Terrified? Astounded!

“Terrified? Astounded!”

Jesus Transfiguration_Russian icon

 

Luke 9:28-36 (9:34-35) – March 3, 2019

Have you ever been truly terrified? Not of a horror movie on the movie screen, or of a horrific news story on television, in the newspaper or on the computer, but something terrifying that happened in real life? A first-hand experience, when you were an eye-witness to something truly terrifying?

Both Scripture readings today feature people who were eye-witnesses, who were also absolutely terrified. Both situations are so extraordinary, so far out of the observers’ common, every-day experience that they are frightened almost to death.

Let’s take the three disciples, first. Peter, James, and John, his brother. Jesus asks them to climb with Him to the top of a mountain to pray. This was a regular thing that Jesus did—not the mountain part, but going away by Himself—or with a couple of other people—to pray and meditate in depth. (May I say that this practice of regular prayer is a wonderful practice! And, one we will talk more about as we journey with Jesus throughout Lent in the coming weeks.)

So, Jesus and the three disciples retreat up the mountain to pray, and Peter, James and John were pleased and proud to be singled out in this way by Jesus. I am sure Jesus had a regular practice of prayer and communion with God. He probably led the disciples in regular prayer, and His habit of prayer times were a normal, every-day activity to the disciples.

Let us look at the Scripture reading from Exodus, where the people of Israel are at the foot of the mountain while Moses is up on top, meeting with God and receiving the tablets with the Ten Commandments on them. I am sure the people of Israel were living their common, ordinary, every-day lives while Moses communicated with God for days at a time. Other than some thunder and lightning from the top of the mountain, nothing had really changed for the people of Israel.

Except—in both situations—something suddenly crashed into their every-day lives and ordinary experiences and made all of these people terrified. What was it? They were all eye-witnesses, but what could possibly make them so terror-stricken?

Has anything suddenly crashed into your lives, and upended everything normal and ordinary? Something fearsome and terrifying?

C.S. Lewis wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, a series of books for children that featured a mysterious lion, Aslan. Aslan is the Great King of Narnia, who we later see as a Christ-figure. There are talking beasts—animals, in the Narnia books. When the children from this world speak with some talking beavers in Narnia, Mr. Beaver mentions Aslan: “He’ll be coming and going. One day you’ll see him and another you won’t. He doesn’t like being tied down – and of course he has other countries to attend to. It’s quite all right. He’ll often drop in. Only you mustn’t press him. He’s wild, you know. Not like a tame lion.” [1] The character of Aslan shows himself in Narnia as a large and terrifying, but also magnificent and wise, lion with warm, kind eyes.

Aslan is dangerous! His roar is both fearsome and magnificent. People in Narnia say “He’s not a tame lion.” Aslan embodies all that is good, and yet is terrifying at the same time. Can you see how something awfully good and magnificent can also be fearsome and terrifying? Both, at the same time?

I suspect that was what the disciples experienced, on top of the mount of Transfiguration as well as the people of Israel, when Moses came down the mountain with the tablets of the Ten Commandments. Good and magnificent, but fearsome and terrifying at the same time.

The disciples were familiar with the figure of their Rabbi Jesus in prayer. They knew that common sight; it was comforting, even. But, listen to what Luke says: “29 As Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.”

In other words, Peter, James and John were astounded and terrified. Jesus was manifesting the presence of God, the divine glory, so His face shone and His clothes became brighter than bright. Fearsome, indeed!

In the case of the people of Israel, when Moses came close to them after being in the presence of God for days and days, his face shone brighter than bright. All of the people of Israel were terrified! What’s more, they begged Moses to cover his face, so that they did not have to see the divine glory reflected in the face of Moses.

Have we ever been eye-witnesses to the presence of God? To the divine glory? In all honesty, I have heard God’s voice on two occasions, but I have not seen the divine glory. Yet, in both readings today, all the people seeing the divine glory were terrified. By all accounts, what a fearsome sight, to be sure!

