Trinity United Methodist Church
Thursday, February 22, 2018
You are the LIGHT of the WORLD

Sermons

For anyone who has missed church on Sunday, following is the Sermon from Pastor Jay Sterling.
February 11, 2018
 

The End of the Beginning                                   [Mark 9:2-9]                              February 11, 2018

2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.  4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

5 Then Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."  6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!"

8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.  9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

 

The way Mark lays out his Gospel is not just to tell the story but he is telling the story in very specific terms.  He is not giving a biography of Jesus but a testimony to Jesus.  The chapters and verses, which came along a lot later, can cause pieces of Mark to become disjointed.  In chapter 8 and 9 of his Gospel as we have them today, Mark is telling the story of a major change in course in Jesus’ ministry and it’s why I titled my sermon “The End of the Beginning.”  The Beginning was Jesus’ earthly ministry spent primarily in the towns, villages, and wilderness areas in and around Galilee.  From this point on, Jesus will be changing his direction to begin his road to Jerusalem, to Calvary, and the cross.

 There are a couple of incidents which happen right together from the end of chapter 8 through the beginning of chapter 9 which mark this change in course.  The first is the “Feeding of the 5,000.”  It’s not just a miracle, it’s the only miracle of Jesus’ which is recorded in all four gospels.  This miracle was a very powerful display of what Jesus was about.  Out in the wilderness, feeding a multitude of people with just a couple of loaves of bread and a few small fish, whether the crowd understood it or not, Jesus’ disciples got the message that this was like a new exodus.  Just as the Israelites had gone from slavery in Egypt, through the wilderness with God providing them with manna, to the Promised Land, NOW a NEW exodus was taking place:  from the exile the Jewish people had felt for centuries ever since they had been taken as captives to Babylon and even now being under foreign Roman rule, they were sensing that Jesus was leading them from exile into God’s Kingdom.  Now Jesus had a different sense of God’s Kingdom than they did but that was the direction.

Shortly after that miracle, Jesus posed the question to his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  The disciples answered with the poll results from among the multitude out in the wilderness:  “Some people say that you are John the Baptist back from the dead.  Other people think that maybe you are Elijah or one of the prophets of old who has come back.”  Jesus asked them, “But who do YOU say that I am?”  Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Messiah, of God!”  We see that Kingdom message again:  the Messiah, the King.

Then we come to our Gospel lesson for this morning.  Jesus takes with him his inner circle of the disciples.  We don’t know why Jesus picked these three to be his inner circle but they are the ones we hear the most about.  The other nine did not become all that famous later—we know very little about them other than Judas Iscariot who really did not belong to that inner circle.  Peter, James, and John go with Jesus to the mountaintop and while they are there, Jesus becomes TRANSFIGURED, transformed, radiating the full glory and presence of God.  Now just stop for a moment there and imagine what that must have been like!

It had been somewhere around 600 years since anyone had seen the full presence and glory of God.  Here’s a little history lesson.  When Solomon built the first temple in Jerusalem, there is a wonderful account telling that on the day when the temple was dedicated the full glory and presence of God so filled the temple that the priests couldn’t even get into the outer courts of the temple!  It was THAT powerful a manifestation of God’s glory.  Eventually God’s glorious presence receded into the Holy of Holies, that inner shrine of the temple where only the high priest could enter—and then only on the Day of Atonement—to bring the blood from the sacrifice for all Israel’s sins and spread it around the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant.  That was the only time anyone was allowed into the Holy of Holies and enter into the full glory and presence of God.

It was that way in the first temple up until the fateful day when the Jewish people rebelled against Babylon.  The Babylonian army was approaching to besiege Jerusalem.  But the people of Jerusalem were not worried because, “We have God’s house.  God lives here.  God is present in our temple and there is no way God would ever allow anything bad to happen to Jerusalem.”  The prophet Ezekiel told a different story, a story of how he had seen a vision of God’s glory hopping into God’ glorious chariot, leaving the temple, and heading eastward toward Babylon!  God had vacated the temple and the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple and took the people away into exile.

Seventy years later, the Persians conquered the Babylonians and allowed the Jewish people to return home and rebuild their temple, the second temple.  It was nowhere near as grand and glorious as Solomon’s temple and there was something else missing:  nowhere in the post-exile literature in the Old Testament, or in the books which were not included in the Old Testament, is there any mention of God’s glorious presence coming back and filling that second temple.  NOWHERE!  Not a puff of smoke or a flame the size of a flame produced by a BIC lighter!  NOTHING!  The priests still did their daily service, offering the sacrifices.  Once a year the high priest still took the blood from the sacrifice into the Holy of Holies and spread it around.  But nowhere is there a description of the glory of God in that second temple!

Now can you imagine what it must have been like for Peter, James, and John on that mountaintop to see Jesus in the full glory of God?  They were terrified because they weren’t sure they were going to come back down from that mountaintop—alive!  They did the one thing that made sense to them:  they worshiped!  “We will build three—literally, tabernacles—tents, shrines here where we can worship you Jesus and Moses and Elijah!”  If seeing Jesus in all of God’s glory wasn’t enough for them, that cloud of God’s glory now descended upon them on that mountaintop and the voice declared to them, “THIS is MY Son, the Beloved, LISTEN to HIM!”  Here is the glory of God.  This is what we are all about.  This is the presence of God’s Kingdom in the person of Christ!

GLORY!  That full glory of God!  Somewhere along the way—maybe over the past 50 or 150 years or so—we have turned worship into infotainment!  How many of you said this morning when you got up and got dressed, “I am going into the presence of God today!  I am going to seek the glory of God today!  I want to be face-to-face with God today!”  No, most of us get up, get dressed, and say things like, “I hope the music is good today!  I hope we sing some songs I like!  I hope it’s my style of music today instead of too contemporary, too traditional, too classical, too this or too that.  I hope the preacher has a good sermon because I go to church to be FED!  I hope he gives us something uplifting—I don’t want a downer.”

Because, of course, worship is about US!  We come to show God that we are here to be worshiped and blessed by God—don’t we?  Maybe it’s time to END THAT beginning of how we treat worship.  You see, folks, the style of music doesn’t really matter.  I know there are groups out there that will offer worship workshops telling us that if we use this music in this format and preach this style of sermons, THEN we will bring people into the presence of God.

God has been present ALL of the time.  Wherever even two or three gather in his name, Jesus is here!  The Spirit is here!  If we don’t feel that presence it isn’t because there is something wrong with God!  It’s because there is something wrong with us.  We have lost contact.  We keep going to worship services focused on what WE want, what we think we need, instead of coming to worship the God who loves us, the God who has opened the doors of his Kingdom to us, who calls us to follow him through Jesus Christ into that Kingdom and to be his witnesses throughout the world.

You and I have been invited into the glorious presence of the LORD God Almighty!  And for how many Sundays, for how many years, have we come to church, not in answer to that invitation, but out of habit, out of duty, out of displaying our own faith and desires?  Come up on the mountaintop with Jesus today.  That is what Transfiguration is all about.  Remember what Jesus has done for you and for me because we are starting down the road to the cross this week.  Come into the presence of God’s glory with rejoicing because YOU belong, belong in God’s family, in God’s Kingdom.  And come to worship in celebration instead of “Well it’s Sunday morning and I guess we have to go to church.”  It’s ALL about God and not about us.  WORSHIP in the glory and joy of the LORD!  Amen.