Epic Stories and Visions of Grandeur

 

Title: Epic Stories and Tales of Grandeur
Date: 2/7/2016
Preacher: Rev. Jeremy Smith
Scripture: Luke 9:28-36

8:30 worship

I love visiting people. One of my privileges as your pastor is to visit folks who are in the hospital, recovering at home, have become homebound, or just want to hang out for a meal. All three of your pastors enjoy visiting you when you are in need of assurance or just company.

In one of my previous churches, I went to visit a widow who had just moved into assisted care. Janice was a feisty one whose filter had evaporated over time and so she just said whatever she wanted to. Perhaps you know OR ARE someone like that. While sitting with her in the dining area, a distinguished older gentleman walked by and she stopped him and said “you look exactly like my third husband.” He smiled and they chatted a bit. When he walked away, I said “Janice, you said he looked like your third husband. How many times have you been married?” Without batting an eye, she said “twice.”

That’s a woman who knew what she wanted. She had a glimpse of the future and she liked what she saw.

This is the last Sunday before Lent and the last Sunday of our series on Epic Stories and Everyday Heroes. We’ve been using Feature films to explore these epic stories alongside bible stories as well. We’ve talked about enduring like David in the face of Goliath, we’ve talked about finding our way out of no-win scenarios, and today we look at one last piece. Every good epic story reveals something about one’s past or future. Luke Skywalker finds out he is a Jedi, Anne Hathaway finds out she is a princess in The Princess Diaries, two girls find out they are twins separated at birth in The Parent Trap, and Harry finds out he actually loves Sally.

We read today in Scripture that the Disciples were also given a glimpse of the future. They were brought up the mountain where Jesus revealed who he really was: a perfect union of divine and human, so far beyond what any human could hope to accomplish, and yet living in a way to which all are called. This was the assurance that all would be well.

As with so many stories in the Bible, to understand why the Disciples needed this moment, we need to know what happened before it. Things were going well in the previous chapters when Jesus and the A-Team were in Galilee. Jesus was attracting great crowds, performing healings, exorcisms, miracles. People were enthusiastic and his events were standing-room only.

But then they traveled to nearby town of Caesarea Philippi, and things were not going well. Jesus asked the Disciples “who do the people say that I am?” And they said some said he was John the Baptist or Elijah or Beyoncé or some other prophet. Jesus seemed dissatisfied, so he asked the Disciples directly: “Who do YOU say that I am?” Peter blurts out “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” Yes! Peter’s got it! I love it when Peter says the right thing. He gets it wrong so often, that when he gets it right, it reassures me that sometimes even I might manage to say the right thing.

But then Jesus told them what being the Messiah really meant. How the religious establishment would turn on him, how he’d be killed and then rise again three days later. The Disciples were horrified. Peter pulled Jesus aside and tried to talk some sense into him, and Jesus wasn’t having it.

The Disciples lost it because didn’t know who they were. They thought they were the followers of a military leader who would vanquish the Roman Empire and begin a kingdom of peace that will have no end. Instead, they were the Disciples of a loser Messiah who would die and they would have to continue on in weakness. Jesus gave them a glimpse into the future and they didn’t like what they saw. It wasn’t the way they pictured it would be.

We know that fear that haunted the disciples that day before the Transfiguration. We’ve also heard a word from a doctor, a diagnosis that delivers a future totally unlike the one we had in mind. A spouse asks for a divorce and it creates a tomorrow that fills us with dread. A work project isn’t coming together and every drive into work you wonder if this could be the day when the boss lets you go. A daughter or son is distant, not speaking, not letting you in, and you feel like you’ve lost them. This wasn’t the future we had in mind, for the disciples or for ourselves. We know what it’s like to feel lost, lonely, abandoned, and afraid.

