February 18, 2007
First Sunday of Lent
Rev. Billy D. Strayhorn
A little boy asked his mother, "Marriage makes you have babies, doesn't it, Mom?" The mother reluctantly answered her son, "Well, not exactly. Just because you are married does not mean that you have a baby." The boy continued his inquiry: "Then how do you have babies?" His mother, not very enthusiastic about continuing, answered, "It's kind of hard to explain." The boy paused and thought for a moment. He then moved closer to Mom, looked her right in eye, and carefully said, "You don't really know how it works, do you, Mom?" (1)
Believe it our not, this is one of the most dreaded Sundays in the Christian year for folks who use the Lectionary for their preaching. Why? Because it deals with the Transfiguration of Jesus. Generally, this is one of those "What does that mean and how am I supposed to explain that?", sort of passages. It's difficult because, like the little boy told his mother, we "don't really know how it works." And when you don't know how something works, it's hard to explain.
Just look at this passage. Jesus invites Peter, James and John to go up on the mountain to pray. Jesus takes sort of a midweek mini retreat and invites three of the four original disciples to go with him. They were ecstatic. Then up on the mountain top they're praying up a storm, when all of a sudden Jesus flips open his communicator and says, "Two to beam down Mr. Scott." And then there's Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus. Like an episode of Star Trek, Moses and Elijah are suddenly standing there like two ghosts from the past. They appear right out of thin air.
Scripture says the disciples were terrified. I've always wanted to tell the author, "No fooling?" We would have been terrified. Out of the clear blue the guy we've been traveling with for the past two or three years starts to glow and shine like some special effect in a science fiction movie. And then ghosts of two of Israel's most powerful and beloved ancestors are standing with him. You bet we'd be terrified. Then just as suddenly as they appeared, Moses and Elijah are gone and Jesus is back to normal. But not before we hear from God. And not before Peter sticks his foot in his mouth. Talk about a strange passage.
What are we supposed to make of this passage? And how does it fit into our daily lives?
A. One thing is clear, the disciples witnessed Jesus like they'd never seen him before. On this day, they saw him as Moses & Elijah always see him. As God always sees him. They saw him as we will all see him when he returns. They saw Jesus in his full glory. It wasn't Hollywood special effects or some kind of razzle dazzle.
Do you remember the movie "Leap of Faith" with Steve Martin? Martin plays Jonas Nightingale, a traveling evangelist; a con man using God and faith and religion to prey upon the unsuspecting in order to line his own pockets. There's one scene where Jonas comes out on stage in a white coat. The lights go down. He pulls the coat off, flips it inside out and puts it back on. Then a spot light hits him and a thousand beams of light shoot off in every direction. The coat is covered with tiny mirrors. He looks like a walking ballroom light. But it's all show. It's all razzle dazzle. He's not really pointing to God. He's pointing to himself. He's in it for the money. To him, the congregation is nothing more than suckers to be fleeced.
B. Contrast that with what we see taking place on the mountain. Jesus took Peter, James and John to the mountain top so they might renew their spirits and gain some spiritual insight.
But Peter didn't get it, right then. And you can't really blame him. Talk about a Kodak moment. All those Biblical figures gathered in one place. Once he got over his fear of the unknown and recognized the glory of the moment, Peter went into action. He wanted to memorialize the event. He wanted to build a Booth, a tabernacle, a shelter in which to worship. But Jesus said, "No. Our work isn't on the mountain, it's back down in the valley." And that's when God got Peter's attention by speaking up.
Basically God said, "Be quiet and listen." Mark's Gospel puts it this way: God said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" So, one of the things we can learn from this passage is to listen. To listen to God and to listen to Jesus, the Son of God.
A. Mark's Gospel also tells us: Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. We're invited to listen to God. And we're invited to see and focus only on Jesus. That's hard to do. It was hard for Peter. It's equally as difficult if not harder, for us. Look at all of the things we have to distract us. School, family, career, politics; all of those things can get in the way of our relationship with Jesus. Not to mention other things like computers, video games, TV, radio, music, sports, career, movies, etc. They can all cause us to lose our focus on Jesus. A very nervous airline passenger began pacing the terminal when bad weather delayed his flight. During his walk he ran across one of those life insurance machines. It offered $100,000 in the event of an untimely death aboard his flight. The policy was just $3. He looked out the window at the threatening clouds and thought about his family at home. For that price it was foolish not to buy, so he took out the coverage. He then looked for a place to eat. Some airports now carry a pretty good variety of eateries so he settled on his favorite - Chinese. It was a very relaxing and calming meal until he opened his fortune cookie. It read: "Your recent investment will pay big dividends." He took a different flight. (2)
B. The poor guy lost his focus. He let little things get in the way and distract him from his purpose: to get home and from the knowledge that flying is the safest form of transportation.
