for unexpected moments of grace. May we see the Divine in unusual, unconventional ways. And may we grow to believe that Jesus, Son of Man, is stirring us to be surprised in the upcoming Lenten season. 

Let us pray: 

God of mystery and majesty, we give you thanks for the ways you show up in our lives, the unexpected moments of goodness and life. Hear us, Lord, as we move closer to you, and to the cross, this Lenten season. Hear us work to connect to you more deeply, as we journey together towards your light. In your name we pray, Amen.

 

 

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