St. Matthew’s Sermon 02-23-2020


St.St. Matthew’s Sermon 02-23-2020

Be In the Moment Exodus

24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

It has long been my contention that every word, even every letter of a word is important to understanding the scriptures. I may have pointed that out to you before on several occasions; either indirectly by drawing your focus to one word or phrase for the foundation my message or directly by highlighting how one word, easily skimmed over, can make a world of difference comprehending what the writer is trying to convey.

Yet, no matter how closely we look, no matter how hard we try, sometimes a comprehensible explanation of a story eludes us.

I first came upon this reality in my first year of seminary in a New Testament class. Our able instructor asked us to read Mark 8:17-21. Those verses…

“…Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

The scene ends right there as Jesus and his Disciples enter a new village and he goes right back to healing the sick and preaching the Good News; neither Jesus nor the author giving us a clue as to what they don’t understand.

After we read this the professor asked “What do the Disciples not understand; what is the message to us, and how does it connect to a life of faith”?

One classmate noted how more loaves to feed fewer people resulted in fewer leftovers but neither he nor anyone else in the class could come up with a way to connect that as being important to a life of faith.

Another classmate said that he had heard that the numbers aligned to the number of nations that bordered Judea at various times in history but there was still no way to connect that to faith.

As for me… I – had – no – idea. And, once I stepped past my embarrassment in not coming up with some thought-provoking insight, it may have been one of my most enlightened moments in studying the Bible. When it came my turn to make a statement I boldly said, “I have no idea… and that’s the message!

In brief, my argument was that what is so plane, so clear, so comprehensible to Jesus, the very essence of God in human form, is beyond our human ability to grasp and so we are called to believe, not only what we can’t explain, but the realities that exist beyond our comprehension.

Now, ten years later filled with thoughtful consideration, countless commentaries read, and many opinions sought, I still stand in the conviction that there are things we cannot explain and that, in itself, is a part of the message.

Now, bring that thought into today’s story of the Transfiguration of Christ. Here we see Jesus’ face shining like the sun and his clothes become dazzling white; two of the great Prophets show up and have a conversation with him and Peter, true to form, jumps in and interrupts them offering to build shelters for them and suddenly God interrupts him saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Then, as suddenly as it all began; it’s ended.

If it all happened in the time it takes to read it, it was over in about one minute, perhaps a few seconds more. And again, we get no explanation from Jesus or the author, no special insights conveyed; just the command that the disciples tell no one what they saw until after the resurrection; and even that is given without reason.

We could spend years, perhaps a lifetime, analyzing this short story in an attempt to find its place in our understanding of our faith. We could attempt to follow each thread: why Jesus shone like the sun, what Moses and Elijah had to say to him, why God repeated the words spoken during the scene of Jesus’ Baptism, what Peter’s idea of building shelters tells us, why the unearthly sights didn’t cause the Disciples to become fearful but the sound of God’s voice did, and why Jesus tells them not to speak of it until later. And even if we could follow each thread to some certain meaning, we would then have to attempt to weave them into a tapestry that will yield an enlightening picture.

Trust me, in my studies I have found that much ink and paper and breath has been spent trying, yet little consensus reached.

But what if that is, again, the point of the story! What if we’re not supposed to understand? What if we’re spending time trying to figure out what it all means when it is impossible for our meager, human minds to do so?

What then, of the story of Christ’s transfiguration; are these words unimportant to our understanding of scripture and, therefore, irrelevant to building our faith? Absolutely not; even if there is something more that we’re missing there is still meaning for us in the words and enlightenment to be found in the scene.

Perhaps this will help me explain: Take a moment, if you will, and imagine yourself as one of the Disciples with Jesus on that mountain… be in the moment… it’s quiet… you’re praying with Jesus as you have done before… there’s nothing unusual or remarkable about any of this…. Suddenly you see two of the ancient Prophets, Moses and Elijah, talking with your master and while you’re trying to take this in you’re just as suddenly engulfed in a bright cloud that limits your view to only what is right in front of you and a voice comes out of that cloud saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

In this moment, how wide are your eyes… how fast is your heart beating… did your jaw drop before the rest of your body hit the ground… did you experience awe beyond description?

That is certainly a part of the message! It is just as important to stand in awe of what we cannot understand as it is to grasp what we can; just as faith-building to marvel, without comprehension, at the mystery of the divine as it is to obtain all knowledge of the scripture; and as wonder-full to be immersed in the view-limiting light of God as it is to receive enlightening revelation.

Amen

Exodus 24:12-18 24:12 The LORD said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 24:13 So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 24:14 To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” 24:15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 24:16 The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 24:17 Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 24:18 Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Psalm 2 2:1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? 2:2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying, 2:3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” 2:4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision. 2:5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 2:6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” 2:7 I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. 2:8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 2:9 You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 2:10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 2:11 Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him.

2 Peter 1:16-21 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 1:17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 1:18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 1:19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 1:20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 1:21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Matthew 17:1-9 17:1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 17:2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 17:3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 17:4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 17:5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 17:6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 17:7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid. 17:8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 17:9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”