The three disciples saw the transformed Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, discussing His departure, His crucifixion and what would come next. Except, they did not understand all that, yet. The point that fascinates me is that God manifested divine glory in Jesus—made His face all shiny and magnificent—not for Jesus’s benefit. No! God did this for the disciples! They were the ones who needed to see the glory of the transfigured Christ! Not their Rabbi Jesus, who they had been living with for the past few years. They sort of knew He was special, but they did not realize how special! “By wrapping Jesus in a shiny cloud and incredible clothes, God was telling the disciples, ‘Jesus is more than a special person. Jesus is God-with-you.’” [2]

Praise God! Jesus, Emmanuel, God-with-us! Jesus has great power, magnificence and divine glory. Yet, Jesus is kind and gentle, loving and caring. Astounding, terrifying, and God-with-us in His majesty and power.

Moses and Elijah came to talk with Jesus while He was transfigured with the divine glory. In Communion today, we can imagine ourselves coming to the Lord’s table with Moses and Elijah and a host of others. A traditional phrase from the Communion liturgy is “with the angels and archangels and all the heavenly host.” That is exactly who we are joining as we come to the Communion table today.

Who are you joining at the Communion table today? We are connected to God, our heavenly Parent, to our Lord Jesus, as well as to a whole host of others, both those living today as well as those with the Lord. Yes, a terrifying thought! But, also welcoming. Not either/or, but both/and.

The divine glory surrounding Jesus is terrifying! Yet, also magnificent, and welcoming, with God’s glorious transformative power. Can we be drawn closer to God today? God willing, we can.

Alleluia, Amen.

[1] Lewis, C.S., The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1950), 180.

[2] http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2016/01/year-c-transfiguration-of-lord-february.html

Worshiping with Children, Transfiguration, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2016.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2019: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Listen to Jesus

“Listen to Jesus”

Jesus Transfiguration icon Luke 9

Luke 9:28-36 – February 7, 2016 (9:34-35)

We do many things on a regular basis or schedule. We eat at regular times. Some people take medication on a daily schedule. Some have habits of regular prayer or weekly bible study. And what about what we are doing right now? Regular Sunday morning worship? In our Protestant tradition, worship is generally on a weekly schedule. We gather together to worship, pray and sing to God, regularly.

Our Gospel reading today comes from Luke 9. As is often the case, Luke brings us in to the story in the middle of things. So often, the Gospel writers go from one event to another to still another, hardly stopping to take a breath. I suspect that’s what the Rabbi Jesus felt like most of the time. Going from one situation to another; one healing, then a teaching, and then the next and the next, and the next after that.

The Gospel writers give their readers some specific clues about Jesus. How He would not neglect the regular worship and prayer in the synagogue or the Temple, on the Sabbath days and holidays. And, how He would intentionally retreat to private places on a regular basis, separate Himself to meditate and pray.

Let’s remind ourselves about this reading. Jesus withdraws from the larger group of disciples and from His ministry. He goes to the top of a mountain to pray with His inner circle of disciples—Peter, James and John. What happens next is nothing short of absolutely amazing.

Reading from Eugene Peterson’s translation “The Message,” “While [Jesus] was in prayer, the appearance of His face changed and His clothes became blinding white. At once two men were there talking with Him. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over His exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.” What a marvelous, mind-blowing scene that must have been, too!

I invite us to step back a moment. This Gospel reading we consider this morning is full of significance. I could go off in a number of directions, and preach any one of a vast array of sermons, with various themes and topics. The passion of Jesus? The death and resurrection of Jesus? The triumphant ascension of Jesus? The appearance of Moses and Elijah? The significance of the light? The road to the cross?

I choose to highlight the worship aspect of this Gospel reading today. Jesus chose to withdraw to the mountain to pray and meditate before God. By the time this reading ends, we end up with a rousing worship service, there on the mountain top! Amen! Glory, hallelujah!

