Grace. Amazing it is.
...there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
It seems cliché to say grace is an amazing gift. But it is. In fact, it’s one of Christianity’s unique contribution among world religions. “The Buddhist has an eight-fold path, the Hindu has karma, The Jew has the covenant, and the Muslim a code of law – each offering a way to earn approval. Only Christianity dares to make God’s love unconditional" (Yancey) To many that seems scandalous to say the least.
Jesus taught us to see grace everywhere. Even though he barely used the word, Jesus describe its power in parables. Today’s reading from Luke we get three perfect examples one parable. The first is a lost sheep, followed by a lost coin, and then the well-known lost Prodigal child.
Charles Dickens described the parable of the Prodigal as “the greatest short story ever written.” But instead of reading Luke’s account, I want to share my excerpts from Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace?
Yancey tells a story of a young teenage girl from rural Michigan. Her parents are Uber religious, and very conservative. Their way of life clashes with her wild spirit. They argue constantly, always trying to change her to fit their ideals. One night, the girl decides she’s had enough. She executes a plan that she has played out hundreds of times in her head. She runs away.
Her second night in Detroit she meets a guy in a fancy car. He tells her how cool she looks, sets her up in a hotel and cares to her needs. He teaches her how to make money just being herself. She learns men will pay extra for someone like her. For a while she feels important and empowered. But time changes her. The streets make her tough, and hard around the edges. When signs of her addiction begin to show, she is no longer valued the same way.
The guy in the fancy car leaves her where he found her. She scrapes up whatever she can for a room, a meal or just a quick fix. But it’s never enough. In her time of need the world abandons her like it has with so many others. Then one night as she’s crouched over a metal grate trying to stay warm, she thinks of her dog asleep in her parent’s house. She begins to sob, longing for home.
The next morning, she leaves a message on her parents answering machine, “Mom. Dad. I’m catching a bus up your way. It gets in at midnight tomorrow. If you’re there, great. If not, I’ll understand.”
That journey home took longer than she anticipated. But when she saw the sign that read, “Travers City – 15 miles” her stomach began to twist. Looking at the nicotine stains on her dirty fingers her plan didn’t seem so good anymore. What if her parents were on vacation and never got the message? What if they moved on, or worst, what if they had written her off as dead? And if they did show up, would they even recognize her?
The bus pulled into the station. She wanted to stay on the bus, but she had nowhere else to go. She was broke and broken. So, she shuffled her way inside, blinded by the bright overhead lights. It took a moment for her to focus on all the people in funny hats jumping and waving and blowing noise makers. It was her brother, sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles and her parents. A big sign behind them read welcome home!
From out of the crowd her father ran to greet her with the biggest hug. She stuttered to say something, anything. But her father quickly said, “Hush child, we have no time for that. You’ll be late for your party. A banquet is waiting for you at home.”
Even though I edited this story down quite a bit, it still chokes me up. Because like the prodigal in Jesus’ parable, this young child was not able to express her apology that she’d rehearsed on that the long journey home. Why? Because the love of the father wouldn’t have it. She was back in his arms and that was all that mattered.
Grace is the key that unlocks the front door to God’s house. Only we’re not the ones doing the unlocking.
As Jesus tells the story, “when he was yet a great way off,” his father saw him and runs to embrace his hungry, tired, broken child. The father can’t help himself! His heart races as he throws the door open and bolts across the field to cover his child with kisses and to restore him to his rightful place in the family.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what God looks like, there is no better picture than the one Jesus gives us. Yet his parables aren’t about how we see God. Instead they are about how God sees us. Gushing with pity and unrestrained tenderness, the father’s embrace of his son symbolizes God’s steadfast love for you and me. Once in God’s arms there is no casting up of sins, no shame or guilt – all is forgotten. God “kisses the past into forgetfulness.”
This is what makes God’s grace so scandalous to the world. No one deserves it, or earns it, or buys it. It’s given to us through Jesus Christ, so that anyone who follow him will find their way back to the open doors and the welcoming arms of God’s love and care. Yancey writes, “Jesus is pretty clear that there is nothing that can disqualify us from God’s love. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more. There’s nothing we can do to make God love us less.” Let that sink in for a moment.
