Rev. Susan M. Hudson, St Pauls Presbyterian Church, March 16, 2014
“High” with Jesus
[Genesis 12:1-4a; Matthew 17:1-9; Romans 4:1-5, 13-17]
As we look at this week’s texts, we experience high adventure. On this pilgrimage of Lent, when we let go of what makes us secure and comfortable, we experience a different kind of “high” because we are trusting Jesus as our All-in-All, our Power Source, our Fuel, our Electricity, our Living Water. It’s like a giant bungee jump into God’s will, which is the line that holds us as we plummet hundreds of feet from a bridge towards a river below or soar to new heights at the tops of mountains.
Welcome to the world of FAITH! – …it’s where we finally come to the end of ourselves and our own strength, grasp hold of God and say: “Not my will but yours, O God!” This is a whole new way of believing; it’s not mere intellectual assent to abstract truths, but rather it’s putting our money and our lives where our mouths are. It’s turning on the ignition and putting the pedal to the metal with Jesus in the driver’s seat, not your personal ego. If you talk to any of my family members they will tell you I have a lead foot as a driver, which makes the feature “cruise control” a real blessing, because when I get to talking with the person in the passenger’s seat, I almost forget what speed I’m going.
But sadly, most of us have set the cruise control on our faith in Jesus Christ. Our foot is completely off the accelerator and our eyes are barely on the road. We need to turn OFF that cruise control, invite Jesus to take the wheel. We need to pay attention to WHO Jesus really is and what Jesus is calling us to be and do.
Let’s look seriously at the story in Genesis, where the patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the revered ABRAHAM is called by God to do a new thing. Because Abram had the courage to LISTEN and FOLLOW God’s voice, he is known as the Father of all three world religions.
Genesis 12 reads like this in The Living Bible: “After the death of Abram’s father, God told him, “Leave your own country behind you, and your own people, and go to the land I will guide you to. If you do, I will cause you to become the father of a great nation; I will bless you and make your name famous, and you will be a blessing to many others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you; and the entire world will be blessed because of you.”
So Abram departed as the Lord had instructed him, and Lot went too; Abram was seventy-five years old at that time.”
How many folks in this sanctuary this morning are 75 years or YOUNGER? How many folks are above age 75? Age does not seem to be a limiting factor in following God’s call. Although Abram and Sarai still did not even have any children, God was promising Abram he would be the FATHER of a great nation. It sounds impossible, but apparently it wasn’t impossible for God. The best years of Abram’s life were ahead of him at age 75. That bodes well for us! That Abraham is revered highly by Judaism, Christianity and Islam could fill a completely different sermon than the one I am preaching today, for it’s possible that Father Abraham might become a “bridge” of communication between divided, antagonistic communities.
Abram’s TRUST and willingness to put feet to his faith in God’s words and God’s call counted as righteousness, according to the Apostle Paul. We read in The Living Bible:
“Abraham was, humanly speaking the founder of our Jewish nation. What were his experiences concerning the question of being saved by faith? Was it because of his good deeds that God accepted him? If so, then he would have something to boast about. But from God’s point of view Abraham had no basis for pride. For the Scriptures tell us Abraham believed God, and that is why God canceled his sins and declared him ‘not guilty.’
Paul plays the devil’s advocate saying: “But didn’t he earn his right to heaven by all the good things he did?” And then Paul answers his own question, saying: “No, for being saved is a gift; if a person could earn it by being good, then it wouldn’t be free – but it is! It is given to those who do not work for it. For God declares sinners to be good in his sight if they have faith in Christ to save them…”
I want to add my own question here. Why on earth are there so many Christians walking around with a “holier than thou” attitude… if not a single one of us can earn our way into heaven? Why do Christians judge each other and criticize what others believe or don’t believe? Why do Christians cloister themselves in safe havens where they can avoid the dirty world and real people around them? If God’s grace is a FREE GIFT, why aren’t people standing in line to receive it? Why aren’t we SHARING this gift with exuberance?
One reason is this: Christians may “believe” in Jesus, but many have not experienced the power and glory of living their lives in his presence on a day-to-day basis.
If we lean into God as we are being called to do in this Season of Lent, we will experience transformation similar to what Peter, James and John experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration in Mathew 17:1-9.
First, let’s put the story of the Transfiguration in its proper context. As they were moving towards Jerusalem, Jesus knew it was time to let his disciples in on what he was facing. So he began to talk to them about his suffering. First Jesus asked his disciples, “Who are the people saying I am?” They discussed it. Some said: John the Baptist, some Elijah, some Jeremiah or another prophet.
