Plymouth United Church of Christ

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“The Quest Is In the Valley”
Sermon, Year C, Transfiguration, February 10, 2013
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Luke 9:28-36 (the Transfiguration)

I’m a big fan of stories about quests, whether books or movies or what have you. Stories about quests. Especially the kind that have a hero who doesn’t realize at the beginning that he or she is of heroic progeny. That they find out that they are someone who is capable of doing heroic things, even if they aren’t magically endowed in any way. But just kind of normal people who end up doing heroic things. I like stories about quests and heroes. They’re kind of fun. Lord of the Rings, the story of these normal hobbits who end up being the ones who complete a major tasks. Who have to magic or special abilities on their own, other than their will to succeed and willingness go through tribulations. The story of Luke Skywalker in Star wars, the boy who grows up on a moisture farm and ends up being the one to defeat the Empire. Or other epics: The Odyssey, the Gilgamesh epic, the Abraham saga from Genesis, stories of King Arthur. I have been reading recently the Percy Jackson books which are fantastic. I am getting addicted to those. And I just finally watched last night the Hunger Games. Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games ends up being a hero. I like these kinds of stories. And also the real life stories of real life people who do things that they didn’t think they would be capable of doing, or that they would ever be put into the situation to do. I think of Paul Rusesabagina, the man who managed the hotel in Rwanda who ended up saving 1200 people during the genocide there by his own force of will and his unwillingness to let in people outside the compound.

Stories of quests. And one thing I like about stories of quests and these heroes is that they are stories of personal transformation. Not just that someone went out and did something and saved the world or did whatever, but that in a good quest story they do that AND they have changed. They have grown to know more about who they are. They have grown to be someone that maybe they never thought that they could be. There is a personal growth there in a greater sense of who they are. They become different. They see the world differently because they have seen more of the world. They have been out in it. Their thinking changes. Maybe less black and white, more nuanced, less provincialism, no easy answers or narrow visions.

In the boring quest stories, the story of someone who goes out and does something and gets it done, and returns home, in which no one has changed – no one at home is different, the hero is no different, hasn’t learned anything about him or herself, even if they have done something really incredible. If there isn’t that life-changing part, that self-reflective part, that they become someone different: that’s a boring quest story. Not a lot of interest in that one. That’s not really any different than if they had just taken out the trash. At least the way I take out the trash. I tend to do it very unheroically. I don’t come back inside from having taken it out, as a more confident and powerful person.

I want my hero to change. To become different. To have gone through some self-discovery. Because a really good story like this is a story of self- discovery. And a journey of the self, no matter how many lands or tasks the hero much go through, is still really a story of how they changed.

That’s why in some of these long epic books that they are so long. It’s so we get the story of the journey. Tolkien could have said, “Gandalf told Frodo to go take the ring to Mordor. He did, and everything turned out okay.” I want more than that. I want to know what happened. What happened to Frodo. It’s a story of self-discovery. And through them we learn about our selves, and reflect how we are on that kind of journey through life even if few of us are ever tasked with a major quest. Most of us in this world will never have a world-saving quest appointed to us. Not the kind that will lead to grand literature and expensively produced movie and people gathering at conventions for years to come with people dressed as us and buying replicas of our equipment and arguing about what we did or did not do.

We might not be asked to go on a Quest, a capital-Q Quest, but we are on a quest. Our lives have a quest-like part to them. We are on a journey of self-discovery. That’s part of growing up, certainly. The teen years and the early adult years, but even our whole lives of this journey of self-discovery. Especially those of us who have taken on the mantle of being a disciple of Jesus. We who live into our baptisms, and that is a kind of quest. Not to become the perfect Christian, because that will never happen, nor to live into our baptism perfectly, but to always move toward that. To try to be more faithful. To be more deliberate and sacrificial. To be a more generous and loving Christian.

And like so many of the great quest stories, it’s not so much the destination that is important, or the final thing that the hero does that is so important. It is the journey, and what happens on that journey. And in the great stories, what happens are interruptions. They rarely go the way that the hero has mapped out for everything to take place. The journey really happens in the interruptions. Life for us happens in the interruptions. The interruptions test us. How we handle the test shows us who we are. Through reflection on that, we learn, and the next interruption is not as difficult. Some things get a little easier through the practice and we learn confidence in our ability to get through them.

