The Lenten Call
You know the call of the wild; the call of the great outdoors. Hear the call of Lent. This is the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, and you should hear the call of Lent in the Collect, in the Introit, in the Burying of the Alleluias, and in our text.
The Lenten call is away from the world. The text tells us this at least 4 different ways. It's not just that Jesus called the 3 disciples up to a mountain; no it was a high one. And although we know that if Jesus called them away from the others, it means they were alone with Him. Still we're told Jesus was with them, not just alone, but privately.
You have to go a long way to get away from our world, don't you? Most of you carry cell phones, smart phones, tablets, or pads. The world presses you from all sides everywhere you go. You feel like, in the words of Jackson Brown, you're "running on empty." Or if you prefer country music like Alabama: "I'm in a hurry to get things done. I rush and rush until life's no fun. All I really got to do is live and die; I'm in a hurry and don't know why."
There's a time to be in the world, but there's a time to be alone, apart, secluded from the world. Lent calls you to this, and Lent provides you with it by calling you not to a mountain but to a sanctuary. Right here is shelter from the storm of this fallen world. And even though we've heard cell phones sound in here, this place is a refuge from the tentacles of the world because this place is only about Jesus.
The Lenten call is not a call to come see me or one another. The Lenten call is to come see Jesus. Look at our text. The disciples had no doubts that they were called up to the mountain privately to see Jesus. They saw Him transfigured; literally they saw Him metamorphoo before them. Jesus, in Power Rangers' language, "morphed" before their eyes. Their rabbi, their teacher, their friend, showed them who He had been telling them He was: the Lord who dwells in light unapproachable, the Holy God who is a consuming fire. The Almighty God whose glory is so intense it makes earthly clothes glow with heavenly glory.
Hold on; this isn't the Jesus I see in Lent. I don't see a Jesus glowing with heavenly glory; I see a Jesus covered with shame. I don't see a Jesus whose earthly clothes shine; I see One whose clothes are covered with blood or even a Jesus without clothes. I don't see a Jesus flanked by saints; I see a Jesus numbered with criminals and crucified with thieves.
As the disciples see Jesus in all His glory, Moses and Elijah appear. Now were talking! Now the cavalry is here! The disciples thought, along with many others of their day, that what God's church needed was Elijah and Moses on the scene to start kicking butts and taking names. Elijah and Moses were bold, powerful men who never lost. When Elijah or Moses led God's people they were always victorious. Also neither of these two heroes from the Old Testament allowed God's people to stray. They didn't let people get away with anything. They had standards, and they held people to them.
Isn't this what the church today needs? Isn't that what we think the call to Lent should be? Let's get rock-hard and rock-steady Moses and Elijah down here. They'll shape things up. They won't let the church suffer at the hands of evildoers. They'll lead us in victory against the Moabites and Ammonites of our day. They'll deliver us from evil, disease and maladies by one of their miracles. And they won't tolerate all the false doctrine and false living going on in the church today!
Wouldn't that be great to come here for Lenten services and find bold, powerful, Moses and Elijah here? Do this! Don't do that! Need miracles, need plagues, need someone your enemies would be afraid of? These guys are it. Need someone to deliver you from illness or even death? These guys are the ones! But to what does Lent call us? To a weak, wimpy Jesus who allows Himself to be betrayed into the hands of His enemies. To a Jesus whose enemies are not only not afraid of Him but who feel free to mock, beat, and spit on Him! And the only miracle the Lenten Jesus performs is done to an enemy, the servant of the wickedest high priest ever.
Maybe if Lent called you to victorious Moses and Elijah more of you would come to Lenten services. But a suffering, bleeding, dying Jesus who loses terribly is just not that appealing to people who are suffering, bleeding, dying, and losing in the world daily. The disciples were the same as we are; Jesus knows that and that's why Elijah and Moses disappear from the scene. "When the disciples looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus." The message both by sight and sound is clear: what the disciples need is neither Moses nor Elijah but Jesus.
