2:1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? 2:2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying, 2:3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” 2:4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision. 2:5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying, 2:6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” 2:7 I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you. 2:8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. 2:9 You shall break them with a rod of iron, and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.” 2:10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. 2:11 Serve the LORD with fear, with trembling kiss his feet, or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way; for his wrath is quickly kindled. Happy are all who take refuge in him.
Let us pray: Gracious and wise God, today we come to your house to share fellowship with one another and to seek your divine wisdom. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us that we gain understanding and give us courage to live into the words you give us. And now may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be pleasing unto you O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
Good morning. Peace and Grace to you in our meeting together as St. Stephen’s United Church of Christ to receive the grace and peace of God which is manifested in Jesus Christ. It is an honor and a pleasure to be with you again as we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday. As we know, this is the time that Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain. When they arrived there, Scripture tells us that Jesus’ appearance changed, radiant light emanating from his person. To the disciples’ surprise, there also appeared Moses and Elijah and these two prophets fell into discussion with Jesus.
This meeting had quite the effect on the disciples. Immediately Peter decided that they should build shrines to the three luminaries (forgive my pun here) before the conversation had ended. I know seems kind of rude doesn’t it? He was already planning construction I imagine and trying to figure out how it would be decorated. However, at this moment God decided to step in. God overshadows everything and tells them that Jesus is God’s beloved and to listen to him. I imagine Peter’s planning went by the wayside even before Jesus told them to not be afraid and to get up.
It is important that we remember that as we look at our texts today and think of Matthew’s words that he indeed had an agenda, a plan if you will of what he would say to his readers, and to the other recipients of his message. Matthew wrote to a primarily Jewish Christian audience and was written sometime after year 70 of the Common Era. From beginning to end, we find him promoting Jesus as Messiah. In doing this, he often used Hebrew scripture that dealt with prophecy to demonstrate how Jesus fulfilled that prophecy. His recitation of Jesus’ genealogy, His recitation of God telling the disciples that “this is my anointed” would not be lost on those early Jewish Christians who knew Psalm 2 and helped to bolster their faith in the troubled times of an early church who had to also deal with Rome. They as well as Matthew were planning how they were going to navigate this new faith, this new way.
I have not been very proficient at planning. It seems that no matter what my plan is, no matter how carefully I prepare, something comes along to upset the apple cart and chaos ensues. How about you? Do you make a lot of plans? Do they work out? Do they crash and burn? For the most part, I think that we like order and plans help us to keep that order, or at least the illusion of order.
We plan for a lot of things. We plan dinner, we plan vacations, and we plan retirement, we plan all sorts of things in order to make our lives easier and hopefully better. I know that I would like to be a better planner and planning isn’t a bad thing. But it is what were planning and the motivations behind that planning that can get us into trouble.
I have three quotes that deal with planning that I’d like to share. The first one is from Scottish poet Robert Burns. The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. No matter how carefully a project is planned, something may still go wrong with it. The saying is adapted from a line in “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.” This sums up my planning style. No matter how hard I try; it seems that my planning is doomed to usually comic failure. I think that the quote speaks well to Peter’s plan to build shrines to Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. It’s a good idea, but perhaps misses the point of what Jesus was doing at the time, which I will get to in a moment.
Our second quote comes from General, then President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
I tell this story to illustrate the truth of the statement I heard long ago in the Army: Plans are worthless, but planning is everything. There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning. Having been in the Army, I relate to this one. No matter what you may be planning, the unexpected will always rear its’ ugly head and you will have to deal with the consequences. You can plan for anything except an emergency because it is an unexpected event. But what you can be is flexible in your planning so that the plan has the most flexibility and can adapt to changing circumstances.
Our last quote comes from one of my favorite movies and is the prayer of the protagonist on the eve of a decisive battle.
Ahmed Ibn Fahdlan: Merciful Father, I have squandered my days with plans of many things. This was not among them. But at this moment, I beg only to live the next few minutes well. For all we ought to have thought, and have not thought; all we ought to have said, and have not said; all we ought to have done, and have not done; I pray thee, God, for forgiveness.
I like this one because our character recognizes the folly of excessive planning and not doing. In his prayer he begs forgiveness for the things that were not thought, said, or done. Sometimes we are so obsessed with planning things we forget to do them, or plan for the wrong things and are left with a list of things we wished we had done.
So, what’s the connection? Let’s go back to Peter and the shrine. Peter witnessed a glorious event and wanted to memorialize it by building three shrines. It wasn’t necessarily the wrong thing to do, but it wasn’t the thing that needed to be done. Consider God’s response to Peter’s plan for a shrine. “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” As stated earlier, when Matthew writes these words, he is validating Jesus as Messiah, as the anointed one. When God tells these men to “listen to him”, he is telling them that Jesus speaks for God so every word that has proceeded from Jesus’ mouth is true and righteous.
So God is telling them and us to listen and heed, to do the words of Jesus. Shrines aren’t necessary, just do the work. What did Jesus do? He healed people, he fed them, and he offered community to all who would come. He did it without asking for a membership card, or a co-pay for healing. He asks us to love one another and goes as far as to tell us to love our enemies. God’s plan calls for equality for all, as God loves and cares for us, our plan should reflect the same.
Additionally, we have to consider the warning that we get from Psalm 2. Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying, 2:3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” 2:4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision.
We know that there are many in powerful positions who take advantage of the weak. Their plan is to become wealthier, to take the last penny they can extract from us. They continue to send the flower of our youth into harm’s way for no other reason than to increase power and wealth. They make healthcare so expensive that people have to decide whether to eat or buy medicine. They sow division and fear among us regarding asylum seekers and immigrants, forgetting that we also came from somewhere else.
The sad thing about this is that there are people who claim Christ also claim these policies. What’s our plan? What motivations guide our plans? When Jesus came to us, he gave us the words of love, of inclusion, of healing, of feeding the hungry, of clothing the naked, and caring for the world that God has given us. God laughs and holds in derision the mighty and the powerful. God chooses us in our poverty, in our imperfection and promises that those who would rule us, who would abuse us, will be broken. Christ told us that the kingdom of God is at hand. God has provided us with everything we need, and when we messed it up, he came down and showed us how to do it. The Kingdom of God is at hand if we follow God’s plan through Jesus Christ. Peter planned to build a shrine, but God’s plan will give us so much more if we have the faith and the courage to follow the plan. Dr. Martin Luther King said that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice. We see these words in Psalm 2 where God tells us that these takers will be brought down. What’s our plan? How will we engage the work God has given us? It begins with the smallest gesture, a kind word or deed to someone in need. Surely with all that God has given us, we can stick with God’s plan. To God be the Glory. Amen