God's always "hooking us," pulling us back: back to the Word, back to the Meal, back to the Font...back to the community.

This blog is for the purpose of sharing around each Sunday's Bible readings & sermon at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church.

Get Sunday's readings here. We follow the Narrative Lectionary.
(In the summer, we return to the Revised Common Lectionary' epistle or Second Reading here.)

So, what's been hooking you?

So, what's been hooking you?

Here you can...

Monday, February 29, 2016

February 29 -- Third Sunday in Lent

“Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.  Give God what is God’s.” 

First of all, can you think of anything that is not God’s?  As children we were taught to sing, “He’s got the whole world in his hands…”  And I don’t know about you, but I believed it, back then.  [pause]

This text can lead us down an exciting and controversial road in the way of religion mixing with politics.  Anyone claiming that Jesus wasn’t political needs to check this passage out...and frankly the whole book of Mark up to this point.  

But before we go there, I think this text gives us an opportunity to simply pause, and remember, and give thanks and praise to God -- Can you think of anything that does not ultimately belong to God?

Our homes, our clothes, our jobs [doesn’t it all belong to God?...we just forget that all the time?], our nation, our Congress, our military, our land [It’s not ours, none of it’s ours!  But, we just forget that?], our money, our health, our children, our food, our animals, our church -- isn’t it all God’s finally?  On loan to us for our short span of life here?  Can you think of anything that’s not God’s?  [pre-tax tithe]

I never thought of this text on taxes as being much of a Thanksgiving text, but it is!  And here in springtime Lent, as we journey through the wilderness of self-reflection, prayer, contemplation, confession of our sins, humility before God...as we move toward the Holy Week cross and finally the resurrection, today we have among other things, the opportunity to just give thanks, to just stand in praise and awe of God’s ownership of our whole lives and our whole universe.  [pause]   This is yet another day of grace.

But let’s dig a little more into this passage for today.  [Not necessarily “deeper”, because I think the giving thanks piece and remembering that “it all belongs to God” is as deep as it gets.]  
But let’s go a little more into this passage:  there’s been a great build-up in Mark’s gospel, moving to this point today. 

Jesus has been garnering attention, upsetting cultural and religious norms in radical demonstrations of welcome to the outsider.  He’s healed women, prioritized children, touched lepers and blind men.  All showing that God’s mercy is for and goes before everyone, without exception (even you).  Just about every week since Christmas, we’ve been gathering around stories like this.  But a radical and political protagonist like Jesus doesn’t just move through a world like his (or ours) without pushback.  You don’t overturn tables and get away with it.  And that’s where we are now.  The powers are pushing back.  They’ve been watching all this time, but now they’re closing in...  

And today it’s the Herodians and the Pharisees.  (Later Mark will tell us about some other groups that take their shot at Jesus: the Sadducees, the scribes, the chief priests.)  But today it’s King Herod’s people and the Pharisees.  That’s particularly fascinating because they are not normally allies.  In fact, they would have answered their own question for Jesus about taxes with totally opposing views.  

The Herodians were in bed with the Roman empire, with Caesar’s government.  They were all for you paying tribute to Rome, because Rome had propped them up, and into their little pocket of power.  

The Pharisees on the other hand, were religious leaders, that would love to see the Romans get toppled, and all monetary tribute going to the temple.  The Pharisees held the Hebrew scrolls, and were constantly calling people back to the Bible and the laws that were there in the Bible...laws like giving to God.  They remind me of church people like us, actually, because they were the keepers of “This is how we’ve always done it.”

Two very different groups here, but the things we do when our power is threatened.  And Jesus’ teachings and actions were so rupturing them at their foundations, that they decided to overlook their differences, and join forces to take Jesus down.  (That never happens in politics or in the church, right? ;-)

First they butter him up:  “Teacher, we know you are sincere and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”  Nice.  “So teach us: is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?”  Sneaky, right?  If he answers one way, the Herodians can get him on treason, if he answers the other, the Pharisees on blasphemy.

And Jesus slips right out of it, like Steph Curry of the GSWs, driving through the zone, defenders closing in all around him.  What?!  A beautiful lay-up.  

Jesus lays it in with an object lesson: “Anyone have coin?  Well, if it has an image of Caesar on it, it’s Caesar’s.  If it has an image of God on it, it’s God’s.”

