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shiny, happy jesus

March 26th, 2005 by isaac · 4 Comments

I haven’t had much time to blog, so how about another sermon? I preached this one last month. At our church all the texts for the morning are read before the sermon. So, my sermon is read best once you’ve taken a look at the lectionary texts.

Where is my shiny, happy Jesus?
Feb.6th, 2005
Lectionary texts: Ex. 24:13-18; Ps. 2; 2 Pet. 1:16-21; Matt. 17:1-9.

U2 has a song that I can’t live without. “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is one of those songs that doesn’t get old; it lingers because it puts into words and sounds feelings that frustrate me because I can’t express them too well. Let me read a few lines from the song:

(Bono) I have climbed the highest mountain; I have run through the fields, only to be with you. I have run, I have crawled, I have scaled these city walls only to be with you. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for. (Choir) He will lift you higher and higher. He will pick you up when you fall. He’ll be the shelter from the storm. (Bono) I believe in the Kingdom come, then all the colors will bleed into one, bleed into one, but yes I’m still running. You broke the bonds, loosed the chains, carried the cross of my shame, of my shame, you know I believe it. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.

I like that song so much because Bono puts together two streams that don’t seem like they should flow together—and figuring out how to combine those two streams is what the Christian life is about for me. In the song, Bono confesses his trust in God, his taste of God’s forgiveness, the lifting of his shame, the hope of a kingdom of God that will liberate us from all divisions and violence, a longing for intimacy with God. But, in the same voice, Bono says he still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. His heart is still restless—he confesses the nearness of God, yet still longs for something more. The taste of God he has received beckons him further up and further in, he reaches for the beyond of God’s kingdom that he has tasted in the present.

The question that Bono helps me ask is one that I think our texts this evening help us think about. My question is twofold: (1) Where is God?, and (2) How can I experience the hope God offers for us today?

Our passage from Exodus 24 tells of a “fearsome and fascinating mystery” (Rudolf Otto) atop Mount Sinai. The God of Israel comes with glory that looks like a consuming fire, that same consuming fire that spoke to Moses from the burning bush. The cloud of God’s glory settled on that place to give Moses the word of God written on tablets of stone for the people. With these tablets, this record of God’s spoken word, Israel is set apart from the nations as God’s special people. This is God’s word for God’s people—it marks their identity, and reminds Israel of her God.

So, where is God? In this story from the Old Testament, God is on Mount Sinai. Then we learn in the following chapter that God travels with Israel in a tabernacle. In 25:8 God says to Moses, “have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” But the God who reveals himself to Israel in a spectacular way at Mount Sinai, and who dwells with Israel in the tabernacle at the center of their wandering camp is the same God spoken of in our Psalm. And there, in the Psalm, we find a God who is everywhere, ruling over the affairs of all the nations, not just Israel. The God glorified in Psalm 2 is “enthroned in heaven,” far above all earthly rulers, and laughs and scoffs at their attempts to resist his power. This is the God who delivered Israel from Egyptian slavery—thus displaying God’s power over that nation.

The location of Mount Sinai shows the way God is in a particular place and everywhere (Jon Levenson). The holy mountain lies in the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan—between Israel’s past slavery and Israel-s promised future. And from that special place God reveals his power to deliver a people from slavery, and re-constitute them with the Law and give them a new land to call their own. The God who shows up on Sinai is the same God who hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Egypt and provided the land of Canaan for their home—this is a God who knows no boundaries, honors no earthly sovereignties, and defies the claims of the nations—remember from our Psalm, God laughs and scoffs at them.

Now, the scandal of our New Testament passages this evening is that as Christians we point to another moment of decisive revelation—all other stories have been draw into that concrete moment of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ. We hear in 2nd Peter about the “power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” the “majestic glory” of the Father that rested on another “sacred mountain,” that has made the “word of the prophets more certain.”

This New Testament writer is referring to the transfiguration of Jesus we heard about in our Matthew passage. Let me read a few of those verses (read Matt. 17:1-3, 5). On this sacred mountain, this Mount Sinai of sorts, Jesus is transfigured—his face shines with the glory of God, that same consuming glory that lit Mount Sinai on fire. Yes, Israel’s God was the one who showed up on Mount Sinai, just outside Egypt—then traveled with Israel in the wilderness and moved into the temple that Solomon built. And now, James, John, and Peter watch as their rabbi glows with light from heaven, then find themselves consumed by the bright cloud of God, and hear the voice of the Father: “This is my Son, whom I love; with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” What does this stunning scene mean? and, does it hint at an answer to my question about where is God and how do we experience God’s hope?

At the transfiguration we come to see Psalm 2 fulfilled, and the Mount Sinai passage taken to its revolutionary conclusion. In our Psalm this evening we hear about the Lord’s Anointed One to whom the Lord says, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.” After years of destruction and humiliation at the hands of Roman occupation, the coming of Jesus, the Son of God, the King over all the nations, is the reality of the victory of God.

