June 26, 2011 Shelf Life Matthew 17:1-9, Ephesians 1:3-14
Truth is stranger than fiction.
God is larger than life.
He is both larger and smaller than we can even hope, much less imagine.
He is Magnificent, Awesome, and utterly Other than we are; yet His hand is in the smallest details.
He is all-supreme and yet acts in humility.
He was there with his people Israel throughout their stormy history.
He was there bringing healing, peace, and hope through Jesus.
He was there when Europe conquered the Americas;
He was there throughout the slave trade.
He is here in human trafficking.
He is here in all addiction.
He is here in our experience, our failed hopes and broken dreams,
God is here as we gather and as we disperse.
He is here in our uncertainty, in our Sunday school, and in our worship.
He is here in the midst of our apathy, our cynicism, our coldness of heart and the cooling of our passions.
God is here, granting mercy and forgiveness to the broken and to those who break.
He is here, healing the wounded and those who wound.
It does not make sense.
It cannot make sense.
For in our limited understanding, we can only love a God who is on our side, never the side of our enemies.
We comfort ourselves with the notion that God is for us, and therefore none can be against us.
…But then we remember the time that Jesus took Peter and James and John with him up on top of a mountain.
And while they were up there, they learned that God doesn’t choose sides; at least not like we think of it.
Rather, God is the only, unending side of the circle we call History.
They were alone up there, all by themselves; and Jesus was transfigured before them.
Transfigured is a word we don’t hear very often. According to the dictionary, it means “to transform into something more beautiful or elevated.”
What that means in practical terms is that His face shone like the Sun and his clothes became white as the light!
Just then, there appeared Moses and Elijah, and they were talking with Jesus.
Moses, the guy who led the people out of the land of Slavery; the guy who met with God; the one who brought the law down from the top of a different mountain.
And Elijah, the Prophet who rode the flaming chariot into heaven itself.
They stood there talking to Jesus in his blinding white robes and sunshine-bright face.
Heaven had broken through if just for a moment.
The veil had lifted for one glorious moment of time and the glory of the Father was revealed through the Son; The previous saviors of Israel and the Saviour of the world communed together high on the mountain, bathed in brilliant light.
And Peter walks right into the middle of it. “Uh, Jesus…sorry to interrupt”
He goes on: “Lord, it is good for us to be here (Actually, I’m terrified but don’t tell James and John!)… Tell you what Jesus, why don’t you let me put up three shelters; one for each of you!”
Sometimes I wonder if Peter was a Mennonite! Then I remember he was far too brash; he rushed into things way too quick to be one of us. 🙂
Peter walks right into the middle of this scene, and he starts blabbering about building these shelters.
He reminds me of the kid at camp who doesn’t understand that now and then the counselor has had enough of the kids and just wants to talk to his or her peers for awhile!
But he walks up and offers to build these shelters that aren’t really needed.
We can’t blame him. I think he wants to be useful. I think he wants to serve these three heroes of his faith.
I think he had good intentions.
I think we all have good intentions.
Like Peter, we’re good at staying busy. We’re good at finding good things to do.
Even if doing them is an absurd distraction from the real stuff that the Spirit of God is doing to us; we can’t help ourselves.
In our minds, activity equals importance; even when the mystery of Salvation is unfolding itself right before our very eyes!
We feel the need to help it out; so we blunder into the holy moment and offer to do something; anything just to occupy our time.
Our intentions are good; but sometimes the better thing is to keep silent.
To let the Spirit do its work unfettered.
See, if there’s one thing from this story I’d like you to take home today, it’s this; that God is always too close for comfort.
Like the air we breath, the Holy Spirit pervades every aspect of our lives.
It nudges us here, it calls us there, it transfigures our life along with Jesus, into something more beautiful and elevated.
It’s a terrifying prospect, because it threatens to change us; not our world; not our external circumstances; not the people we don’t like or even our enemies.
It threatens to change us.
This is the work of the Spirit; breaking into our lives and revealing God’s glory in mysterious, unexpected, and often terrifying ways!
There’s nothing we can do to help it happen except show up.
The loss of a job, or the premature birth of a child. A diagnosis, an injury, or an accident.
These are things that shake us up, terrifying things that send us into shelter-building mode, for that’s the only coping mechanism we might think of.
We’d prefer to keep this Holy Spirit; this Divine Encounter at an arm’s length. But that’s not what Jesus invited us into.
The Holy Spirit has no shelf life.
Its only container is flesh and blood; yours and mine.
It’s not our business to build shelters to house the divine; whether they be temples adorned with fine jewels or simple shacks on top of a mountain.
What God wants, He speaks not for the first time in the gospel of Matthew: “This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”
By the end of this experience, all the disciples have left is Jesus and the command to listen to Him.
It makes me wonder: How do we listen? It’s not by building shelters. It’s not by making ourselves busy or finding important things to do.
We listen through Prayer; and not just the kind where you fold your hands and close your eyes.
The Spirit speaks to us in lots of different ways.
But just like worship, listening is an attitude. It’s a posture.
It’s not the passive kind of thing that most of you are doing right now! 🙂
Active listening takes a lot of work, and it can be scary because you just might change if you’re doing it right.
It can be threatening to listen; just like an encounter with God should be.
But it doesn’t stop there.
Paul writes in Ephesians, that God has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.
He didn’t write that God will bless us, or that God blesses us if we act a certain way or accomplish a certain set of goals.
From the foundation of the world, the eternal God has had his hand in the creation of a salvation that comes to a head in Christ. His plan stretches through eternity and affects all people everywhere!
We need eyes to see it and ears to hear it; this is my son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!
God has blessed us in Christ! It’s a reality that we can do nothing to either bring about, improve upon, or stop from happening.
It is finished!
There is nothing we can do; there is no structure we can build that will contain it. There is no effort we can make to help it happen, there is absolutely nothing we can do to influence the salvation that God has laid for His world and brought to its head in the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ His Son.
The Spirit is at work as it has been and will be through eternity.
The only thing that’s left for us to do is choose either to acknowledge it or deny it.
The rest consists of us working out that decision in fear and trembling.
But in the end, when the terror of God’s glory passes we do look and see that we are left only with Jesus.
That’s where our story starts, and that’s where it continues beyond this life and into the next.
Only Jesus on the mountain. Only Jesus in the Valley.
Jesus in the hospital. Jesus in the job or the lack thereof.
That’s the mystery; that God went to such great lengths to put in motion a plan that extends around us in a seamless circle of love.
This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased.
Listen to Him.