Meditation on Mark 9:2-9
Pastor Karen Crawford
The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th. St., Coshocton, OH 43812
February 14, 2021
I receive some interesting mail here at the church. Do you get some interesting mail at your house? Sometimes you can look at the outside of an envelope and know right away, “Yeah, I don’t need to open that one before recycling it.”
But you can’t always judge the contents of a letter by its outward packaging. That ever happen to you? You think it’s just going to be junk mail…and then, it’s a treasure!
That happened to me on Thursday. I opened a plain, nondescript letter addressed to “pastor,” and, boy, was I surprised! Inside was old picture postcard with a typewritten letter from a man in an assistant living center in Stockton, California.
“Good morning,” he writes. “I was at an antique store some time ago and found this circa 1906 picture card of your beautiful church. I figure you might enjoy seeing it. At any rate, I hope it brightens your day. I’m thinking 2021 is going to be a better year. The card itself is an old time classic. I said to myself, “By golly, I think I’ll send it home where it can be appreciated.” Heritage is important to all of us. Enlarged and posted up it will create some nice conversation. … I’m 92 years old and I’m still going strong “as far as I know.” My little hobby is called a “Re-distribution of Happiness.” Our world sure needs it. And I wish you and your staff a Happy St. Valentine’s Day.”
He signed his name in cursive—Lowell Joerg.
Then, “P.S. Oh, yes, my daughter says you can find me on GOOGLE but I never look. P.S. Souvenirs are welcome.”
Well, I Googled Lowell Joerg and discovered articles about the man with a hobby of stamp-collecting, who one day in 1990 got the idea of sending the postcards he bought for the stamps to people who might appreciate them.
Since then, he has sent cards all over the country. He has received replies “from mayors, corporate bigwigs, historical societies” and schoolchildren. Some send long, warm letters describing their cities, or they send postcards, photos or souvenirs. Once Lowell wrote to the president of Nabisco, and he sent back a huge container filled with every product the company makes!
Many are touched by his gesture, as I was, and tell him so. A school superintendent wrote to Lowell, “In a world that grabs on to negative talking points, we really appreciate your reminder that kindness and goodness are infectious and contagious.”
The 1906 postcard reminds me of the one in our 1993 history book, but a different season. Notice the trees!
The one in our history book has no leaves. The one on the postcard postmarked Coshocton, 1906, has leaves on the trees. And look at the people outside the church dressed in turn of the 20th century formal wear, men in black suits and hats and ladies in long, white dresses. Lowell sprawled on the back of his letter, “Looks like a wedding might have been going on.”
The postcard stirred me to read about another extraordinary event in the life of our congregation, when church leaders, meeting in the parsonage on Feb. 3, 1904, made the difficult decision to build a new building on the same site, rather than remodeling the brick church of 1868. “It seemed like a bold thing to tear down such a good building,” says our history book, “yet it couldn’t be sold for a fraction of its cost, and the site was desirable.”
The final service in the old building was on July 24, 1904. The stone church was finished and open for worship on Sunday, Oct. 1, 1905. For more than a year, the congregation was without its building; instead, they worshiped God in the 6th St. Theatre and gathered for Sunday school in the old Carnegie Library on 4th Street. I wonder how that experience affected the church? I wonder if it strengthened them when they realized that THEY were the Church, not the building?
This is a lesson that has been brought home to us during the past year. We have been in a kind of exile from our building, not being able to gather safely because of the pandemic. But the Lord provided another way to continue the worship, fellowship, and mission of the Church, a reminder that our ministry isn’t dependent on anything in this world; it is a gift of Jesus Christ for all the ages.
But no one could question the beauty of the building pictured on the postcard sent in 1906. We are so grateful to God to be back in our worship space! It is a still a place where the people of God listen for God’s voice, make difficult decisions for the sake of the gospel and the wellbeing of God’s people. It is still a place where we wrestle with Scripture and what it means for us today, illumined by the Spirit in our midst. It is the place where we are humbled and transformed in God’s presence, ordered and re-membered as Christ’s Body for the world, in spite of all that threatens to humanly divide us.
