Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sermon - 4th Sunday in Lent

Luke 15:1-3,11b-32                

                                                                   The Forgiving Father 

I have to start this morning’s sermon wondering how this parable made it into the collection of writings so highly treasured by the Judeo-Christian tradition.  There are at least two glaring transgressions committed here.  There are undeniable violations of the laws which are to govern God’s people.  And yet, there are no consequences!  There is no punishment!  In fact, the guilty party comes out smelling like a rose.

  This particular parable does only occur in Luke.  The 15th chapter contains other parables; and those parables are also in the Gospel written by Matthew.  But this story about inheritance and pigs and fatted calves only gets told in Luke.  Maybe Luke didn’t know any better.  We are reasonably sure that Luke was Greek, not Jewish.  The tradition tells us he was a physician, not a trained teacher of The Law of Moses.  Maybe he was not as aware as Matthew or Mark of the Ten Commandments and their instructions regarding moral living and honoring one’s father. 

Look at the story again.  And let’s point out those flagrant violations of the moral code so carefully taught in the scriptures.  First, there is this dis-respect by the younger son toward his father.  We all do know the 4th commandment – right?  “Honor your father and your mother”.  How can anyone think that the 4th commandment is being observed when this wayward son approaches his father and asks for his inheritance?  Some of us might help our children with college tuition.  Or maybe a car.  Or possibly the down-payment for a house.  But to come and ask for the whole share of the property that “will belong to me”?  That would certainly push me over the line.  Any child who would do such a thing is surely not to be pitied if the future doesn’t work out well for them. 

And the future doesn’t work out well for this child.  He goes off to a distant land.  And after a period of time he finds himself working for a pig farmer.  He is hungry, so hungry that he considers the food being given to the swine. 

How did he come to such a low estate?  Well, the story gives us opportunity to understand exactly how he ended up there.  In the story, there is talk of other violations of those 10 commandments.  We are told in the 13th verse that he had “squandered his property in dissolute living.”  For the sake of the children in the room, I am glad the writer left out the details.  But we all know what “dissolute living” means, don’t we?  How many of those commandments of God’s do you think this whipper-snapper transgressed?  I would say a fair number of them. 
  “Leave him with the pigs!”  That is hardly punishment enough for all that he hath done! 

The text tells us that after a while “he came to himself”.  Of course he came to himself – he came to see what he had done and how wrong it was.  Let’s be grateful that he came to himself, because that means he will realize that he is getting what he deserves, that he had not right to dis-obey God’s word, and that he is really no better than all those hired hands whom he had looked down on in the days of his youth.

This is a great story.  It identifies all the reasons why so many folks find themselves in a world of hurt.  They just don’t listen.  They just won’t learn.  And they refuse to obey what they have been carefully and clearly taught.

This boy seems to have finally learned his lesson.  So the boy sticks his pride in his tinny-tiny breast pocket and heads back to the home which he had previously abandoned. 

Enough of the sarcasm.  I can tell you are sick of it; and I don’t think I could keep it up much longer myself.  But you do see my point, don’t you?  This parable would be a great moral lesson if it simply ended here.  If the story were over at this point, it would reinforce the reasons why God’s law has endured for 4,000 years and ought to be obeyed in our day and time.  But the story does not end there.  It continues.  And what happens next challenges everyone who wants think or say, “This is what God expects of us.”

What the father says and what the father does in this parable turns on its head every teaching about the rewards or consequences of living a clean life and honoring those to whom honor is due.  None of that happens in this parable.  Everything that one could do to go against the father is done by this child.  Every possible transgression is committed by this child.  Some will point out “He repented and turned his life around.”  And this is true.  But what of the consequences for his actions?  Is there to be no mark placed upon him or lowering of his status in the family, as a constant reminder of his offence and as a teaching tool to others?

Well, no, there isn’t.

Let’s all at least agree that the elder brother is totally and completely justified in his response.  He has every right to be angry and upset.  The elder brother has no choice other than to point out to the father the ways in which his actions are unjust and unfair.

But the father will not be moved.  He remains firm in his joy at the return of his son.  He will not let his previous pious proclamations stand in the way of rejoicing at the return of one whom he loves and will always love.

