Transfiguration Sunday
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 9:28-36 Sermon
February 5, 2005

SBH 434 "Beautiful Saviour"
TLH 135 "'Tis Good Lord To Be Here"
SBH 147 "O Wondrous Type, O Vision Fair"
CW 256 "How Great Thou Art"


TEXT: v.33: And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is well that we are here; let us make three booths one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to a woman by the name of Judy. Now I don’t know her personally, but Judy does have an interesting and a touching story. Judy appeared several years ago on a television talk show program called “On Main Street,” which is a type of Christian current events show, hosted by Dr. Dale Meyer, former speaker for The Lutheran Hour.

The topic of discussion for this one particular program was capital punishment. Two of the guests were for capital punishment, two were against it, and Dr. Meyer was the moderator, sitting right in the middle. Judy was one of the guests who favored capital punishment. Here’s the reason that she was for it:

In August of 1986 Judy's 15 year-old daughter Stacey was baby-sitting a 3-year-old boy named Tyler. Somebody broke into the apartment where they were, tortured the children, and then drowned the two children in the bathtub. The murderer was caught, tried, and found guilty. There was no doubt about his guilt.

The prosecutor asked for the death penalty but the jury decided instead to sentence the guilty man to life in prison. And that's where he is today; he is alive. Stacey and Tyler are dead. The whole terrible story can be found in a book written by Charles Bosworth, Jr. entitled, "Every Mother's Nightmare." Indeed, that would have to be any mother's nightmare.

And so, here’s Judy, on TV, and she’s recounting this real life nightmare. Dr. Meyer asked her the question, "Was your faith shaken?" He admitted later that it was probably not the best question to have asked. However in answer, Judy stared at Dr. Meyer with an intense but yet empty look and said, "My faith was taken. The murder of my child took away my faith. Two innocent children were beaten, tortured, and drowned. I haven't come to terms. Where was God?"

Where was God? Judy wants to understand. She wants to make some sense out of her nightmare. I think we all would. Where is God? Where is God when a terrorist bomb goes off in Oklahoma City? Where is God when airplanes go crashing into the World Trade Center in New York City? Where is God when a young person with life and great possibilities commits suicide? Where is God when a drive-by shooting takes an innocent life? Where is God when a single parent is caving in under the pressures of trying to provide love and a stable home for their children? Where is God when an airplane crashes and hundreds of lives are lost? Where is God in Iraq? Where is God in the Middle East? Where is God in the streets of American inner cities?

Where is God? Judy wants to know. I think we’d all like to know. When tragedy or adversity hits, it almost seems as if we took a picture of God and the print came back blank, nothing there. Where's God when life is cruelly unfair?

It's not that we want life to be painless, even though that would be nice. We’re not asking for the proverbial rose garden—that’s just not realistic. We simply would like to understand how our real life nightmares fit into the grand scheme of things. Is that asking too much?

There’s a Latin word that I learned when I first started Seminary. The word is, "nescio." The word simply means, "I don't know." Granted, there are a lot of things that I do know, things that God has revealed to us in the Bible. However there are those things that God has chosen not to reveal to us on earth. And so, as much as I would like to, I can't give a satisfactory answer to everybody’s questions. There’s no embarrassment in simply saying, “I don’t know.”

There is, however, one thing that is abundantly clear to me. When a nightmare becomes real, you've got two ways you can go. You can turn and walk away from God in anger and hatred because you’ve been dealt a cruel blow; OR you can acknowledge, as hard as it may be at the time, that the God revealed in the Bible is still your God, and that he is in control. That can be a very hard thing to remember at times.

When we struggle to understand the ways of God, it becomes more and more clear that He's going to do things His way. God insists on being God. Now, we either believe that and have faith in him, or we reject Him.

We might scream, "God, this is so unfair! How could you let this happen?" There's nothing wrong with crying out to God and asking "Why?" But after our shouts have quieted and after we have no more tears left to cry, God remains God. We either walk away from Him, or we acknowledge that he's still God. There's so much that I don't understand, but this much is clear: We must meet God on His terms, and not on ours.

I’d like to illustrate this with a true story about someone I know. This story demonstrates that if we hope to ever understand why God does what he does, we must start by accepting the fact that we must meet God on his terms, not ours. So here’s the story:

The guy’s name is Jason, and he is about 31 years old, I believe. Jason is a hippie in the true sense of the word—just like if someone took a hippie from back in the 1970’s and transported him into current day society. He has long reddish blonde hair, which goes below his shoulders and a goatee. The clothes he wears are tacky and tattered, and usually in need of laundering. To top this off, his personal hygiene leaves a lot to be desired, so there’s a certain "air" about him.

He loves philosophy, and studies all sorts of weird and off the wall theology and philosophy. He calls himself a “Reverend” because he sent away and got some sort of mail order credentials, something that I find rather offensive. He also says he is a witch, and seems to embrace Wiccan and other heathen teachings. He loves astrology and the occult. Oddly enough, he does hold a degree from Kansas State University.

The guy drives me nuts. Every living situation he has ever been in has ended up with him being thrown out on his ear. Even the City Mission won’t have him. I cringe every time my doorbell rings and I see him standing on my porch. He’s always scrounging and mooching.

Jason’s employment history isn’t the greatest either. For money, he usually goes to the blood bank and sells plasma. He continually complains that nobody will hire him, which to my way of thinking is really nothing more than an excuse. Even Work Awhile doesn’t want much to do with him. On the odd occasion when someone does offer him a job, he’s always got an excuse as to why he can’t take it. He refuses to walk very far to work or use public transportation. He doesn’t have a drivers’ license; and even if he did, he could never afford a car.

