“The farther we get into the week, we are a congregation, and some of you are thinking, ‘What controversial issue is she going to preach about today?’ I tell my students that they cannot preach about controversial issues every Sunday. There is a rhythm to preaching. But if they never preach about controversial issues, they can’t preach from the Bible,” the Rev. Barbara K. Lundblad said during the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater.
Her sermon, “Vanishing Visions,” dealt with Mark 9:2-8, the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
Every year, congregations go up this mountain, she said. This text usually is read in Epiphany or Lent.
“We find Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus,” she said. “And what can we expect of Peter? Let’s build three booths or dwelling places.”
There are a lot of booths at Chautauqua, Lundblad said.
“There is a Lutheran one down the way and a really big Presbyterian one. We do this to capture the glory of God in a particular location. But we are even more nervous than Peter in talking about visions,” she said. “We would rather have Jesus down to earth, feeding the 5,000, curing the courageous woman with a hemorrhage. We would rather skip Chapter 9 and go to Chapter 10 where Jesus has an encounter with a rich man and tells him to sell all he has and give the money to the poor. If we talk about visions, people might think we are delusional.”
This story takes place “six days later.” It is six days after Jesus and the disciples visited Caesarea Philippi. It is six days after Jesus first said he was going to suffer and die, and Peter said that could not be and Jesus rebuked him.
The vision on the mount was like a dream, Lundblad said, where the different parts of your life come together, and different generations come together in the same place.
“The law and the prophets [Moses and Elijah] in Jesus’ life appear,” she said. “The Shekinah, the presence of God, like on Mount Sinai, unfolds in a cloud. No wonder Peter says, ‘Let’s build churches.’ ”
Lundblad continued: “God said to Peter, James and John, ‘This is my son. Listen to him.’ How do we talk about this — something so beyond our experience and wisdom?”
She quoted theologian Brian Blount, who said that the vision does not live for itself, but so we can be sustained for the journey with Jesus.
“It is not easy to journey with Jesus, and Blount says this is why the story comes at this point,” Lundblad said.
Jesus told the disciples he would suffer and die before they go up the mountain and again after they come down.
“We can’t live without a vision bigger than we can explain,” she said. “Our best actions never bring in the commonwealth of God if there isn’t something beyond what we know. How can we go on?”
The vision vanishes; there was no Shekinah, no voice — only Jesus. The vision vanishes, but the vision matters. Lundblad quoted writer Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, talking about a young girl who had been blind from birth and had the cataracts removed who sees a tree with lights in it. Dillard found the tree by accident on a walk. The flood of light faded, but she was fed by the power the vision left.
Lundblad had a similar vision in the chapel at Union Seminary in New York City before she became a faculty member. One day, she went to noon worship. The chapel has high wooden beams, a stone floor and the pews had been removed and chairs that could be rearranged provided seating. James M. Washington, who gathered Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings into Testament of Hope, was the preacher.
He preached about the last chapter in the Gospel of John and talked about the disciples who, not knowing what to do after Jesus’ death, went fishing. As they came back into shore they saw a man and the Beloved Disciple said to Peter, “It is the Lord.”
“He focused on that sentence, ‘It is the Lord,’ ” Lundblad said. “In the midst of whatever is in turmoil or happiness, someone dares to say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he said. There was silence and the beams were charged with light and the stone floor was afire with lights. I have not seen the vision since, but for 25 years I have lived for it. We dare to say, ‘It is the Lord’ and the mountains roar and we know we are in the presence of God.
“Peter might have done this, for he was standing on Holy Ground,” Lundblad said while taking off her shoes. “It is my prayer that there will be times that you go up the mountain and find the vision for the difficult journey with Jesus for there will be challenges. We must believe we have seen a vision and I hope the church can be that place without being embarrassed or think we are delusional.”
Without a vision, the people perish, she said. There will be another day for preaching about controversy — about a call to action — but she hoped there would be days to see a vision.
“When we are in the presence of God and we don’t know what else to do, we can at least take off our shoes,” she said.
Pastor Scott Maxwell presided. The Rev. Carolyn Grohman, a retired Presbyterian minister who has been singing with the Motet Choir for 30 years, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the Motet Choir. The choir sang “Adoramus Te, Christe” by Eric Barnum. The Robert D. Campbell Memorial Chaplaincy supports this week’s services.