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Transfiguration Moments (March 3, 2019)

Luke 9:28-43a

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

What’s the Transfiguration of Jesus all about?

Take a look at where it’s placed within Luke:

There’s the Sermon on the Plain: teaching about lifting up those at the bottom and including the outcast.

Then several chapters of Jesus actually doing that! Healing outsiders, outcasts, excluded, unworthy:

  • Roman soldier’s servant healed,
  • Widow’s son raised from the dead,
  • Sinful woman forgiven,
  • Including women as disciples,
  • Gerasene Demoniac,
  • Daughter of a synagogue leader raised from the dead,
  • Hemorrhaging woman healed,
  • Transfiguration,
  • Picks right up again with demon possessed boy healed.

Once or twice there are little “side-scenarios” where the identity of Jesus is lifted up, e.g., John the Baptist’s followers asking if Jesus is the one or should they wait for someone else? Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah

The Transfiguration kind of fits in as one of those. Just kind of a quick, inserted scene affirming the identity of Jesus. In Luke it happens pretty quickly, actually. The Greek implies it didn’t take very long. And then it’s back to business as usual—lifting up those at the bottom and including the outcasts.

It’s like there are these little reassurances that God endorses what Jesus is saying and doing so that the disciples can be confident in following him. Because Jesus is leading then into some weird-sounding stuff: pay just as much attention to the poor, the homeless, and the immigrant as you do the rich and powerful. Love your enemies just as much as you love your friends. When violence comes at you, resist the temptation to return it with violence. Instead, meet it head on with non-violence. And Jesus is already starting to have them say and do these same things. That’s what’s happening at the end of this text—the disciples tried to show care and compassion for a demon-possessed boy and his family, but failed.

It looks like the Transfiguration, with all the dazzle and famous people and clouds and voices coming from the clouds, is a significant reassurance that following Jesus is following the way of God.

So here’s why this matters. God does that. God gives us these nudges, these reassurances, these flashes that what Jesus says and does, the people Jesus includes and lifts up, that is the way of God. And that God is still there, still calling us to follow Christ.

I want to ask you to remember a time when you knew God was there. When you experienced grace. When you received some reassurance. Those are little transfiguration moments. They don’t always last and they are usually unexpected. Sometimes we don’t even recognize them as reassurances from God, because these transfiguration moments can happen through anyone or anything. But they are generally reassuring, comforting. When have you had a transfiguration moment?

I’m going to give you a minute in silence to think about it. To contemplate it. To remember it. And then, if anyone is willing, I’ll give you the opportunity to share that experience of grace or reassurance or comfort. Your transfiguration moment.

. . .

Thank you. Watch for these times of Transfiguration. Be comforted. Be reassured. And then boldly follow Jesus, because that’s what those reassuring transfiguration moments are for.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2019 in Sermon

 

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It’s Not Always Easy to Listen (Transfiguration B, February 11, 2018)

Mark 9:2-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

According to some scholars, the Old Testament prophet Zechariah writes that on the day of the Lord, those who aren’t keeping the festival of booths will be punished by God. The way one keeps the festival of booths is by building little dwellings, tents, booths, to remind one’s self of the flight from Egypt and the 40 years wandering in the wilderness.

If that was on his mind, I understand Peter’s outburst about building three booths for Jesus and his important companions. That doesn’t mean, however, that even as these words were coming out of Peter’s mouth he was already regretting them. “It’s good to be here at the end of the world. Why don’t we settle in and do something religious.”

He is so scared out of his mind that the world was coming to an end that he tries to do something godly, religious. I don’t know what it is he’s trying to say, but I empathize with him. Have you had that happen? Some words come out of your mouth and you immediately think, “Oh. That was a mistake.”

What regrettable thing would you say if suddenly you saw Jesus as he really is—as eternity sees him? What would you do if, suddenly, the authentic, full-blown Jesus became real? Like, really real. More than a historic figure, more than a symbol, more than an important person that whose teachings we ought to follow. But, undeniably, in your face, without question, life-changingly real?

