Epiphany 2, Year A, 2017

We know Jesus’ debut really well right?

We definitely have his birth story down. We read it every year. If our kids are of a certain age, we may even have the pageant script memorized! We know how Jesus came on the scene.

But what about his adult debut? We know he gets baptized, of course. We could probably give a pretty clear description of how he comes across John the Baptist in the wilderness and asks to be baptized. We might even remember that the heavens open for a moment and God’s voice booms down, “This my son, the beloved. With him I am well pleased.”

But what about Jesus’ first public words in each Gospel? How does he present himself?

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus comes out of his experience of temptation in the desert, goes right to the temple, unrolls a scroll and begins to read, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me!”

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus comes out of the desert and proclaims “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus says “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

These are all dramatic proclamations of Jesus’ identity. He is telling the world who he is, and what he stands for. Today though, we aren’t reading from those Gospels. Today, we are reading from the Gospel of John.

In the Gospel of John, we get a slightly different story. Jesus’ baptism happens off-stage. We just get John’s word for it that God spoke and called Jesus his beloved. Two of John’s followers overhear John saying that Jesus is the Lamb of God. This makes them curious, so they start to secretly follow Jesus. Can you picture them staying a few paces back, occasionally slipping behind a tree when he looks around? Eventually Jesus stops, turns around, and speaks his first public words. But these words aren’t a profound declaration about who he is. He asks a question, “What are you looking for?” Another translation might be, “What are you seeking?”

These are Jesus’ very first followers. Can you imagine? He now has literally a billion followers, but once there were just two. Two curious men willing to sneak around to follow someone they knew to be of God. Two men willing to be impolite, willing to drop whatever their plans were for the day. Two men willing to be out in the wilderness listening to John the Baptist talk about God. We laugh at their bumbling attempts to tail Jesus, but they are the genesis of a movement that would change the world.

What were they seeking? What are we seeking? Why do we come here week after week to sing old songs and pray old prayers and eat the same meal we eat every single week? Do we come to be soothed by traditions that are familiar to us? Do we come to see people we love? Do we come to encounter the Divine? What are we seeking?

Andrew and his friend don’t have an answer to Jesus’ question. They ask a question in return, “Where are you staying?” Where does the Lamb of God stay? Does he rent a motel room? Stay with a friend? Does he carry a tent with him? Maybe they are really wondering how on earth the Lamb of God dwells with us. How is the presence of God able to stay here, with us? How does that even work?

Jesus invites them to “come and see”. It is his first invitation. In the other Gospels he tells his disciples to “follow me,” but here the invitation has a lower level of commitment. He responds to their immediate question. He doesn’t force them into anything. He simply invites them to see where he is staying. That initial invitation is the beginning of a huge change in the world. Andrew runs off to grab his brother, Simon. Simon, who becomes Peter, who becomes the rock of the church after Jesus’ death. In these very initial moments of Jesus’ ministry, the church is being born. By following Jesus, these disciples get to be part of history.

Jesus’ invitation to Andrew and the other disciple, still stands. “Come and see.” Whatever you are seeking: comfort, forgiveness, joy, meaning; Jesus invites you to come and see what following him will do to your life. Now, be warned, you may not get what you intend. The disciples end up being so devoted to Jesus they each ultimately died in his name.

We may not literally die from following Jesus, but we will be called to die to ourselves. For when we come and see what Jesus is up to, we see that following him isn’t that easy. When we follow Jesus we have to look at ourselves honestly. That’s not easy. When we follow Jesus we have to love other people. That’s not easy. When we follow Jesus we are supposed to put God’s priorities over our own. That’s definitely not easy.

But Jesus knows following him won’t be easy. In his book The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning writes,

For those who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God, it requires enormous trust and reckless, raging confidence to accept that the love of Jesus Christ knows no shadow of alteration or change. When Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened,” He assumed we would grow weary, discouraged, and disheartened along the way. These words are a touching testimony to the genuine humanness of Jesus. He had no romantic notion of the cost of discipleship. He knew that following Him was as unsentimental as duty, as demanding as love.

“Come and see.” It is a simple, life changing invitation.

We all have different levels and interests in faith, but this Epiphany we invite you to “Come and see”. Wondered about contemplative prayer? You don’t have to be an expert to come. You don’t have to have prayed a minute in your life! Just come on Mondays at noon and join our prayer team. They’ll teach you what you need to know.

Curious about how it feels to worship God in a different kind of service? Come and see our Celtic service. You may encounter a part of God you’ve not experienced before.

Want to get to know God better? Come and see the bible study for Education for Ministry group? Both work to equip you for a deeper faith by educating you about what we believe about God.

There are many ways to encounter Jesus in this place. Wherever you are, he extends an invitation to you. Come and see.

It will change your life.

Amen.

