Saturday, February 14, 2015

"Jesus Lights the Way!!"

            Traditionally, the Church has encouraged the recollection and observance of “Transfiguration Sunday” on the weekend immediately preceding Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent.  This year, Ash Wednesday comes next Wednesday on February 18th, making this weekend, “Transfiguration Sunday.”

            “Transfigure” comes from the Latin word, “transfiguratio,” meaning to change or transform the outward appearance of something.  The term, “transfiguration,” is typically used in a positive, spiritual sense, referring to physical glorification or exaltation.  Transfiguration is a religious revelation, in which the divine blessing bestowed upon an individual is momentarily revealed in a brilliant, white flash.  It is transformative in that we momentarily see the individual as they are truly are in their divine nature.

            The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ is described in three of the Gospels, Matthew 17: 1-9; Mark 9: 2-10; and Luke 9: 28-36.  It is also referenced in 2 Peter 1: 16-18.  This weekend, our scriptural basis will be Mark’s description of the Transfiguration:

2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

            Of course, we, 21st century Christians, have the advantage of looking back over history knowing that Jesus will be crucified, buried, and then will be resurrected from the dead three days later.  At this particular point in Jesus’ life and ministry among them, the disciples did not have the benefit of foresight into how Jesus’ time on Earth would conclude.  So, in the story, they appear ignorant and say foolish things.

            For example, when they reach the mountain summit, Jesus becomes transfigured into a dazzling white brilliance.  The disciples see Jesus talking with the Hebrew prophets Moses and Elijah from the Old Testament (or Hebrew Scriptures).  Within the Jewish faith, Moses and Elijah were two of the three historical figures believed to be already living eternally, in the presence of Almighty God.  (Enoch was the third person; see Genesis 5.)  That is, the disciples believed that Moses and Elijah were already living in Heaven in the Glory and Presence of God.

            When the disciples see Jesus transfigured and talking with Moses and Elijah, they are flabbergasted—and, terrified!  Peter doesn’t really know what to think or do.  So, he says, “Rabbi…let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  Perhaps Peter was caught up in the awesome wonder of the moment.  Yet, when we step back and look at what’s happening, this was a ridiculous suggestion.  Think about it.  Why would Moses and Elijah ever want live in an earthly dwelling, when they were already eternally living in the presence of God and all God’s glory?

            Then, out of the cloud, the disciples hear the voice of God the Creator, saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”  In this moment of Transfiguration, God confirms what the disciples have already begun to believe and affirm—that this Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the long-awaited Messiah promised by God.

            Still, there is a distinct hint that the disciples can’t fully comprehend what they are seeing, hearing, and experiencing.  As they walk down the mountain, Jesus orders them to tell no one about what they’ve seen on the mountain, until after he has risen from the dead.  Mark records that the disciples followed Jesus’ instructions, but that they questioned among themselves what Jesus meant by “rising from the dead.”  This suggests that they “just don’t get it” because Jesus had already begun preparing the disciples for what would happen in the previous chapter, Mark tells us that Jesus “began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected [and] killed, and [then] after three days rise again.” 

            As Christians living in the 21st century, we might well ask what relevance Christ’s Transfiguration has for our contemporary lives and faith.  Afterall, we have other, significantly more powerful evidence through his Resurrection that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-promised Messiah.  So, what’s the point of rehashing this one Transfiguration story that briefly previews what we know comes afterwards? 

            It seems to me that there are three major insights:

            First, the three disciples remind me of myself on my spiritual journey.  Throughout this story the disciples are ignorant and they foolish.  They “just don’t get it.”  They remind me of myself a great deal.  There are many times when I fail as a disciple of Christ--times when my faith is weak; when I am ignorant and do foolish things; times when I "just don't get it."  Seeing that the disciples are working hard to “get it” makes it easier for me to identify with them and it encourages me to continue asking questions, struggling with my doubts and—in the process—growing in my faith.

            Second, hearing again the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration reminds me that God is present in our world today, just as during the time when Jesus walked the Earth.  Although the historic opportunity to see Christ’s Transfiguration was only given to Peter, James, and John, it alerts us to other possibilities in which the Divine may be discerned in a flash of revelation.  Despite their ignorance and foolishness in the moment, I believe that the three disciples perceived the Transfiguration with the eyes of faith.  Which raises the question, “How can we perceive the brilliant revelation of God in the world around us, with our eyes of faith?”  Can we perceive the brilliant radiance of God in a beautiful sunset?  Or, in the firm squeeze of an infant, as it firmly grabs our finger?  Or, in the acts of kindness which others bestow upon us?

