Arrival and Departure and Arrival and…

Luke 9:28-45

You can watch the sermon right here or read on below.

It was Super Bowl Sunday and I went to the movies. I took in Arrival, a science fiction, alien-invasion movie and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. It was an alien invasion that was quiet and beautiful and eerily timely. Amy Adams plays Louise, a professor of linguistics. And in the opening scenes we see snippets of her life with a daughter, and the death of her daughter. Just a few more minutes in, Louise is tapped by the army to help communicate with aliens who have landed in 12 cities around the world in 12 space crafts. Communication is critical and she sets to work, anticipating that they, the aliens, have something to tell us. She assumes that the decision-making machines around her need the right inputs, not different programming. She tries to understand, and then understand more, and then understand more, and then to tell everyone everything that might help.[1]

The interior of this movie has a quiet complexity and depth communicated through its beautiful camera work, its depiction of things other-worldly, and the preciousness and fragility of life. Yet Arrival isn’t so much about the arrival of the aliens as it is a starting point that leads to a departure that leads to arrival. Rinse repeat. Loop. Shuffle. It’s a metaphor for life, beginnings and endings and new beginnings. Soon, you don’t so much understand as you are caught up in the interior of this movie, seeing that you too, know something about arrivals and departures, the heartaches and the joys, and the preciousness and slippery quality of time.

The transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top, his glowing appearance, his other-worldly communication with prophets, his casting out of a demon and his telling his disciples he will suffer and die and then be raised again could just as easily be the plot line of Arrival, for all of its unexplainable beauty.

So much of God’s power and glory are that way – they are not always to be explained or argued in theological papers. Sometimes we sit back and marvel and then we chew on it for weeks at a time, wondering about the deeper message it has to tell us.

I don’t know how Jesus is lit up so dazzlingly white, but I can imagine it was hard to experience then and know what to say besides, “maybe we should stay here” – wanting to preserve the mystery. Contain it somehow.

I don’t know how Moses and Elijah were there.

I don’t know how Jesus casts a demon out of a little boy.

So it is with the glory of God. It is hard to put words to these things sometimes.

It seems Jesus is anticipating that all of this has been overwhelming to the disciples:

The constant criticism and threat of both religious and political leaders of the day;

The constant presence of crowds needing to be fed or healed or taught;

The weight of being given the power and authority themselves to heal and to teach and to raise the dead.

And then, after the mountain top experience, after the night of prayer, Jesus says this to his tired and overwhelmed disciples: Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.  But they did not understand and they were afraid to ask.

Welcome to a life of discipleship, folks. One where we are beckoned off the mountain and out of our comfort zones into a crowd of people needing healing and Good News. Back to daily life where we seek to see God alive and well.

This is something Jim and Pam and I are doing more regularly at staff meetings. We’re talking about where we see God in our own lives and in the life of this congregation and in the life of Hutchinson.

We see God’s glory in this time of worship, in our moments of prayer and reading scripture. And we also see God’s glory in deep sadness, in times of struggle. And we also see God’s glory in the mundane, in the every day.

Today’s story is brimming with God’s glory, both mundane and unbelievable. God works in mysterious and unknowable ways and God works in obvious and demonstrable ways.

Like, this week, I saw God clearly at work in Sandy Tracy as we sat in a representative’s office in St. Paul and, as he threatened to go on and on and on, Sandy interjected and kept the conversation about the least of the least in Minnesota. She did it with grace and with fortitude.

We’ve seen God at work in the 55+ group as they gather together to eat and to collect money to give toward the refugee crisis or to Common Cup or to a family in the restaurant.

I’ve seen God at work in your lives as you navigate hard and trying days.

I’ve seen God’s glory illuminated on Kris Hartman’s FB page as she gave thanks for the village that surrounded Emma after she broke her arm.

I’ve seen God’s glory in lawyers showing up at airports to help those stranded by the travel ban.

I’ve seen God’s glory in miraculous healing and at the graveside of mourners.

Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.  But they did not understand and they were afraid to ask.

Jesus is the greatest mystery of our lives. He is the greatest example of arrival and departure, death and resurrection, looping and repeating in our lives.

And we, of all things, see God’s glory revealed to us in Jesus Christ as he is ridiculed and tried in a crooked court and abandoned by his closest friends. Jesus, the one who became dazzling white on a mountain top and then suffered and died at the hands of the political and religious powers that be. And this is the bridge, this is the story that tells us who we are and why we’re here.

This arrival of Jesus and his departure in Jerusalem – well, it’s why we’re all here. It’s the glory of God that meets us on the mountain top and walks with us every day. And we become like Louise from Arrival, doing our best to understand so that we can then tell everyone everything there is to tell about the arrival and the departure of Jesus.

It’s so hard to explain, isn’t it? Join me in trying, won’t you?

[1] – this is a beautiful review of the movie Arrival.