On Holding On and Letting Go: Sermon for Transfiguration and a Baptism

Scripture can be found here....

Little one, I don’t know who he is. And that’s the truth. Sometimes.


Sometimes I think he is the greatest wonder worker that ever lived. Sometimes I think he is the harshest master I’ve ever had. Sometimes I think he is God himself. And sometimes I think… well, he called me “Satan.” So, I wonder.


Look, I’ve only ever done one thing in my life. I’m a fisherman. I know how to prepare the nets, and repair them. I know how to cast them and haul them in. I know how to bargain with men in whose faces I can read their plan to steal from me, and walk away with enough for my family.


But the first day I saw Jesus’ face… the first time I looked into his eyes, when he looked at my brother and me, sitting there in our boat, and said, “Follow me, and I’ll teach you to haul in a catch of souls.” And he didn’t mean the fish! Well, I knew, little one, that here was a man who was speaking the deepest truth of his heart. I could see it in his face. And my brother and I dropped everything—we dropped our nets, and stepped out of our boats, and never looked back.


Then I thought of him as “teacher.” And he still is, little one! Everything I count as the truest I have ever known I have learned from him. But then… he started his wonder-working, and I was shaken to my core. I’m not a story-teller. I’m not one for dreams that tell you what to do, or when you’ll die. I mostly think those are the result of fish gone bad. But almost immediately after I started following him, my wife’s mother became ill- sick unto death, with a terrible fever. We chased away the children, and called the mourners, and readied ourselves to bury her. But Jesus came in, and looked at her with those… terrible, compassionate eyes of his. And he touched her hand. And the fever left her. Not in a day or a week—in a moment. Her color calmed, and her eyes cleared and opened, and she looked into that face, and smiled, and rose from her bed to follow Jesus too.


And that day, the people in the neighborhood told one another what had happened, and they told others at the market, and soon my house was surrounded by people with fevers, and demons, and leprosy, and paralysis… crowds of people… and every one, every one of them, little one, he touched. And they too were healed.


He scared people. I’ll tell you that. They didn’t know what to make of him. For the life of me, I didn't know either, but before too long, as the crowds grew that came to see him, and hear him, and learn from him, and be healed by him… I began to understand. And then one day he turned to us, his followers, and said, “Who do people say that I am?” He asked us, so calm, like he didn’t much care about the answer. But I can read a man’s face. And I tell you, there was something… was it worry? Was it hope? Something. He wanted to know. He needed to know. And I listened as the others spoke. “Elijah,” one of them said, “Him, or Jeremiah,” someone else offered. He nodded his head at each suggestion, encouraging us. Then Andrew, my brother, said, real quietly, “Some say, John, the Baptist.” And Oh-little one! His face flushed red, I thought he was angry, but then I saw the tears in his eyes. And I knew there had to be some fear. There had to be. Didn’t there? But then he turned to me, and I became bold. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” I said. I almost shouted it. I believed it! Who else could he be?


He looked at me then, most gently, and he said, “Blessed are you, Simon Peter, son of John! You have been listening to my Father in heaven.”


And I thought: He’s the one. He IS the Messiah. He is! And my heart, little one, it about swelled as if to break.


And then, he started—I don’t know—it sounded like nonsense to me. He began saying that it was time to go to Jerusalem, and that when he got there, all the religious leaders would decide it was time for him to suffer, and die—but then, he would be raised up on the last day. And I shouted—then I really shouted, little one—NO! “God forbid it Lord!” And then he turned his wrath on me—there is no other way to say it. He was in a fury. And he said, “Get behind me Satan! You are not listening to my Father in heaven at all!”


It was hard to hear what he had to say after that. He was talking about how we were all going to die. That, we all had to carry the cross. I remember this that he said: “Those who want to hold on their life will lose it, and those who let go of their life for my sake will find it.”


Well. And here I was. Hadn’t I already lost my life for his sake, little one? Let go, walked away from my nets, and my livelihood, and my family, to follow him? To follow and learn from the man with the most trustworthy face I’d ever seen?


Sometimes I think I know just who he is, and then… I just don’t know. I don’t know.


It was a week later, I think. Jesus took three of us, myself, and John, and James, and we broke off from the others, and we climbed a mountain. Higher and higher we climbed. I don’t much care for mountains, myself. Tricky weather in the mountains. I can read the clouds above the Sea of Galilee like I can read a man’s face, but the clouds on a mountain… they can play tricks on you, and that is no joke. So I was uneasy, climbing and climbing, but he must have had his reasons.


And then we came to a more level place, high up, and what should happen. A light… no, a glow. The sun? Maybe it came from behind a cloud? I don’t know little one. But his face, all of a sudden, it became—unrecognizable. It glowed, it flashed. It was the sun, it was brighter than the sun, his clothes too. His robe, which was brown, and his cloak which was another shade of brown—they were white, too white to look upon. It was painful to look upon him, that’s it. His face… it was like… can I say it? It was like looking upon the very face of God.


And then, he wasn’t alone. But there were two men speaking with him, just suddenly they were there. And… how did I know? They were Moses and Elijah. These great men, I’d heard of them all my life. Moses stood there with two great tablets in his arms—I hardly knew how he held them. And Elijah, well, he always dressed strangely, so they say. A cloak made of camel-skin, and a leather belt around his waist, and so that is who the second one was. And there they were—Jesus, and Moses, and Elijah, talking, like… well, like three fishermen standing by the lake. Like they knew one another, from, oh, long ago, and were wondering, how are the fish running today?


“Master!” I called out. I called out! I don’t know what gave me the boldness to do it. “It is good to be here. I will set up three booths, for you, and… Moses, and Elijah.” I heard my own voice, and I thought, I sound mad. No one would ever believe me. I don’t even believe me! And while I was wondering at this, suddenly, a great cloud—not a dark one, but one of those odd mountain clouds you can’t read—bright, and unsettling—it came over us, just sort of fell on all six of us, and John and James and I were on the ground, face down, praying for our lives. Well, we thought our time had come. What with all his talk of dying, little one. We thought we might go up in a chariot with Elijah. But then the voice: a voice like nothing I’d ever heard before. It was like thunder, but it was like whispering, too, and water rushing, and a wave crashing. “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”


And we looked up, and… it was just Jesus, little one. And his cloak was brown again, and it was his own dear face again, and he was touching us each on the shoulder. And he smiled a little, and said, “Don’t be afraid. Let’s go.” And… we had to let go of that mountaintop, and go down again to the town, because… wasn’t there a boy, possessed, having seizures, and wasn’t his father heartbroken and terrified? And didn’t they need Jesus? Didn’t they need… us? Wasn’t that our life, down there, with the people? And so we went down.


Little one, sometimes I just don’t know who he is. And that’s the truth.


Sometimes I think he is the greatest wonder worker that ever lived. Sometimes I think he is the harshest master I’ve ever had. Sometimes I think he is God himself. I have so many questions to ask him, and I long to keep that face before me. I don’t know all the answers. I want to keep asking him questions. I want to follow him, little one, because I think I understand… I let go of my life, and I found my life. All in following him. And that’s the truth.


Thanks be to God. Amen.