Luke 9 tells the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop, the tale of a powerful spiritual experience for the disciples, and Peter is so enthralled at the sight he suggests he build houses there on top of the mountain so that they can stay in that moment permanently, one for Jesus, and for the prophets of old. That was all they needed, to stay where they were.
But Jesus knew things had to change for his disciples, that things can never stay the way they are, which is why he trudged them with him up the mountain in the first place. He invites them up high to get a different view, a balcony view—of themselves, of his ministry, of who he is, and of who he is asking them to become. Down on the ground, down in the valley, Jesus was rejected by his hometown, plotted against by the authorities, and misunderstood by his own followers. But up on the mountain, Jesus is not despised but found in the company of the greats—Moses and Elijah—and is said by God to be his “beloved.” Surrounded in pure light, this is the real Jesus. The disciples weren’t seeing things, they were seeing Jesus for who he was. And the disciples want to stay there with that revelation, they don’t want to go back down. They don’t want to confront what’s down in the valley with that Jesus, they didn’t want to get into all that need, that reality. Much better to dwell up high, in perfect peace.
But life goes on, as we all know. And Jesus walks his disciples back down into the valley and to a healing. This isn’t so much a story about going up the mountain and what happens there as it is about coming down the mountain and putting faith into action, for the sake of Christ.
In the story of the transfiguration, we come to understand that the work of the disciples, the work of the church is to be a place that invites people into transformation or transfiguration, but transforming isn’t about throwing away everything that was old and becoming a totally different person or erasing the past or forgetting all that we were. The end goal isn’t to become suddenly someone else but to become who God intended us to be in the first place. Transfiguration is the revealing of the full glory and grace of God within us, and living our days out of that place rather than out of a lesser place. In the grace of God, transfigured, we would know love and love; we would practice forgiving and forgive; we would experience hope and inspire others; we would extend compassion and be cared for ourselves; we would remember the generosity offered to us in our lives and we would go and be generous as well. Those are the hallmarks of a transfigured life. Jesus walks his disciples back down the mountain and in that event, so we too have been given a calling to walk with Jesus back into the valley, to see the fragile and the broken and the lonely and the lost, and empowered by a mountaintop kind of faith, work without ceasing to help them be transformed within a holy vision, with love, compassion, and mercy. And Generosity is the grace that makes it possible. Generosity is responding.
Not too long ago there was a news piece floating around from a Target store in Sherwood, Oregon. A cashier from that store shared that she witnessed an event that would change her life forever. She was ringing up a customer, a couple, whose credit card was denied. Not a very interesting news story, is it? It happens all the time. But while the couple was off trying to figure out what to do, the woman standing in line behind them paid their bill in full. The cashier said, “but it’s 161 dollars and 85 cents. It’s a lot.” And the woman replied, “that’s OK, I’ve needed help before, and I want to help them.” Generosity begins with remembering, and here she did, she remembered the good that had come to her life. And then she responded to someone else’s situation. She saw a need and she helped. And so it went down the line at that cash register that day. The man behind her was so moved at what she did, he paid for the people behind him and on down the line it went as people saw an opportunity to be generous and did it.
The cashier said that the wife in the first couple was overwhelmed by the generosity showed to her and asked through her tears, “why would anybody do that for me?” Why would anybody do that? And the simplest answer is that someone did it for them, and they remembered. One transfigured life goes and transforms another, and they both get transformed in the process. It’s the beauty of God’s work.
For all I have learned from books and resources and stewardship experts, I have come to understand generosity is a grace, not a ploy, not a strategy, generosity is a grace. A grace we yearn to see make a difference in our own lives and in someone else’s.
Generosity is remembering. Remembering how God has touched our lives, and blesses us in so many ways along our journeys. And generosity is a willing spirit. Willing to first give ourselves to God, as the church in Macedonia did, in order to put ourselves and resources toward the task of helping someone else to further the work of God’s grace, out of gratitude for all that we have been given. And generosity is responsive. A generous person will sense a need and feel the impulse to help, to sacrifice something to make someone else’s journey better, to help transform another’s life, even if for just a moment in Target, or through a generous Christmas gift to help pay the bills of a struggling young family, or just being present to hold a safe and open space for someone to grieve, to question, to confront their challenges within a grace-filled community. When the church strives for generosity as a goal, it isn’t about the numbers in a budget at all, but about a mission that we all commit to, that we volunteer for, that we donate toward, that we attend to steadily, all for the purpose of responding to what is needed, and responding with grace, and abundance, and love, and hope. That is why the church exists. To go down off the mountain, into the valley below. Perhaps it is there we will find ourselves, incredibly, indescribably, amazingly, working side by side with God, and there is no greater purpose.
~Rev. Stacy Emerson
Stewardship Facilitator, Mission Resource Development
American Baptist Churches USA