Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 10, 2013

2013.02.10 “Not-Yet-Ready Disciples” – Luke 9: 28 – 43 – Transfiguration Sunday

Central United Methodist Church

Not-Yet-Ready Disciples

Pastor David L. Haley

Luke 9: 28 – 43

February 10th, 2013

 

        “About eight days after saying this, Jesus climbed the mountain to pray, taking Peter, John, and James along. While he was in prayer, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became blinding white.  At once two men were there talking with him.

        They turned out to be Moses and Elijah — and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over his exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.

        Meanwhile, Peter and those with him were slumped over in sleep. When they came to, rubbing their eyes, they saw Jesus in his glory and the two men standing with him.  When Moses and Elijah had left, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three memorials: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He blurted this out without thinking. 

        While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they became deeply aware of God.  Then there was a voice out of the cloud: “This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.”

        When the sound of the voice died away, they saw Jesus there alone. They were speechless. And they continued speechless, said not one thing to anyone during those days of what they had seen.”    

        When they came down off the mountain the next day, a big crowd was there to meet them. A man called from out of the crowd, “Please, please, Teacher, take a look at my son. He’s my only child. Often a spirit seizes him. Suddenly he’s screaming, thrown into convulsions, his mouth foaming. And then it beats him black-and-blue before it leaves. I asked your disciples to deliver him but they couldn’t.”     

        Jesus said, “What a generation! No sense of God! No focus to your lives! How many times do I have to go over these things? How much longer do I have to put up with this? Bring your son here.”

        While he was coming, the demon slammed him to the ground and threw him into convulsions. Jesus stepped in, ordered the vile spirit gone, healed the boy, and handed him back to his father. They all shook their heads in wonder, astonished at God’s greatness, God’s majestic greatness.” – Luke 9: 28 – 43, The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Every now and then, there is a story so sad it becomes impossible to ignore, making it hard to write sermons or do whatever you need to do.

There was such a story this weekend: the funeral of 15 year-old Hadiya Pendleton, held yesterday. Just a few weeks after she had participated in President Obama’s inauguration festivities as a majorette with her high school, around 2:30 pm on January 29, Ms. Pendleton walked with friends to Harsh Park in the North Kenwood neighborhood, about a mile from the Obama’s home. As the group huddled under a canopy when it began to rain, a man approached, jumped a fence, and ran toward the group, shooting. Police believe he mistook the group for members of a rival gang. Ms. Pendleton was shot in the back, fatally.

What makes Hadiya’s death even more compelling, is that in the urgent debate about guns since the massacre of Newtown, her death focuses attention upon an even deadlier aspect of the problem: guns, gangs, and urban violence. As the nation’s third largest city, Chicago had 500 gun deaths last year, 46 in the first month of this year, the equivalent of two more Newtowns in January. Have you heard the story of Shirley Chambers, the Chicago mother who lost all four of her children – three boys and a girl – to gun violence, over a span of 18 years, with the last being killed on January 26th at the age of 33?

And, we should not forget we do not have to go to the south or west side of Chicago. Only 4 months ago, on September 22, 14-year-old Dajae Coleman was shot on Church Street in Evanston, by a 20 year old, who mistook him and his friends for someone else.

Across the country, do you know how many gun deaths have occurred since Newtown, on December 14th? According to a count being kept at Slate magazine: 1,686. Think about that for a moment: fill this sanctuary 16 times, all killed by gun violence in the last two months.  Isn’t that chilling? How can anyone believe something is not terribly wrong?

What can we do to stop this, to prevent this from happening? That – of course – is the question, for which we are currently in a search for answers. But until those answers and are clarified and enacted, whenever we hear about a massacre like Newtown, or the death of a bright young person like Hadiya or Dajae; there comes a sense of not only sadness, but helplessness. What – if anything – can we do?

And – as we all know too well – this would not be the first or only time we feel this way. Life is full of problems, like mighty stones at which we claw, often without apparent effect.  Despite millennia of faith and twenty centuries of Christianity, we sometimes wonder if the world is any better and perhaps sometimes worse for our efforts.  Hatred, racism, poverty, and war still plague the planet.  We still watch our loved ones suffer from disease and lose them to death, despite our best efforts.  We feel helpless, sometimes even hopeless.  What can we do?

You might think this to be an odd – possibly even a wrong – start to a sermon on Transfiguration Sunday, but maybe not. Let me tell you why, as we see where the story of the Transfiguration takes us.

Transfiguration Sunday is always the last Sunday in Epiphany, and the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins.  If at Christmas we began the Jesus’ story started with his birth, during Epiphany, we got glimpses of the glory of God seen in him: by the visit of the Magi at his birth, at his baptism by John in the Jordan, at his first miracle in Cana of Galilee, even at his first sermon and subsequent rejection, in his hometown of Nazareth.

Now the story jumps ahead, to Luke, chapter 9, which begins with Jesus sending his disciple out on a preaching tour.  They did the same work Jesus was doing, to great success.