We do the same with our relationship with God. We let other things, less important things, less meaningful things, sometimes even trivial things distract us from our purpose which is to love and serve God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength. We let other things get in the way of our relationship with God. When what we are called to do is stay focused.
We're called to stay focused and we're called to help others. We're called to help our children and youth stay focused, too. That is what is behind all of our youth and children's programs. A desire to help them listen to God and to focus their lives on Jesus only.
A few years ago there was an article in the "Faith and Inspiration" section of the Star Telegram one Saturday titled, "Impress a teen ... go to church." According to the Princeton Religion Research Center publication, Emerging Trends, a survey conducted with teenagers shows that teenagers are impressed by adults who go to church or other places of worship. 81% of the youth polled said that "With all the talk of the need to instill a sense of values in young people and for positive role models, there is one simple positive step adults can take - go to church or another place of worship." p. E-3
Our best influence is our own action and our own personal relationship with God. It helps us stay focused and live a faithful life. And it helps others stay focused as well.
A. We're called to listen to God and to focus on Jesus only. And when that happens we will be transformed. You see I don't think this passage is so much about Jesus being transformed right before their very eyes. As it is a transforming moment for Peter, James and John. In this moment of transfiguration, it's not just Jesus' appearance that changes. Peter, James, and John's perception of Jesus changes, too. Until this moment, they suspected some things but they weren't positive about who Jesus was. But from this moment on there could be no doubt. God had spoken and all three of them had heard it. All three of them witnessed the transfiguration. All three of them saw Moses and Elijah standing with the one whom God called "His Beloved Son."
They were transformed by this experience. But it wasn't an instant transformation. it was on ongoing, slow, day by day process. If it had been instant, Peter wouldn't have run away at the crucifixion or doubted prior to Pentecost. For some, like the Apostle Paul, transformation happens overnight. But most of us get transformed a little at a time, like building up your savings. We are transformed gradually by a faith relationship with Jesus and with others who love and serve Jesus. We're transformed through the guidance and presence of God's Holy Spirit in our daily lives.
And that's good because Christianity is not in the business of "information about God" but "transformation by God."
B. We're not the light, just the bearers of the light. And the world needs the light we bear so much. The Light we bear and the Good News we share have the power to transform lives, to transform the world, one life at a time.
In Port Arthur, Texas, there is a special school for very sick children, most of whom have few if any motor skills. One very sick boy lived at that school, dying little by little. As tragic as that is, that's not the point of the story. Unfortunately children get grievously ill everyday. This little boy, though, had the good fortune to be living in the same community with some faithful believers who took the transfiguration story as their own. God's glory lived in them. They carried it with them wherever they went.
A group of these folks joined together to go to this little boy everyday and read to him. Knowing that he was slowly dying, unable to move or read for himself, their act of kindness and ministry was the only activity that brought him any comfort.
The social workers were amazed. Just being read to by three different women, one every day, transformed that boy. He was transformed from being depressed and despondent into a responsive bright young man. And even though his spark of life would soon leave him, it got brighter and brighter not dimmer.
The boy died but his life had been forever changed. It had been transformed by the ministry of these caring Christians. They had allowed the light of Christ to shine through them. And a young boy's life had been transformed. (3)
We're not called to stay on the mountain top when we have a mountain top experience. We're called to bear the light of the one we meet in the cloud and to let the experience transform us so the light of Christ shines through all we do.
God is working a work of transformation in our Church. God is working through each of us. Our challenge it to continue to listen to God and to focus on Jesus only. We may not "really know how it works" but when we listen to God and focus on Jesus only, God's work of transformation continues. And lives are changed.
1. Pastor's Story File, October 1995 Submitted by Jim Pearring, New Harbor Community Church, Benicia, California
2. Adapted from Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations, Paul Lee Tan, p. 440
3. The Clergy Journal, (Logos Productions Inc, Inver Grove Heights, MN) Vol LXXIII, Number 7, pp. 88.
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