Lives in the Balance: Making That Change
[audio http://www.opcbrookhaven.org/worship/audio/sermons/02-14-10.MP3]This was a trialogue sermon between me, Meghan Brown Saavedra, and Tiffany Kromer.
Exodus 34:29-35 Luke 9:28-36
Marthame/Peter: Good morning. Thank you all for coming. My name is Simon, but my friends call me Peter. I also want to introduce you to James and John. If you’re like me, you’ll have a hard time telling them apart, being siblings and all. And some of you might recognize us from our brief cameo in The DaVinci Code, but that’s not why we’re here today.
There has been a lot of talk about some of the things we experienced with Jesus not that long ago, and so we wanted to take this opportunity to help clear up some confusion, hopefully. Today, as the ads promised, we are going to talk about what some people are calling the Transfiguration. It was the three of us who went up the mountain with Jesus, so we want to share with you our own first-hand experience. But first, I’d like to begin by reading to you one of the popular accounts of it that has been circulating, this one written by Luke. So let’s listen to this, and then we’ll each take a few minutes to give you our own point of view.
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.
So anyway, that’s Luke’s take on it. We’ve got our own. John, why don’t you go first?
I have a bit of a bad memory, so I've tried to keep track of the things we've encountered by writing them in a journal. I'd like to share with you what I wrote the morning after this happened.
You know, it seems like just yesterday that my life was totally different. I used to be a fisherman; I had a pretty good life. It was peaceful and comfortable-not terribly exciting, but I couldn’t really complain. Somehow, my life changed before I even knew what was happening. When Jesus asked me to follow him, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. Life as a disciple has been pretty interesting ever since. We’ve traveled all around the country, met so many people who are looking for love and healing, I’ve even performed some miracles myself. But last night was the first time things got really interesting. Now that I think about it, I don’t even know exactly what happened. After all, we had all been asleep when it started.
Last night, the four of us went up on the mountain to pray. Now, I’ve never met anyone who could pray as long and as intently as Jesus. We’d been praying for hours! I guess I must have dozed off in the midst of everything, and the next thing I knew, there was a bright light shining on me. At first I thought it must be dawn, and I was a little embarrassed that I had conked out for so long! I was trying to think up an excuse to explain to Jesus why I fell asleep, but then I saw that it was still night outside. I didn’t have my glasses on, but I think I think the light was coming from Jesus himself. He looked different to me; I didn’t recognize his face and his clothes were bright and shiny. He looked like a ghost, or maybe even an angel. He looked so powerful and so holy. It was like the heavens had opened up on him. I couldn’t help but think of what Peter told me the other day; that he thought Jesus was the Christ.
And then I got confused, if Jesus is the Christ, then why does he always talk about being a servant leader? Why do people have to take up a cross to follow him and why does he always seem to suggest that he will suffer? From what I saw last night Jesus is clearly a king of some sort, maybe even God. And, if he’s God, then why does he need to suffer? Shouldn’t we all be serving him, instead of him serving us?
It seemed like there were some other important people surrounding Jesus last night, but I couldn’t really tell who they were. I was trying to get a better look, but this big cloud covered up the moon and stars and I could barely even see my hand in front of my face. The wind was really loud, but I think I heard someone say something like, “This is my Son, the chosen one, listen to him!” Do you think that could have been God?
I guess I just saw a different side of Jesus last night. He’s always been so wise and compassionate to everyone we’ve met, but he’s so humble. Jesus is clearly a lot more powerful than he leads people to believe he is. I wish he’d act more powerfully sometimes: we might get a lot more done and attract a lot more followers. If they knew how powerful he was, maybe people wouldn’t question him; maybe Jesus could even make them listen to him, if he’s really the Christ. And if everyone saw and heard what happened last night, then they’d think Jesus really might be God’s Son. And, I’m sure that if people thought Jesus might be God’s son then he can forget about all that having to suffer nonsense. People wouldn’t want to risk upsetting God like that, right?