I really do dislike this story.  I realize it is told to me and about me, as much as it is told to and about those Pharisees and scribes who grumbled about Jesus’ associations.  I attempt to live a moral life and I spend my whole work-week encouraging others to “honor their fathers and mothers.”  Then this story comes along.  And I sort of look like a fool.

The problem we have, is that we are too inclined assume and hope that the Bible will re-inforce what we think is right.  We are too quick to find in any lesson a reinforcement of our own version of a “just-world.”  There is much about the way of God which does support such living and encourage such thinking.  But the exceptions are really big ones.  And the exceptions smack us in the face.

God surely wants us to live good lives.  But there is one thing more important to God than our living proper lives.  God wants every day of our lives to be lived in the undeniable assurance that we are loved; that we are always welcome in his house; and that nothing will prevent God from rejoicing when he sees us limping home with our tinny-tiny hearts bursting.

The purpose of the Christian Church is not to be the enforcer of some ancient moral code.  The only reason for the Church to continue is to make known the unfathomable depth of God’s love.

Too often we lose our purpose and we forsake our mission.  We think “there has to be consequences!”  We worry about answering the follow-up questions.  But that is not our job.  That is not our role.

The purpose of the Christian Church is not to be the enforcer of some ancient moral code.  The only reason for the Church to continue is to make known the unfathomable depth of God’s love.


Thursday, March 28, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, March 28

We are pet-sitting for our son.  The house he is in has a greyhound, a recovery from racing.  He thought it best not to bring his furry cat into the same house.  So, "Crumb" is spending the year with us.

Crumb is a great cat.  Affectionate.  Though he is a cat - he chooses when you are allowed to pet or hold.

One thing I have noticed:  Each day, as I have my devotion time, Crumb chooses to come sit on my lap.  Far from distracting me from my prayers, his gentle purrs reinforce what this time does for me at the start of my day.  Why is does he always come to be with me at this time?  Does he know, what I am doing?

I know that I want to be around persons who are slowing down or intentionally being attentive to the things which matter most in life.  Perhaps this is the attraction.  The hectic pace at which life is lived leads to my deep appreciation of those who are calm and pensive.  

Solving the mysteries of why a cat does what it does is far beyond me, but this I do know:  There is something attractive about a centered and reflective life.  Crumb is drawn to it; so am I.  Find those persons in your own life and celebrate them.  Then, consider how you might you might serve as one of those types of persons for your circle of peers.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, March 27

I often talk about developmental phases, but I don't know when the change comes which allows us to see our parent's discipline as an act of love rather than an act of intimidation.  We start off fearing the consequences of bad behavior; we come to understand that one who loves us is trying to guide us into a way of living which will bring joy and happiness and fulfillment.

In Romans 5, Paul speaks of this change.  He points out that God's aim is to guide us into the ways which will bring reconciliation and redemption.  The way of God is not some difficult obstacle course, created to test our perseverance and resolve.  The way of God is the path which unites us with our fellows and with the wonderful creation God has made.  

We are passing the mid point in our Lenten journey.  May we continue to use these days to conform our lives to the way of life - the way of Jesus.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, March 26

Cece Parker lead the devotion at last night's Congregational Council meeting.  She shared a reading which reminded us that God does indeed come to us to aid us and comfort us, but God also sends (pushes) us out into the world.  Christian faith is a relationship with God and a commitment to God's hope for the world.  Christian faith is fully expressed when we take what was first given to us and share it with others.

I was reading this morning from Jeremiah 7.  God is not angry with his people, he is hurt.  How it is that they have received so much from God's hand and yet they chose to follow the ways of self-interest and greed?  This is a theme we will return to in this Sunday's Gospel lesson.  How good the father is, and yet we insist on straying and ignoring.

It seems like a cliche or overreach to say that there may have never been a time more in need of God's involvement than the times in which we find ourselves - but I believe this to be true.  There seems to be a resurgence of "me first", and a parallel neglect of those struggling to survive.  There is open and boastful talk of how "wrong" others are and name-calling has ceased to be seen as a childhood trait which is outgrown as we become adults.

Jesus came into the world, to redeem the world.  Jesus told his followers to feed the lambs, tend the sheep.  God comes to us so that we might go out, to do the will and work of our Heavenly Father.  Ours are the hands which will do what God wants done.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Devotion - Monday, March 25

Welcome back!