“Give your coins, give your dollars to the state.  Give your whole lives to God,” Jesus says.  Which is pretty political:  live under the state, live under civil authority and contribute to the common good.  Be in the world.  Martin Luther advocated this too.  But don’t be conformed to the world: don’t let your allegiances lie with the earthly powers and principalities. 

This passage has been used to justify an all-out separation of church and state.  Others have used it to justify -- or at least argue -- against paying taxes to the empire.

But Jesus is pretty indifferent about taxes.  [shrugging] “Pay ‘em.”  What he’s far more interested in is our allegiance and our whole lives:  [slow]  Where does your allegiance finally rest?  With God, or with the state, with earthly powers?  Are the two congruent?  Are there times we must speak out against the vision that the state puts forth...with a higher vision, with God’s vision for this country, for this planet and for all its inhabitants?  

Tough questions for today and for this Lenten journey…Not easy answers.  And we’re called, especially given our themes here at SVLC this Lent, to practice humility as we struggle.  To be channels of God’s peace -- as we’ve been singing in the Prayer of St. Francis on here Wednesdays -- to not so much be listened to as to listen, not so much be understood as to understand, not so much to be loved as to love...

Finally, sisters and brothers in Christ, remember this:  you bear the image of God for this world.  As you go around this week and through these days, know that you carry the image of the divine.  

If it has an imprint of Caesar, then it’s Caesar’s [wink, wink].  
If it has an imprint of God, then it’s God’s.  

So that’s you.  

In your baptism, in this holy meal, in this confession and forgiveness, in this Christian community, even you are sealed and marked with the cross of Christ.  And so you belong to God and you carry that mark into your week.  Even as we struggle, we give thanks for that.  And we go in peace.  AMEN.   

Sunday, February 21, 2016

February 21 -- Second Sunday in Lent

Have you ever had to tell someone something over and over again in order for them to get it? [Don’t answer that, Heather.]

Has someone ever had to tell you something over and over again in order for you to get it.  [I don’t want to answer that.]

We can be pretty thick headed at times, can’t we?  Tried to think of an example, but my personal stories are all too embarrassing to share for your entertainment...maybe yours are too...  

The point is: we’re in good company with the disciples in the Gospel of Mark.

Our text today has been called the centerpiece of Mark’s Gospel.  Actually it’s the tail end of the centerpiece, chapters 8-10.  (And this is chapter 10.)  I’m going to draw a quick mental diagram of this entire two-chapter centerpiece:  The beginning of Chapter 8 and the end of Chapter 10 have Jesus healing a blind man stories.  So this centerpiece is framed by healing the blind stories.  That always means pay attention.  And in the middle of these stories -- right in the center, the crosshairs of Mark’s entire gospel -- Jesus tells about his death and resurrection 3 times.  It’s wonderfully symmetrical!  And we can’t see this unless we read it in full.  But I wanted to give you some context for this amazing story today.

So, healing the blind man in Bethsaida, Jesus foretells his D and R, Jesus foretells his D and R, Jesus foretells his D and R, and today healing the blind man Bartimaeus, now in Jericho.  Interesting, right?  Add in the geography: “up to Jerusalem”. 

And if I can add one more layer: every episode in between is the disciples not getting it.  Over and over.  [rehearse 8-10 again, adding “duh” after each]

They can be pretty thick-headed, right?  And when I say they didn’t get it, I’m talking about this constant request of Jesus to make them awesome, to make them powerful, to “lord it over”, to sit in positions of privilege and high status, to win.  

Makes me think of all the times in my Catholic high-school we’d pray for a win, before our basketball games.  We even used to huddle up -- hands into the center -- and someone would call out a saint’s name, and we’d all shout, “Pray for us!”  Nothing wrong with asking God to help us play our best, but we -- at least I -- was praying for the win!  The disciples were always praying for the win, and we see it again today: [same voice as in the locker room] “Jesus, grant us to sit one on your left and one on your right...in you glory.”

Hopefully you catch the irony, then, of blindness in Mark’s gospel.  Who’s really blind in these stories -- is it the literal blind man...or is it the disciples -- and we do well to insert ourselves here -- is it the disciples who can physically see, but spiritually, are stumbling all over the place?

