How are you sleeping? I will confess to waking up with a bit stress. Maybe it is eleven murders at the Pittsburgh synagogue, two African Americans murdered in Louisville, or pipe bombs sent by a right wing terrorist. I am distressed that our nation, that once held up a hopeful light over Ellis Island saying “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” is now contemplating sending 15,000 troops to our border with Mexico.
Orthodox theology tells us Jesus bore the sins of the world. After glorious worship on the mountain top, Jesus will soon weep over Jerusalem. “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you city who kills the prophets, I long to embrace you as a mother chick, holds her babies, but you would not have it.” Jesus will flip over the moneychanger tables in the Temple and n one of the stranger episodes Jesus will curse an unproductive fig tree. Having just loaded everything into a moving pod, I could curse a fig tree. Can you imagine the weight of every bitter family feud, every hate crime, and each misguided tweet?
Jesus was under tremendous pressure. Mark 5:56 tells us everywhere that Jesus went the crowds came seeking healthcare. At times people just grabbed Jesus seeking to be made whole.When Jesus sought renewal leave, the crowds tracked him down and in desperation forget to bring their lunches.
Jesus preaching about The Kingdom of God offended and challenged the Empire of Rome. It made the moderates worry that Jesus might provoke a harsh Roman response. Jesus is Lord means that Caesar, Donald, and Barack are not our guides. Jesus was crucified by an alliance of religious and political leaders.
Jesus made religious enemies. The orthodox called Jesus’ easy forgiveness blasphemy. They chirped “who can forgive sin but God alone?” They could not stomach Jesus setting aside some rules and boundaries. They took up stones, and at least once, they tried to throw Jesus off a cliff. The priests drove the crowd’s chat “Crucify Him.” .
Jesus bore the stress of disciples, who could not learn the lessons of the Sermon on the Mount. They argued about who was the greatest and suggested, “Send the crowds away”, and “Lord, call down fire on those unbelievers.” Dr. King lamented, “shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill-will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” Surely Jesus bears the burden of our lukewarm acceptance and easy indifference.
Jesus bore the sins of the world, on this All Saints Sunday, we remember Jesus does not go into the Garden of Gethsemane or atop this mountain of transfiguration alone. Jesus goes with Peter, James and John. Jesus finds hosts and confidants in Mary, Martha and Magdalene. We preachers may deride the disciples’ follies, but even friends who fall asleep or say the wrong things bring comfort. To know that weary friends are napping in the waiting room being alone. To hear a friend say the wrong thing is better than no one saying a word while we suffer. Jesus will ask his imperfect friends to “keep watch with me, for my soul is overwhelmed with grief.” On the way of suffering “the daughters of Jerusalem” weep for Jesus. On the cross Mary, Magdalene, Joanna and James’ mom keep watch over our bleeding, dying Lord.
Do we take time to intentionally bare our souls with other imperfect people? How well do we keep watch over each others souls? Jesus, fully God and fully Human, valued imperfect spiritual companions.
If two or three gather together for prayer, God will show up. No one can describe what happened as they prayed. How do you describe the taste of God’s perfecting love? Words always fail to describe the divine encounter. In light and glory, Elijah and Moses appear and chat with Jesus.
Who does God send to Jesus as Christ faces his suffering, death and resurrection? God does not send an angel. What do angels know about facing down Pharoah, Jezebel, Ahab or Pilate? God sends people. God sends Elijah and Moses, who have already imperfectly walked the crucible of spiritual leadership. Moses faced Pharaoh; Elijah faced King Ahab. They prepare Jesus to face Pilate and the High Priests. Moses knows the lukewarm fickleness of church-goers, who complain after the Red Sea and party with pagan abandon around a fertility god fashioned as a Golden Calf in contrast to God’s Ten Commandments. Elijah knows how churchy people chase after prosperity gods and kill the prophets. Moses and Elijah know the weariness of leading a stiffnecked and hardhearted people. Elijah once cried out to God, “My God, my God, I am the only righteous person left!” God said. “Oh no you are not Elijah, get out of that cave!”
We belong to a great cloud of imperfect witnesses. Oh that we might worship so that their redemption stories become ours.
Elijah and Moses reminds us that our lives matter. Our lives have the potential to weave hope into the world. God does not send Solomon, who squandered a kingdom, to Jesus or Eli the priest, who cared for his office more than justice!. God sends leaders who led lives that made a difference. God sent people, who imperfectly, did hard things. Our lives matter.
We will not all be Elijah! Sometimes, God sends my dad to me, not with some glorious appearance, I see Dad in the mirror when I am getting dressed. I look just like him, and I say, “Hey Dad, you should have taken better care of yourself.” My dad, like everyone’s dad was not perfect. Dad could get so angry, that all my neighborhood friends scattered like frightened squirrels to the fig trees. “Purdue’s in trouble… let’s get.” My dad grew up in a hell-hole with physical, emotional, spiritual and other abuse. My Dad lived a life that mattered. When Dad died, his younger sisters told us how as a 20 year old soldier in Korea, Dad sent money to a Sunday School teacher, so that she might buy Easter and Christmas dresses for his younger sisters. Dad knew his father and step mother would not. Those dresses are gone, love endures forever. When my grandfather died, my brother gave Dad a note. Overcome with emotions, Dad handed the note to me in tears. John wrote: Dad, I will never be the Father that you have been to me, for out of nothing you gave us love, and we will always give out of something”. Our lives matters. Live for things that endure.
Like a camera flash, the glorious mountain top moment ends. Peter, James, John and Jesus stand together in regular time. The disciples stand open mouthed, lost in wonder, love, and praise. Bewildered by the holy moment, they lack adequate words. Peter speaks up with a bad idea, suggesting they encapsulate and enshrine this holy moment. Let’s build a sanctuary or retreat center and come back here to recapture the glory. We tend to do that, to lovingly look backwards on a bygone era. Jesus did not come to build a shrine or even write a book. Jesus came to build a spiritual kingdom rooted in love of neighbor as self. Jesus came to offer hope, preach good news, forgive sins, lift up the crushed, release the oppressed, stand with the outcast, feed the hungry, heal the sick, calm the mentally ill, embrace those labeled unclean, cast down the self-righteous, turn the other cheek, eschew violence, and take up the cross .Jesus does not build a retreat center but heads back down into the valley, sliding back under the heaviness of his vocation, tasting perfect love so that he might again shoulder the sins of the world and make a difference on earth and in heaven.
Bolstered by glorious worship, conversations with Elijah and Moses, and imperfect friends like Peter, James- Martha, Magdalene and Mary, Jesus moves forward to the cross. So with Jesus, Peter, James, and John-Mary, Magdalene and Martha let us march forward from moments of glorious of worship into life’s dark valleys un-afraid for God is with us, the saints surround us in glorious imperfection, and when even two of us, very imperfect people, pray and labor together in God’s Kingdom- God shows up. Even more so in stressful days, let us together, do the work of Jesus. Amen.