I hope you had a good Break.  I trust you will make the most out of these final weeks of classes.

I know some of you spent Break taking a wonderful trip or excursion.  Some were with me, engaged in community service (and some hours at the beach), at least one in our midst traveled to the site of their job placement to look for housing and get matters in order.  How nice to have a Break, where any of these were an option.  A Break is a luxury unheard of in the lives of many.  So, this morning, express NO remorse that Break is over.  Give thanks for the gift of having a Break and the freedom to use it as you chose.

And say the same thing about these remaining days of class.  Yes, you do have to study and complete projects and too many of you are taking out too many student loans to pay for all of this.  But, the opportunity to study is not universal.  Let us be grateful for the chance to choose our career path, to expand our base of knowledge, and to discover the wonders of this world.

Welcome back!  To the life which God has given you and the gifts which God has placed before you.  Give thanks and offer praise!

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, March 14

Hebrews 4 lifts the promise of "entering God's rest."  This is a wonderful and welcomed opportunity.

We all feel it, about this time in the term.  We need a break, we need some time away, we need rest.

Spring Break will allow this chance.  It will give us opportunity to set aside our worries and renew our spirits.  Make the most of the week; but do be careful.

There are other ways to "enter God's rest."  And I would encourage you to seek those ways.  Maybe spring break will give you the chance to develop new habits or practices which will align you with the rest of God.

I know it sounds crazy to most of you, but my morning routine is my way of entering God's rest.  Getting up, reading my bible, praying, and sharing how God is active in my heart returns me to the place of rest which is in God.

Above all, give thanks to God for the rest you do receive.  Know that while it may be easier to notice that rest during a break, that rest is available to you at all times.  It is another of God's gifts to you.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Devotion - Wednesday, March 13

I am sure I have heard this quote before, but these words of Caesarius of Arles (470-542) really struck a chord with me this morning:

"For this world either laughs at us or is laughed at by us."

The line comes at the end of his encouragement to make the most of the 40 days of Lent.  These are days when the followers of Jesus are encouraged to "cut off the occupations of this world, (or) at least curtail them in part."  He speaks of spends a few hours each day reading or hearing the "divine lessons."

Anyone have an exam today?  Send an email to that professor announcing that you have decided to "cut off the occupations of this world"!  Ridiculous, right?

I am not advocating any action which puts in peril your academic career - but I will speak to you of the joy which comes from keeping that concern in alignment with the whole of your life and your self-understanding.  I am suggesting that you experience the stress differently, that you realize this is not the only thing which matters in your life or in the world.  Laugh - laugh at the world's insistence on what counts or what is important or what must be thought and/or done.

We are a laughable people - us followers of Jesus.  We believe things which are contrary to the messages of the world.  We do things which do not make good sense to those who live by the world's reason.  Let the world laugh at us!  We have found a way and an attitude which sets us free from the worries or concerns which overwhelm too many of our peers.  We will laugh at those rules and regulations which are designed to preserve structures and institutions which cannot give us the life or eternal life which comes by way of Messiah.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Devotion - Tuesday, March 12

We do need to be aware of the ways in which we sin.  

These days of Lent are an opportunity to examine those things which have become part of our lives but ought not to be there.  During these 40 days, we can turn to our fellow pilgrims and ask for assistance in seeing what we are inclined to ignore or overlook.

I am most aware of my indifference and apathy.  It is easy to see the ways in which the world does not match God's hope, and yet I am inclined to think those problems too large for me to have an impact.  

While I talk a good game about helping the poor, I continue to hoard and amass wealth.  

I no longer fear that God is going to zap me for my sin - but I am growing increasingly aware of how my sin does separate me from God, from God's beloved children, and from myself.  Sin prevents us from being whom God created us to be.

Become aware of your sin.  Be open to the assistance of others in seeing what you have become blind to seeing.  And make use of these days of Lent to return to the hope in which God created you.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Devotion - Monday, March 11

When asked where to begin in reading the Bible, I seldom suggest Deuteronomy.  But this morning, my reading of Deuteronomy brought me a much appreciated insight.  The writer asks the reader to "remember".  This differs from the posture from which I tend to operate.  I tend to think of "learn."

There are many things which we could learn and perhaps need to learn.  But there is nothing we might learn which could prove more powerful than simply remembering.