We are about as thick-headed as those disciples, sisters and brothers in Christ.  It’s Lent, let’s just say it.  Let’s just be honest to God.  We want glory.  In every way.  Whether that’s recognition at work, especially through titles and pay-raises; or whether that’s victory over our enemies; or whether that’s special status as a super-generous and holy person.  We do stuff to get props.  

It’s really nice when others see all we do, and all the ways we succeed, and give us recognition for it.  And really what we’re hoping -- especially us more humble church-types -- is that God sees us doing great stuff.  I mean, it’s not just material glory, everyone’s after, some of us are after a much deeper kind of glory: “Grant us to sit, one at your left and one at your right...I mean, we gave up so much to follow after you.  C’mon Jesus, give me some props, some status, at least at some point.”  But none of that is what Jesus is offering.  Over and over the disciples are after it, and over and over Jesus says, “Not about being served, but serving others.  The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give himself away, and that’s what it’s about for you too.”  

You see, the blind man saw something that the disciples didn’t see. [repeat?]  The blind man saw even before his literal sight was restored, the blind man saw that its not status that Jesus gives, it’s actually status that Jesus takes away, and it’s mercy that Jesus gives.  The disciples didn’t see that.  They wanted status, high status.  The blind man had status, low status, and Jesus took that away from him.  He wiped the label away.  Isn’t that something?  Ever had a label...especially a bad one?  Ask a high schooler that question.  “Nerd, jock, fatso, airhead, ‘gay’ (damaging on many levels), teacher’s pet, black sheep, drama queen, goody-two-shoes…”  

Jesus. Wipes. The labels. Away.

Jesus wipes our status away -- whether that’s high or low, glorious or shameful.  He’s been wiping status away all through this Gospel.  The bleeding woman -- he wiped that unclean status away, the sick, the immigrant, the child -- all those with inferior status.  Wiped.  And he does the same to those with high status.  
Jesus brings everyone around the table of mercy.  That’s what Jesus offers.  That’s what we ask for, that’s what we say all through Lent:  “Have mercy on us, forgive us and help us.”  

That’s what the blind men said, that’s what the bleeding woman and the leper said, that’s what the child didn’t even need to say, and that’s what we say:  “Have mercy on us, forgive us and help us.”

The blind man shows us the way, just as he showed the disciples the way:  Jesus is not about granting status, he’s about wiping status.  And then granting mercy.  Get it?

We’ll see.  There’s a reason Jesus has to keep saying the same thing over and over.  We’ve got thick heads and a deep-seeded, internal craving for glory.  That’s sin.  No way around it.  And it’s a strong force.  But God is faithful and just, abounding in steadfast love, and pouring out mercy, and forgiveness, and help.

God is faithful, and pours out faith for us.  

I want to finish with a reflection on faith...pouring from God.  Lutheran theology posits that faith is not something that we possess and grow; it’s something that possesses and grows us.  In other words, faith is a gift.  It’s a gift that we can only accept and receive.  And it flows from the waters of baptism that are given freely to us, daily.  Faith is what allows us to receive this mercy that God has for us, and faith is what allows us to overcome our cravings for glory, honor, high status and power.  Faith is the antidote to sin.  And it’s freely yours.  Faith is a gift.  “Go,” Jesus says, “your faith (which is a free gift flowing from the font) has made you well.”  Amen.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

February 14 -- First Sunday in Lent

Grace to you and peace from Jesus, and no one or nothing else.  Grace and peace only from Jesus, our Source and Ground.  AMEN.

“How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God.” (“Ouch!” we heard in the creative expression today, “you have a lot of things!”)

What a stark way to kick off our Lenten journey.  Happy Valentines!  (Really want to join this church, or any church attempting to follow Jesus, for that matter?)  “Easier for a camel…than for a wealthy person...” How would you explain this...say, to children?  How do you explain it to yourself?  (Actually saw the eye of a needle in a museum in Rome…but, not much help...)  What’s Jesus really getting at here?  This is worth our reflection, as we’re all wealthy in world standards and many of us are very wealthy even in American standards.  We’ve gotta wrestle with this.  I’d love to pretend Jesus didn’t say this, and tell you a sweet story about the last kid in line getting moved to the first, but that wouldn’t be faithful today...or very Lenten.  That’d be a pat on the back.  [pause]

This bears repeating:  This corporate confession, that I saw in a worship service, put it something like this: “God, we hang on to and save up our money and our possessions as if you didn’t even exist.  We hoard as if you’re not even real.”   

