EPISTLE LESSON Ephesians 5:8-14
GOSPEL LESSON John 9:1-41
SERMON: “What Kind of God Does That?”
Do you ever wonder what people are thinking when they say some of the things they say? I recently read about a woman who has been struggling with multiple sclerosis for 20 years. Some friends and relatives have said some pretty bizarre things to her – well, perhaps just thoughtless would be a better term. One relative, who never sent her a get-well or “thinking of you” card said, “You must really like to be sick; you bring so much of it on yourself.” A friend said, “I know just how you feel about being crippled; I had a bad case of tennis elbow last month.” Her pastor accused her of faking her limp in order to get attention. The one I found most incomprehensible was the person who commented to her, “God must cherish you to trust you with this burden.” What kind of God does that?
To put the best spin on it we might imagine the person was thinking about the part of the letter to the Hebrews that says,
“My child, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, or lose heart when you are punished by him;
6 for the Lord disciplines those whom he loves, and chastises every child whom he accepts.” (Hebrews 12:5-6)
We nearly always get into trouble when we take things out of context. First, as every parent knows, there are times when we must discipline children, especially if we love them. But that doesn’t mean that everything we suffer in life is some form of punishment. We drum some necessary no’s into our kids’ heads while we still have them at home, hoping that our lessons will stick with them through their lives.
Second, those verses come in the context of a letter to the Hebrews strongly warning against refusing God. Those who like to hear about God’s goodness and never exert themselves become a root of bitterness (Deut. 29:18), a source of contention, which then infects an entire community with bickering and jealousy. It has nothing to do with the person afflicted with a chronic disease or disability.
Jesus and his disciples passed a man blind from birth. “Who sinned,” asked Jesus’ disciples, “this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” What kind of God did these disciples have? Did they think that God looks down from heaven and says, “All right fellow. I know that you’ve been cheating on your taxes and cheating on your wife and I am going to take that precious little baby in your wife’s womb and I’m going to strike it blind to punish you? That’ll show you. Zap!” What kind of God does that?
For you biblical scholars, yes, there is some of that kind of theology in the Old Testament. In Exodus 20:4-5 in the gifting of the Ten Commandments we read:
4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me,
If you ever have any question, however, about your sin being visited on someone you love, or if you wonder if your suffering is the result of a parent or grandparent’s sin, check out Jeremiah 31: 29-30 where Jeremiah is speaking of the coming Kingdom that will come with the arrival of the Messiah, whom we know as Jesus the Christ. Jeremiah wrote: “In those days they shall no longer say: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But every one shall die for his own sin; each man who eats sour grapes, his teeth shall be set on edge.”
There are two sources of suffering in this world. One source is sin. We break God’s laws or nature’s laws and we suffer. That is built into the very fabric of life. I cannot expect to step out of a third story window and not hit the ground with a splat. There is the law of gravity. Sometimes we suffer because other people break laws. Terrorist bombings, school shootings, and drunk drivers bring a great deal of unnecessary suffering into people’s lives. The other source of suffering is the natural order. Mud slides like the one in Washington State, blizzards, hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes.
What grabs our attention next is that the religious leaders pester the healed man with questions, refuse to believe he was ever blind, question his parents, throw the poor man out of the synagogue. What kind of God do these men have that they refuse to acknowledge the healing and restoration of this man’s sight? There is an old saying that “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”
Jesus tells the man he has healed, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
He is not speaking of physical blindness, but of the refusal to see in Jesus Christ the Savior of the world. This is the theme throughout the Gospel of John – belief vs. unbelief.
I’ve never quite understood why anyone would choose to stick with a god that requires perfect adherence to the Law when they meet the Son of God who loves them and freely offers them absolution and life.
16-18 ”This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him. (The Message)
What kind of God does that? What kind of God goes to the cross taking your sin and mine, the sin of the whole world? What kind of God sheds his own blood for your soul? What kind of God does that? A God who loves his children unconditionally, unwaveringly, determined to watch over them and protect and enjoy them, like the grandfather who found his grandson, jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Gramp, out.”
It was only natural for Grandfather to reach down to lift the little fellow out of his predicament; but as he did, the mother of the child stepped up and said, “No, Johnnie, you are being punished, so you must stay in.”
The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart, but the mother’s firmness in correcting her son for misbehavior must not be taken lightly. Here was a problem of love versus law, but love found a way.
The grandfather could not take the youngster out of the playpen, so he crawled in with him. What kind of God does that?
