Listen Up!

“Listen Up!”

Mark 9:2-9 – February 14, 2021

            When I was in elementary school, on rainy days we would play games in our classroom instead of going outside for recess. One of these games was “Telephone.” The whole class would line up single file, in a big circle around the classroom. The teacher would quietly whisper a sentence into the first child’s ear. By turns, one by one, each child would communicate the sentence exactly as they heard it to the next person. And—imagine the giggles when the sentence got to the end of the line and ended up all garbled!

            We can imagine the way the disciples sometimes received information from Jesus. We can just tell from listening to this reading from Mark. Let’s set the scene. We have Jesus with His disciples, and some other followers. Women, too! Usually unnamed, but also there. In several important instances, Jesus had an inner circle. Three special, or key disciples, who would be the ones he wanted to tell special things. Important things, as in the Gospel reading for today.

            Jesus had been preaching God’s word, healing people and doing other miracles for some time. If we think about it, by this time the Rabbi Jesus was really in demand. Think of any popular person, or famous celebrity. Often mobbed by people when He stopped to preach in a synagogue, or if He stayed overnight at someone’s home.

            A week before the happenings in our passage today, Jesus fed more than four thousand men, plus women and children. Immediately afterwards, He heals another blind man. Jesus was even more in demand than ever, after that display of power and might! Remember, that’s one of the main emphases for Mark. Showing the power and might of the Son of God!  

            As much as Jesus taught and preached and performed miracles, He needed time to Himself, too. He withdrew to have time with his Heavenly Father, all alone, in prayer. Here at the beginning of today’s reading, Jesus took three of his disciples with Him to pray. I suspect they took off early in the morning to go up to a high mountain, nearby.

            I want you all to take note! Jesus actively looked for time to get alone with His Father. To pray as well as to listen and concentrate on what the Lord was saying to Him. Sure, Jesus said amazing things and did astounding miracles, on a regular basis. He rubbed shoulders with crowds and taught large groups of people. But He also knew He needed to separate and recharge. To have down time, personal time, family time with His Heavenly Father.

            Sure, it’s great to be in crowds, fun to be with people sometimes! But it’s also good to be alone. Restful to take some time away, time to pray and take stock. Recharging time! As one of my daughters says, alone-time can be wonderful, too.

            But this time is a little different. Jesus brings Peter, James and John with Him to the top of the mountain. And then, He prays—as it says in the parallel Transfiguration account in Luke. While all four of them are there, lifted up, apart from the ordinary everyday life down at the bottom of the mountain, something happens. Something completely unexpected, and marvelous.

            Or, was it? The disciples had already seen their Rabbi and leader Jesus do miraculous things on a regular basis! Feeding thousands of people, performing a number of miraculous healings, and ejecting unclean spirits—and we’re just talking about during the past few weeks!

            While Jesus is in prayer at the top of the mountain, His clothes become dazzling white. Whiter than any laundry could possibly make them. Plus, Moses and Elijah show up in the same bright white clothes, and start talking with Jesus. (I am not sure exactly how Peter, James and John could tell the other two were Moses and Elijah, but somehow, they knew.) Mark even tells us what the reaction of the three disciples was to all of this—they were scared to death!

            Let me ask—do you know someone who tends to dither? When they are scared, or nervous, or excited, do they just start talking? Just a reflex action? I think that’s exactly what Peter is doing here. And Mark tells us Peter didn’t even know what he was saying.

            Can you just see these three grown men, clutching at each other? Scared to death at these miraculous, out-of-this-world happenings? “Um—Lord! Um—let’s build three altars here! One for You, and—um—one for the other two guys, too!” Or, something like that. Do you think Peter and the other two disciples were receptive to what God was saying at this point? I suspect not.     

But wait—there’s more! As if that wasn’t enough, with Jesus, Moses and Elijah showing up in dazzling white, a cloud covered them all. And a voice came out of the cloud.

            Can you remember when a supernatural cloud appeared before? Remember, the LORD appeared as a cloud to the nation of Israel, in Exodus 13. Again, in Exodus 19, the LORD’s voice came out of the cloud in thunder. And so it is, again. God’s voice came out of this cloud that surrounded the disciples and Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The voice said, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!”

