February 23, 2020
You may have noticed the picture on the bulletin this morning. That came about because the Grandkids were here last weekend. While hanging out in our living room, they discovered our wedding album. They always get a big kick out of teasing me about my receding hairline and they were shocked to see my full head of long, curly hair in our wedding pictures. That picture is not our wedding pic but does show that I did have a head full of hair at one point in my life.
It reminds me of how we often view ourselves and our appearance. I still see myself as having a full head of hair, never think of myself as balding. But this forehead doesn't lie. It reminds me of a old theory about men losing their hair. It goes like this: if you are balding in front, you are a great thinker. If you are balding in back, you are a great lover. If you are balding front and back, you think you are a great lover.
In our gospel, the disciples got to see an image of Jesus that was more true to his nature than what they were used to seeing. The transfigured Jesus showed the power, glory and authority that Jesus had left behind when he came to earth... and what it would be in eternity. Peter, James and John were eyewitnesses to this encounter up on the mountain. But we wonder, did they really understand what this special vision mean? And did it change how they participated in the mission of Jesus going forward?
Appearances can be deceiving, in their day to day life, they did not see the glory of Jesus; they saw a very ordinary human being. Elizabeth Palmer put it this way, “God comes to earth, incarnate in a body, but it’s not a perfect body or even a stunningly beautiful body. It’s a human body with very real, very bony, probably very dusty and stinky feet.” But on that mountain, they saw a whole new side of him. Which of his two appearances do you think they carried with them from this place? And I want to especially focus on Peter as we shared his letter today as our epistle reading.
Matthew began this passage with the words “six days later”. We should immediately ask, six days later than what? We are really in the heart of the story of the ministry of Jesus. Other than his passion and resurrection, this week was central to understanding Jesus. Six days earlier, Peter had boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, the son of the living God. Jesus then blessed him and told him that God the Father had revealed this truth to him.
That same day, Jesus told his disciples that they were all headed to Jerusalem, and he, Jesus, would be killed and be raised again. Peter took him aside and rebuked him. “Get behind me Satan!” Jesus told him. We heard the assertion by Peter of who Jesus is. Six days later we read this visual confirmation of who Jesus is. So we would certainly expect that these experiences would prepare Peter to do whatever was necessary to stand with Jesus.
From Peter's epistle. “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Peter writes that he was there, and he described the confirmation of who Jesus was on that mountain. An eyewitness... majesty... power. And not just that, he goes on, “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, 'This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.' We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” Peter got it... but it seems he didn't get it until closer to the time he wrote this letter. What happened in the weeks following the Transfiguration? Maundy Thursday, Jesus is found warning them that, “'You will all fall away from me this night.' But Peter answered and said to him, 'Even though all may fall away... I will never fall away'” Oops, he still wasn't where he needed to be. He was not humbled at the power and knowledge of Jesus, but overconfident in his own power.
Later on that Thursday evening, Jesus went with the disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus took James and John and Peter and asked them to sit with him while he prayed. What happened? They fell asleep. Jesus, “So, you men could not keep watch with me for one hour? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
And we know that after the arrest of Jesus. Peter denied that he even knew Jesus three times out of fear of what might happen to him. Not exactly the rock that Jesus had nicknamed him.
And why did Peter fail so impressively? I can't say for certain, but I think there are some clues. One, he was certainly worried for his own safety. Despite his assurance that he was not afraid, when push came to shove, he chickened out. And not to be too hard on Peter, I'm pretty sure I would not have been any braver in his shoes.
But perhaps the factor that played the biggest part—the expectations that Peter had for how Jesus would fulfill his mission. Peter, as most of his contemporaries, wanted the Messiah to take down their oppressors, the Romans. This vision clouded the appearances Jesus had shown him. Jesus clothed in power and majesty. Jesus telling them he was to be killed. Jesus warning that they would all fall away. Peter missed all these clues and let his own ideas of how things should play out rule his actions.
Susan Kendall in The Christian Century wrote about how we may do what Peter did in our own lives, “We interpret the purpose of Jesus' life, death and resurrection in many ways, and too often our views take on a life of their own, pulling and grasping at us even as they validate a comfortable sameness and safety. We will do anything to try to mute and even contain the extraordinary message of this gospel message.” Those are hard words. But it is a terribly strong temptation to contain the revolutionary message of Jesus. Peter knew how the Messiah was supposed to operate... or thought he did. Do we do the same thing sometimes with the church that Jesus established? We know what church looks like... it doesn't have drums and guitars. It guards her resources and divvies them out to those who deserve help. It has an organ and traditional hymns, open communion, stained glass windows, potlucks and the pastor wears a suit and tie.