Grace does not depend on what we do for God but on what God willingly does for us. God is willing to become vulnerable on so many levels, just to retrieve, recover, and return us to our rightful place in the family. And when we come home God rejoices! No matter how badly we’ve mess up.
Lent is a time for self-reflection; to search your heart and find who you really are – God’s beloved child. As you fast from the things that cause you to run away from God’s love, don’t forget to feast – to rejoice and to celebrate – because God loves you no matter what.
God is calling you home. As we move towards the cross and Easter celebration, let us not lose sight of the fact that we belong to God’s family…called to follow Jesus… to the cross, through the resurrection, and into the arms of God. By seeing and doing what Jesus does with God’s grace, we learn the way back to God and can teach others to do the same. That is our mission as a church and as a people.
In closing I’d like to leave you with these words from Henri Nouwen who wrote, “God rejoices. Not because the problems of the world have been solved, not because all human pain and suffering have come to an end, nor because thousands of people have been converted. No, God rejoices because one of his children that was lost has been found.”
As the manifestation of God’s perfect love, Jesus lived out God’s heart perfectly – taking the brokenness in the world and blessing it. How might we do the same? Jesus comes to us and loves us where we are, just so we can return to where we first came, and where we always belong. At home with the one who loves us, no matter what. It might sound like a cliché but …Grace is amazing.
Let us pray:
Merciful Lord, how blessed is your name. May we never lose sight of the power of your love and grace to transform us and returns us back into your heart. May way we share your grace with one another in the name of the one who gave it first to us. Amen.
Lockyer, Herbert. All The Parables of the Bible. Zondervan: 1963, pp. 281-89.
Yancy, Philip. What’s So Amazing About Grace? Zondervan: 1997, pp. 45-53.
Blossoming. And Bearing Fruit.
I love to garden. I love digging in the soil, planting stuff, and snipping and pruning as I attend to the plant’s wellbeing. It’s relaxing – my time to be with God. But I also love to reap the fruit of my labor. Especially my avocados. So it’s easy for to sympathize with the landowner in this parable.
The guy wants a fig, but the tree is barren. This is interesting to me because our neighborhood is littered with fig trees. People often cut them down because they can’t eat all the of fruit that one tree can produce with little or no attention. For a fig tree to be fruitless it has to work pretty hard to be something other than what it was created to be.
It seems clear to me that God is the landowner in this parable, frustrated because this creation isn’t doing what it was created to do...to bear fruit! I understand why God would want to just get rid of it. Back here where our orange tree is… we used to have a Japanese Maple. It was a pretty tree that had lovely red leaves. But it barely produced any shade, and it didn’t do much but take up valuable space. So we got rid of it. We chopped it down. And now in it’s place is a truly life-giving tree.
God is a God of life, and God expects nothing less from us than for us to bear the fruit of life in abundance. God is the landowner, and each one of us is a tree. And the onus is on us to either produce fruit or risk being composted.
To borrow a question often asked by Barbara Walters, “If you were a tree, what would you be?” A giant redwood? A stately elm? My mom would probably be a Christmas tree. And Kathleen would most likely would be the avocado tree in our front yard. I’d be a blood orange tree...it’s a uncommon take on a classic fruit. It’s full of vitamins and flavor. It’s blood red pulp is both tangy and sweet. Plus the tree stay green year round, it doesn’t go bald like I have. And when it blooms the sweetness of the blossom is intoxicating. I think that sums me up, sweet and intoxicating.
For my birthday this year, my awesome son gave me a blood orange tree which I planted outside our kitchen door. It’s already starting to grow new shoots and leaves. I’m excited to see how it will bear good fruit in the coming seasons. But what good would this gift be if it didn’t produce any fruit?
How would I react if all the time and energy I spent to make this young tree thrive, amounted to nothing? Would it be my fault or the tree’s fault for it’s fruitfulness? This is God’s dilemma. God wants us to be who we were meant to be, the loving caring children of the living God. But when we turn away from God’ will to do our own thing, what good are we to God or to each other? I don’t think the landowner is looking to fault anyone. Instead he puts the tree in the care of the gardener who is willing to give the tree the special attention it needs to eventually be productive.
