February 7, 2016 sermon
Time to Go Down the Mountain
My time at the theological school was in a way the best time of my life. I had three best friends; I called our little group “the four musketeers”. My school is one of the most progressive theological schools in the US so I felt safe and a sense of belonging because the mainstream Christian Church and theological schools are more on the conservative side. We were encouraged to call God a “she”, and were frowned upon when we called God a “father”; that’s how insanely progressive we were. I met great theologians to learn new things, sang in the seminary choir, participated in two musicals, and worked as an executive of the Korean student caucus. It was a happy time… and then I had to graduate. It was my third university degree but I had never attended my graduation ceremony until then. I discovered that the graduation ceremony is called “commencement”, and knowing the French language, I felt confused. “Commencement” means beginning! Being a language geek with a mild OCD, I was troubled over this term for a while. Then I realized that graduation is a new beginning.
When we were still students, our theological professors used to tell us (or maybe it was only one of them) that our school is a safe place but the real world that we will be facing is not as safe and friendly. For one thing, they were teaching us all sorts of progressive theologies and sending us out into the world where we might get eaten alive for mentioning some of the things we learned. A lot of us might never get a change to teach and preach feminist theology, liberation theology, or queer theology (which, yes you can guess it, is about the theology for LGBT people). It was nice and cozy being a student at my theological school, especially with my three best friends; but we all know the reality of having to leave that place for a higher purpose. It is a human nature to want to stay in a comfortable place, our comfort zone. In today’s Bible story we meet somebody like us. His name was Peter.
We are familiar with this scene that mirrors the scene in Exodus with Moses. Jesus transformed to look like some kind of shiny angelic figure, speaking with Moses and Elijah, disciples watching it in fear, and so on. This surreal scene seems like a foretaste of heavenly glory. But why are we reflecting on this story when we are about to end the Season of Epiphany and start the Season of Lent? Let us take a look at a bigger picture.
Before this scene in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am” and “Who do YOU say I am”, to which Peter confesses that he is the Messiah of God. Then Jesus predicts his suffering and death. Then in today’s text Jesus goes up the mountain with three of his disciples and yada yada yada, Peter wants to stay in this state of glory, and probably of euphoria. It seems like he was feeling kind of “high” at this experience. But of course they had to come down the mountain and the state of glory, and there was a very good reason why they had to; down the mountain the rest of the disciples were struggling to cure a boy possessed by a demon, with his father most likely very disappointed at the disciples and frustrated in general. When I read this scene from down the mountain, I picture it being a scene from a children’s cartoon; remember in cartoons when children have a group fight, they are mingled together in a circular cloud with everyone hitting each other, and when the teacher shows up and yells, “What on earth is going on here?” they just freeze in mid-punch? This is what I picture when I read this; this is how clueless the disciples were down the mountain. The disciples have responsibilities before God and Jesus, but the reality is that they are not ready. Even Peter wants to dwell in his comfort zone instead of going out into the world do the work of God. The gospel writer says in verse 34, “(he said it) not knowing what he said”. Can you imagine Peter fighting with the author of Luke’s gospel in heaven; “What do you mean I didn’t know what I was saying? Why would you portray me as an idiot in your book?”
After all this happens, Jesus predicts his suffering and death yet again. So here’s how a big chunk of chapter 9 goes; Peter’s great confession – prediction of death – glory on the mountain – disciples fail to cure a demon-possessed boy – and another prediction of death. Afterwards, Jesus keeps teaching his disciples about discipleship; how they have to be humble like a little child.
Why are we listening to this story today, as we are ending the Season of Epiphany and getting ready for Lent? Was there anything very familiar about the gospel text we read today? Hint; what do you think of the voice coming from heaven? Ok, that wasn’t a hint; it was the answer. Does the voice from heaven sound familiar to you? Yes, it should! We heard the same voice with the same words when Jesus was baptized. It was God’s affirmation of Jesus at the beginning of his public ministry. Now God’s affirmation of Jesus on the “glory” mountain marks the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem, which will lead to his suffering and death. Today’s text testifies of Jesus’ ultimate victory over evil; but the disciples and the readers are constantly reminded that there will be suffering and death before reaching the victory and glory. To experience resurrection and apocalyptic glory, Jesus had to go through his passion and death. As disciples of Jesus, we are reminded that the way to participating in his glory is full of passion and death. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who had to go through dangerous forests and attacks from sleepy flowers and flying monkeys, we need to go through trials and fight evils.
We are about to start a journey following Jesus to Jerusalem and to his cross. It should be a time of quiet reflections, repentance, and spiritual purification; a time to review and renew our relationship with God and to be prepared as disciples to be sent out into the world to do the works of God. These works cannot be done if we are not properly prepared; you see how the disciples fumbled and failed to cure the boy without Jesus. We will use Lent as an opportunity to cleanse our spirit and be renewed. Some will fast as a way of spiritual discipline, some will give up chocolate, or other good things for which we have weakness, but whatever you decided to “give up” for Lent, remember that these acts of giving up is only a means for spiritual discipline. We shouldn’t focus a lot on not doing bad stuff (which is negative and passive), but rather we should focus more on doing good stuff (which is positive and active). Traditionally Christians are invited to participate in acts of prayer, fasting, and charity during Lent. This practice reminds us that prayer and doing good deeds in the world are closely connected. So why don’t we do something good and helpful for the world or our community while praying and cleansing our spirit during this Lent?
As we have to graduate from school and go out into the world to use our skills for useful things, this is going to be a time for us to leave our “glory” mountain, our comfort zone, to go out and do God’s works. Let us pick up our cross and follow Jesus through his journey in Jerusalem while fighting evil, taking care of the vulnerable, and being witness to God’s love and justice. It is time for us to go down the mountain as we start Lent. Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim