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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

Confidence Markers - 02/26/2017

This story we have from Matthew on this Transfiguration Sabbath is one of those biblical texts that begs us to enter into it and imagine what it could have been like for those who were there.

So, to get us started, here is a picture of the mountain where we believe Jesus' transfiguration took place. This is Mt. Hermon seen from the Golan Heights. I was there in the winter months, so there was snow on its caps, but there is snow on it much of the year. That snow melts and channels its way down to become the life-giving springs and streams that come together and form the headwaters of the Jordan River.

This story invites us to try and get behind the eyes of Peter, James and John and climb that mountain with Jesus. What did they see? Where is he taking us and to what end?, they may have wondered to themselves or among each other as they followed Jesus' relentless and sure pace up Mt. Hermon.

How long did it take? Did they go by a well-worn path or break their own trail? How did the earth below their feet feel as they climbed? How did it crunch below their footfall? Did they get a little worried as the air got thinner and they moved farther and farther away from the prospect of a warm bed and meal that night?

There were some pretty intense experiences in the company of their great teacher just before this Mt. Hermon hike, experiences that surely would have brought about a lot of side conversations, strange dreams, deep thought, prayer.

Jesus had told them, for instance, that his disciples must take up their own crosses and follow him. A lot of people who thought they wanted to be disciples returned to their homes after he said that.

Jesus said when they finally got to Jerusalem, which was still more than 100 miles away, he would “undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matt. 16:21)

And Peter … Peter had finally uttered out loud what everyone was thinking ... when Jesus asked “But who do you say that I am?” ... Peter just blurted it out. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:15-16) It's what all of them were wondering secretly or had talked about in hushed conversations with each other. And now Peter had finally said it – he named the elephant in the room.

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven,” (Matt. 16:17) Jesus said in response to Peter's proclamation.

It was true then. Jesus had confirmed what they so badly wanted to believe … that he was the Messiah who had come just as the prophets foretold. This was exciting and exhilarating news – and it was frightening too.

Frightening because they weren't feeling quite ready for what Jesus was talking about. Yes, they would take up their own on crosses for sake of the Good News Jesus was preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matt. 4:17)

But should they really be walking toward Jerusalem and persecution and death? Shouldn't they avoid it and take this message to the people everywhere but Jerusalem – the very city where the scribes and the Pharisees and others already wanted to put an end to his ministry? And what exactly did he mean that he would be raised again after being killed?

I think it's easy to imagine how Peter, James and John were feeling in regards to all this as they were trekking up that mountain.

Easy because I think we've all probably felt something like this before – we bolt confidently into something feeling quite sure about it, but then our minds start twisting things around – making us question what seemed so certain, what seemed so plausible only a minute before.

It reminds me of something I've experienced in mountain biking before. You ride a trail for the first time and you're excited by what others have said about it, or what you see on the trail map.

But then you miss a confidence marker – or there aren't any. Confidence markers are those symbols you find at intervals on many trails. They aren't meant to show which way to go at a crossroads or a fork in the road or anything like that. They are simply meant to assure bikers or hikers or skiers that they are still on the right path. In the absence of confidence markers, I can let things turn around in my mind pretty quickly. Did I miss a turn somewhere? Is this the trail or did I accidentally end up on a deer run? Am I even in Alger County anymore?

I suspect that's where the minds' of the disciples were – Peter, James and John, and all the others who stayed back and watched these four men begin the Mt. Hermon hike too. The Messiah, really? Did I misunderstand something? Am I on the right track here? Can I truly believe what I am seeing and hearing and feeling? Am I even in Israel anymore?

It's part of our faith, really. I've said it before and I'll probably say it a million more times before I draw my last breath: doubt and questioning is not opposite of faith, it's part of it. And there are times, when more than anything else, we need a confidence marker from God.

And they are there so often if we take the time to quiet ourselves or pay attention. Kind words and a community of support in the face of cancer. A perfectly timed note or phone call in the midst of self-doubt or loneliness. One more day of sobriety for the addict. The laughter of a child in the midst of busy schedules and fast-paced days. A beautiful sunset following a brutal day.

But today, we have the grand daddy of confidence markers, I think. It serves us well, just as it served Peter, John and James. They followed Jesus up that mountain wondering, questioning their own judgments only to witness Jesus fully revealed for all that he truly is – God come among us, the Messiah. It was just for a moment, but it was real, they would tell people later, and the great prophets Moses and Elijah were there too. Jesus became as white and shining as the Mt. Hermon snows in sunshine and they heard the voice of God rumbling out of the heavens again – just like at his baptism in the Jordan. “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Matt. 17:5)

We follow Jesus to the top of this mountain each year and it's well-placed in our church year. We've officially moved past all the glitter and lights of Christmas and the amazing revelation or epiphany of who this baby in a manger truly is. We've moved on to the day-to-day experiences and routines and even chaos of our ordinary lives and we might even think back to Christmas and wonder, really? Is that baby really the Messiah who has come to change my life, change this world forever? Is Jesus really the one our Psalmist dreamed of when she sang about a Mighty King, a lover of justice, the one who establishes equity?

Last week when Pastor Katherine Finegan was here doing her presentation on Women of the Reformation, she talked a little about how she thinks we've become a lot more like the first century church. I share her opinion on this. The church isn't dying, but it is changing. Our mission field is not in foreign lands – or even a state or two over – but rather right in our back yard. We have this incredible story about Jesus, this legacy and promise of God that we physically put in our bodies each week at the communion table. And we leave here and go out into the world where so many people do not know the story and when we tell it to them, they often don't believe it, or they question its rationality. That's so true and I think even more so, we ourselves question it. Can this be true? Is Jesus really the Messiah?

So perhaps at this time of year, on our yearly hike up Mt. Hermon – our yearly remembering of the day when Jesus was transfigured to reveal his divinity – we need this confidence marker as we prepare our minds and hearts for Lent and its more difficult tasks of looking inward and seeing honestly where we have turned away from God; of being vulnerable enough to admit where we are broken and offering that brokenness up to God's healing hands; of being brutally honest with ourselves and God about where we have sinned, where we need to seek forgiveness, where we need to find a better way.

The places we are going in our story with Jesus, and in many cases in our own faith journey's as followers of Jesus – can be dark places, as this time of the year reminds us. And like the disciples, we may be following Jesus feeling excited and frightened all at the same time.

But like the disciples, even if we can't pitch a tent up there and stay safely above all the trouble and darkness that is going on at the foot of the mountain, we also have Jesus' words to take with us – to serve us as confidence markers as we continue our journey to Jerusalem with Jesus and the disciples, and also our journeys in this life and this mission field right outside our doors.

May Jesus' words play in your head and heart on your journey this Lent and beyond. “Get up,” Jesus says to us. “Get up and do not be afraid.”


Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~

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