The St. John’s Pulpit
St. John’s Baptist Church 300 Hawthorne Lane Charlotte, NC 28204 704.333.5428 www.stjohnsbaptistchurch.org
MEETING JESUS AGAIN FOR THE FIRST TIME
Transfiguration Sunday, March 3, 2019
by Senior Minister, Rev. Dennis W. Foust, PhD
The news highlights what is disfigured more than what is transfigured. This week, we learned there were 25 homicides during the first two months of 2019 in our Queen City compared to 6 during January and February, 2018. Of course, we grieve the number of murders has quadrupled. Yet, we don’t want to be satisfied with 6 either. What can be done?
We debate gun laws, health care, border walls, care for the poor, foreign relations, economic sanctions, military expenses, climate change, tax policies, etc. Meanwhile, more than 25 million war refugees seek shelter and 68 million persons are displaced around the world due to conflicts and natural disasters. Despair, cynicism, hopeless desperation, actions of anger, hatred, arrogance, fear, racism, cultural and gender bias, injustice, conflict, violence, brokenness, condemnation and other sins violate individuals, fracture families and threaten societies. Organizations, institutions and professions are discredited after decades of sexual abuse scandals and victimizations while religious traditions argue over whether God’s love is deep and wide or shallow and narrow. A few weeks ago, a caller into C-SPAN commented, “I think our world is beyond saving.” What do you think?
Even actively-faithful people can waver in hope and positive vision. I can stand in this pulpit Sunday by Sunday along with tens of thousands of other men and women in their pulpits proclaiming salvation, redemption, reconciliation, hope, mercy, love and grace. Yet, we leave these stained glassed walls to re-enter a world marred by immorality, suffering and death. What can we offer this world that can bring hope, peace and salvation?
Since my feet are firmly planted in this historic St. John’s Pulpit, you should expect me to say “JESUS.” Jesus is our offering to a torn and disrupted world of chaos and selfishness. However, there is tremendous confusion about Jesus today. Which Jesus do we offer?
· We dare not offer the Jesus of institutionalized religion watering down his message to the point that authentic Christian discipleship is obstructed!
· We dare not offer the Jesus of indoctrinating fundamentalism bypassing Jesus’ message of love on their way to biblical prooftexts for their ungodly positions!
· We dare not offer the Jesus of overly aggressive, depersonalized liberalism contorting the historical Jesus to be nothing more than a mascot for their outrage!
· And we dare not offer the Jesus of lukewarm moderatism restraining all expression of Jesus’ sacrificial commitment to incarnating the will of God.
Is there another Jesus we can offer our hurting world who can provide salvation?
In Luke’s transfiguration story, we are represented by three disciples – Peter, James and John. Although they were very sleepy, they became fully awake. How do we awaken to the Jesus who is different from religion, legalism, fundamentalism, liberalism and moderatism?
Two modern writers try to help us: Marcus Borg in, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time and Philip Yancey in, The Jesus I Never Knew, encourage relating with a mature Jesus in a mature way. Like the writings of Peter, Paul, James and John in the first century and the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon, Borg and Yancey use the Gospel stories of Jesus and the writings of early church leaders to interpret and apply Jesus’ message to daily living.
Increasingly, the early Christian movement spoke of Jesus as divine.
By the end of the 4th century, they described the Jesus of history as the Christ of faith.
We also become awake to the true nature, power and mission of Jesus over time.
I like the way Scottish theologian, John Baillie explained Jesus: “All of God that could be revealed in one human being was revealed in Jesus of Nazareth.”
The sleepy disciples of Jesus remind you that the spiritual journey asks you to be fully awake to the true identity and power of Jesus. You know a person is NOT fully awake to Jesus’ true identity when they do violence or harm against themselves or another person.
Today’s story from Luke’s Gospel shows Jesus exalted above Moses and Elijah.
Why these two? Moses represented the Law and Elijah represented the prophets.
The followers of Jesus already had the law and the prophets.
