Talk? Who wants more talk?
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus … As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-3,9)
What picture of Jesus comes into your head when you hear his name? I imagine whatever film versions of Jesus might have an influence. Perhaps you’ve got a special scene – Jesus teaching, stilling the storm, or even in a manger. The Bible reminds us to always think of Jesus and his cross together – so that makes for the crucified Jesus. That’s not pretty. We shy away from that and turn instead to the glory. So today is the day we wish to be like Peter, James and John who have a momentous moment on a mountain. They see Jesus transfigure before them and talk to two people whom they’ve never seen before yet somehow they know is Moses and Elijah.
Moses led the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt and went up onto the mountain with God and talked to God. He was there forty days and forty nights in the cloud which looked on the outside like a consuming fire. He taught people that God loved them, rescued them and how to live as God’s people.
Elijah was the prophet who fought kings and queens when they told the people that God didn’t count or matter. When it was time for Elijah to pass the work on to his successor, Elisha, the two were separated by chariot and horses of fire and then a whirlwind took Elijah up into heaven.
Peter, James and John would have heard all about them and how God’s power was demonstrated through them. So now up on the mountain – despite their fear – I can at least imagine that they might be expecting some sort of three musketeers to go down the mountain and sort everything out. Kick out the Romans; fix those smug Pharisees and priests and bring in a new kingdom. And with Jesus shining like he was – how could they lose?!
But what were they doing? Talking. That was it. No rally cry. No miracles. No “come on disciples, you’re on the winning side”. Just talking. And when they came down the mountain Jesus even told them to be quiet – until the Son of Man was raised from the dead! Now, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you’re going to be raised from the dead then you must first be … dead!
Perhaps the disciples sensed a glimpse of a plan God had put in place from the beginning – undoubtedly they saw power and might – they saw Jesus shine like the sun – he was someone special – maybe even God – they saw Moses and Elijah and Jesus together – past and present impossibly combined and suggesting a dynamic future but then nothing happened – except talk … about death!
I suspect most of us would agree that what this world doesn’t need is more talk; more noise from our mouths: opinions, views, truths, theories, evidence, points of clarification, personal statements and more which flood the world. We don’t want talk if we can get action!
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday when Christians around the world remember that Jesus suffered and died for them. God suffered and died for all people. What an amazing message! What a rescue plan! What action! Who would have thought it? Who could have made it up? No one! It’s as improbable as a man shining like the sun.
Hmm … wait a minute – that’s the same man!
And when this is noticed or when Jesus comes into focus, or perspective, or just shines in a person’s life in such a way that there is a moment when people are ‘tuned in’ then what happens again and
again is talk and words and sound bytes – gospel proclamation, baptismal reminders, Holy Communion invitations, confessions of sin followed by absolutions, questions and answers – and what do they all have in common? Hopefully they always focus on Jesus!
But so often the church would like to go up to people and point a finger and heal the sick, click fingers and lift the car in the air, make the tree uproot and fly into the sea, perform miracles with ease – and then turn to the audience – still pointing the finger and say ‘see!’ – which is our challenge to believe – stop mucking about – get your spiritual act together.
But it is just not the norm for such things to happen. Sometimes they might – but it’s almost random – according to some agenda that we can’t figure out.
What the followers of Jesus get told again and again is to ‘listen to him’. That’s what the voice from the cloud said – and voices still say similar today – read your bible – have devotions – attend Bible Study – and hear Moses and Elijah or the Law and the prophets whose central message is all about Jesus – and where Jesus is, death isn’t far away – his cross, death’s defeat, death to sin, death to self and selfishness, death to pride, baptism is a drowning, at the Lord’s table we proclaim Jesus’ death until he comes. Paul told the Corinthians that he only had one message for them – Jesus Christ and him crucified. Yes, he wrote more than that sentence in his two letters to the Corinthians but it was all built on or explaining further that truth – Jesus Christ and him crucified for you.
The Christian Church is forever about words – more importantly the Word – the Word made flesh – shining on a mountain and also dead on a cross – God himself among us – and that is still the revelation and message today – Jesus is among us, with us, and all people are still told ‘Listen to him’. We believe that the disciples did as they were told and not told anyone about Jesus’ transfiguration until after his resurrection.
We live after the resurrection so any embargo doesn’t apply for us – instead we are challenged as we leave this mountain top of worship how best to communicate to our family and friends and enemies the hope we have in Jesus – what balance of words and deeds are required – and whether we can face death because that remains our living environment – maybe physically in the shadow of death or more generally in the world of decay and destruction but also in the spiritual struggle of repentance and drowning the old Adam/Eve each day. The world fears death – the ultimate taboo – while for us the light has shone and we see it for what it is – a wage of sin – but neutered and not all-powerful for its sting is gone. And so we live – that’s right, live – life to the full – each day with Jesus – and for eternity.
- Matthew 17:1 - 3
- Matthew 17:9