February 23rd, 2020

Matthew 17:1-9

Jenny Lee, Ph.D.

Upper St. Croix Parish UMC


  “When the Lord’s Thoughts and Ours are Different”

When we pray to God with concerns and many anxieties, we sometimes experience that God does not answer us. Instead, we feel that God keeps silent. So, we often ask God, “O God, how long should I wait for your answer?” Through God’s silence, our prayers bring to us to have a deep relationship with God. We feel thirsty for God’s help. This eagerness toward God leads us to connect with God deeply. And, suddenly, our concerns or anxieties disappear, and our hearts filled with the peace of God. That is the answer from God, but we recognize it much later.

After I graduated from a seminary in Korea, I planted a new church and did ministry there for six years. When it was the sixth anniversary year for the church, my mother passed away suddenly. I did not understand why God took my mother away at that time. I went up a mountaintop where is a prayer place to ask God why God took my mother away from me. I did not eat any food at all, and I just blamed God.

In Scripture 1 Kings 19: 1-10, Elijah killed all the prophets of Baal at Mount Carmel, and he showed the people that God is the living God. However, Jezebel, who heard the news that Elijah killed all the prophet of Baal, sent out the messenger to kill him. So, Elijah ran away from Jezebel into the wilderness, sat down under a solitary broom tree. And he said. “It is enough now, O Lord, take away my life.” He indeed worked a right one for God. However, he became a runner in the wilderness. As did he, I said to God, “It is enough, O Lord, take my life away.”

I knew I am not like the great prophet Elijah. However, since I healed my broken spine by the grace of God, I tried to keep sincere before God. I went to a seminary, and planted a new church, worked hard there for six years. So, I do not know what I did wrong to God. I did not know why God took my mother away. My mother was healthy at that moment. Nobody expected she would go like this way.

God asked Elijah, who ran into the wilderness and blamed God, “what are you doing here?” Instead of rebuking him, God gave him comfort, hearing his blaming, and feeding him.

If we were God, we might rebuke him, ‘why are you here? Aren’t you the great prophet? Do you have like this small faith in me?’ However, God didn’t ask many questions to Elijah. Just says, “what are you doing here?” The gracious God asked me who cried and blamed God, ‘what are you doing here?’ and gave me comfort in my deep grief.

My dear family! Did you ever feel as if you would die because God does not answer you?

I did. I felt as if I would die until God answered me the reason why I have to live after I lost my mother. Like this, we sometimes face when God’s thoughts and our thoughts are different in our lives.  As we do so, our faithful ancestors, such as Moses, Elijah, and the disciples of Jesus, faced when their thoughts are different from God’s plans.

Let me invite you to the Gospel of Matthew, which is today’s Gospel lesson. The story goes that Jesus took Peter, James, and his brother John on a journey up a high mountaintop. When they arrived, suddenly, Jesus began shining like the sun. His clothes looked a dazzling white color. And, as if that were not enough, Moses and Elijah appeared alongside him.

The transfiguration of Jesus Christ is a kind of prescience for the resurrection of the Lord. We know through Jesus’s mention, in verse 9, “Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Jesus wanted his disciples to believe that even though he dies on the Cross, he will resurrect again. Also though he lifts to God, he will be with them forever. That is why he showed his disciples as the living God.

Differently from Jesus’ intention, however, the disciple Peter said to Jesus. “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.” The word “dwellings” does not mean “the houses” simply, but “tabernacles,” which means the “altar of the church” or “the holy sanctuary of God.”

Let us think of the disciple Peter’s thoughts. He saw that Jesus is with Moses and Elijah under the glorious shiny light. Moses is the first great lawgiver. For Jews and Jewish Christians, Moses is the great leader and the receiver of the Law from God on the mountaintop, Sini Mount. And, Elijah is the first great prophet in Israel, who was lifted to heaven without death. It was such the great people appeared before him. So, the disciple Peter suggested Jesus, ‘Let us institutionalize the happening, as we are so inclined to do with God’s movements, with revival and with movements of the Spirit among us.” However, before he finishes speaking with his serious plan, God pulled the rug out from under him, as if God would ignore him.

The text of today begins, “six days later. “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and his brother John up to a high mountaintop.” You may wonder what happens with them before six days. Six days ago, Jesus asked them, “Whom do you say that I am?” As you know, the disciple Peter answered. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And, Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah! You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church” (Matthew 16:16-17). Jesus said to him, like this, and after six days later, he saw Jesus’s transfiguration with Moses and Elijah. If you were the disciple Peter, what do you think of it at that moment? We may do what the disciple Peter did. However, Jesus planned to die on the Cross, instead of establishing the church with the disciple Peter. We know that Jesus, as his promise eventually, built the church community with his disciples much later than their expectations. Jesus did not speak up much to make the disciple Peter to understand his plan. The disciple Peter was an enthusiastic person. On the other hand, he was in lack of patience. However, much later, after Jesus died on the Cross, and lift to heaven, the disciple Peter recognized Jesus’ plan. He says, “ The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but [ he] is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” ( 2 Peter 3:9).

While Peter was speaking about dwellings to stay there, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, from the cloud a voice said, “This is my son, the beloved; with him, I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard God’s voice, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But, Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not afraid.” When they looked up, everything was disappeared. Only Jesus was there. Jesus holds his disciples, who were afraid of the situation. Please remember that when you face a fearful situation, even you have different ideas from God, the one who would be with you and hold you is Jesus Christ, only our Lord.

When I blamed God at the mountain, God asked me, “What are you doing here?”

I answered God, “I am waiting for you taking my life” because my grief of the loss felt like to die. However, I noticed that God was with me even though I was blaming all the time. I prayed to God with fasting for 40 days there, having a deep connection with God in the grief of my loss. I felt like God said to me again, “how long should I wait for you? Let’s go down to my people.” I found the reason why I should live. That is why God is in me. The disciple Peter wanted to stay on the mountaintop, but Jesus took them down again. Jesus may come to your concerns and anxieties, and your deep grieves, and he may say, “Let’s go to the world, there are many sufferings, anxieties, and concerns. But do not afraid at all. I will be with you.”  Let’s follow Jesus Christ without any fear because God is with us. Even thought our thoughts are sometimes different from God, the living God is within you as well as me.  Thanks be to God, Amen!