God did not spare Paul and Silas suffering and imprisonment, but He did come down into the prison with them.
God did not keep the three Hebrew children out of the fiery furnace, but He went into the furnace with them. 1
The God who sent his only begotten Son so that we might know the blessings of forgiveness and the promise of everlasting life.
1Fred W. Parsons, These Times, March 1969.
EPISTLE LESSON Romans 5:1-11
GOSPEL LESSON: John 4:1-42
SERMON: “Water, Water, Everywhere”
Do you know the “Rule of Threes”?
The average human can survive:
- three minutes without air,
- three hours in extreme cold,
- possibly three weeks without food,
- three days without water
We all need water. Lots of people think that tap water isn’t good enough so they buy bottled water like Evian, Fiji Water, Dasani, and Ice Mountain, just to name a very few. Some of us have filters on the kitchen faucet from which we draw our drinking water. Others purchase water filtering pitchers like Brita, and some of us do both. But none of these offer us the kind of water Jesus was talking about in his conversation with a woman at the well in Samaria.
© Do you know the importance of water to our physical bodies? When our bodies fail to retain the right amount of water, dehydration sets in. It is the water in our body that determines the vitality, strength, and energy associated with daily living. Think about these facts associated with our body and water:
© The human body is ⅔ water.
© The body absorbs cold water faster than hot water.
© By the time you are 70-years-old, you will have required 1½ million gallons of water.
© Studies show that increasing water consumption can decrease fat deposits. Water is a natural appetite suppressant.
© If you lose 2% of your body’s water supply, your energy will decrease by 20%. A 10% decrease in water, you will be unable to walk, and a 20% decrease – you’re dead.
You get the point. And what is true of the physical is also true of the spiritual, because God has made us with a spirit that thirsts for a relationship with him.
We tend to take water for granted, but neither Jesus nor this woman would. Living in a dry land like Israel, Jesus knew that water was a precious resource. He surely saw his mother and many other women spend much of their time and energy hauling water for cooking, cleaning and drinking. Compassionate as he was he certainly would have appreciated the effort that this woman expended daily to get enough water to meet the needs of her family.
And that was quite a chore. Water is notoriously heavy -- a pint of water weighs one pound, so a 5-gallon bucket weighs a staggering 40 pounds. A woman would have to haul this much water several times every day to meet the demands of a large family and busy household. When Jesus encounters the woman at the well, he’s hot and tired from his journey (v. 6). He’s parched. “Give me a drink,” he says to the Samaritan woman. It’s a touching, vulnerable moment, one of the very few times that we hear Jesus make a request of another person. He needs something that she can provide. And he knows she needs something only he can provide.
When he offers her “living water,” he isn’t talking about H2O. He is talking about salvation, about forgiveness of sin, about eternal life. When we are hot, tired and thirsty nothing is quite as refreshing as a cool drink of water. Jesus knew this woman’s situation, her need for absolution, for a fresh start, and he offers the refreshment of God’s grace freely.
All this study about water reminded me of the famous Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem we had to study in high school: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” This very long poem tells the story of a ship driven south to Antarctica. An albatross, a large sea bird, appears and leads them out, but the mariner shoots the bird, angering his shipmates. It’s quite a long and confusing tale, but one can hardly study the poem without learning the lines, “water, water, everywhere, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink.” - Why no water to drink? Because they are sailing on the ocean – which is salt water, worse than no good as drinking water.
Just as those sailors are surrounded by an enormous sea of water that cannot quench their thirst, the woman has been surrounded with things that cannot quench the thirst in her soul. She has been married five times – those relationships have not met her ultimate need. She works hard – hauling water and whatever other household chores she had – work does not fulfill the need of her soul. Other people, work, money, entertainment, sports – sorry, not even March madness will ultimately fulfill the need of our spirit. None of these are inherently harmful, but they will not satisfy the spirit’s longing for the close, satisfying relationship with God that only Christ can offer.
Water, water everywhere –
There is a story about a man who was on a train going across the desert in Arizona. He was the only person in the car who had not pulled down the window shades to keep out the glare of the hot sun on the parched earth. In contrast to the other passengers, he kept looking out his window, and seemed actually to enjoy the dismal scene.
After a while the curious man seated across the aisle, asked, “Sir, what do you see in that wasteland that makes you smile?”
“Oh,” he replied,” I’m in the irrigation business, and I was thinking if we could only get water to this land that the desert would become a garden.”
