Column – Get up and do not be afraid

Published 5:40 pm Friday, February 24, 2023

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A woman named Gladys Dunn was a dedicated member of her church. For decades, every time the doors were open she was there. Gladys taught in Sunday School, served on the hospitality committee. She rocked babies and served on every committee and leadership board the church had. Sang in the choir and even filled in for the organist now and then.

One day, a brand-new visitor was there. Gladys made sure she greeted the newcomer, as she should have. “Hi, I’m Gladys Dunn!” she said as she shook hands with the apparently hard-of-hearing woman. 

The woman replied, “Oh, me too. I’m glad he’s done. That was the longest sermon I’ve ever heard!” 

Some things take a little longer to talk about, or preach about, than others. Some things just defy words altogether. When that happens, we usually kick into action and try to do something. 

My mother used to say, in certain perplexing situations, “Let’s just do something even if it’s wrong.” The Transfiguration of our Lord is depicted in Matthew 17: 1-9. This happened right in front of the tiny group of disciples. Peter, perhaps for lack of words, decided to just do something. 

It is in how Jesus told him it would be wrong that we get the true power of this story. Sometimes we don’t quite know what to do when we encounter God and come face to face with God’s power.

We are about to enter the season of Lent. The inevitability of the Cross is heavy upon our collective faith. We cannot have the victory of the tomb without the darkness of what lies in between. But, we all have a year, now and then, when we wish we could.

There is nothing we can do to change the fate of our Lord. Just before our text today in Matthew 17, Jesus had an honest chat with his disciples. He told them the kind of thing they simply didn’t want to hear. I wouldn’t have, either, if I had been among them. He would soon be taken from them. 

But this truly didn’t go well. The response may have been even worse than expected. Peter’s shock was insulated with denial, such that Jesus referred to Peter as “Satan” and told him to get behind Him.  

He must go to Jerusalem and face the suffering at the hands of the high priests. Then six days after that awkward conversation, he took Peter and James and James’ brother John, and led them up a high mountain.  

There was nothing out of the ordinary about this. Jesus often retreated to pray. What happened next, though, was anything but ordinary as Moses and Elijah appeared. Then, Jesus was transfigured right in front of their eyes.

He told Peter that they couldn’t stay there forever. Before we leave this text, I think we should be sure that we catch the instructions he gave the disciples. There are a handful of them we’d do well to notice.

First of all, Jesus tells the disciples to get up. All of life will not be a mountaintop experience. We like the mountaintops of life. Maybe for you, an experience like that was living in a certain place, working at a certain place, traveling to some place that won your heart, or maybe your mountaintop was spiritual, too. I can remember as a child and a teenager, church retreats always had that quality about them. Maybe your mountaintop was a golden era of your church or city. 

Another instruction here is that God tells the gathering “This is my Son. Listen to Him.”  We like to talk about Jesus. We don’t always listen to him. We like to think we’re right about our faith. We like to go to the right church, have the right pastor. Even in our prayers we like to talk. They can be like menu orders, or like a call to the bellman at a hotel. 

Jesus’ call to us is like the one the Disciples got. He told them, “Come with me, we’re not going to stay in the idealistic world here.” The idealistic cultural and church world of my childhood or your younger adulthood is gone. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t live meaningfully and happily in the real world we do have. 

The other thing is this. He said, “…don’t be afraid.” Why are we so afraid of facing a newly adjusted church or cultural world? We cannot protect God nor the church. Our call is to go on boldly.