            It isn’t every day that the Lord God Almighty talks to you! The Lord even gave specific instructions to the three disciples. “Listen to Jesus!” This is a command, NOT a suggestion! The verb tense is present imperative! Here God not only commands the disciples to listen, but by extension, God commands the whole world to listen—to Jesus!

            Jesus healed deaf people, so they could really hear. What’s more, Jesus came to heal the spiritually deaf to His words! Jesus opens all our ears so we can hear the truth in His words!

Just as we closely listen to a doctor when he or she is talking to us about our cancer, or heart attack, or broken leg, just as we ask our spouses or family members to accompany us so that we have another set of ears to listen accurately to the doctor, so also you and I are to listen carefully and attentively to the words of Jesus. The voice from the cloud, from heaven declared Jesus to be none other than the Son of God. Then, the voice commanded us to listen to Him.

The message of this Gospel reading today is clear. To hear, we need to listen carefully. To experience, we need to open our minds and hearts to the possibility of God’s voice. Look at the Son. Listen to His words. Open your mind and heart to His presence. We don’t need to be on the top of a mountain to experience God’s presence and fullness. Just shake off the routine, the same-old same-old. And, God will be there. We can celebrate the fullness of the Lord’s presence! The possibility of God’s power and grace! Alleluia, amen.

Take a few moments to reread the gospel. Imagine you’re before the Lord Jesus as He speaks to you in His glory. What is His word to you? We start the journey of Lent this week with Ash Wednesday. How will that word of Jesus help you this week as you begin your Lenten journey?

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Jesus Says Don’t Be Afraid!

“Jesus Says Don’t Be Afraid!”

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Matthew 17:1-9 (17:7) – February 23, 2020

Have you ever been really scared? I know I have. Most of us can relate when we hear about people being terrified. I mean, shocked, totally frightened out of your shoes!

What is it that terrifies you? Is it gunfire? Perhaps a gang shootout, on the street? Thankfully, most of us are fortunate to live in safer neighborhoods. What else could scare you to death? A huge fire in your house or work building? Or, what about a natural disaster here in Illinois, like a tornado, or in the Philippines, like a volcanic eruption?

Any of those events could terrify people. We heard about an event today that terrified the onlookers, too: the Transfiguration of Jesus. Peter, James and John were scared out of their sandals! Our Gospel reading from Matthew 17 tells us so.

Let us step back from this reading, and take a long view on the situation in Matthew 17. Jesus is not too far from the end of His ministry, His final trip to Judea and to Jerusalem. It’s only a matter of months before the culmination of Jesus’s time on earth. For the past three years, the itinerant Rabbi Jesus has been preaching, healing, performing miracles, telling parables, and generally doing the things we are used to Jesus doing.

I know Jesus’s typical daily schedule might seem different to us, today, but Jesus had been doing the same thing for quite a number of months.

Yes, He might be an itinerant Rabbi, traveling from place to place, but Jesus had a number of back-up people, ready to take care of His itinerary and check out possible places to stay and eat, not to mention travel. Did you ever think about that? There must have been at least a few people in Jesus’s traveling group of disciples who must have had some expertise in travel arrangements, and setting up food and lodgings.

And, that isn’t all. We understand from references in the Gospels that Jesus regularly took time out for prayer and meditation. At the beginning of our Scripture reading this morning, we see Jesus taking His inner circle of disciples away with Him to the top of a mountain. Did the three disciples have any idea of what would happen later that day? Do we? Do we really know what happened, there on that mountain?

Whatever the event in Matthew 17 was, it was absolutely amazing to see. Our other reading this morning from Exodus 24 also took place on a mountain. Try to see this scene in your imagination. If you will, picture it on the video screen in your head.

In Exodus, the Lord invited Moses up to the mountaintop, to get the tablets of stone with the Ten Commandments inscribed on them. Also, Moses was supposed to be on the Mountain with God for some time. Both events took place on top of a mountain, in the presence of the glory of God. As the face of Moses shone with that glorious light, so also shone the face of Jesus. Matthew tells us so!