The Law of Moses gave them restrictions, legal codes, boundaries, policies, authoritative structures, mandates, regulations, precedents, commandments, ordinances, edicts, etc.
The prophets condemned oppression of the poor and challenged concentration of wealth while also encouraging the alleviation of anguish and suffering.
Yet, even with the law and prophets, people still pursued pathways of destruction.
They revised God’s laws to become nothing more than empty legalism..
They modified prophetic words till they became ethical lessons to debate more than apply. Even with the law and prophets, the people around Jesus expressed violence
In this transfiguration story, Jesus is exalted above legalism and ethical debate.
Why did people commit their lives to Jesus above the law and prophets?
For a few, it may have been because a bright light shone around him one night?
For a few others, it may have been because of his teachings or his miracles?
Yet, most people became fully awake to Jesus as he revealed God’s compassion.
Let me remind you of what you may already know. The Hebrew word, rachamim, means compassion, mercy and womb. The idea we must remember here is that to have mercy upon another person or to express compassion is to create space within yourself for them. And this space you have opened within yourself for the other person allows the life in you to connect with the life in them. You are sustaining them through compassion. When Jesus taught about love and when he opened his life to other persons, he offered more than social grace; Jesus offered God’s compassion which is the womb nurturing life in us.
You can know whether you or another person is following Jesus – you must incarnate God’s compassion. As you allow your life and message to be shaped by Jesus’ life and message, the teachings of the Law and the ethics of the prophets take on new life in you as expressions of God’s compassion. As an obedient learner (a disciple) of Jesus, you are being spiritually transformed. As you allow Jesus to be Lord of your actively faithful living, God transforms you and uses you to transform others through God’s compassion.
Once upon a time, there was a cynical and selfish man who went to the ocean during winter months. He had a habit of walking on the beach every morning Early one morning, as he walked along the shore after a big storm had passed, he found the beach littered with starfish as far as the eye could see, stretching in both directions.
Off in the distance, the man noticed a small boy approaching. As the boy walked, he paused every so often, bent down and threw an object into the sea. The boy came closer and the man called out, “Good morning, lad! May I ask what it is that you are doing?”
The young boy bent down saying, “Throwing starfish into the ocean. They were pushed onto the beach in the storm and they can’t return to the sea by themselves. When the sun gets high, they will die, unless I throw them back into the water.”
The man replied, “But there are thousands of starfish on this beach this morning. I’m afraid you won’t really be able to make much of a difference.” The boy bent down, picked up yet another starfish and threw it as far as he could into the ocean. Then he turned to the man, smiled and said, “It made a difference to that one!” And that is how a man walked along a beach with a boy one morning throwing starfish into the ocean. (adapted from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley, 1907 – 1977)
St. John’s, every day, you go forth into a world which focuses more on disfiguration than on transfiguration. You follow Jesus offering God’s compassion to our world.
As you do so, you partner with God in the salvation of others.
You feed individuals who are hungry realizing you can only address their hunger today.
You shelter individuals who are homeless knowing the issue of homelessness continues.
You encourage lonely individuals fully aware there are many other lonely persons.
You lift up fallen individuals understanding they may fall again.
You befriend individuals who are afraid knowing you cannot eliminate all their fears.
You gift devalued persons with value by your fixed attention and listening ear.
You teach persons to read, mentor youth, care for unwed mothers, etc. understanding there are more needs than what you can meet. Yet, you partner with God in works of salvation.
Today, we affirm another way several of you offer the compassionate Jesus to others.
By coaching these young people, you are exalting compassion over all other lesser goods.
Who knew that participating in the salvation of the world could be so much fun?
By offering the compassionate Jesus, you help people meet Jesus again for the first time.
‘May you allow the Lord to wipe the sleep from your eyes helping you see yourselves as God sees you. May you mature in your discipleship with Jesus as Lord of your active faith so you can see how God’s compassion is transfiguring your life and our world – even amidst stories reporting disfiguration. May you continue to mature in your learning of Jesus so you can offer the compassionate Jesus to our world. Beloved, tell the world who God is to you.’
Amen and AMEN.