Sermon for 3/3/19 Luke 9:28-36 (37-43) Transfiguration

Let’s be honest. There are just some scriptures that we as preachers don’t know what to do with. I think I mentioned something similar last week. And when it comes to our own faith and the scriptures that sustain us, I highly doubt that most of us would reflect back and say that it is this reading today, often referred to as the transfiguration, that sustains and supports our life as Christians. When people ask us “why do you believe in Jesus?” I don’t think we quote this scripture from Luke. (Side note though: if you haven’t thought about why you believe in Jesus, perhaps that might be a good Lenten discipline for you to take on. Think about and pray for 40 days about why you believe in Jesus). Just in case you think you’re alone with not quoting this scripture, or heck, even understanding it, rest assured you’re not alone! After all, even Peter, who was often recognized as Jesus’ most loyal disciple, didn’t understand what was going on. It even says in verse 33 that Peter suggests they stay on the mountaintop “not knowing what he (Jesus) said.”

It’s easiest to understand the Transfiguration (as if that’s possible) by remembering a few things that shape this reading. Jesus, up to this point, has been showing the disciples and us who he is, how his ministry will be, and what he expects of us as disciples if we choose to follow him. That is what epiphany is/was all about. A few weeks back even, Jesus asked Peter “but who do you say that I am?” And it is Peter (of all people) who responds that Jesus is the Messiah. But, what that means isn’t always clear to Peter (or us for that matter). Jesus knows what it means to be the messiah. It means that he will have to undergo suffering, torture, and death, only to conquer that death and rise on the third day.

So often when we think of the cross, our go to answer is that Jesus died on the cross to forgive us from our sins. While this isn’t wrong, this also isn’t the whole story. What Jesus gives us is healing, our own resurrections, and ultimately, freedom. Jesus is God’s love letter to the world. Jesus is the only one who comes again and again, without limitations, without exceptions, and without expectations, to rescue God’s people (and that includes us). Peter has said, outright, what and who Jesus is. Yet it is Peter who wants to keep him from doing it. And Jesus continues to show who he is and what he does (despite Peter, despite all of us) by once again showing his healing powers in this strange story from versus 37-43.

Here is what is so wonderful about God (as if you needed more convincing): God, through a transfigured Jesus Christ, comes to us, is present with us here and now, in ways we may understand (or not), despite the fact that we, like the disciples, may not be fully awake to the promises of God. So many of the ways we experience Jesus would never happen if Jesus would have stayed on that mountain top like Peter suggested. In the transfiguration, Jesus literally transforms. He was glowing (literally) and was surrounded by Moses and Elijah. He also transforms from the Jesus we’ve gotten to know to the Jesus who will turn his face towards Jerusalem and ultimately, towards his death.

But the disciples weren’t fully awake. It’s easy for us to miss the ways that Jesus transforms in front of us as well as transforms us. It’s easy for us to miss the ways that God, through Jesus Christ is present and continues to be present in transforming, transfiguring ways to us and for us. Here are some examples (even some we may take for granted). When we gather each and every week, Jesus is here and transforming this community. When we gather around the table and the font, Jesus is transforming us. When we gather after worship for coffee and sit around tables, yes, Jesus is transforming us there too. Just because it doesn’t take place within our worship space doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t still there, working and transforming us. When we pray for one another, that’s transforming. When the ladies gather to make blankets and assemble kits, that’s transforming. When Diane gathers supplies, packs up the backpacks, and Teri picks them up, that’s transforming. The time, patience, and (sometimes) literal man hours that went into the basement project, the new bathroom, and soon the new carpet in the narthex is transforming. I hope I don’t have to tell you how transforming the second Tuesday of the month is around here. That’s when Rich and Nancy open their hearts and the food pantry and literally change lives through Jesus Christ.

Even in our weariness, God is transforming us and this place. Maybe despite our weariness, even. And yes, my beloveds, even when our sin gets the best of us, Jesus is transforming us and transforming the entire body of Christ. For generations, God, through Jesus Christ has come over and over to heal us, rescue us, feed us, teach us, and love us. That love is what constantly ushers us through our own transfiguration, our own transformation from death by sin to a life fully lived in the mercy, love, and forgiveness in and of Christ. Perhaps this message isn’t sinking in quite the way I want it to.

We serve a God that is a God of new life. Alleluia? Alleluia! We serve a God that is a God of second chances. Alleluia? Alleluia! We serve a God that has the power to overcome and defeat death. Alleluia? Alleluia! And that new life, those second chances, that power that overcomes death, it all happens right here. In this place. At little Elvira Zion Lutheran Church at 2207 380th Avenue in Clinton, Iowa. It happens here. Alleluia? Alleluia! Every church in the nation, heck, even in the world, should be called Transfiguration Lutheran Church (or whatever denomination). Because if we don’t believe that God is transforming us every single Sunday and every single day, how will we ever believe that God has the power to transform the entire world and does it? I hope you leave this place today different than when you arrived. You have been transformed. You have been fed by fellowship, singing, readings, hopefully this preaching, soon the meal, and on and on. You are a transfigured person. You are loved by a God that cannot be restrained, even by death. You are showered, coated, bathed in mercy and grace by a God that will consistently seek you out, even in, and especially in, those moments when you are weary. Soon enough, we will look to the cross, and there will hang the messiah. Hanging and killed for the sins of the world and to guarantee our freedom. But, we know that’s not the end of the story. Even God has the ability to transform death in a tomb to emptiness and good news. If that’s not good news, I don’t know what is. Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!)

