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Monday, March 9, 2020
Lent 2A 2020
Rev. Adam T. Trambley
March 8, 2020, St. John’s Sharon
In the first reading today, God tells Abram to “Go!”. You’ve got to go. In that going, God will bless Abram and everyone after him. Our blessings come in Abram’s going. We will also find that God’s “go” to Abram is also an instruction for us.
This passage from Genesis is the beginning of the narrative about Abraham. The preceding verses at the end of chapter 11 provide Abraham’s genealogy and tell us that his father took their family from Ur in the land of the Chaldeans to Haran, and that Abram’s father died in Haran. The name Abram, used here, is his name until God changes it to Abraham later. This chapter starts with the first words to Abraham from God in scripture, which is “go”.
God tells Abram that if he goes, God will do a number of incredible things for him. First, God will make of him a great nation. This promise is significant, because Sarai was barren. (God would later change her name from Sarai to Sarah.) God then promises to bless Abram and to make his name great. God will bless those who bless Abram and curse those who curse him. These pledges are a basic kind of protection – I’ll take care of you and take care of those who help you. Then God adds the most incredible offer which changes all of history. God says, “You will be a blessings…and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. That covers a lot of people. That covers us, as well. Because Abram answered God’s call to go, he was in the place he needed to be when angels came to announce the birth of Isaac. From Isaac came Jacob and Judah and Moses and the prophets and all the people of Israel. By going, Abram has blessed us with the Old Testament scriptures and the ten commandments and the capacity to know the Creator of Heaven and Earth. By going, Abram opened the door for the great monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that all see him as their father in faith. From the line of Abraham is also born Jesus, the messiah. By going, we find our blessing in Abram who was the ancestor of Jesus in whom we can believe and not perish, but have ever lasting life, as we hear in the gospel this morning. By going, Abram has blessed billions of people who are alive today, three thousand plus years later, as well as vast numbers of people who have lived and died during those years. By going.
Scripture tells us that God kept his promises to Abram. Abram went and God made of him a great nation. God made his name great – “God of Abraham” is one of the significant ways God is referred to, and it is hard to get your name much greater than that! God also blessed Abram, who ends up quite wealthy, defeats a number of kings in battle, and is protected as he goes to Egypt and other places. Abram goes, and God does what God promises to do.
Note that God does not say where Abram is supposed to go, just that God will show it to him. Even as God leads him to Canaan, Abram is always more of a wanderer than a settler. The first land he owns in what comes to be known as “The Promised Land” is a tomb that he buys for Sarah when she dies, and he ends up over-paying for it. What matters most is not where God is leading him -- that is in God’s hands and Abram will get there at the right time. What matters initially is that Abram goes, and what he goes from.
God tells Abram to go from his country, his kindred, and his father’s house. None of these are bad. They are limiting, however. We can think about what these areas mean. His country is the place where he knows how things work, formally and informally. He kindred are the people who have a set of relationships with him and expectations about him. His father’s house is the place where his life is stable and secure and set up in a certain way. By staying in his country with his kindred in his father’s house, he is never going to have the freedom to act in new ways, nor will he be able to meet the people God wants him to meet. Where he is might be fine, but fine is not good enough for the incredible blessings God has in store for and through Abram.
The last line of this passage notes that Abram’s nephew Lot went with him. Abram doesn’t have to go alone. His wife Sarai is with him and others in his household, as well as Lot and his household. Abram can take company with him. He just has to “Go,” and to go from his country, his kindred, and his father’s house.
We are also called by God to “Go.” We may not be made into a great nation, or have three world religions founded on our witness, or have our great-great-great-great-great grandchild be the messiah. But we are still called to “Go”. The going may be moving to a whole new country and never coming back, but it probably isn’t. We are more likely called to go across the street to visit a new neighbor, or across town to work with a new group of people, or across the world for a short-term mission trip, or even across the aisle in church to someone we don’t know, And in our going, we will be blessed and others will be blessed.
When we “Go”, a number of very important things happen.
First and foremost, we learn to rely on God. When we stay, it is very easy to rely on ourselves. We tend to set up life the way we want it. We have things that make us comfortable. We are generally smart and capable enough to find a situation that works for us and settle in. But the more settled we are, the less we are forced to rely on God, and the more likely we are to cling to what we already have.
