Matthew 17 - God our Loving Father

Matthew 17:1-8

1Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. 2As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. 3Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.

4Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials17:4 Greek three tabernacles.—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

5But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” 6The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground.

7Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.

2 Peter 1:16-18

16For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”1:17 Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35. 18We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

How wonderful it is to be in the inner circle. To have inside access.

Not only is Peter one of the elected Jesus’ twelve out of thousand Jewish teens stretched their hands to get picked, he is also one of the three, in the inner, inner circle, the insider insider access.

And this story of transfiguration is one of them.

When Jesus said that morning, “Peter, James and John,” follow me up to Mount Horeb. Peter pumped his fist and said “sweet,” I’m going to come back with selfies with Jesus, post it to facebook, and show all the world how lucky he is and how unlucky the rest of the people who can only envy from distance.

And he goes and it is actually more than he expected. Jesus keeps upping the ante. Jesus keeps outdoing himself. Healing, then walking on water, then feeding 5,000. But this, this is glorious, the only word for it!

He sees Jesus in all his glory. His face like the sun, his robe suddenly bright white. And then, the Moses and Elijah! Hall of Famers! This is like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle gathered around a lecture room, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Lebron James in their prime in the same team.

And there they are talking. And Peter thinks this is so great, he forgets that he wants to go down and show off. He just wants to stay there. He wants to forget the world and just live the rest of his life out here on the mountain top.

It is an amazing experience Peter never forgets. In fact, Peter often talks about it. This is why the gospel writers have this story, because Peter told them. And he didn’t forget a single detail. But of all the amazing details of that experience, one detail sticks out most. It was what surprised him most.

Read 2nd Peter

Of all the things in the experience of the transfiguration, what sears Peter’s heart, what Peter sees is the whole point of that experience is the words of God to Jesus, words ofa Father to his Son, “This is my beloved Son who brings me great joy!”

For the revelation of that transfiguration story is this word of a father to a son, in itself not supernatural, for after all it is words, it is relationship, it is about every human person because every person is a child with a father. And yet it is those words that is the miracle isn’t it. It is those words that are supernatural.

I want us to consider those words today.

First, it is because of those words that I trust this story.

Because that is the last thing you expect when you are telling a story about the coming out of the Son of God.

Transfiguration is the coming out of the Son of God. It happens right in the middle of Jesus’ story. Gets baptized, wilderness, then the mountain. These are very familiar themes.

Cross the red sea, go up the mountain, then wilderness- that’s Moses.

Desert- no rain, Rain – baptism, go up the mountain to meet God – Elijah

Here is Jesus who is like Moses only greater. Who is like Elijah but greater.

Moses and Elijah of great significance. As great a warrior as Joshua was, as great a king as David was, as wise as Solomon was, as poetic as Isaiah was, it wasn’t Joshua and Isaiah. It was Moses and Elijah.

(As great as Larry Bird was, it’s Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan, and sorry if that upset anyone).

Because Moses was the great deliverer and the messiah was considered the next Moses who would deliver his people from tyranny.

Elijah was considered the greatest prophet and messiah would be preceded by Elijah because Messiah would be the great Prophet who performs great miracles and brings the people back to God.

And there is Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. Jesus is as great as them. He can hang with them. He can talk with them. But wait, not just as great, but greater. Because after a while Moses and Elijah are gone and there is only Jesus.

Remember, just few weeks ago, Jesus started teaching the disciples that he is the messiah who must suffer. And the disciples are all confused. So here is a clear sign that Jesus is the messiah, and not just the messiah but the Son of God.

But if I were making up the whole Jesus story, and if I needed to puff up his credentials, this is exactly what I would do, have Moses and Elijah show up and vouch for Jesus. 

After watching a Lord of the Rings movie few months ago, my son said to me, “In every hero movie there is always a mentor. Luke Skywalker has ObiWan, Harry Potter has Dumbledore, and Frodo has Gandalf. And the all the mentors has to die.” And then about a minute later, “and they all have to be white and old and have a beard.”

You know you are watching a made-up story when the story you hear sticks closely to the pattern of the script.

But what is unexpected, what is out of script, and so what convinces me this happened is the tender loving words of God to Jesus, of a father to his son. This I why it is the words that’s most important to Peter’s memory.

God said in front of Jesus’s closest friends, “This is my beloved Son who brings me great joy.”

What Peter didn’t expect was the creator God, God who has a history of bringing down the stick when necessary, Noah’s flood, Babylonian exile, would say words so fully affirming, something he always wished to hear from his father.

All stories where God has children all end up being quite dysfunctional.

So Chronos ate all his children.

And Zeus was the most absentee father.

Who is the buggar! That’s your son Zeus! Why is my wife Hera trying to kill him. Because he is your bastard. Yeah, uh, lets him outa bit.

There is no other religion they could get this from. For all gods are so hungry for power they can never be so vulnerable as to confess their unconditional love like that.

But here is God, the almighty one making himself all vulnerable. Because anyone who has ever confessed “I love you,” know that confession makes you completely vulnerable.

Second, yet we continue to doubt these words.

 

Tertullian said something interesting about Trinity. He said he believes it because it is so illogical. He says, if you want to make up a religion, than you make it as reasonable as possible. But to come up with this mathematical contradiction, three in one and one in three, only real experience can bring you to that.

So because these words is the what you least expect God would say, so we know this is what really happened. Yet, it still doesn’t make it any easier for us to believe in the truth of those words. For what makes us not expect such words continues to create doubt in our heart.

For in our life, we have never experienced such completely and unconditional affirmation.

-I have.

-Yeah, you mean when you were two.

-I means as a baby, we receive so much affirmation. But as we get older, the affirmation lessens doesn’t it?

-So much less, that we confused cause and effect and say, if we need such affirmation when we old, it means you are a baby. We think maturity is ability to live without affirmation because that is actually our reality.

- How many of our fathers ever gathered your close friends and said, “This is my son, This is my daughter, my beloved and he gives me great joy,” not when you were two, not when you were 32 the probable age of Jesus at the transfiguration.

-We live often under judgment. We feel we are judged by our peers, judged by our friends, judged even by our fathers and mothers. Indeed, they do judge us. I know because I’ve been judged by my father and I’ve judged as father. I don’t want to, but it comes out.

When Ian was six, we joined a baseball league. During a game a boy missed a slow rolled grounder and I heard his father say, “What’s wrong with you?”

I know he doesn’t mean that, but it is mere frustration. But I don’t think the kid can parse that.

I swore I will never say that.

Do you think I kept that promise? I regret that I have said it at least twice. I apologized immediately, but words are often like poison thrown in the water, you can’t retract all of it.

We live as if we are constantly being judged.

Even judged by the people we pass on the streets, the neighbors we meet walking our dogs. This is why in every passing, we pay attention to body language, who will say hi first, will they say hi back, who will move out of the way, all ways of us figuring out how we are judged and how we have to preemptively judge others so we won’t be judged.

Even the most well intended parents, who mean to affirm us, cannot affirm us. Because they come back from world scarred with judgment.

But having affirming parents are rare. Many of us come from broken families, where mothers hounded us, or left us, fathers hurt us or even sexually abused us. There are some that even at the age of two or three, when they should be smothered with kisses and I love you probably heard, “I never wanted you.”

It was what Mary Karr had to go through, her mother always blaming her for ruining her artistic career.

We live in a broken world.

We experience judgment and rejection which we in turn mete out to everyone we meet.

Richard Rohr is a Jesuit priest who leads retreat for men because he worries that men no longer know what I means to be men. And he came up with this retreat from his experience as a prison chaplain in New Mexico for 14 years. He said in an interview, “It’s very rare to find someone who is in prison who hadgood father.” And he goes onto say in that interview, “And the rage in the young male who never had a dad or had an alcoholic father or emotionally unavailable father or abusive father is bottomless.”

Third, there is nothing more truer in this world than these words

 

Despite the contradictions, despite the experiences that create doubt in your heart, there is nothing more truer in this world that these words God says to us, “You are my son/daughter. You bring me great joy.”

Precisely because of what I said in the first point. With all these experiences of rejection, with the natural human tendency to make God after our own image, these words come as unnatural. The only explanation for a God who would affirm us would be that it was indeed God who said those words.

This is why for Peter, the great miracle was not Moses and Elijah, but God and God’s love for the Son, and now he too is God’s child, receiving that same love.

This is why John, who was part of that inner 3, says, “God is love. Beloved let us love one another, for we are all children of God.” That childlike faith, trusting in the utter love of God traces itself to this revelation, this tender sweet talk between a father and a child.

Secondly, the very fact that the brokenness between a father and child would create such havoc is an evidence that we are in need of such complete and unconditional acceptance.

