Matthew shifts to sharing with us some of the parables of Jesus as he heads to Jerusalem. The first one is the story of a man who owned 100 sheep but one wandered off. The owner left the 99 with caretakers and went in search of the lost sheep. Jesus shares about the joy and rejoicing that results from finding the lost.
“14 In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:14)”
Lent is a time when we do not focus on praise and all our blessings, but we focus on our “losses.” A loss might be a relationship we have allowed to go by the wayside that we need to rekindle. A loss might be realizing we have not written a friend we want to encourage, a relative or neighbor we want to visit, or a habit we have let slide. It might be a lost opportunity that comes to mind.
As we seek to recover those things we have allowed to wander and slip away from us, the result is joy. Spending a couple of minutes in prayer before bedtime is relaxing. Singing a song while driving rather than listening to the news all the time is healthy. Hugging someone who is important to us is always rewarding. Smiles given to someone who looks down and a word of affirmation can mean a lot.
Jesus is going to the cross because God cares about his lost sheep. He cares about us enough to search for us and carry us home. He is not willing or wanting for us to wander in the wilderness, vulnerable and scared. God does not want us to perish. The cross is about a God who does not just sit in heaven counting his assets and erasing his losses on April 15. He actively seeks regain his creation. Thank you, Lord.
Jesus came down from the Mount of Transfiguration and set his path to Jerusalem and the cross. Matthew 18 opens with the disciples asking Jesus,
“Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them.3 And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. (Matthew 18:15)”
I have always heard these verses set in a discussion of the characteristics of young children. This weekend my adult son visited for the first time in 6 months to support me and visit my husband in memory care. My husband has dementia so I told him for several days that our son was coming. I prepared my son that his father may not remember him or be affect-neutral. As we walked in the room, my husband spotted our son and as we approached, he almost jumped out of his wheelchair and his face lit up with delight as he threw his arms open to hug our son. “…unless you change and become like little children,” said Jesus.
Is it that as we age, we become more childlike? My husband may or may not understand the events of life around him any more than a young child. He is dependent on aides for personal care, so humbling. He is loosing the ability to even stand up on his own two feet. But he recognizes at some level those who love him and are kind to him. I am learning the gift of presence. He does not spend a lot of time talking with people but we enjoy being together.
I think that Matthew opens this phase of Jesus’ ministry with this story because as Jesus walks to the cross, he becomes more and more a person in the hands of other – not because he cannot, he is God, but because he does not. There is a childlike quality about approaching the cross.
As we approach our devotional time today, we might reflect on our countenance in prayer. Are we like a child having a temper tantrum about our wants or are we more like an elder leaning out and raising our arms for a hug as we learn to trust the care of God? Blessings.
15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” 3:1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” 4But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.
Psalm: Psalm 32
Mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord. (Ps. 32:10)
1Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away! 2Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt, and in whose spirit there is no guile! 3While I held my tongue, my bones withered away, because of my groaning all day long. 4For your hand was heavy upon me day and night; my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer. 5Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and did not conceal my guilt. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin. 6Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble;when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them. 7You are my hiding-place; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. 8“I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you should go; I will guide you with my eye. 9Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; who must be fitted with bit and bridle, or else they will not stay near you.” 10Great are the tribulations of the wicked; but mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord. 11Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord; shout for joy, all who are true of heart.
Second Reading: Romans 5:12-19
12Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned—13sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law. 14Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come. 15But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many. 16And the free gift is not like the effect of the one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. 17If, because of the one man’s trespass, death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. 18Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. 19For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.
Gospel: Matthew 4:1-11
1Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. 3The tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4But he answered, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” 5Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, 6saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ” 7Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 8Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor; 9and he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10Jesus said to him, “Away with you, Satan! for it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” 11Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
Children’s Sermon: Let’s start at the very beginning. Do those words sound familiar. Maria in Sound of Music wants to teach the children music. The “Do, Re, Mi” song opens with:
Let’s start at the very beginning A very good place to start When you read, you begin with A-B-C When you sing, you begin with Do-Re-Mi.
At church we are not tackling reading, A-B-C, or singing Do-Re-Mi, but we are tackling making our invisible God visible to another. Tell your neighbor where you would start to tell another about faith.
