Dear God, I’ve been praying through and thinking through these scriptures all week. I’ve looked at Moses on the mountain getting about eight chapters worth of instructions from you. I’ve looked at Peter talking in his second epistle about his experience at the Transfiguration. And I’ve looked at the Transfiguration itself. I’ve also layered on top of it the story of Naomi from the book of Ruth. These are the pieces of quilt I feel like you’ve given to me this week as I’ve prepared to preach tomorrow. So this morning, what I’d like to do is ask you to help me take these pieces and weave them together into the message that your Holy Spirit wants to deliver to the parishioners at the local Presbyterian church in the morning .
It starts, I think, with the old illustration of the blind men who each touch a different part of an elephant and then asked to describe the elephant. One describes the elephant as being a really long stump (the leg). One describe an elephant as an odd snake-type creature or really long, rough hose (the trunk). One describes it as a long smooth spear (the tusk). One describes it as a huge rough wall (the body). Another describes it as a thin, wiggly animal with some hair on the end (the tail). They are all accurate in their description of what they know, but they are wrong. They can’t see what we can see. They cannot see how the leg, trunk, tusk, body, and tail all work together to form one of the most majestic animals in the world.
That’s what you showed me in the story of Moses on the mountain. You were getting some business done with Moses. It was housekeeping time. It was paperwork time. You and Moses needed to spend some time together so that you could give him some marching orders for all of Israel. But the Israelites couldn’t see what was going on. All they saw was the cloud and the fire. For all they knew, you had grown angry with Moses and he was dead. If you would have asked them to explain what was going on they would have had no clue. Not even Moses really understood the whole picture, but you did. You could see what no one else could see.
Then we get the story of the Transfiguration. Another example of you tangibly showing up on a mountain and spending some time with your man. In this case, it was your son, Jesus, and he brought three friends (notably, you brought two friends of your own in Moses and Elijah). You know I’ve thought for a number of years that you did this because Jesus needed it. He was on his way to Jerusalem. He, at a minimum, had a good idea of what was coming if not complete knowledge of his impending future. I think he needed some affirmation and encouragement, and you provided it to him through your personal presence and affirmation as well as whatever he learned from Moses and Elijah. But what were Peter, John, and James doing there? If you asked them in that moment to describe what they had just experienced they would have said that Jesus is really powerful, and they had just gotten to see Moses and Elijah. Yes, Jesus kept talking about his death, but they didn’t really believe that. How could he possibly die? It’s almost like we look at the current stock market. How could it possibly start to lose? The piece of the elephant they could see what very small in the grand scheme of things. They didn’t understand the pressure Jesus was under or what he needed. They didn’t understand what you were doing for them in revealing the reality of Jesus being the Messiah to them through this story. That’s what the verses in 2 Peter are about. Peter, in retrospect, is telling his audience that he knows the Jesus story is real because of what he witnessed on that mountain. He and his two friends didn’t only hear some disembodied voice that could be explained away as a hallucination. They physically saw Elijah and Moses–so much so that it occurred to Peter to put up houses for them. You don’t build houses for spirits.
And then on the way down, they are still trying to make sense of what they had seen. They wondered if maybe seeing Elijah there was a fulfillment of the prophecy about Elijah preceding the Messiah. That’s when Jesus explains to them that they have already seen Elijah in John the Baptist. Jesus showed them just a little more of the elephant.
So why don’t you show us what is going on? Why do you keep us on a need-to-know basis? Why is it that I so rarely need to know? The answer is obvious. If we know any suffering or inconvenience that lies ahead we will most certainly avoid it. If I had known what answering your call to quit my stable job in 2003 would mean to my own discomfort and instability I might not have done it. If I had known some of the pain involved in parenting I might have avoided it. If Jacob had known that his relocation to Egypt would result in generations of slavery he might have let his family die in the desert. And that impoverished widow who Jesus saw put her two coins in the collection never knew that her faithfulness in the midst of her poverty would be a lesson to all of us for thousands of years.
And then there is Naomi. She was convinced you had turned on her. Mara. Call me Mara because God has made my life bitter. When I left I had everything, but now He has taken everything from me. The Lord has sent me nothing but tragedy and made me suffer. (Ruth 1:20-21) But she didn’t know. She didn’t know that you would use her situation and the loss of her husband and sons to bring Ruth to Bethlehem. She didn’t know that she would play a role, through her dead husband’s legacy, in setting Ruth up with Boaz. And she didn’t know that she would end up cuddling and raising King David’s grandfather, Obed. She didn’t know that Obed’s grandchild would kill Goliath and set up the country for its greatest period. She could only see a little piece of the elephant. But you were faithful to her.
What’s one other common thread in these stories. You gave each person affirmations along the way. They didn’t necessarily see them as affirmations. The Israelites didn’t understand that if Moses had just disappeared for 40 days with no cloud or fire they wouldn’t have necessarily believed him when he came back with the rules. Peter didn’t realize at the time that you had given him evidence of who Jesus was through witnessing the Transfiguration. And Naomi didn’t see it at the time, but if she had stopped feeling sorry for herself for a moment she would have seen that Ruth was there for her when she absolutely didn’t have to be. Naomi could have been left for dead, but you were there for her.
Father, help me to reach the level of faith where I don’t need to see what the elephant looks like to follow you joyfully. I don’t know what the lives of my children will look like. I can’t see how a decision they make in this moment will impact the next. I cannot see how my own actions will flow into history. But you have been good to me. You have been better to me than I deserve. I guess my simplest prayer is that I will decrease, you will increase, and I will worship you and do my best to love all of those around me with your love.
In Jesus’s name I pray,