Sunday, February 28, 2016

Grace Like Chocolate: 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 - Third Sunday in Lent

1I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3and all ate the same spiritual food, 4and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. 5Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
6Now these things occurred as examples for us, so that we might not desire evil as they did. 7Do not become idolaters as some of them did; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and they rose up to play.” 8We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. 9We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did, and were destroyed by serpents. 10And do not complain as some of them did, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us, on whom the ends of the ages have come. 12So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall. 13No testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tested beyond your strength, but with the testing he will also provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.
Chocolates from the Winchester Cocoa Co by Dominic Lockyer.  Creative commons image on flickr
In 2013, the Paley Center for Media named a scene of the I Love Lucy series to be the funniest in all of television history. 

Chances are, you probably know it…  Lucy and her best friend Ethel are working in a chocolate factory.  A harsh taskmistress puts them in charge of wrapping individual pieces of chocolate as they come down a conveyor belt. 

At first, they have no problem keeping up—but the conveyor belt starts moving faster.  Having been told that they’d be fired if one piece of unwrapped chocolate makes it into the packaging room, the women resort to hilarious means to try and keep up. 

I think the reason why we enjoy this scene so much is because it’s so much like real life.  Sooner or later, we’ll be burdened with more than we can handle.  Sometimes, we can laugh about it.  But sometimes, it just isn’t funny…

In today’s Gospel, Jesus talks about the brutal deaths of Galileans at the hand of Pontius Pilate.  He also speaks of a tragic accident, in which eighteen people die when the Tower of Siloam falls upon them.  It was widely believed that God was punishing them for their sins—in the very same way that God had done in the Old Testament.  Paul gives the early Christians a history lesson, warning people that if they indulge their sinful appetites, God is going to strike them down.

But Paul says something— “no testing has overtaken you that is not common to everyone.  God …will not let you be tested beyond your strength.”

In other words, God’s not going to send more troubles and temptations your way than what you can handle, right?  This is how generations of Christians have heard this.  But is it really true?

I ask this, because if we take this one-liner as ultimate truth, it paints a rather harsh picture of God, as if God is saddling you with heavier burdens and stronger temptations—waiting for that second when you either lose faith, give into temptation, and then, BAM!  You’re done.

We feel a lot of guilt if we’re struggling and we can’t “believe ourselves” out of suffering, and just break for ourselves the chains that bind us in sin. 

And when prayers don’t get answered, pains get worse, and we can’t stop doing what we don’t want to do, doubt and despair take hold. 

There’s no hope…  Just more pain, more failure, more disappointment, and ultimately—death.  Isn’t this how we feel about ourselves?  About our town?  About our congregation, and the future of the Lutheran witness in our area?

But do we really hear what Jesus says?  Do we pay attention to what Paul writes?  They don’t testify to a God who attacks and destroys people for their sins, shortcomings, and lack of faith.  They speak of a God who helps those who can’t help themselves.  They speak of a God who’s faithful, whose grace overflows when everything else runs out.  They speak of a God who delivers us from temptation.  Jesus himself gives his blood to set us free from the deadly grip of sin, who dies because we die—and who rises, so we can arise. 

As a child of God, when worries pile up, pain multiples, and we fall deeper into sin, it’s not wrath that’s coming down the conveyor belt from God—it’s grace!  He comes to you when temptation is strong; and he still comes even if you give in and mess everything up.  He comes to us when the pain is too much and we can't move on. Faith is all about lifting up our heads, trusting in God, and claiming the graces that come our way. 

So often in life, we let ourselves become controlled by what we lack.  By what hurts…  By the ways we’ve failed…  Problems define our existence and determine our destiny. 

Faith is about seeing God’s abundance as a grace that’s greater and stronger than the problems.  We’re seeing God in the everyday, ordinary things—like the food we eat, the water we drink, the clothes we wear, the homes we live in.  We’re seeing God in the people who love us and show us kindness.  We’re seeing God even in the air we breathe and the beating of our hearts. 