That's exactly what I think if I'm honest with you and myself. But in my devotional reading on Wednesday morning, David Jenkins had written this, “We worship God, not the church in any shape or form. This was one of the most fundamental reassertion's of the reformation and it has to be reasserted again and again.” It is all about God, yet we hear over and over when discussing the future of the church, we are in a time of transition. Is there a place for us and our traditional service? I certainly hope so. Is there a future for a traditional church like this? And I believe that's the wrong question to ask. The question is, are we worshiping and serving and caring and praying as Jesus has called us? Are our activities working toward the fulfillment of God's kingdom?
Let;s look at our activities for this coming week. Today—cribbage. What in the world could that have to do with God's kingdom? It is about fellowship and joy and community. Jesus seemed to enjoy good times with weddings and feasts. Life is a gift and even church doesn't have to be all serious and hard work. There is room for fun.
Monday, I meet with Pastors from Cluster Three, ranging from Silver Lake to Murdock to Renville. It is a social time where we share things happening in our lives. We encourage one another. In Philippians, Paul wrote of this encouraging, this sharing in community, “Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind; looking not to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Monday afternoon, Mary Martha meets and does their bible study and then Tuesday morning we have our bible study at Ecumen. I want to cover these two together. In and of itself, bible studies can be a kind of diversion from living our faith. We can get caught up in minutiae and details. Paul warned Timothy about this very thing, “Remind [the people] of these facts and [solemnly] charge them in the presence of the Lord to avoid petty controversy over words, which does no good but upsets and undermines the faith of the hearers.” When we gather in community to study God's word, we grow as a family of faith. And the object is not to learn bible facts but to learn about Jesus. It is possible to be a church member, faithful, believing in God's grace but, like Peter, not really understanding what Jesus was up to. Our source of information about our Lord and Savior is in this book. If we declare, like Peter did, that Jesus is the Messiah, the very Son of God, do we really have any excuses for not learning all we can about him?
Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and we are sharing a noon meal of pancakes and sausage. This is not exactly kosher to borrow a phrase. Ash Wednesday is traditionally a day of fasting. But as we gather in community once again, we are reminded of how Jesus met so many of his followers, especially those not approved by the Jewish leadership, at the table. We will seek to share that attitude of acceptance and love as we gather. And that evening we will share the worship experience with Methodists and Episcopalians, ecumenical as we share our common faith in Jesus. And receive ashes on our foreheads, reminding us of both our mortality and our sinfulness.
If we return to our gospel now, I want to look at what happened when Peter's idea to build tents was denied and Jesus was back in his earthly form. “'As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, 'Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead'.” Again from Elizabeth Palmer, “'raised from the dead,' reminds us that the glory is always mixed in with the earthy, the vulnerable, and the suffering. By the end of the story, this divine glowing human has told his disciples quite plainly (again) that he is going to die. Transfiguration is the pinnacle of Epiphany, but it’s also the doorway into Lent.”
“The doorway into Lent” Lent begins this Wednesday. It is forty days, not counting Sundays. For centuries many churches use this time for preparation to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Tradition says you give up something during this time; newer priorities include focusing on prayer and finding a way to donate to good causes; time or money. I always struggle with how I should introduce or promote Lenten activities. We have a wide variety of church backgrounds here so, quickly, here are some thoughts. In our Old Testament lesson, Moses was on the mountain forty days. Next Sunday we will read about Jesus in the desert for forty days. So while Lent isn't found in scriptures, the idea of forty days of preparation is. We prepare to celebrate more fully the good news of the resurrection on Easter Sunday—the end of Lent. Some suggestions; Fast: give up something in your life to make more room for God. Prayer: spend extra time in prayer for your own spiritual journey and for each other. Giving: make generosity more of a focus during these forty days and it may grow into a habit that goes beyond Lent.
This Transfiguration of Jesus is the link between Epiphany, the joy of the light of the world come to earth linked to the repentance and seriousness of Lent. Just like the appearance of Jesus on the mountain linked the things of this earth--Jesus in the flesh, with the things of eternity—Jesus seen in all his glory. That glory of Jesus is linked to a world filled with suffering and sin.... Let this season of Lent be our link between the hard work of living our faith in a fallen world with the hope of eternal glory promised through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Hymn: Crown Him with Many Crowns 151 PH