Transfiguration, Year B, 2009

I occasionally wish that I lived in an earlier era.  Now, granted, I would want that era to have women’s rights and flushing toilets, so perhaps what I really want is a mythical earlier era.  In that imaginary era, I would never have seen a special effect.  So that, when I read the Bible, I would be awed by the stories it contains.

We 21st century people are jaded. We have seen waters part in The Ten Commandments.  We can see creation begin by turning on the Discovery Channel.  Noah’s flood has been replicated in any number of movies and cartoons.  And dead people appearing is nothing new. In the last calendar year alone, the television series House, Grey’s Anatomy, and Lost all had major characters who were dead.  Dead Amber appeared in House’s memory.  Dead Denny was hallucinated by Izzie.  Dead Christian-well, we still don’t know how he got on the island.  And that’s not even considering the dead characters on the show Medium!

We are not impressed by well-laundered clothes and Old Testament ghosts.  We have seen it all before.

Thankfully, Peter, James, and John are not jaded.  Their senses are still sharp and their minds are fresh and open.  For them, the transfiguration is the most incredible event they have ever witnessed. For Peter, James, and John the transfiguration is a moment of transcendence, a moment of understanding God in a new way.

It turns out for them, for Jesus, and for us, experiencing those moments of transcendence is a gift from God to help understand God better and to receive nourishment for the hard work of ministry.

Jesus and the disciples have been working hard.  In the eighth chapter of Mark, immediately before this reading, Jesus has:  miraculously fed 5,000 people bread and fish, walked miles and miles on foot, healed a blind man, informed his disciples that he was going to die tragically, and argued with Peter.  Talk about a heavy couple of days!

Jesus and the disciples must have been worn out-physically, spiritually, and emotionally.

Jesus leads three of his disciples, Peter, James and John, up a mountain so they can spent some time away from the demands of their work.  While they are there two amazing things happen.  First, Jesus becomes illuminated.  His robes become so white they know the source must be supernatural.  Second, two great Old Testament Heroes appear next to Jesus: Moses and Elijah.

Why Moses and Elijah?  Why not Abraham or David?

The disciples are shown Moses and Elijah because of their unique, spiritual relationships to God. You might remember when Moses comes down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments his face shone with a supernatural light.  Peter, James and John would remember that story, look at Jesus’ shining clothes and realize that Jesus had the same ability to hear directly from God.

Legend has it that Elijah never died, but instead was assumed into heaven.  Jesus has just told his disciples that he will die and be resurrected.  They see Elijah as a kind of foreshadowing, to help them prepare for the reality of Jesus’ resurrection.

I believe for these three disciples, Jesus’ transfiguration was their transformation.  While Jesus got time to rest and commune with his Father, the disciples had an incredible supernatural experience they would never forget.  On their walk, after the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus asks the disciples who they think he is.  They guess many things, but finally Peter gets it right.  Peter tells Jesus he thinks he is the Christ.

The transfiguration is a way for these disciples to really internalize and understand at a more intuitive level what it means that Jesus is the Christ.  When your friend is the Christ, weird, supernatural things happen.  When your friend is the Christ, he can glow at will.  When your friend is the Christ, biblical heroes who have been dead hundreds of years will suddenly appear.  When your friend is the Christ, the voice of God will pour out of the sky, filled with love.

These memories of the transfiguration will be something Peter, James and John will be able to hold onto during their darkest moments of doubt.  Even as Peter lies about his association with Jesus on Good Friday, perhaps a small part of his mind was reminding him that everything was going to be okay.  His friend, Jesus, was bigger than death and more powerful than the laws of nature.

The transfiguration was the spiritual experience Peter, James, and John were given so they could keep on going, keep on “running the race”, as Paul phrases it in 1st Corinthians.  After they leave the mountain, Jesus and the disciples get right back to work, right back to ministry, but now they can do it with a little more energy, a little more bounce in their step.  They now know, in a concrete way, that God is with them.

Now, I think it is fair to conjecture that none of us will ever experience the transfiguration.  However, I do know many of you who have had some kind of spiritual experience.  I think we are all capable of that kind of experience.

Some of you have had spiritual experiences when you have taken time away from your own family and work and retreated for a few days in prayer and meditation.  Others of you have experienced the holy when you have traveled to holy places like Iona, or Shrinemont.  Others of you encounter God through singing sacred music. Still others of you have experienced the divine when you had your first child or understood God’s love for you through the love of another.   There are many ways and places where God can break in and speak to us.

Those moments may be few and far between, but they are great gifts to us.  They give us courage to go back to our ministries and give all we have to them.  Those moments feed us spiritual nourishment that sustains us through difficult times.  Those transcendent moments remind us that God is real and that he is with us.  When we experience a spiritual moment we are invited to savor the time we are given with God and use the energy the experience gives us to return to our daily lives and ministries and give back to those around us.

We may be jaded.  We may have seen it all, but like the disciples, we still need God.  We still need reminders that he loves us.  We still need the transfiguration.

Amen.