I have counseled him at length, trying to get him to change his ways. The way he is, I wouldn’t even consider hiring him for anything. If he ever expects to get a job and hold the respect of other people, he needs to clean up his act. He needs to have clothes which are clean and normal looking, he needs to bathe, get his hair cut, and shave. He needs to get off of his lazy behind and become gainfully employed. But he refuses. “I’m a radical person!” he says; “This is who I am!”

A radical person? I actually don’t think he’s radical enough to be quite honest about it.

Jason isn't radical enough because he expects people to deal with him on his own terms. He isn't going to do it society's way. He insists on his way. So if you think about it, flying in the face of what people expect isn't as radical as it is rebellious.

It’s much the same way with God. If you and I insist that God meet us on our terms, if you and I expect Him to account to us for how He runs the world, then we're not being radical; we're being rebellious. The radical thing is to deny yourself and seek to know God on His own terms.
Jesus says in Luke 9:23, "Those who want to follow Me must deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Me." To deny yourself means that we don’t follow God according to our terms, but according to his. We deny that we have any idea of how we should be going, and seek God’s direction. We also deny any righteousness of our own, and look only to Jesus Christ as our personal Saviour.

In the book "Beyond Personality," C. S. Lewis writes, "Christ says, 'Give me all. I don't want so much of your money and so much of your work--I want you. I have not come to torment your natural self, but to kill it. No half-measures are any good. I don't want to cut off a branch here and a branch there, I want to have the whole tree down. I don't want to drill the tooth, or crown it, or stop it, but to have it out. Hand over the whole natural self....I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself, My own will shall become yours."

Now, maybe we're thinking, "Oh, no! That's too much. That's too severe. I don't want anything to do with such a demanding God." But wait a second. What did Lewis say? "Hand over the whole natural self....I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself, My own will shall become yours."

This really is radical. It's a scary thing that we have to meet God on His terms. Yes, God meets us on His terms but--and this is important--He meets us at the point of our desperate needs. He doesn't meet us to torture us, or to hound us, or to punish us. God meets on His terms to help us in our dark times with His compassion and mercy that He sent into this world in Jesus Christ. From all eternity, Jesus Christ is the holy Son of God. He was born into this world and experienced our suffering first hand. Christ knows those times when, as St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 13:12, "we see through the glass darkly."

The sinless Son of God had done nothing to cause His death on the cross. He received the death sentence, not for any crime of His own but in order to experience the death sentence of God for all the evil of all the world of all generations. Christ knows unjust suffering and that his suffering would not be easy or pleasurable. In Gethsemane He said, as recorded in Luke 22,42: "Father, if it is Your will, take this cup of suffering away from Me. However, Your will must be done, not Mine."

Jesus, you see, understands our aversion to suffering. But God is God. His terms were that His Son should suffer so that the world can have forgiveness. We are tempted to walk away or even run away from God when we're thrust into suffering but Jesus didn't walk away; He didn't rebel. That's why the Father's will was accomplished through Him. The will of the Father is not death but life. That's why Christ was raised to life on Easter.

This suffering Christ has conquered. The resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter shows that the evil and sin and death of this present world is not the final answer. The final answer is life in Jesus, who is the victor over evil and sin and death.

That's the Lord of glory, Jesus Christ. He says in John 10, 10: "I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly." Where is God? You won't find Him in subtle and scholarly discussions of God's justice or injustice. You meet God in His suffering Son Jesus. This Savior wants to live in you.

St. Paul said in Galatians 2, 20: "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live I live by believing in God's Son, who loved me and took the punishment for my sins." This suffering Savior who wants to live in you gives you hope in the dark times. St. Paul also says in Colossians 1, 27: "Christ in you is the hope of glory."

So what does this come down to for you, or for me, or for someone like Judy, who had her daughter murdered? It comes down to the adjective "faithful." Earlier I asked the question, "Where is God?" I said that sometimes it’s like we took a picture of God in our times of tragedy and the print came back blank. Nothing there!

But just remember that the adjective "faithful" means that God sticks to His word. He won't renege on His promises. In Psalm 100, 5 we read, "His faithfulness continues through all generations." Listen to just a few of the promises God makes to us.

Psalm 22:24: "The Lord has not despised or been disgusted with the plight of the oppressed one. He has not hidden His face from the person. The Lord heard when that oppressed person cried out to Him for help."

Nahum 1:7: "The Lord is good. He is a fortress in the day of trouble. He knows those who seek shelter in Him."

Jeremiah 29:11: "I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. They are plans for peace and not disaster, plans to give you a future filled with hope."

And, as Paul writes in Romans 8:18: "I consider our present sufferings are insignificant compared to the glory that will soon be revealed to us."

That's the great promise for those who go the radical way and deny themselves to follow Christ. Maybe we now see things through a glass darkly, but God's faithfulness means that sooner or later we shall see Him face to face in glory and then we'll know the answers we don't know now. Then our hearts will be calm. Then He will wipe away every tear from our eyes.

One day "Jesus took with him Peter, John, and James, and went up on the mountain to pray." So begins the story of Transfiguration. "And as [Jesus] was praying," the Bible says, "the appearance of his countenance [or face] was altered, and His raiment became dazzling white. And behold, two men talked with him, Moses and Elijah., who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

“Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, and when they awakened, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is well that we are here. ; let us make three booths, one for you, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—[Peter] not knowing what he said.”

Peter suggested doing it his way but God came back with a better way, the way of faith in the words of a faithful God. “As he [Peter] said this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. And a voice came out of the cloud saying, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’”

Let God's way be our way. Are we asking too much when we ask how our real life nightmares fit into the eternal scheme of things? No. The answer is, that it is indeed an eternal scheme of things. For the time being we see through the glass darkly and we listen to Jesus. We must always remember, just like the Apostle Paul, that God "is faithful, and He will do it" (I Thessalonians 5:23).