But thankfulness is just the beginning.  God’s grace is like a box of chocolates.  It's meant to be shared!  Instead of chocolate, we give our presence; our time; our listening ears.  We give our time, our hands, our voices.  We give our prayers and tell our stories. 

God comes alive as love meets human needs; when mercy is given as well as received.

And sometimes, all we’ll really have in abundance is pain, and the wreckage of sin.  Even then, you can still give yourself—because when love draws one person to another, healing begins.  A burden is never as heavy when you’re not bearing it alone.  When two or more are gathered, Jesus is there.  Healing begins. 

In Christ, you can be filled with grace even as you’re giving something away. 

Lent isn't about what we do to get to Jesus, but instead about what Jesus does to get to us—and come to us.  The fact that he went to Calvary for us proves that. 

Lucy and Ethel put the chocolates pretty much anywhere they can. So where and when will you be open to Jesus to receive his grace—and give it away?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Rising from the Ruin: Luke 13:31-35, Philippians 3:17-4:1 - Second Sunday in Lent

Philippians 3:17--4:1

17Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. 18For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. 19Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. 20But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. 21He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. 4:1Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.

Gospel: Luke 13:31-35

31At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to [Jesus,] “Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you.” 32He said to them, “Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. 33Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.’ 34Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”
Ground Zero, New York City, Feb 27, 2003 Photo by author.
Thirteen years ago, almost to the day, I stood behind a chain-link fence surrounding the vast abyss that was known as Ground Zero, the site of the former World Trade Center towers in New York City. 

As powerful a feeling as it was to be in a place where so many innocent people lost their lives, I was captivated by a mural that spanned the entire face of a good-sized building.

Below a painting of the statue of liberty, with a heart-shaped American flag in the background, was a quote:

“The human spirit is not measured by the size of the act, but by the size of the heart.”

My thoughts immediately turned to the heroic acts of first responders, many who lost their lives on that fateful day.  But I also thought about all the ordinary citizens who donated blood, money, and simple acts of kindness.  For a brief time, we were drawn together as one people.  We even returned to our faith and filled our churches.

Today, the World Trade Center is rebuilt.  The mural is gone; and the compassion and community that flourished has largely faded.

As the War on Terror rages on, are we as a society more focused on killing our enemies—or taking care of our fellow human beings?

I can’t see there being a vast difference between our society and the society over which Jesus mourns in today’s Gospel…

For some time now, Jesus has been on a mission to enact the grace of God toward a suffering and sinful humanity.  He cast out demons and healed the sick; he welcomed sinners into God’s family.  He identified himself as among those who were of the least in their society, affirming that they mattered to God.  He spoke truth to the powers-that-be who accumulated wealth and prestige on the backs of the poor and vulnerable. 

He does this because he is the embodiment of God’s grace to humanity.  He comes to gather God’s children into himself.  But Jesus, in his grace, is rejected.  He knows that his obedience to God will cost him his life. 

So Jesus is here grieving over a city and a society that lay in absolute spiritual ruins. The guilt of Jerusalem is a guilt we all share in, whether we realize it or not.

As Paul writes, we make gods of our bellies

For starters, we claim God’s gifts with a sense of entitlement.  We have what we have because we’re good, hard-working people.  We believe in God, we’re nice to others, and we’re more righteous than most. Therefore, nobody has the right to claim what is ours; yet we have the right to claim even more.

This is spiritual ruin…

What’s more is that life’s pressures and pains have a way of exacerbating spiritual ruin. Instead of seeking the grace of God in our time of need, we attempt to ease the pressure and pain through our bellies. 

We sell ourselves out to material things.  We drown our sorrows by indulging our appetites in whatever can bring us instant pleasures and great escapes.  We empty ourselves into the pursuit of achievement and success. We scramble and trample to lay hold of everything we can take that we think will make us happy.

