About Me

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Knoxville, TN, United States
Interim Pastor of Evergreen Presbyterian Church (USA), Dothan, AL.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Selfies With Jesus

2014-03-02 Selfies With Jesus
Matthew 17:1-6

This is such an inspiring moment.
Everybody take out your phone and take a picture.
Come on. I'll do it too. 
I'll post it on Facebook, and Instagram, and Twitter, and Tumblr, and so no one will see it, Google Plus.

How do you make record of your faith?
How do you show and tell people about your faith?
How do you talk about your experiences of faith?

The Apostle Peter gave it a shot.
In a lot of commentaries, and in sermons you've heard from this pulpit, poor Apostle Peter gets criticized for his out-blurtings.

"Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

Sure. That makes sense.
The Gospel According to Mark even says it outright: 
"He did not know what to say, for they were terrified." (Mk 9:6)

I think Peter gets a raw deal. 
I mean, he and the other two disciples have just shared a vision where two of the greatest figures in their religious history have appeared with their teacher, Jesus. 
Maybe Peter was one of those people who talked when he got nervous. 
But maybe he was trying to do his best to capture the moment, to preserve the magnificent epiphany.
Maybe he knew there weren't words to really describe what he'd seen, so he was trying to do something visual.

If the Apostle Peter had an iPhone, the Bible would be a multimedia experience. 
Selfies with Jesus and Elijah.
Moses photobombing from behind.
Posted to Facebook & Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr and Twitter.
Hash-tag lookatmewiththebigguys. Smiley-face emoticon. Heart. Heart. Heart.

Jesus is a little less instant. 
Not even a Polaroid, he's more like the old Kodak film you had to send off in the packet from the Sunday newspaper (Lord I am old).
Jesus makes you wait until the moment has developed.
He tells the disciples, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." 
Which is to say, experiences of faith can't be captured. 
Faith isn't something you can just post and comment on.
It's more than that.
Faith is something you're going to have to let develop, in your mind, in your heart, in your spirit that you can't really control.
And when the time is right, and not one minute before the time is right, then, it'll be ready.

Do you tell people about your faith? 
We're Presbyterian, so probably not. 
Presbyterians are really faithful people; but we're also really afraid of scaring anyone. 
You know, living in East Tennessee, I just don't think that's something we need to worry about. 
I got behind a van at Wal-mart with big, press-on letters on the back window: "Repent! or Die!" 
I just don't think we need to worry about being scary.

But it's hard for a lot of us to talk about our faith. 
It's hard to tell people about how God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit has changed you. 
And that's understandable. 
Some people can just tell the world about Jesus. 
Others of us, maybe we've tried and it just sounds stupid.
You start talking about your trip up Mt. LeConte where you saw Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah - people will back up toward the door. 
Maybe that's another reason Jesus told the disciples not to say anything immediately. 
Sometimes you have to let these things simmer; the visions have to age before you can speak so other people will believe you. 
They say the art of poetry is not to say everything. 
Maybe that's also the secret of talking about faith -- not saying everything, all at once.

I think that's a tactical error people make when they talk about faith. 
They talk about it like it's a new phone.
"Here, look at everything it can do! Right now!"
They act like they have to give you the entire story, all at once, immediately. 
They want to convert you, right then and there. 
For your own good, whether you want it or not.
When people try to convert me, I tell them, "It's OK. I'm a Presbyterian minister."
And they say, "Oh Lord, it's worse than I thought!"
In their own way, they're saying they love me, and they care about me. 
But the thing is, God's not going anywhere. 
God is infinite; and so cramming the whole story down someone's throat (right this minute) is naturally overwhelming. 
People also tend to forget that there's no one right way to have faith. 
Presbyterians MIGHT be going to heaven, too. 
God's in charge, not the Baptists, not the Methodists, not the foot-handling-snake-washers (did I say that right?), and not us. 
God's in charge of your salvation. 
Salvation is in the hands of God Almighty, not yours and not even the hands of someone who really, honestly, like the Apostle Peter, is trying to save you with their helpfulness and love. 
People have to be ready to change their minds before they're going to change their minds. 