God’s instructions to Abram of what to leave are helpful to us. We can think about our country as the place where we know how everything works. When we show up with our money, they take it. We know what they can tax us for or send us to jail for. We speak the language, can navigate the bureaucracy, and drive the car here. Leaving our country might mean going to a place where we don’t understand what is going on all the time, or where we are dependent on others to help us figure out how to get what we want. While one example of this could be going outside the United States on a mission trip, we can experience the same things by going to a holiday dinner at a friend’s who celebrates things differently or volunteering at an organization with unfamiliar procedures and a vast array of buzzwords and abbreviations.
We are often called to leave our kindred, when we think of kindred as those people whose relationships have defined us since we were little. We might be the “responsible older sister” or the “black sheep” or the “odd duck” or whatever. We might have been told we were clumsy or bad at math or less attractive or the life of the party. Our kindred are the people who, for good or ill, have shaped how we see the world and ourselves in it. While those understandings are necessary starting points, God doesn’t want us to end there. God wants us to live in the freedom to be his beloved children. God wants us to love the rest of his beloved children with joy, energy, and spontaneity. God wants us to bless others, and especially to be blessed by others, in ways that we didn’t know were possible for us until we stepped away from the voices of our kindred that echo about in our mind and limit our imaginations of who we can be and what we can do.
Then we are also called to leave our father’s house. This is the place we feel safe and secure. If we are in our father’s house, nothing can get us. Obviously, not everyone’s “father’s house” was a safe environment, nor is the sense of safety in how we think about our or our father’s house necessarily real. But metaphorically, our father’s house represents safety and security, and we have to be willing to step into the riskiness of life to give and receive blessings of greater depths.
As we move from the dependability of our country and living into the expectations of our kindred and the security of our father’s house into a fuller reliance on God, God can use us in ways we never imagined. If we go, we can find blessings in other people and bless them, as well. We might meet people who are very different from us, and who challenge our thinking and understanding, and find how God is present with them. We might end up in a situation where we lose control of our schedule or our food choices or our transportation preferences. We might have to sit back and trust God to get us what we need, and be amazed as he works through people we wouldn’t have expected. We might encounter people who need our help with something we never imagined we could do and find ourselves blessed by increasing our own sense of self while we serve another child of God. Anything just might happen. And that is exactly the point. Once we “Go” we are in God’s hands to bring us to any of the glorious, scary, wondrous, awesome, beautiful, overwhelming places and people and groups that inhabit his majestic creation. But we have to go. We may not have to go far. But we have to go to wherever God will show us. We have to take the first step outside our comfort zones and allow God to lead us from there.
As we follow God’s lead, we come to realize how little of the things we thought were necessary for our lives really are necessary. A lot of things that we can’t imagine living without are pretty unimportant. All we really need is God. God goes with us and provides us the people that will be part of our journey wherever we go. Like Abram took Sarai, and took Lot, we can go with our companions. Most of the rest of the things we cling to are little more than supports and excuses. If we really do need them, God will provide them along the way. Those who follow God have incredible stories of God providing the things they need, even little things. When we see God providing for us on the road, we develop a deeper sense of gratitude. We only learn these lessons when we leave what we know and “go.”
God has incredible blessing in store for us. God also has incredible blessings for us to bestow on others. We can’t imagine what God has in store for those who answer his call to “Go”. But we do know that if we stay, if we keep everything as it is, if we draw the curtains and lock the doors, or even if we put out a welcome mat and sit in our rocking chair waiting, we aren’t going to experience all that God long to give us. However good things are in our lives right now, God will still lead us to a better place if we let him. Many of those places are not far from where we are already, but they will bring us into contact with new people and new blessings and we will see God working in new ways. We just have to go.
Monday, March 2, 2020
Lent 1A 2020
Rev. Adam T. Trambley
March 1, 2020, St. John’s Sharon
Let’s start today with some Bible Trivia. I’m going to read some quotes. Do you think it is in the Bible or not?
· In the beginning was the Word. (John 1:1)
· Blessed is he who laughs last, for he laughs best.
