Service on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/seeyouonsunday/videos/5616582215135856
We haven’t spent a lot of time with the disciples since we started in Matthew. They were there when Jesus was on the mountain. They have seen him healing and heard him teaching. They even got to try some healing on their own, mostly unsuccessfully. And together we Didn’t read the call of the disciples in Matthew so we haven’t really even talked about them by name at least not together.
But today we have Peter. Peter was an early follower of Jesus, one of the first. Peter would jump in to talk first, would answer the questions before anyone else, and in a world of note there’s no such thing as a dumb question, e asked the questions everyone else was afraid to ask.
We tend to get him a hard time, that he’s just a dumb fisherman. Plenty of preachers and teachers call the apostles hard-headed and maybe even dim-witted. Perhaps we can give him a little grace. Of course, they didn’t understand the parables completely, that was the point! And they were hearing different interpretations of the old teachings.
But they were committed. And we could see Peter as earnest and sincere, desperately wanting the best for himself, his friends, and especially for Jesus.
What happened just before this is that that’s the disciples who people were saying that he was and who they say he was. It was Peter who either absolutely got it or spoke up 1st and told Jesus that they knew he was the Messiah. This seems obvious you’ve heard the teaching and seen the healing and the walking on water and the feeding the multitude with bread. How could there be any doubt that Jesus was the messiah the savior of their people and the one they had been waiting for?
Jesus tells them not to tell anyone yet and then begins to teach them what it means to be the Messiah. The Messiah will be taken, tortured, and will be executed by the state. The Messiah will be abandoned and will suffer. The Messiah will die. And sincere and earnest Peter stands up and tells Jesus that this won’t happen, and we know Peter carries a sword and would wield it to defend Jesus. Maybe he reached down and touched it to quell the fear that was starting to rise, then told Jesus this suffering and death won’t happen. the translation tells us Jesus said, “get behind me satan! Your thoughts aren’t the thoughts of God.” Which sounds really harsh but it wasn’t a proper noun, but speaks of one who tempts, like the satan in the wilderness that tried to convince Jesus to stray from his purpose. Of course, Jesus didn’t want this to all end in death, But these were going to be the consequences for the life he was living and the teaching about.
Because to save one’s life, to live fully in this life he was teaching and proclaiming was going to require that they give something up. Jesus was teaching a way of life that meant he, and his followers, were letting go of the “safety” of abiding by the empire, the comfort, and the compromise, and that way of living has consequences, for Jesus it would be the cross, the death the empire wielded. These are hard words, they must have been devastating for the disciples.
Six days later, Jesus takes three of the disciples up a mountain to pray. We might think of them as the elite of the twelve but maybe they needed more training in prayer, more practice.
We call this Sunday moment in Jesus’ life, we call this Sunday Transfiguration–Jesus’ face was transformed into something else, something extraordinary, something more connected with the eternal and timeless, something rooted in their ancestors and planning for the generations to come, something glowy.
This also marks a transformation, a change, in Jesus’ life. From the moment that Jesus and the disciples start down the mountain, they are on their way to Jesus’ death. The pace of the story changes, there is more narrative and less time. There are fewer amazing miracles with celebrations and more final words and goodbyes.
Imagine Peter who had just heard that this is going to end terribly and soon, and then gets brought up on this mountain and shown glory. Peter offering to make houses, dwellings, places of memorial and worship was how he was taught to respond this kind of amazing event, these moments where heaven and earth touch. THIS is what he had been in for. THIS is what he had expected when he saw the healing and the feeding and the walking on water.
And we could think, “there goes peter again, getting it all wrong. So dumb.”
But tradition has held that this transfiguration happened on Mount Tabor, and you know what is there today? Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Transfiguration.
There are times we’re in a perfect moment and don’t we hate for things to change?
We know and love that children and babies growing, and it’s great when they can talk and tell you what it is that is hurting them and what they want and need. But that mouth is going to grow and yell at you someday, maybe not you, you’re great. But you want to hold on to those sweet moments for fear of what will come.
And maybe it’s not about who they will become but about how the world will hurt them, break their hearts over and over again, and then break yours, too. If you could just let nothing change and keep them safe.
