Have any of you read the book or seen the movie, A Walk in the Woods?” I read the book years ago, but I go reacquainted with the story when I watched the movie while on one of the planes I took to Manila. The movie was filmed here in Georgia. The movie and book, in typical Bill Bryson fashion, humorously recounts truths that we know and know well—in this case, we all share in the truth that whenever we go on a journey, especially an intentional one, we come out on the far side different in some ways.
I think this can be true for an attempted through hike of the Appalachian Trail that teaches both humility and a respect for Creation. It can be true for anyone who has ever been on a Pilgrimage to Israel/ Palestine and stood in the places where Jesus stood, worshipped in the places associated with the very reason for the church existing. It can be true for anyone who have ever been part of a mission trip, or backpacked through Europe with a healthy sense of adventure and an openness to newness. It can be true for anyone that has gone on a silent retreat out at Monastery of the Holy Spirit, seeking God’s guidance.
It can even be true for a group of people—a congregation seeking the best way to be faithful to the call and mission of Jesus.
Changed. New. Different.
We’ve been using these words a lot over the past two years. We’ve had meetings. We’ve prayed. We’ve shade-treed. We’ve consternated. We’ve made well-informed, prayer-infused decisions. Much work has been done. And indeed, two weeks into this new church, where we’re in an in-between time or a “not quite yet” time, maybe we feel like we’ve been to the mountain and now we’re climbing down, back into normal.
Or…. maybe it doesn’t feel that different, yet. Or, maybe we, too, are like those apostles—weary, tired, and all they wanted was rest. We want rest. They had traveled far. We’ve traveled far. They did much good, offering hope, offering grace, inviting all to live fully into God’s Kingdom. We engage in acts of piety and charity (to use the words of Wesley) on a regular basis.
There might be a great temptation to say, “Just let me rest for a little bit. I’ll catch up.” Or it might be alluring to say, much like the disciples on the mountain top with Christ, “this is good. Let us build tabernacles and stay where we are right now.” Remember that was not as much as statement of physical location than it was one of spiritual location.
Let’s consider a different lens on this story. Let me suggest that maybe we use a different part of the Disciples’ journey with Jesus. Much like Bryson and Katz thought they were way far down the trail when, in fact, there was much more to explore than they already had, there’s so much more God has in store for us.
We’re awaiting experiencing Jesus’ transfiguration ourselves. We’ve done good in Jesus’ name. We’ve spent this season being pulled aside with Jesus to pray and discern. And we expect to experience what Peter, James, and John did—Jesus with light pouring out of him. Scary? Sure. Inspiring? Definitely! To be bathed in the light, in the Holy…. to be in a place where the distance between the physical and spiritual—between heaven and earth—is razor-thin…. these are amazing, profound, deeply meaningful moments. We come away from those moments changed, maybe even glowing with a little residual light, ourselves.
We’re in the process of being changed. Transformed. Bryson had the sense to take his journey with “Katz”…. That it makes more sense to travel together than alone. And Jesus did not take Peter, James and John up the mountain individually. They went together. And it was good. For conversation, for contrast, for accountability, and for the sheer fact of a reality check.
But, just like the Disciples who (as much as they wanted to), could not stay in that comfortable place, we cannot stay here, either. We cannot stay on the mountain. We cannot stay in this in-between time where we anticipate change but we don’t yet fully live into it. Yes, while we are in this moment, abide fully. Feel God’s presence, rest in the warmth of the light, and know that, ultimately, this Jesus is the one who is shining the light show us the way forward. But also know that as we journey forward, we are changed… changed by the light of Christ… changed for better and for good… and changed in a way that equips us for what’s next.
As we come down the mountain and roll our sleeves back up, following Jesus, feeding the hungry, healing the sick, offering hope in real and tangible ways to those who have lost sight or don’t even know that they need it. We do this with new energy. We do this having experienced something profound, that we can’t quite name but that won’t let go of us. We go forward, with our exhaustion replaced by a renewed vigor to proclaim Good News and to be laser-focused on following after Jesus and living into the mission of Jesus.
Journeys of all sorts—it doesn’t matter how much we plan– always seem to have unexpected events. A delayed flight. Getting lost. Traffic. Or maybe, you’ve been changed in a way you didn’t expect. Traveling alone and experiencing hospitality, having an experience that helped you see the world in a different way. That’s one of things that happened to me in Manila. I’m pretty skeptical—who knows, maybe cynical, even—about churches and mission trips. The book Toxic Charity simply stated in an articulate fashion many of the thoughts I held on the endeavor. But with David’s stories about the work in the Philippines, I was willing to give it a chance. And I was changed. The assumptions that I held have been challenged and proved wrong, at least in this context. Maybe I’ve been too harsh. Maybe I used the “I don’t want to create a co-dependent relationship” or “mission trips are simply church-sponsored tourism” as an excuse. David is right, the work the United Methodist Church in the Philippines does stands in the legacy of the work Wesley did with the working classes in an industrializing Britain. The ministry and people I experienced is good work. Lives are changed. The Gospel is proclaimed.
If we open ourselves to the Spirit’s guidance along the journey, who knows how our thoughts, opinions, and perspectives on ministry, community, and people might be transformed.