coming down from the mountain, by Pastor Noel

March 3, 2019   Last Epiphany, C


      Last week I said that the connection between the Genesis story about Joseph and Luke’s Gospel was forgiveness.

      A quick idea about forgiving—and if I’ve said this before it’s because I think it’s so important and so misunderstood.

      Forgiving means that I work at letting go of hurt and pain caused by another. It involves me and me alone, or you and you alone. And maybe folks I talk to about it. It does not involve the person who caused the hurt. Forgiving is about healing and not letting the hurt or the other person control my life.

      So, that was sort of a segue to the connection between the reading from Exodus and the Gospel we just heard. The connection is misunderstanding. The difference between being transformed and staying same old, same old.

      This is Moses’ second trip to meet with God and receive the laws for God’s people to live holy lives. The first time he came down from the mountain, the Israelites had made their gold jewelry into a calf to worship. Moses smashed the tablets of the law.

      This time Moses was transformed and radiant from his meeting with God. His face shone and the people couldn’t look on it, so he wore a veil when he was with them.

      I wonder if they were afraid of God’s glory being in their midst, so close. I wonder if the veil meant they could pretend that God was not in their midst. They could ignore God’s presence, and ignore God’s laws.

      Ignoring God’s laws is a pretty big misunderstanding. Much of the OT, or Hebrew Scriptures, is filled with stories of misunderstanding, or at least misbehavior.

      The people turn away from God and God’s laws, and bad things happen so they turn back to God. And then….

      God’s promise, or covenant, was made, as it always is, to invite the Israelites, and us, to live in grace and mercy. These laws are signs of God’s love for us, and show us how to live in that love.

      God also gave a command to Peter, James and John, and to us, when Jesus was on the mountain. Naming Jesus as beloved Son, God’s command is “Listen to him!”

      This is the only command God gives in the Christian Scriptures. And, it is given in a specific context, that we may not want to face. Peter certainly didn’t want to!

      That context is the Cross, Jesus’ crucifixion.

      This is what Jesus was discussing with Moses and Elijah—our translation says they were talking about Jesus’ “departure” but the word really means “exodus.”

      So, Moses is there because the exodus he led was from being slaves to Pharaoh to new life and freedom in God.    This experience of Jesus on the mountain is often called the transfiguration, although Luke does not say that.

      The exodus that Moses led was the transfiguration, the metamorphoses or transformation, of God’s people. They went from being slaves to the culture to being the free people of God.

      They took a journey of liberation so that God’s kingdom could be here on earth as in heaven.

      Luke is telling us that God’s kingdom is not in radiant experiences on the mountain.

      God’s kingdom comes on the Cross, as the violence of Jesus’ death shows us the futility of all violence.

      And, this leads not to retaliation by God but forgiveness and new beginnings.

      Just like Moses and the second covenant promises of God.

      Peter doesn’t want to think of this—he wants to enshrine the radiant, glowing moment of Jesus, Moses and Elijah, so it will last forever. God IS much easier to deal with when we can him in a box and misunderstand.

      That’s why I read the longer version of the Gospel. This is the only year that story is added.

      Jesus has given the disciples the authority to heal and to cast out demons. They have already shown that they have this power, so what’s happened here?

      Misunderstanding—perhaps leading to lack of trust.

      The Gospel today begins, “About eight days after these sayings.” What sayings you might ask? Jesus telling the disciples how to follow him. He told them about his death and resurrection. Said that to be his follower we must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. Said that if we try to save our lives we will lose them, but if we lose them for his sake we will save them. Said that if we try to gain the whole world we will lose it. Said that if we are ashamed of him he will be ashamed of us.

      The disciples heard this, but they didn’t understand.

      Eight days later, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on the mountain. The eighth day is the start of a new week, a new chapter, or a new life. A transformation.

      This mountain top experience is a new phase of life for Jesus and the disciples. Peter, James and John don’t understand. Peter wants to build three houses for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. Maybe he wants to box up that moment and forget about those difficult words of Jesus.

      But mountain top experiences don’t last. The perfect sunset turns to night. The rainbow fades away. The first blissful feelings of love change as reality sets in.

      The disciples came face to face with the reality that following Jesus is not easy. There are things we cannot help, no matter how hard we try.

      And we are called to keep trying.

      In our Collect for today we prayed to be “strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into (Jesus’) likeness, from glory to glory.”

      Taking up our cross means living our faith. It means following Jesus and being his disciples out in the world.            

      Taking up our cross means listening to how Jesus would have us live. What is he calling us to do? To be?

      Part of that is worship. Here we can say thank you and be renewed and recharged. Then sent, like the apostles, out into the world. Listening to what Jesus would have us do.

      Taking up our cross is finding our unique place in God’s kingdom. How can we do what Jesus calls us to do?  How can we be changed into Jesus likeness from glory to glory? How can we help others be there with us?

      Here are three of the many things that I read about this week. Listen, and think about how you might respond.

      An adoption agency that calls itself “Christian” won’t work with anyone who isn’t a Protestant. If you had the chance to talk with them, what would you say?

      The worldwide United Methodist Church met in St. Louis last week. They voted to not allow clergy who are gay, even though there are already many gay clergy in the UMC. I’ve heard that an ultra conservative group has been influencing the UMC and this vote. Does that matter?

      And when the bishops of the Anglican Communion meet at the Lambeth Conference this summer their spouses are invited. Except for spouses of gay clergy who have been intentionally not included. How do you react?

      There are always things happening that exclude those considered “other.” If we listen to Jesus we have to speak up. We have to at least help the excluded ones know that God doesn’t exclude them. And I hope we don’t, either.

            May God strengthen us to listen to Jesus. We have the chance to respond with transformation, or to stay same old, same old. How will we respond?

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details