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March 2-8, 2011–From Mountaintop to Spring Training

Contributed by Aaron Matson, Leganger Lutheran Church, Toronto, SD

Warm-up Question

Have you ever been a part of a great celebration? What were you celebrating? How did feel to be a part of such a celebration?

From Mountaintop to Spring Training

A few short months ago, the San Francisco Giants were on top of the baseball world, celebrating a World Series Championship. Winning the World Series is the dream of any baseball player from the first time he picks up a baseball and bat. It is the pinnacle, the mountain top, of achievement for a baseball player. It is an experience that can never be taken away:  the final out,  the celebration on the field and in the locker room,  the parade in front of the cheering hometown fans.

But right now, the Giants, like every other Major League Baseball team, are going through the daily grind of spring training. Like everybody else, the Giants are taking grounders, running sprints, and practicing bunting and base running. While they are hoping for another championship at the end of the season, they know that the life of a baseball player is not primarily mountaintop celebration, but the daily routine of honing his skills to be the best player he can be. The life of a baseball player is filled with ups and downs, but through the ups and downs, baseball players do what they have been trained and coached to do – play baseball.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever had to practice or rehearse for an activity in which you were  involved?
  • Do you ever get tired of practicing or rehearsing? Was the joy of being a part of the activity worth it?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, March 6, 2011 (Transfiguration of our Lord)

Exodus 24:12-18

2 Peter 1:16-21

Matthew 17:1-9

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Have you ever had a mountaintop experience? That is, have you ever had an experience where you felt the presence and love of God in a way you never had before? Maybe you felt that way at a week at camp, or at a retreat. Maybe you  had one at a conference or Bible study with a particularly engaging and insightful speaker or teacher.

Mountaintop experiences are wonderful things. They can renew your spirit, refresh your faith, and inspire you to live a more healthy, faithful life. In the rhythm of the life of the Church, weekly worship services are meant to be mini-mountaintop experiences.  Hopefully you leave worship renewed, refreshed, and inspired—at least some of the time. Ideally, somewhere in the liturgy,  scripture readings, fellowship, hymns, or sermons you hear the Gospel preached and your faith is renewed and refreshed for the next week.

The season of Epiphany is a season of mountain top experiences, and in today’s Gospel lesson, we literally see a mountaintop experience in the transfiguration of Jesus. Six days after he predicts his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to a high mountain. Jesus is transfigured before them; that is, his appearance and very being are changed.  His clothes are a dazzling white and Moses and Elijah appear with him. A voice from heaven speaks words very similar to those uttered when Jesus was baptized, “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him!” And then, as suddenly as the experience started, it ends; Jesus is alone again, and he tells them to tell no one what they have seen until he had risen from the dead.

And in the middle of this miraculous event, the disciples are terrified, scared stiff–as  I imagine any of us would be. This is the mountaintop experience to end mountaintop experiences, an Epiphany overload of awe and wonder and revelation. They have an experience where Jesus is revealed to be divine, the Son of God. Shown in the presence of the two biggest names in the Old Testament, Moses and Elijah, Jesus is revealed as the completion and perfection of what God had been doing throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and Israel’s collective history.

In the middle of this awesome and amazing event, Peter, not knowing what else to say, proposes building dwellings for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. As terrified as he is, he knows what a miraculous event he witnessed and he doesn’t want it to end. In his mind, this is a mountaintop experience that can’t be topped – and won’t be, until he had seen the risen Christ.

But the experience did end; Jesus and the disciples had work to do. Jesus did not come to this world to stay on mountaintops; he came to bring God’s kingdom to earth in his ministry, death, and resurrection. Like Peter, we too want to stay in mountaintop experiences.  That is understandable. Who wouldn’t want to stay in the place where we can see the glory and power of Christ in amazing ways?

But the life of faith is not meant to be spent on mountaintops, it is meant to be spent in active engagement in the life of the world – in getting our hands dirty, in using our voices to speak for the oppressed, in speaking truth to power, and speaking words of compassion and love to our neighbors. Sometimes words of love need to be a kick in the pants so that others straighten up, and sometimes they need to be words of gentle understanding and comfort. But either way, they need to be words of Christ’s love and compassion. Put simply, it is our work to be engaged in the world, proclaiming the Gospel by loving and serving the neighbor.

A boat in a port is safe, but that is not what boats were made for.  Jesus could have stayed on the mountaintop, but that’s not what he was sent for. Life on the mountaintop is safe, but that is not what our Christian vocation is. Our vocation, our calling, is to spread the Gospel of Christ in word and deed, and to be engaged in the world in lives of love and service, so that the light of Christ shines through us.

Discussion Questions

  • Have you ever had a “mountaintop experience” in your faith life? Did you wish you could stay there?
  • Has that experience helped you to live out your faith in the daily grind of life?
  • What are some ways you can live out your faith and be engaged in the world?

Activity Suggestions

  • Review the promises that parents and sponsors make in Baptism and that people make when they affirm their Baptism (pages 228 and 236). Talk about how theses faith practices help sustain and strengthen a Christian’s faith in between mountaintop experiences.
  • Bring newspapers or news stories from the Internet and find stories of people in your community and around the world that need us to be engaged in the world as signs of God’s loving presence. Go to the ELCA Advocacy ( page to find some ways you can be engaged as Christ’s hands and feet in the world.

Closing Prayer

Everlasting God, we thank you for all those mountaintop experiences where we have felt your presence in amazing and incredible ways. Holy Spirit, help us sustain our faith as we come back down from those mountaintops to engage the world. We pray for all those that need the help of your Church and we pray that you awaken the compassion within us so that we may bring your love and healing presence to them. Amen.