Because that’s what just happened to Peter, James, and John. This whole Messiah-thing with Jesus just got real. Jesus is changed right before their eyes. Moses and Elijah suddenly appear, chatting with him, the two all stars of All-Stars. The voice of God from the clouds declare Jesus as the Son, the Beloved of God. And then commands them to really listen to him.

I think it would be a really good day if the worst thing I did right then was utter something religious.

But that’s what’s going on in the Transfiguration. Jesus suddenly gets real for these disciples. He’s something really unique and special to God, no messing around with this. God says listen—not to Moses or Elijah—but to Jesus.

So the question for us as we head into Lent is, “Is Jesus real? Is he worth listening to?” And the question to ask right after that is, “If so, how can we hear Jesus more clearly? What voices are we listening to instead?”

Whether Jesus is worth listening to above all other voices is up to each of us, I guess. I’m here to tell you he is, and I’ve been telling you that for 20 years here, and some of you must agree at some level because you keep paying me to tell you that he’s worth listening to. But the “realness” of how deeply we listen, how seriously we take him, is up to us.

I think it’s easy to listen to Jesus when he’s healing us, or when he’s Transfigured and looking all-powerful. But it’s not so easy when, as he tried telling his disciples right before this text, he’s going to be hanging dead on a cross. It’s not so easy to listen then. God’s beloved? I like saviors who aren’t killed. I like winners.

It’s not so easy to listen to him when he tells you to follow him—even to a cross.

It’s not so easy to listen to him when he tells you that you have to forsake voices that are contrary to his. Even if it’s family, church, boss, or government.

It’s not so easy to listen to him when he says that the way to fully live is to give yourself away. Even to those who hate you or make fun of you.

It’s not so easy to listen to him when he says that the way to get ahead is to serve those who are behind, who have less power or status or money or privilege.

It’s not so easy to listen to him when he says that in order to see him you have to look for him in the faces those who are different than you, in race, language, politics, citizenship, sexual and gender identity, or religion. Not just see Christ in them, but treat them as if they were Christ himself—because he tells you they are.

We begin Lent this Wednesday. The season of really listening to Jesus. The season of taking him even more seriously. The season where we might want to consider turning down the voices that are contrary to his, so we can focus on listening to him with more attention.

It won’t be easy. Lent never is. But perhaps a way to see Jesus as he really is—transfigured, glowing, full-blown Messiah and Beloved of God—is to listen to him. And not just hear his words, but actually follow them.

Join the rest of this community in some Lenten disciplines to help us listen more clearly. Download the daily devotional booklet we’re using this Lent. Spend some time each day with it. Come on Wednesday evenings and practice listening to Jesus in different ways. If it would help, follow the practice of giving something up for Lent. But not for the sake of piety, but so you have something to remind you to listen to Christ.

The Transfiguration of Jesus happens so that we can know how important it is to listen to him. Whether in the brightness of his glory or in the depths of our fear, God still says, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2018 in Sermon

 

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Being in Holy Moments (Transfiguration, Feb. 26, 2017)

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9 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.”

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

I was in Mexico with a group one time. We were touring a couple of small villages and learning about life in general for these people in abject poverty. They were telling us about the importance of their church and how they supported one another. There was a real unity in the midst of their poverty. Interesting, but it was getting toward lunch time and we had a little bit of a ride to get back. So as the conversation and interaction kept going, I kept glancing at my watch wondering how long before we could return.

It wasn’t until much later that I discovered that the Lutheran pastor there in those villages in Mexico was actually bringing insulin to a diabetic woman in one of those neighborhoods who would never be able to afford it. Somewhere he had been able to procure it, and was able bringing her life-saving supplies. It was a holy moment—his work and generosity, and her gracious appreciation. Christ was present. But I missed most of it because I was concerned about lunch.

I’m becoming more and more convinced that there are many more of these holy moments than we know. We just miss them because we’re too busy trying to do something. So we talk, or plan, or reason our way through these holy times.