That’s what Jesus is teaching His disciples, that we have life-giving water in the gospel. Jesus wants us to see the world’s people as He sees them. Every one of them is precious in His sight. By divine grace, they can become a new creation, brought to life through the love and grace of God.
HEBREW BIBLE LESSON Genesis 12:1-4a
EPISTLE LESSON: Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
SERMON: “Control Freaks and Lent”
In a sermon on the Romans passage we just read, Leonard Sweet proclaims that “The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who like cruises and those who don’t. Or to be more precise: those who think a cruise is a foretaste of heaven, and those who think a cruise is the aftertaste of hell.
“The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those that suck the
life out of every day, and those that let every day suck the life out of them.
“The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who walk into a room and say, “There you are!” and those who say, “Here I am!”
“The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those with the courage that hangs on, and those with the courage that lets go.
“The world is divided into two kinds of people. Pitchers and catchers . . . .
“The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who divide the world into two kinds of people, and those who don’t. Can you take one more?
“The world is divided into two kinds of people. Those who are “control junkies,” and those who are ‘out of control.’”
Any control freaks here this morning?
Most control freaks consider every possibility, every unforeseen event, every contingency before making a decision. Control freaks try to manage every moment. Controlling the actions of others gives them the illusion that they are in control of their own lives. Reality is that those among us who are “control freaks” are not in control of their lives any more than anyone else, because there are always unforeseen events that remind us how little control we actually have.
The typhoon that tore through the Philippines last November demonstrated how little control the people of that region have over their lives. A tornado with winds up to 200 mph that went through the Oklahoma City area last May, damaging homes, schools and killing 24 people showed how little control we have over nature.
I’ve had people call me a “control freak,” but truly I have had zero control over this extremely cold and snowy winter affecting more than 200 million people from the Colorado Rockies to the Atlantic seaboard. The truth is that “control freaks” are no more in control of their lives than any
In contrast to the “control freaks” around and among us are those who like Abraham opt for faith. Abraham was an old man when he encountered God in the wilderness and received instructions: the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Abraham did not receive all that God promised immediately. Eventually he went whining to God, complaining, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir.” (Genesis 15:2-3)
4 But the word of the Lord came to him [Abraham], “This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir.” 5 He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” 6 And he [Abraham], believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.
Abraham listened to the words and promises of a God he barely knew and “Abraham believed God.” Note with me that the text does not say that Abraham believed in God, but that Abraham “believed God.” There is a huge difference. . The Bible even says the demons believe and tremble. So here’s a category of “believer” that is beyond some of us . . . at least the demons have somebody motion in their belief.
There were many gods that the pagan culture around him believed in. It wasn’t so much a question of whether Abraham believed in God as that he believed God; he believed that God would make good on God’s promises. He believed God enough to follow the instructions, to leave family and homeland and go on the journey that God told him to begin.
Sweet makes the point that “Faith is not to ‘believe in God.’ Faith is to ‘believe God.’ Abraham believed God. He believed God had a purpose. He believed God had his back. When Abraham believed God, he surrendered control of his life over to God without reservation or hesitation. Abraham trusted and obeyed God, and stepped forward in faith.”
Many people believe in God, but don’t totally trust God. We acknowledge that when we complain about people coming to church on Sunday but living according to their own values Monday through Saturday. Suppose during this Lent instead of giving up chocolate or TV or . . . whatever, we were to give up our need to control, to live life our way and instead choose to believe God and make the effort to live God’s way. This is a season to strengthen our faith. In commentary on the faith of Abraham the Apostle Paul wrote, “For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,
There is an unusual Easter card on the market. It is designed to look like a Christmas greeting card. The upper half of the card features a nativity scene with a baby in a manger, surrounded by adoring shepherds. The lower half of the card features those same shepherds, 30 years later, standing before Jesus’ empty tomb. Ever wonder which revelation of God was greater news to tell? Was it the birth of God’s love, or the triumph of God’s love over death and hell?
David Chadwell writes in The Resurrection Principle “Christians see resurrection as a fact: God raised Jesus from death. Fact: God will raise those in Christ from death. ... The power that raised Jesus’ dead body is the power that functions in the resurrection principle. The person who believes the fact of resurrection trusts the resurrection principle that God can bring to life that which has died. . . .Jesus’ blood atoned for all sin. Redemption in Christ is available to anyone. Each person baptized into Christ places his confidence and hope for forgiveness in the resurrection.”1
Jesus’ ministry repeatedly demonstrated that a ruined life can be restored. He forgave prostitutes, dishonest, abusive tax collectors, people known as sinners? In him, sin is destroyed by forgiveness. Great sin requires great forgiveness, and God is able to destroy your sins and mine with resurrection power.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. (Mark 1:15)
Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life. (John 5:24)
What does the scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:3)
If we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. (Romans 6:8)
Jesus called his disciples to “follow me.” But Jesus didn’t tell them where they were going. He just asked them to believe him. So whether you are a control freak or not, use this season of Lent to practice believing God, to believing Jesus, to trust that forgiveness overpowers sin, that life overpowers death and that just as it was for Abraham, so it is for you, that if you believe God it will be reckoned to you as righteousness.