But, it isn’t only the face of Jesus that gets all lit up. No, His clothing becomes brighter than bright, too! A Transfiguration is how the Gospel writer translates the word. In Greek, this word is actually “metamorphed.” We might recognize that word from metamorphosis, the changing of a caterpillar into a butterfly, from an earth-bound creature into something totally and radically different. That is how much Jesus transformed.

For us, today, this sort of transforming effect is not too uncommon. With modern stage lighting, and special effects in the movies, and fancy costuming, we here in the United States in the 21st century might be surprised, but not scared. Certainly not terrified. But, Peter, James and John knew nothing of elaborate lighting or fancy costumes, or even electricity. Imagine, if you can, what an absolutely unbelievable – preposterous – sight Jesus showed to His three disciples. Plus, Moses and Elijah showed up next to the transfigured Jesus, on top of that mountain. Far, far beyond the disciples’ experience. No wonder they were terrified!

If you remember, we had a wonderful Summer Sermon Series in 2018 where we focused on many times in the Bible where people were told, “Be not afraid!” Here is another instance of those powerful words. Powerful, because they almost always come as a result of people seeing the glory of God or the presence of an angel. Memorable, because our Lord Jesus said them to His friends, to Peter, James and John.

We might wonder: how could the disciples possibly relate to Jesus again with any sort of naturalness? Any kind of normalcy, after this clearly supernatural experience?

The answer? Jesus transformed back into regular, human form, and touched His friends. He encourages them with the words “Don’t be afraid!” By touching them and reassuring them that it was really and truly Him, just as He was before? It wasn’t the glorified, “glowing” Jesus who touched them, but the all-too-human, relatable Jesus.

The Rev. Janet Hunt tells us that, as she understands it, “when Jesus tells them to ‘get up’ he is using the same words he also used in raising the dead.  No, Jesus does not leave them there ‘dead’ in their terror and their confusion.  For while they may find themselves in the midst of something unlike anything they have ever seen before.  They may be so afraid that they are as paralyzed as though they were in fact, dead. And yet, Jesus does not leave them there.  He tells them to get up and to leave their fear behind.” [1]

Fear of what, I wonder?

  •   Fear of the unknown?
  •   Fear of the incomprehensible power of God?
  •   Fear of their own inadequacy in the glare of that overpowering bright light?

How many of us are frightened or anxious, and need to hear those words today? How many of our friends or family members find themselves in difficult places, or walking through scary situations, and could be encouraged by those words today? Listen to Jesus! Hear His words to the disciples. Hear His words to us, too.

Sure, we, today, can be dazzled and awestruck as we see the marvelous, miraculous event unfold on the Mountain of the Transfiguration.

How much more do we need this healing, life-giving, transforming touch from our Lord Jesus? The words of Jesus—“Be not afraid!” are surely for each of us, too.      

Alleluia, amen.

 

[1] http://dancingwiththeword.com/get-up-and-dont-be-afraid-revisited/

(janet@dancingwiththeword.com)

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Terrified? Astounded!

“Terrified? Astounded!”

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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!

How Not to Be Terrified

How Not to Be Terrified” 

Jesus Transfiguration Georgian relief Luke 9

Matthew 17:1-9 (17:7) – August 19, 2018 – from Dave Ivaska’s book Be Not Afraid

Have you ever seen a true transformation? I know we are familiar with tadpoles swimming in water changing to frogs as amphibians, comfortable in water or on land. I know we all are familiar with caterpillars, living their earthbound, wormlike existence…and after a time of preparation in the cocoon, out comes a butterfly! Two transformations. We will look at another marvelous transformation today: what we know as the Transfiguration.

Let us set the scene. Our Lord Jesus has been on the road with His disciples for a long time now. I am certain they are accustomed to His teaching, preaching and healing. To His separating Himself for times of prayer, and of Him worshiping with groups of people in the synagogue. So, when Jesus taps the three disciples—Peter, James and John—on the shoulder and asks them to come apart with Him for a time of private prayer and worship, I suspect it comes as little surprise to the three men.

I remember two years ago I preached on Luke’s account of the Transfiguration, and I brought out the worship aspects of this marvelous account. Yes, Jesus withdrew to the mountain for a time of private prayer and worship with His three friends. But, there was more to this time than prayer. Much more!

