May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.
What is the first thing that you do when something happens that you have never experienced before? If you are like me, and most other people, you try to figure it out based on what you have experienced in life before. That's what Peter is doing in Mark's account of Jesus' transfiguration. He and two other human beings are in on something extra-human! Jesus is described as wearing clothes that became dazzling white, “such as no one on earth could bleach them.” Besides that, two of the greatest heroes of the faith, Moses and Elijah, are standing right next to Jesus as if he was their best friend! All of this just six days after Jesus speaks those cryptic words, “Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” I cannot blame Peter for what he does next. As I said, when we experience something so new that we have absolutely no other frame of reference for our lives, we try to search our histories to find meaning for that event.
Peter, being the good Jew that he was, knows that the presence of Moses and Elijah signals the coming of the messiah, what was called, “The Day of the Lord.” It was at this time that God was promising to defeat Israel's enemies, to complete the plan that he had to bring a climax to the world's history. They believed that when the messiah came it was the time for the Jewish harvest festival of “Succoth” to be celebrated by the whole world. Succoth is still celebrated by Jews – a little over a year ago when I was in Israel, it was during the week-long festival of Succoth, and there were small, temporary dwelling places or “booths” all over the streets of western Jerusalem, made of plastic walls with palm roofs. These are meant to remind Israel of their history, of the time when they wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, living in these same kinds of temporary dwelling places, being provided for by their God as they waited the time when they would enter the promised land.
So, Peter wants to build a booth right there; to join this fantastic event with the history that he knows from his faith and upbringing. We cannot fault him for that. We would do it ourselves. But it is not what he is supposed to do. In the midst of something that is so strange in its appearance and meaning, these men are supposed to merely experience the mystery and wonder of Jesus' glory. That's it – don't try to figure it out; don't turn it into some kind of ancient liturgy or work that you participate in; just let God show you something that you have never seen before and bask in the glow of God's presence.
This past Wednesday, 10 people from Clinton Heights and North Community Lutheran Churches met together for the second time to talk about doing things together. After many years of existing a few miles apart, congregations of the same denominational affiliation able to exist independently without the other just fine, we are making plans to worship together for Lent, of conducting a shared Vacation Bible School, of working on a Habitat for Humanity House, and of getting together to create things with our hands as the next holidays approach. These are things that we have never done before - -they are new, and they are sure to raise some eyebrows as people try their hardest to fit them into the histories of our respective congregations, trying to figure out what it all means. Are our congregations merging? Will one church take the other one over? Are we trying to steal away members of their congregation, and vice versa? What is going on here?
As I liken these plans with the events that happened when Jesus was transfigured on the mountaintop, I want to encourage everyone to simply experience the goodness of what is happening. There is no ultimate plan in all of this other than to get to know each other and enjoy the experiences of worshiping, learning and serving God together with others. This is not a means to an end, the end being some kind of hidden agenda that Pastor Adams, the synod or I have. The means is what we are putting our energy into – the worship, the fellowship, the learning, the outreach. Being together, pooling resources, serving God together effectively so that each of our congregations can grow and be strengthened in the love of God that we share.
There is no historical precedence for us to judge this, just like there was no historical precedence to judge the transfiguration of Jesus by. I encourage all of us to simply be in the moment: to participate as you are able, knowing that we will be blessed as we journey together with each other along the way.
A lot of Christian people try to figure out how events in their lives fit into some grand plan that God has – some intricate flow chart or schematic that is impossible for most people to read or understand. Many times this happens when tragedy strikes, like a sudden or unexpected death. Other times it is when someone loses something, like their job or their spouse because of a break-up. And other times it is when we are just trying to do our best to figure out where we, our families or our churches are going.
What if we were to say that maybe, just maybe, there is no elaborate, intricate plan that includes all of these tragedies and triumphs. Maybe there's only love. What if we stop trying to figure out why things are happening, and start to figure out how God's love and glory will be experienced through, or maybe in spite of, the events of our everyday lives. Peter tried to figure out how the transfiguration figured into God's plan, and God basically told him to shut up and listen to Jesus! What a great idea for us too. When we try to postulate what things mean in God's grand scheme, maybe we should just shut up and listen to Jesus, because the most important part of our lives as disciples of Christ is love. We are to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves. Instead of trying to figure out what it all means, maybe we are to stop and receive the glory of God in ways that we may not expect.
Every year we read the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the Sunday before Lent begins. We do this intentionally because the timing of this indescribable mountaintop experience before Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem and to his suffering and death is perfect. We leave the mountain of the Transfiguration today and return to the valley of life; and in that valley, we are reminded of our need for God's love, grace and mercy. We are sinful people; our neighbors are sinful people; we live in a world that, as perfect as God created it, is not perfect now. People suffer because of their own sin, the sin of others, and the flaws in our world. Thanks be to God that as we prepare to remember and reflect on this sinfulness and our need for repentance, that we have a short glimpse of the glory of God in Jesus Christ. I encourage you to simply be in the moment of this transfiguration – don't try too hard to figure it out in the grand scheme of God's plan for you or the world; just marvel at its wonder.
And when things happen that are joyful and happy – like shared ministry between congregations, new life or love or opportunities – and when things happen that are sad and make us grieve – like death, illness, brokenness and sin – focus on God's wonderful gift of love. Love that overcomes sin and death, multiplies love, and will be experienced fully one day when the glory of the resurrected Lord is established by God. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.