Where is God? God is where Jesus is. Elsewhere Jesus says, “When you have seen me you have seen the Father.” And I can’t help but follow in Peter’s footsteps here when he says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” How we all long for a mountaintop experience where we see God clearly, where we are sure what God looks like and what God does. When we can confidently point to a man standing here with us and say, “watch what my shiny Jesus can do”?then his face gets bright like the sun or something like that. That is what Peter wants. Peter doesn’t think Jesus should go to Jerusalem and die. That’s not what he thought Israel’s Messiah is supposed to do. The Messiah is supposed to kick these Roman imperialists off our land and restore Israel to its former glory among the nations. At least, that’s Peter’s vision of what Jesus should be for him and his people.

So, even though we know to find God in Jesus—and we can see the universal character of God’s reign over all the earth through Jesus—the way Jesus reveals himself in this passage doesn’t let Peter’s vision control God’s purposes. The transfigured vision did not stay, Jesus came down the mountain—”the vision vanished as quickly as it had come” (Karl Barth).

This episode on top of the mountain demonstrates the fleeting character of our knowledge of God. Jesus appears in all his glory just long enough for the disciples to taste the glory, freak out and fall on their faces, then come down the mountain and follow Jesus to Jerusalem—they saw enough of the divine to terrify them, to unsettle their judgments and visions (Rowan Williams), and enough to convince them that Jesus is worth following.

And that’s where we find ourselves today. We remember these stories, confess them as truth, and learn from each other how Jesus—the Word from God to us—wants us to live while we wait expectantly for his return. As we gather here for worship and open ourselves up to someone else, we hope to hear that Word from God we so desperately need. Even though we may not get a definitive vision we can take with us wherever we go, we trust that our vulnerable exposure to each other may open us up just enough to receive the gospel.

So, back to the questions I started with. Where is God? Well, God is in our midst because Jesus promised never to leave us nor forsake us, to be with us until the very end of the age (Matthew). But as we all know, that’s not something we can see quite clearly. Jesus’ special presence with us is not something that we can hold onto—just like Peter couldn’t build some tents to keep the transfigured Jesus on the mountain. For some reason—we all have different reasons—God gave us a taste of the reality of the good news of Jesus Christ, and so we keep coming back here in gratitude and hope for another touch of the gospel. And we come together to remember and look forward for the day when Christ will come in all his glory.

That gratitude and longing is what comes together for me in that U2 song. And I can hear that song playing in my head sometimes when I am here with you, in this special place where we come hoping, longing to fellowship with God and each other. I hear that song when we gather together and try to remind each other of our Lord who lived among us two thousand years ago in Palestine. We talk with one another about those stories of Jesus, about the reality of the mysterious God who came to us in Jesus, and then turn to one another and figure out how to hope patiently. We share with someone those sweet moments when we saw a glimpse of God’s kingdom, and hope for more.

Let me share with you a sweet moment I experienced. This past Wednesday I led Bible study at Northside Baptist Church in Walltown. This old African-American man who I hadn’t seen before joined us. Everyone else seemed to know Amos except me. Then, just before I opened our study, someone asked if Amos could sing us a song. After some convincing, Amos stood up right where he was and started a soft sound that reverberated around the sanctuary. It felt like a subwoofer—like I was shaken up from the inside. He slowly sang a question, “Somethin’ wrong with Jesus?” We all sat there, some shook their heads slowly as they looked down at the ground and closed their eyes, and we felt the way Amos made that question touch us at our core. We couldn’t hide from that voice, like I said, it didn’t really sound like he was singing, he was stirring something already there at our depths—a question we hadn’t yet dared to ask. Then, Moses took another breath and started, “But Jesus is all right.” Simple words. Everyone knew they came next, everyone but me of course. “Jesus is all right.”

Asking that question—”somethin’ wrong with Jesus?”—and answering with “Jesus is all right,” is part of what it means to listen and speak the gospel here. We come to someone else and let them know how Jesus and our experience of the world doesn’t really make much sense. Then we listen for how Jesus might be all right after all. And even if we can’t make complete sense of how our world and Jesus meet, we find hope in knowing that there are people here that promise to go on with us, offering the comfort of their companionship to us (Stanley Cavell). And we wait together, as 2nd Peter puts it, “until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.”

So, how can I experience the hope of God today? I think Sebastian Moore, an old Catholic monk and theologian, might help us understand what it means to greet one another with Christ’s peace and we gather here every week, and eat with one another every other Wednesday. He says, most Christianity “fails to look forward to the point when the whole mystery of God will be known in the clasp of your brother [or sister’s] hand” (God is a New Language, 141).

(if you would like to read another sermon click here, or here, or here)

Tags: sermons

4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 vibskov // Jun 26, 2005 at 6:04 am

    Good sermon with fine structure and a strong kerygma. The U2 opening is really good
    X V per v

  • 2 Frank Johnson // Sep 21, 2005 at 2:44 am

    Good Service

  • 3 The Alternative Hymnal // Feb 9, 2006 at 8:46 pm

    U2 - I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…

    The other day Beth over at the U2sermons blog linked to a sermon that Isaac on the Blip blog had written titled “Shiny, Happy Jesus” for Transfiguration Sunday. It seemed like a good reason to (finally) add this song to the hymnal.

  • 4 the alternative hymnal » U2 - I still haven’t found what I’m looking for // Aug 14, 2007 at 5:38 am

    [...] over at the U2sermons blog linked to a sermon that Isaac on the Blip blog had written titled “Shiny, Happy Jesus” for Transfiguration Sunday. It seemed like a good reason to (finally) add this song to the [...]