If God is the landowner, and we are the tree, then it’s safe to say Jesus is the gardener. He is our advocate who pleads for us, and who makes sure we are given every chance before a final verdict is made. Through Jesus, God gave us the assurance that we will not parish but have everlasting life!
Some time ago, Kathleen found a battered young ficus tree on the curb. She made the conscious decision to pick it up and to give it care. The soil was so dry and hard that when she went to water it the liquid just rolled off the surface. This tree was in dire need of love. It needed to be cared for and repotted. And it needed water and special nutrient enriched food if it was going to survive.
This is a great example of Jesus in our lives today. He chose to be with us, to take us in when life abandoned us. He cracks our hard, weathered soil. He rips up the weeds and rocks, and soaks us with his living water until our deepest roots are quenched. With love and care, Jesus snips away the dead branches and the stuff we don’t need so we can grow stronger and reach our potential. He even gives us his holy manure to feed on (but that’s a sermon of it’s own).
We might say that the moral of this parable is that with Jesus, God gives us a second chance. But that’s not completely accurate. Yes, the gardener intervenes on behalf of the tree. But the deal the includes a dire prospect: if the tree does not flourish in a year, then yes, grind it up, roots and all.
This parable is not just about Jesus’ loving care for us. It is also a sharp reminder of the seriousness and finality of God’s judgment. There’s no time to waste. Spring is but one season of life. Prepare now and you’ll be ready for the harvest. This text forces us to live within that tension between God’s judgment and God’s grace. For the same God that waits one more year will one day judge us all the same.
Of course the one who balances this tension for us is the one who is willing and determined to tend to our fruitlessness. Jesus’ mission is to save the tree, us. If we truly desire to follow him, then it must be our mission as well. Together with Christ, we share in the nurturing and care of others, especially the ones kicked to the curb or abandoned by the world. For when we see and do what Jesus does, then we learn and teach the will of God for others to bear good fruit.
And what is that fruit exactly? St. Paul tells us it’s, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Are these the things growing in you?
I want to leave you with one last thought. As I was taking in the spring beauty budding all around me, a little busy bee caught my attention. I watched as it hopped around the orange blossoms with speed and accuracy. I thought to myself, “This is Jesus” blessing my bloom so that I might reach my potential.
But then I noticed this bee was not alone. There were many others buzzing about. We are called to join Jesus in the garden of life to germinate the word and will of God so that everyone has a chance to propagate the good fruit of life. By this we are judged, and the world is saved from itself. Repent, return to God and flourish.
Spring is but one season in the year. There is still a lot of work to do. So let us put on our gardening gloves and pick up our shovels and get to work. Let us be the busy, buzzy bees that we are called to be.
Nearly three years ago we set out to build a church, not with walls but with people. A church whose vision is to love God, love others and serve both. I don’t know where we are in that journey, but I know how far we’ve come. The trees in our yard are blossoming like mad, and soon fruit will begin to weigh down the branches. But my only goal for this church, and for all her people, has been to make sure when the landowner comes looking for fruit, he will be pleased with what he finds. Go now and be busy buzzy bees for the Kingdom of God so we all might flourish and truly live. Amen.
Bartlett, David L, Barbara Brown Taylor. ed. Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 2. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009.
Barreto, Eric D. Living By The Word, Christian Century Magazine. March 24, 2019.
This mission would be a great challenge. First getting there was dangerous and not very accessible. He would need to catch a ride on a boat going to a place that was visited less by merchants and more with the pirates and runaways. He was also a fugitive; if his old captures found him again there’s no telling what they’d do to punish him. And of course there was also the problem of language.
The Hibernian people had not been conquered or influenced by outsiders and so their language was oral and not written out. One of the greatest gifts Patrick gave to these people was the creation of a special alphabet; translating their sounds into words. After years of this tenuous work, Patrick was finally able to share the Good News with them in Gaelic...which is still spoken to this day.
As he was learning their language, Patrick taught them the gospel in a different way – by living in community with the people, working closely with them, building trust by becoming one of them. The only word he had to speak was: Love. Well actually, two words: God’s love.
