By Joe LaGuardia
I’ve been trying to think of a stunt to pull. I’m still not sure if it will be a stunt to raise money, draw attention to my church, or advocate for a cause. There has to be something out there for me to do.
That’s the “in thing” for pastors these days. According to an article by David Gibson in The Christian Century (19 February 2019, p. 15-16), pastors across the nation are pulling stunts for a multitude of reasons.
In Utah, for instance, a Mormon Bishop visited his parish disguised as a homeless man to see how he would be treated. In Chicago, a pastor stayed in a tent on the roof of his church in order to raise money.
Many stunts focus on sexuality and intimacy in marriage. The Reverend Paul Wirth of Florida encouraged married couples in his church to have intimate relations (I’m keeping it clean for our young readers) for 30 days in a row. (The name of his church is “Relevant Church,” and the irony did not escape this writer.)
Then there are a courageous few who try to follow every law in the Old Testament. Those stunts always end with humorous shenanigans, long beards, and a memoir.
I haven’t been able to think of a stunt to try myself. In fact, the harder I think about it, the more I can’t help but wonder whether a “pastor stunt” intends to attract attention to the pastor or to the Lord.
I wonder if this is what it felt like when Jesus brought James, Peter, and John up to a mountain, transfigured before their very eyes in a shared vision, saw heroes of old, and heard God’s voice (Matt. 17:1-13).
Jesus was not pulling a stunt, but his disciples (thinking it was a stunt) started to come up with ways to make the transfiguration a public event, a money-making scheme that would draw attention to themselves and their experience.
It was Peter who recommended, “Let us make three booths here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” (17:4 RSV).
Peter had a knack for business, and he was not going to keep this God-experience to himself. Jesus knew as much, so he told them all to keep it to themselves until after he rose from the dead.
There were to be no stunts in the Jesus camp that time around.
This weekend marks Transfiguration Sunday in the life of the Christian year. It is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the very last Sabbath before the season of Lent.
It is the mountain-top experience that eventually leads to the wilderness experience of testing and trial. It is, in a sense, the Fat Tuesday of all spiritual experiences before the fasting that follows.
The disciples wanted to make that mountain-top experience last forever. They wanted booths in order to have a place to settle, a place to call home and bring people to them.
What is a stunt but a show to bring people in and entertain? Transfiguration Sunday is, instead, about God’s ceaseless call to go out on mission. No sooner had the disciples ascended that mountain did they descend it to continue in the routine life of ministry, the real work of God.
Jesus has no time for booths or stunts. Jesus is not in league with schemers. There is much work to do, and we are to “listen” and obey Jesus (17:5), who ultimately fills us with the awe that our stunts can only try to replicate.