Let us pray. Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer, my Alpha and my Omega.
Last Sunday was Transfiguration Sunday when we had a glimpse of the Son of Man as Son of God as he stepped into eternity for a moment. Peter, James and John were told to “listen,” and “get up. Don’t be afraid!” Down the mountain they came and headed to Jerusalem with Jesus. Wednesday we celebrated Ash Wednesday when we were marked with the ashes from the palms of last Palm Sunday. We were reminded that from ashes we came and to ashes we go. Today, the first Sunday of Lent, we “go back to the very beginning” of Jesus’ public ministry, the temptation. Our text tells of a defining moment for Jesus right after his baptism when the voice from heaven spoke and said, “This is my Son.” The temptation encounter gives us the building blocks for understanding the unfolding of events during Lent. So, “let’s start at the very beginning, it’s a very good place to start.”
Two Main Characters
Being educated, or so we think, scientific, materialistic Americans, it is easy to put the scene today into a Disney movie of a hero facing a wicked witch. The temptation is not an encounter between two characters in a novel that help us understand life. This text is about a major encounter between the God of the universe and Satan, the prince of demons, who seeks to rule this world. It is an encounter between the Kingdom of Heaven invading the Kingdom of this World. The first reading tells of creation when the serpent defeated Adam and Eve by planting doubt in Eve’s mind about God’s word, God’s will and God’s way. Did God say? Does God want? You can be like God if you only. And so we are here today and Jesus steps into our wilderness to do battle for us.
Rocks to Bread
We hunger. Every dieter knows this. All we need to do is swear off chocolate for Lent and suddenly it is on every counter in the store and every cupboard in our house. It calls to us!! People in the Syrian earthquake zone really know hunger. The people in Ukraine know hunger. The rains have failed in Kenya and those people know hunger. We are probably more familiar with temptation. Satan approaches Jesus and says, “IF.” “If you are God.” “If you are God, changes the rocks into bread.”
The Kingdom of this World seeks to satisfy our physical hungers. If we only try this or that, go here or there, watch this hit, listen to this podcast we will certainly move towards fulfillment. The bellies of our desires will be satisfied for a better life. But, Houston, we have a problem. Tomorrow we are hungry again. The solutions of this world are temporary. The solutions of this world focus on our personal needs. Some hungers are never satisfied. We need just one more dollar to be happy.
“There are three things that are never satisfied, four that never say, ‘Enough!’: 16 the grave, the barren womb, land, which is never satisfied with water, and fire, which never says, ‘Enough!’”
Proverbs 30:15, 16
Jesus responds, ‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” The Kingdom of Heaven starts with the Word of God, not with human hungers. The Kingdom of Heaven focuses on God and community. The Kingdom of this world focuses on self.
So where do we turn to satisfy our hunger? In Lent we go back to the basics, to A-B-C. We will walk to Calvary because at our core we are selfish. It is a challenge to do it God’s way, to forgive, to follow spiritual disciplines, to share, and to endure hard times focusing on God.
“…throw yourself down…”
We hunger but we also long for security. All we have to do is turn on the commercials and we hear about this or that insurance, this or that security devise for our house, and what our protective social services should have done in this or that circumstance. How quickly we turn from the number killed in the earthquake to questions of whether building codes were followed and the impact on upcoming elections. Satan next approaches Jesus and says, “IF.” “If you are the Son of God.” “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down,” from the pinnacle of the Temple in the Holy City where Satan had taken him. Surely God does not allow his people to get hurt.
You can almost hear Satan sneer; God doesn’t want you to be hurt. Certainly you won’t die. Sounds like the Garden of Eden to me. Sometimes we hear that question in our ear, “Where is your God?” The Kingdom of this World tries to convince us that following worldly wisdom can avoid death and illness. The solutions of this world do not stop the wounds of life but offer bandages for problems and we must still walk through death.
Jesus responds, “Again it is written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” The Kingdom of Heaven acknowledges the wisdom, presence and protection of God for all his subjects. God was there with the people in the earthquake. He is with those in Ukraine. And he is with us in our everyday challenges. He is the Creator and we are the creatures. We can trust him and do not need to trust insurance, in case. I am not saying, don’t buy insurance, but that our ultimate trust is in God. His way is best.