Patrick understood what God’s love meant to him and he would risk everything he had to share it. His story speaks to the heart of another great saint, John the Evangelist, a.k.a. the one whom Jesus loved. In the 3 chapter of his first letter, John wrote this to the Christian churches.
John’s gospel is Jesus’ gospel. The good news of God’s love. As John reminds us, it’s one thing to love someone, but it’s another thing to love as confidently as Jesus did; laying down his life for us. Such confidence and love go hand in hand. If you know God’s love for you, then you can love God and love one others. Better yet, you can live confidently before God and before your fellow human beings; without fear of failure or worrying about what others might think or do. God’s love is bold with us. Which leads me to ask, “Is our love the same towards God? Do we boldly love others?”
As Jesus, John and Patrick all illustrated, love is more than a feeling. It’s an action. John writes: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” How do we do this? Are we to take a bullet for someone? I don’t think it has to be that complicated or dangerous. In fact, John said “If anyone sees a brother or sister in need, have pity and help them.” Love is bold, and daring, and risky. No one knows this better than Jesus. His story is nothing less than the perfection of God’s love made manifest.
I’m sure Patrick could have gone back as a zealous missionary with a savior complex. He could have used shame and guilt, or beaten the fear of God into the people until they submitted to his religious beliefs. But instead he took God’s words to heart and showed the people what the gospel is all about by embracing the living Christ and being Christ among them.
I know it’s important to tell people that God loves them. But words are not enough. As John put, “Don’t just talk about love; get out there and practice it.’ This is what it means to follow Jesus, to demonstrate your love in the same way that Jesus did. God calls us to act – especially towards the poor – by addressing poverty, injustice and violence that keep people from thriving in God’s Kingdom.
Let’s face it, even bigots and racists have words. But their actions often lead to the very things that God abhors. Our words must build bridges not walls, embrace peace not war, offer forgiveness and hospitality, hope and care to all people, especially the least of these.
God’s Love is the Gospel of Jesus. Made manifest in the Christ who would risk it all to give it to us. This is why it’s called the good news! When we see and do what Jesus did, then we too learn how to manifest God’s love and teach to others to do the same. Patrick knew that to live Christ is to live in community with others bearing God’s love as the source of healing for the community.
Patrick is a perfect example for us to have during Lent – showing us how we can make Christ alive in the world. As Richard Rohr wrote, “To live out Christ in the world is not to speak about Christ...but to live in the surrender of love, the poverty of being, and the cave of the heart.” Lent is a time to search our heart deeply as we fast from the things that are keeping us from abiding in God’s commandment for us.
As I discover every year, there is a very good chance you are going to fail to uphold your Lenten fast. Everyone does. But each time we stumble is our reminder to feast; not of corn beef and cabbage, but on the love of God that has been poured out for you through Jesus Christ.
No one is perfect. But even in your imperfect love John reminds us that the Spirit is at work in your life. By seeing and doing what Jesus did, Patrick was able to open up his heart and showed the people what God’s love looks like. And we can do the same.
My challenge to you this week is simply to go out and be the gospel, sharing the good news of Christ Jesus – always ready to show mercy, grace and love to others as God has commanded. What does God command? John boils it down to this: Accept the divine love that comes in the name of Jesus Christ and to share that love with one another. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate St. Patrick than with corn beef, cabbage, soda bread, a wee dram of Jamesons...and sharing an endless feast of God’s love with everyone in the world.
Let us pray: Holy, Holy, Holy God…thank you for the love you gave to us through your Son, the Christ. Fill us with the same Spirit you gave to him so that we might be more like Jesus and less like ourselves. Amen.
Ergo the Ego
Years ago, my wife Kathleen stared in a commercial for a burger chain called Jack in the Box. Each commercial always featured the character Jack – a normal guy that just so happens to have a giant ping-pong ball for a head. The guy who created this character also wrote, directed and did the voice of Jack in every commercial. Rumor had it he would have played Jack, but his ego was too big to fit into the costume. Ergo the ego.
In the late 1800’s Sigmund Freud made the word “ego” commonplace in the world of psychology. Today, it’s still a part of our lexicon used to describe a person’s conscious mind – that part of us we identity as our "self." These days, the word is often seen as a negative connotation; like egocentric, egomaniac, and ego trip. But actually ego has both positive and negative aspects.
