This coming Sunday is the Sunday of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, ending the season of Epiphany and moving the Church into the season of Lent.
In our Gospel reading each year on this Sunday, we hear a version of Jesus' transfiguration on a high mountain, in which his clothes become dazzling white, Elijah and Moses appear with him, and three of Jesus' disciples - Peter, James and John - look on in startled amazement.
Though the stories vary somewhat in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, one voice remains consistent in all three of them: the voice of Peter. He wants to stay on the mountain and build three dwellings. We're not certain, as Mark writes, that it was because Peter didn't know what to say, or he really didn't want to let go of that special time in that place. I'm always inclined to believe it was the latter.
It's human nature to want to hang on to pleasant moments. Part of our challenge is fighting the desire to remain the same. Like Peter, we want to remain on the high mountain. But there is a journey that lies ahead; a journey that will take us not just to mountaintops, but also through valleys and the plains of life; and ultimately, to the cross. That is the reason our Lectionary places this story just before Ash Wednesday.
I can't help but think of this story of the Transfiguration in light of what has happened in our churches. When I began my call as bishop, there were 180 congregations in the Northeastern Ohio Synod. This week, we number only 165.
But let me quickly add that I don't say that to be negative, I simply state it as a fact. As Lutherans, we often say that the church is always reforming. To put it in terms of our Gospel reading, let's say the church is always being transfigured.
In October of last year, two congregations in Cleveland Heights, Bethlehem and Hope, consolidated to form Peace Lutheran Church. This month, two congregations in the western suburbs of Cleveland; Faith, Lakewood; and Our Savior's, Rocky River, consolidated to become Good Soil Lutheran Ministries.
Trinity Lutheran in Washingtonville, closed its doors in December, after 207 years of faithful ministry. Most of its remaining members will now worship at St. Paul's in neighboring Leetonia.
The purpose, in all instances, is to be able to do more effective ministry together, rather than separately.
However, it's easy to read this information and, like the three disciples of Jesus, focus on the fear. The uncertainty of what our future will look like is difficult. We have many memories of our churches as they used to be - Sunday School classrooms teeming with children, sanctuary pews creaking under the weight of so many worshippers, glorious celebrations on festival days.
But despite the presence of Moses and Elijah, two prophets of old, this transfiguration story invites us to look forward and to determine how we live our lives as disciples of Jesus and as the church of Christ.
The reading ends with Jesus ordering Peter, James, and John, to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Therein lies a key. In order for one to have a resurrection, there must first be a death.
Jesus was moving toward an event that would change the course of eternity. Whatever memory we hold dear, however enjoyable it has been-a greater experience awaits us. Christ calls us, not to remain the same, not to remain inside beautiful aging buildings, but because there is still a lot of brokenness to be healed in this world.
Outside of the walls of our congregations, there are many who have yet to hear the Word of God. It is up to us to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord to them.
Today, Monday, I am in Cleveland, where Bishop Nelson Pérez of the Roman Catholic Diocese is hosting a group of ecumenical leaders to become better acquainted and explore possible ways we may do ministry together.
Tuesday, I am at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Cuyahoga Falls, where we will hold a Boundaries Workshop for our rostered ministers.
Thursday through Saturday, I will be in Austin, Texas, with a group of Latino Scholars, as we discuss how to implement the Latino Strategy in synods and congregations and focus on the formation of Latino candidates for ordained ministry in our church.
Sunday, I will be with the people of God at St. John's Lutheran Church in Petersburg, to celebrate their 145th anniversary.
This week and always, may the light of Christ shine in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God.
+Bishop Abraham Allende