• Rev. Joel L. Tolbert

You are Sent

Who Are You? An eight-week sermon series for the new year on being and becoming our true selves, preached February 27, 2022, for the 930am Worship


Context

In this new year, Rev. Caitlan and I launched an eight-week sermon series titled “Who Are You? Being and becoming our true selves.” This wall behind me is our notes from this sermon series.


Called – God called us into being and is even now calling us to trust and cooperate with God’s purposes.


Gifted – We have gifts to make a holy difference in this world, and God wants us to use them, give them away for the benefit of all creation.


Connected – We are individuals, each created in the image of God, AND like God’s own triune self, we aren’t just individuals but are connected to one another.


Known – We are known by God and are created with a deep, inherent desire to be secret or separate, but known by one another.


Empowered – In our struggles, God comes beside us and gives us the courage and power to go farther, go deeper.


Human – We are created as human beings, but we aren’t yet fully human like Jesus. We are on a path to our full humanity.


Spirit – We are sparked into being by God’s own spirit, and we carry a bit of God inside all of us. How we treat ourselves and one another is how we treat God, because we are all spirit.


Today, let’s wonder remember we are also SENT.


Prayer


Scripture Luke 9:28-36

28 Now about eight days after these sayings, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to Jesus. 31Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and were speaking of Jesus’ departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw Jesus’ glory and the (glory of the other) two who stood with him.


33Just as the (two) were leaving Jesus, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he was saying.


34While Peter was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen one; listen to him!’


36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.


Sermon We are Sent

No one knows of course which mount or hill Jesus walked up with Peter, John, and James. But someone long ago decided that it must be Mount Tabor, and enough people agreed to build a large church and monastery on top of it.


In 2009, a small group of pastors I had been with for about three years went to the holy lands, and we visited the sanctuary Christians have built on top of Mount Tabor. The Sanctuary is designed into three zones, a large central zone for Jesus, and two smaller side zones, for Moses and Elijah. As you enter, a version of this story is engraved over the doors in Latin. Inside, a mural depicts a shining Jesus, with shining Moses and Elijah beside him, and with the three disciples watching from a distance. To the rear, and on either side, are very small rooms, one for Moses, the other for Elijah, both with murals inside remembering their unique mountain-top experiences... for Moses, it was receiving the 10 commandments on Mount Sinai.


I don’t know why Jesus went up a mountain with a few disciples at that point in his ministry. In Luke’s gospel, as we get close to this story, Jesus has just told the disciples what their life will be like. Jesus gives his disciple’s power to cure and to heal, and then sends them to proclaim the kingdom of God, telling them to take nothing for their journey but to survive off of what is offered as they travel. Jesus then sits with the crowds and feeds the 5,000. After that, Peter is able to call him the Messiah, and Jesus tells them how he will suffer, die, and then be raised.


It is after these things that Jesus climbs the mountain with a subset of his disciples. The disciples barely avoid sleep, and look over and see something amazing. Jesus has somehow been transfigured. He shines as if he himself is a source of light. They also see two other figures with him, and they somehow intuitively know these figures are Moses and Elijah.


So far, the empowered and sent disciples have done well. They’ve followed Jesus where he led them, even if it meant up a steep climb. They went when he asked them, even if they were hungry, thirsty, or tired. They stayed close to him on the path he is walking, even if the path is scary, dangerous, or unknown. And when Jesus stops, they stop.


That is the first priority of a disciple, walk with Jesus when he wants us to walk, where he leads us, no matter what else is going on. What if Jesus’ timing or direction doesn’t match our plans? What if Jesus seems to be headed off in a completely different direction than we hoped for or feel is best? On this day, these three disciples didn’t resist or buck. They followed. As disciples, that is our first priority, just to stay close and follow Jesus. Sure, we make plans. We set schedules. We find ourselves tired, hungry, sleepy. But sometimes a God moment is revealed, and we are invited to go somewhere unexpected with God. In that moment, saying YES, staying close, walking with God is the response of faith.


Once the disciples are up there, Jesus steps away from them a bit. They stay where he leaves them. He walks some distance and is transformed, transfigured. They see him differently. They see others beside him. They see him listening and talking with others, learning and planning with them.


Again, the disciples have done well. They stopped where Jesus stopped them. They stayed where they should, and let Jesus walk a distance away. They felt tired, sleepy even, but kept watch and observed. If the first priority of a disciple is to follow, to walk beside, then the second is to know where to stop and wait. Even when Jesus seems to be away from us, pause, watch, listen, and trust. Be okay with that real or perceived distance from Jesus knowing he will never leave us.


Sometimes I see on cheesy church signs, “If you feel distant from God, guess who moved?” Well, in this case, God moved. Jesus moved away from them, and they did the right thing. They stayed where they were, and waited, and they watched. They were blessed with the privilege of observing, but they were not invited into the details of that moment. God moved some distance away from them, but God did not abandon them or forget them. Later in the story, we hear Jesus say, “Where I am going you cannot go.” We are not God, we can never fully see or understand or do what God sees, knows, and does. But, we are allowed a peek at who God is, in Jesus. We are called to be witnesses, and to have Jesus engrave something holy on our minds and hearts.


