Change – Seeing Again For The First Time
I have a somewhat unpopular and uncomfortable topic today. Are you ready for it? Okay, here it is: God can change.
Folks often talk about how God can change us humans. But we don’t often talk about God as the one who changes. But it’s true. Just look to scripture for examples…
- Moses changes God’s mind on Mt Sinai. (see Exodus 32 – verse 14: And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.)
- Psalmist sings prayers to change God’s mind all the time (for example, Psalm 13 – How Long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? … Consider and answer me, O Lord my God!)
- After the flood God changes God’s mind about destroying humanity and promises through the rainbow never to do it again.
And, truth be told, our prayers of intercession are fundamentally about asking God to do something that God does not appear to be doing. That is our prayer requests ask God to make a change in God’s action and do something about what is going on in the world!
And that may feel a little uncomfortable to admit. In fact, sometimes we are so uncomfortable with it that we tack on to end end of our prayer requests something like this: if it be within your will, God.
So there are definitely times in the Bible where God has changed, at least stories where God’s mind changed.
And today we come across a story of God changing. Many folks know this story as the Transfiguration (an somewhat uncommon word, but it makes sense when you read the story). It comes from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 9 beginning with verse 2:
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
Now this story brings up a great question about God, here as Jesus, and how God changes. The question is this: Does God change? Or is it our perception of God that changes? Did Jesus actually change? (The word used here is transfigure, but it simply means change.) Or does Jesus appear to change to the disciples? In other words, is it the disciples perception of Jesus that changes?
It’s an interesting question, I think. The end result, whether perception or reality, is that to the disciples Jesus does change. And practically, that’s all that matters.
Now, if we go back just a bit, right before this passage we read today, Jesus asks his disciples two important questions:
- Who do people say I am?
- Who do you say I am?
These questions makes clear a central theme of Mark: identity.
After the disciples answer these questions, Jessus begins talking about his identity. He says that he will suffer, be rejected, crucified (killed) and then rise again (resurrected). But the disciples don’t understand why a messiah would suffer and die. And they can’t even comprehend the whole rise again thing.
Peter is so frustrated by Jesus’ crazy talk that he begins arguing with him about it. Then Jesus scolds him saying: Get behind me Satan. You are not thinking God’s thoughts but human thoughts.
The disciples are too focused on “human thoughts.” That is, they are trying to make Jesus the hero of their personal problems and the vehicle of their personal ambitions, their myopic, worldly desires.
Stop for a minute and think about that. I wonder how often we do the same thing to Jesus… I wonder, who have we made Jesus to be?
• There are people – even churches and preachers – out there who have made Jesus to be little more than a retirement plan. Jesus blesses them with material things. Jesus simple wants them to be happy and wealthy. Jesus becomes their personal financial trustee.
• There are people out there who have made Jesus to be little more than the aunt or uncle who always comes to the rescue and bails them out of them out of trouble. Life gets bad, someone is drowning, and Jesus saves them. And now they are saved for eternity. End of story. Not much else to do. Jesus becomes little more than a one person life raft, a personal floatation device.
• There are people out there who have made Jesus little more than their primary care physician. Physical sickness sets in and Jesus is the healing balm. Jesus becomes a personal medicine cabinet.
• There are people out there who have made Jesus into a sports fan. So when it’s game time, they pray to Jesus for a win. And if they win, it was Jesus who gave them the victory. And it’s always interesting how the other team prayed just as hard, but apparently Jesus didn’t give them the win. I guess they aren’t as deserving, they didn’t pray hard enough, they weren’t as valuable to Jesus…or something, right? And Jesus becomes the most valuable player of one team (which I guess means he’s just not good enough or skilled enough to help the other team win).
Now I am not saying that Jesus doesn’t care about our financial stability or the mistakes we make in life or our health or even a sporting events. (Though if I had to question any of these it would be sporting events….you see, despite the Eagles winning the recent Super Bowl and all those Eagles players giving Jesus credit, I know Philly fans and Jesus is no Philly fan!)
Here’s my point: Jesus cannot be reduced to any of these simple acts or occupations. Jesus is much more than all of these. But too often we make Jesus into who we want him to be depending on our life situation. Just like Peter and the disciples wanted to make Jesus into the kind of hero they wanted for their lives in their world.
The story of the Transfiguration is a reminder that for each one of us, that no matter how much we think we have the best answer for Jesus’ question (Who do you say I am?), we still don’t have all the answers. Like the disciples, we don’t get it. We can’t comprehend it.
And it’s because we do exactly what the disciples did…we make Jesus into who we want him to be in our lives for whatever particular moment we need him most.
So, like the disciples, we need an experience of transfiguration in our lives…right now….today. We need to see Jesus shine forth brightly and blindingly in a new and fresh and unbelievable way like we have never experienced before. Whatever we have unknowingly reduced Jesus to, whatever we have unintentionally simplified God into, we need to have our understanding expanded, increased and deepened.
