TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD, FEBRUARY 26, 2006
IF I COULD ONLY
Have you seen a father throw his child up in the air and then catch the child? Small children love this and want Dad to do it until the child becomes far too heavy. It is an endearing picture.
Someone long ago said that is a picture of the life of a person who believes in Jesus. Life is a free fall. You can either go through life screaming in terror. Or, you can scream in delight and pleasure as a child does, because underneath are the everlasting arms of the heavenly Father to catch you! Which of those two scenes is a picture of your life?
Pleasure, enjoyment-sure, we have that, at least occasionally. Life as terror-well, maybe not quite that, but we certainly wish we could understand a bit more about these "everlasting arms" that are supposed to catch us.
If only we could see them, know for certain that they are there, then, well, then perhaps we might be a touch more confident about life and its possibilities for us.
I believe that too often we stand, as a child in front of the heavenly Father, and are not quite sure that he is strong enough, big enough, cares enough, or that he wants to throw us up and give us that thrilling adventure we call life and will catch us.
If we could only see him, trust him. If he would give us what it takes to get us to have the pleasure he wants us to have in this whole arena we call life.
Recently we have see a lot of the religious world stirred up by some cartoons (I personally haven't seen them). Are these people called Christians ever that excited, passionate about their religion and their icons of faith?
Some years ago when an art exhibit had a crucifix in a bottle surrounded by the artist's urine, a few marched. Protests against the removal of the 10 Commandments from public buildings has seen some demonstrators. Roe vs. Wade still gets lots of people out, but passion? Are we not more passionate, in a good way, of course, because we just don't quite know about this Jesus, his Father, and the Spirit?
Certainly a decline in numbers of countable Christians would seem to indicate that perhaps not only passion is lost, but also, dare I say, faith in Jesus?
Perhaps if we could just see him?
Today is the last Sunday in the liturgical church world called Epiphany. We were to get a display of God, a showing of what God is and what he is about in this world. On this final Sunday, we see Jesus totally transformed. Certainly Mark who wrote this account of the life of Jesus from Peter's perspective wants us to know that Peter saw Jesus in a way he had never seen him before. Dazzling, shining, in communication with the greatest gurus of ancient times-Moses and Elijah.
Peter's reaction? Saying something that just came out. He always was opening his mouth and putting his shoe in. This time terror, fright causes this statement. But Peter and the other two there with him also hear a voice. The voice from the cloud, always a sure sign in the Bible of God's presence, saying about Jesus: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!"
There is no doubt that Peter, James and John up there on this high hill with Jesus thought of him as nothing less than God, sent into our world for something which they often failed to understand.
Peter saw Jesus, but not too many weeks later he claimed Jesus was unknown to him. He had seen Jesus dazzling, transfigured, as glorious God, frightened to be in that presence, because you didn't know what might happen, now a gutless wonder when a maid thinks his accent is the same as that of Jesus.
If I could only have had that experience, I would never have denied? Never say never is a handy expression of some value, I believe.
Might it just possibly be that our hesitancy about permitting the Father to pick us up and give us the thrill of a lifetime is because we see all this, know that the Bible while being written with a bias slanted toward Christians, does not go in for wild storytelling, we have not "listen(ed) to him"?
Listen to him. What do you hear him say? And since, "actions speak louder than words," what do we "hear" him do?
There is no doubt about it, even from the point of those who count it, we are bombarded by voices, pleading for us to listen to them, give them an ear. "Bombarded" means we are "shell shocked" (those of you who have been in war know what that means). We have heard so many fantastic claims that no claim, claims our heart.
Our ears have become immune to words and to the Word who is God who came and made his home with us. We live a world that is somewhat terrifying to us and yet we know not where to turn for words to live by, to be bold in living for a cause that gives passion and satisfaction.
And the word we do see and hear proclaimed loudly and clearly is that a sexual relationship of any kind is where life is found. The abundant life of more and more and newer things. The fashion in housing today is to have large, state of the art kitchens, but where less and less cooking and family gathering takes place.
Have we tuned onto the wrong channel? Have we permitted others to set our agenda and keep us happy with the placebo that comes to couch potatoes?
Are we confused, angry, sometimes lonely because we do not "listen to him" and as a result, cry out in desperation to no one because we don't trust anyone, not even ourselves?
If we only would listen, what would we hear? We would see God who is Jesus (there is no mistake about that!) not wanting the glory that is his. We would not see him giving in to Peter's terrified cry about staying where it is so pleasant while being terrifying-terrifying perhaps because he could lose this and never have it again. Does not our terror come from the fact that we know we might lose the good life, the good health we have?
We would see him descending this holy hill of transfiguration and heading out for the battle. The battle that will determine our present situation and our future. The battle to set men free! To free them from guilt and the masks we wear to hide our guilt. To get people to see that the only God that is, cares deeply for them and for you and is willing and does permit his Son, his beloved child to take our place of punishment we know we deserve, to die for us and to rise again to give us life.
No longer are we going to get any thrill from life by trying to keep the law given by God to Moses. Jesus kept them perfectly. We no longer have to flagellate ourselves for stepping over God's lines into stuff that gives us a rotten, decaying smell. No longer are we never good enough for God.
Listen to him and hear that "whoever believes in him has eternal life." There's nothing there about doing or meeting certain standards or goals. He has quite literally wiped away all barriers, because in Christ, there neither slave nor free person, rich or poor, male or female, ethnic distinctions-all belong to him! Already! Now!
So if only I could see him, experience him, I might then believe more, commit myself more, become more passionate for him. That will never happen because it has happened.
The evidence is in. He has fought the fight, he has won the battle for you, and he gives you the adventure of living, the thrilling life of the fall into the final arms of the Father.
Jesus did it. Remember? There on the cross he said, "Father ,into your hands I commit my spirit!" He bowed his head and rested in the arms of his Father whom he had seen retreat from him because of our sins which covered him.
Can you imagine a better ending to your life? Can you imagine your life now believing that he cares that much for you?
In the early '70, I came across a Christian pastor who was trying to "find himself," as so many were during those turbulent days. What I believe he really wanted, was to have something to believe, to hang onto, that would give purpose, meaning, and passion to his life.
He was kind of waiting to see where his path would lead, if it was leading anywhere. He was caught in an eddy, going round and round, which all of us do too much of the time.
I told him to act as if he believed what Jesus was telling him. He did and went back into the ministry and is still there today. He is inviting people to "listen to him" who is God, who is the true spokesperson for God, as Elijah was.
The Father invites you today to come and hear this Jesus say to you, "This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you, because I love you and want you to trust that I will take care of you, and that as he was for me, so the everlasting arms of my Father and your Father are going to catch you. So rejoice, enjoy the thrill of the life God is giving you." Amen.
Walter W. Harms, retired pastor
Austin, TX, U.S.A.