Transfiguration : C – 2010

Luke 9: 28-43

And all were astounded at the greatness of God…

Once when I was home from Seminary some of my family were gathered around the dining room table following dinner. My Grandmother was there. My Grandmother was one who liked to get in the last word. She saw herself as one who dispensed wisdom – even if it came in a fairly critical way.

We were telling stories of our lives. I told the story of a time that I reacted to a situation with – shall we say – pronounced anger. My Grandmother scolded me for my anger. Anger was, for her, a wrong emotion. People should be nice – manipulative and conniving maybe (which she would never have admitted to) – but never angry.

Being from Seminary and therefore knowing much – if not everything – I informed her that even Jesus got angry. “No!” she insisted, Jesus never got angry. I reminded her of the story of when he went into the temple and drove out the money changers. “I am sure,” she said – getting the last word in – “that he did it in a nice way.”

For many people in the Christian faith the human Jesus presents a huge problem. If God is loving and gracious and kind, and Jesus is God, then Jesus must always be loving and gracious and kind. If Jesus’ humanity is to be emphasized we encounter a much more difficult image of God and of Jesus. I don’t know of many people who don’t cringe when reading the words of Jesus in today’s Gospel: “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” How do we deal with Jesus’ anger? It is difficult to find a loving God in those words. It is tempting to ignore them and pretend like we didn’t hear them.

But we did hear them and Jesus did utter them. It is hard to dismiss them, even if we simply sigh and say, “Well I guess Jesus had his human side too.” Being human isn’t easy. Not a single one of us is perfect. And even if we correct a flaw or two, three or four more seem to pop up in the wake of the correction. I don’t know where you are at in life, but there is a part of me that has simply surrendered to this broken reality. I think it is why I have a tough time throwing some things away. I identify with broken stuff. If broken things are to be cast aside, shouldn’t I, as one who is broken, be cast aside too? After all we throw broken things out right?

And because being a broken human isn’t easy, it is hard to see the examples of someone who rises “above” his or her humanness. That is how we speak of it right? The hero, who sacrifices deeply and greatly, like a Mother Teresa, is not spoken of as someone who really embraced being human, but rather as someone who rose above their humanness – as if somehow they aren’t broken anymore. So long as we speak of people rising above his or her humanness, as long as we speak of Jesus as wholly God, we can speak of our failings and brokenness as being “all too human.” We have a built in excuse for failure and for ignoring the one in need.

So part of the problem rests in how we understand what it means to be human. Unlike my Grandmother’s teaching, anger and its expression is part of what it means to be human. Humans have emotions. We have hopes and fears, we have dreams and desires. We have expectations and people let us down all the time. This is the tricky part. Jesus, Paul writes in Philippians, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped so he emptied himself and became human. Yes, Jesus shows us who God is, but equally importantly Jesus shows us what it means to be human

We can spend all our time today contemplating the mystery of Jesus’ face changing and his clothes becoming dazzling white. We can speak of divine mysteries, mountaintop experiences, and Jesus’ superseding Moses and Elijah by the voice of God declaring Jesus to be the chosen one. However, when it comes down to it, such contemplation may leave us awestruck, but it also leaves us empty and feeling small. No wonder Peter, John, and James kept silent

Yet I am also guessing that all of you have had your share of mountaintop experiences. We can all relate to moments of glorious faith, mountaintop experiences and joys untold. Perhaps you have heard the voice of God, felt the overwhelming love of God, or felt forgiven when you thought yourself to be cast aside forever. Maybe Jesus has been next to you like Moses and Elijah were for Jesus. Or maybe it was just a moment of utter stillness when all the thoughts in your head went silent and you found a moment of peace that left you longing for more.

You see, even the mountaintop is part of the mystery of being human. We are after all children of God created in the divine image. The Psalmist declares us to be only slightly less than the angels themselves. Even for all the mystery of what was going on up on the mountain, Jesus is still showing us what it means to be fully human. We are intended to be in communion with God.

Part of what that means is that with effort, discipline, focus, and prayer we can do amazing things ourselves. Alright, I will never walk upon deep waters, raise the dead, or cast demons into a herd of swine. But as a Chaplain and a Pastor – as a human being, I have been part of a person’s healing. I have loved some who thought they were unlovable and made a difference in their lives. I have held the hand of the dying and helped them find peace and acceptance as a child of God. I have confronted the Pharisees and forgiven the drunkard. I have also failed utterly and completely to have patience or to fight fairly. I have been callous and indifferent to human need and suffering. I have been faithless and perverse. And I have been held accountable for all of the above – the good and the bad. I am guessing that I am no different from you.

If Jesus is only God – then nothing of me matters much. I am broken and broken things need to be thrown out. If Jesus is only God – to the exclusion of the fullness of his humanity – then we hear his words today as one who is fed up with creation and can’t wait to be done with it. Humanity – especially those who are called to be his disciples – are nothing more than faithless and perverse and Jesus can’t wait to be done with the lot of them. In the meantime – zap, boom, bang – another demon bites the dust and onward to the cross.

But if Jesus is fully human, then everything that I am and you are matters. Then he is more like one of us then we might care to admit. Coming off the high of the mountain, feeling rested and rejuvenated, basking in the joy of God’s closeness up there; Jesus returns to work only to find that his disciples can’t do anything right. None of the orders the boss left are finished, a mountain of work awaits, the incompetent staff left messes rather than completed projects, and the thrill of vacation is erased in a single shout: “Teacher…” Then we don’t hear judgment in Jesus’ words so much as cranky and moody, we see something all too familiar, lashing out in disappointment, grief, and irritability.

If we can allow ourselves to encounter Jesus’ humanness we can be expected to have both mountaintop and low valley moments. We can be held accountable for our words and our actions. We might not do what Jesus does, but being that loving and forgiving is within our grasp. And the greatness of God? It doesn’t come from God being God – that part is easy. It comes rather from God’s great love, mercy, and healing pouring forth from a created human being, like you or me.

While we can all relate to the outburst, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” How many times already today have you been angry or frustrated with another person? In humanness we also need to learn to relate to the next statement too, “Bring your son here.” You see, we too are the creation of God. We too are chosen of God. We too are put here by God. We too are called to reach out to the wounded and the hurting. We might not experience people possessed by demons, but there are many hurting – both right here, right around us, and in the world. We are called to love, forgive, and show mercy.

And when we do this, isn’t the greatness of God astounding?

This entry was posted on Sunday, February 14th, 2010 at 2:55 pm and is filed under Sermons. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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