The writer of Deuteronomy asks the people of Israel to remember how they had been in slavery before God brought them out of Egypt.

The writer of Deuteronomy asks the people of Israel to remember how God filled their bellies with Manna.

The writer of Deuteronomy asks the people of Israel to remember the gifts of reason and intelligence which made possible their building up wealth.


Remember how wonderfully God has made you and how God has claimed you as a beloved child.

Remember the days before you found a community of welcome in which others prayed for your and aided you in your times of need.

Remember the calm which God gives - even in the midst of a 16-week sprint of studies, exams, and projects.

Remember....  and then give thanks.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sermon - First Sunday in Lent, Year C

Luke 4:1-13                                                                 

God Doesn't Leave when Trouble Comes

            Most weeks I spend as much time with my ecumenical, campus ministry colleagues as I do with professional Lutheran types.  This was one of those – between the Pilgrimage of Remembrance on Monday, Ash ‘n Dash on Wednesday, and my usual Thursday morning campus pastors’ coffee break.  It is helpful to hear from others; and to learn how they approach ministry decisions – such as how one observes the season of Lent.

“We cut it short.” one campus pastor said.  His rationale is that in a parish you have 52 weeks to cover the story of Jesus.  5 weeks is one tenth of 52.  But in an academic communities we serve have a 30-week life.  To observe all of Lent means giving over one-sixth of the year.
The other spoke of acknowledging the season and the mood of Lent, but not really delving into it.  “They are already aware of rejection and betrayal.  Why do I need to tell them more about that?” He said. 

I do not want to be heard to be defending Lent from all critics; nor would I ever insist that something which isn’t helpful MUST be endured by God’s children.  However, I do wish to speak of why I hope we never cut short our 40 days and ignore the themes and messages and images associated with this period in the church year.  There may only be 30 weeks in the academic year, but our hope (and expectation) is that you will find a worshipping community for the 22 weeks you aren’t in Clemson.  As for the harshness of the Lenten message – my experience tells me that the way to address the pain of life is to speak to them and about them – rather than ignore them or minimize their potential to hurt and harm.  If speaking of such things adds to your pain, I offer repentance.  But the message I want you to leave with this morning is that God is no fare-weather friend; that God (as witnessed to in the scriptures) does not abandon us when we experience hardship.  Rather – God moves all the closer to us to assure us and strengthen us and save us.

            This is why we begin every Lenten season with a reading of the temptation of Jesus.  This story acknowledges that life is difficult, and seldom a bowl full of cherries.  Sometimes the journey of God’s children looks more like Dante's Inferno than a trip to Disney World.

In writing of Jesus’ experience in the wilderness, Mark precedes the description of what is about to happen with two very clear reminders of how it happens.  Luke 4, verse 1 begins:  Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness.  Jesus is "full" of the Spirit; Jesus is "led" by the Spirit.  What is about to happen to him is not the result of God's absence; it is the direct result of God's presence.

Led by the Spirit, the Ac­cuser comes to visit and sets before Jesus options which may prove more appealing, simpler, or easier to understand than the path desired by God. 

The temptation begins, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread."  Scripture tells us that Jesus was a person of compassion.  He heals the sick and binds up the broken.  How much of their suffering was the direct result of need?  Had the basic necessities of life been available to them, many if not most of their illnesses would have been avoided.  "Command this stone to become a loaf of bread," is more than a temptation for Jesus to satisfy his own hunger.  It sets before him the opportunity to eliminate human suffering.

Some of those who call upon the name of Christ would have us believe that Jesus did change the stone into bread.  They are the ones who claim that as a result of their faith they have never experienced want or need.  They are the ones who tell us that if we give our life to Christ all we could ever want will come our way. 

Luke's gospel calls a halt to such ways of thinking.  Jesus doesn't do it.  Jesus understood his mission to be something different.  He was not going to eliminate our need or want - he was going to reveal to us the path of faith.  Regardless of the claims made by some, Jesus does not take away all our need.  He joins us in it.  He does not change the stone to bread in order to satisfy our hunger, nor his own.

The next stop on the Tempter's tour is a vantage point from which one sees all the kingdoms of the world.  Forget for a mo­ment the question of ownership, whether these are indeed in the possession of Tempter.  The temptation which is set before Jesus is to establish a new world order; to eliminate corrupt governments, to make the kingdom of God synonymous with the kingdoms of this world.

