2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2

Luke 9:28-36

We’ve focused for the last six weeks on baptism – Christ’s baptism and our callings, our fundamental identities, in unity with Christ. I asked the Worship Committee how we could make the baptismal font more prominent, rather than shoving it off to the side when it’s not in use. I offered some thoughts about where it should go, and they said, “sure. Do all of those.” And so I did. The font has been in the back row, in the South Room, by the doors, and up here on the chancel as it is today. These different placements invited us to think about the meanings of baptism – it’s a symbol of unity, rebirth, and consecration. As part of that, we’ve been exploring our Christian identities: we are a people called to be God’s children; called to love, unity, service, worship; we are called to reflect Christ’s glory.

Today is about consecration. The font is up here on the chancel, symbolically in “God’s space,” to remind us that we enter God’s realm through baptism. The word for ‘church’ in many languages (French, Spanish, etc) comes from the Greek ekklesia, which meanscalled out,’ separated from the world. Baptism invites us to live in a new reality, to belong to God more than to the world, even as we live within the world. We practice for life in this new reality by separating from the world weekly to remember who we are as the church.

I commented last week that I’d enter worship differently than how this congregation does it, and I was challenged to show you how I’d do it. Well, I (and some of us) enter worship by stepping out of our everyday conversations, as important as they are. Worship begins as we acknowledge God’s presence. In silence, I hear Christ’s invitation to go up the mountain like Peter, James, and John, to open my eyes to the God all around us. That’s how I invited us to begin worship today, rather than with announcements and a ceremonial handshake.

The Prayer of the Church acknowledges the church’s baptismal unity and our call out of the world. It may be only then that we can welcome each other to worship. The ceremonial handshake then is more worshipful to me than doing it at the very beginning, because it happens in the acknowledged glow of God’s presence, what Moses felt on the mountain. Then – and this is very true to this congregation – we respond to God’s presence by sharing our joys and concerns within the space of worship. Personally, I’d put this response after the sermon, but we’re focused on our community earlier, and that’s good. Then we respond to the word of God, which I pray you hear in this sermon, concretely. We’ll respond with announcements and offerings, because those belong to worship too.

I didn’t expect to spring this on you (and we’ll go back to the way it’s been, at least for Lent), but this is what Jesus did to his followers. Luke tells us clearly that they went up the mountain and prayed. Thinking about the sermon from last week, that suggests an order of worship more like the Isaiah reading than the gospel. Jesus never lost his sense of God’s presence, but he went off frequently to remember it, returning within himself in order to come back out in service. So, like Isaiah in the set-apart temple, Jesus and his followers saw and heard God on a set-apart mountain. They didn’t just hear a sermon, either. They had an amazing experience of God: Jesus’ appearance changed and religious leaders from the past stood on either side and shared with Jesus.

But that’s not where their worship ends. Peter wants it to. He wants to stay on the mountain with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, to build a dwelling place for them. I admit, that’s one of my tendencies (and maybe one of yours, too). Part of me wants to keep worship for worship, not to spoil God’s presence. But the Spirit of this congregation pushes back on me, brings me back down to earth, and that’s a good thing. The church belongs on the earth. Paul tells us that Moses coming down from the mountain, and his face glowed. Christians are called to glow with Christ’s presence too. We’re led back down the mountain as witnesses to God’s presence within and around us. We’re called to take our worship, unity, and love to the world.

Witnessing to God’s presence in the world is what it truly means to be called out of the “ordinary” world. As we leave this sacred space, we see two things. First, we see that the world is not perfect. Life doesn’t always care that all people are made in God’s image. Second, we see that God is already in the world, working for the good of all people. Witnessing to that pair of truths marks us as the church. You may have noticed that it’s actually unusual to uphold the dignity of all people. Doing that, and celebrating when others do it, mark us distinctly. We don’t make that many friends by honoring the wisdom of our elders and insisting on uncompromising decency. The Gospel marches out of step with the world.

I’m not sure that living as Jesus lived ever was popular. Speaking the truth always? Radical love for the least among us? I’m pretty sure that kind of stuff got Jesus killed. I’m not sure the Gospel ever really was popular, it’s just that the churches don’t control the world anymore. Christianity used to be required (for more people than politicians), but now it’s optional. You’re free not to be here, and of course many people take that option. But I think that’s good news. Now that you don’t have to pretend to be Christian, you have to be Christian for real. Christianity is no longer “expected,” so now we have to do what we always should have done: reflect Christ in our lives.

That’s our work, as we’re called down from the mountain. We’re called back into the world, with our faces glowing with the light we’ve seen here. That’s what the second part of worship is about today: responding to God’s call and embodying the glory of Christ in our community. We will start with the ongoing life of the church, announcing the events and issues where you might see God. We’ll offer ourselves to service with Christ, letting our gifts shine like rays of light in the community. This is a tangible way to live as Christ. Finally, we’ll go out. We’ll finish our transition away from this sacred space, reflecting the glory of God wherever we go.