But these are kinda sweet as we face the inevitability of time marching on. The world is changing around us. I had this professor, this 90-year-old rabbi who would drive himself around Chicago, who taught about how the world is just now bucking against Aristotle’s writings about strangers and women and how the world “works,” FYI, Aristotle did not have a high opinion of strangers or women. And that these foundational teachings, many of which influenced Christianity for 2000 years, are crumbling.
We’re seeing it as Christianity is losing its place of power in the larger culture–as numbers decline there is less cultural control.
We’re seeing it as the demographic numbers in the United States tip.
We see what people do when they are afraid. They dig in. They entrench. They commit even harder beliefs or systems. They circle the wagons, set boundaries, and define who is the “other” or danger. We long to build dwellings to the good old days and live there, for always.
And after Peter, John, and James had fallen in fear and awe, what healed their fear was Jesus reaching out and touching them and told them to get up and not be afraid. Jesus invited them to leave this place of awe and wonder and fear, this place that revealed everything Peter wanted in a Messiah, to leave it go to the world that is going to hurt, and break their hearts, and execute their savior.
Six days earlier Jesus invited them to let go of the world they had known, to let go of what was expected of them, to give up their lives: their safety, their living by the rules of the empire, their comforts, and live a life that followed Jesus, and it might hurt. And it will have some cost.
The church universal has done so much good over the centuries. But it also did a lot while it was entrenched in the empire. Sometimes a literal empire, often the empire of whoever is in charge at the time. There was survival there. But at what costs? A church that became entrenched in the power structures was unwilling to carry its cross. Not willing to suffer and certainly not willing to die. More often, the church that is living in or with or for the empire is going to kill rather than die.
We can read about it throughout the centuries and we have seen it lately. PRRI and Brooking institute last week or so released a survey on Christian Nationalism: the belief that “Christian nationalism is the belief that the American nation is defined by Christianity, and that the government should take active steps to keep it that way.” They asked folks if they agree or disagree with statements like: “The US government should declare America a Christian Nation” and “God has called Christians to exercise dominion over all areas of American society.” And I want to pause here a moment, because based on their survey, 10% of the population very much agree with these statements, but 20% get it and probably could be convinced. Those 2 groups are 64% of white evangelicals and don’t get too confident, 33% of white mainline. Those are important because, for the most part, Christian Nationalism is defined by and as white, straight Christianity. You are thinking maybe not their Christianity, but mine would be fine, let us go back to the story about a splinter in their eye and a plank in our own. Because anything can be corrupted and no one really has it right. We’re not talking about being patriotic, we’re talking about a movement that would legally define this congregation out of Christianity and defines some people as less than human and we have a responsibility to do more than say, my church isn’t like that, but also say, this isn’t acceptable in my community or in the mouths of those who claim Christ.
I think the numbers are revealing the fear that lives in people as the world in is changing. It is an example of what happens when the world is transforming and we, the church universal, hadn’t given up anything, not our lives and not our comfort with the empire, find there isn’t any life left to save. We declare God on a mountaintop, hold on to that power, and don’t recognize Jesus’ voice or touch telling us to get up and not be afraid. We never walk down the mountain to pick up the cross, to suffer the loss, to learn to live for Christ, not in denial of the reality of the world but walking into the brokenness. And it can be scary to walk into the unknown, to walk into the world without the privilege of power that we have been accustomed to–from wherever those privileges come, it can feel like we’re losing our place in the world but that is how we find the kin-dom of God, how we find out that we have built our foundation on the teachings of Christ, built on the love of God and neighbor, on lifting up and bringing in those on the margins and those forgotten. It is how we see our lives have been saved for the sake of Christ to love creation.
This is everything we’ve been talking about for weeks! This is what it is to be salt and light! This is what it is to live for Christ, to live in the kingdom of God here on earth. It is to take up the space we are called to, no more no less, to live fully into the seasoning we have to offer. To trust in that we too are called beloved, just because you are. To know the foundations are strong for when the storms come and you don’t have to dig in yourself. It is hard work. It is every day. It is opening ourselves up to be transformed by God as individuals and as a community, and that no matter what comes next we are not walking into it alone. Jesus meets us, offers a word and a hand as we journey into whatever comes next together.