There are expressions of the faith which still see this as their goal.  They live out their lives in obedience to the notion that Jesus accepted this temptation and that we are to work to bring it to completion. They want the mission of the Church to be defined as the process of making all persons comply with the wishes of the Church.  You see this mind set at work each time someone juxtaposes the Word of God with some piece of legislation.  It comes into play whenever someone tries to reduce Jesus' conversation about the kingdom of God into a political agenda or endorsement for some charismatic leader.

It would be a wonderful world if everyone did obey and see themselves as citizens of God's Kingdom.  But Luke reminds us that Jesus said "No!"  He did not agree.  As a result, we will never live in God's kingdom on earth.  Ours is an imperfect society and always will be. 

Maybe the Tempter hoped to play upon Jesus' strength of conviction, for the last temptation comes almost as a dare.  "Since you are so high and mighty," the Accuser seems to say, “throw yourself down from the pinnacle of the temple.  Prove that you are the one sent by God, the one whose Word reveals the way to salvation."  Of all the temptations set before Jesus, this is the one that would have done the most to make our job easier.  Jesus is being offered the chance to prove that all the things he says are indeed true. 

What a missed opportunity.  Jesus performs so many other miracles, why won't he do the one that would prove he is who we believe him to be?  All it would take would be a little show of power; a simple demonstration that God would protect him and never let any evil come his way.  But again Jesus says, "No!"  He doesn't do it.  And we who call upon his name are forever left with the impossible job of explaining why we believe.

I don't know why Jesus doesn't meet our every need, establish his kingdom, or prove his truth.  It would be simpler; it would be easier if only God would.  But to each of these temptations Jesus says "No!"  And we are left with a call to faith, a call to trust that in the midst of our ambiguity, in the midst of our continual pain and suffering, God's will is being done, God's purpose is making itself known.

During our forty days of Lent, we will wrestle with the way of the cross.  We will struggle to understand why this is the way of God.  But we will refuse to ignore the realities or close our eyes to the witness of scripture.  It may be tempting to speak of a God who removes all suffering and doubt and hardship from our lives, but that is not the way of Jesus and it is not the witness of scripture.  The way of Jesus and the witness of scripture assures us that when hardship is close at hand, Jesus is even closer.  Remember the information in verse 1:  The Tempter only comes when the Spirit is already present.


Thursday, March 7, 2019

Devotion - Thursday, March 7

I was on Library Bridge yesterday from 11 to 1, offering imposition of ashes to those who wished to receive them.  We refer to it as "Ash 'n Dash," meaning there is no full liturgy and folks can receive their ashes as they dash off to their next class or meeting.

I shared with some of you that I resisted doing this for a number of years.  My concern was it might allow for a shallow show of false piety.  But I have come around, after years of offering Ash 'n Dash.  

There were persons who approached us (over 250 came) who I am sure do not have a regular faith community.  I image this may be for reasons not their own fault.  I think of those who may have been injured or harmed within a church building.  My heart goes to those whose guilt is too great to approach the house of God.

We were also out there - where people live their lives.  It is not a good thing that we most often think of church as a place we go to - rather than God's means of coming to us.

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Devotion - Ash Wednesday

There was a time in the recent history of the Christian faith in which the message of "You are going to burn in Hell!" was so often repeated that the members of the Church felt beaten down and hopeless.  (Maybe that message is still too often repeated in some expressions of the Church.)

In an attempt NOT to be so critical and condemning, many of our congregations have softened their message on such matters.  Which is a good and appropriate thing.

But this approach has its own shortcomings.  What do we do with the feelings and fears, deep within our spirit, of shortcomings and failings?  How do we hear a word of comfort and resolution for those hurts which have wounded our very essence?

This is the injury which Ash Wednesday acknowledges.  Ash Wednesday is the beginning of a season in which we are allowed to bring forth all of our fears and worries and hear God's response.  The intention of the imposition of ashes is not to make us aware of something which we would otherwise ignore so much as it is an invitation from God to bring to the light all those little things which nag us and diminish the life God would have us to live.