I’m wondering if part of the point of the Transfiguration story is that sometimes the only agenda is to recognize a holy moment and simply be present in it. Not to analyze it, improve upon it, or even describe it, but just recognize it and be in it.

As is often the case, Peter gives us an idea of what not to do. He is chosen by Jesus, along with James and John, to go up this mountain alone. And they witness what can only be described as a holy moment. Jesus is transfigured—changed—right in front of them. Shining face, white clothing, Moses and Elijah showing up. Cloud covering them just like it did for Moses. A voice coming from the cloud giving Jesus high praise and accolades. This certainly falls within the general category of “holy moment.”

Peter just can’t help himself. Rather than be part of it, be fully present in it, he tries to improve it. “Let me just build some booths,” he says. “Because my contribution to this unbelievable moment will surely make it better.” What, just being present there with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah isn’t good enough? Don’t ruin this, Peter. Just know this is holy time and you get to be there for it. Absorb it. Live in it. Be aware that there’s more going on than you may know at the time. Recognize that when you start talking you are taking the focus off the holiness of the moment and limiting your experience of it. Just be present in it.

Sometimes the agenda is just to be there. To know you’ve been present. To experience holiness. To be in the presence of  Christ.

As Lutherans, we gather together on Sundays around Word and sacrament. We proclaim the presence of Christ with us during worship. Jesus tells us that “when two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

Isn’t that here? Isn’t that now? If that’s the case, perhaps we could actually become more aware of this as a holy moment. If Christ is truly present with us, maybe we could be more fully present with him.

Try something with me. Close your eyes and sit quietly for a minute. . . .

Think of one word or phrase you need to hear right now. Take some time in the silence and consider what that word would be. Maybe it’s something you already know, or maybe it’s something new. But have that word or phrase in your mind. . . .

Picture Jesus here with you. Hear him as he speaks to you the very words you need to hear today. . . .

Just be with him and listen. . . .

Repeat those words to yourself with Jesus a few times. . . .

Go ahead and open your eyes again. Holy moments happen all around us all the time. We are made new in the presence of Christ.

We are starting the season of Lent on Wednesday. It is the 40 days (plus Sundays) before Easter. It’s traditionally a season of discipline and repentance. You’ll often hear people talking about “giving something up for Lent.” Usually like chocolate, a TV show, or even coffee (but that would not only be unhealthy, it would just be silly . . .).

Rather than any of those things, which aren’t bad, but may or may not actually help us grow spiritually, I’m suggesting we watch for holy moments during Lent. Practice recognizing them and being fully present in them. If we are experiencing the presence of Christ, stop what we’re doing and simply be with him then and there.

Today is a holy moment, here together. There are more, because Christ is active in the world. Let’s watch for him.

 
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Posted by on February 27, 2017 in Sermon

 

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Who Are Moses and Elijah? (March 2, 2014)

Matthew 17:1-9

So, Jesus invites Peter, James, and John up a mountain. Just them. All the other disciples are left down below. Now, prior to this in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus walked on water, has been announced as the Son of God, and as the long-awaited Messiah, so this is quite an honor for them. You kinda wonder if they were feeling a little privileged, a bit superior. And possibly curious. What did Jesus have planned? Why is he bringing them up here?

They soon find out. Jesus is transfigured — he changes — right in front of them. His face is like the sun, his clothes are dazzling white. And if it isn’t enough that the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah who walks on water starts glowing in front of them, Moses and Elijah come and are also with him. Like the perfect trifecta. These good Jewish boys have learned all their lives about these great historical leaders of God. Moses, who led their people out of slavery into freedom; who spoke with God and was given God’s law. And Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets of God; who defeated the god Baal, brought fire from the sky, raised the dead, and was whisked away to God in a whirlwind. Jesus is in some pretty good company here.

So Peter makes a very hospitable offer. Tell you what, Jesus, let me build three little cabins right here; one for each of you. I’ll do it right now, if you like.