An equally-powerful sign of spiritual ruin is our deliberate ignorance to the suffering of others.  A disaster’s not a disaster if it doesn’t affect us.  What’s worse is that we revel in others’ pain; we increase our self-worth by excluding and tearing down those we perceive as beneath us. 

In our spiritual ruin, we become enemies of the cross of Christ.  This happens when God’s grace is not enacted in how we live in relation to God or other people.

Lent is a season in which we all must own up to our spiritual ruin—and grieve for it. 

But thankfully, Jesus is bound and determined to claim you, and all your spiritual ruin, and transform you into the person God created you to be.  He is bound and determined to deliver you into the life God intended you to live.  He is bound and determined to recreate us as one body in himself. 

When there’s ruin, Jesus will give resurrection. 

With our sins forgiven and our lives reclaimed, we’re challenged rethink all of our  commitments in light of the cross.  What do you really want out of life?  What does happiness mean?  What do you rely upon when you’re feeling pressured, scared, and weary?  Where are you feeling pressure and pain?  What is holding you back from true discipleship? 

Ask these questions because Jesus is sending the Holy Spirit to where these pains, pressures, and longings exist in you.  Nonetheless, each and every one of us is being invited today into the security of God’s love.  As we continue on our journey through these forty days, may the power of our bellies give way to the power of the Holy Spirit.  May entitlement turn to humble gratitude.  May pain and worry give way to prayer and trust.  May we never hesitate to do something as silly as seeking refuge from life’s pressures and pains by giving ourselves away!

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Devil On The Run: Luke 4:1-13 - First Sunday in Lent

Monastery of the Temptation By Dmitrij Rodionov, DR - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,  
1Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, 2where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. 3The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.” 4Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘One does not live by bread alone.’ ”
5Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And the devil said to him, “To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. 7If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” 8Jesus answered him, “It is written,
 ‘Worship the Lord your God,
  and serve only him.’ ”
9Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, 10for it is written,
 ‘He will command his angels concerning you,
  to protect you,’
 ‘On their hands they will bear you up,
  so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ ”
12Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” 13When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.
I decided I’d had enough…

For as long as we’ve been married, Elizabeth and I have used the liquid bath soap—and usually, that soap has been geared to the female taste.

Recently, the soap was “Satisfying White Strawberry & Mint”—and I could smell it on myself for hours.

So I decided to shop for a more masculine soap.  At the store, I’m amazed by the myriad of choices, all within one brand!!

There was “Lasting Legend;” “Live Wire;” “Denali;” “Wolfthorn Wild;” and “Aqua Reef”—and I caught myself thinking, “which soap describes me as a person?

Frustrated, I chose “High Endurance Level 3.”

Isn’t it amazing that soap gives you an image?  That you can create an identity for yourself through a scent?

But I imagine soap was the least of Jesus’ concerns in today’s Gospel.  Jesus has been led to the wilderness by the Holy Spirit, where, for forty days, he is being tempted by the devil.  We’re told that he ate nothing during those days, and that he was famished.  Not only is he hungry, but he’s probably tired, lonely, scared, and wanting the ordeal to be over.  The devil seizes this as the perfect opportunity to tempt Jesus—though I don’t think temptation is a big enough word here…  Chocolate tempts us.  The stakes are a bit higher here…

 “Command this stone to become bread,” the devil says.  In other words, “You’re hungry—and God has done nothing to feed you! God can’t be trusted.  So try it my way instead!  As God’s Son, you’re entitled…”

When that effort fails, the devil is showing Jesus all the kingdoms of the world.  The temptation: “Impeach God.  Trade in the wilderness and the life of humble obedience for all the power and the glory in the world.  Just worship me, and it will all be yours.”

When that fails, the devil takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the temple.  The temptation: “make the God, who’s “failed” you thus far, prove his worth.  Throw yourself down and get rescued. 

Since this third temptation also fails, the devil departs from Jesus until a more opportune time.  That time will begin when the devil enters into Judas Iscariot…

The temptations we face are very much the same as these. But again, temptation isn't a big enough word.  Chocolate tempts us.  Pressure might be a better word—because we all have pressure points, and the devil knows how to use them. 

