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Archive for February, 2017

The light was so radiant and so bright it overwhelmed everything. No longer were the tops of the other mountains or the valleys stretching out from the mountain visible. Even the dark brown ground and rocks and crags were hidden from sight as the entire mountaintop was bathed in warm radiance.

The light shone with an intensity the three of them had never known before in their lives transforming the dull cloth of Jesus’ clothing a dazzling white that was sparkling like diamonds sending shoots of light all around him. Even transforming his face into an iridescent glow.

Then, in the middle of this wondrous light Moses and Elijah appeared! And, they were speaking with Jesus! Here were the two advocates for Torah and the covenant. Here were the two prophets from old. The prophets the people rejected, but whom God vindicated. The prophets who performed miracles and who had been taken up into the transcendent glory of God! Here were Moses and Elijah who had both spoken to God on Mountaintops. Who had been in the presence of the Lord of the universe, the creator of life and had spoken to God directly just as they were now speaking to Jesus directly. This was not simply an echo of the Exodus and the still small voice on the mountain; it was the continuing conversation with God.

“It is true,” they thought. “Jesus is God with us. He is the fulfillment of the Torah and the prophets. He really did not come to abolish Torah and the prophets, but he came to bring all of scripture to fulfillment.” He is the Messiah just as Peter had blurted out six days before on a mountaintop outside of Caesarea Philippi, the ancient city twenty miles or so north of the Sea of Galilee that is ringed by idols in the hills and grottos. It was there Jesus asked, “Who do people say I am?” And, Peter got it right, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!”

Peter was excited when Jesus affirmed Peter’s answer and said Peter was the rock upon whom Jesus was going to build his community of followers. But, when Jesus said he must go to suffer and die and be raised on the third day all Peter heard was suffer and die. “No, you can’t. May God not allow that to happen!” Peter said as he took Jesus aside. “It really was,” as one theologian notes, “only human that the disciples in their minds thought what Peter blurted out. They began looking for alternatives to what Jesus said was going to happen. They became desperate for a second opinion, a way to stop time,” a way to stop the journey to Jerusalem. But, Jesus had rebuked Peter sharply calling him “Satan.” The name of one who had tried tempting Jesus in the wilderness to turn away from God. Satan came to Jesus after Jesus had fasted for forty days in the wilderness-an echo of the flood and the exodus- and at the time Satan thought Jesus might be ripe for the temptation of turning away from God for food, for power and wealth, or at least being willing to doubt God’s faithfulness and promises of salvation and life by putting God to the test in the act of jumping off the highest pinnacle of the Temple. But at the Caesarea Philippi grotto it was Peter who was tempting Jesus to be unfaithful to God by refusing to go to Jerusalem where he would suffer, die and be raised on the third day. The inevitability of the cross at the end of Lent weighs heavily on the disciples just as it does on us. The cross seems too horrific, too difficult, too harsh to be part of theirs’ and our deep reflection on our relationship with God.

Except, that now in this moment when the radiant light was washing over him and the two other disciples, Peter thinks he has finally gotten it. Now, is the age of God’s glory, the kingdom of God has now come! The life of toil, sin, pain and death has passed. “Lord,” Peter exclaims,” it is good for us to be here, if you wish I will make three booths, three tabernacles, here. One for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah!” The words declaring the desire to build a sanctuary away from the world, away from the heartache, the stories of loss in mundane human lives, the suffering friends,  the child who is ill, the career that has fallen apart, the relationship that seems beyond healing and the pondering about whether we dare risk the price of weeping and suffering, celebration and surprise when life is somehow redeemed or choose distance and an emotional fortress designed to keep sorrow at bay by also keeping joy at bay.