Confession is the path to absolution.  And absolution is the way to amend our path and to seek the way which unites us with God, with one another, and with the selves God knows us to be.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Devotion - Shrove Tuesday

The season of Lent begins tomorrow.  This 40 day season of the Church Year are the days of preparation for the Christian community.  In the early Church, these were the final 40 days before converts were baptized into the faith.  Throughout the history of the Church, these were days of increased attention to one's spiritual disciplines.

Use them well.  Wisely.

Make a commitment which you can keep, and maintain it for these 40 days.  Do not do something for show - something which will call attention to yourself or your discipline.  Whatever change you will make in your life for these next six weeks, make it something which will strengthen your response to God.

Here is one suggestion - read 1 chapter of scripture each day.  1 chapter.  If you need a place to start - start with the Gospel of Luke.  Or the Gospel of John.  Out of that chapter, pick one verse.  You don't need to memorize it, but become familiar enough with it that you can return to it during they day, reflecting on its meaning in the context of your life.

Here is another suggestion - reach out to someone with a note of thanks or a word of encouragement.  It might be a Sunday School teacher or former pastor.  Maybe it is your uncle or grandmother.  Tell them how much you appreciate their presence in your life and for sharing with you their faith and faith life.  When sending a note of encouragement - speak to the classmate or roommate of the reasons why you are grateful for them and how they aid you in your journey.

Want one more?  Commit to participating in worship.  Most of you are regulars, but be exceptionally regular during theses weeks.  Attend Sunday mornings, but also mid-week worship.

40 days is not that long of a time.  40 days can make a big difference in our lives.  Use these 40 days wisely.

Monday, March 4, 2019

Devotion - Monday, March 4

I am not sure how far you have gotten in thinking about a Lenten Discipline.  We are only two days away from Ash Wednesday.

This morning I read Matthew 6, where Jesus offers instructions on how to pray.  The model he gives is The Lord's Prayer.  In another of the Gospel accounts, Jesus shares this prayer in response to the disciples' request "teach us to pray."

Exploring and strengthening your own prayer life would be a wonderful discipline for the 40 days of Lent.  You could do some study or reading on the practice of prayer.  You could simply commit yourself to a more regular routine of prayer.

From the scriptures, we know that praying isn't something that just happens or automatically comes easy.  If Jesus is giving his closest followers instructions, it ought not surprise us that we also need some assistance.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Sermon - Transfiguration Sunday

Luke 9:28-36                                                                         

                                                              Transfigured - Transformed

            "Master...let us make three dwellings.” I thought about the temptation to which Peter fell victim as I said good-bye to Donna this week.  It would have been really nice to find a way to build a “dwelling” where she could have just stayed, and been part of this faith community forever.

            That got me to thinking about another dwelling – one for me!  The timeline for my departure was of my own making, but there are days when the pain of leaving this mountaintop is too profound.  And I am tempted to start building a dwelling; where I can stay and you can stay with me, and nothing would ever need to change. 

            So it is with a great deal of understanding that I approach Peter’s suggestion for building three dwelling places, for we have come across items of great value and importance; items and moments in time worthy of preserving.

            But building three dwelling places would be wrong - wrong for exactly the same reason it would have been wrong for Peter, James and John to build dwelling places.  Building shelters leads to up-keep of shelters which eventually leads to an inability (as well as an unwill­ingness) to move on.  As much as Peter, James, John and even Jesus would have like to have stayed on that mountain top with Elijah and Moses they had to move on.  They had other heritages to build; other stories to tell.

            Do you have your bibles with you this morning?  It would be helpful to find the verses appointed for this day and note the central position of this story in the whole of the gospel.  What is true for Luke is also true for Matthew and Mark - in each this story of the Transfiguration occupies a central position.  The events on this mountain occupy a pivotal point in Jesus' ministry, it is the point at which it becomes clear that he must go to Jerusalem where he will be condemned and die a martyr's death.

            If you flip through your bible, and if you have those helpful little paragraph titles, you can see that up to this point Jesus has been traveling around, performing a few miracles and teaching those who would listen.  He has had a few run-ins with the Pharisees and scribes, but none thus far with the Roman authorities. 

            The significant event which has occurred is the confession of Peter.  You can see that up there in the 18th verse, begins the story of Jesus asking the disciples, "Who do the crowds say that I am?"  After the disciples report that some think he may be Elijah or John the Baptist, Jesus gets a little more direct and asks them, "But who do you say that I am?"  To this question, Peter responds, "The Messiah of God."

