So…when the bottom falls out…when you’re facing the scariest time in your life…who do you need by your side? Someone who gets it. Who understands how hard it is. Someone who’s been there.
Here’s what’s happening…Jesus is God…yes..but in the flesh. Fully human…with all our human emotions. And he is facing the reality of human suffering and death. Jesus is no fool. He knows what happens to people who challenge people in power…religious people in power…political people in power…rich people in power. What happens when you raise your voice against the status quo? You get squashed. It’s a truth as old as time. It’s the plot of endless bestselling novels and popular tv shows. A person trying to do good is attacked by those whose privilege and power is threatened by their work. A small time lawyer trying to expose a corporation’s environmental crimes comes under attack. Reporter exposing the corruption of a powerful politician comes under attack. Law Enforcement officer informing on a crooked colleague comes under attack. Worker in a factory who reports dangerous conditions comes under attack. Parishioner who exposes the church’s history of sexual misconduct comes under attack. And those are just a few of the familiar plots I’ve personally binge-watched during this year of COVID.
It’s a common plot because it’s true. The truth is that nobody who stands up against people who abuse their power walks an easy road. And I think that’s why Moses and Elijah meet Jesus on the mountain. They are the two prophets at the heart of the Jewish faith and they know what Jesus is facing. They know what it means to stand up against the political powers of their day on God’s behalf and to have their lives threatened. Moses with the Pharaoh and Elijah with King Ahab and Queen Jezebel. Prior to this experience on the mountaintop, Jesus has been trying to help his disciples understand…that what he is doing…what they are doing…is dangerous. And he will be betrayed and he will be killed. That’s where this road leads. And you might remember his disciples’ response…”oh no, Lord…stop saying such things!” So I guess it’s no surprise that Jesus needs people who understand…he needs time with Moses and Elijah…they get it. They know what he is facing…how hard this road is. It says they talked with him about his departure. They were the only ones who were willing to support Jesus honestly…knowing that his road to Jerusalem led to death.
Yes, Moses…. and Elijah ….know well that Jesus’ way….God’s way…of standing up against those who perpetuate oppression and injustice in this world is never popular. Because injustice and oppression are the hallmarks of power…of affluence…of strong economies and powerful empires. It is how money is made and privilege is retained. And threatening those things…well, people fight back. Hard. Because we are, and always have been, a faithless and perverse generation.
The way of Jesus…the way of love …the way of justice…the way that reminds us that Samaritan lives matter and Gentile lives matter and Leprous lives matter and tax collector lives matter and slaves lives matter and sinners lives matter and mentally ill lives matter and Black lives matter and Jewish lives matter and Gay lives matter and Trans lives matter and Refugee lives matter and Homeless lives matter and Elderly lives matter and Differently Abled lives matter and Immigrant lives matter and Muslim lives matter in a world and culture that so often acts as if they don’t…..well, that way..is the narrow road. The hard road. And it always meets with anger, hatred and fear from all those who are afraid that somehow their lives and their profits will be diminished if others are lifted up from underneath their heel. The book of Exodus begins with a Pharaoh’s fear that the foreigners…the Israelites…in their midst will overtake their culture, their nation, will wrest away their position of privilege. And that same fear rises up against whistleblowers and activists and prophets of every age…I think of Martin Luther King, Jr…of Harvey Milk..of Oscar Romero…and so many others. But that’s where Jesus’ glory is revealed.
Here’s the thing…like the disciples, we miss the point of Jesus and his glory all the time. Like Peter and James and John…we want Jesus’ glory to be about awesome sights and holy dwellings set apart from the world. We want a mountaintop experience that is an escape from the pain and struggles of the world…a place of sanctuary and comfort. But Jesus’ glory isn’t on mountaintops…it is in seeking out the pain and suffering in our world and announcing God’s love and presence there. Jesus’ glory is revealed among the hurting, Among the dying. Among the sick. Jesus’ glory is revealed on the cross. And his “mountaintop” is not the place he escapes…it’s not the goal…but it’s the place where he meets together with others who know the struggle …who understand how hard the road of love truly is…and who remind him God is with him and encourage him to continue on.
It’s interesting…when Jesus comes down from the mountain…and meets that man whose son is undergoing terrifying seizures…the man says that Jesus’ disciples could not help him. It doesn’t say why. But I imagine that they thought he was beyond help. Beyond saving. Beyond changing. And Jesus needs to remind them once again that God is greater. Greater than anything. Greater than any demons…any spirits….any Pharaoh…any evil. And people are in awe….it says they were astounded at the greatness of God and amazed at all Jesus was doing. And then…Jesus reminds them again — “Let these words sink in…the son of man is going to be betrayed.” Believing that no one is beyond God’s care…believing every person matters…will get you in serious hot water. But they couldn’t understand it…they couldn’t imagine it. In truth…they didn’t want to understand…because they were afraid.
I think sometimes we’re afraid to understand where following Jesus actually leads us. You know, this year of covid, we all miss our beautiful church and the warm feeling we got there. It was our escape from the ugliness and pain of the world around us. But church…our time together…was always meant to be more than an escape. It is the mountaintop where we retreat to pray for a moment, to be reminded of God’s greatness…and to encourage one another to face the hard roads we each walk. It is a moment of shared understanding…that the road of love is hard, and some of the pain of the world seems beyond help. Beyond saving. That some of the pain in our own lives seems beyond saving. Beyond changing. But God is greater. During the scariest times of our lives…when the bottom drops out…we go to church to be reminded that Jesus walks with us and against all odds, we can trust in God.
For some of you..the bottom has dropped out this past year…and the world looks scary. Maybe it’s been Covid…maybe it’s been waking up to the deep racism that poisons our life together….maybe it’s been a struggle to keep the heat on in your house or food on the table or pay the mortgage…maybe you’re grieving and overwhelmed. This morning we are here, meeting together like Jesus met with Moses and Elijah…but in our 21st century magical digital way…to remind one another…that though the road is hard. God is with us. We walk with Jesus. Who seeks abundant life for all people…for you and for me…and for all the people who are possessed and ill, overlooked and mistreated , hurt and violated by this world and it’s perverse and faithless ways.
Ths morning, we come to be rejuvenated by the light of Jesus…to be reminded that even on our hard, hard roads…love wins. May that light reflect in us as we go down the mountain again…and walk in his ways to the glory of his holy name. Amen.