A sermon outline based on Matthew 17:1-9 (RLD)
Step VI - Contemporary Address A. Description of Audience
This sermon will be preached at Canyon Lake Presbyterian Church on Sunday, 10 Feb. 2002. This is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday.
Focus (What does the text say?): Jesus is the fulfillment of the law (Moses) and prophets (Elijah) and has God's authority to teach us. In fact, this Jesus is the Son of God.
Function (What will the sermon do for the audience?): The text reminds us that the One who will be raised from the dead, touches us and says, "Be raised."
Introduction - The Power of God and the Gentleness of God
We have a tendency to read the Bible with an attitude of intellectual calmness, often bordering on boredom. But this story tells us of grown men hiding their faces in the ground with fear? What causes this kind of fear?
I have a friend who tells of his experience in a tornado. He and several other grown men were hiding in fear, crouched by a cinder block wall, some actually crying. Nearby houses collapsed. Afterwards, although no people were killed, the path of the tornado left a trail of death and destruction. Trees, cows, and dogs lay in perfectly flattened fields of debris.
Perhaps we should abandon our cool, calm demeanor as we read this text. Perhaps we should call to mind a time when we have felt the adrenalin course through our veins, when all thoughts except fear and/or survival were swept from our minds. This is the reaction of the disciples to the voice of God. But even our most terrifying moments, even that tornado my friend lived through, falls short of the awesome power of God.
And yet, after the shear terror of experiencing God's unrivaled power, the disciples feel the gentle touch of Jesus. He says, "Be raised. Do not fear." What a wonderful description of our relationship with God. Although God's power could freeze us with terror, in Jesus, we experience that power in a gentle way. We are raised out of the dust, where we lay helpless, and we are raised to new life.
We don't have to look far to find terror in our world. It comes to us in the news every day. Most of us have it in our lives, though we don't often feel comfortable talking about it. We are helpless in the face of so many things, disease, crime, and our ultimate foe, death.
Those of us who are wealthy by world standards can afford health care, a home in a safe neighborhood, etc. But these things only delay the terrors of life for a while. All of us will face the overpowering forces of loss of loved ones, the suffering of those we love, our own suffering, and finally, our own death.
The One Who Raises
But in the face of all of this terror, there is One who calls us to a new way of looking at life. There is One who tasted even the ultimate terror of death, yet who still reaches out to us everyday, to calm us and give us hope. Of course, that One is Jesus.
In today's reading from Matthew, the disciples learn that Jesus is not just a great teacher, not just a great healer. Jesus is more than a new law-giver like Moses, more than a great prophet, like Elijah. Jesus is the Son of God. And God tells us to listen to him, that we might be raised to new life.
And notice how carefully Matthew uses his language. Jesus does not tell his disciples to rise up, as if their own strength could get them back on their feet. He says, be raised. Let God raise you up. Your power, he implies, will leave you face down, on the ground. But God's power, will raise you even from the dead.
What Does It Mean to Listen to Him?
And so, when we are told to listen to Jesus, God is not saying that we must do all the right things, all the things Jesus commanded us to do, so that we will earn our rightful place in the kingdom of heaven. No, we are told to listen to the One who simply shared his life with us.
In response to this great revelation, Peter wants to build a memorial. Peter wants to make a religious response. God says no. More religion is not what this world needs.
In just a few verses, the disciples will go down the mountain and, as they try to listen to Jesus, they attempt to heal a man. But they fail. This attempt to "do more" is also not what it means to "listen to him." This desire to help and heal is good. But with our limited abilities, even this good desire will not turn our lives around. A reliance on our own work to heal this world will lead us to failure.
So then, what does it mean to listen to Jesus? Jesus gives us the answer when he says, "Be raised." He is telling us to let God lift us up.
I am not saying we should not worship and study scripture. We should. We should try to show the love of Christ through healing and forgiving. But we should do these things, not by our own power, but as we are humbly filled with God's power.
An Example Borrowed from DPE
A friend told me of a woman he knows who was a successful doctor, but who gave up her lucrative practice of medicine here in the U.S. to work in a Christian medical mission with very poor people on the U.S./Mexican border. This is a wonderful thing to do.
But, if we imagined this woman doing this work so that she might end poverty in Mexico, we know she would end up disappointed. Even if she only wanted to give decent health care just to the colonia in which she worked, she will probably end up falling short. If we imagine her trying to earn herself the right to stand up before God as a truly righteous person, we know enough about the complexities of our human existence to say that even this attempt must fail.
And yet, if all she does each day is try to treat people with compassion, sharing what God has given her . . .if all she does is mourn her doubts and frustrations and impure motives and turn to God for forgiveness and strength . . . Then, as a disciple of Christ, every day will be a success. Every day will be a day in which God shares new life with this world through her work.
The same is true of us. We cannot save the world from evil. We cannot even save ourselves, so . . .
Conclusion - Listen to him, and be raised up.
Beware of the tornadoes out there. There are forces in this life bigger than all of us. Life, and death, can and will conquer each of us, if we rely on our own strength. But as we follow Christ, as we learn from his teachings and compassion, we will be upheld by a power greater than any in this world. Listen to him, and be raised up. Amen.