The account from the gospel of Matthew doesn’t waste any time, because the marvelous thing happens as soon as Jesus and His disciples are on top of the mountain. Listen: “After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”

What on earth is “transfigured,” anyway? What does it mean?

In Greek, the word used in this passage is metamorphomai, or transform. So, from the three disciples’ point of view, it is a total transformation not only of appearance, but also of bodily form.

Again, I am bringing up the fact that first-century Palestine did not have electricity. The people of that time were completely unaware of the fancy special effects that we have today in stage shows, much less in the movies. When their leader and Rabbi suddenly became shining bright and His clothing as dazzling white as snow, well…that must have totally frightened these disciples. So much so, that they began to cower and hide their eyes.

What is more, Jesus wasn’t the only person to be transformed, shining bright in front of them. This Scripture passage also mentions Moses and Elijah, bright as the sun, talking to Jesus.

It is true, the three disciples had been traveling with Jesus for some time. They had observed Him preaching, teaching, and healing. They knew their Rabbi was a great teacher, perhaps a mighty prophet, and even a miracle worker, But, this unbelievable metamorphosis was something completely outside of their experience.

Of course, Peter tries to make sense of this amazing situation. He stutters and stammers, and wants to put up three tents or places of worship.  “On top of the mountain, Peter recognizes that Jesus’ dazzling appearance in the presence of Moses and Elijah is significant–‘Lord, it is good for us to be here!’–but he does not fully understand what he is seeing. One might imagine Peter, jumping up and down with his hand in the air, like an elementary student who is desperate to give the right answer, but who cannot quite get it right because he does not fully understand the question.” [1]

I might be scared to death, too. Imagine, seeing our almighty Lord Jesus, coming down to earth in glorified form. Seeing His majesty, this spectacular view of our Lord. I don’t blame these guys for cowering and hiding their eyes, not one bit.

One commentator has a fascinating insight into this instance of “Be Not Afraid,” happening at this momentous time in our Lord’s life. “Did this glorious ‘vision’ produce faith in [the disciples]? No, it caused extreme fear. Being in direct relationship to God, hearing the voice from the cloud did not produce faith, but fear — so much fear that the disciples literally ‘fell on their faces.’” [2]

Jesus recognizes that fact immediately. He encourages the disciples with the words “Don’t be afraid!”

We might wonder: how could the disciples possibly relate to Jesus again with any sort of naturalness? Any kind of normalcy, after this clearly supernatural experience?

The answer? Jesus transformed back into human form, and touched His friends. He encourages them with the words “Don’t be afraid!” By touching them and reassuring them that it was really and truly Him, just as He was before? It wasn’t the glorified, “glowing” Jesus who touched them, but the all-too-human, relatable Jesus.

How many of us are frightened or anxious, and need to hear those words today? How many of our friends or family members find themselves in difficult places, or walking through scary situations, and could be encouraged by those words today? Listen to Jesus! Hear His words to the disciples. Hear His words to us, too.

How much do we need this healing, life-giving, transforming touch from Jesus? The words of Jesus—“Be not afraid!” are surely for each of us. Yet, there is more. “In addition to our need for this divine touch, I think that we are also called to offer it to the world. For our congregations and our people, rather than seeking to appear ‘glorious’ as God’s people, perhaps it is more helpful to be simply human beings who offer a healing and life-giving touch to the scared, worried, anxious people with whom we come in contact.” [3]

We can have a view of Jesus as more than just an untouchable, glorified, majestic being. He is also a relatable, human being. The incarnate Son of God. Jesus reaches out to you and to me. He reaches out to everyone we meet, too.

Listen to Jesus! Hear His words to the disciples. Hear His words to us, too.

Be not afraid. Jesus is with us always. Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=27

Commentary, Matthew 17:1-9, Audrey West, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2008.

[2] http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt17x1.htm    Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

[3] http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt17x1.htm    Exegetical Notes by Brian Stoffregen at CrossMarks Christian Resources.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Transfigured? Frightened!

“Transfigured? Frightened!”