· Jesus wept. (John 11:25)
· The Lord helps those who help themselves. (Greeks – philosophy/Aesop’s Fables)
· God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. (Genesis 1:31)
· It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends. (Dumbledore)
· What is truth? (John 18:38)
· Surely, I am too stupid to be human. (Proverbs 30:2)
· Do or do not, there is no try. (Yoda)
So why am I starting with a quiz of Bible quotes today? Because both the first reading and the gospel involve temptations by the devil that involve getting right what God says. Knowing what God’s word is matters. We see this in our wider culture, where people on all sides of every issue are willing to claim that God is on their side. We need to know what scripture says and what God is about to make be able to judge for ourselves.
In the first reading from Genesis, God has told Adam, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” All God says is not to eat of this dangerous tree. He is generous in providing every other tree for food. The knowledge of good and evil is deadly to human beings, though, so don’t eat of that tree. God is not making up rules. He’s protecting Adam and Eve by telling them how it is.
When the serpent comes to Eve, however, and asks about the tree, it plays with what God says. The serpent first asks if God prohibited eating of any tree in the garden. He is sowing doubt not only about the instruction, but also about God’s goodness and generosity. The woman says that they can eat of any tree, but that God said, “You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.” All of the sudden, she’s only gotten the message half-right. Gone is any sense of what the tree might be or why it might be dangerous. She doesn’t call it the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. And she adds an intimidating phrase, “nor shall you touch it”. Gone is a sense that a good God is protecting her from the consequence of eating of an dangerous tree that was deadly for human beings. Instead, her statement to the serpent calls to mind some sort of horror movie tree where the very fruit is a poisonous acid that starts to eat away your fingertips as soon as you touch it.
The serpent knows that it is easier to overcome an imaginary, crazy fear than an important, reasoned caution. So once it has pushed Eve in that direction, convincing her that God is lying becomes a lot easier. God’s words are now twisted to be about maintaining his own status instead of protecting Adam and Eve. So she grabs the fruit and she and Adam eat. She didn’t know what God really said, so it became easy for her to misunderstand God’s intentions and the purpose of his instructions.
In our gospel, Satan temps Jesus three times. Before he was in the desert praying and fasting, Jesus heard a voice at his baptism saying he was God’s Son, God’s beloved, with whom the Father was well pleased. Then Jesus was driven into the desert for forty days and nights before Satan shows up.
The devil’s temptations all focus on what it means for Jesus to be the Son of God. Satan is telling Jesus that if he is really God’s beloved, God would do some pretty impressive things for him. Jesus’ temptation is to allow Satan to define what it means for him to God’s beloved Son instead of allowing God to define it.
Satan’s first temptation, to the famished Jesus who hasn’t eaten in forty days, is that if he was God’s Son, he could command stones to turn into bread. Now, there is nothing inherently wrong about turning stones into bread, and Jesus is going to create lots of bread for thousands of people in other context. Satan’s temptation is more subtle, however. Satan is saying that if Jesus was really who God says he is, then God should give him what he wants. If he is hungry, the Father should provide him bread. The circumstances don’t matter for the devil. God’s plan and purpose and providence are immaterial. Satan is saying, “If God loves you, you’ll get what you want.”
Jesus is not taken in. Instead of bread, Jesus says we live by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Jesus commits to following God’s way of life, and not worrying about what he himself wants at any given moment.
Then Satan takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple and invites him to throw himself down. Showing he knows scripture, too, Satan quotes Psalm 91 where God promises to send his angels so we will not even dash our foot against a stone. Here the devil’s deceit is that if Jesus is God’s beloved Son, God will protect him no matter what. Satan says that God should send his angels to protect Jesus, even from the consequences of his own actions, like jumping off a building. I mean, who but the devil things that jumping off a building is a good idea?
Jesus response, also from scripture, is that you don’t put God to the test. We don’t get to demand that God be at our beck and call. Jesus knows that being God’s beloved doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not God shows up with a legion of angels in any particular situation just because we think he should.
Then Satan shows Jesus all the nations of the world and offers to give him authority over all of them if he only worships the devil. The temptation here is that Jesus should be in charge. The devil doesn’t talk about being the Son of God here, but the implication is clear. If you are really God’s beloved Son, you would have all this power. Since you don’t, maybe you need to switch over to the other side. The devil asks Jesus what God has done for him lately, and makes him what seems like a better offer.
