Easter has come and gone for another year. But the death and resurrection of Jesus continues to ripple out from Easter Day. God is not finished. God is still at work. The Book of Acts is the story of God in ACTS-ion through the church. Not just 2000 years ago, but now too. We have the Holy Spirit as the first disciples did, and the same good news too. Each Sunday is Resurrection Day, as we receive God’s forgiveness, a brand-new start. As witnesses of God’s grace, we display God’s love to the world.
The first months of 2022 have been exhausting. There hasn’t been a lot of good news around. The Easter long weekend gives us a chance to rest, sleep in, potter around, relax, and to be renewed on body and soul through Jesus’ resurrection. The tomb is empty, and our future is full of hope. We share in Jesus’ new life. We face the future positively, because Jesus has defeated sin, death and evil. Jesus’ victory is God’s gift to us. This is what we celebrate today, and what we will celebrate eternally. Body and soul, in a new heaven and a new earth. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!
Have you been on a long trip with children? Do you remember the question, “Are we there yet?” Jesus’ disciples may have had the same question about his ministry. Jesus has been heading toward Jerusalem from some time, and now he is almost there. What welcome will he get? What will he do? They are hoping for a warm welcome. That’s what Jesus receives from his followers, but others are not so keen. By the end of the week, Jesus is again outside the city. But this time, he is hanging on a cross, rejected by those he came to save. This is no accident. This is where he has been heading since he began his ministry. And this is the way that God will bring peace to all people, the peace he calls us to live and share.
We are a month into autumn and our farmers are waiting for the opening rains. But even if they don’t come, they will sow into the dry ground, hoping and praying for rain, as they remember good seasons past. In difficult times, Psalm 126 invites us to reflect on how God has sustained us in the past. He has brought seeds planted in hope to harvest. He has given us his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus is the seed that falls into the earth and dies and bears the fruit of new life in God’s people, and brings hope for the world. We live in the power of this incredible promise, and that’s why, even when sow in tears, we will reap with songs of joy.
Today’s psalm and the parable in the Gospel proclaim a very similar message. The gift of God’s forgiveness offers us a new start in life. And what a new start! Traditionally the story in the Gospel reading has been known as ‘the parable of the prodigal son’. But it’s really just as much about the other son as well. It’s also far much more about the father than it is about his two sons. ‘The merciful father’ is one of the better names I’ve come across – or even ‘The waiting father’. This merciful father is trying to get across to his sons that life in his family is really a party. In this parable both of these sons had problems understanding that. Maybe readers of this parable today still have trouble seeing their life, particularly as a Child of God, as a party.
Has there been a time of your life when you have felt totally wrung out, parched spiritually and thirsty for hope?
Psalm 63 captures David’s yearning for God’s help when all around is chaos. He remembers God’s presence and promises in worship.
He expresses his confidence in the God whose track record shows that he can be trusted.
We have that same confidence through God’s Son, Jesus Christ. He loved us even more than he loved his own life, and suffered and dies for us.
That’s why we can say, ‘God my soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Psalm 63:8)
When we were children, many of us were scared of the dark. When we grow up, our fears are just as real, but not as simple. There’s a growing darkness in the world that scares us. Where can we find hope?
Psalm 27 reminds us that God is the light that illuminates the darkness. Jesus is the Light of the world. In Jesus we see who God is and how much he loves us. In his cross he embraces the darkness of his world and carries it to his death. In his resurrection, he dispels the darkness of our hearts and minds. We can say with David, “I am confident of this; I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)
Psalm 91 speaks powerfully into the situation in our world today: pestilence, war and disaster. Where can we find refuge? In the shelter of the Most High. We know that he will love us and rescue us because we know his Son Jesus. Jesus will place himself in harm’s way, not out of recklessness but out of love. He will do worse than strike his foot against a rock. He will die on a cross to shield us from the punishment for sin that we deserve. He shares the gift of his protection with us as we acknowledge his name in our worship and prayer. When we call out to him he will answer, and will deliver and honour us way more than we could ever deserve. He will satisfy us with life forever in him. There is no safer and more secure place. Amen.
28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendour, talking with Jesus. 31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what he was saying.) 34While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ 36When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.
Are you a head in the clouds kind of person or are your feet on the ground? Life seems to be divided between those who are practically minded and those who are more creative, more imaginative. There are people who like to think, dream and vision, and then there are those who like to roll up their sleeves and get the job done.
I can remember this distinction being made when I was studying to be a pastor. Seminary students, and lecturers too, were said to have their heads in the clouds. We lived in an ivory tower, where we spent too much time dwelling on abstract points of theology. But outside the college walls was the real world, which consisted of people who had their feet firmly planted, and who simply wanted to get on with God’s work. Now there’s an element of truth to this characterisation. I’ve learnt so much about integrating faith and life since I graduated from Luther Seminary in 1992. But I’ve also learnt how important theology is in communicating the truth about God’s love, in a grounded way.
But perhaps head in the clouds and feet on the ground can fit together. That’s what we see as we climb the mountain of transfiguration today with Jesus and his disciples. The first thing we can say about the disciples is that they are grounded. All day, every day, Jesus leads them around the countryside, spending time with people whose needs are unending. They could hardly be more grounded, more aware of the complexities and challenges of life. And they are also aware of how Jesus himself grounds the love and compassion of God: the authoritative teaching, the healing of the sick, the feeding of the hungry. Peter is amazed by what he sees and is moved to confess that Jesus is “God’s Messiah,” God’s holy servant, in flesh and blood.