I think what Jesus is saying to the rich man in the story -- and to us who also have lots of money and things -- that’s it’s even harder for us because we can fool ourselves into thinking that we can/will ultimately protect ourselves.  With pension plans, and insurance, with airbags, and security systems that we can afford, with a strong military and police force, with trusted financial advisors and back-up plans, and investments and security deposit boxes, with brilliant doctors and nurses, plenty of warm and rainproof clothes and roofs over our heads…[pause] and with a clean record to our name: “I’ve kept all the commandments, never broken the law, if I did it was so minor and wasn’t even a big deal.  I pay my taxes, and I even go to church.” 

So, I really think I deserve all this...that I’ve worked for!   I can at least totally justify why it’s OK for me to have it all…

“With all our stuff, with all our money and privilege, who even needs God (except as maybe a sweet grandpa in the sky, who benignly loves us and throws a few reminders at us once in a while about how we better behave)?”  The poor and sick need God, they’ve got nothing else.  But the healthy and the wealthy?  “Who even cares if God’s even real or not?”  Are you getting the energy around this confession?

“God, we hang on to and save up our money and our possessions as if you didn’t even exist.”   
“How hard it will be for those of us with wealth to enter the kingdom of God.”
[Don’t you just love Lent, btw?  Don’t you just want to come join our church and follow this Jesus, who calls us out on our fear, selfishness and entitlement?  Who calls us to get real and get honest before God in this Lenten season?]

When we have so much, it is even harder to trust God.  And our possessions become like a blanket that shield us from the cold, hard truth that all we have and are comes from God, belongs to God, returns to God finally.  

Truly trusting in God is even harder when we’re wealthy (and I’d add in healthy).  I think that’s what Jesus was getting at:  Entrusting ourselves to our Source and Ground, even in this life.  

What might that look like for you, as you spend money?  As you make decisions about the future?  How are you doing now at trusting in God?  Does your credit card balance reflect that too?  Lord, I’ve kept all the commandments!  He’s fishing for that pat on the back.

But Jesus doesn’t give it so easily.  Jesus doesn’t let him off the hook.  The rich man in the story went away sad.  And he didn’t get to hear what Jesus said next…

We do:  Jesus sighs and comments for a moment on how hard it is for people how have a lot of stuff now to trust God now.  Then the disciples -- namely Peter -- takes his turn at fishing for a pat on the back.  “We’ve left everything and followed you!”  Nope.  He doesn’t get it either:
Finally, we can’t rescue ourselves... 

This is about God doing the rescuing.  God being the final provider of shelter, security and eternal safety...even now.  God’s the ultimate security guard, security system, the ultimate nurse and doctor and advisor, the true back-up.  For us it’s impossible, but for God, sisters and brothers, even we can be saved.  Even we can live free.  Open and trusting.  Peaceful and honest.  Naked before God.

Luther’s definition of sin was the self turned inward.  Suspicious, anxious, scared, protective, paranoid...and then all the behaviors that come as a result of that deep-seeded fear.  
I love to compare that with Chloe, my little lab-mutt, who embodies open and trusting.  She rolls over on her back, fully exposed, naked and entrusts her whole little life to me!  Even her issue peeing on the floor, my dog-whisperer friend Andrea, tells us, is her way of submitting, “I’m all yours, here’s everything I have.  I am literally emptying myself for you.”  [too much?]  

How would that look for us?  What if that was a metaphor for how we worshipped God and served our neighbor?  Go in peace, serve the Lord…[empty]!  What would that look like?  It’s hard to imagine, right?  I mean we’re so much more guarded than Chloe.  So much more turned-inward and blanketed with stuff.  God, how can we trust you with the same self-emptying as a loving dog?  “Help us to use money and handle our affairs as if you really did exist, as if you really are real!”  That’s our prayer. 

