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02.15.15 Letting Go without Forgetting Mark 9:2-9 Sermon Summary

by on February 18, 2015

One of the reasons religion has fallen out of favor is because it is so out of sync with our culture, which prefers replacement over transformation.

Summary Points

  • Why replacement isn’t always the best answer
  • How knowing the narrative transforms us
  • That transformation results from listening to Jesus
  • Questions for discussion or reflection

Across the street from me are two brand new houses. They are huge, especially compared to the tiny ranch houses they replaced. The marketing material asks this enticing question: “Want to live in an historic and established neighborhood, but not deal with the troubles of a 100 year old house?”

I live in one of those 100 year old houses, and I can tell you I’ve often thought about replacing it. That’s the impulse of our culture. Even our most recent technological tools are designed with planned obsolescence in mind—no sooner are they introduced to the market than their replacements are in production.

Some things can be replaced. Others cannot. It’s essential that we can tell the difference. For if we can’t tell the difference, we’ll spend a lot of our lives trying to replace things that really aren’t designed for replacement. We’ll perpetually chase the dream job. We’ll cycle through challenging relationships. We’ll move from the church that makes us uncomfortable because it emphasizes grace and giving too often.

We as people are not designed for replacement. We’re designed for transformation. And many of the things we try to replace are only delaying the transformation they’re put in our lives to achieve.

When Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James, and John, Elijah and Moses appeared to them also. Elijah is the great prophet who was promised to return. Moses is the great liberator and law-giver. These are people and periods from the past that were not forgotten, but when seen in relation to Jesus, they were transformed.

I’m presently reading some books on pastoral ministry, looking ahead, trying to figure out more specifically where is God calling me. I’m being challenged in many ways, and looking back at my professional ministry. I can’t believe some of my earliest sermons. My bookshelves are packed with flawed leadership paradigms. This kind of juxtaposition of my past with my future confronts me with a choice.

I can try to replace myself as a pastor—find a new paradigm, or what most pastors do—a new church. I can become paralyzed by regret or embarrassment. Or I can find God working in my past to transform me as a person. I can let go of the past without forgetting it.

Letting go of the past without forgetting it is possible because we’re designed not for replacement, but for transformation. And we’re designed this way because our designer is one who likes to transform.

Just look at the narrative. Moses parted the Red Sea. Elijah parted the Jordan. Then Elijah’s successor also parted the Jordan. In God’s narrative, there are always new prophets, but they share a common story. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Peter, James, and John saw Jesus in the line of Moses and Elijah. And they could recognize this only because they knew the narrative—letting go without forgetting.

How well do you know the narrative? One of the transformations I get to see is how money is transformed into ministry. Day by day I get to see how the donations to the church transform into care and hope for others. Because I know the narrative, I see the transformation. And I know the narrative because I’m involved in it.

Getting involved can be a scary thing. On the mountain, the disciples were “terrified.” Transformation is scary because it means things change. Peter just wants it all to stop—“Let’s build shrines!” he says.

Our lives can’t be transformed without experiencing change. This is one reason we prefer replacement—it makes us feel like we’re in control. But the transformation God intends requires exactly our being OUT of control. We can ask God to stop it like Peter did. But God has a different answer.

God’s answer is to listen to Jesus: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.” In the transformation of our lives, we’re not alone. We’re surrounded by others that Jesus has invited, like the three disciples, to the mountain. We’re surrounded by our tradition, symbolized by Moses and Elijah. But mostly we’re not alone because Jesus is there.

Jesus makes our transformation bearable. He is with us. We are with God’s beloved. These are the words of baptism—which reminds us that we also are God’s beloved. Even though it’s scary, even though we’re out of control, when we do as God says and listen to Jesus, we become part of the narrative of God’s beloved people.

And what does Jesus say to us? On the way down from the mountain, Jesus told his disciples to wait until the Son of Man rises from the dead before they say anything. The transformation of our lives is a process. It requires faith and patience. We give control over to God and we have to wait.

Jesus’ transfiguration was a preview of his resurrection—and that’s what we’re waiting for. Our transformation is complete only in resurrection. It starts sometime in our lives—like with the disciples on the mountain—but like they did, we have to wait to understand it fully.

As we prepare to enter Lent, Mark invites us to transformation. In Lent, Jesus calls us up the mountain, to be apart. In Lent, we remember the narrative. In Lent, even though a little scary, we surrender control to God.

Jesus promises not to replace us, but to transform us. And because the Son of Man has risen from the dead, he is able to do it. Let us listen to Jesus this Lent.

Questions for Discussion or Reflection

  • Are there any things in your life that God is asking you to let go of, but not to forget?
  • As you look back on your life, identify some things you tried to replace but that kept coming back. Could these indicate opportunities not for replacement, but for transformation?
  • How do you deal with the scariness of getting involved with God’s narrative? How do you deal with listening to Jesus when it means giving up control?
  • Who are the James and Johns in your Peter life—those companions on the journey that assure you you’re not alone in your transformation? What traditions are meaningful to you in this same sense?
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