Jesus had been teaching them this even before the Father said it bluntly. Jesus had taught that searching the Scriptures was pointless unless a person saw that all the Law and the Prophets, both Moses and Elijah, bear witness to Him alone. You know the main thing the disciples stumbled over in Scripture? It's the same thing we stumble over in the call to Lent: that it is necessary for Jesus to suffer these things. If Lent was only about a glowing Jesus, a winning Jesus, a powerful Jesus that would make sense to us, because that's what we feel we need in this world.
We feel so beaten down and beat up; we sure could use a little good news today, couldn't we? We could use news of Moses defeating the Moabites or Elijah defeating Baal. We could use spiritual training by these hard men of the Old Testament; they could make us better, tougher Christians. But what do we get? The Jesus of Gethsemane and Cavalry; the Jesus who suffers, bleeds and dies. But this Jesus is exactly what we need declares our Father who is in heaven.
The Father commands the disciples to stick with this Jesus, so they followed Him as He went on to suffer, bleed, and die in Jerusalem. Lent calls us to follow Him for the last 2 days of that suffering when it was most intense. But be clear, the Father doesn't call the disciples or us to Jesus so that we can do for Him but so that we can listen of Him.
Look how firmly the door is shut on doing in this text. Peter wants to do for Jesus, to make shelters to keep the glorified Jesus safe and the powerful Moses and Elijah here on earth. But God the Father wipes all such thoughts out of his mind by removing Elijah and Moses and accenting Jesus. The Lenten call isn't for you to do anything for Jesus. Not to give up something, not to give money, not even to go to church for Jesus. The Lenten call doesn't even call you to listen to Jesus. I know that the insert has, "Listen to Him." But God the Father actually says, "Listen of Him."
Now we're on to something. Lent isn't a call to listen to what a low-life I am, although it's true I am. Lent is a call to listen of what a low-life the perfect God-Man became in this world. It's a call to listen of how Jesus suffered, bled, and died. It's a call to peak through the window into the upper room. It's a call to Gethsemane to watch from behind an olive tree. Lent is a call to follow to the judgment hall and view the Lord of life arraigned. It's a call to stand in the crowd before the judgment seat of Pilate. It's a call to go to Golgotha and watch as God dies.
How depressing! How in the world does this help me deal with this world? How does this help me escape from the world I live in where Jesus is always on trail, always convicted, always crucified? Don't you see? I already see Jesus suffering all around me in this world. I'd rather get away to a contemporary worship church where I can sing happy, upbeat songs, not "Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted!"
The answer comes at the end of our text: We read, "They no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus." The point is much more than Jesus is the only one in front of them. The text literally says, "And suddenly looking around no longer did they see anyone else at all, but on the contrary [they saw] Jesus only with themselves. Neither Moses nor Elijah but Jesus was with them. Even the cloudy presence of God left but Jesus was God with them; He was Immanuel!
Here is what Lent calls you to: to listen of Jesus and to see both that you were with Jesus through His Passion and He is with you through everything that takes place now. As He underwent suffering, bleeding, dying, you were with Him. As He was betrayed by Judas, beaten by Caiaphas, and crucified by Pilate, you and your sins were with Him. Jesus is with you, to claim your sins as His own. Therefore, He came under the judgment of God that sinners ought to be turned over to a sinful world to get what they deserve. And so Jesus is at the mercy of Judas, Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, the mob and the cruel cross. To get out from under these, all Jesus had to do was give you up; refuse to be with you. But He wouldn't.
Lent calls you to remember all that Jesus went through because you and your sins were with Him. But it also calls you to see that He is with you now. Although you're in a world that hates Christians and plots against them, Lent assures you that none of that will ever separate you from Jesus. If He was willing to stay with you through unimaginable cruelty and pain to pay for your sins, surely He won't refuse to stay with you now as you suffer at the hands of a world that hates you because your sins have been paid for.
Lent calls us to see that we aren't alone as we face our enemies in this world be they sinful, evil, political, or medical. Lent calls us to see Jesus is with us not by the power and might of miracles, but by sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, and dying with and for our sins. Hear the call today. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Transfiguration (20150215); Mark 9: 2-9