And sisters and brothers in Christ, I hope you know, and if you don’t, I’m going to tell you know, I hope you know that God does love us and forgive us, even us wealthy ones, like we love and will do everything we can to protect and shelter and save our little Chloe.  God loves us even more!  You know that, right?  Our God is graciously waiting for us to roll over, even today, and entrust ourselves, into God’s everlasting providence.  Because the sooner we do that, the happier we’ll be, that’s when we enter the kingdom.  That kind of love, that kind of grace, that kind of rescue, can only come from God -- who is for you, who forgives you even when you struggle to surrender, even when you’re ashamed to be naked, even when you can’t let go, even when you go home sad.  Remember it says, Jesus looked and the rich man, and loved him.  He loved him...and then invites him to trust even more.  

Our journey continues, and we are not alone.  AMEN.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

February 10 -- Ash Wednesday

Before I came to Shepherd of the Valley to serve as your pastor in 2008, I had 2 Sundays off.  Two weeks between the last church and this one.  And I decided to take those free Sundays worshipping at two different congregations here in San Diego, getting just a taste of our Lutheran neighbors.  

One week of those weeks was just Micah and I.  He was a toddler, if you can believe that, and I always loved having him with me.  We had all kinds of adventures -- just the two of us -- and this visit was another one...  

I should say that this could have happened at any church:  Like every parent, I’m trying to keep my child not-too-disruptive during worship, and I was feeling like we were doing an great job.  Very little sound, happily distracted by some things I had brought for him.  I was really enjoying the service, sermon, music...  

But -- for whatever reason, that day -- midway through the service I started getting some really nasty looks from just one person...all it took.  Those were confirmed (at the passing of the peace ironically) when she said with a scowl, “You know, the family service is at 10 o’clock.”  I knew that going in, but had schedule conflict, and had confirmed with the pastor that “of course children are welcome at all of our services.”

Again, it doesn’t matter what church this was; any of our congregations have the potential for things like this.  I know there’s a whole lot more to this particular congregation than my little experience, the pastor was mortified, but -- I gotta tell you -- if I didn’t think that, and know the pastor, and feel strongly that going church is about way more, I would have never set foot in there again...and maybe not even any church again.  There’s your head. And there’s your heart.  Words and actions hurt, right?  My little boy is the center of my world (this was before Katie ;), and they just rejected the most precious thing in my life!  
My main point: It wasn’t just unwelcoming to my child -- in fact, he was pretty oblivious to it -- this rejection was unwelcoming and hurtful to me.  [pause]

What we’re really talking about here is hospitality...and the ripple effect of hospitality or in this case inhospitality.

The disciples are arguing about who’s best in our Ash Wednesday text here.  I think it was just been a harmless banter, like how guys like to tease each other and puff themselves up, when they’re just shooting the breeze.  I think they were just messing around, didn’t even think Jesus was listening.  But, this time [wink], Jesus was.1

And rather than chastising them, he turns their goofing around into a serious lesson.  How Lenten!  Taking light, superficial times, and shifting things -- not down in a depressing way, not condemning fun necessarily -- but bringing some seriousness to the space.  That’s Ash Wednesday; that’s Lent:  In the midst of our light-hearted, carefree days and banter (Super Bowl, Mardi Gras, weather’s warming up, goofing around), in the midst of our shallowness, Jesus gets deep.  Have you ever known people like that?  I think we can take turns doing that...and it’s actually a gift.  It can be seen as buzz-kill, or too serious, but sometimes we need to get serious.  Oftentimes we are so light and shallow with our words and ideas, we need someone to guide us deeper, shifting the mood to more thoughtfulness and faithfulness.  That’s a great image for Lent.  

Jesus does this.  Rather than chastising and shaming their goofing around, Jesus turns the mood more serious and offers a lesson...a lesson about hospitality.  Taking a little child onto his lap as an illustration, he says: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me.”  They needed that.  We need that.

Whoever welcomes one such child in Jesus’ name, welcomes Jesus.  
And whoever ignores, rejects or hurts a child, hurts Jesus even more.  [pause]  If it happened to me with little Micah, how much more can that hurt and rejection happen to Jesus?!  [pause]

Now, whoever the child was that Jesus brought to the center was being used as an object lesson, which sounds kind of cold, but it was in fact the opposite.  Children in the ancient world were really untouchables.  Add ‘em to the list of all the other unclean people Jesus has been re-valuing and bringing to the center through Mark’s gospel.  Children were another mouth to feed, little petri dishes of disease and defilement.  In some ways, they were even lower than a slave because a slave had value, could do work or be sold or traded.  Children were worthless.  If they survived childhood, then we’re talking.  But children were only the future; they were of no value in the present.  We have to take our 21st century lenses off for a moment to understand just how radical and serious Jesus‘ lesson was.  Nowadays, you get a lot of cred -- men get a lot of cred -- for kissing babies and changing diapers.  Not so, in the 1st century. 
And Jesus, of course, wasn’t only talking about offering hospitality to little ones.  They were the illustration.  He was talking about all the vulnerable and burdensome members of society.  [pause]