But this isn’t easy. You can’t plan it. You can’t force it. I can’t make you see God any differently than you do right now. No matter how well me or someone else preached in this room right now, we can’t coerce you into a new, bigger, or more profound understanding of God. All I can do is encourage you and invite you to and guide you.
Let me explain. Look at the image below. What do you see?
Whatever you saw first, try to cock you head to the left or right a bit, and see if you can see something different. Try looking at it from another angle. Does the picture change?
Is it a Duck or Rabbit? Or is it both?
Perhaps you say the Rabbit first. And then you turned your head and say the Duck. Once you see the Duck, it’s like the whole picture changes. It almost like you are seeing it again for the first time, completely anew!
I’ve done this many times in different workshops that I lead. And I can tell someone it is a duck or rabbit a thousand times, but I cannot make them see it. What is most effective is to invite them to see the picture in a different way. Invite them to look at it from another angle. And when I do they inevitably see the other answer.
After the Transfiguration, Jesus does something strange. He instructs the disciples not to tell anyone about what they saw. In fact, he does this often in the Gospel of Mark. Jesus teaches, heals, feeds, and changes peoples lives. And almost every time, he tells folks to keep quiet about what he’s done. It’s a bit odd of an odd thing to do, right? Why would Jesus not want people to know about him, what he’s done and how it changes people for the better? Wouldn’t spreading the word create more followers?
It’s a bit odd that Jesus would tell folks to keep quiet. It makes me curious and even confused. Bible teachers and scholars don’t always agree on why Jesus does this. And there’s no clear answer from the Bible.
But I think the answer lies in our need to see Jesus for ourselves. You see, you cannot make someone see something that you want them to see. They have to discover it for themselves. And if you can guide them through that discovery process, then something amazing happens. They discover the answer on their own. And here’s the best part:
Once you see something for yourself, you cannot unsee it.
Just like the image on the bulletin. Now that you have seen it, you will always be able to see it again. But I couldn’t force you to see it. You had to discovery it for yourself. You had to work at seeing it a new way. You had to open your mind, change angles, reorient your perspective.
And folks, this is a truth about our lives as humans. We will always see things the way we want or need to see them. But it takes work to see something new, something different. It takes study. It takes willingness. It takes effort.
So did the duck change into a rabbit? Or did the rabbit change into a duck? Or were both there the whole time? And was it just your perception that changed? Hard question to answer…in a way you can say yes to each one.
Did Jesus change on the mountain with the disciples ? Or was it the disciples perspective that changed?
Maybe it doesn’t matter. Because what’s important is that the disciples began to see and understand this person whom they had come to know well in a different way. They began to see him more clearly, and know him more deeply.
And I believe we all need this kind of change – this transfiguration – in our lives as well.
Some of us need to see other people differently than we do right now because we have put them in a box that is convenient for our own personal needs and desires. (Examples: a difficult person in your life, a strained relationship – and you need this person to be transfigured before your eyes so that you can gain understanding)
Some of us need to see certain organizations or groups differently than we do right now because we have pigeonholed them in ways that are convenient for our purposes, for our own lifestyle, for our own social, political or religious perspectives. (Examples: gay, ethnic group, race, religion, political party – because you cast them off or written them off and what you really need is to look at them from a different perspective and begin to understand them more deeply.)
Some of us need to see Jesus a different way than we do right now because we have begun to use him for our personal needs and wants and desires without thought of others or recognition of his greater purpose. We have mistaken the inner voice in our head that says “I want, I need, I deserve this or that” for the voice of Jesus.
It would be easy for me to say right now but God is calling me to head out for about a month mission trip to Hawaii. I’ve heard gods call in ministry there is fertile and God is telling me that I needed. Sounds great when you say that way doesn’t it? But the truth is if I said that right now i’d be mistaking my personal desire for the voice of Jesus… making my wants into God’s call.
And if I really said this right now, so me I would be thinking: This Pastor might need to listen Jesus again a little harder a little more closely. And you’d be right.
We all need to listen more closely.
For some of us Jesus has become a picture on a wall or a character in a bible stories. So we need to see Christ in a new light, from a new perspective so that He comes out of the story and down off the wall into our hearts and lives.
Some of us need Jesus to be transfigured because we have heard stories about him, songs about him, seen advertisements and quote from scripture, but we have never really gotten to know the person of Jesus, the actual man…the son, the teacher, the mentor, the friend.
Some of us need Jesus to be transfigured because someone has beaten us over the head with the Bible so hard that we are wounded because of judgements, because of criticism, because of rejection, because of people who have been more concerned about the numbers of people in pews than relationships with people in community of faith that is about family.
And I feel pretty certain that all of us most especially me fit into one of these categories. So my prayer for all of us today is that on this transfiguration Sunday we will turn the page of our life to a new chapter when we will begin to see Jesus transformed more fully into gods crucified and resurrected son who brings light and life and love and grace and mercy into all of our lives. May it be so.