1-David Chadwell, The Resurrection Principle, West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, Ark., bulletin article, August 23, 1998.
EPISTLE LESSON Romans 5:12-19
GOSPEL LESSON: Matthew 4:1-11
SERMON: “Just Say No”
Years ago when the Union Pacific Railroad was being constructed, an elaborate trestle bridge was built across a large canyon in the West. In order to test the bridge, the builder loaded a train with enough extra cars and equipment to double its normal payload. The train was then driven to the middle of the bridge, where it stayed an entire day. One worker asked, “Are you trying to see if we can break this bridge?”
“No,” the supervisor replied, “I’m trying to prove that the bridge won’t break.”
Our scripture lesson from Matthew has often been called the temptation of Jesus. Biblical scholar William Barclay believes it would more accurately be called “the testing of Jesus.”
Some of us know the story well. It comes up in the lectionary every year at the start of Lent. Jesus came from Nazareth at about the age of thirty to be baptized by his cousin John, called the Baptist, in the Jordan River. Just as we heard last week that a voice came from heaven on the mountain top - so also it was heard at his baptism -- “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” And then the Spirit of God led Jesus out into the wilderness. In contemporary language, “Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test. The Devil was ready to give it. Jesus prepared for the Test by fasting forty days and forty nights. That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the Devil took advantage of in the first test: ‘Since you are God’s Son, speak the word that will turn these stones into loaves of bread.’ “
Jesus passed this first and every test. He came through with flying colors. We might do well to think about temptations as tests. Much as the railway bridge was being tested to prove that it wouldn’t break, the tests Jesus faced weren’t designed to see if he would sin, but to prove that he wouldn’t. Like steel which is tested by fire to see if it can bear the stress and strain of the load that it will be called to bear, Jesus was tested to see if he could carry the burden of humankind on the cross of Calvary.
Jesus passed the test. He said “No.” Author Philip Yancey puts it this way: Satan “tempted Jesus toward the good parts of being human without the bad: to savor the taste of bread without being subject to the fixed rules of hunger and of agriculture, to confront risk with no real danger, to enjoy fame and power without the prospect of painful rejection -- in short, to wear a crown but not a cross.” To all of these, Jesus just said, “No.”
Over the years, we have learned that just saying no isn’t as easy or as pleasant as we might like it to be. We often have to say “no” to our children:
© “No” you can’t run into the street for your ball.
© “No” you can’t reach for that beautifully steaming pot on the stove.
© “No” you can’t have Peanut Butter Cup ice cream for breakfast.
© “No” you can’t have a slightly squashed earthworm for lunch.
When they get a little older it’s,
© “No” you can’t stay out all night.
© “No” you may not get involved with drugs or alcohol.
© “No” we say to our college-bound kids, we cannot afford a new car and tuition.”
I attended a baby shower years ago where the guests were invited to write words of advice to the mom as she raised her daughter. Several people advised “Love her.” Good advice. Some wrote “spoil her.” If by that they meant “love her lavishly,” that’s great. My advice to the mom was to pray for her daughter every day – good days and bad. Looking back, now I would add to my advice – “Learn to say ‘no’ to her.”
We say no to drugs because we have said yes to clean living.
We say no to revenge because we have said yes to forgiveness.
We say no to temptation because we have said yes to self-control.
We ou say no to Satan because we have said yes to the Spirit.
We say no to racism because we have said yes to love.
We say no to oppression because we have said yes to justice.
We say no to crankiness because we have said yes to kindness.
As we begin our Lenten journey many of us will say ‘no’ to ourselves. We will deny ourselves something as part of our spiritual journey. Some will give up chocolate; some will give up sugar or smoking. We will say ‘no’ to various temptations.
Suppose for Lent we say ‘no’ to the temptation to criticize and judge other people. Consider for Lent taking seriously Jesus’ sermon telling us, (Matthew 7:1-5) “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
Many of us are ‘umpires’ at heart. We love to call balls and strikes on everyone else, without taking a turn at bat. We just don’t seem to be able to avoid criticism.