So...what does this mean for our Lenten journeys?  What does this mean for your own practices this season, as our light-heartedness and even carelessness takes a turn this Ash Wednesday, and an holy air of seriousness settles us down, drops us deeper?  

A couple days ago, I posted on FB an article from Time Magazine entitled “What Pope Francis Wants You to Give Up For Lent”.  And his challenge was for our Lenten practices become more serious...in that way, more outwardly focused.  

He quotes the ancient Christian mystic John Chrysostom, who says: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others.  So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”  [pause]  Pope Francis “Papa Francesco” goes on to suggest that we fast from indifference this Lent.

He writes, “Indifference to our neighbor and to God is a real temptation for us Christians...We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.  But when we fast from indifference then we end up feasting on love.” 2

Sisters and brothers in Christ, “fasting from indifference” is offering radical hospitality.  When we welcome strangers, the vulnerable, the burdensome into our midst, when we eat with them (not just feed them while standing above them), when we actually sit down together, hold their babies, and listen to their stories, and even try to feel their hurt, when we see their plight as our problem too, not just someone else’s problem...when we fast from indifference and feast on hospitality, then we are welcoming Jesus himself.  Our journey, our fast from indifference, should we choose to take it, begins here, today.  
And our honest confession and humility is the first step.  Like AA: no more denial.  Ash Wednesday sounds a whole lot like AA.  We take responsibility for our hurtful actions of the past and we embark on a road through a valley of repentance.  
Tonight we make an extended spoken and sung confession...but symbolically leave out the forgiveness/remission of our sins.  We’ll hear this forgiveness on Sundays in Lent (and on Maundy Thursday, we’ll all kneel like tonight and here it.  From “Remember that you are dust...” to “I forgive you all your sins.”)  And forgiveness is always there, sisters and brothers in Christ.  

But the days of Lent which begin now, are really a time to be -- reflectively and hope-fully -- in our brokenness, knowing where the story ends...but spending a little more time on our chapter.

[slowly]  And we are not alone as we fast and pray.  AMEN.

1 Pr. Amy Allen, “Welcoming the Child.” 

2 Time Magazine, “Pope Francis’ Guide to Lent: What You Should Give Up This Year,” Christopher J. Hale.  18 February 2016.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

February 7 -- Transfiguration

I was a youth director at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Thousand Oaks before I went to seminary.  And during my time there with the junior high kids, a pastor came to serve that church, who I greatly admired.  He was only there for a short time as an interim.  But we know how even short stays with dynamic leaders can have a lasting impact (I’m thinking of Cyndi Jones).  This new pastor was so kind to the people of that congregation.  He was very intentional in all of his conversations; he was very good at connecting people with one another; he visited the sick; he met with the youth kids; and he started up a small group program while he was there.  The church grew during his short time there.  I knew this man as a kind and loving pastor, truly a shepherd caring for God’s people, loving them, feeding them with Holy Communion.  He was just so nice.

Dr. George Johnson leading the Lenten Series,
"Exploring Courage to Think Differently.
But the more I listened to his sermons and read his book, I started to realize that he was something more than just a nice, loving pastor.  This man was a prophet for justice and equality for all.  When he preached, it was like the prophet Amos or Isaiah standing in front of us, crying out on behalf of God for global peace and the end of all oppression.  Like Moses, “Let my people go!”  He called us out on our self-centered, white-privileged ways, that fail to extend the same love that we’ve received to the margins: to the immigrant, the stranger, the outcast and the forgotten.  He even talked about justice for the earth and all the creatures of God!  It was the first time I ever considered that the United States may just be the new Roman Empire, and he reminded us often about Jesus‘ ministry over and against...actually under...the most powerful nation in the world.  We squirmed uncomfortably in our pews, but something cracked me open and I saw him in a new way.   

