Pastor Wilbert Miller’s sermon
“Resting in the Lap of God”
Matthew 17: 1-9
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Holy Trinity-New York City
February 26, 2017 (Transfiguration of Our Lord)
O Lord, how good to be here, here on this mountaintop with a gorgeous view of Central Park, here where we will soon pray: “O Lord, support us all the day long of this troubled life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes and the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over, and our work is done. Then, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, and a holy rest, and peace at the last, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
We have longed for this place of holy rest and blessed peace. However we say it—“I love Bach,” I love incense,” “I love Vespers,” even “I like the refreshments”—we come here where the busy world is hushed and where we can pray and sing and listen to glorious music. We feel as did Saint Augustine so long ago when he said, “Our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.”
Three little words in tonight’s reading, “six days later,” tell us volumes.
Do you know what occurred six days before Peter, James and John climbed the mountain with Jesus and gloriously witnessed the astonishing sight of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus together? Six days earlier Peter had the audacity to suggest to Jesus that he need not suffer and die. Peter was doing what dear friends do, protecting Jesus the best way he knew how from dying a horrific death. We often say a similar thing to those we love, “You will not die,” though we know they will soon breathe their last. We cannot bear their suffering and death and we really do not know what to say so we say what we think is best no matter how flimsy our words may be.
Jesus would have none of Peter’s dismissive words even though Peter meant well. In what may be the most stinging rebuke in all of Scripture, Jesus said to Peter: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.”
If your best friend called you Satan, how long would it take you to get over the scolding—twenty-four hours, six days…a lifetime? Harsh words hurt!
From what we can tell, Jesus began the healing process with Peter six days later as they hiked up the mountain.
I don’t know exactly what brings you here tonight, what stuff won’t go away—the sting of a relationship gone sour, the heartache of declining health, the discouragement of a country in turmoil. My guess is, whether it is sickness or health, joy or sadness, your heart is restless and you have come yearning to rest in the lap of God.
As I mentioned, the three words, “six days later,” are important. When you hear “six days later,” do you perchance think of creation? God toiled for six days, creating the heavens and the earth, giraffes and bumble bees, beautiful baby girls and ornery little boys, gleaming oceans and towering mountains. I don’t know why, but whenever I think of the seventh day—the one that came after God had worked so hard on the previous six—I imagine God plopping down in an overstuffed La-Z-Boy, kicking off huge, dirty work boots, falling asleep and snoring away.
Jesus, Peter, James and John trudged up the mountain on the sixth day. The seventh day was to be their delight. Oh, how they needed to kick off their work boots and to rest awhile.
God knows we need our rest day as well. God also knows just how suspicious our culture is of rest. And so, protecting us from the beguiling temptation of incessant work, God gives us the gift, “Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy.” God realizes all the silly stuff that tempts us: “I don’t have a free day until May 22…I work 169 hours a week”—all this trying to prove our worth, all the while forgetting that God loves us just the way we are.
I worry about people who don’t rest and I sense people worry about me when I don’t rest. We are frightened when we watch people lose their centers of gravity; they have been seduced to believe they are the only ones who can make this great big world go round. We quickly forget that God makes the planets spin and not us!
This evening, on the Transfiguration of Our Lord, we rest just as did Peter, James, and John, and, yes, even as did Jesus. During these holy moments, we do absolutely nothing to prove our worth; it is, as the theologian Marva Dawn suggests, “a royal waste of time.”
By the way, it is a good idea, if you haven’t done so already, to turn off your stupid phones. I was taught in seminary by the good Benedictine monk, Aidan Kavanagh, to take off my watch before worship begins—that was, by the way, before we had these stupid phones and instead communicated home to our parents with carrier pigeons. Father Kavanagh told us just to rest in God’s presence and not to worry about time; in fact, he said, these holy moments are beyond space and time.
For now, I beg you, remember the Sabbath, delight in the music, and rest as the shadows lengthen and the evening comes. Remember: when you leave here tonight, there will be no bragging rights as to who worked the hardest because you will have done nothing. You will have wasted an hour and twenty minutes in God’s lap as Jesus was transfigured before your very eyes…and that is more than enough.