            For the first time in the gospel story, Jesus allows someone to call him by this name.  Up to now Jesus has demanded silence whenever anyone hinted they might know who he really was.  He still insists they not tell others, but he allows Peter's confession to stand.  He builds upon that confession in verses 21ff where he begins to teach them, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."

            Something is changing in the nature of Jesus' ministry.  No longer will he try to hide his real mission.  From this point onward, he begins to make his way to Jerusalem and the fate which awaits him there.

            It is about eight days later that Jesus takes Peter, James and John and goes up on the mountain.  It is on that mountain that the transfiguration of Jesus occurs.

            There are two sets of interactions going on in this text.  There is the obvious interaction between Jesus and his disciples.  It is this interaction which first catches our eye and holds our attention.  This exchange between Jesus and his disciples certainly could be the main point to the story.  Seeing Jesus there, with Moses and Elijah, could have the effect of teaching the disciples how important Jesus really was.  But if teaching the disciples how important Jesus really is were the sole intention of the story, would­n't it make more sense for Peter's confession to follow this transfig­uration?  He would have seen Jesus' glory, therefore justified in called him the Messiah of God. 

            In this story there is the interaction between Jesus and his disci­ples.  But there is another exchange going on here.  Before Peter blurts out his suggestion, there had been a conversation going on between Jesus, Moses and Elijah.  A conversation, within an event which occupies a pivotal point in the gospel story.  Could it be that the events on that mountain had the end result of not merely transfig­uring but also transforming Jesus? 

            After he comes down from that mountain, Jesus is a changed man.  His way of interacting with people is different.  Something has changed about him and the drive with which he carries out his mission.

            Could it be that this visit to the top of the mountain was Jesus' mid-way check point?  Perhaps what we see here are the events which allow Jesus to understand that Israel will never listen, that his crucifixion is the only course?  Maybe Moses and Elijah come so as to convince Jesus that this new course will indeed fulfill the require­ment of the law and the vision of the prophets.

            Whatever happened on that mountain, we know that Jesus came down a changed man.  If you look down, to the 51st verse of chapter 9, you will see an interesting story.  Jesus sends disciples ahead of him, to a village of the Samaritans, but when he gets there, they will not receive him.  Image that, the people did not open their arms to the one whom Peter called the Messiah of God. 

            But Luke tells us why they did not accept Jesus.  They did not accept Jesus because his face was set toward Jerusalem.  When he comes down off that mountain, Jesus is headstrong and confident.  Nothing is going to stand in his way.  He is determined to go to Jerusalem and there to encounter those who would refuse to hear God's Word.  There is a resolve and purpose that has been missing thus far.  He knows what he has to do and he is ready to do it.

            Could it be that the conversation with Moses and Elijah marks the point at which Jesus becomes convinced of what he must do?  Could it be that somehow this encounter made it clear to Jesus what he must do and how?  In speaking of the Transfiguration, me must also talk about transformations - the transformations which occur in Jesus' under­standing of his life and ministry.

            The conversation exposes a direction which must be followed.

            The direction which Jesus took is so unbelievable.  Who would have thought that the Messiah of God would be rejected and executed?  It took a mountain top experience to give everyone the courage they needed to proceed.

            "Master...let us make three dwelling places,"  Peter is looking for some handle on how to respond to all of this.  He has come upon such a beautiful heritage, a wealth of insight and teachings.  He wants to stay there - with Moses, Elijah and Jesus.  He is tempted to forget about the mission which lies ahead.

            But Jesus wouldn't let Peter, James and John do that; Jesus won't allow us to stay where we are, either.

            I don't think Jerusalem and crucifixion awaits us.  But I do believe God is calling upon us to live transfigured and transformed lives.  Has our encounter with Messiah served to convince us that a new direction is possible?  Perhaps what we have shared will cause our faces to be so set on the future church that we will be renounced by those in the villages around us.  Maybe we will so embrace Jesus’ mission of caring for the outcast and befriending the lowly that our status quo neighbors will no longer want to hear us speak of feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, and welcoming the sojourner.

            Jesus wouldn't allow Peter, James and John to build dwelling places; Jesus won't allow us to do so.  But the one who is the Messiah of God will go with us as together we forge a new church for all God's children.