Whenever God makes himself known, when God is manifest, someone is entrusted with a mission. And often that manifestation occurs when someone is in the midst of a crisis. And sometimes the divine manifestation comes to someone who seems an unlikely choice to be entrusted with a mission.
Consider an example from the Old Testament, namely Moses. A native of Egypt, raised in Pharaoh’s palace, he is nonetheless of Hebrew stock, and when he sees an Egyptian abusing a Hebrew, he kills the Egyptian and buries his body in the sand. The murder becomes public knowledge, and Moses flees for his life. He makes a new life for himself in the desert. He marries, settles down, and works for his father-in-law as a shepherd. Yet this is existence in exile, far from home. It seems like the other end of the world from Egypt’s regal splendor.
But he is not so far away that God cannot find him. The divine voice calls out to him from a mysterious burning bush. This God of his ancestors goes on to do more than reveal himself to Moses. This is not just God’s manifestation. Moses is entrusted with a mission. He is to go and do something: to liberate God’s people from their slavery.
Consider another Old Testament example. Elijah the prophet is a marked man. His opposition to idolatry and injustice in the midst of spiritual and social confusion has placed him among a persecuted minority. Indeed, it seems to him that he is alone, utterly alone, in standing up for the name of the Lord. And so Elijah the fugitive seeks refuge in a cave. It’s there he spends the night.
And in the deep darkness of that place the Lord calls out to him, and speaks to him in sheer silence. God does more than make himself known to his beleaguered prophet. God does more than console his loyal servant. Elijah does not simply witness a manifestation. He is entrusted with a mission. He is to go and do something: to designate new leadership who will restore authentic religion and true justice. He is to initiate a new and unexpected beginning.
Let us turn our attention now to a New Testament example, one that concerns the disciples of Jesus, especially his inner circle: Peter, James, and John. These followers are experiencing confusion and turmoil. Peter has identified Jesus as the messiah, yet Jesus has made it clear that he’s a different sort of messiah than anyone imagined: rather than the triumphant warrior king they were hoping for, Jesus asserts that he is a messiah destined to suffer. He tells his disciples what awaits him is rejection and execution and resurrection. They find this mighty hard to swallow.
It’s only a few days later that something happens that had never happened before. Jesus and his inner circle are on a mountain top alone. There he is transfigured, and radiates an unearthly light. Leaders from Israel’s ancient past appear with him: Moses and Elijah. A cloud overshadows the entire scene, and from the cloud a voice thunders, identifying Jesus as the Son of the Most High, the one the disciples should hear and heed. Suddenly Moses and Elijah are gone, leaving Jesus alone with his disciples.
There is wondrous manifestation here: the glory of Jesus bursts forth as never before. But is there mission? Yes, in two ways. First, the command from heaven to listen to Jesus. And then, Jesus then charges his disciples to keep what they witnessed a secret until he has risen from the dead. This remarkable event can only be understood in the context of something even more remarkable: the empty tomb and the resurrected Lord. Then the disciples will be let loose to tell the world, to fulfill their mission.
They are to go and do something. Listen to Jesus and then proclaim the full truth of Jesus. And they are to do this not as they choose, but when God would have them do so, when the time is right.
What happened to Moses, to Elijah, and to Peter, James, and John happens to us as well. I don’t mean the burning bush, the sound of sheer silence, or the mountaintop transfiguration. What I mean is the pattern which is apparent in all these incidents.
We find ourselves in trouble, anxiety, confusion, and in the midst of that unwanted experience, God makes himself known in some new, fresh, and unexpected way. But what happens is something more than manifestation. There is also mission. We are to go and do something: not just anything, nor simply what we want, but what God would have us do to serve his good purposes.
There on the mount of Transfiguration, overcome with amazement, Peter is ready to build three shelters--for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah--in order to commemorate this extraordinary event. His plan comes to nothing, and that is just as well, for here too is part of the pattern that can mark our lives.
When we encounter God’s glory, when the Lord is specially manifest to us, perhaps in the midst of trouble, anxiety, and confusion, we cannot rest content with raising memorial shelters, with building a museum, with placing the occasion in the scrapbook of our minds. We are invited to something far larger than this. God entrusts us with a mission.
Our response can be to go and do something: not just anything, not simply what we want, but what God would have us do when God would have us do it. God’s when is as important as God’s what.
Thirty-six years ago this month, Grace Church was officially started as a mission of the Episcopal Church in Arkansas. By God’s grace and through your dedicated work Grace Church was voted to become a full-fledged parish by the Diocesan Convention in Little Rock yesterday afternoon.
God has called us together to be the Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs, to bring the Christian faith in our unique expression to this place and be about God’s mission of building his kingdom here.
Our work together is not finished now that we are a parish, it is just beginning. God is manifest among us as we hear his word and celebrate together Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the Eucharist. As we come to this table today, we come as broken people seeking the wholeness only God can give. And God gives us himself, so that we can serve others. We are the embodiment of God’s mission to Siloam Springs, Northwest Arkansas, and the world. Amen.