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Happy Feast of the Transfiguration! Have you ever played football? Yes – American, hard-hitting, organized-chaos, pigskin-centered – football. If you’ve at least watched it, I’d like you to keep the game in mind today.
St Luke’s ninth chapter starts with four accounts that are in a particular order for our purpose today. Think 4 quarters of our game: as time goes on things get more intense and experiences change, even though its the same game. Sixty-two verses in all, so there’s plenty going on, but join me on this journey.
Pick a disciple. Any disciple. This is our team – so who do you wanna be? What position do you want? (I know, 12 is too many – but we’ve got special rules) Now, lets move through the 4 quarters with this particular disciple you picked. You are now _________. Meditation practice: try placing your name in place of the men and women of the Scripture while reading. It can be your name here as well.
Then he called his twelve disciples together, and gave them power and authority over all devils, and to cure diseases.And he sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick. (Luke 9:1-2 NKJV)
So to kick us off (allow me to draw your attention to that beautiful pun), Jesus calls US together and gives us power, and then sends us out. Mental image? You can think of Jesus as our QB – and we’re all on this team to spread His kingdom. There’s many of us here in the huddle – taking direction. He’s giving us His pre-game pump up speech.
Before each play, He calls us together and says “Karim, hitch and go”, “Sherry, post-corner”, “_____, Hail Mary” (lol…I had to). We each get this game-time confidence from Him, then when he says “Set – GO”, we do our part.
And they departed, and went through the towns, preaching the gospel, and healing every where. (Luke 9:6 NKJV)
So I’m _________ the disciple, and I am working miracles. I’m changing lives and shocking everyone around me. Spirits obey us, sickness flees our path, all because of the perfect play-call by the QB.
Now you may remember we’ve mentioned power coming from Him before. Click this link to read the post a power(ful) mnemonic for a refresher. But there, Luke also talks about this Christ-given gift. At this point, we’re doing big things, and we’re a pretty big deal to around town. Fame. It is time for the 2nd quarter.
Then, we read the account of feeding the 5,000. Lets be honest people, I don’t care what we did as disciples in the first quarter, feeding 5,000 must have been CRAZY for us to witness! I love this icon of the feeding – because it shows Jesus serving the food to (us) the disciples and we then take it to the people. So as ______, I’m with the Man. I’m the talk of the town, because I’m with Him. The second quarter, He really steps up and makes plays for our team – pushing forward His kingdom. I’m confident things are going our way.
Imagine an NFL team feeding a bunch of people. Even if you don’t meet the QB, you’re excited to see anyone in the uniform. That definitely doesn’t do the disciples justice, because the NFL players wouldn’t only use 5 loaves and 2 fish to feed 5,000 men (= 15000+ people). Would you turn down an autographed jersey because it was missing 1 signature? The others make up the team as well because they were working WITH Jesus. This Orthodox concept is called ‘synergy’: our infinitely small effort hand-in-hand with God’s infinitely large work for our salvation.
Bishop Kallistos Ware writes the following:
If man is to achieve full fellowship with God, he cannot do so without God’s help, yet he must also play his own part: man as well as God must make his contribution to the common work, although what God does is of immeasurably greater importance than what man does.‘The incorporation of man into Christ and his union with God require the cooperation of two unequal, but equally necessary forces: divine grace and human will’
At this point, they must be thinking – I’m a disciple. Life is good. He’s doing all the work, and we look like heros.
For we are God’s fellow workers (synergoi) (1 Corinthians 3:9 NKJV)
And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. (Luke 9:23 NKJV)
Here comes the wakeup call after halftime. Jesus says, yes there are good times, but things won’t always be glitter and sunshine if you want to follow me. Football has hits, and if you want to win we MUST be ready for impact, bruises, sweat, and even blood. Christ tells us as His disciples, we must be ready to lose our life here if we want eternal life. Woah, Jesus – things were just smooth! Why shake them up? This is the 3rd quarter, be ready for some difficulty, because the other team (the world we live in) is giving everything its got to slow us down.
*As an aside, If you know me well – my birthday is 9/23 – like the last verse, and I’m in medicine, like Luke. You can use that as a mnemonic for this verse. Lord please prepare me to be a reminder of your Word to others.
He’s preparing us for the 4th and final stage – the Transfiguration. Yes, we’ve come this far, but if you want to see the Unseen, we must be ready for difficulty.
Jesus had different concentric circles of those He interacted with here on Earth. General multitudes, 70 apostles, 12 disciples, 3 closest of His disciples. As we go forward to the last part of our game, we learn that Peter, John and James are the only three that went with Him to the mountain to see this ‘main event’.
This is when people turn on the game that have not watched at all. This was His innermost circle. So I must ask myself, am I in this inner circle? Or was I there only for the good times of following Christ, but when the reality check came about, I left? When the hits became real after halftime, what do I do?
Please remember that being God, Jesus loves all the circles the same, but its on us to decide where we stand with Him. 1thingisneeded, if you haven’t retained anything thus far – football and jokes aside: ITS ON US to decide what circle we’re in with Christ. Am I sticking by His side? Or am I heading to the sideline early to watch from afar. This took immense trust, and clinging from those disciples. We must do the same. On a different point, we should be well aware of our own concentric circles. Who are those closest to us, and will they pull me closer to Christ, or drag me away?
So you know the next story – if not, read from vs 28 before you continue! Its short and sweet. Bible time. Jesus unveils something most beautiful. The church calls this “the Uncreated Light” and shows only His inner circle His divinity. Then, we get some backup for our team when Moses and Elijah show up. Luke is the only of the four gospel writers to mention this conversation that takes place:
who appeared in glory and spoke of His decease which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:31 NKJV)
I don’t know about you all, but normal people never claim death as an accomplishment. But 1thingisneeded, as Christians, we are not called to be NORMAL in any way.
While the disciples were present (remember, this is you and I) a cloud came over them. The fathers of the church tell us it was not a normal rain cloud. But this was the Holy Spirit. This filled the disciples with faith and when they heard the voice of Father, they were surrounded by the Trinity. Oh, to be amidst the Perfect Triune God!
If we stay close to Christ brothers and sisters, we will EXPERIENCE the Trinitarian life. This is the purpose of our Orthodox faith.
Right now, as you read, you are in front of the Illuminating Christ. He has taken this ‘team sport’ and wants us to be transfigured with Him. Christ is here telling us this is what awaits us in our future. Our goal is unity with GOD, uniting our human flesh with His divinity – this is YOUR potential ______ – living in and radiating the Uncreated Light. This is the end of the game. Victory is ours team. The battle is already won.
You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!’ Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out against them, for the Lord is with you. (2 Chronicles 20:17 NKJV)
No doubt, one of my favorite verses
I would be biting my tongue (fingers – as this is typing) if I didn’t tell you about Exodus 24 and how this was not Moses’ first time atop a mountain in God’s presence. So read it please? God then had His concentric circles as well – people at the bottom, the priests a bit higher, then Joshua, and Moses alone with GOD at the top.
Don’t settle for being on the ground. Don’t sit and watch the game from the sideline. Commit to the Lord. Moses climbed and lived up there with God, and he came down a transfigured man. We too can live life with the Trinity!
Let us remember that 1thingisneeded: He wants to give us power to heal those we encounter, to unite with us in synergy, and to reveal to us the life to come.
He was bright as the lightning on the mountain and became more luminous than the sun, initiating us into the mystery of the future. -St Gregory of Nazianzus