So if we are challenged in trusting for our hungers, where are we challenged today in trusting God for our security? I find it interesting that “throw yourself down” can also refer to a posture of prayer as well as a temptation to test God’s love for us. When our security is threatened, that is the time to throw ourselves down in prayer. So perhaps the question is how is Bethany doing in personal and corporate prayer, not only for personal needs but also for a pastor and for our community.
We hunger and long for security, and for power. We jokingly talk about our “control issues.” When our checkbook doesn’t balance, we rack our brain for what we forgot to write down. When the red light goes on in the car we worry how much the bill will be. I won’t mention the health and safety of our children, grandchildren, and friends as we hear the news of irrational mass shootings at places we used to consider safe. Oh my. The news now reports on how this is impacting young children going to school and wondering if their parents will return from work. Life is not only insecure but we cannot control our days. We sometimes feel powerless. Satan offers Jesus complete control of this world if Jesus will bow down and worship Satan.
Jesus could have all the kingdoms of the world if only he would allow Satan to be its god. Eve ate the fruit believing she would be like God and she gave the fruit to Adam. The price was huge and has come down through the ages, impacting our lives today. We are not gods no matter how many people praise us. Time marches on and we all die because the burdens of life were never meant for us to carry.
Jesus does not dignify this temptation with a response. He says, “Be gone.” We are to worship God and serve only him. It’s the first commandment. The kingdom of this world tries to convince us we can be a god or goddess of beauty, of wealth, or government, of so many things. But it is a lie. And so we come back to the very beginning. There are two kingdoms, heaven or earth, Jesus or Satan. As we walk through Lent we will see Jesus, “Son of God” and “Son of Man.”
Let’s start at the very beginning.
James says it well in his epistle.
“12 Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:12-15)”
A: We live in a tension between the Kingdom of Heaven that we are becoming more familiar with through the life of God Incarnate, Jesus, and the Kingdom of this World that Satan would like us to choose.
B: We will be tempted by our hungers, our deep need for security, and our driving desire to be in control. Satan loves to work by raising doubts in our mind about God’s word, God’s will and God’s way.
C: Jesus, when tempted, drew on Scripture. Turn to Scripture when feeling tempted.
As we walk through Lent we will watch as Jesus meets people to give life when they are hungry. Security will be found in relationship to God. And we will not need to worry about being in control because we know God is in control, even when a cross looms before us. A-B-C, Do-Re-Me-, the very beginning is
“36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c]38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:36-40)”
Wikipedia credits this hymn to Sarah Flower Adams who was inspired by the Biblical story of Jaccob’s dream recorded in Genesis 28:11-12. Jacob was running from his twin brother Esau who wanted to kill him because Jacob had not only “stolen” Esau’s birthright as the eldest son and eldest twin but also deceived their father thus receiving the paternal blessing. Jacob must cross the “wilderness” to his mother’s family. He lays down to sleep and dreams of a staircase going to heaven with angels ascending and descending.
The hymn is well known because it is believed to be the last song play by the band on RMS Titanic played before the ship sank. It is also credited as the song sung by the crew and passengers of the SS Valencia as it sank off the Canadian coast in 1906. Those facts I didn’t know or had forgotten.
I do know that we are entering the 40 days of Lent when we face our mortality and our fallibility. We, like Jacob, are not perfect and we will die. During Lent we look at the darker side of ourselves that we don’t want the world to see and our sins that sent Jesus to the cross. Our prayer through this time is that as we confess and mourn for our world, we will draw nearer to God, to the God who cared enough to come to us!
Washing and drying dishes became a game with my kids. I had five kids and when we sat down for a meal, they would check out what was on the table and then I would hear, “I claim plates,” or “I claim forks.” At the end of drying the dishes, they would wad up their wet dishtowels and we would play basketball trying to hit the sink. Washing dishes was fun. We do the laundry because we like to wear clean clothes. We weed our gardens. We take our cars in when they need servicing. So WHY do we run from confession? Why let our souls be soiled, run down, and full of weeds?