That's what I wrote right after it happened. If I only knew then what I know now, that Jesus’ humility and humanity wasn’t a downfall, didn’t make him weak, but actually made him, made God, truly powerful. But, what do I know? I’m still trying to figure it all out myself. Maybe my brother James can help you understand what happened.
I was really baffled about what we witnessed that night, too. At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Oh, and, John, you don’t need to feel guilty about falling asleep…there’s something about that mountain that allows your whole body to rest in God. At that point, we had been traveling hard with Jesus for a while, and we needed to retreat from the crowded streets…we needed to rest. But you know how much I love to sleep. In fact, the only part I miss about being a fisherman is the afternoon naps on the boat, especially on those sunny days when it is too hot to move but too beautiful to work.
I saw the same thing you saw, John, and, like you, I couldn’t seem to place the two men who were with him. Luke and Peter claim they were Moses and Elijah. But all I know is that last night’s show wasn’t about those two men—it was like God was putting the moon’s spotlight on Jesus. That voice from the cloud had to be God. It just had to be.
There are certain things people have said to me in my life that have always stuck with me. My father told me at a very young age that I was a good fisherman. That stayed with me and means a lot to me to this day. There are a lot of things Jesus has said that have stuck with me too. He is such a good friend. Ever since we met him that day on our boat, I knew that our lives would never be the same. Before I met Jesus, my goal in life was to one day run my father’s fishing business…to keep the Zebedee family name and success alive!
Now, I am not one to make rash decisions. I tend to be a person that thinks long and hard before he acts, which doesn’t make me tons of fun at parties, but it does make me successful in business. And John can tell you that I am a very particular person who has been known to blow up when I am passionate or upset about something. But on the day we met Jesus, something happened that I have a hard time putting into words. Jesus walked on our boat and caused our nets to be filled with an abundance of fish. And then, he asked us to follow him and said to us, “from now on, you will be catching people.” When he said that, it is like Jesus caught me and there was no doubt in my mind that I had to follow him. I had no idea why I should follow him, but something deep within me told me it was the right thing to do. What Jesus said that day stuck with me and now my life is completely different…it’s like my life has a deeper purpose, a deeper calling.
What God said to us in the pillar of cloud that night stuck with me too. God said, “This is my Son, my Chosen, Listen to him!” I’ve listened to Jesus so far—I’ve followed him and I get up every day trusting that God will provide for our needs and see us through anything we encounter. Yet, Jesus taught me every day to live life differently than everyone else around me. And, I admit that it was sometimes really hard to listen. And if we disciples had a hard time listening, I can imagine the crowds of people and religious officials we encountered may have had an even harder time listening. And, once this dawned on me, I was afraid. I was afraid that the people we were to encounter were not going to listen to Jesus and they were going to misunderstand him and they might even hurt him for what he is saying. And now I get chills just saying that because people did misunderstand him and killed him for what he said.
All I know is that if Jesus could befriend this selfish, angry fisherman and his little, spitfire brother, AND change their lives, then I believe that Jesus can change the world…
At the time of the transfiguration, I felt really tired, more tired than usual. Leaving our family and friends and job was really hard and there are moments when I get homesick and wonder if I’m doing the right thing. What I take from our mountaintop experience last that, weird as it was, is that I need to listen to Jesus. I need to listen to him because he is chosen by God. What we saw and heard and experienced that night refueled me and got me moving again. It got me back on track with why I decided to follow Jesus in the first place—because he change my life and I know he can change everyone’s life if they just listen to him.
Peter, what did you get from our experience that night?
I think the main thing that I remember is that I just didn’t want to leave. Yeah, I’m sure it was Moses and Elijah that joined Jesus up there, and I remember just not wanting to go back down that mountain! It was, well, it was what I thought we had been preparing for all that time. We were, at least I was, following Jesus around convinced that he was the Messiah, which meant that we were headed for greatness! Power! Glory! And then, on top of Mount Tabor, standing next to him, Moses and Elijah appear! It was the confirmation of everything I had just assumed up to that point. It was so, um, holy! I had never had an experience like that before, and I wasn’t sure if I ever would again. I wanted to stay in that moment for the rest of my life. I mean, who wouldn’t want to stay, build a shrine even, and maybe make a living collecting entry fees from tourists?
