Do you think Jesus knew what he was getting himself into when he went up onto the mountain? How about Moses? Did Moses know that he was about to become the de facto leader of this rag tag bunch of misfits and malcontents? I mean he was already the leader, having brought them out of bondage in Egypt, but did he know he was about to become the lawgiver, the one who carried the tablets down the mountainside, suddenly transformed from temporal leader to spiritual leader in the blink of an eye, or in forty days and nights, however you like it.
So did Jesus know that when he went up the mountain with the disciples that He would be transfigured before them, made to shine dazzling white and then be visited by Elijah and Moses for a little conversation, maybe some tea and cakes? Or was Jesus bringing the disciples up on the mountain for a teaching, some sharing of what it meant to say that the kingdom of God has come near and then, in the blink of an eye, plans got changed by actions from on high that even Jesus was not privy to?
Moses got the word early, though I doubt he truly knew what they meant or how the scene that followed would play out. God said, “Come here and I’m going to give you tablets of stone etc. etc.” all of the rest of his life with the Israelites was still shrouded in mystery to him, maybe not to God, but to Moses at least.
I sympathize. None of us now what tomorrow will bring, none of us have a firm grip on the events that will change us, move us. If the past eight weeks have taught us anything it is that we are not in control, that we are subject to forces beyond our control.
And we hate that.
Heck, half of the products for sale these days, fully half are either meant to make this time right now more enjoyable or to make tomorrow more predictable. If you can take the television with you wherever you go, as Comcast is not suggesting, then being away at nine p.m. is no longer an impediment to watching the Americans, or Scandal or whatever your favorite show is these days, you can watch right there on your smartphone or tablet and suddenly Thursday evenings are always “Scandal night” or whatever.
The future is of extreme interest to us because we need to prepare for it. At least two of you that I know of are or have served in the capacity of financial planners, helping that tomorrow is a predictable thing, at least insofar as someone’s finances are concerned. We plot and scheme to maintain something called a lifestyle, a word coined in 1929 but not commonly used until people saw their lives as having a style, somewhere in about 1961.
We want our sunset years to look and act a certain way.
Once was a time when relaxation was the goal, we weren’t going to live too terribly much longer so we wanted to spend it fishing or driving across the US in our motorhome or any of the retirement plans popular in decades past.
Lately, though people have been living longer and not just living longer but being active and vital longer and so the plans have to take on a different tone, maybe we need to plan on another career, or another college degree, just to keep the juices flowing into our seventies, maybe we’ll write a book, well, you’ll need money then, PG&E doesn’t pay themselves, so you’d better plan now.
And it’s not just grown-ups who do this kind of planning either. When I was a lad of twelve or so, I wanted to be a nuclear physicist, yes, I was a nerd. Then I wanted to be a concert roadie and then a theater professional and then a tavern owner and then I wanted to be an analyst for the CIA and then a gambler and then, and then, and then . . .
I assume that for years Lilli planned on being a skater of some sort, performing, competing, incorporating skating into so much of her life. It really was a part of her, as most of us know.
Now things are different and the change was not planned, it was not worked out in advance to give maximum advantage to Lilli as she pursues her drill team adventures and her future career plans.
Some things just happen.
Sometimes life gets in the way of our plans and we are pulled in a different direction. Sometimes God speaks.
And we have no choice but to listen.
What gets in our way are the plans, the schemes, the plots we have hatched like Danny Ocean robbing a Las Vegas Casino, intricate and delicate and well-crafted and fragile. We think about what our lives will be like in five years or ten years and we try and make the moves that will lead us in that direction, fulfilling our wishes.
I am not in any sense of the word denigrating the urge to plan. Debbie and I were talking about her grandparents the other day, Professor Arndt Halvorson and Emily Halvorson, his wife prospered very well due to some assistance they received early on from members of their various congregations, who carefully planned some investments, some setting aside of funds until when she was quite advanced in years, it seemed to the rest of us that she was even a little embarrassed at how well-off she was in her retirement.
Not having a worry is good. Having a plan is good, it allows you to do things intentionally, on purpose, thoughtfully deciding where you want the church to go, where you want your lives to go, where you want to go for dinner tonight.
You can do the things that you want to do instead of simply reacting to everything that comes along the road, every trend, every new shiny object that catches your eye. You get to be a real person if you have a plan, you get to be your own man, or woman as the case may be.