The story is told of an old man whose grandson rode a donkey while they were traveling from one city to another. The man heard some people say, “Would you look at that old man suffering on his feet while that strong young boy is totally capable of walking.”
Hearing the criticism, the old man rode the donkey while the boy walked. Then he heard some other people say, “Would you look at that, a healthy man making the poor young boy suffer. Can you believe it?”
So the man and the boy both rode the donkey, and they heard some people say, “Would you look at those heavy brutes making that poor donkey suffer.” So they both got off and walked, until they heard some people say, “Would you look at the waste--a perfectly good donkey not being used.
Finally the scene shifts and we see the boy walking and the old man carrying the donkey. What a shame, that no matter what you do, someone will always criticize. So, how about for Lent this year instead of giving up chocolate, we say ‘no’ to criticizing each other.
Here’s another thing we might consider giving up for lent: jealousy and competition. Many years ago, there was a king of Burma whose potter and elephant keeper were bitter rivals. One day the royal potter came up with a plan to be rid of the man who washed the king’s elephant once and for all. He convinced the king that his black elephant would be worth much more if it were white, and that he should order the keeper to scrub it until all the black was washed away.
The elephant keeper laughed when he heard this, and said that the task would be simple enough, but that first he needed a basin large enough to hold the elephant. The king naturally assigned the task to the potter. Eagerly the potter made the basin as commanded; but it shattered as soon as the elephant stepped into it. The king ordered him to try again. The potter made a stronger bowl this time, but again it broke under the enormous weight. Several more times the potter tried to make a bowl strong enough to hold the elephant, but it broke each time. Finally, the king grew weary of the man’s incompetence, and had him sent into exile.
It’s a silly story, but you get the point. Ultimately jealousy and unhealthy competition are excellent ways to bring yourself to ruin. Instead of giving up desserts for Lent, let’s try giving up jealousy and competition.
Some people will give up a bad habit, like smoking for Lent. Let me suggest something even more difficult. What if we were to give up gossip? Many years ago, Dr. Albert H. Cantril, a professor at Princeton University, conducted a series of experiments to demonstrate how quickly rumors spread. He called six students to his office and in strict confidence informed them that the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were planning to attend a certain university dance. Within a week, this completely fictitious story had reached nearly every student on campus. Town officials phoned the university, demanding to know why they had not been informed. Press agencies were frantically telephoning for details. Dr. Cantril observed, “That was a pleasant rumor – a slanderous one travels even faster.”
A young many went to his priest one day and confessed, “I’ve sinned
by telling false statements about someone. What should I do now?” The priest replied, “Put a feather on every doorstep in town.” The young man did it. But then he returned to the priest, wondering if there was anything else that he should do, because it didn’t feel like putting the feathers about would help relieve the pain of the person he had gossiped about.
The priest said, “Go back and pick up all the feathers.” The young man replied, “That’s impossible! By now the wind will have blown them all over town!” said the priest. “So has your gossip become impossible to retrieve.”
You may face some tests this year during Lent. The tests are designed, not to break you, but to show that with Christ in you, you will not break. You likely will be tempted to criticize other people. Just say no. Instead find words to help and encouragement. You may be tempted to feel jealous or competitive. Just say no. For Lent try being co-operative and supportive instead. You may be tempted to gossip. This year for Lent say ‘no’ to gossip. Better to say nothing than to need to go about picking up feathers.
FIRST LESSON II Peter 1:16-21
SECOND LESSON: Matthew 17:1-9
SERMON: “After the Mountain”
A brilliant magician was performing on an ocean liner. But every time he did a trick, the Captain’s parrot would yell, “It’s a trick. He’s a phony. That’s not magic.” Then one evening during a storm, the ship sank while the magician was performing. The parrot and the magician ended up in the same lifeboat. For several days they just glared at each other, neither saying a word to the other. Finally the parrot said, “OK, I give up. What did you do with the ship?”
The parrot couldn’t explain that last trick! It was too much to comprehend, even for a smart parrot. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters-one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Scholars over the years have tried to explain what in the world Peter meant by this suggestion. But, I think trying to find meaning to these words is pointless. It’s simply the way Matthew explains: Peter was frightened and he just said the first thing that came to into his head. He simply could not comprehend what was happening.