For example a person with a strong ego could be someone who has “a healthy and strong sense of self that allows him or her to instantly access an inner truth in any given situation.” These are often traits of business leaders and mavericks. Yet a person with a strong ego could also be someone who is “narrow-minded, arrogantly self-centered, and unable or unwilling to be humbled. He or she always has to be right. And any contradictory perspective is always wrong.” The traits of someone who goes into politics.
As you begin your self-exploration in Lent, there’s a good chance your ego will be put to the test. You will either emerge with a stronger sense of our self, or you will throw your hat in the ring of people running for president in 2020.
On the first week of Lent, we always read one of the three gospel stories of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness – each on the heels of Jesus’ baptism. Today our message comes from Luke 4:1-13.
READ PASSAGE HERE
Every time I read this passage, I am left with giant head full of questions. The obvious being why on earth would God deliberately send Jesus out to be tempted by the devil? Does God try to trap us? Isn’t the Holy Spirit supposed to protect us from stuff like this and not lead us into it? And why is God in cahoots with the devil anyway, aren’t they mortal enemies? More importantly, exactly who or what is the devil?
If we believe God created all thing and declared them good, does that include the Devil? If so, does that mean there’s a flaw in God’s design? Or is the flaw in us? See how the questions just keep coming? Ergo the ego…we always need to know the answer to God’s mysteries.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot of theories about the devil, but none that have convinced me it’s some guy in a red suit holding a pitchfork. After years of thinking about all this…I too have developed my own theory (and that's all it is my egotistical theory). I believe this thing we also call the tempter is nothing more than our ego. After all, it’s one thing all humans have, including Jesus.
God gives us our conscious self to help us survive, and to flourish, and evolve in this wilderness we call life. It’s a good thing, until it’s not. Our egos can push us to create wonderful ideas, amazing music and beautiful art that inspires others to do the same.
But it can also push us to hurt someone who disagrees with us, or cause us to blame others when life doesn’t go our way.
Take Adam and Eve for example. God gave them a conscious and commands them to use it to multiply and create. When they are caught disobeying God’s command to not eat from this one particular tree, Adam immediately blamed Eve. And Eve quickly blamed who? The serpent or the devil. Having something to blame is easier than bearing our own wrong-doing. Ergo the ego.
So, for sake of argument, let’s take Luke’s story and replace the word devil with the word ego, and you’ll see how we all fall short of God’s glory. All of us…but one…Jesus.
Luke writes, “Full of the Holy Spirit Jesus was led by the same Spirit to be tempted for 40 days by the “Ego.” Without the ability to shift blame on something else, neither the devil or the Holy Spirit can be blamed for leading us into temptation.
The way I see it is that God’s Spirit guides Jesus to a place where he confronts his humanness in order to find and embrace his Divine nature. This tells me that God guides us also to places to discover who we are and what we are called to do. But it’s up to each one of us to either to shift our self towards God’s will, or go into politics.
While Jesus is out there what does he do? He begins to fast – a Jewish ritual of “self denial” that prepare one’s self to stand before God in repentance and atonement. I don’t know if Jesus needed to do either of these things, but in this sacred action we learn how to humbly set aside our needs, putting God’s will above our own. But the ego is crafty. It knows when we are our most vulnerable and hungry. It tempts Jesus to “command these stones to become bread.” The ego desires to be in control and to command others to do what we want? Quoting from Deuteronomy Jesus reminds us that it takes more than food to really live. It takes faith in God’s word.
Tapping into our human desire for power, the “Ego” tempts Jesus again by telling him, “The whole world will be yours if only you bow down and worship me.” But Jesus knows better. He knows God’s word is true, and all the power in this little planet doesn’t come close to the glory God has in store for us.
Jesus had the power to turn stones into bread. He had to power to command the people flocking to him, to bow down and worship him. But he doesn’t act on his power. Instead Jesus lives in God’s word, and reminds the “Ego” that all glory and all power is God’s.