But some interruptions are different. Sure, along your road to wherever you see yourself going, there will be disappointments and failures, a plan is not a guarantee, but a good plan will help you cope with those little things along the way, the little hiccups in an otherwise excellent vision.
But some interruptions are different. What about the things that shake your vision entirely, making you re-think your career, your lifestyle, your marriage, your direction in life, all of it? There will almost certainly be something along the way that shakes the foundations of the whole of your world.
There will be clouds that envelope you, shielding you from the sight of others and bringing with them a chance, a chance to change and to move, to be transformed and transfigured into something that God has in mind for you.
And that will not be a part of your plan. Does this look like the outfit of a physicist, or a roadie, or a regional analyst for the CIA?
And following the path that God sets before you will likely not assure you that the goals you have incorporated into your vision, into your plan will come true sometimes the new you will have to figure out a whole new plan, a whole new vision that accommodates the person you have become.
But if you have come all this way, if you have defied convention in these modern times and made your way to church following the Word, hearing his voice in your life from time to time, don’t you think that maybe, if the promises of God are true and valid for your salvation, that the transformation God has in store for you will also be valid for the way you live?
Trust is trust and on the flip side, a lack of trust is just as potent. If you trust some of the promises of God, that God is for you, on your side, making and keeping promises so that you will live and prosper, then you ought to trust all of the callings of God, even the ones that surprise you, or cause you discomfort.
Maybe those are God’s teachable moments, the times when you feel rocked to your knees by the calling of the disciple.
Like Peter and James this morning. I don’t know what they were planning on; going up the mountain with Jesus, but it wasn’t what they got. Jesus transfigured before their eyes, with Moses and Elijah was not what they had in mind, but they knew what you do in such a circumstance, you build a shrine.
When the voice from above rocks them to their knees, it changes all of their plans, it shakes their world from top to bottom and they are knocked to their knees where they tremble in fear.
Sure, they are afraid of the voice of God and what that might mean to them, but they are afraid that everything they had expected, everything they had anticipated and planned on in following Jesus was suddenly in question, suddenly up in the air, suddenly uncertain.
Listen to Him. That’s what the voice says, “listen to Him.”
And what does Jesus say to them?
“Get up, and do not be afraid.”
So long as the promise is true for you, then all of the rest of it is true also, all of the promises, that you will from time to time suffer for the sake of the Name of Christ, that you will find eternal rest and freedom from pain and suffering, that the road will be long but that it will also be lined with a new family, a hundred fold mothers a fathers, sisters and brothers in Christ as you seek his will and follow His voice.
And the result will be transformative for you, and also for the world. All of creation can be changed in a single lifetime, ask Bill Gates.
But the highest compliment I can give you, the highest of worldly praise I can offer is that you have to power to say no. You can turn aside when the interruption to your plan comes, trusting in your won wisdom and that of the world. You can harvest all the way to the edges of your field, leaving none for the lost, the stranger and the poor if you’d like. Your plans are your business.
But all of that power will not bring you peace, the things that you plant and reap of your own accord will bring fleeting peace, fragile happiness. The blinders you have to wear when you focus intently on the plan and only on the plan will rob you of the possibilities God places in front of all of us.
Because your plan is only about you. God’s plan is about everyone and everything all at once and when that plan bursts in upon your plan, upon your life, how will you answer the call? I sometimes let things go to voicemail because I am driving and being on the phone while driving is dangerous. I sometimes press the “decline” button because I am in the middle of other things when the phone rings and want for you to leave a message.
Sometimes I just press the decline button because I do not feel like talking.
What am I missing? Hopefully nothing important, but answering open me up, makes me vulnerable to the person on the other end and the demands they might make of me, and as often as not, they are for me the voice of God.
Plans and expectations are good, they form our vision of the future that we are creating with every step that we take. Without a plan we are just floating here, at the whim of everything and everyone who comes along.
But our devotion to the plan cannot be such that when we are interrupted we are not willing to listen, just pause and listen for the voice of God calling to us through the interruption, showing us another path, a better plan we can follow, a plan that leads inevitably to God’s blessings for us and for all.
If we are not willing to be drawn up to the mountain we will miss the view, the entirety of the world which is our ministry field, our family, a hundredfold times a hundredfold. And if we do not occasionally climb the mountain and hear the voice, we might miss the true calling, go down, be with the people, be my witness.
What do you want to be transfigured into by the power and the promise of God? What are you willing to be transformed into if you were to surrender to God’s will? We have all of Lent to find out.