Who was Luke, the author of our Gospel reading? Christian tradition tells us Luke was a doctor—and a Gentile, a Greek. The only non-Jewish writer of a book of the Bible. One of the commentators I consulted, David Lose, thinks Luke might even have been a pastor. “A pastor keenly interested in and attentive to the life and worship of his community.” [1] If we study the Gospel more closely, Luke outlines a basic pattern of worship several times in his Gospel. This is one of those times.

Three of the Gospels show us the Transfiguration. But, Luke is the only one who adds the description of Jesus leading the other three disciples up on the mountain to pray. Instructing us in the pattern and nature of worship!

And, what is the reaction of the three disciples? Where do we find our faithful friends, Peter, James and John? Fast asleep. Again. We do not know why or how they wake up, but they did. They wake to the sight of Jesus looking dazzling bright, whiter than snow, brighter than anything they had ever seen. This is truly a situation where I can say: Oh. My. God!

I do think our friends the disciples have a bit of a problem. Here they have their Rabbi Jesus, the best example of Godly living the world has ever seen. The best example of living with a close and deep relationship with God, with prayer and meditation front and center in His life. And where are they at this significant time in the life of Jesus? Asleep at the switch. Not paying attention, not getting involved or participating.

Participating in what, we ask? In prayer. In worship of God.

Let’s take a quick look at the steps of worship Luke illustrates for us in this passage. First, prayer. Jesus led His three friends and disciples to a quiet, lonely place to pray. We’ve already touched on this. Jesus had a regular pattern of prayer. He had a deep and intimate relationship with His Father in heaven. He wants that for us, too!

Second, discussion focused on the cross. (In this case, we see a foretaste of the glory of Jesus after the Resurrection!) Reading again from Luke 9, “At once two men were there talking with [Jesus]. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over his exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.”

Looking at our worship service today, that’s what we do. Every Sunday, we talk about Jesus dying on the cross—as Moses and Elijah talked about with Jesus, His exodus, His departure. His crucifixion and resurrection. And, His ascension into glory. We sing about it, and pray about it, too.

Then, third, comes the time to listen to the Word. Listen to Jesus, the Word Incarnate!

Continuing with the reading from Luke 9, “When Moses and Elijah had left, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He blurted this out without thinking. 34-35 While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they became deeply aware of God. Then there was a voice out of the cloud: ‘This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.’”

Note well the command from God! Quoting David Lose again, “the voice from heaven is directed not to Jesus but to the disciples with the injunction, ‘Listen to Him.’ … this combination of prayer, discussion focused on the cross, and the command to listen … at least kindle our liturgical imagination, reminding us of what Sunday can be like.”

Remember, Jesus took the disciples away to have an intimate worship service with them, there on the mountain top. What happened, again? They didn’t pay attention. They fell asleep.

How often do we do the same thing? How often do we just go through the motions? How often do we want the same old worship styles and are hesitant to accept any change in worship or new part of the service? How often are we more concerned with what our fellow worshippers are wearing than the condition of their hearts? Their souls? Their emotional lives? Their physical well-being? Wouldn’t Jesus concern Himself with gathering, with prayer and word and praise? Or would Jesus get sidetracked like the disciples? Going through the motions?

Hard to imagine Jesus doing anything of the kind.

As we gather in this place for communion today, we remember. Jesus said, “Do this to remember Me.” Do what? Participate in worship. More specifically, all of us are to participate in the communion meal, where Jesus is revealed in the breaking of the bread.

Worship is a time to gather, to open the Scripture, the Word of God, and to celebrate the Word Incarnate. Break bread. Remember Jesus. And afterwards, we are sent forth to bring Jesus into the world. Jesus, God’s Chosen! Jesus, the hope of the nations! Jesus, the Prince of peace.

Alleluia! Amen.

[1] http://www.davidlose.net/2016/02/transfiguration-c-worship-transfigured/

Thanks to Eugene Peterson for his wonderful translation The Message. I quoted several verses from Luke chapter 9 in this sermon.

@chaplaineliza

Suggestion: visit me at my sometimes-blog: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers– where I am doing a Lenten journey. Pursuing PEACE. And my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind -Thanks!