But Peter and his fellow disciples don’t see how grounded Jesus actually is. So what Jesus says next shocks them. “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and he must be killed, and on the third day be raised to life.” The disciples are brought back down to earth with a thud. The force of impact is increased when Jesus goes on to say what’s it means for them to throw their lot in with him. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me.” This wasn’t what Peter was imagining when he made his grand confession. He was looking forward to the end of their trudging around Judea and Galilee. Soon there would be a throne to occupy, and perhaps a palace too.
Eight days later, Jesus calls together the big three disciples, Peter, John, and James, to come up to a mountain with him to pray. This was a regular habit of Jesus, which sustained his relationship with his Father. Luke observes that this takes place eight days after Jesus’ prediction of his death. For the early church, the eighth day, the day after the Sabbath, the seventh day, referred to Jesus’ resurrection. This is the day to celebrate God’s new creation, ushered in by Jesus. By using this term, Luke hints that Peter and the others are going to see something that will only truly make sense after Jesus’ resurrection.
Peter, John and James, were weighed down by sleep, but it was bright light emanating from Jesus that penetrated their heavy eyelids and work them up with a start. “As Jesus was praying, the appearance of Jesus’ face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” Next thing, Jesus was joined by Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the greatest prophet, and the one whose appearance was thought to pave the way for the Messiah to come. The transfigured Jesus certainly keeps good company, but what is even more important than what Peter, John and James see is what they hear.
“They spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he was about to bring to fulfilment at Jerusalem.” Even though their heads were in the clouds, Moses and Elijah’s feet were on the ground. They weren’t here to bask in Jesus’ glory, as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth, head in the clouds stuff, but rather they spoke about Jesus’ feet on the ground, his departure, or literally his Exodus. As God led his people of out Pharoah’s clutches with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, through the Red Sea and toward the promised land, so too would Jesus lead all people from the prison of sin to the freedom of new life. Right at the end of this chapter, Luke tells us that “Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Step by step, each one closer to the cross. Grounded, sacrificial, pained, suffering love each and every step of the way.
Half asleep, Peter tries to make sense of what he sees and hears. They want to preserve this moment for all time by constructing a shrine to be visited by religious pilgrims, to experience the place where God once came down to earth. Luke makes the aside that Peter “did not know what he was saying” which is Luke’s way of saying Peter didn’t comprehend what he had seen and heard.
And then, as if to heighten his confusion, a cloud came and overshadowed the disciples. This wasn’t a meteorological phenomenon; it was the glory of God. Peter, John and James knew it, and it terrified them. And it, too, was accompanied by a voice. It was God the Father speaking about Jesus, backing up what they had heard from Moses and Elijah: “This is my Son, who I have chosen. Listen to him.” It’s good of God to help them make some kind of sense of this strangest of experiences. And then it was all over, and Jesus was the only one left. Moses and Elijah had shuffled off the stage, and God no longer had anything to say. He didn’t need to, because in Jesus God was saying and doing all that he had promised.
Head in the clouds, and feet on the ground. That is the shape of Jesus’ life. He is God’s Son. His life is shaped by the will of his Father to redeem his broken creation. His mind is set on these heavenly things. But his feet walk mile after dusty mile through Samaria, Galilee and Judea. He stops, talks, listens, heals, feeds, raises to new life. This is where his glory is displayed: in the fact that lives as a servant of others. And this is magnified in that last painful week, where the full extent of his love is on display. The cross is where he glorifies his Father full and completely, as he hangs on the wooden throne of the cross.
We live with our head in the clouds. And our hearts too, our whole being. In the miracle of baptism, through the gift of faith, we have been drawn into God’s divine life, and commissioned to participate in his cosmic rescue mission. “We have seen the glory of the Father’s one and only Son, full of grace and truth.” We have been caught up in great things, in God’s grand plan to unite all creation under Jesus. And that is something to wonder about, to pray through, to think and dream on. “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.”
Head in the clouds, for the sake of our feet on the ground. Exactly where God wants us. God’s rescue mission is physical, and personal. “The Word become flesh and made his dwelling among us.” We too are called to make real to others the God who we worship, the God who has filled our lives with his glory. We listen to Jesus, we reflect on his words, and then, inspired by them through the work of the Holy Spirit, we do them. It’s feet on the ground, sleeves rolledup stuff. On the one hand, Paul calls us to set our hearts on things above, but in the next 4 sentence he urges us to “clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Jesus’ Transfiguration was not an escape from the real world, but a window into the new, real world that is coming because of Jesus’ decision to walk the road of the cross. Through his feet on the ground, his body broken on the cross, we have been transformed as God’s children. And so we head out into the world of work, children, leisure, relationships, need, brokenness, pain, grief and anxiety. It’s there that we place our feet firmly on the ground, and we display Jesus’ suffering love.
We hope and we pray that God’s Spirit will take our service and gives others a glimpse of Jesus’ glorious love, a love which is in the business of creating a new heaven and a new earth. As God’s kingdom is birthed in our words and actions, others see how God’s grounded love comes down to meet and meets this in their point of need. And all of this points forward to what we will see in all its fullness when Jesus returns and brings a new heaven and a new earth with him. We will see Jesus as he is, and not only that, we will have a resurrected body like his, and we will live in a world where heaven and earth are perfectly intertwined. Head in the clouds and feet on the ground. Amen. Peace in Christ Pastor Andrew Brook