Deny Yourself

Matthew 16, The Transfiguration, February 16, 2015

Here’s the video of the sermon right here:

It’s good to be here, isn’t it? In this space together, for worship? It is a weekly coming together to be reminded that we are loved without fail by a God who is faithful to us without fail. And we sing and pray and we wonder. We ask questions and we let others believe it for us when we just cannot. And we leave here commissioned into not being better people, morally upright useful citizens. No, we leave here commissioned to follow Jesus and – gulp – to be transformed, transfigured, changed. Which, well, that’s not something we’d always look at and name “good” at the outset.

Peter must have been overwhelmed and scared to see Moses and Elijah suddenly with them on the mountain – next to Jesus, talking to each other. Like, hey! the gangs all here! Moses and Elijah, for those of you not keeping track at home, are prophets from the Old Testament who had been dead for quite some time. And then Jesus lights up, changes right in front of them, gleaming. But Peter thinks, “well, shoot. this must be a good thing. it seems fair for each of you to have your own place to live here. I’ll get right on that.”

It’s only after he’s voiced these awe-inspired plans to mark this event, this time and this place and these people, that he’s interrupted by God. A cloud over shadows the mountain top – perhaps taking some of the gleam off of Jesus, dimming it a bit perhaps, and out of this dark cloud comes God’s proclamation of Jesus: This is my son, the beloved. I am so pleased with him. Listen to him

Maybe that’s when Peter remembers. He hears Jesus’ voice ringing in his ears from 6 days earlier, before the mountain and the prophets and the glowing bright light. Maybe, as God’s voice booms out of the clouds, it’s as if its an echo of the words Jesus spoke just 6 days earlier. He’d all but forgotten: If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?

Then – poof! – show’s over. The cloud is gone. The bright light has subsided. Moses and Elijah are gone. Jesus is pulling the disciples back up to their feet as they blink into his face that they once again recognize as he comforts them, don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid.

It was good. It was good to be there, just as it is good to be here. Yet, while this is good and the mountain top experience was good – well, it’s just that that’s not all folks. Just as they walked back down the mountain with Jesus, so too do we leave this place and this gathering of people to follow Jesus into our daily living. And we think, well how do we follow Jesus out of this worship time? How do we live a life that shows who we follow?

Jesus says, well first and foremost: If you want to follow me, deny yourself. And follow me in such a way that out of your love for the world and for the people in it, you aren’t the show. Your own concerns aren’t the center of your universe. Denying yourself means letting go of the things that get in the way of loving others, serving others. And when you do this, well, you are changed. Bit by bit.

Which is really hard, isn’t it? Being a Christian is hard. Because it’s not about moral behavior. It’s not about wearing the right clothes or having the right job. It’s not about having the right stuff or knowing all the facts (ha!) about the Bible. It’s about loving God and loving people.

There is a conference I’m going to this fall in the cities called Why Christian. They’re bringing together Christian leaders to talk about, tell stories about this way of life. And at the center of it is an acknowledgment of the reality of just how hard it is to be a Christian – to act like a Christian – day after day. It’s the question I want our confirmation kids, parents, and mentors to ask – why am I a Christian? Do I want to be a Christian? Because, quite frankly, it’s hard. It’s hard because following Jesus points you toward other people. And I don’t know about you but I know I get awfully concerned about me and mine: my time, my money. It’s easy to obsess about my needs, the needs of the people I love. Yet Jesus tells us, deny yourself – lose yourself in following me. Because that’s where you’ll find life.

Following Jesus is hard because it’s counter-cultural. We follow a guy who sought out silence and prayer and a reliance on God. We live in a noisy, yell-y culture obsessed with quick answers and self-sufficiency.

Following Jesus is hard because he leads you into silence so there might be room for something new. Or into relationships with difficult co-workers or cranky patients or ungrateful students.

It’s easier to look out for your own self.

It’s easier to make sure you and your own are ok.

It’s easier to play it safe, keep that facebook profile happy.

Instead, Jesus wants you to let go of the things that get in the way of loving other people.

Instead, Jesus wants you to love loving other people so much that you don’t even think about it. And it’s when we think this is impossible or that we’ve had it with this world God loves – well that’s when Jesus shines, right? And shows us the way.

There are many of you who have found a way of serving Jesus every day. You’ve found a job or a way of life that really does call you into serving other people, walking with them into the darkness, rejoicing with them, speaking when they don’t have a voice. It doesn’t take a seminary degree to follow Jesus. It takes an open heart and hands willing to get dirty, knees willing to get scraped.

Because, if you’re paying attention, from here on out the light only gets brighter on Jesus. He does things that only draws more and more attention to him. He’s always sticking his neck out for the wrong people. He’s always showing love to those who don’t seem to deserve it or who have worked for it at all.

It’s from here on out that the light he shines so that we will love other people only gets brighter and brighter. And we are drawn to him like a moth to a flame. We just can’t help ourselves.

Yes, it’s good to be here together, isn’t it? But we are drawn to the light that leads us out of this place, out of our comfort zones, out of our own lives, into the life of the world that God loves. It’s hard. We will be changed. But Jesus pulls us to our feet and tells us, do not be afraid. Lose yourself in me.

thanks be to God.