Our ego was given to help us create and flourish in God’s love for us. But eventually we all have to make the choice: You can follow your ego’s love of self, or follow the way of Jesus, the perfect manifestation of God’s divine love given to you. To follow Jesus means to always cling to God’s Word and be mindful of what God is saying because the “Ego” will tempt our faith, and even use God’s own words to do so.
In its final attempt, the “Ego” meets Jesus at the top of the Temple, and said, “If you really believe you’re the Son of God, then jump. And if God’s word is true then angels will intervene and you won’t so much as stub your toe.” With great faith, Jesus fires back, “It is also written, ‘Do not dare tempt the Lord your God.’”
Jesus knows the power he possesses. He knows what he can do as a human. But he also understands the power of God’s word and how much more he can do by humbly giving his whole self, including his ego, to God. Ergo our ego too.
This is important, because the game is not over. Luke ends the passage with a cryptic message. “The Ego left Jesus until an opportune time.” In other words, your ego is always with you, lying in wait for another opportunity to win you over.
Therefore it’s not enough to simply fast during Lent. We need to be constantly grounded in God’s Word daily, and be mindful always of what God is calling us to do. This was the way of Jesus, who overcame the temptation of his human self. And found his Divine truth. By seeing and doing what Jesus does we too can learn how to do God’s will and teach others to truly flourish in God’s glory.
In John’s gospel Jesus said, “I am the way.” I don’t think he meant it as an arrogantly self-centered egotistical statement. Instead I believe Jesus is drawing us into his inner being, his true self. He is inviting us to practice his way, the way that humbly leads us to a true relationship with God.
The way of Jesus is self-denying your hunger and desire for power and control, it puts God and other’s first, and love at the beginning of every encounter you have. By following the way of Jesus, is to live faithfully in God’s words where you find your way through the challenges we all face in the wilderness of life. By being grounded in him, the living Word of God, we are able to overcome the temptations that wait to trap us.
Whether you are an advertising executive, a business maverick, a student or the president of a large country, Jesus is the way of life where the Word of God speaks louder than the egotistical voice inside each one of our heads.
Ergo the ego is always where it was created and meant to be…in God’s divine self.
Mamas, Michael. Ego. Is Bigger Better? https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/281170 Sept. 19, 2016. (accessed: March 7, 2019)
Forever Changed By Christ
And all were astounded at the greatness of God... - Luke 9:43
Last night at dinner, friends of ours were telling us about the movie “The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned From A Mythical Man.” From what understand, it’s a documentary that follows the great comic actor as he engages with ordinary people in ordinary situations. Recognizing that he had the power to help on a macro-level, Murray sets out to change people lives simply by showing up and listening to them. I can’t wait to see how he does it.
But first, we have the gospel of Luke, which gives us this story about Jesus who changes both himself and those who are with him. Luke 9:28-43.
Writing on this text, Joshua Wood makes this bold declaration, “To see God is to be changed.” I couldn’t agree more. Looking back on all the scripture we’ve studied since Epiphany, we have seen Jesus through the eyes of those who first came to the realization that he is actually the Christ, the Messiah.
We stood on the banks of the Jordan River as heaven opened and a voice proclaimed, “This is my Son.” We sat in on a worship service where Jesus declared that in him the scripture had been fulfilled. We went with him as he taught along the seaside. And witnessed what happened to those who obeyed him when he told them to go out and cast their nets in the deep water. When he said, “Love your enemies” and “Do to others as you would have them do to you,” Some were amazed, others angry. But each one changed. How could they not be? To see God is to be changed.
The Bible is filled with stories of people whose lives would never be the same after their encounter with the divine. Noah, Abraham and Sarah, and of course Moses, who appeared on the mountain top with Elijah. His first encounter with God was on a mountain in a burning bush. It was there he was called to lead God’s people out of bondage and into the Promised Land.
Out on the plains of the wilderness…Moses would climb up another mountain where he caught a glimpse of God’s backside. Yes…he saw God’s butt. When he came down from Mount Sinai, he not only had the tablets containing the Ten Commandments… but his face was shining so brightly because of that encounter they had to cover it with a veil. Moses saw God and he was changed. Not only in appearance, but deep down in the core of his being. To see God is to be changed.