Jesus knows the Father, however. He knows the plans and purposes of God. His response is swift and sure. Jesus quotes one of the key tenets of Judaism: Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him. Then the devil left.
We often face these same basic temptations. Like Eve, we can forget what God and his instructions are actually about. What are meant to be life-giving practices, we too often interpret as capricious restrictions. We face this danger especially in a society that claims any number of Biblical restrictions around all sorts of behaviors, many of which are either entirely absent in Scripture or seem to contradict the Good News of forgiveness and love that Jesus proclaimed. Many in our culture have turned aside from God and the church when God has not been accurately portrayed. We have an obligation to know what God is about, and to share his true good news with others. What Jesus says is life giving. What people say Jesus says, not always so much.
We also face the temptations that Jesus did. We are children of God. We would really like being children of God to mean that the omnipotent creator of the universe gives us everything we want, always protects us including from our own self-destructive actions, and puts us in charge of everyone and everything else. It doesn’t quite work that way.
Being children of God means being about our Father’s business. Being children of God means wanting what God wants. Being children of God means that we try to act in the ways that God wants us to act instead of trying to make God act in the ways that we want him to. And being about our Father’s business has a cost.
God loves us. He loves all his children. He is with us in the midst of our brokenness, and he sent Jesus, his beloved Son, to be with us. Jesus could not have done the work God had given him to do without the passion and death he endured. But Jesus bore that cost. And God bore that cost. And sometimes we are called to bear the cost of the hard work of love. Just like with Jesus and countless saints throughout history, sometimes that means we don’t get what we want, sometimes that means we don’t have the protection we think we need, and almost always that means we are not in charge. But God still loves us, and we are still his beloved children. Just like God still loved his Son Jesus during forty days of fasting in the wilderness. And God still loved his Son Jesus during his passion and death.
Part of what being God’s beloved children means is that the story never ends with us lacking or abandoned or powerless or alone. After Jesus’ passion and death, Easter came as God raised him up. When the temptations were over in this morning’s gospel, the angels came and waited on Jesus, presumably providing whatever bread he needed and protecting him from any other harm. When we have done our difficult work of love, God is with us, too, giving us what we need.
Often what we need is to ask for what we want and to receive it. Often what we need is some sort of protection. Often what we need is to know that God is blessing the corner of the Kingdom where we are his chief stewards. God gives all of these gifts to his beloved ones. We just can’t count them as something we are entitled to. And the best way to stay grateful for God’s blessings and avoid the temptation to be entitled to them is to know what God is really about. We do well to know what God really says in his scriptures, and to develop the personal relationship with him that lets us experience how deep, how broad, and how high is his love for us. God’s plans for us and those we love are better than anything we could ask or imagine. What God says to us is truly life-giving. We do well to pay attention.
Wednesday, February 26, 2020
Ash Wednesday 2019
Rev. Adam T. Trambley
St. John’s Sharon and Sharon First United Methodist
February 26, 2020
Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
We tend not to trust the language of reward regarding religious things. At least, we question a spiritual reward more tangible than eternal life when we die. Somehow, our human brokenness manages to turn the most sage spiritual advise into religious systems that we can game for our own ends. Jesus is speaking against such tendencies in the gospel today, where he commends almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, while advising us to avoid making a spectacle of ourselves while doing so. We know there are rewards to be gained by ostentatious alms-giving, pretentious prayer, and flashy fasting. We know how much we all long for feelings of importance and affirmation and acceptance. When we lack those, we can also run after power and prestige and wealth. Even if most people don’t find prayer and fasting the most straightforward way to lifestyles of the rich and famous, we can use anything to prop us up a bit. And who doesn’t like to see their name in an annual report, or on a plaque, or on a building?
Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Jesus is neither ruling out nor talking about the rewards we tend to assume for prayer, fasting and almsgiving. There is a place, and even perhaps a need, for public worship, just as there is a place for lead gifts in capital campaigns. Public intercessory prayers will still be answered and public alms giving will still feed the needy. The results of spiritual disciplines is not in question, here, but rather our reward for engaging them.
