Sunday, February 27, 2022
By: Eleanor Wellford, Priest Associate
Their time with Jesus was neither ordinary nor predictable. So being one of his disciples could not have been easy.
How many times do you think they went to sleep at night thinking: who is this man, what is he doing, why did he choose me and why do I keep following him? They were on an emotional roller coaster ride with him with more peaks and valleys than they could have ever imagined.
Peter is probably the best disciple to give us a sense of what that ride was like – because when it came to emotions, or anything else for that matter, he didn’t hold back. And he didn’t think about what he said before he said it. He sounds like some extroverts that I know!
The gospel reading a couple of weeks ago was about Peter, who was first known as Simon who was dragging empty nets back to shore after fishing all night and catching nothing. There was a man standing on the shore and it was Jesus, but Simon didn’t know that. The man told him to put his nets back into the water. When he did that, his nets filled up with so many fish that he had to get help to drag them all into his boat.
Simon couldn’t have been more excited when he approached Jesus – but then he was filled with a sense of despair and remorse as if Jesus had exposed some dark place in his soul. He immediately fell to his knees and when he did, he heard Jesus tell him that he would become a “fisher of men”. Something about that caused Simon to get up, leave his nets and family behind and follow Jesus.
Not long after that, Simon and some of the other disciples followed Jesus to the top of a mountain to pray. When he had finished praying, Jesus asked them who people thought that he was. They said that people thought he was maybe a prophet. But then Jesus asked: “Who do you say that I am?” And of course without thinking first, Simon, blurted out in a flash of insight: “You are the Messiah of God.” And that’s when Simon became Peter – the rock on which Jesus’ church would be built.
I doubt if Peter really knew what that meant, but he was excited to be in Jesus’ company at that moment. Then Jesus told his disciples that he would soon suffer and die. “Say it’s not so” said Peter. His excitement turned into despair as he wondered what kind of Messiah Jesus was.
In today’s gospel, we’re on top of the mountain again with Jesus and Peter and two other of his disciples They were exhausted from all the traveling and had trouble staying awake as Jesus prayed. But then they saw a bright light and heard a conversation that Jesus seemed to be having with two other people whom they somehow identified as Moses and Elijah.
Maybe they were just dreaming; but Peter felt called to DO something and decided that it would be a good idea to build dwelling places for them. I’m not sure how he thought he was going to do that, but I think he just wanted to preserve the excitement of the moment.
Then God overwhelmed them all with a dark cloud and spoke to them like he did to Moses so long ago when he gave him his commandments to give to the Israelites. This time God’s words were: “This is my Son, my chosen one” And his commandment was simply: “Listen to him!”
It must have been quite a thrilling mountain-top experience for the disciples, but excitement turned back into despair and they all climbed back down the mountain – back to the real world of suffering when they were confronted by a boy convulsing with demons and in need of Jesus’ healing.
These extremes in emotions had to have taken their toll on Peter and the other disciples; yet they continued to follow Jesus despite what Jesus said lay ahead for them and for him. What kept them going? I think it must have been faith. What else could it have been?
It feels like we are right at that mountain top with Jesus and Peter, James and John – that moment of exhilaration when the light of Jesus during this season of Epiphany has been shining on us all and revealing to us who he is and what it means to have faith in him. And for a few days more we can affirm what we’ve learned by saying and singing as many Alleluias as we want, before being dropped down in the valley for the season we call Lent.
Today, Transfiguration Sunday, is the bridge between those two seasons. And we’re on that bridge now – trying to grab hold of whatever faith we have t0 ground us, to stabilize us, or maybe just to help us put one foot in front of the other.
I remember the very first sermon that I preached at Emmanuel Brook Hill where I was a summer intern in 2003. The gospel reading was about the disciples in a boat in the middle of a terrible storm with something that looked like a ghost walking toward them on top of the water.
Once Jesus identified himself, then of course Peter wanted to jump right out onto the water to go meet him. His faith was what got him out of the boat but it was fear of the unreality of what was happening that caused him to sink.
So, I boldly concluded that the opposite of faith must be fear and I felt pretty good about that until after the service when someone let me know that she disagreed with my conclusion. She didn’t say why and it was enough to send me into the valley of my own despair.
But she was right to question it. Maybe doubt is the opposite of faith. Or maybe its certainty and maybe some fear. But they all eat away at the fabric of faith. They’re not really its opposites. Maybe faith has no opposite other than no faith.
I believe that we all have faith but that life itself can make us feel more or less connected to that faith. But, faith in what? I think the disciples had faith in the goodness of Jesus because they kept seeing evidence of it everywhere they went – his healings, his teachings, his loving of the unlovable. He was God’s son and lived out of the goodness of God’s own heart.
Yet God allowed his only son to suffer and die. Where was the goodness in that? The goodness was in what happened afterwards – in the resurrection. It’s not ours to know how or why, but rather to have faith in God’s goodness in redeeming and reconciling everything that happens to us and around us.
It’s stronger than our worst fears and our greatest doubts. It’s what keeps us along for the ride – no matter how many peaks and valleys there are – and makes every minute of this gift we call life, worth living.