This Is My Beloved — Listen to HimPosted: March 2, 2014
This Is My Beloved
This is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday – Transfiguration Sunday – don’t forget Ash Wednesday Soup Supper and Communion this week. This morning we remember that remarkable occasion, when Jesus and three disciples climbed up Mt. Tabor, and experienced a profound God event. Context is the key to understanding our story.
In the chapter immediately preceding the Transfiguration, Jesus took his disciples to Caesarea Philippi. They journeyed into the far North of Galilee to avoid Herod’s secret police, who were looking to arrest Jesus as a political rabble rouser. Caesarea Philippi is also the source of the Jordan River lying at the base of Mt. Hermon, the tallest mountain in Israel rising nearly 10,000 feet. Water literally bubbles up out of the ground. In a hot dry dusty land this miraculous water source is the life blood of Israel.
WHO DO YOU SAY THAT I AM?
Surrounded by natural beauty and the water of life Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
And Peter said, “You are the Messiah.”
In response to Peter’s answer, Jesus began to tell his disciples that the Messiah would travel to Jerusalem, where he would be arrested and executed like John the Baptist. And Peter in great distress responded, “No Jesus this can never happen to you.”
And Jesus rebuked Peter, “Get behind me Satan for you would tempt me to save my life rather than fulfilling the will of God.”
Jesus was contemplating and struggling with his possible martyrdom in Jerusalem, when he then led his disciples south from Mt. Hermon to Mt. Tabor. Mt. Tabor is a Monte Sano size mountain in the middle of the Jezreel Valley, Israel’s most fertile agricultural plain. From the top of Mt. Tabor you can see Nazareth to the North, Mt. Carmel to the West, where Elijah called down fire from heaven to defeat the 450 prophets of Baal, Megiddo to the South, where the good King Josiah died in battle with the Egyptians, Mt. Gilboa in the Southeast where Saul and Jonathan were slain by the Philistines and the Jordan River in the East. From the top of Mt. Tabor you have a sweeping view of much of the dramatic history of Israel’s faith. And it was there on a glittering sun lit day that God showed up.
JESUS STRUGGLED WITH THE PROSPECT OF HIS ARREST AND EXECUTION
Jesus took the inner circle of his disciples, Peter, James and John, with him to the top of the mountain. We don’t know everything that happened that day. I like to believe that Jesus was still struggling with the prospect of his arrest and execution. If he stayed in Galilee Herod’s police would eventually catch up to him. If he journeyed to Jerusalem for the Passover the Temple authorities would surely arrest him and hand him over to the Romans. The only way he could avoid death would be to give up his ministry and go get lost in the wilderness. But he could not maintain his integrity his spiritual authenticity, if he did not follow through with his calling to be God’s Messiah.
RADIATE A BRIGHT LIGHT
And so I believe Jesus prayed there on the mountain top. As he prayed his face began to glow and then to radiate a bright light, and his clothes became a dazzling white in the magnificent sunshine. The disciples became afraid, and then they noticed two figures of light talking with Jesus.
SHEKINAH – MYSTERIOUS CLOUD OF GOD’S PRESENCE
In response to his prayer Jesus was being given a foretaste of life in the spirit, the resurrection body, and he was being encouraged to follow through with his calling by no less than the spirits of Elijah and Moses. And then a bright sunlit cloud settled on the top of the mountain, the shekinah, the mysterious cloud of God’s presence, the holy spirit, and then the disciples really were afraid. They bowed down to the ground in awe, wonder and more than a little fear.
THIS IS MY BELOVED — LISTEN TO HIM
And then they heard a voice: “This is my beloved. Listen to him.” The next minute they felt Jesus touch them and the vision had passed.
On the way down the mountain Jesus reminded the disciples that when they traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover, he would be arrested and executed. From that point on Jesus made preparations for his final journey and his death.
EPIPHANY – INSIGHT INTO A PARADOX
What meaning does this story have for us as we transition from the Season of Epiphany the time of revelation to Lent the six weeks of fasting and prayer leading up to Easter? Actually I’d like to share with you a joke, because in order to get a joke we have to have an epiphany, an insight into the paradox that makes the joke work.
The night of Ash Wednesday at the Soup Supper, two third graders were talking about why they were there. The little boy was telling the little girl they were there to get a smudge of ashes on their foreheads.
“But why do we do that?” the little girl asked.
“Because today is Ash Wednesday,” he replied.
“What’s Ash Wednesday?” she asked.
“Oh, that’s when Mommies and Daddies begin their diet.”
REVELATION OF LIFE IN THE SPIRIT
Epiphany, a previously hidden truth is revealed. On the Mountain Top in the transfiguration Jesus received a revelation of life in the spirit that gave him courage and faith to continue on to Jerusalem and the cross. On the Mountain Top Peter, James and John received a revelation of Jesus as God’s Messiah and the light of the world – this is my beloved – listen to him.
LISTEN TO JESUS
The story of the transfiguration says to us, “Follow in the way of Jesus. Listen to him. Listen to him, when he says, ‘Turn the other check.’ Listen to him when he says, ‘Go the second mile.’ Listen to him, when he says, ‘Share what you have with the poor.’ Listen to him when he says, ‘pray for your enemy.’”
WE COMPROMISE THE WAY OF JESUS
So often in the life of the church we compromise the way of Jesus, because well Jesus isn’t really practical is he? If we follow Jesus we might not get ahead in the world. We might be inconvenienced by Jesus’ higher standards. If we follow the way of Jesus there might be people who don’t want to be our friend. I mean it’s all well and good to love the poor from afar, but to actually socialize with them. And then there is the challenge to welcome and affirm everyone regardless of age, ethnicity, family structure, gender identity and expression, mental and physical ability, nationality, political ideology, race, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, or spiritual belief. That’s a mouthful. But it’s an important mouthful.
When our daughter Leah and her family moved to Lebanon, Pennsylvania, there was a UCC church located right at the entrance to the sub-division where they purchased their house. So on the first Sunday after they were finally moved in they set off to try out that church. As they drove into the parking lot Leah noticed that the United Church of Christ symbol was no longer on their sign but thought that maybe it was out for repair or something.
THEY’LL LET ANYONE IN
After the service a woman who was sitting in front of them turned around and asked how they had found the church. Leah explained that they had just moved into the sub-division and she had seen their UCC sign, but noticed it wasn’t there that morning. The woman replied, “Oh, we just pulled out of the UCC, you know they’ll let anyone in.”
WHO ARE WE TO THINK WE CAN KEEP ANY ONE OUT?
Leah thought, who are they to think that in the name of Jesus they can keep anyone out? Yes, we will let anyone in. It is not our place to exclude anyone. God loves us all. If we embrace everyone like Jesus, there might be some people who don’t want to associate with us. That is their choice. We cannot force them to accept us. Jesus was criticized for eating with tax collectors and sinners. So if we follow Jesus we might just receive some criticism too. We cannot always expect to be rewarded for doing the right thing.
REBORN AS THE PEOPLE OF GOD
Following Jesus is difficult – let’s never deny the difficulty of the way of Jesus. But there is another epiphany we can find in the transfiguration story – a paradox. Those who would gain their lives must lose them. The only way to enter into new life is to die, to die to our old self so we might be born anew in the spirit. It may mean that the old ways of being church need to die in order to be reborn as the people of God.
RETURN TO THE LIGHT
The universe is made up of light. In the beginning was the light – energy. And someday we will return to the light. That was the vision on the mountain top, when Jesus was transfigured into a being of light. Our material bodies must die and decay and be transformed into energy so we might return to the One and become reunited with the creator. On the mountain top we learn we are all on the way home.