Monday, March 3, 2014

Change Happens | Transfiguration Sermon 2014

Exodus 19:9-25

English Standard Version (ESV)

9 And the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe you forever.”

When Moses told the words of the people to the Lord, 10 the Lord said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments 11 and be ready for the third day. For on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people.12 And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, ‘Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death. 13 No hand shall touch him, but he shall be stoned or shot;[a] whether beast or man, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain.” 14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people; and they washed their garments. 15 And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman.”

16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. 17 Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder.20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

21 And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the Lord to look and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, lest the Lord break out against them.” 23 And Moses said to the Lord, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for you yourself warned us, saying, ‘Set limits around the mountain and consecrate it.’” 24 And the Lord said to him, “Go down, and come up bringing Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, lest he break out against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and told them.

Exodus 20:18-21

18 Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid[d] and trembled, and they stood far off 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not fear, for God has come to test you, that the fear of him may be before you, that you may not sin.” 21 The people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.

2 Peter 1:16-21

English Standard Version (ESV)
Christ's Glory and the Prophetic Word

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 were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son,[a] with whom I am well pleased,” 18 we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 17:1-9

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Transfiguration

17 And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3 And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son,[a] with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8 And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.

9 And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

Grace, Mercy, and Peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
All these words that I shall speak to you hear with your ears, but receive them in your hearts.

Change Happens

Change happens. You wake up. You go to work. You go home. Wake up, go to work, go home. Wake up, go to work, go home. You don’t know when it happened. But, somewhere along the line the job you had dreamed of and loved became boring and depressing. Some sort of change must have happened.

You come home to your spouse, to your kids, to the ones you love. But, the spark just isn’t there. When you look at your spouse, you can’t help but think of the last time you had been in a fight. You remember the latest habit that had annoyed you. You’re going to have to bring that up sooner or later. You see your family and all that you can think about is more mouths to feed, the cost of education and clothing. A change happened, but you could never really tell where.

You get laid off. Anger builds up inside of you. You start to think thoughts about your job, your life, and everything around you that were merely inconceivable before. You carry on with a cancerous hatred infecting your heart. You don’t see the point of anything anymore. It’s all just one dull, murky, wretched life. A change happened, and you don’t really care.

This change gets worse and worse, it builds up. You start to fall into temptations and debts that you can no longer handle. You wander about under a cloud of darkness, seeking despair. There’s the drinking, the accident, the divorce, the death. If you had been sober, you’d have seen the change. But, you probably wouldn’t have done anything about it.

Then, one day, your son calls. You hate it when he calls. He’s grown up now. But, he always wants something. He always needs something. What does he think, you’re filled with money? You answer, in a harsh voice you ask, “What do you want now?!”

You can almost feel his disappointment over the phone line. You think maybe someone’s hurt. Maybe it’s your ex, you haven’t spoken in years, they could be hurt. He begins to stutter, “Um, it’s nothing dad.” So, he called you for nothing. We’ll see about that. It must be money. All he ever wants is money.

Then, those three words escape from his lips. They are three words you haven’t heard from anyone in a very long time. He says, “I love you, Dad.” It’s like a nail hitting your chest. You hold back the tears that had begun to form in your eyes. When was the last time you had heard those words? Who had been the last one to say them to you? You can’t remember.

But, somehow, although you want to say them back, you can’t. Instead you ask, “Is that it?” He says, “That’s it.” You say, “Well, alright.” He says, “Well, I guess I’ll talk to you later.” You just have enough time to say “bye” before the phone clicks and hangs up. And, there, with the phone still next to your ear, you finally get the strength to say, “I love you too, Son.”

What a weird phone call. As you sit there, speechless, you start to think. You think about the changes in your life. You think about your spouse, your job, your son. You wonder where you went wrong, where the big change was. The problem is, it wasn’t just one big change.

It had happened when you didn’t follow through with your diet. It was when you meant to be there for the soccer games, but never made it. It was when you meant to say “I love you,” but the words never seemed to come to mind. It was a stack of infinite failures that lead to losing yourself somewhere along the line.

But, you know, maybe I haven’t been explaining your story all this time. Maybe you never gave into the hum and drum of work and family. You never once had a day where you seemed to be just “going through the motions.” Maybe you have never lost a job. You have never had a drink or got divorced. You not only told your family you loved them, but you told everyone else you loved them too. Maybe. But, even there, in that positive-life scenario, change happened.

