3/4/2019 11:25:58 AM
Go Down: Being Here (Sermon Manuscript)
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
Pastor Marc's sermon for Transfiguration Sunday (March 3, 2019) on Luke 9:28-43. Listen to the recording here or read my manuscript below.
“It’s good for us to be here.”
Now that’s something we don’t say as much as we should. If you flip through our church bulletin, those words appear nowhere else expect in our reading from the gospel according to Luke. It’s not difficult for us, as a church, to say we’re glad you’re here. But we rarely say it’s good for us to be here too. We tend to, I think, assume that’s one of those things that goes without saying. If we didn’t think coming to church was a good thing, we wouldn’t be here in the first place. So whether we arrived today 20 minutes before worship started or if walked in mid-way through the first song, once we come together to spend some intentional time with Jesus, we do church as quickly as we can. We pray, we sing, we read scripture, and then we take a moment to have a little something to eat. We do church without taking a moment to pause and reflect on what being here actually means. It really is good for us to be here. And I’d like us to take a few seconds to let that reality sink in.
(Take a long pause)
Now, me saying that it’s good to be here and you really sensing that are two separate things. We might find ourselves not really connecting to “that good” as much as we think we should. The wider church has, over the years, acted as if coming to church should be easy and that ease is a sign of how good church can be. But that’s not always the case. Just because something’s easy doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. What’s good is to be part of a community that God has already created for us. Yet being in that community, especially during worship, might not always be easy. For example, we might find ourselves spending all of worship completely exhausted because our kids are, well, young. Our hands spend more time searching for snacks, handing out crayons, picking up toys, and escorting kids back and forth from the narthex than they ever do holding an actual bulletin. We’re lucky, on most Sundays, to hear every fourth or fifth word. And that might make us feel as if we’re too worn out to respond to anything Jesus just said. Yet, even then, it’s good for you and your family to be here. It might not feel like it. And I know nothing about it is easy. But when we, as we are, hang out in the places Jesus promises to be, we end up experiencing the good that sustains every one of our moments.
Now Peter, who saw Jesus lit up like some human version of Times Square, almost missed the whole thing. As we hear in today’s text, Peter was exhausted. Scripture says that he, and the others, were weighed down with sleep. Which, to me, means his entire body, from his eyelids to his back, arms, and legs, were completely tuckered out. For several years, he had traveled with Jesus all over Northern Israel. He saw Jesus’ miraculous healings and he struggled with Jesus’ teachings that challenged his point of view. Peter wasn’t just physically tired but I imagine he was also emotionally, spiritually, and mentally exhausted as well. He needed time to reflect, process, and understand what he was going through. I wouldn’t be surprised if Peter, with his eyes closed in prayer on that mountain-top, ended up zonking out for a minute or two. Yet he managed to stay up. And while Jesus prayed, Peter saw Jesus changed. Not only did Jesus’ clothes turn a dazzling white; his face changed too. Jesus no longer looked exactly like he did before. Yet Peter, James, and John knew Jesus was exactly who he’d always been. After Jesus was joined by Moses and Elijah, who talked with him about the dangers of the journey ahead, Peter chose to break the silence. Tired, worn out, and with his body full of adrenaline after seeing something he didn’t expect, Peter struggled to put words to what he was experiencing. He stated, quite bodly, that it was good for them to be there. But Peter couldn’t stop; he needed to do something. Instead of just sitting there with the experience, he rushed to the next thing. The three dwellings he wanted to build would not only mark the spot where they experienced God, but they would also be places where the experience could be captured, housed, and visited again in the future. I imagine Peter, knowing full well how tired he was, wanted to trap Jesus in that place so, after a nice long nap, Peter could return to the experience, giving it the honor and respect it truly deserved. He knew he was only hearing every fourth or fifth word and he believed his response to God needed more. So God chose to respond to him, covering them all in a cloud, and telling Peter, James, and John to settle down and listen.
What’s interesting about this story, though, is what didn’t happen on the mountain-top. Luke doesn’t tell us if Jesus responded to Peter or not. Instead, Peter’s desire to rush to the next thing is met by God’s command to pause and listen. Peter knew it was good for them to be there. But not every experience of the divine is an invitation for us to do something. There are moments when God just shows up, letting us know we’re not alone. And those kinds of moments don’t ask us to make a decision, or take an action, or to be anything but ourselves. All God asks for us is for each of us to notice what God is already doing. Even when we are tired, even when we are exhausted, even when coming to church is hard because of where we are in our life or because of things the church has done to us, when we gather together to spend time with Jesus, it really is good for us to be here. Because when we’re here, Jesus is here, and he feeds us in the very ordinary and the very extraordinary experience of words and scripture, bread and blood. These gifts are not designed to only transfigure us into something brand new on Sunday morning. Rather, these gifts are here to sustain us so that we, during every minute of every day, can listen to Jesus’ voice. Peter’s experience of Jesus wasn’t meant to stay confined to that mountain top. Because Jesus was already heading down into the valley and into the reality of our everyday lives. It is good for you to be here, in this place where the experience of Jesus doesn’t depend on how you feel or what you think or what you’re able to pay attention to. Instead, Jesus is here because he has promised to be. And that promise makes a difference not only in this moment; but in all our moments yet to come.