2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
February 11, 2018 – Last Sunday after Epiphany
Paul sets the tone for us again today. The disciples know that Jesus is the Messiah, but they have been having a hard time understanding what that means.
On the other hand, Paul understands completely what it means that the Messiah has come. But he is trying to explain that to people who choose to argue about whether Paul is a genuine apostle or not.
Paul is writing to us and the Corinthians today. It is as diverse a community as the one we live in and people have seen as much of the world of their day as people here have seen.
They are open to new ideas. So they were open to Paul’s message of salvation when he came to live among them. But Paul has gone and other believers have shared their understanding of Jesus.
The division in the church at Corinth is manifest in the first chapter of the letter. Paul writes, “My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you.
“What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”
He sees a group of precious souls at odds with each other when they should be One in Christ, One with each other, and One in ministry to all the world. The challenge is not between believers and believers. It is between believers and non-believers.
So he continues to write to us today, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you?” The question is not “Who is right?” but “What is at issue here?”
Because if the question is whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas has the right formula or not, then we are already lost and we will never get to a place where we can change the world.
The nations of the world are going to sit back and watch us tearing ourselves apart, waiting to see which one of us is going to be made fools by the other, or whether we are all going to look like fools.
Some of us look to Peter and say the place to look is Rome. Some of us look to Luther and say we should look for our answers on the doors of the Wittenberg churches.
As United Methodists we look to John Wesley and we recall the meeting Wesley went to on Aldersgate Street in London the night his heart was ‘strangely warmed.’
But we all look to Jesus and we look to him where we are now. He does not speak only to Peter or Luther or Wesley. He speaks to all of us.
It is one story that we lift up. We try to make Jesus’ story our story, hoping that, one day, Jesus may be so gracious as to make our story his story, too.
We need to come to that task with faith and hope, and we can only move forward from there. What the next step will be and who we meet there remains to be seen.
But we need to believe that Jesus is the goal, Jesus is the key and Jesus is the friend to us all. Jesus loves us all. Jesus prayed his last night that we might be one as he and God were One.
Paul is willing to compromise… maybe even surrender…to everyone and everything…so long as we encourage each other to serve Jesus. We are slaves to everyone in Bigfork and in Corinth…so long as it is for Jesus’ sake.
It is not a matter of who baptized us. It is not a matter of what we eat and what we drink. It is a question about whether or not we do what we do in response to the upward call of Jesus Christ.
Meanwhile, back on the mountain, Jesus has brought Peter and John and James with him, we read, “Six days later.”
Six days after what? Well, let’s go back a little ways. Jesus feeds five thousand people with five loaves and two fishes and they have twelve baskets left over when they are done.
The disciples are in a boat rowing against the wind and Jesus comes walking alongside them, about to pass.
He gets into the boat and commands the wind to cease. It does. They are amazed.
He heals a deaf and mute man. They are amazed. He tells them not to talk about it and they walk around talking to everyone about it.
He feeds four thousand people with seven loafs and a few small fish and they have seven baskets full left over. The Pharisees come to him asking for a sign from heaven to prove he is the one.
Jesus must have been tempted to say, “Duh!”, but instead he sighs and says you will not receive a sign. It appears to me that there have been many signs. That’s what has brought the Pharisees to question him.
But he is not doing this to convince the disciples or the people or the Pharisees. He is doing what he is doing so that people might see… not him…but God.
We talk about transparency today and that is what Jesus is giving the Pharisees and the disciples and the people, but all they can see is food in abundance appearing where there was nothing, a storm calmed by a command from him, and a deaf mute who can suddenly hear and speak,.
So give us a sign… No wonder he sighs deeply at the skepticism of that age. No wonder he tries to speak to us in parables and metaphors.
He asks the disciples who others say he is and they say Moses and Elijah. He asks who they say he is and Peter says, “You are the Messiah.” This should be great news but then Jesus tells them he will have to suffer and die…because he is the Messiah.
Peter tells him to stop talking like that!That is not what I had in mind! That’s not the way it’s going to turn out! Jesus replies, “Get behind me, Satan!”
You want to believe what you want to believe, but the Messiah must see clearly before he can respond honestly…to the truth.
Six days later Peter and James and John are on the mountaintop with Jesus when he encounters Moses – the Law – and Elijah – the prophets. And still they do not understand.
