A few weeks ago, supper was done a little early, the homework was finished, the dishes were put away, the bills were paid, and, quite unaccountably, there was nothing that I had to be doing. So, when the girls asked if they could watch a little more of a particular episode of a favorite show before bedtime, I not only said, “Yes,” but I also sat down on the couch with them.
Long ago, I’d seen the first episode or two of this particular kids show, enough to know it was not corrupting young minds, but I hadn’t paid much attention since. In fact, let’s be honest, as a parent, that’s one of the primary things I look for in children’s television.
I place a supreme value on shows that I can safely ignore for thirty minutes (and I assume Jennifer feels the same way. If I’m not going to have a long conversation later today). In a month when it’s been so often cold and wet, a good, safe ignorable TV show is like a holiday for all of us. It’s my best hope of stealing time for the project in the garage, or calling a family member, or reading a book, or deep prayer, or, just getting some sleep.
My point is, it is part of my plan not to be too caught up in the plot of children’s television. But on this particular night, It was a rare treat to be able to sit alongside my kids, and pull up their latest show on Netflix, and hit play. And of course, as soon as we did, a black screen popped up with two choices. Resume playing or start over from the beginning.
Of course, my kids were halfway through whatever episode we had made them turn off for supper, or last night’s bedtime, or whatever. They know as well as I do that TV time is precious, and can’t be wasted on re-watching what they just saw. So, they chose “resume.”
And wouldn’t you know, I suddenly understood why it is that kids ask so many questions. The show was going, and I recognized most of the characters, but all of them had grown up a bit, and their circumstances had changed, and I found myself asking Elsa, “Wait — how do those two know each other?” “Is she magical?” “What is he talking about?”
I became that friend who walks into a conversation and immediately asks everyone to repeat all the things they’ve been talking about for the last 10 minutes.
This never happened with Dragnet or the Dick Van Dyke show. It used to be that the entire premise of a television show was that no matter what conflicts, problems, or shenanigans might come up, by the end of the episode, everything would be back to normal. Soap operas were the only shows you had to “catch up on.” But now, thanks to an on-demand world, it seems like most shows — even children’s programs — are soap operas. We never want to just start in the middle — we assume we have the right and the time to start from the beginning, and if we can’t, we feel lost.
That’s kind of how I understand Peter — feeling the same way, but magnified by a hundred times, when he thinks that he and James and John are headed off with Jesus for some special summit meeting.
Maybe they are going to strategize the next “missions blitz.” Maybe they are going to try and take this ministry thing to the next level. Except that when they reach the mountaintop, they find Jesus is utterly transformed, and Elijah and Moses are there.
I can almost hear Peter saying “Wait, didn’t Moses die in season 2, like 1000 years ago?” And I thought Elijah was “pursuing other opportunities in heaven.” There they are, the two of them talking with Jesus, and Jesus is shining like the sun, and the only thing Peter knows is that there is a lot more going on than he understands.
I love this commentary from Mark, explaining why Peter offered to build three shrines. I’ve heard some people say that Peter was trying to do this, or trying to do that, but I love Mark’s explanation: “Peter said this because he didn’t know how to respond.”
Dude, I have been there. Peter is just trying to fake it until he makes it. He is trying to be part of the conversation. He is stalling for time until he can think of something that makes sense. “Let’s hang out up here guys, and maybe I’ll be able to catch up to whatever it is y’all are talking about.”
And then comes the voice. “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him.” And suddenly . . . immediately . . . there is only Jesus.
And then they are walking. Any understanding is going to have to come along the way. “Don’t talk about this ’til I’ve risen from the dead.” . . . Wait, what does that mean? “Never mind, you’ll know it when you see it.”
Oh, well, Jesus — Someone told us that Elijah would come first; is that what just happened?
No, no, Elijah came and went years ago. You missed that entirely.
And they keep walking. The story doesn’t stop. It doesn’t go back to the beginning. Jesus keeps moving, and the disciples move with him. The voice they heard is not going to rehash everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen. They don’t need to understand what is going on, they need to understand who Jesus is. “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him.”
Since we started this series, we’ve been looking at all the reasons that we shouldn't wait on God. We talk about holy patience in the church, and there is a very valuable time and a place for that patience. But there are times when waiting is just not what we are called to do.
