“Never The Same Again”
A sermon by Andrew Philip Long
The First Presbyterian Church of Enid, OK
February 23, 2020
As a preacher I find days like today in the church year particularly difficult. On one hand, we hear the story of Jesus’ transfiguration every year on the Sunday before the start of the season of Lent. I have to ask myself each year, “What more can be said that hasn’t already been said?” On the other hand, the event of Christ’s transfiguration is so far beyond the scope of my mortal mind that I simply cannot make sense of it. Jesus and his closest friends go up a mountain and right before their eyes Jesus is changed—his clothes change, his face changes, his whole demeanor changes, and he becomes this dazzling figure in white. I don’t know how to make sense of that, just like I often don’t know to make sense of the miracle of his birth and the miracle of his resurrection. So, I’m perplexed and challenged and sort of at a loss as to what to say to you today.
That actually puts me in good company—and you’re in good company, too, if you’ve ever had a hard time making sense of something in the life of Jesus. Peter and James and John in our story today had no idea what to do as they watched Jesus be transfigured in front of them. They really didn’t know what to do when ghostly figures of Moses and Elijah showed up and God spoke from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Peter thought he knew what to do. He said, “Lord, let’s stay here for a while. I’ll build some tents and we can just camp out and try to figure this whole thing out.” But Jesus didn’t want to stay on that mountain. Instead, he spoke to the disciples the most common line in the whole Bible—“Do not be afraid”—and then hiked with them back down the mountain where the work of ministry is done.
I think this story teaches us what to do when we’re really not sure what to do. Like Peter, I think we want to stay in the place where unexpected and miraculous things happen. When we stay, we have time to process, to analyze, to explain. That is really what our minds are conditioned to do, right? Whether we are in church or at school or at home or at work, our minds are constantly working out the details of things that are happening around us. I remember just after Theo started walking that my mind kicked into high gear every time he walked into a room because I was looking for the things within his reach that could be weapon. And do you want to know something? Everything is a weapon to a toddler. Our minds do this—we think, we contemplate, we want an explanation. But Jesus doesn’t want us spending that much time trying to explain what is going on around us. Instead, as he did with Peter and James and John, he wants us to marvel in the miraculous things that are happening around us all time, marvel at how God is working in the world around us, and then he wants us to come back down the mountain where the work is to be done.
So, the more I think about this story in the life of Jesus the more I am convinced that it is about marveling at miracles and not wasting time trying to work out the mechanics of how it happened. We might never understand how God is doing the things that God is doing in our lives and in the world, but that’s not really the point. The point, especially from the transfiguration, is that we keep our eyes open in wonder and to bask in the unexplainable moments of God’s presence among us. And I say moments, because Peter and James and John only had a moment to soak in the miracle before Jesus was leading them back to the place where the blind would receive their sight, the deaf would hear again, and the sight would be healed. I find this, personally, so comforting. This means that I don’t have to know the mechanics of things happen in God’s kingdom. This means that I don’t have to try and, week after week, try to explain to you everything that is happening in the story of God. The transfiguration teaches me that I must just step back and marvel at God’s work and then use that as motivation to do my little part in making God’s world look as God wants for it to look.
So, allow me lead us in a little of what I’m talking about here. The greatest miracle I’ve experienced in the past few years is, of course, the miracle of our son. Each and every day I am simply stunned by the ways in which he is growing and flourishing, and I am almost completely breathless in thinking that God has entrusted another human life to me. It is a miracle that he is learning more and more words each day and how to use those words to express his thoughts and feelings. It is a miracle that when he is sick or hurts himself that his body has the power to make things right again so quickly. It is a miracle that he has learned things like what it means to be sad or happy or hungry or cold. And it is a miracle that just the other day he saw someone on the TV crying and he ran into his bedroom, grabbed his favorite stuffed animal, and then tried to give it to the person on the TV to make them feel better.
That is a miracle that God is asking to me marvel at—not explain, not even understand, but simply to step back and say, “Wow.” At the same time, this miracle is what God is using to propel me into the world as a follower of Jesus. I’ve always been a fan of our after-school tutoring program which is why I’ve served the program for 8 years now. But it wasn’t until after Theo came into the world that I began to more fully understand what it is that we do each Wednesday. Each week we encounter children who, for more reasons than will ever know, do not have parents who talk to them or help them understand their emotions or even place healthy boundaries into their lives. So often these kids are labeled as ‘bad’ or ‘trouble’ or ‘problems’ because they act out or saying things they shouldn’t, but really so many of them haven’t had an adult help them explore the complexities of growing up. And their learning suffers as a result—I’ve seen it year after year in our program, children who by no fault of their own lack the simplest things in life that help them to grow and mature into the people God wants them to be.
What we do each week is provide a stable, safe, and happy place for children to be children as they come to terms with those complexities of life, complexities that not every adult even fully understands. What we do each week is provide them with a place where they can learn at a pace that is more attuned to how they learn. What we do each week is show these children that there are people who care and what the best for them. What we do each week is help them understand how valuable and loved they are in the eyes of God. And the more I watch my son grow and flourish, the more I want the same experience for every one of God’s little ones. That is why I put so much time and energy into the program and why so many others—25 others in fact—put so much time and energy into the program as well. I cannot change the life of every child. But I can show up, I can be there, I can share my experiences, and I can live in the hope that one day all children will flourish and grow just as God intends.
And you can do all of these things, too. That’s what marveling in miracles is all about. When we put aside trying to explain it, to rationalize it, to make it make sense, and we just sit back in awe of what God is doing, I truly believe that we are propelled into the world to make things different. When we see a child grow and mature and make a way in this world, we want to work for the same for others. When we watch the daffodils begin to peak out from under the cold soil of winter, we want to help nurture new life in people and situations that have been clouded by death and darkness. When we marvel at a sunrise or sunset, when we marvel at the beauty of music, when we marvel at the simple and tremendous gift of life, we should be moved to go back down the mountain and make it so for every person we meet and in all the places where our lives happen.
When we marvel in the miracles we are never the same again. James and John and Peter were not—that moment on the mountain gave them the courage and determination they needed to face the dark and sinister times that were ahead of them in the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of their Lord. We are never the same again, either, when we take time to bask in the glory of God’s work, of God’s presence, of God’s tremendous and unconditional love for us. And the world is never the same again because when it is filled with people who has seen the miraculous, who have touched the presence of God, the flood gates of peace, justice, mercy, and love open and drown out all the sorrow, all the shame, and all the pain. As John says in his gospel, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” That light is the light that dazzled the disciples at Jesus’ transfiguration, and that light is still burning brightly among us today, just waiting to be shared with every fiber of our being.
So, let’s start right now. Take the next few minutes and visit with your neighbors in the pews around you. Think of a moment in this past week or month or year that was simply miraculous. Share with your neighbors how it made you feel, where you saw God working, what God might have been saying to you through that experience. Then think with your neighbors about how that miracle is calling you to live in the world as a follower of Jesus. Don’t try to explain it; don’t try to figure out the mechanics of how it happened. Marvel in the miracle and you’ll never be the same again.