October 1-8, 2008 – After 85 years, Yankee Stadium closes

Warm-up Question: Have you ever thought you did a good job following directions only to find out that you missed the bigger picture or objective? What were you doing? What were you were missing that was right in front of you the whole time?

Derek Jeter stood on the mound with teammates to begin the final farewell. Over 54,000 fans listened, as many had for decades to the voices of great baseball players like Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and Mickey Mantle. The pre-game celebration included 21 retired players, six who are Hall of Famers, and the 92-year-old daughter of Babe Ruth who threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

Jeter encouraged the fans to take the memories from the old stadium to the new, which will be completed across 161st Street at a cost of $1.3 billion. While the new stadium will also be called Yankee Stadium, it just won’t be the same for longtime fans, who lingered in the stadium after the game. Even Yankee staff and interns stayed as late as 4:00am the next morning as they struggled to let go of the traditions and past.

Every aspect of the night was full of nostalgia, from Yogi Berra, now 83, appearing in a full vintage uniform, to the 1922 American League pennant being unfurled in center field. The Yankees have won more World Series than any other baseball team. The marquee outside the stadium simply read, “Thanks for the memories.”

Roger Clemens was not invited to attend, nor was his name mentioned during the ceremonies. His name has been clouded by accusations that he used performance-enhancing drugs.

But there was more to celebrate than not, and by the time the grounds crew dug up home plate in the early morning following the game, a picture of Babe Ruth winking played on the video board, “See you across the street!”

Discussion Questions

  • Do you care about or pay attention to baseball traditions and history? Why or why not?
  • What traditions in your personal family have changed since you were young? Why did they change? Were the changes positive or negative for you? Why? How have you handled or adapted to the changes?
  • Name three rules or routines you have to follow on any given day — because you choose to or are required to do so. Why do you follow them? What seems to be important about maintaining the rules or routines?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, October 5, 2008.
(Text links are to oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Change is in the air. In the world of professional sports, where financial sponsorship is essential to survival, old stadiums are being torn down and replaced with new facilities named after corporate sponsors in most cases. (Even some public schools are using corporate sponsorships to fund buildings and programs.) One does not have to be a New York Yankee fan, or even a baseball fan to understand that one era has come to an end and a new era has begun.

One thing is for certain, no matter how exciting games may be at the new Yankee Stadium, cries will come from those who attended games at the old stadium: “It’s just not the same.” And with the Yankees missing the playoffs for the first time in 13 years, the legacy and history of success truly gives way to a new beginning. There is a tremendous opportunity to be a part of the new face of success, a new future. Still, there will be people who don’t understand and won’t participate in or support the new direction the organization is going, even in a beautiful brand new facility.

In our Gospel lesson today, we probably identify with the answers given by the crowds to Jesus’ question (vs. 40). Everyone understood that the wicked tenants mentioned in the parable were deserving of punishment; the point of the parable was so obvious!

The people listening felt connected to Jesus’ message, but they didn’t seem to realize that they were in the presence of the living, promised savior. How surprised they must have been, especially the chief priests and Pharisees, to realize that Jesus was talking about them when he said the kingdom of God would be taken away and given to those who produced the fruits of the kingdom.

These leaders who had been charged with keeping of the long history of Jewish tradition and teaching the rules missed the point though. Change wasn’t coming; change was present and happening. The fulfillment of God’s promises, and the continuation of God’s new relationship with his people, was standing right in front of them — Jesus.

Their role in the history of God’s chosen people was in jeopardy. They knew their duties and routines, but they did not yet know the savior and fulfillment of God’s promise, who was teaching right there in their midst. They thought Jesus was just another prophet, and that nothing had changed.

You and I have the benefit of living in a post-resurrection world. We are guided by the Holy Spirit to understand God’s will and relationship with us, and to produce the fruits of the Spirit. Even more so, we live as forgiven servants, met by Christ at every moment in every day. Christ finds us were we are and guides us to participate in the promises of his resurrection: new life, hope, and the ability to dramatically change how we live knowing that we are forgiven children of God.

How will we respond?

Discussion Questions

  • The chief priests and the Pharisees were the caretakers of Jewish law and traditions. How do you view their desire to arrest Jesus as he told the parable of the wicked tenants? Read Matthew 21:43-44. Does that change your opinion in any way? How?
  • Have you ever questioned the authority of someone else? What motivated you to stand up against them? Why was it important to speak up? Thinking about it now, would you handle it the same way today? Why? Why not?
  • If it is our responsibility to ‘produce the fruits of the kingdom’ (vs. 43), how do we define them; what are they? What are you/we called to do with the help of the Holy Spirit in this day and age?

Activity Suggestions

  • Split into two groups. Role-play the parable and the reaction of the chief priests and Pharisees. One group watches and one listens. Switch groups and act out the parable and reactions a 2nd time. Does your opinion change depending on the role you played? Why? Why not?
  • Find out what your congregation’s mission statement says. Take a moment to quietly write your interpretation of the mission statement. Share your comments as a group. How do the actions of individual members and the entire congregation compare to the statement? What are you doing well? What might need to change?
  • Take a few moments to quietly write your own mission statement as it relates to your faith in action today. Share your individual mission statements. Keep them, and check in at a later date to see how your everyday life compares to your intended mission. Do some rewriting and revising, if you need to.

Closing Prayer

Merciful God, speak to us daily through your Spirit and guide us through your sacrifice in Jesus to be productive and loving servants in your kingdom. Amen

Contributed by Matthew R. Nelson
Walla Walla, WA