Heads Up – 19/02/2023
2 Peter 1:16-21 Matthew 17:1-9
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
4 Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’
5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell face down to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’ 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, ‘Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’
When the show is over, there is only Jesus.
That is the detail in Matthew’s telling of this extraordinary show of Jesus credentials that lit up for me this time.
8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
I feel encouraged after the very frustrating weekend I had last weekend.
I was meant to be a participant in the General Convention of Synod held in Melbourne. But ended up having to be isolated at home due to copping another round of covid.
It felt like being forced to be the guy left down at the bottom of this holy mountain to tend the donkeys and watch the luggage as the holy cloud and great light descended on Peter, James and John and Jesus, way up the top somewhere.
Life at the Synod was not quite all glory cloud, beaming light and chatting with the greats, though! I was in touch with a number of people via text and phone. There was extended conflicting words about belief and practice and church and all manner of things to do with whether or not we are free to allow women to serve as pastors with men or not. This took up most of the two days.
I am sure lots of hearts sank. We are nowhere different than we have been for 20+ years. Many are saddened at the decision not to allow the ordination of men and women into the Pastoral ministry.
Some are very glad this did not happen. Some believe to do this would be a direct disobeying of God and others believe that to not do this would be to perpetuate a great injustice against God’s people and therefore, God. The conflict is deep. The difference is long. It hurts people at times.
What a struggle we are in as church.
The struggle is internal, as shown by our current impasse. But as we know well now, the struggle is external too. We see huge movements in our culture that are cancelling the church, undoing the church at every turn.
It would be so easy to just walk away from church, from Lutheran church, from ‘organised religion’ as some call church; from serving as pastor to a Lutheran congregation and church organisation. Seems so easy, at least at first. Many are. In the US they are calling this era post-covid, the ‘Great Resignation’.
But here we are. You have not walked away yet, and neither have I. We are compelled, not to be an ‘organised religion’, but to be a community who share the love and hope of Jesus whom we know is hope and love for us – that is church!
What will help us stay the course of faith? What will help us live in the difference, work through the conflicts, stay on mission, let his love live a little more, fight a bit less when we disagree, and ‘fight well’ with respect and kindness when we do?
What will help us live in the valley as we serve in Jesus’ way of love, truth and hope in a community that needs all of him even if shuns most of him most of the time?
We need a mountain top experience! Yes please! Here it is.
Jesus gives his friends this experience to draw on for what is to come. Same moment for our little battered and bruised Lutheran Church of Australia to remember and trust.
This is the nearly perfect bookend to the story of Jesus’ Baptism that we heard on the first Sunday of Epiphany.
“This is my Son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”
This moment happens six days outside Caesarea Philippi after Jesus’ first prediction of his suffering death, Peter’s first great confession of faith– that Jesus is the Son of God sent to save the world (16:21-23). Maybe Matthew wants us to remember the six days the glory cloud enveloped Mount Sinai before speaking to Moses.
And what about those two greats? Moses and Elijah had unusual departures and as a result, these two played a big role in ‘end of the world’ expectations among many Jewish people in the first century.
At the end of Deuteronomy, we learn of Moses’ death (Deuteronomy 34:6). Not before the Lord shows Moses “the whole land” (Deuteronomy 34:1), the promise made to Israel but a land upon which Moses will not tread. Moses, Deuteronomy 34:5 reports, “died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command.” But that “no one knows his burial place to this day” (Deuteronomy 34:6).
Later tradition will note that Moses is buried by God’s own hand, thus explaining why no one knows where he is buried, for no human was there to bear witness to God’s final gift to this mighty servant.
So, when Moses appears on the mount of transfiguration, he embodies the heights and possibilities of God’s people being in Jesus.
Elijah’s death is similarly ‘interesting’ and so, also looms large in the end of the world belief. After sharing the spirit of prophecy with his apprentice, Elisha,
… a chariot of fire and horses of fires separated the two of them, and Elijah ascend in a whirlwind into heaven. Elisha kept watching and crying out, ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!’(2 Kings 2:11).
This feeds a hope of Elijah’s return since he did not die in a typical way. Elijah’s return is promised in Malachi 4:5. Matthew draws on this (Matthew 11:14 and 16:14).
Message here? Jesus is the holder and heir of these two greats and the God who made them great. They are with him in what he is about to do when this little mountaintop chat is over.
And if having the two greats there is not enough to trust Jesus, ‘up hill and down dale’, then God’s voice settles the matter entirely!
‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’
Peter and the others obviously find it hard to listen to this voice! The unholy three are moved to fear.
But Jesus ‘touches them’, as he did to so many in fear and suffering.
And by that tough fear is gone and this ‘show’ is over. The curtain momentarily drawn on the glory behind the ordinary is closed again.
Jesus does not prolong the show but removes it so the real ‘show’ that will change everything can begin – down the mountain.
The world might have gone back to what it was: no prophets of old, no audible divine voice, no light emanating from Jesus’ face. The world has gone back to what it was. But the disciples cannot return to the same world as they descend from this mount. This transfiguration has transformed them. They have been changed.
Now, in the fears and fragility to come as the pressure rises, the conflict ramps up, the violent words and deeds do their worst, they will have ears to hear and eyes to see ‘no one except Jesus’.
Friend, hear today, that despite our little church’s inability to find unity on many things, and especially on the ordination for men and women into the pastoral role, and despite our struggle to know how to be a very different shaped church for a very different shaped community around us, and despite the feeling of frustration or anger or the flagging will and failing knees to stay committed to each other and to the good news that we surely feel, it is all worth it because we have ears to hear and eyes to see no one except Jesus with us on this journey – and he is more than enough for it.
Peter would go on to say that we only need his inspired Spirit-given word of Jesus the Son who is our sun.
16 When we told you about the power and the return of our Lord Jesus Christ, we were not telling clever stories that someone had made up. But with our own eyes we saw his true greatness. 17 God, our great and wonderful Father, truly honoured him by saying, “This is my own dear Son, and I am pleased with him.” 18 We were there with Jesus on the holy mountain and heard this voice speak from heaven.
Peter tells us what it means:
19 All of this makes us even more certain that what the prophets said is true. So you should pay close attention to their message, as you would to a lamp shining in some dark place.
Here we are – light shining in dark places as we LET LOVE LIVE in ’23.
I am not walking away or resigning from the call to serve you as pastor. I am hearing and seeing Jesus walking with us in the Valley, and that is enough.
I want to do all I can help you and our Lutheran Church see and hear no-one more than this Jesus.
So, with Jesus to the cross we go.
Listen up. Immerse yourself in the show. It is Lent. We will be changed.