Posted on Mar 03, 2019 by Pastor Dave Whetter
As we begin our story today, Luke says, “Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up the mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28). The first question we ought to ask ourselves is this: Eight days after what “sayings”? Well, if we go back just a few verses, we learn that about eight days earlier Jesus had been praying privately when the disciples found him and he asked them who they thought he really was, to which Peter proclaimed, “The Messiah of God.”
Now, that was a bold confession by Peter, but immediately after he said it, Jesus commanded him and the others that they could not tell anyone yet. And then, Jesus proceeded to say to them things like, “If any want to become my follower, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (9:23). It was about eight days after Jesus had offered these teachings that Jesus went up the mountain again to pray, but this time he took with him Peter, John, and James.
While praying on the mountain, Luke says that Jesus changed. His face began to shine and his clothes turned “dazzling white” (9:29). But the scene gets even more interesting, because “suddenly” Luke says the disciples saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus about his departure, or more plainly, the death and resurrection he would experience in Jerusalem (9:30-31). What an incredible and awe-inspiring story! Peter got so excited he tried to create a situation that wouldn’t end. He wanted Jesus, Moses, and Elijah to stay together, so he offered to build three dwelling places for the three of them. But the offer went without notice, and, instead, God speaks to Peter, John, and James and says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (9:35). And then all goes back to normal, and Luke says the three disciples said nothing about what had happened on the mountain when they returned to their friends. But even though they were to keep silent about these events, they had heard God say, “Listen to him!”. And once they were down from the mountain, it didn’t take long for them to see how difficult it would be to follow God’s command to listen to Jesus.
To listen to Jesus, or to follow in his ways, as we have heard the past couple of weeks, means we ought to live differently from the rest of the world. In fact, Jesus spelled it out about a week before our story, right? “If any want to become my follower, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” and as I always say, this is difficult stuff.
Luke wants us to know just how difficult listening to Jesus will be, so immediately upon their return from the mountain we hear about the man whose son was filled with an evil spirit, and how the disciples had failed to heal him on their mission. Jesus was angered by this news that his disciples had failed, and he called his disciples “faithless and perverse.” I wonder, is that what Jesus thinks of me when I pray for healing at someone’s bedside and they do not heal? Am I faithless? Am I perverse? I may be, but not because my prayer failed to bring physical healing. No, healing always has and always will come from God alone. I believe Jesus might have been angry because when he sent those disciples out on their mission of healing he instructed them to heal in his name. Maybe they had tried to offer healing by themselves without proclaiming the name of Jesus. Maybe Jesus was angry with the father who did not have faith that healing would come through God. Maybe Jesus was angry because they only viewed one as healed if their physical ailments were gone. As we know, sometimes healing comes in the form of spiritual healing, mental healing, and even death. Yes, sometimes the only way we can live is to die. The only way we can be transformed is to let go of everything and start over. Following Jesus means following him all the way to the cross. The world is filled with people who need to hear the healing words of Jesus. The world is filled with people who need to hear the gospel.
In fact, this week, that might be more true than ever. As many of you know, the leadership of the United Methodist Church voted to not fully accept the LGBTQIA community. In fact, Susan Henry-Crowe, the General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of The United Methodist Church, said, "The United Methodist Church's special General Conference failed Tuesday to love LGBTQIA people, recognize their gifts in the church, maintain our unity in the midst of diversity, and to live out our Gospel mandate to seek justice and pursue peace." Now I don’t tell you this to make us look better because we are RIC, nor to gloat; I say this because this week we have received a call to proclaim the gospel. There are millions of people today who need to hear that, regardless of what large human organizations say, they are loved by God and they are loved as they are.
So why is it so difficult for us to do this? Well, my thought is that for many of us we forget one of the most important promises. We don’t do this alone; Christ is always with us. Did you hear what our Gospel story said today? In Verse 28, Luke says “Jesus took with him Peter, and John and James…” Then, in Verse 37, Luke says “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain…” Jesus went up with them and he came down with them. Jesus is always with us, but the problem is we are often blinded by the world around us and we fail to see the One who loves us as we are and empowers us to do the work of God.
Don’t you just love clear, sunny days? I mean, on sunny days you can see forever. But, actually, that isn’t always true, is it? I mean, sometimes the sun is so bright, you can’t see. Have you ever been driving east at sunrise or heading west at sunset? The sun can be so bright that you cannot see, and oftentimes traffic slows down (known around here as the “sunshine slowdown”). I believe often faithful Christians have this problem. We know who Jesus is. We can see him when we gather for worship. We can see him when we are serving others, or in the splendor of a beautiful sunset. Many times, we can see Jesus in the face of our neighbors, or that stranger with her handout for help; other times, God shines so brightly we fail to see her clearly. We often fail to see Christ shining in our enemies, or in the faces of those whom the world has deemed unfit or sinful. But if we think Christ only loves those who are like us, then we have failed to hear the Gospel.
When Jesus was on that mountain speaking to Moses and Elijah, Luke says they were talking about his “departure,” or more literally, his death and resurrection. They were talking about an act of love that would shine so bright it would change the world. Jesus’ departure was an act of love, an act that said, I will die for all of you, I will redeem all of you, I love all of you, no exceptions. Jesus’ love shines on us regardless of race, color, creed, nationality, or sexual preference. We might not always see Jesus, but he is present in all of us. Jesus’ act of placing himself on that cross and dying for us was an act of love for everyone, for as we say each week, “This is my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.”
I know at times it is difficult to see Jesus in this world, but we are called and commanded to go and share his love and tell his story. The time of silence is over, and not saying anything to anyone is over.
Today we bring Epiphany, this season of revelation, to a close, and Wednesday we will begin the Season of Lent. Lent is a time of reflection and preparation. It is a time to remind ourselves who we are and whose we are, and it is a time to realize that we do this, all of this, as an act of love. Yes, it’s all about love. I pray you all will join me this Wednesday and for the next 40 days as we seek to discover God in our lives and we come to know and share the love that God offers to all of God’s creation. Amen.