What is our own reward for these pious disciplines? On the one hand, Jesus is not rewriting the rules of the same game of human advancement such that if you send in your check anonymously God will give you a bigger house, or if you fast in secret you’ll be on the fast track to bishop AND lose lots of weight. (And by the way, fasting doesn’t really help with losing weight, just like other binge diets don’t really help.) On the other hand, Jesus is not saying that if you do pray and fast and give alms in secret you will have to wait for your reward in heaven because you won’t get a reward now. Jesus is saying that your Father who sees in secret will reward you and it will be a real reward.
Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
As human beings, we need go away by ourselves to receive our rewards, and being in secret in this language means being alone. If we aren’t alone, we get distracted. We are aware of all the outer distractions in modern life. The addicting buzz of social media notifications. The seemingly-urgent but relatively unimportant task we have to complete this minute. The TV and music and every other bit of entertainment the world has convinced us we need to have running constantly in the background. To actually stop and pray, we need some way to silence the noise around us.
We also need to silence the noise within us. That silencing is even harder to do than shutting off our phones if we don’t go to our own place where it is only us and God. When others are around, we can’t help but feel somewhat inhibited. We may need to let our aching hearts cry, but tears won’t come if we around others, even those we love. We may need to sing with joy, but we aren’t going to belt out our favorite hymn if someone else might hear it. We may feel a great cheerfulness in giving our gift, until we have it listed beside other gifts and suddenly feel that our extravagant generosity is unimportant when printed beneath the gifts of wealthier individuals. Our all-too-human sense of inadequacy keeps us from receiving Jesus’ rewards for our work when we are with others. Jesus’ words caution against pride and hypocrisy, but his advice is even more essential for all of us struggling to accept that we are worthy of the extravagant, overwhelming love that God pours out upon us. The love is ultimately our reward, and we cannot receive that reward until we are willing to accept such love. Our spiritual disciplines teach us how to accept God’s love, but we learn such acceptance in secret.
Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Our deepest, truest reward is three-fold.
First, and most importantly, we receive a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ at the core of our being. Being in secret means that we are focusing what we are doing solely on Jesus. If we love someone, we spend time with them and we give special gifts to them. Such expression allows us give our love to them and receive their love for us. When we take time for prayer, or offer our fasting privately to God, or gives alms secretly so only our Father sees, we connect directly with the source of all love. As we give these small gifts of ourselves to God, God responds. The greatest gift God gives is a deeper and deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. In that relationship we know ourselves as God sees us, as his beloved children. In that relationship, we know our inheritance in the Kingdom of God, which is our home now and for eternity. In that relationship, we know that we can have already died with Christ, and will rise with Christ, and so we can live with Christ and for Christ beginning this very day.
Second, our time in secret allows the Holy Spirit the opportunity to come in our silence, stillness, and solitude to bring us healing and peace. We are all broken. We all have cracks in our deepest being from pain caused by others and by the sins we have committed. We have no power in ourselves to heal ourselves. But God can heal us. Our repentance is turning from all the things that increase our brokenness and toward the one who can actually heal it. The spiritual disciplines we do in secret let God know that we have offered this time, or this part of our selves for God to do with as he will. When we offer that opportunity, the Holy Spirit will use that opportunity for our own good. Our wounds begin to heal. The parched places within us experience the slow bubbling of new springs welling up. Our fears and anxieties are calmed and our hearts are softened as the soothing balm of God’s grace seeps into every crack and crevice in our soul. This work does not happen overnight, but it happens consistently, a little at a time, as we make time to pray in secret and fast in secret and give in secret.
Third, our Father rewards us with the fruits of each particular spiritual discipline as we look to God as we do them instead of glancing around to see how others respond. The fruit of prayer is love. Our prayer in secret increases our love for those we are praying for. Prayer is like a stream cutting a channel of love between us and others. A trickle of prayer will develop some love, and significant prayer is a raging river cutting canyons between us that fill up with lakes and seas of love. Praise and adoration lets us love God more deeply. Intercession gives us great love for others. Confession and contemplation allows us to deepen our love for ourselves.