Today, we climb the mountain with Peter, James, and John, in this most extraordinary moment in the life of Christ, described in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as 2 Peter:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” – 2 Peter 1:16-18.
That morning, when they started their journey, they had no idea the glory of God would be revealed and the One they called Rabbi would be transfigured, “his clothes a dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” (Mark 9:3)
As Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah—the two greatest prophets in their faith tradition–Peter, for once, doesn’t know what to say. He talks anyway!! The only thing he can think of is that they need to build houses of worship for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, dwellings to memorialize this mountaintop moment of God’s revelation. But the Spirit of God cannot be contained or restrained in a building. Buildings are only for the comfort and convenience of human beings. God’s Beloved Son is the One who must be followed and obeyed. As the voice in the cloud commands, “Listen to him!”
This memory will haunt the disciples, who are ordered not to tell anyone what they have seen—not until the Son of Man is risen from the dead. Coming down the mountain, Peter, James, and John vow to keep the matter to themselves, but they are questioning “what this rising from the dead could mean.”
Christ’s transfiguration transforms these 3 disciples, terrified in the presence of a holy God. Knowing Jesus as He really is—both human and divine—changes us. And it keeps on transforming us so that the Lord is able to use us to make a difference in God’s world.
Today, we are blessed to ordain and install elders and deacons. These servant leaders have said yes to the invitation from the congregation and to the call of Jesus Christ. To our new leaders, I say that during the ordination and installation, the church will vow to support you with their love and prayers as you follow Jesus Christ in your own life and seek to serve with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love. Today is a kind of mountaintop experience for you. You will feel the power of the Spirit. You will feel the love of God. You will feel Christ’s peace.
I need to tell you, however, that everyone who says yes to leadership in the church will one day wonder what in the world they were thinking when they said yes. Do not be distressed when that happens to you! That feeling will pass if you persevere in love and service and remember you are NOT alone in your terror. You have us beside you. And you always have the Lord with you. You will often feel vulnerable because you ARE vulnerable when you serve with all your heart, soul, mind and might—loving God and neighbor as yourself.
Be assured that that your ministry, in fact the entire Church’s ministry, is a “gift from Jesus Christ to the whole Church,” says our Book of Order (G-2.01). When we doubt ourselves, we can still trust the Lord. We give God our thanks and praise as we ordain and install the leaders whom Christ is raising up, for “Christ alone rules, calls, teaches, and uses the Church as he wills, exercising his authority by the ministries of women and men for the establishment and extension of God’s new creation.”
And when you begin to think that what you are doing isn’t enough, come talk to me. I know all about that feeling, especially when the church is going through a crisis like the pandemic. I will tell you what I have learned—that God’s grace is enough. God’s grace is enough. Some of the best, good works are simple, unexpected acts of kindness, gentleness and generosity, like the one that Lowell Joerg does when he sends postcards in his little hobby he calls a “Re-distribution of Happiness.”
I tried to call Lowell yesterday at the assisted living center in Stockton, CA. The lady at the main desk said she wasn’t able to transfer the call to individual apartments. But she said that she would give him my number and tell him that Pastor Karen from The Presbyterian Church in Coshocton, Ohio, called to say thank you for the photograph. And God bless you!
I plan to write him a letter with our greetings and thanks, and include another photo, this time, a more recent one.
“In a world that grabs on to negative talking points,” as a school superintendent once told him, simple acts of kindness are “infectious and contagious.”
Let us pray.
Holy One, we give you thanks and praise for revealing yourself through your Beloved Son on a mountaintop, in the presence of 3 terrified disciples. In your grace, today you have revealed yourself to us in the account of the transfiguration and through the raising up of new leaders for your church. We thank you that Your Spirit lives in and among your people and that you may never be contained or restrained in a building made by human hands. And that someday, we will have another home—in the heavens, with you. Knowing you, drawing nearer to you now, we are changed. Lead us to do simple acts of kindness, compassion and generosity to reveal your love and our faith. Help us to hear and obey. We thank you for allowing us to gather, once again, in this building that is a gift to be used for your glory and to make disciples, grow your Kingdom. Thank you that you are with us now and will be when we are outside these walls, wherever 2 or more are gathered in Christ’s name. Amen.