King David was confronted by his prophet Nathan about committing adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, the Hitte, one of his loyal soldiers. He wrote Psalm 51 that has become a model for confession. Lent is a time when we clean out the closet and deal with the crud in our souls.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;according to your great compassion, blot out my transgressions.Wash away all my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me…Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51: 1-3, 10-12)
Lent is a time when we commit to spending some time in confession. We sit quietly and allow God to show us where we have you fallen, times we have been selfish or when we have turned to the kingdom of this world for security rather than God. We confess that we do not want to be crippled by fear, shame, greed or pride. Let us take time now to allow the Holy Spirit to shine his flash light on us and confess any sin that comes to mind.
The Book of Common Worship has a beautiful prayer that can be a model:
“Gracious God, our sins are too heavy to carry, Too real to hide,And too deep to undo.Forgive what our lips tremble to name, What our hearts can no longer bear,And what has become for us a consuming fire of judgment.Set us free from a past that we cannot change;Open to us a future in which we can be changed;And grant us grace to grow more and more in your likeness and image, Through Jesus Christ, the light of the world. Amen.” (From the PCUSA Book of Common Worship Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993; p. 88)
Jesus comes down from the Mt. of Transfiguration with Peter, James and John. A desperate father of a son whom he believes is demon possessed meets them. Jesus heals the boy. But Matthew then tells us that Jesus informed his disciples that he would die.
‘22 When they came together in Galilee, he said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. 23 They will kill him, and on the third day he will be raised to life.” And the disciples were filled with grief. “ (Matthew 17: 22-23)
Grief is like a deep darkness descending on us. We know our loved one or we will die some day – next year please! Death is never welcomed. Lent, unlike Advent in December when we look forward to the birth Jesus, often feels dark and somber. We don’t like to think about death. Lent is not a time of happy anticipation but a dark season when we are looking forward to death. Loss is a time of darkness.
As we move into Lent, we ponder the areas in our lives and our world that are clouded by darkness, areas that need the light of Jesus. In Matthew 4:16 Isaiah 9:2 is quoted, “the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Matthew compares the arrival of Jesus to light arriving in this world to life in the shadow lands.
Let us spend a few minutes giving those dark areas of guilt, hate, regret and pain to God. We could also spend a few minutes praying for our neighbors caught in war, hunger, drought or disease. If that is too dark or painful, then we could focus our prayers on the gift of forgiveness our faith offers and thank God for sending us light in our darkness. Blessings.
“Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” (Matthew 4:17).
Many Christians around the world will go to church today to commemorate the beginning of the Lenten season. We will be marked with a cross on our forehead by the pastor. Ashes and a cross are powerful symbols. Ashes remind us of our mortality and the cross reminds us of the God who incarnated and walked through death that we might be with him in eternity. But there’s more to the story.
Ash Wednesday is 40 days before Easter, not counting Sundays. 40 days in the Bible is related to the period of rain for Noah, the days Moses was on Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments and the 40 days Jesus fasted in the wilderness before the temptation. Most agree that the number 40 is associated with a journey from struggle to redemption. Many will do some sort of spiritual fast during this time or they may add a spiritual discipline. That might mean not doing deserts or it might mean spending 5 minutes in focused meditation each evening before bed. The goal is to focus on our relationship with God.
For Palm Sunday last year many churches opened by having the congregation waves palms in commemoration of the start of Holy Week and the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem when people waved palms. Those palms are later burnt and used this year to mark the beginning of Lent. During Holy Week people went from greeting Jesus with “Hosanna” to yelling, “Crucify him!” During Lent we grieve how easy it is for us to go from highs to lows in our faith journey also. We face our humanity, our mortality, and our need for a Savior. We lament the ways we have promised to worship and obey God but fallen far short. We contemplate, confess and acknowledge our need to turn from our own sinful ways to Jesus.
Our readings will focus on Chapters 17 to 26 in the Gospel of Matthew as Matthew shares the events of Jesus’ life as he journey from Transfiguration to the cross. Let’stake the next 40 days to reflect on this last year and how our own faith waxes and wanes but God’s love remains constant! May we have the courage to “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” and turn to the love and grace offered by the cross.