The reward for our secret fasting is freedom. As we give up food or other things that we rely on, we recognize that the things of this world hold less sway over us than we thought. We find that we can have a meal delayed and not yell at everyone around us because we are hungry. We can fast from various media and realize the world has not ended because we have not been constantly engaged. We are given the great reward of remembering that we only need Jesus, and nothing else need have any power over us. When we are free of the tyranny of what we had falsely decided we need, we are free to love and follow Jesus in ever deepening ways.
When we give alms secretly, we are rewarded with God’s abundance. We find that we can never give more to others than God gives to us. We know the joy that we will never out-give God. We learn to live extravagantly in our generosity while we also learn to receive the extravagance of God for us. The smallness of our lives is slowly replaced by the realization that it is indeed our Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom and that we, as our Father’s children, also receive immense pleasure as we give our greatest treasures away. We can live in the abundance of the one who created the universe and wants to share all of it with us.
Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
When we pray and fast and give in secret, we receive heavenly rewards, but we receive them now. A deeper relationship with Jesus, the healing of the Holy Spirit, and lives of love, freedom and abundance are all rewards that are treasures stored up in heaven. They are our inheritance for eternal life. They never expire or fade away. And they matter now. We don’t wait until we die to receive them. We are able to live them out now. These rewards and all our treasure may be in heaven, which means our hearts are set on heaven as well. With our hearts set on heaven, we get to live today as if we are already in the Kingdom of God. Lent is the time the church sets aside so we intentionally do the work we need to do to live for the Kingdom today. To pray. To fast. To give alms. And to do them in a way that reaps the most important rewards. A deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit’s healing and wholeness. The love and freedom and abundance that characterize the life of the Kingdom of God.
And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
Sunday, February 23, 2020
Last Epiphany 2020
Rev. Adam T. Trambley
February 23, 2020, St. John’s Sharon
In this morning’s gospel, we hear the account of Jesus’ transfiguration. Six days after Peter has made his confession of faith and just before Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem to go to his passion and death, Jesus takes his three closest friends up a mountain. There he is transfigured in glory and speaks with Moses and Elijah about what is going to happen to him.
While they are on the mountain, Peter and James and John are overwhelmed. They have no idea what is going on. Peter babbles something about making three booths – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. Then a voice from heaven declares about Jesus that “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Peter, James and John fall on their faces in fear. Jesus comes to them and tells them not to be afraid. When they get up, Jesus is alone. That is a lot to process.
Then Jesus tells them not to tell anyone about what they saw until after he rises from the dead. Which is also a lot. Peter and James are probably holed up together talking about this as soon as they can, while John journals extensively about it. Soon after, they start the journey to Jerusalem where they are going to see Jesus in states that are radically different from the glory that they just experienced.
We don’t know exactly why Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain with him that day. Nor do we know if such a transfiguration was something that happened regularly to Jesus. We know he would regularly go off by himself and pray, and maybe this was the way he looked when he was talking with God. Or maybe this transition in his own ministry toward Jerusalem was so significant and troubling that he wanted his friends with him – both his heavenly friends, Moses and Elijah, as well as his human friends. Or maybe Peter’s profession of faith – “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” – meant it was time to show them what they were talking about. Or maybe Jesus just wanted to give his key apostles a vision of glory for the days ahead when all glory was going to look lost.
We hear Peter talk about that sustaining vision in our second reading. He says this about his experience of witnessing the transformation, “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” Jesus is God’s beloved Son. And we hold onto that truth as to a lamp shining in a dark place.
We know the dark places that Peter and the others went into. They were terrified as soldiers came for Jesus. Peter’s inner darkness led him to deny Jesus. Once Jesus was resurrected and they went out to spread the good news, Peter and James both experienced persecutions. Both were eventually martyred. Both went into dark places with sometimes very little to cling to except this lamp of the light of the glory of the Son of God shining in their hearts.
But as Peter says, that light was shining with, “the prophetic message more fully confirmed.” They needed to see Jesus in glory to convince themselves, and so they could fully convince others. Like Thomas in the upper room a week after the resurrection, they needed to see to believe. They needed to believe deeply enough to get them through a whole lot of trials and tribulations. Being on the mountain with Jesus let them see what they needed to see, and what we needed them to see and to share with us.