            Finally, we see that in order to redeem the world, Jesus had to descend from the glory of the Transfiguration to endure the suffering of the Cross.  As one biblical scholar has written, “Christians frequently think of the divinity of Jesus in terms of heavenly glory …We tend to think that Jesus is most clearly Son of God in glory, not in suffering.  This passage challenges us to revise our understanding of how God’s presence comes to the world.  The command to silence reminds Christians that glory and suffering cannot be separated.”[i] 

If we are to live in the glorious presence as Moses, Elijah, and Enoch, then we must follow Jesus in his suffering, before we can follow Jesus in his glory.  As he tells his disciples in Mark 8, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”  This self-sacrifice is what we will begin to observe this week, with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.


Come, join us this Sunday, February 15th, as we explore the implications of Christ’s Transfiguration for our own life and faith.  Our church is located at the corner of Main and Dawson Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  Our classic worship service starts at 10 am on Sunday mornings.  Also, consider joining us for a special Ash Wednesday Service on February 18th, beginning with pancakes at 5:30 pm.

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.

[i] Pheme Perkins, The Gospel of Mark:  Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections in The New Interpreter’s Bible, volume 8 in the 12 volume series, 2003.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Pollyanna Got It Right ! ! !

            The name, “Pollyanna,” has taken on a special meaning in American culture.  The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines “Pollyanna,” as “a person characterized by irrepressible optimism and a tendency to find good in everything.”[i]  Generally, the term has become a derogatory comment, suggesting that a person is unrealistic and somewhat childish.  For instance, the definition in provides a flavor of this derogatory sense in its definition of Pollyanna:  “an excessively or blindly optimistic person as.”[ii]

            The term, “Pollyanna” refers to Pollyanna, the 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter, developed into the 1960 film by Disney Studios, starring Hayley Mills.  In the film, Pollyanna is a 12 year-old orphaned girl, who arrives in the small town of Harrington to be adopted by her aunt.  As the story unfolds, Pollyanna captivates and transforms the town with her sunny optimism and the “glad game” which her father taught her before his death.  The point of the “glad game” is to find something to be glad about in even the saddest and most disappointing circumstances.  The game is basically the attitude of finding a “silver lining in every cloud.”

            As noted, “Pollyanna” is caricatured in popular culture for ungrounded and naïve optimism.  However, this caricature overlooks the context of Pollyanna’s philosophy.  Pollyanna’s joy and optimism are firmly rooted within the context of her Christian faith.  This becomes clear in the climactic scene in the film, when Pollyanna and the village pastor have a one-on-one conversation.  In the scene, Pollyanna explains that she always tries to look for the good in people.  Further, she claims that there are 800 verses in the Bible that call upon the faithful to rejoice and be glad.  So, she concludes, that many repetitions about rejoicing and being glad must mean that it is very important to God.

            In Philippians 4:  4-9, the Apostle Paul confirms Pollyanna’s basic philosophy.  Paul writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”  Then, he offers them a blessing, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  In my blogs and in my Sunday sermons over the past four weeks, I have been exploring the distinctive characteristics that make the Christian lifestyle distinctive from other ways of living.  We conclude our exploration this week by looking at Christian joy and optimism.

            Joy and optimism should permeate our lives as Christians, just as with Pollyanna.  But, in saying this, it is important to add that our joy and optimism are not groundless or naïve, as sometimes depicted in the caricature.  No.  Instead, they are grounded in the context of our faith—and, our belief that God loves us and will care for us.  As Paul frames it in his letter to the Philippines, “The Lord is near.  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  …and the peace of God will be with you.”

Come, join us this Sunday, as we explore what it means to put our faith and trust so completely in God that we can live with the joy, hope, and optimism of Pollyanna.  Afterall, Pollyanna got it right.  Our church is located at the corner of Main and Dawson Streets in Meriden, Kansas.  Our classic worship service starts at 10 am on Sunday mornings. 

Everyone is welcome and accepted because God loves us all.