Follow the Leader

Work of Christmas Series | Matthew 16:24–17:8 | Transfiguration Sunday | February 15, 2014 | First Christian Church | Mahtomedi, MN

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Way back in the day, like the year 2000, people were starting to get used to using the internet to get directions and my friend Erik was no exception. We were in Illinois for a conference and Erik wanted to stop and see his grandmother who lived nearby. So, Erik printed off directions and we were on our way in my car to Grandma.

One would think that having a map would make it easy to get to her house. One would be incorrect. We were lost. We went in the direction the map told us to go, and didn’t find the house. After driving around for a while, we came to an intersection where we were told to go in one direction, the direction the map suggested. We decided to go the other way. Lo and behold, we found Erik’s grandmother’s house.

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It is the last Sunday in Epiphany, the last Sunday before Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. It is the Sunday when we hear the story of Jesus going up a mountain with his three trusted friends and where Jesus is changed, his face his whole body was glowing and he was seated with two other well known people who were long dead, Moses and Elijah. Peter, decides this is a good place to set up some booths for the three of them. But a voice responds with words very similar to the voice that spoke at Jesus baptism. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” the voice says.

But before we get to that scene, we have this other part of the passage where Jesus and Peter get into an argument. Peter calls Jesus Lord, his leader. But then Jesus decides to tell the disciples what was going to happen to him. He was going to get arrested by the Roman-Jewish authorities and then be put to death. He also tells them he will raise from the dead again but I’m pretty sure they weren’t listen to that part of the story; they were focusing on the whole death thing. Peter was not happy with this and he chastises Jesus. After Jesus rebukes Peter, he starts to talk about those who follow him have to be willing to lose their lives for Christ’s sake.

Our passage today has to do with discipleship, the act of following Jesus. Our faith is not one where we are supposed to just sit on the sidelines, we are called to follow Jesus, with our baptisms reminding us that we live for Jesus.

Why does church matter? Why do we get up on a Sunday morning to go to a place once a week? What makes us different from a social club?

The late German theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer is rumored to have said that when Jesus calls us to follow him, bids us to come and die. To be a disciple is to be a person that makes deicsions that cause people to die. It is about denying ourselves, living just for us and being willing to take up our crosses. Most of the time the dying or the cross is figurative; sometimes it is literal. Indeed, Bonehoeffer stood against Hitler and Fascism. Because he stood up to evil, he was imprisoned and later executed- all in the name of Christ.

Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero and countless others are Christians who felt called to follow Jesus, even when the road was uncomfortable, even when it meant their lives.

Following Jesus doesn’t mean we are all going to die. But being a disciple does change us, or at least it should. Like Jesus on the mountain, we are going to be changed. It means that daily we will deny ourselves and take up the crosses in our lives. The reason we go to church is to gather as a community of disciples, to be reminded who we are and whose we are. Peter is like most of us, we want to follow Jesus, but we don’t want to change- we want to stay on the mountain.

But to be a Christ follower means being changed.

I want to close with a story. If you have not seen the movie Selma, you need to go. Based on the events that took place in Selma, Alabama in February and March of 1965, the movie is not just a story about civil rights, it is an example of discipleship. The base of operations for the protest was an African Methodist Episcopal congregation. A white Unitarian minister, James Reeb, came down to participate in the protests. He was beaten by white supremacists and later died from his injuries. But I want to talk about Amelia Boyton Robinson. She was a civil rights activist. She is still alive, now 103 years old. She was involved in the protests especially during “Bloody Sunday” a day when the police beat the protestors who were crossing the bridge. She was among those injured. She believed in nonviolent protests and the call to love the enemy. She even went to the funeral of the sheriff in Selma, the one who lead the charge against the protestors. That’s discipleship: to follow Jesus even to the point of loving someone who really hurt you.

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.

If you want to be a disciple, the realize you will be changed. Realize you will become lost. Taking part in the work of Christmas is to live a life denying ourselves and following Jesus. It’s not the work of Christmas if we are not changed.

The work of Christmas calls. But that call will change us. Are you ready? Thanks be to God. Amen.

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