#SeeAllThePeople: The Astounded Crowd

Read the sermon notes I wrote for Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church #SeeAllThePeople worship series. These are available via email subscription as found here: https://t.e2ma.net/message/6il01/upqzps

Luke 9:28-43

“You’ll know it when you see it.” This phrase could wreck the nerves of even the most confident people. Worry and wonder often come to the minds of those who lack absolute confidence and trust in their directing counterparts. This is not an unusual feeling. Yet, the sudden realization of the moment of truth, arrival at the destination, is liberating and a joy-filled sensation. Sometimes it can even be surprising and shocking to the senses if we are not prepared for what meets us there. Sometimes the moment demands focused attention, listening, watching as our senses adjust after the initial shock.

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Consider that feeling when a blindfold is removed, light switches are turned on in the darkness, windows opened without warning; it is unmistakable when that moment of glory arrives. When revealed, what one might have hoped for stands out and even more so when the surprise is better and bigger than one could have ever expected. For many of us, such sudden realization and revelation can be awe-inspiring, while also blinding us from seeing the breadth of what is there, if we aren’t ready for the reveal.

The disciples were not ready for what this time away with Jesus would bring, as he went for prayer. They knew they had journeyed up the mountain with Jesus, but the glory that comes from following him was not on their minds. They lacked awareness and understanding of the mystery of Jesus’ chosenness and were not anticipating anything worth waiting for. They were overcome in their tiredness until, suddenly, they were shocked in their senses by the glory that shone so brightly. Suddenly, the familiar experience of Jesus in prayer revealed a seemingly obvious truth that they were too tired to process fully and accurately. His glory was revealed so much so that Jesus’ face was changed in its appearance. Even his clothes took on the splendor of dazzling white, an unspeakable brightness of joy.

Peter in his haste does not know what he is asking when he reacts to this encounter by offering to build a tent for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. This glory is not something bound to the persons of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, and thus cannot be restricted to “dwell in houses made with hands” (see Acts 7:48-50). Jesus is the light of the world, the glory of the people of Israel. However, at this moment, we come to know of the exodus plans, the transition for Jesus’ life, in the divine conversation he has with Moses and Elijah. These are plans for the good of all God’s people and plans that will influence the lives of those who follow Jesus.

In Peter, we see how the disciples seemed to have missed something in translation, as they do not yet understand the lessons they have been taught while following Jesus in his prayer life. They were caught up in the joy of the moment, forgetting that coming down from the mountain, away from the place of this singular experience, was needed. The disciples were led into what was initially a bright and joy-filled splendor, but they were not ready. They were led to witness this manifestation of the glory of God, but Peter responded in ignorance, which turned to terror as the disciples were deprived of their natural senses when they came into the cloud and heard the voice of God speak of Jesus as God’s chosen one. They learned through this experience not to depend on their understanding, to trust God, and look only to Jesus, who remained once their senses returned and the splendor of glory was no longer in plain sight.

The disciples on the mountain benefited from the freedom of distraction when the voice of God spoke. They were forced to listen, to pray. We find that the other followers down the mountain were also in need of renewed revelation as to all that Jesus offered them in prayer by the Spirit. His disciples were likely distracted, seeing in themselves this divine provision rather than completely trusting and depending on the teachings of Jesus. They could not heal the son who was brought to Jesus from among the crowd at the foot of the mountain, and Jesus did not mince words in his frustration.

Jesus embodies what many of us seem to forget. He shows us the importance of setting apart in prayer before coming back to see all the people informed in the fullness of God’s glory. In him, we are reminded to trust in the essential directions we have been provided to pray, listen, and care for the holistic needs of people.

Before leaving our own mountaintop experiences with Jesus at church, in retreats, on vacations, we are faced with a sobering truth. The places, occasions, and experiences of joy are not something to hold fast to and try to make last forever within structures of our own creation. We will not always have the benefit of the focus that comes from being desensitized from the world and embraced in a cloud filled with God’s voice. Yet, we have prayer, just as Jesus had, and can rely on the inspiration and discernment of the Spirit Jesus left for us.

God has a plan for us, just as Jesus knew of the plans for his life in death and resurrection. We are called to go back to the people, to follow Jesus back down the mountain, resting on our feet in Spirit and truth.

Jesus recognized in the people both the need for what he had to offer and the lack of faithfulness that permeated his followers. Even though he exclaimed his frustration to this generation of believers, he then casts out the evil spirit and heals the son. It is understandable that what he has done is by God and something his followers should be able to do. Much like Peter, the people needed to recognize the glory of God. This outreach and forming of followers and believers was his destination. Faithfulness to God and commitment to the people is foundational to what it is to be a disciple of Jesus, to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” (the mission of The United Methodist Church).

We are challenged to follow the directions of Jesus to this destination faithfully and to trust that how we are being led is enough. We are to trust that the destination of the coming of God’s kingdom for all of the people, whenever we reach that aim, is worth the anticipation and staying awake for. If we grow more concerned with following Christ, then we will be closer to living by faith and leading the people to do the same. By faith, we will be ready whenever God’s glory shines, no matter how sudden and no matter how brightly.

Take notice that not only the father of the healed son benefited from this much anticipated experience of seeking Jesus’ help as his destination for healing. Surely the father was anxious, even though he knew Jesus was the destination. Surely the crowd looked on with anticipation, even if believing Jesus could do this for the man. Even the disciples who could not do what Jesus was then able to do must have felt a knot of worry or guilt in their stomachs as they felt much the same. Yet, the wrecking of their nerves, the wonder and worry, their lack of full confidence in the power of Jesus was released in great joy as the crowd was overwhelmed by God’s great and glorious power.

Remember that just as the disciples on the mountain needed to see the glory of God revealed, so the people needed to see as well. And, just as Jesus prayerfully prepared for continued work among the people, so we disciples of Jesus must prepare ourselves, go up on our mountains in prayer, and bring the glory of the Lord to all people, in all places, by faith.

We must see all the people however we have been divinely gifted to do so. The disciples who could not heal the boy taught us that being present is not enough. Knowing of the needs of the people we encounter is not enough. We must do more than look around us for God’s glory to shine in others or in some outward provision. We must be the light and seek to spread God’s glory among the people as we meet them wherever they are and however they are in need.

The transfiguration of Jesus need not be left for the mountain-top experience. We must bring the transfiguration to all the people.