Mark 9:6 (9:6-7) – February 11, 2018

Jesus Transfiguration Georgian relief Luke 9

Transformations can be quite a surprise. For example, when a run-down house gets a top-to-bottom rehab job over weeks or months, the house can be really transformed. Or, when someone is diligent over time with diet and exercise, and loses a lot of weight, they can be really transformed, as well. People can be surprised and impressed when they see the stunning changes that happen, gradually. These kinds of transformative changes can take a while.

The type of stunning change that happened in our Gospel reading today did not take weeks or months. Instead, our Gospel writer Mark talks about the transformation happening suddenly. Or, to use one of Mark’s favorite words: immediately.

We need to set the scene. Just previous to this reading, in Mark chapter 8 Jesus asks His disciples who others say that He is, followed by who the disciples think He is. Peter makes the great statement “You are the Messiah.” It is then that Jesus predicts His death. He starts to tell His disciples that He will have to suffer, be rejected and die, and then rise after three days. All of which must have been difficult to understand for the disciples.

I can relate to the followers of Jesus. Jesus was a charismatic leader, and many people listened to Him, and even followed Him. However, some of the things Jesus said were clear out of their experience. Even with all of the biblical revelation, evidence and commentary that we have nowadays, some of the statements of Jesus are still a challenge for us to understand, today. I can relate to the disciples’ confusion and puzzlement!  

A few days after the confession of Peter and all this big stuff happening, Jesus decides to go for a day trip, up on the top of a mountain. He asks only three of His disciples to come with him: Peter, James and John. After they reach the mountaintop, Jesus suddenly is changed. Transformed. Or, as the Gospels tell us, Jesus is transfigured. This is a state of God’s heavenly glory, suddenly appearing all around Jesus, making His clothing whiter than anyone has ever seen. If that is not enough, the glorified Jesus is seen talking with Moses and Elijah.

Can you see the picture? Imagine a huge, bright spotlight shining on Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Plus, there are more small spotlights all around, and the background surrounding them is all backlit. Except—the people of Jesus’s time have never even heard of electricity. All of this super-white light and super-white clothing is supernatural. Of heavenly origin.

I am reminded of the heavenly glory that surrounded Moses on top of Mount Sinai. Moses was no stranger to heavenly whiteness and brightness. He was in the presence of the Lord God Almighty for many days. And, Elijah—going up to heaven in a fiery chariot pulled by fiery horses? That must have been a heavenly experience of light and glory, too. Much less being in heaven, in God’s presence for centuries at that point.

Moses and Elijah were the premier representatives of the Jewish people, of the Jewish law code and the voice of the prophets. Revered by millions of Jews since their time. And, on top of that, they were in the presence of the suddenly-glorified Lord Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that mere humans Peter, James and John were all shaking in their shoes?

I discovered a fictionalized conversation between Jesus, Moses and Elijah, from that mountaintop that Mark tells us about. This conversation comes from Pastor Joyce, written in 2003, from a commentary website I visit on occasion. Listen to this conversation:

Elijah: Look at these stubborn and fearful people. How do you get these children to honor God?

“Moses: And how do you teach them to love each other? God knows I tried. I brought God’s law down from the mountain top. It is very clear. The simple commandments tell them how to love and honor God and how to live together in mutual love and respect.

But right after I told them how to live, they began complaining about God and began to worship false idols. The law told them not to betray or disrespect others. Yet, the powerful continued to grasp for more wealth and power. Foolish people they thought that would give them security. But for these things they have to oppress the weak. Then the fighting starts. It can lead to killing.

“Elijah: Well, I warned them. I told King Ahab and the people not to worship false idols. I challenged 450 prophets of Baal and they died on the mountain top. But today, people still worship the idols they create: power, material possessions, and the comfort they bring. But they do not receive satisfaction from them. NO! How do we teach people to find the real thing — joy in relationships with God and with each other?

“Jesus: God sent you, Moses, to give the law.  God sent you, Elijah, and other prophets to warn the people of how they are harming themselves. Now God has sent ME… I will live among these rebellious people for a while. I will love them and I will die for them. These men you see before you, and those who follow them, will carry on my work of reconciliation to God and humankind.

“Moses: These men? Look, they are dumbstruck. They are frail. They are confused.