God is calling us to be more than just a nice place and nice people that gather for worship once a week.  God is calling us to do more than just offer some charity to the poor, some handouts.  All these things are good, but God is calling us to be about radical, systemic change, dreaming and risking it all for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even if it means our lives.   

This pastor I’m talking about is George Johnson.   He was my friend, he was nice, he was a gentle pastor...but at one point I suddenly started to see him in a new way too.  He was a fiery prophet calling for justice and change, challenging us to risk our lives and be actual disciples of Jesus, not just safe, comfortable believers in Jesus.

As we look at our text today, and as we look at the Gospel of Mark up to this point, I think it can be easy and even tempting to conclude that Jesus is a just prophet for social justice and change.  That’s because he is.   Just like Pastor George was a kind, loving man. 

Up to this point, Jesus has turned his world on its head with his love and care for the poor and the outcast.  Bringing women and children to the center, touching and healing the ritually unclean, the bleeding, the dead, the foreigner.  I mean, he’s advocating truly universal health, education and equality for everyone.  It’s not a detached, complicated, sanitized spirituality with Jesus in the first 9 chapters of Mark.  He’s not hovering, esoterically; he’s rooted and radical and real.  It’s ministry on the ground, and in the trenches -- tangible, immediate and welcoming.  I’m always amazed how this social justice of Jesus gets suppressed and even denied, many times by Christians themselves, only seeing him as a spiritual savior of individual souls... 
rather than an incarnate savior of whole communities, particularly those who are oppressed or overlooked.  Mark 1-9 reeks of Jesus‘ social justice agenda.

But, just like good ol‘ Pastor George was more than just a nice, sweet pastor -- which he was -- but there was more...
So Jesus is more than just a prophet for social justice and radical welcome of the stranger and the outcast -- which he is and always will be.  But there’s more...  

And in our text today, a few of the disciples (and us, by the way) get cracked open, and see Jesus in an even larger way.  

This isn’t about getting someone wrong, and suddenly seeing them in a totally new and different way.  (That happens too.) 
But this is about getting a person right, but suddenly seeing them in an even bigger way.  Setting our mind not just on earthly things but on divine things.  

This prophet Jesus (he was such a prophet that some were mistaking him for John the Baptist and Elijah) -- this prophet for social justice and change, was even more than that, sisters and brothers in Christ:

This prophet was God’s own Son.  “Listen to him, listen to his agenda.”  All this stuff he’s been doing, is more than just earthly revolutionary behavior, upturning traditions and challenging assumptions; this is divine presence come down to be among us...to be for us, and for everyone.  Jesus is God’s Son.  What a way to end this season after Epiphany and move into Lent -- with another Epiphany, a divine revealing:  “This is my Son, the Beloved.”  And then a command: “Listen to him.”  

Transfiguration is the mountain top experience of this time of the church year, before we drop down into Lent this week.  

Know that the one you follow, the one who brings children and women to the center, who heals the sick and the demon-possessed, who welcomes the foreigner, even if their religion or their skin is a different color...and who calls and empowers the people of his time and us to imitate him in this radical business of sharing.  Know that the one you follow isn’t just a human social prophet for justice.  He’s even more: he’s God’s own Son.  He’s the salvation of the world.  He’s life eternal for you and for all.  He’s love everlasting.  He’s grace and peace that the world cannot give.  He’s freedom and joy.  He’s hope for the future and thanksgiving for the past.  He’s bread and wine, body and blood poured out for you and for...everyone...even the creatures.  He so loves this whole earth, that he gave himself.  Know that the one who heals the sick and raises the dead raises us too -- right now! -- from that which holds us down and hold us back from being the people that God has created us to be.  Know that this prophet Jesus, is forgiveness of all your sins, all your self-centered behavior, all your ignorance and shame, and greed and envy.  GONE.  Jesus is God’s Son, not just a social prophet.  And you are made new today because of it!

Your slate has been wiped clean!  And you are being sent back out there, into this Lenten season, into this coming spring, renewed, hopeful, at peace, and ready to serve, pray, fast, and give (just like Jesus did).  

So let’s listen to him, sisters and brothers in Christ.  Let’s listen to him.  Let’s hold out our hands, and open our ears and our minds and our hearts, as we move off the mountain top, and listen.  For God’s own son has got something to say and something to give.  Thanks be to God.  AMEN.