Things were looking up. That is, until Jesus dropped upon them his first passion prediction, telling them how he would suffer, and be rejected, and killed. They couldn’t handle that, any better than you or I would have handled that, if we had been in their sandals. Who wants to be in a movement in which the leader tells you he’s going to be killed? Promotions all around, unless, of course, you are killed too.

With that weighing on their minds as an unacceptable possibility, not long after that, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him up a mountain, to pray. As he prayed, one of the most mysterious events in the Gospel – described in today’s Gospel reading – took place. Jesus was transformed – transfigured – and was seen talking with two others, Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament.

And what did they talk about? Only Luke tells us: they talked about Jesus’ “exodus,” or departure, the one he was about to complete in Jerusalem not many days hence.  These saints of the Old Testament got it, even if Jesus’ disciples didn’t. The point was, the God who could rescue the Son from suffering, confirms for him the way of the cross. Those awful, painful experiences he was about to face did not lie across the way, but were the way for the completion of God’s purpose.

As helpful as it would have been for Jesus’ disciples to hear this, they didn’t, because they were sleeping. Not the last of Jesus’ disciples – I might add – to sleep through important things that happen, especially in church. Upon awaking, and seeing only the credits at the end of the movie, Peter begin to babble, and then they heard a voice, the same voice they’d heard at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the Chosen. Listen to him!” Just as, at his baptism, Jesus received heaven’s confirmation as Son of God; now, after speaking of his coming passion and turning toward Jerusalem, he receives heaven’s confirmation again, for the path he has chosen.

It has always made sense to me, why our liturgical calendar would place the Transfiguration here, on the last Sunday of Epiphany, before Lent begins. Throughout Epiphany, we have heard and seen the glory of Jesus, but like the disciples on the mountain, we don’t know what to make of it. Now, with the pivotal moment of the Transfiguration, we not only know what it means, we know where it is leading. Back down the mountain into the valley, toward Jerusalem, toward a cross, toward a glory beyond that which we cannot understand. Exactly the journey we walk during the coming days of Lent. Exactly the journey we walk through the days of our lives.

When they came down from the mountain, despite what they’d seen, they are revealed as “not-yet-ready” disciples. A crowd awaited them, and a man shouted to Jesus: “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, my only child.  A spirit seizes him, and he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth, scarcely leaving him.” And then the critical words: “I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.”

“They could not.” If you had been there as one of Jesus’ disciples, how would that have made you feel? After their successful mission tour, now – when they really need it to – it doesn’t work? Did they feel frustrated, helpless, as they harder they tried, the more the child seized and thrashed, despite their best efforts? I can only imagine how helpless they felt. Despite all they had seen, they were Jesus “not-yet-ready” disciples. No wonder the journey to Jerusalem will take nine more chapters; the preparation of disciples (including us) to do God’s work in the world, takes time.

And so we observe the Sundays after the Epiphany and the forty days of Lent and the Great Fifty days of Easter, not only this year, but year after year. Often, we don’t understand.  Sometimes, we feel helpless, as helpless as Jesus’ disciples felt that day, and may feel this whole Kingdom of God thing isn’t working. We feel helpless to staunch the wounds of a world suffering from poverty and bleeding from violence, where little children are shot to death in school and bright young teenagers are shot while getting out of the rain in city parks or walking down city sidewalks, where weeping parents refuse to be comforted. Even now, twenty centuries later, despite all have seen and heard, we still feel like Jesus’ “not yet ready” disciples, feeling helpless and hopeless.  And so, we are back where we started.

But what happened next, is why it is the Good News:

“Jesus answered the man: “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”  While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”

Yesterday, at Ms. Pendleton’s funeral, as reported in the Chicago Tribune, despite regret for too short a life and especially its tragic end, to her credit, so many people gave thanks to God for her short life.  She was remembered as a laughing youth who brought love and happiness to all her family and friends.

Her mother, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, spoke only briefly, often with a smile and even a laugh, to the standing room only crowd, which included the First Lady, Michelle Obama, the Governor, Pat Quinn, and the Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emmanuel.

My baby did all this,” she said, “This is all Hadiya.” She explained that at points, “you kinda do not know how to act,” and some people might not understand “our sense of humor” or “why I have a smile on my face.”  “But I’m not worried about her soul.”

And then she said, to all those who were gathered, “I just want to say thank you. Thank you to everyone who had something to do with rounding her or having something to do with who she was,” she said. Then, more seriously, she said, “No mother, no father should ever have to experience this.” (Chicago Tribune, February 9, 2013.)

I believe that once, long ago, in a remote valley in Galilee, there lived a man who had such power and compassion he could and did heal a child, in extremis, and hand them back to their parents, whole and healed. I would also like to believe that the day will come, as long as and whatever it might take, when our children can be saved from the threat of violence, and sent home safe and sound to the joyful embrace of their parents.

Until that time, we remain God’s not ready yet disciples, often helpless to cast out the demons that defy us.  May our efforts and our prayers and our hope be, that the death of someone like Ms. Pendleton, will not be an end point, but a tipping point, and that – as in the story of the Jesus we follow – out of death, might come life.  Amen.

 

 

 

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Responses

  1. David,

    Why didn’t you give your people THE answer to man’s sin, you just left them hanging in hopelessness.

    Neil


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