The voice from the heavens said “this is my son. Listen to him.” We read from Luke which says the disciples fell to the ground in fear. When the Gospel of Matthew recounts this episode, he reports Jesus as saying “do not be afraid.” I think we assume that Jesus says don’t be afraid of God’s voice, but I wonder if he was speaking about the other voices in our heads. The ones that say we aren’t good enough, smart enough. Or even worse the ones that say we are better than we are, and that we cannot rest until we’ve achieved that one thing. I wonder if Jesus was telling them to get on with it, face whatever needs to be faced, because it will work out, God reigns, and love will rule the day.

The Transfiguration show us the risks of being too fixated on the future or the past. When Jesus goes up the mountain, the story goes that Peter wants to build some tents and stay there instead of go back down to the future filled with dread. He is at risk of choosing a vision instead of the reality, a dream of what could be instead of what is. The future is scary, and it paralyzes him.

If the future is uncertain and the past is paralyzing, it is in the present where movement and change happens. We are called to transform the world around us instead of being stuck in the endless cycle of “what ifs” and “if onlys”

Even though we think we need visions of the future, what we actually need is motivation to do something in the present. We don’t have to look far into the news to find fear all around us. When you can’t drink your water without lead poisoning in flint michigan, when you are killed because you were driving while black, in custody while black, trying to breathe while black, when gay teenagers are shamed into ending their own lives, when the gulf between the rich and poor, between the different races, grows ever wider, we are afraid for our future. This wasn’t the world we had in mind.

My hope for you is that you no longer seek to merely transform the world but to transfigure it as well. To reveal the divine light in each person. To make the light of Christ shine in the darkest of areas. To study Scripture and religious writings to better be able to see God in each situation of conflict in your life. To study how Jesus responded when he walked the earth, so that we can bring Christ with us to every situation we walk into. To take the hour or two out of your week to be in Christian community, to build one another up, so that whatever comes your way won’t tear you down.

It seems overwhelming and impossible to start. But start we will. Your journey to transfiguration begins in a few minutes when we gather around the table, break bread, share a cup, and go forth to make Christ so present in a world caught up in visions and empty promises that people cannot help but ask what drives you. And tell them, you will. Glory be to God. Amen.

10:30 worship

I love visiting people. One of my privileges as your pastor is to visit folks who are in the hospital, recovering at home, have become homebound, or just want to hang out for a meal. All three of your pastors enjoy visiting you when you are in need of assurance or just company.

In one of my previous churches, I went to visit a widow who had just moved into assisted care. Janice was a feisty one whose filter had evaporated over time and so she just said whatever she wanted to. Perhaps you know OR ARE someone like that. While sitting with her in the dining area, a distinguished older gentleman walked by and she stopped him and said “you look exactly like my third husband.” He smiled and they chatted a bit. When he walked away, I said “Janice, you said he looked like your third husband. How many times have you been married?” Without batting an eye, she said “twice.”

That’s a woman who knew what she wanted. She had a glimpse of the future and she liked what she saw.

We read today in Scripture that the Disciples were also given a glimpse of the future. They were brought up the mountain where Jesus revealed who he really was: a perfect union of divine and human, so far beyond what any human could hope to accomplish, and yet living in a way to which all are called. This was the assurance that all would be well.

As with so many stories in the Bible, to understand why the Disciples needed this moment, we need to know what happened before it. Things were going well in the previous chapters when Jesus and the A-Team were in Galilee. Jesus was attracting great crowds, performing healings, exorcisms, miracles. People were enthusiastic and his events were standing-room only.

But then they traveled to nearby town of Caesarea Philippi, and things were not going well. Jesus asked the Disciples “who do the people say that I am?” And they said some said he was John the Baptist or Elijah or Beyoncé or some other prophet. Jesus seemed dissatisfied, so he asked the Disciples directly: “Who do YOU say that I am?” Peter blurts out “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” Yes! Peter’s got it! I love it when Peter says the right thing. He gets it wrong so often, that when he gets it right, it reassures me that sometimes even I might manage to say the right thing.