Have you ever felt like Jesus walked away from you? Have you wondered where Jesus went, and what you’re supposed to do? I’ve walked with people through an illness and into a hospice room. I’ve watched and waited as months go by, and the person and their family just wait. It can feel like God has left them there are walked away from them. I find in those moments, the best thing for me to do is to simply wait with them, to be there with them and to trust, to remember, and to believe that God has not abandoned them but is just a few steps away from getting things ready. When it doesn’t feel like God is right beside us, we can wait and watch and listen for what God is doing, getting things ready, making plans and arrangements, ensuring all God’s beloved are comforted, held, and received in the light.


These three called, empowered, and sent disciples did okay at this point. They stopped where Jesus left them. They stayed awake, waited and watched, and felt the awe and wonder soak in.


Then, Peter sees the conversation breaking up, and inserts himself. “Hey, Jesus, they don’t have to leave. It’s been really nice having all of us here together. We could build tents, structures for each of you, and everyone could stay together, longer.” Peter tries to make it sound like a good idea. Luke tells us, though, he didn’t realize how silly he sounded.


I think Peter wanted to keep Jesus, Moses, and Elijah close. I think Peter wanted to box them in, to neatly package them into something he himself could enjoy and come back to whenever he wanted. Think about the arrogance of that. I, Peter, will make a house for you, Jesus, and for Moses and Elijah, and it will be where you stay. He didn’t hear it like that. But I think that’s what he was saying.


After doing so well with the follow part, and the stop and wait and look part, Peter goes where too many of us go as well… he tries to hold the holy instead of just experiencing it. It’s a common mistake in church, among pastors and members alike. We walk with God beside other people. We stop, look around, and see as long as things are going well. Then it seems like things begin to change… someone hits a rough spot, a moment of transition or difficulty, and our first impulse is to say or do something. We are all too quick to offer words sometimes, words that may not help but only make it worse. We are all too quick to do something, “Is there anything I can do?” These kinds of impulses are common to our human condition. Pastors do it too. But I’ve come to realize that our need to say or do something is more often about me trying to feel better in the face of something hard, and trying to distract myself from the perceived distance between the obvious struggles and the God I follow. I, and maybe some of you, like Peter, we grab at something to do or to say… not to be obedient and patient, but just so we can regain some control over an uncontrollable situation.


There is a time for speaking, and a time for action. But Peter and many of us go too quickly into those phases. He and we often skip a step. God tells us what the next step should have been… Right after Peter tries to come up with something to say and something to do, a cloud descends over all of them and God says out of the cloud, “This is my son, Listen to him.” Listen is the next step after follow and stop and look.


We follow where Jesus wants to take us. We stop and wait where Jesus wants us to wait. We watch and witness what Jesus is willing to show us in those times when the distance is a bit greater. But our next step is not to speak or do. It is to listen.


God is not torturing us when we are asked to follow. God is not abandoning us when we are asked to stop and look. God is leading us, placing us, and giving us front row seats to the holy moments of life. Our next action is no action or all, no words, just listen. Hold our tongue a bit longer and listen, experience it. Be still a bit longer, and trust God is God, God has good intentions, God is driving all things toward hope and healing. We are in God’s care, along with countless others. The distance we might feel from God will close. God will walk back toward us again, and stand in front of us, and send us back down the mountain, and will walk with us as we go back. Oh, the temptation to speak, or to build something, to start or fix or control something so we can hold onto the holy, to package the mystery that is God. But that’s not our next calling. Our next calling is just to listen and experience, then go where God sends us.


Who knows where Jesus will send us after those moments… Perhaps we will be asked to walk with him again to somewhere new. Perhaps we will be asked to tell others what we’ve seen. We might be invited by God to tell the story. Perhaps we will be sent with an assignment to go and build something, start something, change something or fix something. But that’s not ours to decide or dictate to God. We are disciples. We follow, watch, listen, then go where God sends us, and do what God commands us.


Lent begins this Wednesday. We are being asked to walk close to Jesus through Lent, and I trust we will do so. I hope everyone will come Wednesday at 7pm for worship. Then, through the rest of Lent, consider yourself headed up the mountain. Follow, stop, look, and listen. If there is something in your life that doesn’t let you follow or pause, we might need to set that down. Look around your life, and look for the things that prevent you from following, stopping, looking, listening. Find one thing in your life that keeps you too busy or distracted from following God up a mountain, or from watching, listening, and witnessing God near us. If you find something like that, try setting it aside for Lent to make room to follow, be still, watch and listen for God.


Lent will be a time of listening, listening for God to show us something new, or maybe tell us something new about ourselves, or maybe challenge us spiritually, or theologically. Then, God will send us back out. There will be an action to take, or words to say. Easter is coming. We will find ourselves sent down the mountain to tell and heal and cure, to change the world toward justice and peace.


To God be all the glory honor and power, now and forevermore. Amen.


Charge


Benediction

And now, blessing laughter and loving be yours, and may the love of a great God, who names you and holds you as the world turns and the flowers grow be with you, this day, this night, this moment and forever more.


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