Maybe instead of despair, hope grew. Instead of hate, there was love. And, instead of apathy, faith. Maybe you have been built up instead of torn down by your life story. But, either way, you are a different person than when you had first begun. Experience adds to experience, and somewhere along the line, your priorities, your life, your heart had changed either for the better or the worse. We all have been changed somehow towards the better, but also towards the worse.
Bulletin Insert

In your bulletin today, there is something extremely personal for you to do. Here, flip to the page. I need you to reflect, to think about your life. Think about the times you have been built up and torn down. See the consequence, know the effects. [walk through the insert] Don’t do it right now, take it home and meditate on it. And, as you meditate on your life, remember what I’m about to say next.
The Unchanged

The lessons today are about people who have gone through extraordinary changes. James had turned from a “son of thunder” to a follower of the Prince of Peace. John had turned from a nobody into the beloved disciple. And, Peter had gone from a lowly fisherman to following the Son of Man. Even the men who had appeared before Jesus had been molded by God within their own lives. Moses had gone from a stuttering shepherd to a leader of Israel, courageous enough to speak with God face-to-face. Elijah had been formed through his persecution and witness of God. All of these men had spoken with the Lord, trusted Him, and witnessed His miraculous signs. And, they all saw Him as Light on that wondrous day.

I can imagine one of the disciples looking at the transfigured Christ whose face shown like the sun and clothes became a white light and saying, “I see God.” The man who had been born in a stable, baptized, tested in the desert… The one who had hung out with tax-collectors and prostitutes along with other lowly men such as themselves, now appeared pure, holy, and filled with an unimaginable light. He had changed before them to appear as God.

But, that’s not how it happened. Jesus Christ had changed before their very eyes, yet they still saw an earthly man with earthly needs. Peter, the man who had rebuked Jesus for saying that He must suffer and die, exclaims, “We should make tents!” He got all excited and continued explaining when something happened.

A bright cloud overshadowed them, and they heard a voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” They had no other choice but to fall on their faces in horror, remembering when Moses had met God on another mountain long ago. There, God had proclaimed that if any living thing even touched the mountain they would die. There, the Israelites had pleaded with their prophet to speak to God on behalf of them because they knew His power. These disciples remembered that to see the face of God was to die.

But, God is also known as the Great Iconoclast. As soon as we believe that we completely understand who he is, when we start to envision a god and say that “Well, god would do this” or “god would do that,” the Lord breaks that image. He shatters the icon you have made for yourself. He tears apart your false understanding. And, you learn about a whole new aspect of who He is.

He does not do this to hurt you or build a burden upon your relationship. He does this to draw you closer to Him. There is a verse that repeats itself over and over again in Psalm 136, “kee le-o-lam chasdo.” It means that His unfailing, steadfast, limitless love, His grace, His mercy, it endures forever. No matter what else God reveals to you. No matter how shattered your picture of Him may become, His love is always there.

This is something the disciples would have done well to remember as they lied there afraid on that mountain. Yet, they were too afraid to look. That is when Jesus quickly came over, he touched them, and he said to them they can get up, they do not need to be afraid. And then, when they looked up, Jesus was the only one there. Moses, Elijah, and the cloud had gone. This is the man they had always known.

Change happens. Here, in this Light, change is inevitable. Peter, James, and John were no longer the men they had once been. They had seen their Lord. After the cloud had passed, they knew He was the Son of God. This is a revelation they should have had all along, but it had become epitomized on this mountain. Christ had chosen to reveal Himself to them as God’s beloved Son, whom they should heed just as God had revealed Himself before Moses in the desert.

But, in Jesus there was no change. As the disciples eyes were opened to see his blinding light and to know His presence there on the mountain with Moses, Elijah, and the Father, Jesus had simply been who He had always been: The Son of God and Son of Man… The Mediator between God and Man… The Way, The Truth, and The Life… The Light… The One who is, was, and ever shall be. He remains the same although everything else changes.

In the same way, our lives may shift, our heart and our minds might transform to become something else, to care for something else. But, He will always be there. He will always touch us in our lives to comfort us, to remind us that we can get up again, that we do not need to be afraid. He carries us through our troubles. He strengthens us when we have no strength. And, even in the worst of times, as we hit the deepest of our depths, He is there to call out of the blue and say to you, “I love you.” That’s all.

But, that love is enough. It is a love that had brought Him into this world in the first place. The love that led him to suffer, to die, to be hanged upon the cross. And, it is also that same love that had been the reason for him to rise again, to provide not only the end of death, but a new life… A life to be lived in Him.

And, unlike the disciples, we are able to let this love, this life of Christ, this Gospel be proclaimed through us. We no longer have to wait in silence. He has been raised from the dead. The change has already happened. That is why we must go, out into the world sharing the life-changing power of JESUS. Amen.

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