Clevedon Presbyterian Church
Kawakawa Bay
Clevedon Kidz

On the Mountain Top

March 17, 2019
Martin Baker

 

Matthew 16:24 – 17:8

 

16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?Or what will they give in return for their life? 27 "For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

 

17:1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain,by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus,"Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying,"Get up and do not be afraid." 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

 

 

Our reading today. First of all talk about the cross and following of Jesus. And then this moment of light and transformation on the mountain. This is my son.

 

We see the power of fear and hatred and death in the events of Friday. We see the power of the things that still hurt and damage and torture and kill and crucify the innocent. 49 people at prayer.

 

And on the mountain we see this moment of light and transformation.

 

Powers of deranged hatred. The light of transfiguration.

 On Saturday we hear of Naeem Rashid. He witnessed death of family and friends and lunged at the deranged shooter to disarm him.

 

We see the mosque leaders affirming again that New Zealand is a blessed and peaceful country. And we see the outpouring of grief. We see almost 3 m donated so far to the victims

 

Our Gospel, the events over the last day confronts us. What stories are we to base our  lives upon.

 

 

Our reading today, with the cross the remarkable events on the mountain, the transfiguration it is called. They are about moments of transformation in understanding. A transformation in how Jesus’s followers saw Jesus. God’s Son.  But also a second transformation. In how those disciples saw their purpose, their understanding, what it means to follow Jesus.

 

Our reading starts off with these words, and they are meant to be startling, puzzling words. Words that we listen to, and maybe say, ‘that can’t be right.’

 

16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it

 

Take up your cross. The cross has become such a fashion item. But then it was a symbol of terror. Of ridicule, of unspeakable torture, suffering - a primary symbol of Rome repressive power and violence.  We probably do not have the equivalent of that symbol today.

 

For what will it profit them if they gain the world but forfeit their life?

 

These are some of the most difficult words to speak about at church.

 

I imagine that most of us rate comfort and safety and security quite highly.  

 

But is it possible that one thing we might rate even above all those things, is a sense of purpose?

 

To work stand commit to those like our Muslim brothers and sisters, those of different colour race background and affirm the things that are most important.

 

A challenge that makes our lives less comfortable, less secure, more open to the needs and suffering of another.

 

I spoke a few weeks ago about how Christianity started off as a movement. About how there is little evidence that Jesus had in mind to start a new religion as such.  

 

This morning we hear about this again.  Our concern is not first and foremost the purity of the church or the rightness of our doctrine, but our willingness to follow Jesus into the world and onto the cross...

 

And then there is a warning in our scriptures that follows on from the challenge to take up our cross

 

27 "For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28 Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

 

When we read the scriptures we need to keep in mind that they are written looking back on what has happened.

 

As awful as it was, countless thousands were crucified by the Romans over these years of brutal occupation.

 

The death of a troublemaker from a small town in Galilee would have barely been noted except by grieving family and friends.

 

But in our story today we are being told there was something different something unique about this Jesus.  The fulfillment of the law brought by Moses.The fulfillment of prophesy’s identified with Elijah.    Incidentally the importance of Abraham and Moses Elijah all central to the faith of Muslim Jew and Christian.

 

Here for us the dazzling white.The glory. The words from heaven, this is my son. The people hearing the Gospel would have been picking up on these stories and references in a way more difficult for us.

 

The term “son of God” was known by every Roman citizen of the day.  It was a common designation of Roman emperors. Augustus Tiberius, Nero, Vespasian, Titus, Domitian -- were designated sons of gods. The term recognizes their roles as agents of the gods. They embodied exalted status and great power. They imitated the gods giving benefit to some and punishing, crucifying, others.

 

But, Jesus son of God. Just after we’ve been told about the cross and following him.  We are being called into a transfigured understanding of power and success and glory. They are such startling such controversial claims to make.

 

The writers of the Gospel looked back from their discovery of the risen Jesus.  They had learned that hope purpose new life in following Jesus was real in the midst of violence and oppression and death.They looked back from the place of a new small group of spirit filled followers that found their meaning from their experience that the wounded,  crucified and risen saviour was in their midst.

 

They recalled his teachings his stories, his friendship and welcome to the tax collectors prostitutes the sick,and this unbelievable discovery that following Jesus was the source, not of death but of life. Not of failure, but of victory.  That his way of forgiveness and grace was the way of their salvation. We can join with them and choose to follow Jesus today.

 

The thing is about the church is that we are called to celebrate and share, but we are most being the church when we go to that difficult place.  

 

To contemplate what it means to come to a place of worship to be identified by our faith our colour our background and to face persecution and death because of those things.

 

We started off in December with the wise men, the magi, following the glow of a star to the place where Jesus was born. The soft light of the star and the baby in the crib.  But now, a brilliant light and the discovery that God’s glory is revealed in the transformation of suffering hopelessness and death. On this mountain the subject is death, and the frightening confusing presence of God. And the command to listen to what Jesus says

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The language is difficult. It always has been.

 

A calling to being part of God’s mission, our purpose our calling.

 

I think about the lovely children I see almost every day. So filled with hope and joy so much feeling at place and home here. Not because of the buildings but because of the love they encounter.

 

Children in the mosque, children at the church

 

They always remind me about the nature of faith.

 

At the end we find there is nothing we can do or give. Our relationship with God is manifest in the same way as a child approaches a relationship with a loving parent.  Ready to be embraced by the one who brings us true confidence and reassurance.

 

To serve Jesus in the difficult and hard and messy places. To measure success, to understand Glory.  In terms not of our wealth, or our certificates or ribbons on the wall but in terms of our commitment to serve, to forgive to show compassion. And this weekend especially to pray and do what we can to stand arm in arm with those who are seen as different and outsiders.

 

To come to a faith where these things of following Jesus are the real source of light and transformation.

 

Maybe these are most hope filled and challenging words of scripture. Take up your cross and follow me. For what will it profit us if they gain the world but lose our life?

 

 

AMEN