An example: Have you ever tried to convince a Democrat to become a Republican? 
Or tried to convince a Republican to become a Democrat? 
Like that's going to happen. 
A Hillary Clinton fan to love Bill O'Reilly?
Anyone to like Justin Bieber?
If you speak of earthly things and people don't buy your arguments, how successful do you think you're going to be in heavenly things?
The Bible says there's a time and a season for all things under the sun. 
There's a time to speak and a time to keep silent. 
Sometimes it's better to step back and let God do the talking, the convincing, the appearing in glory and truth.

Think about those disciples coming down the mountain after their miraculous vision. 
Jesus commanded them not to speak about it. 
So maybe sharing the good news with words wasn't as important as sharing it in spirit. 
Some things, there just aren't words to say. 
Describe why a sunset's beautiful. 
Describe why the Anthem made you cry. 
Why you still love your husband. 
Some things defy rational explanation. 
Some things you can't explain; you just know them. 
And in knowing, they become part of you, and part of everything about you.

We call this episode of scripture the Transfiguration of Jesus. 
But think about how those disciples themselves were changed. 
These guys who only sort of understood, saw. 
These men who sort of got it, experienced it. 
They lived it. 
Those visions, that miracle transfigured THEM. 
You have to believe that from then on, when they did speak, on faith, on anything, they spoke with heartfelt confidence. 
Jesus was part of their everything, like never before. 

There's a wonderful passage of scripture in Matthew 10:19-20, where Jesus is talking to the disciples about the hard times to come, when they're going to be arrested and worse for what they believe. 
"When they hand you over," Jesus says, "do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you."
I think what Jesus is trying to say there is there's a time and a place for talking about your faith. 
And when it's the right time, you'll find the right words. 
Or, rather, the right words will find you. 
Jesus himself says, "Do not worry" about these things.
And sometimes, maybe even more times, you don't need words at all.
Thuy Yau is a writer and young married mother of three. 
"Young married mother of three." You're thinking, overachiever.
She likes to talk. She likes to help.
Recently, she wrote about trying to help a friend.
"I've always been the sort of person who wants to help others. I'll offer my shoulder to cry on, my ears to listen, my heart to empathise. I don't remember a time when I wasn't ever that way.
"But what saddens me most about my ability to help others, is knowing that sometimes my help may not be enough.
"I can cry with my friend. Give her … advice. I can remind her that she is beautiful. That she means the world to me. That she is a wonderful mother and person.
"My words comfort her for a while. They make her smile. They make her feel incredibly grateful to have a friend like me. They make her feel loved and appreciated for those brief, but beautiful moments.
"[But] My help doesn't make the problem go away.
"And I feel helpless. Absolutely helpless, because I know that my hugs, my words, my promises to do anything for her, can only do so much.
"You can only help your loved ones so much. You can guide them onto the right path, but you have to let them take it themselves.
"Sometimes, all you can do is be there.
"But just being there might be enough.
Being a minister, I hear a lot of people talk about faith, usually other ministers.
They talk and write and blog and talk about what God means and how if everybody would just see Jesus (and Elijah and Moses) like they had, the world would be so much better.
Sometimes I wish we could outlaw people from talking about their faith at all. 
Sometimes I wish we could take all the faith selfies and captured and explained mountaintop moments and just set them free. 
Because like Peter, and like that young mother of three, just being there with Jesus, and with our friend, is probably more than enough.
If you're a person who's blessed with the gift of sharing your faith through words, God bless you.
Keep on keeping on, because the rest of us are mumblers at best.
Sometimes you don't need to tell people about your faith. 
You just need to be an example, and the actions and words (if needed) will get where they're supposed to.

Tell people about your faith, every day.
And if you have to use words, that's OK.
Eventually, words will find you. 
They'll develop, maybe instantly, but more likely, it'll take some time. 

Let's pray and this time, let's let God do the talking.
[silent prayer]