None of us can turn stones into bread—but the devil still applies pressure that we know as fear.  All those things that worry you and keep you up at night—the devil will work overtime to exacerbate that fear to the point that you’ll do whatever it takes to come out on top.  Take control of your destiny; do anything except letting go and trusting God. 

Notice how, twice, the devil says to Jesus, “If you are the Son of God…”  Just the same, the devil will always try to create a sense of personal entitlement in our temptations…

None of us will ever rule the world—but the devil still applies pressure that we know as desire.  The devil works overtime to ensure that you’re not content merely wanting only what you need.  The devil will pressure you to the point of desperation for anything and everything you feel is necessary to be happy; to feel secure and in control; to be somebody

I pray that none of us will ever be tempted to dive off a tall building—but the devil still applies pressure that we know as doubt.  The devil works overtime hurling accusations at God.  The devil puts God on trial, to prove God guilty of being unfaithful, unjust, and completely unworthy of our trust.  All of your pains, losses, and weaknesses will be used as evidence against God. 

Sometimes, the devil puts you on trial, in order to convince you that God could never love someone as disgustingly sinful and miserable as you…

Putting it all together, the devil always attacks your sense of identity as well as your relationship with God.  Anything to blind you to the truth of who you are and who God is…

But Jesus knew who he was and he knew who God was—and he held fast to these truths, even as the devil pressured him with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

That’s the key for us…  The way we resist the devil is by remembering who we are and who God is.  First and foremost is that you are a child of God.  You are created in God’s image; so precious and valuable to God that God’s Son was given for you.  God’s love for you is such that God in Jesus Christ literally descends into hell to deliver you from death and the devil. 

We need to remember who others are, too—that God doesn’t see them for their faults or foibles, but as beloved children.  We are all part of the same family, Christian or not.  Jesus teaches us that anything we do for the least of those who are members of his family, we do for him.  Jesus may very well be the stranger in need that we serve in love.

Where the devil applies pressure, God gives freedom.  This God understands your fears; this God knows your desires; this God will never reject you for your doubts.  This God hears your prayers.  This God will never leave you.

The key to withstanding the devil’s pressure is remembering who you are—and letting God be who God is.  So during this season of Lent, claim and reclaim your true identity.  Do as Jesus does—read and learn the Holy Scriptures.  Every Christian should know at least a few bible verses by heart.

Martin Luther once said, “whenever you was your face, remember your baptism.”  Let the water affirm God’s love for you.

Take time to be thankful.  Faith for the future comes by remembering God’s faithfulness in the past. 

And pray without ceasing.  This is how we put the devil on the run…

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Why We Fast: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 - Ash Wednesday

1Blow the trumpet in Zion;   sound the alarm on my holy mountain!
 Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble,
  for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near—
2a day of darkness and gloom,
  a day of clouds and thick darkness!
 Like blackness spread upon the mountains
  a great and powerful army comes;
 their like has never been from of old,
  nor will be again after them
  in ages to come.

12Yet even now, says the Lord,
  return to me with all your heart,
 with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning;
  13rend your hearts and not your clothing.
 Return to the Lord, your God,
  for he is gracious and merciful,
 slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love,
  and relents from punishing.
14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent,
  and leave a blessing behind him,
 a grain offering and a drink offering
  for the Lord, your God?

15Blow the trumpet in Zion;
  sanctify a fast;
 call a solemn assembly;
  16gather the people.
 Sanctify the congregation;
  assemble the aged;
 gather the children,
  even infants at the breast.
 Let the bridegroom leave his room,
  and the bride her canopy.

17Between the vestibule and the altar
  let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep.
 Let them say, “Spare your people, O Lord,
  and do not make your heritage a mockery,
  a byword among the nations.
 Why should it be said among the peoples,
  ‘Where is their God?’ ”
Ash Wednesday by Lawrence OP.  Creative Commons image on flickr

Just in time for Lent, the doctor told me: "you need to change your diet."