We looked at the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 1 — Jesus is calling his disciples, and he calls Peter and Andrew and James and John and he tells them, “Come, follow me. I'll teach you how to fish for other people. And they just drop their nets — unmended and unstowed. They just leave them on the shore, and they follow.
We can't afford to wait until we feel like it or until the time is convenient. We can't wait until the timing is right from our perspective — when Christ calls you, the time is right. In the next week, we looked at Jesus going into the synagogue, and when he shows up, the evil spirits that had been hiding in that place begin to shriek and yell, and they shake the body of the one they have possessed and they shake the spirits of the congregation.
We cannot afford to wait until the moment that the word of God is not going to cause any trouble. When we say that Christ speaks with authority, we mean that Jesus names the things that have been hiding in our midst. He brings them out, and He casts them out. It shakes us and it shakes those around us because the world gets shaken when it gets turned right-side-up.
And last week we said that we can't wait until we've exhausted all the other options. We saw what happened when Jesus’ ministry got some momentum. He’s preaching and teaching . . . he is healing and casting out demons . . . and all of Capernaum is coming to the doorstep of the place where he is staying . . . and while everything is going really, really well — he steps out the back door to go pray and seek his Father's will.
He does that before the momentum has run out. He doesn't wait until the crisis comes; he doesn‘t wait till he hits rock bottom, and he doesn’t wait till he has maximized all the good he can do.
The first thing that he does is seek his Father's will, and when the disciples come and find him, Jesus says, “We have to go to the next town over because that's why I have come.”
We can't wait to we've exhausted all the other options, and we can't add the will of God on top of all the other good things. We have to seek it first if we want to see not only what is good but what we were made for. We can't wait until we’ve exhausted all the other options.
Now we find we can't wait until we've got it all figured out. We can’t wait until we know exactly where this is taking us or what's gonna happen or what were all the steps that led up to this moment. The fundamental question is not about our past or our future, or even about us at all. The fundamental question is this: “Who is right before us, right now?”
I was talking with the somebody a few weeks ago, and we were saying in one sense the early Christians had it pretty simple when it came to figuring out who is really with Jesus and who was really paying attention to Jesus.
You see, Jesus wouldn’t stay still long enough for any false pretenses to stick. Jesus just stays on the move; he goes fast, and he goes hard, and he shares the gospel everywhere he goes and those who have not set their hearts on him eventually just fall away.
Those who know that Jesus has the word of life just keep going. We see it again and again. Jesus gets a big crowd, and then he goes off and only a few of them make it to the next town over.
He doesn’t have time to sketch out the map of everywhere he's going to go. He doesn't have time to tell folks where they’re going to be three years from now or even why he is doing what he is doing right now. He just says, “I am here, and the kingdom of God is here. That’s gonna have to be enough. . . .”
Which is to say, I’m sympathetic to Peter here. I have heard a lot of sermons on this passage, and in those sermons I have heard a lot of reasons Peter shouldn’t have spoken up. And it seems obvious that what he said wasn’t quite right — the moment he speaks, he seems to ruin everything, and this really beautiful, glorious scene — with Elijah and Moses and the sparkly lights — all goes away.
But I think that ignores one fundamental truth: Peter did get a response. And the word he heard was the only word that any of us needs — “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him.”
You have been dropped into the middle of the story.
God's been at work long before you came to be around God. And long after you're gone — hopefully to your rest in Christ — Jesus will still be at work. You’ve been dropped into the middle of this story, and you’ll never figure it all out, but all you need is to answer within your heart that one question. It’s not “Where is this going?” but “Who is this calling?”
And when you can answer that, then perhaps you can realize that God has been at work in your life long before you ever recognized it. There was a moment that you thought was a lucky break, a moment that you thought was a close scrape. There was a moment that you thought was going to wound you forever. But now you look back, and you can see that God brought you through those moments just so you could be at this moment.
This is the moment to hear what God is saying. Right now. Christ is in the middle of your story.
He’s not just a good teacher. Jesus has more than good advice. He's not just an architect who put together a world and a plan that can keep you interested. The one who is calling you is the Lord, the Son of God.
He is with you on mountaintop. He is with you in the middle of the valley of the shadow of death. He is with you in the middle-of-the-road. He is with you in the middle of the wilderness and the middle of the crowd and the middle of the loneliness.
Jesus, Son of God, beloved one.
Do not wait to say, “Yes. You are.”