If you think about it, that’s a pretty gracious, if a bit ambitious, offer. Peter, James, and John are witnessing something amazing: Jesus the water-walking Son of God, right there alongside the two greatest figures in history. The moment needs to be recognized, memorialized, monumentized. They figured Jesus is something special, but to be hanging out with Moses and Elijah is all kinds of impressive. Three little cabins. One for each. Recognizing this historic event.

For James, John, and Peter, the presence of Moses and Elijah validates the significance of Jesus. It proves he is someone special. It makes it OK to believe in him. Moses and Elijah support their belief in Jesus. They can trust Moses. They can believe Elijah. As long they they are going along with Jesus, the guy must be alright.

So I’m wondering, who/what are Moses and Elijah for us? What is it that we have confidence in, that we trust, that fit our lifelong beliefs and understanding, that support our faith in Jesus? Is it a person who makes Jesus credible (if Mom believes in him, he must be alright)? Is it the people we hang out with (lots of people believe in him, he must be alright)? Is it the fact that our life is content, that we are healthy, that we have a good retirement (I’m doing well, Jesus must be alright)? Or is it that the church is a comfortable place for us (the coffee is good at church and the people are nice, so I guess this Jesus is alright)? Or that belief in Jesus is what we’ve always done (so it must be fine). What or who is it that we want to build a little cabin for, right next to Jesus, to support our faith him?…

While Peter is still making his offer to build some cabins, a voice booms from the clouds, “THIS is my son; with HIM I am well pleased; listen to HIM!”

Nothing about Moses. Nothing about Elijah. Just Jesus. Now the three disciples witnessing this are terrified. Moses and Elijah are gone. It’s just Jesus. Jesus alone. It’s Jesus or nothing. And Peter, James, and John are overcome with fear.

What happens when Moses and Elijah disappear? What happens when the things that support our faith in Jesus don’t hold up? What happens when someone whose faith I admire gives up on God? What happens when our culture no longer feels a need to associate with Jesus? What happens when my life is in turmoil, when I am no longer healthy, when I face bankruptcy? What happens when the church is uncomfortable, and makes decisions I don’t like? What happens when Jesus doesn’t meet our expectations and talks about things that I don’t understand or don’t want to do? What happens when we fall to the ground overcome with fear?

“…[the disciples] fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.”

When Moses and Elijah disappear, aren’t standing with Jesus, or simply let you down, Jesus stays. He stays with you in your doubt, in your confusion, in your anger, in your frustration, in your disbelief, in your fear. And reaches out and touches you. And he helps you up. And he walks down the mountain with you.

Because when Moses and Elijah are gone; when the things or the people that prop Jesus up disappear; when all the things that make it OK to believe fall short; when you are face down in the dirt trembling in fear and anxiety, Jesus stays.

“And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” Moses and Elijah are fine, but Jesus is the one who stays with you. On the mountaintop when your life is all shiney and bright. And down in the valley, where life is uncertain, frightening, and chaotic.

“Lord,” says Peter, “It is good for us to be here.”

Amen.

 
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Posted by on March 3, 2014 in Sermon

 

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Shiny Jesus Comes Down the Mountain

Exodus 34:29-35; Like 9:28-43a

Chapter 9 begins with Jesus giving authority to his disciples and sending them out to heal, cast out, and proclaim reign of God. And they have been.

But at the end of this text, they fail—one time. Not because they don’t care, not because they are lazy, not because they have any excuses. They really try to be faithful and cast out the demon in this boy. But they simply cannot do it. They want to, they try to, they give their best effort—it’s just not enough. They fail.

All the while, Jesus is nowhere around. He’s up on the mountaintop with the important people: Moses, Elijah, and, of course, his favorite disciples, Peter, James, and John. Jesus is removed from these lowly working disciples by distance but also by holiness. The Father is booming complements from the clouds, Moses and Elijah (the two biggest figures in Jewish history) are chatting with him, and Peter’s trying to build some condos up there so they can stay away even longer.