It was my first year at Georgetown Law in D.C. and the guest speaker was Valery Chalidze, a great physicist on the world stage at the age of 33.
You might wonder what a physicist is doing at a law school. He was also a disciple of Andrei Sakharov, then just 50 and a dissident in the tradition of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago.
I don’t remember a word he said through his interpreter, but I do remember that the interpreter was so shocked by what he was saying that he turned to us and told us that these were not his words but the words of Valery Chalidze and he was just interpreting them.
Indeed, we had watched as Mr. Chalidze corrected his interpreter again and again and insisted that he use a stronger word. None of it seemed offensive to us, American law students, but they were shocking to the interpreter.
Finally someone asked him why he stayed in the Soviet Union if the Soviets bothered him so much. I will always remember what he said, in English: “Because it is Mother Russia.”
She was his country and he loved her. He was doing this out of love for his country. At that moment, I found myself on a mountaintop and I knew that was how I felt about Montana.
A few days later, the Soviet government announced that they were revoking his visa to re-enter the Soviet Union…Mother Russia, to Mr. Chalidze.
We all seek the prize but we don’t want to accept the call. We think that we can take one without accepting the other. I talked to a man once who got to visit with Michael Jordan, the great NBA Hall of Fame Chicago Bulls champion.
The man choked up as he said that Jordan had told him not to talk to people about him making those last second shots he always won the game, the series and the championship with.
He told this guy to talk to them about all the hours he spent in training and practice and study. That is where Michael Jordan found a way to do what people had not seen anyone do before.
He didn’t just show up one day, put on his shoes, make the winning basket and accept the trophy. He gave himself to the effort.
He lost himself in a moment when no one was looking so that he might be worthy of a moment no one saw coming. The way Paul envisions becoming a slave for Jesus…and even more so…Jesus was a slave to God, that God’s will might be done, and God’s kingdom might come on earth as it is in heaven.
That is what he was talking about when he told people that the Kingdom had come close or that they were very near the Kingdom. You just have to accept the call.
We are called to greatness by a humble savior who asks us to face – without fear – circumstances that are more important than we are. It can happen at great times or terrible times or in between times.
I was listening a while back to the ski report from Showdown Ski Area near Choteau. The radio announcer called and talked to the guy who had obviously been on the mountain for a long time.
He said it was 25 below in Great Falls and he asked how it was up on the mountain. The guy said it was a beautiful clear day and you could see a long way.
The announcer said it was clear in Great Falls, too, but it was cold. The guy on the mountain said they had just had 20 inches of powder in the last week.
The announcer said they’d had 23 inches in the last day. The guy on the mountain told him they had a promotion going…a ski pass for the rest of the year and next year for just $299.00.
The announcer said that was a great deal and everyone would get one if they just knew about it. The guy on the mountain said that their promotions department had figured it out and he was just telling everyone what they had decided.
This is when it got interesting. The man on the mountain said that the sad thing was that people had the best of intentions when they bought the passes but then they didn’t show up. They never came to the mountaintop.
That’s their fault, the announcer replied. That was a matter of individual responsibility.
“Well,” the guy on the mountain said, “there doesn’t seem to be much of that around these days.”
The radio announcer volunteered to come up and talk to the promotions department about the great offer they had going, whether the people who bought them showed up or not..
“How do you get along with the promotions department, anyway?” he asked the guy on the mountain. “Oh, we get along pretty good,” he said. “She’s my granddaughter.”
I confess to you that I think the radio announcer had a point, but I found myself identifying with the old man on the mountain.
He is the one who has watched us buy our season passes. He has sat up on the mountaintop watching the cobalt clear sky over an indescribably beautiful mountain. He is the one who ends too many days as one of the few…or the only one…who had seen the mountaintop that day and gave thanks to the mountain and the one who created it.
We are all slaves to some cause or for somebody’s sake. For me it is Montana, for my family, and for the most overlooked man in human history…Jesus of Nazareth…the Prince of Peace…King of Kings…Lord of Lords.
There are many distractions in my world, but I can’t think of a worthier or more trustworthy savior. So if we are going to be slaves to something, let us be slaves for Jesus’ sake, taking Paul as our example and Christ himself who came as a slave for the sake of the love of God. Amen.