Do you remember playing the game “Rock, Paper, Scissors”? You pound your fist three times while your friend pounds her hand and then you make the sign of a rock (a fist), paper (flat palm), or scissors (two fingers making a cutting motion). Rocks crush scissors. Paper wraps rocks. Scissors cut paper. Sometimes life feels like that game. I question if I’m struggling with rocks in my garden of life or need to cut back thorns and hopefully is not the hard flat path. We continue today with Jesus as he continues to tell his disciples the meaning of the parable of the sower throwing out his seed that we looked at yesterday.
18 “Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: 19 When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. 20 The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. 21 But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. 22 The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. 23 But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” (Matthew 13:18-23)
Our seed can fall on hard ground. The other just doesn’t get it. In one ear and out the other. Blank stare. But the seed can fall where there is a little soil and there is some sign of growth. Rocky soil means there is shallow dirt resulting in shallow thinking and no real roots. Problems blow those sprouts away. Thorny soil chokes the plant with anxiety and care. Good soil gets a good plant. I suspect that we all have hard places in our heart where old scars have hardened our ability to absorb truth. Rocks like bad experiences can sour us to God’s word. We tried to pray but God didn’t seem to be listening and so we quit. We feel like God is too busy for me. We do have days like that or, perhaps, we are too busy for God! We all know about worries and anxiety that distracts us from God. We want to be good soil but sometimes after our fist pounds three times we come up with rock, thorns or hard ground.
Lent is a time when we examine our soil to see if rocks need to be removed, thorns pulled up, and hard places plowed. Setting aside five minutes each evening before you go to bed or five minutes in the morning to review yesterday can be a valuable Lenten discipline. Matthew 17-26, nine chapters are devoted to Jesus coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration and heading to Jerusalem. Let’s read those chapters this Lent. Blessings.
It is not until Matthew 13 that Matthew goes from miracles of Jesus to some of his famous parables. The Parable of the Sower tells of a farmer tossing out seeds to plant and the type of soil they land on. Some fall on hard ground, some on rocky, some on thorny and some fall into good soil and flourish. The seed we understand to be the word of God and the type of soil can be seen as different types of listeners or our different responses when we hear the word of God. I’m sure the pastor would be happy if the congregation went home every Sunday taking the sermon to heart but we know that just doesn’t happen. Sometimes we are sleepy, sometimes distracted, and sometimes we even disagree with the sower.
“13 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 13:1-9)”
My thought, as I write this, is that we are encouraged to be Christ-like in our lives. If so, then what kind of seeds to we sow as we go through our day. Do we sow seeds of doubt, of greed, of lust, or of doubt as we encounter others. Few of us go around quoting Scripture to our friends but we are capable of planting seeds of encouragement, of hope, and of love. Wednesday will be Ash Wednesday when we face our mortality. Part of being human is our proneness to wander. Tuesday is known as Fat Tuesday when refrigerators are emptied of food that might tempt whatever our Lenten discipline is. Perhaps Monday we might check out what type of seeds we are sewing to those we encounter daily! Blessings.
12The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” 15Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
Psalm: Psalm 2
1Why are the nations in an uproar? Why do the peoples mutter empty threats? 2Why do the kings of the earth rise up in revolt, and the princes plot together,against the Lord and against the Lord’s anointed? 3“Let us break their yoke,” they say; “let us cast off their bonds from us.” 4God whose throne is in heaven is laughing; the Lord holds them in derision. 5Then in wrath God speaks to them, and in rage fills them with terror. 6“As for me, I have anointed my king upon Zion, my holy mountain.” 7Let me announce the decree of the Lord, who said to me, “You are my son; this day have I begotten you. 8Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance and the ends of the earth for your possession. 9You shall crush them with an iron rod and shatter them like a piece of pottery.” 10And now, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. 11Submit to the Lord with fear, and with trembling bow in worship; 12lest the Lord be angry, and you perish in a sudden blaze of wrath. Happy are all who take refuge in God!
Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21
16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
1Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
“Beauty and the Beast” is a story that tells of a prince who has been transformed into a beast and he must learn to love and earn the love of another before a rose totally wilts. The story, thanks to Disney, is much more complicated with subplots but basically a prince looks like a beast and Belle, the young girl, must learn to love him. So turn to your neighbor and share why you would find the beast so repulsive?
Let us pray. Lord, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. The Son of God has appeared to us as, Jesus, the Son of Man, and we have been checking him out during Epiphany and learning to love him. Unlike the fairy story, Jesus was not selfish and cursed but his life is not how our world paints heroes either. We want God to ride in on a white charger, be handsome, and rescue us from the evil Garcon, that selfish bad-guy in the story who wants us as a trophy. Through Epiphany we have seen Jesus talk about his kingdom but somehow “happy ever after” just does not happen. If we read the rest of Matthew, as we have been doing in our daily devotions, we see Jesus doing remarkable feats of power. He heals the sick, raises the dead, gives vision and is a fantastic teacher. His people don’t fall asleep during the sermon, I bet. But he still looks human and the Romans, disease, problems and death still plague us. In the tales of the kingdom of this world, the hero saves the poor and suffering, us, from pain and danger. We want Jesus not only to “walk the talk” but also rescues us, preferably before the next commercial.
Today we have another “epiphany” moment as Jesus transfigures in the presence of Peter, James and John, and us. Epiphany season is bookended by the voice of God speaking from heaven, “This is my son!” For a brief moment in these epiphanies we see the caterpillar’s future form as a butterfly. We glimpse the prince inside the beast.
My husband and I love to watch the beginning episodes of the series, “The Crown,” telling about the life journey of Queen Elizabeth. The early episodes include Kenya and the famous hotel Treetops where even we stayed. We watched yet again this week her coronation where she is anointed with oil as kings and priests of the Old Testament were. The abdicated King, David, tries to explain what is happening to his French guests. He shared how as the oil is applied, a spiritual experience occurs. The presence of God transforms an ordinary woman into a goddess, the Queen of England. The “mystery” of the moment is transformative.
Jesus, Peter, James and John climb a mountain and at the summit Jesus for a moment is transfigured. His face shines like the sun and his clothes glisten dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear and talk to him. Twilight Zone could not do it better. Beam us up, Scotty, to that mountain!!! What was that about?
I have looked at this moment before with you and pondered why Moses and Elijah were present. God does not do random. I have suggested that both these men came to encourage Jesus, Son of Man, who could step into eternity because he is also Son of God. How could they encourage Jesus?
Moses stood on Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments. Elijah stood on Mt. Carmel and confronted the 400 priests of Baal. They knew what it was like to stand alone for people and for the truth of God. Jesus would stand alone before Pilate and so the two saints encouraged him and us.
Moses faced the Red Sea leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. It looked impossible. Elijah faced 400 prophets and a sacrifice that had 12 barrels of water poured over it and he believed God could make a fire. It looked impossible. Jesus would die for sin. That seems impossible. The two saints encouraged him and us.
Jesus would face crucifixion and be deserted by his followers. He would face death. Moses went into the desert by himself to die but God was there to close his eyes. Elijah was taken up by chariots in a whirlwind and walked through death. Jesus would face death too. He needed encouragement and so do we.
How does transfiguration speak to us? We have tracked the differences between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven during this Epiphany season. We learn to tell in this world if our eyes are blue or brown. We fill out forms about our ethnicity, height, and weight. We see life with eyes of flesh that are trained to function in the kingdom of this world. But we also have spiritual eyes. Do we look at others, our friends and grandkids, our neighbors and those we meet seeing the potential within them. When they are discouraged can we say that word of encouragement that draws their hearts to God and to a positive future? Or do the words of criticism and critique jump to our lips? I pray Bethany will be known as a place where lives are transformed into being their better selves and our community will be a better place to live, a place of hope. May we see the prince in others and not just focus on the beasts we can often be!
Our text continues and we hear two voices in response to the transfiguration. The seen and unseen world witnessed as Jesus transfigured and met with Moses and Elijah. Peter speaks up and says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Then for the second time this Epiphany season we hear the voice of God speak from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
May I suggest that as we have been tracking the kingdom of this world through Epiphany, that I think we see that in this world we have a tendency to freeze time. We like to build memorials to those special moments in our life. Peter is ready to build three “dwellings” or perhaps churches or monuments so people can visit and remember this moment. This is not necessarily a bad thing. People go to the special sites in the Holy Land all the time. Those special moments from our past are preserved in scrapbooks, in videos, put into movies and socially dissected from the various points of view of people involved. The present walks on the heels of the past and we need to learn those lessons. We don’t want to get stuck in the past, though.
Also Peter makes the mistake of making Moses, Jesus and Elijah equal. Peter is still not clear about what is happening. Those special memories from the past are a piece of the picture of our lives in God’s story but they are only a piece of the picture. They are not the whole picture. We learn from them but we don’t want our history to freeze us there so there is no room for growth.
It is then that God speaks. Even as God spoke at the baptism of Jesus when Jesus stepped onto the public stage, God now steps out of eternity. This is not transfiguration like Jesus who has taken on humanity. This is God speaking from beyond our reality, coming to us. He again affirms the deity of Jesus but adds a phrase, “Listen to him.” The Kingdom of Heaven transfigures us and reveals the truth of Jesus but that is not just a special mountaintop experience when we become believers that Jesus is God and will someday return to claim us in all his glory. The Kingdom of Heaven is about relationship where we “listen”. That is an ongoing activity, not a moment in time to be memorialized. God says, “Listen.”
Our holy moments and experiences are not places to stay but places to get up and get started. Listening starts our journey with God but then we must walk the talk and be his person. We come down from the mountain and live in our everyday world. So often we focus on wanting God to listen to our concerns that we forget to listen to his concerns and how he sees the events in our lives unfolding today.
So are we listening or are we too busy doing? Perhaps our reflection here is to ask ourselves how we have stagnated, memorialized our faith and how can we better “listen” and increase the vitality of our relationships. I’m guessing most of us have room for growth. Even as Belle was challenged to learn to love the Beast, may we be growing in loving God who sometimes appears cruel and angry like a beast while he loves us.
“Get up and do not be afraid.”
Our text concludes with Jesus’ words to Peter, “Get up and do not be afraid.” I have confessed before that I am a “fearling” so whenever I read the words, “do not be afraid,” God has my attention. The disciples see Jesus transfigured and hear the voice of God and they fall on their faces in fear. Jesus tells them to “get up and not be afraid.”
You have heard me talk about that other voice that seems to sit on our shoulders and seems to like to whisper in our ears doubts and fears that would discourage us. Listening is a spiritual skill that grows as our faith grows. We learn to recognize the voices of our friends and of God. We can easily become afraid that we will make a mistake or misunderstand. But that is what the body of Christ is for. We are not alone. We are part of a team with God and with his body. We help each other to hear and to do. God said, “listen”, and Jesus says, “Get up, and don’t be afraid.”
We will all leave church today. I do not know what “get up” will look like in your life but for sure, God is working in us, with us, and through us. We must come down from the mountaintop. Jesus walked with the disciples into their challenges, not to rescue them from the pains of life but to walk with them through the pains, as the God who understands our humanity. Belle runs from the Beast but the story climaxes with her return amidst the attack by the town. She loves the Beast. As she has learned to love him, the truth is gradually unveiled. He is the Prince that will walk with her into “happy ever after.”
So as we come to the end of Epiphany and celebrate Ash Wednesday this week, we turn our hearts to Lent and the journey to the cross. Jesus, Son of Man who came to us as a small babe in Bethlehem and who entered public ministry with the voice from heaven calling him, “my son,” has now stepped through that veil of time and transfigured and we glimpse the Son of God. It is a dazzling, frightful moment that we are tempted to freeze in our memories but the voice again reminds us that “this is my son, listen.” We pick ourselves up and return to all the challenges of our everyday life. We do not need to be afraid of the beast for as we learn to love and trust him we discover he is a wonderful prince who will fulfill all our real dreams and even more. We will live happily ever after some day in his kingdom.