My cholesterol was up, and I had to make a choice: either change my diet and lower it, or go on medication. 

I don't like the second option one bit.  So I chose the first option—though I hardly consider it better… 

Within minutes of leaving the doctor’s, my stomach began gurgling for all the foods I have to give up (all of which happen to taste great): pizza, burgers, Chinese food, fried chicken.  For days, I wallowed in self-pity, because I could no longer indulge in these pleasures.

That was two weeks ago. 

Needless to say, I know what I'll be giving up for Lent this year.

But why do we even talk about giving things up for Lent?  As Lutherans, we’re not under ecclesiastical obligation to abstain from eating meat on Fridays or do any kind of fasting.  Diets are bad enough as it is. That deprivation is enough to make you miserable.

With Lent, however, the very act of giving something up reminds you of how sinful you are and how mortal you are.  It is supposed to be a reminder of Jesus death on the cross—hardly a pleasant subject, to say the least. 

Put it all together, and this is hardly a time to look forward to. 

No we could just forget all about this Lent stuff and continue on as usual.  Sure, we’ll come to church, deck the halls with purple paraments (because they're pretty), and eat, drink, and be merry all the way to Easter.

The reason is this: we all have to face reality sooner or later.  Ignoring the truth won’t make it go away. Lent is the time that we as a Church do that. 

The truth is, we’re sinners.  It is in sin that we reach for and cling to whatever we believe will make us happy.  We make ourselves out to be gods and count our needs and wants as sacred.  Viciously, we trample over others to achieve success and security. 

What’s more is that we sin at a communal and national levels—meaning that we all participate in political, social, economic, and even religious systems that benefit us, but push others into poverties of food, shelter, health, opportunity, and even basic human dignity.

Another truth: we’re mortal.  Our time on this earth is limited.  Our minds are weak; our hearts are broken; our bodies are fragile.  Pain and suffering will visit all of us sooner or later.

A third truth: Jesus died.  God’s only Son was crucified.  And anyone who commits sin, whether knowingly or unknowingly, is guilty of driving the nails into his hands.  What’s more is that the cruelty of the cross reveals the depth of the cruelty we commit against our neighbors.

Lent is a time in which we grieve these truths.  But we also grieve our neighbors’ suffering; much of it created by our own hands, and ignored by our own will…. 

But there’s another truth we need to face, too: the cross, where we the bitter cruelty of our sin meets the greater love and mercy of our God.  We see that we’re not rejected for our guilt, but are unconditionally loved and warmly embraced by Jesus’ nailed-open arms. 

It’s not enough merely to look at the cross or think about it.  This is too great a truth; too great a gift to simply go on business as usual.  We have to do it.  We have to participate in it. 

This is also why we fast: to become one with Jesus in his living, his giving, and his dying. We fast to immerse ourselves in Jesus’ worship of and obedience to his Father.  As the Body of Christ, God’s Spirit is upon us to extend our hands in love to those who daily suffer pain and deprivation, and raise them up into new life. 

We fast not because we have to—but because we need to.  In other words, we fast because Christ has something greater in store for us to both give and receive.

So tonight, as we begin our Lenten journey to the cross, we simultaneously begin a journey into the heart of Christ.  The journey will take us through the darkness of our sin and through the pains of death, but it will also lead to resurrection.  We give ourselves away as bread for the hungry and feast on a greater bread and rich wine that at comes only from the God who made us and loves us.

This is the reason for the season.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Dangers, Demons, and Transfiguration: Luke 9:28-43 - Transfiguration Sunday

IL09 2862 Mt-Tabor by Benjamin.  Creative commons image on flickr
28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
37On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43aAnd all were astounded at the greatness of God. (NRSV)
The Bible doesn’t tell us so, but if I had to guess, I’d say that Jesus was in excellent physical condition.  We know this because he’s constantly on the move; going from town to town, doing God’s work. 