Luke offers us another mountaintop encounter with God. Jesus took three of his closest disciples up the mountain to pray. These guys left everything to follow Jesus. They had heard his teaching, asked questions, and witnessed countless miracles. Yet it wasn’t until this particular time and place that their eyes were opened to see Jesus as the Christ transfigured before them. And just in case this point wasn’t clear to them the voice of God called out, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
It’s right to think that when God speaks, we ought to listen. In Jesus, God is telling us something. So we ought to pay close attention. See what Jesus does and then go and do it. This is how the glory of God is transfigured in us. Peter, James and John got a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, there was no turning back. Once you see God’s glory, you can’t unsee it. Yet while they finally comprehended the importance of this event, the disciples did not immediately act on it. And for obvious reasons, they were human – afraid of what might happen.
As a young teenager, I had a similar experience that changed my life. I don’t often talk about it because I learned early on, that a vast majority of people, especially the so-called faithful Christians, don’t always believe someone who claims to have had visions of Christ. But what I saw and heard, I could not unsee or unknow. The feeling I felt in the deepest core of my being would forever change me.
The biggest change was knowing, without an iota of doubt, that God is real. This had a major impact on the way I fearlessly and stupidly approached life. Possessing this knowledge both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because God’s promised grace is real. But it’s also a curse because if God is real, then all that stuff we were told to do is real as well. “This is my Son, the Chosen, listen to him.” Watch what he does, then do the same to others. That isn’t as easy as it sounds.
For a while I pretended it was all a dream. I tried to ignore it, bury my head in the sand so to speak. But no matter where I stuck my head, I kept running into God. Eventually I got tired of playing hide and seek. I knew God was real. Yet it wasn’t until I actually accepted this truth that I was able to truly see the Kingdom of God in all its beauty and depth. As you might imagine this was life changing for me.
When each of my children were born, I saw God in full glory. When we suffered the loss of someone we dearly loved, I knew God was there sharing our pain and anguish. Whenever I hike or play golf with Kevin, I can’t help but see God all around us. And every time I meet someone new, I have another new encounter with God that transforms the way I see the world. I have come to realize that wherever I am…God is there too. In Jesus, God opens our eyes to this divine revelation.
Once we accept this profound truth, we are able to see God’s Kingdom for the greatness that it is. And we can fully participate and thrive in it. Through Jesus , God opens our eyes and changes our perception, not just of ourselves but others as well. God says, “This is my Son, listen to him.” This is not so much a command, but an invitation to live and participate in the Kingdom of God. To see and do what Jesus does in order to learn and teach others of God’s grace and truth.
I like to think God has opened our eyes, not just to see the truth about Jesus, but the truth about us all. We are all beloved children of God. To see the face of Jesus changes us. But more importantly, to see that same face in others can change the world. Imagine if we put the face of Christ on a person we hate, then rage can be changed into love; war into peace; and weapons into plowshares. True transfiguration…from the human way to the Divine will of God.
Luke concludes this story with another life changing event. When they descended the mountain, they were immediately confronted by a man whose son had been seized by an evil spirit. The demon dramatically threw the child to the ground, but Jesus was unfazed. He rebuked the spirit, healed the young boy, and returned him to his father. Luke ends the passage stating, “And all were astounded at the greatness of God.” They were changed. How could they not be? How could we not be? To see God is to be forever changed.
The disciples had their mountain top experience with God. But it was down in the streets that they would begin to fully comprehend what God had invited to do…to participate in God’s Kingdom by being mirrors of the Christ throughout the world.
As you leave here today, I hope you will remember that every time you interact with others you encounter God. Think about how that might change the way you speak, or listen, or care for those around you. Through Jesus, God not only opens our eyes and our ears but our hearts and our hands as well. To see the Kingdom of God and to follow participate in its glory. Through Jesus, God speaks to us and invites us to be a mirror of the Christ transfigured…so others can have a life-changing encounter as well.
So my challenge to you is this: Go now and be God’s glory in the world; astounding all with the greatness of God in all that you do.
Wood, Joshuah. "episcopalchurch.org." The Episcopal Church. March 3, 2019. (accessed March 1, 2019).
has been blogging under the name: Jesus not Jesús: Looking for Christ in the face of strangers. You can read his posts and browse his archives by clicking here.
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