But, as hard as it was for me to leave, I can only imagine what Jesus must have been going through. Unlike me, he actually understood what it meant to be Messiah: not glory, honor, and power; but humiliation, suffering, and death. It meant being the vessel of God’s grace, judgment, and reconciliation with the rest of us. I mean, up to that point, we had been a bunch of wandering teachers and faith healers in the bucolic Galilee. We had been among simple people just like us, shepherds and fishermen. But from the top of that mountain, we looked to the South; and before us, we saw the plain of Jezreel stretching out to the Gilboa mountains, which marked the border between the Galilee and the Samaritan country. And even further to the south, beyond the eye, lay Jerusalem. Jerusalem! Knowing what he knew about Jerusalem, Jesus must have been tempted to stay up there, too, just like me. Anyway, enough about that moment. Because whatever you want to think about it, which ever account or rumor of it that you’ve heard that you choose to believe, I don’t think any of us are convinced that it’s the sequence of events that’s all that important. If it is, if we spend all our time trying to figure out exactly what happened and in what order, then we’re all we’re doing is trying to stay up on the mountain. We’ve gotta come down from those moments and head back into our lives; but as transfigured people of faith; transformed; changed.
And I think, if I can be so bold as to sum up for the three of us, what John would say is important about that mountain top is service. We got this amazing glimpse of how powerful Jesus actually is, and yet there he is always telling us that we ought to serve just like him. Do ya’ll remember when I got so bent out of shape about wanting to wash his feet instead of him washing mine? But that wasn’t his point: he was setting an example for us, so that we would be a blessing to others as he was, and is, a blessing to us.
And for James, I think it’s all about that change that God can make in our lives, especially if we just listen to Jesus. Then we, too, can be transformed into something that we don’t even recognize. Not perfect, mind you, but changed; living different lives than we ever might imagine. I’m not really one to speak, of course, since Jesus once called me “Satan” and told me to get behind him. But if Jesus can change James, and me, then, well, what could he do with each of us?
From my perspective, it’s all about getting down that mountain. If you’re anything like me, then there are those mountain top experiences in your life that you never, ever want to end. You want to keep them, preserve them, have them again and again. But if that’s our approach, we might as well put them in formaldehyde, because they’ll never be as alive as they were in that moment. Have you ever been to a party that’s so great that you never want to leave? And then, later on, have you had that moment where you realize that the party’s no fun anymore, probably because you are trying so hard to make it fun? That’s kind of what I’m talking about.
But it’s also so much more than that. If we had never gone down that mountain, we never would have made our way to Jerusalem. And let me say a word about Jerusalem, which, for me, was the most horrifying thing I have ever lived through. I went from the mountain top down into the pit. I blew it; I pretended I never knew this Jesus, this dear friend, this wondrous teacher, this miraculous Messiah. I was so paralyzed by fear that I tried to get out of it. And then, when he was arrested, he saw me. He looked out that prison window and he saw me. And that look withered me to my soul. I knew what I had done, and I knew how much I had hurt him. And that’s something I never want to experience again as long as I live.
But…because I did, when he appeared to us again, I knew deep down, all the way to my bones, that amazing knowledge of being forgiven. I had heard him talk about forgiveness hundreds of times. But to have someone that you have so utterly betrayed, especially when you come to realize that you have betrayed God’s very self, to have that person forgive you and entrust you to keep on following and teaching in his name, well, let’s just say that’s something that I never would have known if we had stayed enshrined on top of the mountain.
If we can leave you with one thought today, it would be this: faith is a verb. It is something that travels with us on a journey from the mountain top to the pit of the valley. It moves us beyond what we think we know along a path toward what it is that God would have us know. It will take us to places that are new and weird and uncomfortable to us. It will make us friends with people we’d rather not hang out with otherwise. But it is, whether we know it or not, what we all really yearn for.