The disciples experienced that mouth-drying, heart-thumping, knee-buckling kind of fear on the mountaintop at the Transfiguration. After rejoicing at the presence of Elijah and Moses, they were suddenly reduced to blubbery, quaking jelly by the power and splendor of the voice from above. They could not comprehend the magnificence of the divine presence, nor the implications of what the voice was saying. The entire experience was a mystery way beyond their experience. No wonder they reacted by curling into defensive little fear-balls at Jesus’ feet.
The glory of the transfiguration event shines as incomprehensibly today as it did for those disciples nearly 2000 years ago. The church in which I grew up didn’t observe Transfiguration Sunday, or if it did, it certainly sailed right past me. But if we are puzzled by this Sunday-before-Lent begins tradition, at least we can learn from the disciples some things about how Jesus would have us act and react to events that challenge our comprehension and threaten to paralyze us with fear. While Jesus did not explain the meaning behind the Transfiguration mystery, he did give us a map for coming back down from the mountaintop experiences in our lives.
Jesus’ counsel to the disciples as he helped them to their feet might be paraphrased as, “Get up, come down, keep quiet (until the time is right), then yell!” These four steps for getting off the mountain work just as effectively in our lives today
What keeps us from getting up when we’re down. Frequently it is fear, and certainly the Peter, James and John had every reason to be afraid considering the unusual bordering on the alarming events that day on the mountainside. Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of being hurt – all of these can keep us down. Someone said “Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed.” Everyone experiences fear from time to time in one form or another; the trick is not to let it immobilize you. One of the best bits of advice I ever got from reading “self-help” books was Susan Jeffers’ Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.
The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “14 All who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Romans 8:14-16)
In The Ragamuffin Gospel Brennan Manning tells of the day a disgusted “Prince of Darkness slinks up to the chalet of bummed-out disciples who have made their home in Jesus and nails a legal document to the door:”
You are hereby banished from the House of Fear forever.
With malice aforethought, you have flagrantly withheld the monthly rent of guilt, anxiety, fear, shame and self-condemnation.
You have adamantly refused to worry about your salvation. Already I overheard one dismal tenant say, “There goes the neighborhood!”
Your freedom from fear is not only dangerous but contagious.
Real estate values have plummeted; gullible investors are hard to find. Why?
Your callous and carefree rejection of slavery [to fear]!
A pox on you and all deluded lovers of liberty!
Jesus tells his disciples, “Get up, Come down.”
Will I ever hear the command, “Come on down” without finishing the thought in my head: “you’re the next contestant on the Price is Right!” ?? An audience member whose name is called cannot play the game or win any prizes unless they come down from their seat to “contestants’ row.”
The disciples could not do what they needed to do if they stayed up on that mountain. And we cannot accomplish anything for Christ or our human family if we remain isolated. We come here to learn and be equipped for ministry, but the real ministry happens outside the walls of this sanctuary and of this building.
Get up! Come down! Be quiet! Jesus tells his disciples. Quiet – at least for a time. Timing is everything, isn’t it. The disciples still had much to learn and much to experience. The voice they heard from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
My mother had an uncanny ability to tell whether I was listening to her or not. Now and then she would call me on it saying “You are so busy thinking of what you are going to say next that you’re not listening to me.” Listening is an underdeveloped skill for many of us.
Waiting to be interviewed for a job as a telegraph operator, a group of applicants paid little attention to the sound of the dots and dashes which began coming over a loudspeaker. Suddenly one of them rushed into the employer’s office. Soon he returned smiling. “I got it!” he exclaimed. “How did you get ahead of us?” the others asked.
“You might have been considered if you hadn’t been so busy talking that you didn’t hear the manager’s coded message,” he replied. “It said, ‘The man I need must always be on the alert. The first one who interprets this and comes directly into my private office will be hired.’”1
Jesus tells his disciples, Get up, Come down Then yell!
Yell about it: Here is the proof Jesus is not outlining a short course in denial, sublimation and repression. His fourth step is an opportunity for triumphant testimony. After shaking free from fear, coming down from the mountain and re-entering life, Jesus declared that at that point it was time to shout about it. For his disciples, the yell about it moment did not come until after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Only then could they recall the wonder of the Transfiguration moment and yell to the world that Christ is alive.
Jesus’ four-step method brings us to this point - we go up to the mountain, but we must come back down again. We come to worship, we go to serve.”
In these times of declining church membership, in these times of reduced percentages of the population who claim Christian faith, the time has come for us to yell that Jesus Christ, the beloved Son of God is the risen Lord.
1 www.sermons.org, "Hearing & Listening, opportunity, paying attention"