Whether it is an encounter with a mentor, who urges us forward and shows us where we are deficient. Challenges us to be better that way. Whether it is attacks by monsters, whatever that means, be it metaphorical monsters like sickness, death, loss of a job. Or many of us get derailed by the love interest showing up unexpectedly. The dreams that inspire us to take a different path. Or a random encounter through which we gain a new friend and companion. That’s what makes the story interesting and worthy. It’s the interruptions. Those are the moments that make us the people that we are.

Regular life tends to be pretty mundane and uneventful. Most of our days go as we had them planned out, even most weeks. Time marches forward, we do our work, we cook our meals, we go to wherever we volunteer or a choir rehearsal or a friend’s house, and then we go to bed and get up the next morning and do it again. Pretty mundane.

But every now and again we have those moments that leave us changed, in which we grow. Those moments that help us look within and say with confidence, “This is who I am” or “This is who I am becoming.”

I wonder about the disciples following Jesus. The stories that we have in the Bible, in the Gospels, are all the stories of the interruptions. The pretty neat things that Jesus did. {Preaching to a crowd, or healing someone he encountered, or having an argument with someone. But I imagine that most of their days were pretty mundane. Sitting around, eating, talking, maybe some discussion. But there must have been moments where they had to go bathe, fix their clothing, fix their sandals, go hang out with family, sit and do nothing for a few hours. All those normal part of life. I think most of the stuff that happened with Jesus was stuff not worth writing about.

And I wonder, if Peter had kept a daily journal, if it might read something like this:

January 28, hung out, Jesus taught.
January 29, Jesus wanted to go to my house, so we got on the road and started walking to Capernaum.
January 30, we made it to Capernaum. Mom invented this thing she calls a bagel.
January 31, hung out with Jesus.
February 1, hung out with Jesus.
February 2, Ah! A Saturday, it was the Sabbath. We went to synagogue and Jesus healed a leper and got in big argument with Pharisees!
February 3, hung out, did laundry.
February 4, hung out.

And then this amazing moment,
February 10, Jesus took me, James, and John up a mountaintop to pray. I was about to fall asleep because we’d been there so long. Jesus could pray for so long some times! I was ready to fall asleep and all of a sudden Jesus’ face changed, and became dazzling white, his clothes became white, and we saw Moses and Elijah talking with him! Moses and Elijah! Incredible!! They were having some kind of conversation about Jesus departing. I don’t know what they meant, and Jesus never told us. But it was the most stupendous experience I’ve ever had! I’ve never seen anything like that happen before. And I thought it should have lasted forever, so I told Jesus that I would make three houses, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. But before Jesus could answer, this terrifying cloud came down and a voice said, “This is my Son. Listen to him!” And then we were alone. The cloud was gone. The voice was gone. Moses and Elijah were gone. jesus was back to normal. His clothes were back to normal. And Jesus led us down the mountain. We went back to the city, back to the people, back to normal life. He healed a boy who had convulsions that afternoon. And though he never gave me an answer about my offer to build houses up there, he never gave an answer to that, I guess that taking us off the mountain was his answer. Bringing us back among the people was his answer to me about staying on the mountain.
That was his way of saying, “No. We cannot build a house here on the mountain, because we don’t live here. We’re not meant to live here. This was a one-time thing for us. We are to live down there” (as he points to the valley) “We are to live down there, where messy life is, where mundane life is lived, where the interruptions are, where the normal heroes are living their quests to be who they are. That’s where we are needed. That’s where we will live.”

It would be interesting if we had Peter’s diary.

That is the truth of our lives there, though. our lives are lived mostly in the mundane, messy, normal parts of life. And that we cannot stay on the mountaintop. The disciples could not stay on the mountaintop. Even Moses and Elijah left as soon as their task was over. As soon as they were finished, they left. They went home. The heroes always go home. They don’t get to stay on the quest forever. They go home. [though they often find that they can no longer live at home because of the changes they have grown through; but that is a sermon for another time].

We are not called to be heroic only in extraordinary times, or to seek the extraordinary so that we may be heroic. I think we are called to be heroic in the mundane. To be heroic where the interruptions are. To be heroic in the messy parts of life. To be heroic where human need is the greatest, in the normal moments on our journey of becoming faithful disciples. We are called to be heroic in those normal moments of our journey as we become more faithful disciples of the one who pointed from the mountaintop to the valley and said, “There. There is where the real heroes are needed. There shall your quest be fulfilled.”


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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