Jesus looked directly at Peter and asked: “Who do YOU think I am, Peter?” And Peter answered: “The Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus praised him saying: “God has blessed you Simon, son of Jonah, for my Father in heaven has personally revealed this to you—this is not from any human source.”
Then Jesus began to explain that they were now on the path to Jerusalem where he would suffer at the hands of the Jewish leaders, be killed and in 3 days be raised to life. Peter reacted instantly to this horrible news by saying: Heaven forbid, Jesus! This can’t happen to you!!!
Jesus reprimanded Peter minutes after he had praised him saying: “Get away from me, Satan! You are a dangerous trap to me. You are thinking merely from a human point of view, and not from God’s.” If anyone wants to follow me, you must take up your cross and follow me.
Let’s pause for a minute and think about Jesus’ relationship with Peter. Jesus praised him for recognizing who he REALLY WAS! He wasn’t just Jesus, brother of James, son of Mary and Joseph, he was the CHRIST, and Peter comprehended that. But in a very short time Peter’s “God-revealed understanding of who Jesus was” gave way to Peter’s human reasoning and FEAR of suffering. Heaven forbid the Messiah should suffer and die!
Aren’t we all like Peter? We are here together worshipping this morning because we BELIEVE Jesus is the Son of God, but none of us want to suffer. If we follow in God’s footsteps we will suffer, because the path to life is through the cross. It’s a given. There’s a beautiful song by “Point of Grace” – a female Christian group with lyrics that say: “There is a bridge to cross the great divide, so we can get to the other side.” In the song, there’s a play on words between the words “bridge” and “cross” – There is a bridge to cross the great divide and there is a cross to bridge the great divide.
Christ’s death IS the bridge to abundant life and to eternal life. It’s part of our calling as disciples of Jesus. We don’t choose it, but it chooses us, if we follow Jesus and are faithful to the will of God.
That was the serious conversation Jesus, Peter, James and John were having before they went up the mountain. Six days later, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to the top of a high and lonely hill, where as they watch, Jesus’ appearance changes. His face shines like the sun and his clothing is dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear and talk to Jesus.
Impulsive Peter, observing, is the first to speak: Wow – this is fabulous. Let me make 3 shelters and we can stay here on this mountain “high.” One for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah! Then a cloud covered them all and a voice from heaven spoke: “This is my beloved Son, and I am wonderfully pleased with him. Obey him.”
Friends, this is the vision we are seeking on our Lenten pilgrimage. This is a “glimpse” into who Jesus is. Just as God said at his baptism, God reveals to Peter, James and John, that Jesus is the awaited Messiah: the one whom Moses and Elijah foreshadowed in the Old Testament. Jesus is the fulfillment, the One everyone was waiting for, the victor who would make all things right in their world. They had a “glimpse” into heaven on that mountain: they were “high” and “lifted up” with Jesus, and then it all disappeared.
The vision ended. The three disciples had fallen face downward to the ground, frightened. But Jesus touched them, took their hands and said “Get up, don’t be afraid.” He also commanded them NOT to speak about their experience until after he rose from the dead, words, I am sure, they could not process or understand at the time.
As we walk closer to Jesus, leaning into our relationship with him more intently than we have allowed ourselves to do in the past, God gives us a glimpse of what’s to come, beyond the cross and beyond the grave, but we can’t make tents on that mountain. It’s just a glimpse: to give us hope and motivation to stay on the path and to keep following. Jesus took them right back down to the base of the mountain where the clamoring crowds and the other disciples were in desperate need of assistance.
Peter, James, and John had been given a taste of glory – a taste of heaven – and nothing can match it. Nothing on earth can satisfy the hungers of our soul, but God can and does when we least expect it. When we are “high and lifted up with Jesus” – even temporarily: on a retreat, mission trip, in a Bible study, in a conversation, something changes in us – because it is a “high” which never leaves us “hung over” or “sick” or “disappointed” or “depressed” or “depleted.” Experiencing a high with Jesus is a wholesome, energizing, healing encounter. It recreates and renews us from the inside out. We don’t gain weight & there are no side effects.
Our Session invites you to lean into your relationship with the Living God and follow in the footsteps of Jesus by participating in our monthly Prayer and Wholeness Services, our weekly Bible study, Sunday school and in worship each Sunday morning. We also urge you to invite a friend. Like Peter and John, we may not have silver or gold to offer, but what we have, we can give...in the name of Jesus Christ, let’s cast out the daily demons which have plagued us for way too long. Let us pray.