“Elijah: Good joke, Jesus. Now… tell us your real plan.

“Jesus: I have no other plan.

“Elijah: But how will they find the wisdom and the strength?

“Jesus: Ahhh… I will be with them.” [1]

Did everyone hear? Jesus promised to be with the disciples, a number of times. Not only with the disciples, but with all of His friends and followers.

It’s true that Peter—good, old foot-in-mouth Peter—made some sort of confused and excited offer to build three little booths or mini-altars there, on top of the mountain. Yes, with our 20/20 retrospect, we can laugh at Peter’s fumbling and falling all over himself. But, wouldn’t we be in the same boat? What if there were a heavenly visitation right here, right now? Boom! Cue the bright lights! The glorified Jesus, here in our midst, here at St. Luke’s Church!

The thing is, Jesus could have stayed there, on that mountaintop, with Peter, James and John. Relatively safe, and the mountaintop could have become a pilgrimage site, renowned throughout the world. But, no. Jesus knew He had to walk the way of the Cross. He knew we, His followers and friends, had to come down from that mountaintop, too.

The disciples did not just slink away and hide. No, they went out after the Resurrection and Ascension and after Pentecost, and they turned the world upside down with the Good News of the risen Lord Jesus. It was not all sweetness and light for the disciples, or for the other followers of Jesus. No, many of them had a very difficult time. Yet, Jesus was with them.

Today, we don’t permanently live on the mountaintop, either. Yes, we often walk through the dark valleys. Yes, there is sorrow and pain in our lives. As David Lose says, the nitty-gritty details of misunderstanding, squabbling, disbelieving disciples. Religious and political quarrels of the day. Jealousies and rivalries both petty and gigantic. Into the poverty and pain that are part and parcel of all of our lives. [2] Yet—Jesus is right by our sides, too. Yes, in the good times, and yes, in the not-so-good, even sorrowful times, too.

Do you hear? Jesus will be with us, in good times and bad. We can take comfort in that. We can celebrate. Praise God. We are not left alone and friendless. What a friend we have in Jesus, indeed. Amen, alleluia.

[1] http://desperatepreacher.com//bodyii.htm

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1563

“He Came Down,” David Lose, Dear Working Preacher, 2012.

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)

Terrified!

Matthew 17:1-9 – February 26, 2017

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“Terrified!”

When my children were young, I would always read them a bedtime story, every night. That was part of our process of going to bed. Sometimes I’d read chapters from books like Winnie the Pooh or the Wizard of Oz, and sometimes storybooks or fairy tales from the library. Some of the stories would have some really scary things in them! A little like the Gospel reading from Matthew, today, where the three disciples were terrified on top of the mountain! There are certain things that scare us almost to death. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

In many of the stories we know, some people often like to find a character they can relate to. A sympathetic character, or one who displays some qualities each of us might have. Who hasn’t been frightened, like Piglet, or puzzled, like Pooh Bear, or excited, like Tigger? In today’s Gospel reading, we have several characters. Is it possible to find some similarity in one of these characters, some characteristic that each of us might share, or be able to relate to?

In today’s Gospel reading, we have Jesus, and we have Peter, James, and his brother John. Jesus takes them up a trail on a mountain, up to the top. There, they have a stunning, supernatural encounter.

That day does not start that way. That day was probably like many other days among Jesus and His group of followers. Hectic, a bit crowded, perhaps even some people already waiting in line to see the Rabbi, have some prayer, even hoping for a healing. Unknown to everyone else, Jesus slips away with the three disciples.

Remember how we often choose a character from a story and try to relate to them, or find some similarity with a characteristic of theirs? I thought one of the commentators on this Gospel passage had some excellent points. Alyce McKenzie said: “If you know what it is like to be tired, to have people seeking you out for what you can do for them, and other people criticizing you and working against you, if you have ever been filled with dread at what lies ahead, you have a little something in common with Jesus. If you know what it’s like to feel those things as a direct result of serving God, then you have even more in common with Jesus.” [1]

While this little group is climbing the mountain, I suspect these three disciples are a bit proud that their Rabbi Jesus has singled them out, amidst all of the other disciples and followers. Wouldn’t you be proud? Perhaps, even congratulating yourself that you are a confidant of Jesus?