In the meantime, the other disciples are down in the real world, working away on Jesus’ behalf, trying to be faithful, trying to do the right thing. All alone. No Jesus around. He’s up the mountain being all shiny.

What do they get for their efforts and their faithfulness? Mean, condemning Jesus, losing patience with them for trying their best to heal this boy. “Faithless and perverse”? How long do I have to put up with you? Wow, thanks a lot, Jesus.

Ever been there? Have you ever been judged, condemned, criticized when you’re only trying to do the right thing? Sometimes, regardless of our best efforts, something doesn’t work out, we make a mistake, we blow it. And the last thing we need is someone—especially Jesus—rubbing it in, making us feel worse. C’mon, these disciples are trying their best! At least give them some kudos for that!

If there’s one thing we all have in common as human beings is that at one time or another, we all feel like failures. Although we rarely show it to anyone, we all feel incompetent and insecure. We all feel like we’re in over our heads and are nothing but big screw-ups. It doesn’t help if Jesus tells us he feels that way about us too. We already know that, Jesus. We really don’t need you piling on and making it public.

So here’s what we often end up doing: nothing. Instead of taking a risk and possibly failing—humiliating ourselves in the process, we choose to stay unnoticed and quiet. We don’t take the risk of messing up, of making a mistake. Instead, we do nothing.

Surely Jesus can’t criticize us now! After all, no mistake, no blame, right? If we don’t get involved, if we keep our mouths shut, if we ignore the problems and evils around us, can’t make it worse. There won’t be any more starving children if we don’t feed them. There won’t be any more wars if we don’t speak out against them. There won’t be any more people in poverty if we don’t give away more money.

And what do you think Jesus’ response to that is going to be? “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?”

So we can try, sometimes fail, and get rebuked. Or we can make fewer mistakes—which usually means doing less—and still get rebuked. And all the while, shiny Jesus is far away, up a mountain, hanging out with his favorites, leaving us to do all his work. Then criticizing us when we don’t do it well enough. It’s like we can’t win. We can’t measure up to shiny Jesus, but we’re expected to.

Here’s where our Lutheran theology absolutely shines! We talk in this church about being 100% broken, immersed in sinfulness, tainted in every aspect of who we are. Nothing we do can every really be completely free from brokenness because we, ourselves, are completely broken. Jesus understands that, and is simply stating the obvious. We are broken people. We are faithless and perverse. He does have to bear with us and put up with us. It’s not condemnation, it’s reality. Jesus is honest about that. Can we?

But that’s not the whole picture. Our beautiful Lutheran theology keeps going. We also understand that in Christ we are also 100% holy, immersed in faithfulness, cleansed in every aspect of who we are. Everything we do has elements of beauty and goodness, because in Christ we, ourselves, are made beautiful and good.

Both at the same time. Sinner and saint. Broken and holy. Not 50/50; not sometimes one and sometimes the other. But both at the same time, all the time. In the midst of our brokenness we are made whole. In the midst of our sinfulness we are forgiven. In the midst of our faithlessness we are made faithful. In the midst of our perversity we are made holy.

The Jesus who points out the obvious regarding the disciples’ brokenness is the same Jesus who was sent by the Father to bring you wholeness. The Jesus who casts evil from the boy is the same Jesus who does so for you. The Jesus who goes up the mountain in glory is the same Jesus who comes down to be with you. Both at the same time. All the time.

So, yes, we admit we are helpless. We admit we aren’t good enough. We recognize that the world isn’t always a better place because of our efforts. We know we fail. And Jesus knows it too. Obviously, if you read this text. That’s why he has come to you. To make you new. To heal you, to forgive you, to shower you in grace and mercy. To immerse you in love. To make you whole.

The Transfigured Jesus can do it. That’s why he’s shiny. That’s why Moses and Elijah are there. That’s why the Father booms from the cloud that this is the Son, the Beloved. We can listen to him: that we are broken, yes; but that we are also made new. That’s what shiny Jesus does. He comes down the mountain to you.

 
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Posted by on February 13, 2013 in Sermon

 

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