Reverend Philip Stringer
LET US PRAY: Enlighten our hearts, O God, through the hearing of your word and the meditations of our hearts, that we may be strengthened in faith and bear a bright witness to the world, through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Amen
Let me tell you about the “gift” that I’ve received from my Dad -- the ability to tune out distractions and focus on one thing. TV, etc. . . . Some people appreciate it more than others -- and sometimes it gets me into trouble.
There are many distractions in this busy world in which we live. “Multitasking” is an art being practiced by us in more and more ways, and the busy-ness of our lives can make it hard to focus on the essentials of life.
Our Gospel reading today is an encouragement for all of us to keep ourselves focused on Jesus. In him we will find the peace, direction and hope we need for life.
The disciples continually struggled to understand the meaning of who Jesus was. They grasp bits and pieces of it, to be sure -- but the bigger picture continually eluded them. What did it mean for them to follow him faithfully as Jews? It was an important question.
Elijah and Moses are the undisputed heavy weights of Judaism. To BE a Jew meant to keep the Law. The Law defined who they were -- and connected to this identity was the guidance and assurance of God through the prophets. Every good Jew knew to keep the Law and listen to the prophets.
So, the disciples needed to know what to do with Jesus. How does he measure up to them? Should he be held in the same esteem as Moses and Elijah?
Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell us the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus, and each one tells it a little differently. But all three tell us that when Peter saw Elijah and Moses standing with Jesus, he got so totally caught up in the moment, that he lost his focus on Jesus. Jesus is blazing like the sun — but Peter seems to be most impressed that Jesus is in the company of the great heroes of the faith.
<<DAYS OF THUNDER — filming. Tom Cruise — Patty shouting — there he is” I’m going, “Where? Where?” Right there!!!” Where?” Just take the picture.!!!!” I was so overwhelmed with everything else that I couldn’t see the person I was looking for. >>
Peter must have been thinking that this was GREAT NEWS -- because this was proof that Jesus was important. With the endorsement of Moses and Elijah -- riding on their coattails, so to speak -- Jesus would have credibility. Peter was so caught up in his wonder over Moses & Elijah that he lost his focus on Jesus.
In a way, the story about the Transfiguration is one of those unusual instances when you can almost learn more from what IS NOT said in the story than from what is.
There are a lot of things in this story that aren’t said, from which we can learn.
First -- when Mark tells us about the Transfiguration, he doesn’t tell us very much about what that means. He tells us Jesus was transfigured, but he doesn’t tell us what that means. Instead, he describes Jesus’ garments.
Luke simply said the appearance of his face changed (whatever that means) and his clothes became bright white. Dazzling white. It is almost as if Jesus transfigured cannot be described -- one can only describe the effect.
Peter seems more interested in Elijah and Moses than he is about the Transfigured Jesus -- but their very presence is also an effect of the transfiguration of Jesus. <<< sometimes we buy Christmas presents for our cat — invariably he is more interested in the wrapping paper than the present. This year we pretty much just wadded up the paper and threw it to the cat. He had a blast.>>>
Moses and Elijah are only there because of Jesus — They are like the “wrapping paper” of this moment.
There are some other things that aren’t said that I think are important.
In Luke’s telling, Jesus has been praying, but Luke doesn’t tell us about what.
Elijah and Moses are talking with Jesus, but we don’t hear what they say -- and they don’t take notice of the disciples at all. By their presence, they simply point to Jesus. Jesus is at the center of the scene.
Peter receives a lot of criticism from commentators about his suggestion of building the booths -- In Matthew’s version of the story, before Peter even finishes talking, God interrupts him and says to look at Jesus. Mark seems to feel the need to offer some kind of excuse for Peter and so he tells us, “He was afraid and didn’t know what to say.” Luke is a little more blunt — we can almost imagine Luke rolling his eyes, “He didn’t know what he was saying.”
But what does Jesus say about it? Nothing. I think that’s important. Jesus doesn’t criticize Peter for missing the point of the moment. Focus should be on Jesus, not on how well people respond to Jesus.
And the same is true about the voice of God from the cloud. When God speaks, God doesn’t say to Peter, “that’s the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard!” He doesn’t say anything about it. It’s as if Peter never even said it.
God the Father also doesn’t say anything about Elijah or Moses.
God only says: “Look at Jesus. Listen to Jesus.
The attention of the Father is on the Son.
The attention of Elijah and Moses is on the Son.
And when the disciples look around, suddenly they see only the Son.
The dazzling brightness is gone
Elijah is gone
Moses is gone
the voice from heaven is gone
the cloud is gone.
“Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.”
Only Jesus -- because all things find their unity in Jesus. He sums up all things for us. He completes all things for us. He IS all things for us.
Maintaining a focus in life is hard, and Christians get distracted like everyone else. Amazingly — Christians can even forget Christ — and throughout history we can see Christians and the Church — acting in the most unchristian of ways — and following people and raising up leaders for themselves who are the opposite of Jesus.
Some Christians seem to develop a preoccupation with battling the devil. “Spiritual Warfare.” Luther commented about people who were overly-concerned with battling the devil, saying that if you spend all of your time trying NOT to sin; And if you spend all of your time trying to avoid the devil -- then the devil has already won his victory because your mind is on the devil instead of Jesus.
Stay focused on Jesus -- who is good news and safety and life for you. If you focus on Jesus, you don’t have to worry about the devil.
All of the attention in our reading focuses on Jesus, because Jesus is the one who brings all other things into focus.
In him, the Law becomes a gift again instead of a burden.
In him, the promises of the prophets come true.
In him, all of the guidance offered through the prophets for faithful living are taught and modeled.
All of this happens in Jesus because of the resurrection. It is the love of God that goes the full distance in sacrificing for us that makes sense of everything else.
Without the resurrection, nothing is fulfilled.
Without Jesus, crucified and risen, nothing makes sense.
Luke simply states that Peter, James and John didn’t tell anyone about the Transfiguration. But Matthew and Mark both tell us that Jesus ordered them to not tell anyone about what they had seen until after the resurrection, because without the resurrection, none of it will make sense and the Transfiguration itself will be nothing more than a distraction from what is important.
Keep focused on Jesus.
That’s good advice for us -- because unlike me in front of the TV -- tuning everything else out -- focusing on Jesus doesn’t mean missing everything else. Focusing on Jesus means understanding and seeing everything clearly for the first time. When we focus on Jesus, we find that everything else comes into focus, too.
Keep focused on Jesus, and you will see your family in a new and dazzling light.
Keep focused on Jesus and you will see friendship in a new and dazzling light.
Keep focused on Jesus, and you will find new joy in the activities you enjoy.
Keep focused on Jesus, and you will view your work in a new and dazzling light.
Keep focused on Jesus and you will view your enemies in a new and dazzling light.
Keep focused on Jesus, and you will view your health differently and your wealth differently and your time differently.
All things will pass away -- family, work, wealth, health, even time.
But one thing will not pass away: the truth of the risen Christ. God’s love in Jesus that claims you and holds you and leads you into a life of love. This will not pass away.
Sooner or later, every one of us looks around and sees that there is no one with us anymore, but only Jesus.
But gathered up in him is everything good that we have ever loved.
Jesus holds all of life safely.
Jesus holds you in safety.
Stay focused on Jesus. AMEN