After the four people reach the mountaintop, something happens. Now, remember, Peter, James and John are not used to watching television or movies. They do not know anything about fancy costumes that look like they come from outer space, or special effects with light and fireworks, or super sound systems like we have in the United States, today.

Just imagine people like Peter, James and John, having no concept of any of these modern things. Next, I invite you to close your eyes. Try to put yourself in the company of the three disciples, on top of the mountain, in your mind. Are you there? “There was Jesus, transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.”

I can think of at least a dozen supernatural encounters—right off the top of my head—in both the Old and the New Testaments. You know, where people come face to face with angels, or hear the voice of God, or see the burning bush. Here on top of the mountain, these three disciples already knew that Jesus was a man from God. Only a few days before, Peter had even testified to that fact that Jesus was the Messiah, the promised One of God.

In all of these supernatural encounters throughout the Bible, angels always say “Don’t be afraid!” to whomever they meet. I bet when the angels break in to the everyday, ordinary world, that must be the scariest thing those people have ever seen! Even though Peter, James and John had walked with Jesus, learned from Jesus, and lived with Jesus for many months, by this time, I suspect they are scared at the events that are happening!

We have Jesus—transfigured, or literally translated from Greek, metamorphoomai, the verb “to undergo a metamorphosis.” We are not quite sure exactly how Jesus looked, except that we are told He glowed with a glory reserved for angels, for things from heaven. It’s as if a switch were flipped, and Jesus was lit from the inside with bright, white super-sunshine.

Is it any wonder that Peter started babbling, and said the first thing that came into his head? “Um, Lord, it is good that we are here. Look, look, I’ll put up three booths, or tents, so we can worship You and Moses and Elijah right here!” Good old foot-in-mouth Peter. Sure to speak before he thinks, letting his mouth run away with him. (Does that sound like anyone you know? Is that a situation in this story that you especially relate to?)

The bright and shining Jesus was talking to Elijah and Moses. Remember Moses, and how he had led the people of Israel for forty years around the wilderness? Yes, “Moses, who had seen God face to face on Mt. Sinai, the Mount of Revelation, and whose face had shone.” Dr. Alyce McKenzie tells us “that Moses hadn’t wanted to be a prophet in the first place and had made excuses to God to get out of it. (If you know what it’s like to make excuses to God, you have a little something in common with Moses.)“ [2]

But, wait! There’s even more! “While Peter was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!” If you thought the appearance of Jesus in radiant form wasn’t enough, imagine the stentorian voice of God booming all around! This is it. Right here.

Can you imagine Peter, James and John even more afraid than they were before? Absolutely terrified? They fall on their faces at this heavenly voice. It isn’t even a sound system, with squawking speakers all around, but instead the resounding voice of God from heaven.

And then—everything supernatural goes away. It’s all over. Only Jesus remains, in His normal, everyday clothes.

I can tell you how Peter remembered this awesome, terrifying experience, several decades later. He writes to his fellow believers in a letter, “18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.” But then, Peter couldn’t stay on the mountaintop forever, worshiping the Lord. Peter—and James, and John—needed to come down into the real world, into the mundane, every day. And, do the real, sometimes difficult, work of God’s kingdom.

Remember what I said about characters in a story, and about us finding some similarity in one of these characters, some characteristic that each of us might share, or be able to relate to?

Whether we are up on the mountain today, with the bright shining, heavenly Jesus, or down on the earth in a sad or difficult place, the love of Jesus shines in our hearts. Jesus remains.

He is with us, just as He promised. Not “maybe,” not “I wish so, or “I hope so.” But, Jesus promises to be right by our sides, always, through thick and thin, through good times and bad. “In Him we behold what we want to become. In us Jesus lives as a presence that empowers us to become what God would have us become.” [3]

And for that, we can surely say “alleluia, amen!”

[1] http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Finding-Ourselves-in-the-Story-Alyce-McKenzie-02-25-2011

[2] http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Finding-Ourselves-in-the-Story-Alyce-McKenzie-02-25-2011

[3] http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Finding-Ourselves-in-the-Story-Alyce-McKenzie-02-25-2011

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: 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!