The words were no sooner off his lips than a great cloud of light and rumbling sounds overshadowed them like the Shekinah, the presence of the Lord, resting on the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies, and the great cloud that enveloped Moses on Sinai. Then, they heard the same voice Moses had heard and the same voice Elijah had heard on their mountaintop experiences. It is the same voice repeating now, as at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

Filled with awe and fear Peter, James, and John fell to the ground. Maybe Peter’s excitement had gotten the best of him again. Maybe he had tried to confine God’s kingdom to the narrow thirty feet of this mountaintop. Maybe Peter is a reminder to us to be wary of those who tell us being a follower Christ is easy and care free. Those who are like the Rev. Terry Cole Whittaker, the fifty something former Mrs. California, who preaches every Sunday in front of thousands of people in huge convention center in San Diego and to thousands more on television stations around the country the gospel of prosperity based upon her book, “How to have more in a have-not world.” “You can have exactly what you want, when you want it, all the time,” she teaches. “Affluence is your right!” For a donation of $25 or more she will send you a “prosperity kit” consisting of a cassette tape, booklet, and a bumper sticker, all designed to enhance your awareness of abundance. “I consider myself, “she declares, “the spokesman for the spirituality of the New Age. Heaven is a cinch! You can have it all, now!”

Whatever it was, the words of the Lord were still ringing in their ears “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”

They were the words Isaiah spoke about God’s servant who was going to suffer because he faithfully and obediently lived God’s justice, kindness, and love. Because he will take upon himself all our iniquities, the consequences of all our sins, suffering for us to redeem us.  Perhaps, that was what Jesus was telling them six days before. He is God’s suffering servant. Maybe that’s what God meant by saying, Listen to him!” Listen to him because as C. S. Lewis writes the final word from Aslan in the “Silver Chair,” Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly, I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain the air is clear and your mind is clear, as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearance. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.”

Perhaps, God is preparing them to for the time when they will go back down the mountain into the valley where life is lived each day and where Jesus will walk to Jerusalem and to the cross. Maybe that is why we need to remember that the word “listen” in Hebrew is “Shema” and means not only to hear the words being spoken, but it also means “obey the words you hear being spoken.” Live those words every day! Let them be words to the wise, words for the wise.

So, what had Jesus been saying? Blessed are those who are poor-who admit they are dependent upon God for their life and are grateful to God for life. Blessed are those who work for peace-not just to end violence, but who strive to eradicate violence and hatred like the dread disease smallpox that no longer exists. Blessed are those who mourn-who share in and lament the suffering of others. Blessed are those who are humble and who are gentle-who seek to influence without coercion, rather influencing others through self-giving love. Blessed are those who are as persecuted and reviled as Jesus himself is because they are being as faithful and obedient to God as Jesus.

But, that is not all Jesus had said. For Jesus also said, that the one who is great will be servant of all. That the first will be last. That any person who wants to follow Jesus will deny themselves-will not be ego and self-centered, but will be God-centered. They will pick up a cross and follow Jesus. That the one who seeks to save their life as the wisdom of the world says is the way to save your life through owning all the latest toys, by engaging in the latest fad, by going after wealth, success, power, status, celebrity will lose their life in the desert of emptiness and meaninglessness. While those who lose their life for the sake of God, will have life because just as God vindicated the prophets, so too will God vindicate Jesus in his resurrection and vindicate all of us in ours.

What else was Jesus saying? Welcome the little children. From the street children of Buenos Ares or the migrant children living in Livingston, Monroe, Wayne and Ontario Counties to the street gangs in some 4800 American cities, towns, and villages. From the children kidnapped and trained to kill other children in Zambia or those who are sold into slavery by poverty-stricken parents to those orphaned by tsunamis, the AIDS pandemic, or by earthquakes in Haiti, Africa, New Zealand, or Australia. From those who had used alcohol and drugs to blot out years of abuse to those who live in abundance, but who still do self-destructive acts. Welcome all the children. No matter whom they are, where they are from, what they look like, dress like, or talk like. Feed them, clothe them, care for them when you see them lying on the side of the road bruised and bleeding. Be compassionate, be forgiving, be patient, and be loving. For there are no barriers, there are no walls; there are no distinctions that can possibly separate God’s children from each other because God loves all equally and unconditionally.

What else will Jesus be saying? More and more about being students learning to be faithful and obedient to God by learning to serve each other as they follow Jesus. Jesus who is the focus of their faith.  Jesus who offers the new model of faith that is, “the circle where God lives in full solidarity with people and people with one another.” Jesus who comes to give us all a new heart, a new spirit, a new mind, and a new body.” Shema! Hear him! Listen to him! Obey him! Let Jesus transform you into a wondrous light shining so brightly it makes the incarnate God real in the everyday, ordinary, mundane lives of all humanity for that is where God is truly with us, within us.

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