But then Jesus told them what being the Messiah really meant. How the religious establishment would turn on him, how he’d be killed and then rise again three days later. The Disciples were horrified. Peter pulled Jesus aside and tried to talk some sense into him, and Jesus wasn’t having it.

The Disciples lost it because didn’t know who they were. They thought they were the followers of a military leader who would vanquish the Roman Empire and begin a kingdom of peace that will have no end. Instead, they were the Disciples of a loser Messiah who would die and they would have to continue on in weakness. Jesus gave them a glimpse into the future and they didn’t like what they saw. It wasn’t the way they pictured it would be.

We know that fear that haunted the disciples that day before the Transfiguration. We’ve also heard a word from a doctor, a diagnosis that delivers a future totally unlike the one we had in mind. A spouse asks for a divorce and it creates a tomorrow that fills us with dread. A work project isn’t coming together and every drive into work you wonder if this could be the day when the boss lets you go. A daughter or son is distant, not speaking, not letting you in, and you feel like you’ve lost them. This wasn’t the future we had in mind, for the disciples or for ourselves. We know what it’s like to feel lost, lonely, abandoned, and afraid.

I imagine the Disciples, and perhaps you, felt a bit like Harry Potter when he turned 11. In this popular epic story of the past two decades, Harry Potter was raised as a normal but unloved member of his adoptive family after his parents died. On his 11th birthday, he found out he was a Wizard and because of his parents, he was able to perform magic. But it’s even more odd than that because everyone knows him. [SCENE]

Everyone looked at Harry Potter when he first arrived at Hogwarts. Everyone in this secret community had heard of him. Was it just because he knew how to do magic? We find out later, why. [SCENE]

He was “The Boy Who Lived” and who inadvertently defeated a terrible villain who murdered his parents. The blessing of his origin turns out to be a terrible burden for Potter, and he is reeling from the revelations. In his wanderings through the Wizard school of Hogwarts, he found a magic mirror that showed him something he never thought possible. [SCENE]

Instead of living in the present moment, Harry feels drawn to sit on the hard floor in a cold room for hours, not moving, lost in the fantasy depicted in the mirror. Thankfully, he is saved from being stuck there forever. [SCENE]

Both Harry Potter and the Transfiguration show us the risks of being too fixated on the future or the past. Having lost his parents as an infant, Harry is susceptible to getting lost in the past, in what-ifs and what-might-have-beens. When Jesus goes up the mountain, the story goes that Peter wants to build some tents and stay there instead of go back down to the future filled with dread. Like Harry Potter, he is at risk of choosing a vision instead of the reality, a dream of what could be instead of what is. The future is scary, and it paralyzes him.

If the future is uncertain and the past is paralyzing, it is in the present where movement and change happens. We are called to transform the world around us instead of being stuck in the endless cycle of “what ifs” and “if onlys”

Even though we think we need visions of the future, what we actually need is motivation to do something in the present. We don’t have to look far into the news to find fear all around us. When you can’t drink your water without lead poisoning in flint michigan, when you are killed because you were driving while black, in custody while black, trying to breathe while black, when gay teenagers are shamed into ending their own lives, when the gulf between the rich and poor, between the different races, grows ever wider, we are afraid for our future. This wasn’t the world we had in mind.

My hope for you is that you no longer seek to merely transform the world but to transfigure it as well. To reveal the divine light in each person. To make the light of Christ shine in the darkest of areas. To study Scripture and religious writings to better be able to see God in each situation of conflict in your life. To study how Jesus responded when he walked the earth, so that we can bring Christ with us to every situation we walk into. To take the hour or two out of your week to be in Christian community, to build one another up, so that whatever comes your way won’t tear you down.

It seems overwhelming and impossible to start. But start we will. Your journey to transfiguration begins in a few minutes when we gather around the table, break bread, share a cup, and go forth to make Christ so present in a world caught up in visions and empty promises that people cannot help but ask what drives you. And tell them, you will. Glory be to God. Amen.

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