I imagine the disciples to be pretty physically fit, too.  After all, most of them were fishermen, laborers—all of which were physically demanding vocations.

I see myself as more in shape than out of shape, though not by much…

Yet I can see myself as one of Jesus’ disciples in today’s Gospel, trying to fight back sleep.

Jesus has led them up to the top of what is said to be Mt. Tabor.  It’s hardly Mt. Everest, but at a height of nearly two thousand feet, and a steep 1.5-mile hike to the top, it would be enough to give anyone a good workout.

Fortunately for the disciples, they’re awake enough to see the dazzling show of glory happening right in front of them: as soon as Jesus begins to pray, the appearance of his face changes, and his clothes become dazzling white.  Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appear, and begin talking to Jesus about his impending death in Jerusalem.

Enraptured by what he sees, Peter offers to build three dwelling-places for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.  But then, a voice from heaven interrupts him, saying, “this is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!”

At that instant, it’s all over.

The very next day, they’re down from the mountain, facing the horrors of a boy being tormented by a demon.  The disciples are so scared stiff that they cannot do anything—and his frustrated father turns to Jesus.

Once again, I can easily see myself as one of the disciples—too physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted to do anything.  Just scared stiff…

Now I’m not saying that Jesus overworked his disciples.  But he did deny their plea to stay up on the mountain, where they would be safe and secure from all the demons and dangers of the world below. 

We all want that same safety and security, too (if it could be had).  Contrary to popular belief, the Christian life is not a first-class ticket out of the losses, pains, and trials of life.  It doesn’t make us invulnerable to pain; it doesn’t make us perfect and superhuman.  Instead, we must live in the world of dangers and demons—just like everyone else.

And we all face a choice—do we lay down in defeat as people consumed by raw fear, or do we trust God?

It may seem quite uncharacteristic of Jesus that he scolds his disciples so bitterly for their inability to help the demon-possessed boy.  But he does so because they listened to their fear instead of listening to him. 

Thankfully, Jesus does not hide away when we’re facing down dangers and demons.  He comes to us just as he did for the boy and his father.  He meets us in our disfiguration and fear.  His glory is all about bring life out of death.  That’s what transfiguration is all about. 

So we have to decide—do we lay down in fear, or do we rise up in faith?

Faith begins by acknowledging that the dangers and demons are real.  There’s nowhere you can go to hide from them; there’s no perfect life out there through which you can be shielded from them.

Whoever or whatever your demons they may be, they’re going to be bigger than you and bigger than your faith.  As terrible as the demons may be, they’re no match for Jesus This is why we need Jesus: to call out to him in prayer and embrace his promises spoken to us in the Word. 

Yet we need others, too.  One of the main reasons why Elijah and Moses show up is that their presence strengthens Jesus to bear his cross.  For us, some of God’s greatest healing gifts are the people God gives; people who embody Christ’s faithful presence; his compassion, and his wisdom.  Sometimes, these people show up on their own; other times you must reach out.  You must ask for help. 

As a child of God, you are sent to people who themselves are being tormented by demons.  We know these demons as grief and illness; but we also know them as poverty and hunger…  We know them as drug abuse and addiction…  We know them as domestic violence; child and elder abuse and neglect…  We know these demons as moving through and inhabiting political, social, and economic systems that serve the interests of the fortunate few at the expense of the many.  These demons even infiltrate religion and churches—so to shut people out of God’s graces, divide the Body of Christ, and lay down every possible stumbling block that would inhibit God’s will from being done.

Believing that Jesus is more powerful than all the dangers and demons haunting the world, we name them and face them down.  We boldly go to the dark places of the world where God’s children are frightened and tormented.  We go because God’s Spirit is upon us, and that we can make a difference.  Together, we can cast out demons.  We can take back our communities and precious lives.  Trusting in Jesus and acting on his Word, we will see the glory of God.

Together, we will see transfiguration.