Getting to the Why

This Sunday is the final one before Lent and is known as Transfiguration Sunday, when the church remembers Jesus’ mystical light-infused encounter with Elijah and Moses on top of the mountain…

Last week I had a lunch conversation with two Episcopal minister friends.  One of them said he’d been thinking about how the church can be pretty good at the What but can sometimes lose focus on the Why of its existence.  We worship, teach, care, and serve – the What.  But what is our Why?  He noted that one of the things he thinks has set Apple apart as a company is that they get the Why.  Rather than emphasize the What of their product, they draw people in through its beauty, sleek simplicity, and the kind of lifestyle it enables its users to have.  He loves Apple, and they speak to the technological Why.

For some Christians and churches, the Why is quite clear – saving souls and getting into heaven.  That’s a simplification, but it’s a powerful reason to exist as a church if that’s what you believe.  If that’s not our Why, then what is?  This can make for good conversation.  When asked what is the Mennonite Why, I said that my first attempt answer is to form disciples of Jesus.  Discipleship – the way we live and relate – has always been a major theme of Anabaptist/Mennonite faith.  It’s a good Why, but one I’m not sure I’m entirely satisfied with by itself.  The other piece, which was suggested by the other friend, feels crucial as well.  Transcendence

Here’s my hunch:  People participate in church life, and attend worship, to connect to and experience transcendence; to participate in the Light – through congregational song, through caring community, through Communion, heck, maybe even through a sermon every now and then.  However grounded and practical minded we are in our faith, some of us also yearn for that light-infused encounter of the Transfiguration.  When the practical and the mystical get working together, it can be a powerful Why.  

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