Februay 3, 2008

"Who Would Believe It Anyway?"
Scripture: Matthew 17:1-9
Sermon by Rev. Kathleen Groff
Dundee United Methodist Church

  We always seem to have some very unique moments on our vacations and this last one was no exception. We were driving (within speed limit) along the beach in Ft. Lauderdale when a seagull flew low in front of us. It seemed unmindful that we were approaching his line of flight and sure enough, with a sickening thud his body slammed into the front passenger window, my side of the car. Somewhat stunned we weren’t quite sure what to do, but did manage to pull over. Since the dead bird was on my side of the car, I was elected to get out and remove the body. I took one look at its broken looking neck and with a squeamish feeling exited the door and seeing a trash bin close by decided the best course of action was to place the bird in the bin. As I reached to remove the bird from the window it suddenly raised its head and much to my relief got up and flew away, apparently unharmed by the event. Boy was Joe impressed at my ability to resurrect a dead bird and I have to admit it certainly looked like I had done that. I told Joe he needed to have a little more respect for me and my capabilities.

  All kidding aside, resurrection is what our faith is all about and this instance from Jesus’ life points to the amazing thing that God was doing in Jesus. Jesus himself was changed and with him stood two of the greatest Israelite leaders, both who had been “taken up” by God without seeming to have died. Moses had simply gone up a mountain and his body never found and Elijah was taken up into heaven by a chariot with Elisha, his successor as a witness. And we know what happened to Jesus. But even more important, God spoke as Peter and the others heard! And of course they were overcome with fear. This was an extraordinary encounter with God. Here for the disciples was a glimpse into the new thing that they would come to understand in the death and resurrection of Jesus. And Jesus tells them to tell no one until after he had been raised from the dead. Perhaps no one would believe them anyway. Those sorts of things just did not happen in Jesus’ time.

  But something else happened in that incident and for a reason. Jesus did not want to focus on himself, to have the focus be on his miraculous appearance with Moses and Elijah. He did not want to be the center of it all. He was not the one to be worshipped, but his purpose was to point people to God. Always, his purpose was to point people to God. God’s own words were not to worship Jesus but to listen to him. We are so used to calling Jesus “Lord” and “Messiah” and “Son of God” that it is hard to remember that he did not use those words about himself. Jesus was not the focus of his ministry. The focus was not on Jesus the Miracle Worker, but on God who called people to life. Jesus wanted his message to be more important than the messenger. This corrects our tendency to worship Jesus alone, to narrow the big picture to fit our personal savior thinking. We are called to be in a relationship with Jesus that is teaching us about living a relationship with God that Jesus helps us navigate. Through Jesus’ teachings about repentance and trust and who God is, we can find a path to come closer in relationship with God.

  Although following Jesus is a personal experience, the personal savior,” someone who died specifically for me and someone who wanted a special relationship with me, is not a biblical notion. What the disciples experience in the transformation was not some special relationship to benefit themselves. Sure they could witness about their personal experience, but with the intent that they would become witnesses about who Jesus was for the world. A faith expression that focuses only on the “personal savior” aspect makes that faith much too small. Those disciples were invited up the hill to hear God’s call to them to listen to Jesus, and then after Jesus died, to tell the story to others to bring them closer to God and to redeem the world.

  Faith in Jesus was not meant to be exclusive, although some have tried their hardest to make it that way. Faith in Jesus is meant to show God to the world so that the whole world might live in right relationship with God, so that the whole world might be saved and redeemed and transformed. That means that our faith is not just a personal faith, but meant to be shared with the whole world. We must reach out with our faith so that those who thud against the glass windows of life can be revived and fly free from the confines of sin and death. God came in the person of Jesus to reveal to us what God was truly like and how to follow and worship him. It’s not just the human Jesus we worship but the divine mystery that created and sustains us.

  The transfiguration , in its mystery and power, keeps us from making Jesus too human, and therefore too small. The disciples were given the gift of experiencing that Jesus was not just their teacher and friend, but God enfleshed in order to transform all of human society. This God is a God who is capable of doing unlimited things, of working with us on a grand scale to bring about a new world filled with love and free from the constraints of sin. This is a God who can walk among us as human, yet remain mystery and power far beyond the limits of the universe. It’s not just living in personal relationship with Jesus, it’s living in a much vaster love that encompasses a mystery of love so deep, so wide, so high that we can only faintly grasp its potential and the best reaction we can muster is to be in awe. How big is our God and how much trust do we put in His awesome power and love?