We cannot hunger for something that is not real.

When you stomach growls, and you get hungry, you probably can eat almost anything, but the image that comes up is a real food. You don’t imagine a food you’ve never tasted or seen. You can’t hunger for what is not real.

The pain we feel when we are not loved is because we need that perfect love. And the reason we need that perfect love can only be because there is such perfect love. And it is God.

So even that which is the condition of that doubt is also the antidote to doubt. Much like hunger might mean you don’t have the food, but it doesn’t mean the food doesn’t exist. You hurt because you don’t have that love, but that doesn’t mean that love doesn’t exist. It exists. It’s in God. And it has been revealed.

And the third reason why you can trust it is because Jesus himself. Jesus’ whole life is to show us that God is a loving Father you can trust. So you have these words spoken to Jesus in baptism and transfiguration. And in Gethsamani, “I cannot drink this, but not my will but yours be done father.”

And the cross is the very test of whether Jesus trusts the Father’s love. So he cries our Why have you forsaken me. But at his last breath, he prays, “Father into your hands.”

And on the third day, he rose from the dead. Father’s love broke death. Nothing can keep the Son from the Father’s love. And so nothing can keep you from your Father’s love.

And in our creed we say that he ascended and sits on the right hand of the Father. It is not a picture of power so much as the picture of intimacy. The Father and Son reunited.

Trust the Father’s love. Doubt your self-rejection.

Henri Nouwen

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

Being the beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.

Applications:

-Receive it everyday.

What God says of Jesus is what God said of you in baptism, what God will say of you when you meet your Father, and what God is saying of you today. God is thoroughly delighted in you.

-Say it everyday this week. Hear it from God and say it to others.

 

-Say it every day to the people you meet.

Affirm them completely. Affirmation is never the acceptance of all the actions. Everyone knows it. Affirmation is the ground of all transformation. Like a plant. You can prune it and it will grow because there is that soil of completely affirmation.

-So affirm the person next to you now. “You are my” fill in the relationship, “and you bring me great joy.” Say it especially when that person doesn’t bring you joy.

 

This past week I went with my three children to performance in DPAC by members of the Reality Ministries. It is headed by a good friend, Susan McSwain. And it’s a ministry basically a community of less abled people.

And this less abled people, with different handicaps went on stage and performed. Some danced, some sang, There were not professionals at all. They weren’t even that good.

The last act was a rendition of beauty and the beast. And the singer was off by two measures. He was singing chorus melody when the song was still in verse chords. And it wasn’t good. But no one cared. Not because they were taking pity on the singer, but because the singer didn’t care. To his mind, there was no judgment.

And I always thought it was because the mentally less abled people don’t have the mental capacity to realize that they are judged for their performance. But I no longer think that. I think the less abled people realize their limitation, that they are always being helped, and in need of help, that there is nothing they can do earn. So they have accepted that fact that they are accepted as they are, that they are valuable and affirmed.

Susan told me that he serves with the disabled people because they understand that they live by God’s grace.

And everyone there understood it. Even my children. As we were walking out, Dylan said can we come back again. Elina said better than other musicals and Ian said, I was crying.

And as I kissed Dylan good night, he said, this was the best night ever,

Even with the off key Beast.

Because those people sang and danced like they were loved by the Father and were bringing great joy.

 

 

 

Readings

Matthew 17:1-8

1Six days later Jesus took Peter and the two brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain to be alone. 2As the men watched, Jesus’ appearance was transformed so that his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. 3Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appeared and began talking with Jesus.

4Peter exclaimed, “Lord, it’s wonderful for us to be here! If you want, I’ll make three shelters as memorials17:4 Greek three tabernacles.—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

5But even as he spoke, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy. Listen to him.” 6The disciples were terrified and fell face down on the ground.

7Then Jesus came over and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, Moses and Elijah were gone, and they saw only Jesus.

2 Peter 1:16-18

16For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes 17when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”1:17 Matt 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35. 18We ourselves heard that voice from heaven when we were with him on the holy mountain.

Richard Rohr

Richard Rohr is a Jesuit priest who leads retreat for men because he worries that men no longer know what I means to be men. And he came up with this retreat from his experience as a prison chaplain in New Mexico for 14 years. He said in an interview,
“It’s very rare to find someone who is in prison who hadgood father.”

And the rage in the young male who never had a dad or had an alcoholic father or emotionally unavailable father or abusive father is bottomless.”

Henri Nouwen

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”