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Sermon for 4/1/18 Easter Sunday 2018; Mark 16:1-8

Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!) Did you notice what was missing from our reading today? On today, of all days, when we anticipate seeing the resurrected Jesus, he is nowhere to be found. The tomb is empty. He’s not here because Christ is risen (he is risen indeed, alleluia!) And the women, who throughout the entire Gospel of Mark have been told “don’t tell anyone what they’ve just seen” now are told to go tell everyone what they’ve just seen and they do what? The exact opposite. And then, Mark ends. Just like that. What a weird, jolting, almost uncomfortable ending. Now, we know that eventually the women must have gotten over their fear because, well, we’re here. So, the story of Jesus and the empty tomb must have made its way eventually. Ironic that we come to this place, on this day, to experience Jesus and he does not show himself. Nice April Fools joke, Jesus.

As the women were on their way to the tomb, their biggest worry was who was going to roll away the stone. Despite hearing that Jesus would rise again, they were prepared to continue with their mourning. They were going to anoint the body of Jesus as was custom. But, foolish love greeted them as the stone was already rolled away. And just in case there was any question about what was going on, the man in white confirmed that “he has been raised.” And sure, we can shake our heads at the women’s reactions. But, really, what would you have done? Shock is a perfectly acceptable response to finding out that someone you believed to have been dead has been risen.

This may sound silly to say as this is a story we’ve been hearing for 2000-plus years. But, the resurrection wasn’t the end of the story. Yes, it’s okay to be in shock but just like the women, we cannot stay at the empty tomb. The empty tomb is exactly that, empty. The empty tomb is like this invitation that Jesus leaves us to journey further. In fact, the man that appears in our story today tells the women and us “he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” We can’t stand at the empty tomb and gawk because we’ve got work to do. The resurrection wasn’t the end of the story.

We don’t cry out “the tomb was empty” we instead declare that alleluia! Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed, alleluia). Then, with that declaration, we must figure out what that even means for us and the way we engage with the world. Seeing the empty tomb and everything is great today, but what in the world does the resurrection even mean tomorrow, or Thursday, or next week, next month, or even 10 years from now? The man at the tomb didn’t just verify that Jesus was resurrected, but pointed the way to what was next. This whole time Jesus has been preparing us for what it means to be his disciples. And now, all of the preparation, all of the lessons, all of the parables, and he’s back in Galilee. This can only mean one thing: it’s time. It is time for us to move from death into life and declare that the resurrection is real and that death doesn’t have the final word.

It’s time for us to show extravagant, foolish love to the world following the example of Jesus. Jesus is waiting for the women, for Peter, and for us in Galilee. We’ve still got work to do. People didn’t stop being sick because of the crucifixion. People didn’t stop being hungry because Jesus was laid in a tomb. People didn’t stop desiring love just because the stone was rolled away. The resurrection was great. It’s not the end of our story. Part of our call as disciples is to understand and live out what it means in a practical way to declare that alleluia Christ is risen. Why does that even matter? Core to our Christian identity is the belief in the resurrection. But the resurrection wasn’t a one time deal. And it certainly wasn’t the end of the story.

See, the resurrection doesn’t mean anything if we don’t believe it and live like it makes a difference in our daily lives. Resurrection means the promise of new life. And if you believe in a new life, in new chances, and in new opportunities for yourself but not for those around you then do you really believe in the resurrection? Because when we declare “Alleluia! Christ is risen!” (he is risen indeed) we don’t ever add the caveat of “for everyone except you.” In the resurrection, God is making all things new. And this is amazing and life giving news! Because as long as we believe that the resurrection makes a difference and isn’t the end of our story then that means we all get a second chance. We all get a third chance. We all get a fourth chance. And on and on. Ya’ll hearing me out there?

The resurrection also insures that what passed for justice before Jesus’ death will stand no more. The powerful will be humbled. The poor will be made rich and the rich will finally come face to face with the reality that money is not their god. The hungry will be fed. The forgotten will be treated like royalty. The marginalized will be brought into communities and welcomed with open arms. The resurrection turns our world upside down; as well it should. Because as long as we know that Jesus is a man of his word, then we know we have nothing to fear. Not even death. And because we know that the resurrection isn’t the end of our stories, we have absolute and total freedom to operate in this world as the disciples he’s trained us to be.

Might we fail or mess up? Sure! We’re human. But, we’re also still learning every day. We will be humbled by our failures and rely on grace to pick us back up and keep going. We are not disciples because it makes us popular. We are disciples because we can’t help ourselves. That is what Christ has called us to do. We are disciples because we don’t worship an empty tomb, we worship the risen Lord. We are disciples because 2000 years later the world still needs to hear this story because love is in short supply. We are disciples because we have been challenged and changed by this resurrection. We may be like the women, scared and wanting to hide. But Christ is waiting for us. In Galilee. In Clinton. In DeWitt. In Goose Lake. In the areas we travel. In the world. And on this day, we cannot just stand at the empty tomb and wait. Christ has called us back into service in the world. The world needs to hear that Alleluia! Christ is risen! (Christ is risen indeed, alleluia!)