Part of what they needed to see was the vision of how things should be. The disciples needed the experience of Jesus arrayed in heavenly glory with God’s voice declaring him the Beloved. Peter and James and John needed the understanding of the mountaintop. They needed the understanding of the mountaintop because they were going down to the valley. They were going to be in places where they might doubt that Jesus really was the Beloved, because a lot of people were not treating him that way. They were going to be in places that were confusing and overwhelming and dark, and without the lamp of what they knew shining in their hearts they would get very lost. Once they had seen Jesus arrayed in dazzling white, radiant in divine splendor, they knew the reality that the shadows they were walking through were shrouding. And they knew that they could trust the instructions they had received on that mountain to get them through until day dawned and the morning star rose in their hearts once again.
The instruction Peter, James, and John received was to listen to Jesus. Just listen to Jesus. Remember the Sermon on the Mount that they had heard and that we have been talking about for a couple of weeks? Listen to Jesus. Remember the Great Commandment to love the Lord with all your heart and mind and soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself? Listen to Jesus. They haven’t heard it yet, but they will hear the Great Commission, to go and baptize all nations and teach them everything that Jesus has taught us. Listen to Jesus. Just listen to Jesus.
And by listening to Jesus’s instructions; by experiencing this incredible vision of the transfigured Jesus; and by holding the hope that they would once again see Jesus similarly arrayed in glory, the disciples could navigate successfully through the darkest night of life. They knew the morning star was going to rise in their hearts again. Without their transfiguration experience, we don’t know if they would have had the commitment to listening to Jesus and the hope of seeing him in glory once again.
We know that Peter and James and John got what they needed because we are able to read what they experienced and live into it two thousand years later. Their example of going up the Mountain of the Transfiguration with Jesus and relying on that experience in the dark places of life helps us, too.
The message they were given is equally relevant for us today. We have the vision of Jesus as the beloved Son of God to hold onto, and we have Jesus’ words to instruct us. We know even more of Jesus’ life in glory that we can ground ourselves in than Peter, James, and John did that day. We know that transfiguration, and we also know the resurrection. We have experienced in our own ways the power of the Holy Spirit that came first at Pentecost and keeps showing up for us, with the love of God poured into us. We have the great sacrament of the Eucharist as we gather each week to remind us of our place in the Body of Christ and strengthen us to love and serve one another as we go out from the church. We have two thousand years of witness to the resurrected Jesus that serves as a lantern to use to navigate the dark places in our lives. We have the prophetic message of Jesus’ glory confirmed for us over and over again. All we need to do is stop and receive it.
We also have Jesus’ instructions for us. We have Bibles. We have a lot of Bibles. We have access to Bibles that people throughout history would have given everything for, and which people in some parts of the world today are thrown in jail or even killed for having. All we need to do is open the book, or pull it up on our phones. The words of Jesus can guide us and help us navigate the darker valleys of life. And if something doesn’t make sense, there are people here, starting with myself, who are happy to talk about the Bible, and we can also help you find numerous books and other resources, as well.
We gather for worship, in part, as a transfiguration type touchstone. Together, with music and scripture and sacrament we can have an experience of God to help us throughout the week. Most of us need that connection to keep ourselves pointed in the right direction. We need to go to the elevated experience of church today so that later we can trudge through the places where we might have a harder time seeing God, or where others might not be interested in moving toward the same hope that we have.
Sometimes we may also need to go to a higher mountain for an experience of God. A busy hour on Sunday may not be enough to keep the light of God’s glory blazing in our hearts, given the difficulties we regularly face. A retreat at Villa Maria in New Castle, or the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, or the Orthodox Monastery in Ellwood City, or taking a mission trip somewhere might be essential for us. Especially if life is particularly confusing and making it difficult to know how to go forward or stay rooted in Jesus, we may need to make the time to follow Jesus up a mountain somewhere and see what he has to show us.
The disciples took time away and followed Jesus up a mountain to be present to whatever he wanted to show them. What they received was enough to sustain them through difficult periods of their lives. They received the vision of Jesus’ glory and the assurance that they could follow his instructions. We need the same things in our lives today. If we are willing to make the time and follow him where we need to go, Jesus will come and meet us in the way that we need.