Perfect Balance

We find ourselves today in the ninth chapter of Mark. The previous story is noteworthy. Peter has just identified Jesus for the first time as the Messiah. That was a pivotal moment in Jesus’s earth ministry. In many ways, it was the beginning of the end. To underscore the importance of that identification Jesus takes the inner circle, Peter, Andrew, James, and John on a field trip. Jesus takes them to a mountaintop. Many believe, the mountain was Mount Tabor, which stands 1,800 feet high, others say it was Mount Hermon, which stands over 9,000 feet high. For our purpose, it does not really matter. They must have believed they were going to the mountaintop to rest and pray. They had no clue what was about to happen. Without warning, the Bible says Jesus was transfigured. I am not exactly sure what that means, so I cannot explain it. It will have to suffice to say Jesus’s appearance changed. He became transparent and luminous at the same time. The four disciples were shocked. Then, this strange story gets stranger. Without warning, the two greatest personalities of the Old Testament suddenly appear. There was Moses, the great law giver, and there was Elijah, the greatest of all the prophets according to the Jews. Overwhelmed by the experience, the disciples struggled how to respond. Peter mentioned something about constructing shelters, one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah. There is no time for Jesus to respond because the story even gets stranger. Without warning, God, Himself, suddenly appears, hidden by a cloud. The Almighty announces to everyone present Jesus is his son. For this reason, they should listen to him. And as fast as the scene began, it was suddenly over. As they traveled down the mountainside Jesus tried to explain his future ministry, but his words must have fallen on deaf ears. It was simply too much for a human mind to comprehend. The only thing that brings them back to reality is a problem waiting for them at the base of the mountain. There is a demon possessed boy who needs help. We know it is true. Mountaintop experiences are great, but they do not last. We need mountaintop memories to keep us going. However, we live in the valley surrounded by problems.

The father of the great Methodist movement was John Wesley (1703-1791). His story is well documented. He was homeschooled in Epworth, England by his mother, Susanna. He went to Christ College at Oxford University. It was while he was there, he formed a small group called the Holy Club. They gathered for three reasons: Bible study, prayer, and debate. At some point, the group decided those sacred acts were not enough. They had to help the needy in their community, so they went to the poorest people in that community and sacrificed for their benefit. Wesley even forwent a haircut and gave that money to the poor. The Holy Club had perfect balance. They balanced worship and missions. I appreciate the United Methodist Church because of that balance. That balance of worship and missions is in our DNA. I pray we never lose our balance, for if we do, we will surely fall. John Wesley did not discover that balance between worship and missions. It is found in the story of the transfiguration. Let us look at both sides in more detail.

First, Peter emphasized worship. If you want to exist as a church, then you must worship. It is the one thing the church must do and still be considered a church. Peter understood the importance of worship. Look at the story with me. Peter is at the top of the mountain with Andrew, James, and John. They thought they were going to be alone with Jesus to pray. They experienced so much more. They experienced God! It must have been great. Peter appreciated the moment so much he did not want to leave. He wanted to stray. What did it say in verse 5? Peter said, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  Peter emphasized worship.

I appreciate this church because worship is a priority. Prior to the pandemic, we worshipped three times every Sunday morning. We worshipped at various times and in various ways. We worshipped three times on Christmas Eve and four times on Easter morning. We worshipped on Wednesday evenings during Lent. Once the pandemic hit, we found ourselves worshipping in the parking lot using a FM transmitter. Then, we came inside and worshipped virtually. True worship has nothing to do with hymnals, projection systems and organs. True worship has everything to do with experiencing God. Peter emphasized worship and so do we! Because Peter, and us, want to experience God. If you want this church to be what God intended, then we must worship. Peter emphasized worship! However, in the life of the church, there must be more.

Second, the other eight disciples emphasized missions. In the reading beyond our reading, Jesus descends the mountain with Peter, Andrew, James, and John. The four must have been on a spiritual high, but the reality of this world was waiting for them. The other eight disciples are debating with a crowd. In the eye of a debate was a demon-possessed boy. Jesus exorcised the demons because the disciples were unable to do the miraculous. Do not be critical of the eight because they were doing their best to respond to human need. Responding to human need is important because it shows the world our faith is sincere. Churches and individual Christians who do not respond to human are shallow and hypocritical. That is what we found in the parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37) You know the story.

It all begins with a question. “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus was being tested. That question was answered with a story. A man was traveling down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. The man must have been a fool because only a fool would travel that dangerous road alone. That road was notorious. The expected happened. The man is robbed and stripped of his possessions, including his clothes. Laying there in his birthday suit, he is left to die. The good news is people saw him at his time of need. People who should have helped him. There was a Priest and a Levite. The Priest was from the line of Aaron and a leader in the Jewish faith. The Levite was from the line of Levi and had various religious duties. Both spent their lives worshipping, but they never heard a single word. They did not respond to the man in need. Both walked on the other side of the road and refused to help. The unlikely hero in the story is a half breed. The Samaritans were a mixed raced people. They were a combination of Jew and Gentiles. That was shocking to the Jews of Jesus’s time. No one expected much from him, but he comes to the aid of his fellow man. The Bible says he had pity on him. I think he had compassion for him. He bandaged his wounds, he got him help, and he gave generosity to his relief. So, you answer the question, who is my neighbor? The answer is not the religious people, who sat on every committee at the synagogue and knew every line of liturgy. The answer is the Samaritan because he showed compassion. Christians who do not respond to human need are shallow and hypocritical. That is why missions is so important.

I appreciate this church because missions are a priority. Have you ever taken an inventory of all the mission outreaches that come out of this church? The list is impressive. Several years ago, Kathryn and I took sun dresses to Haiti made by the sewing ladies of this church. Since the pandemic, they have made countless face masks to keep people safe. The Helping Hand Closet has raised a small fortune to help a variety of local people who have found themselves in need. Prior to the pandemic, the prison ministry, Kairos strived to save the souls of the incarcerated. I miss seeing that mountain of chocolate cookies. Out in the narthex sits our wooded cow, Bill Johnson. He was purchased by a Christian woman with a good heart. The money placed in the bucket in his mouth goes to the Heifer Project. They buy animals to help those living in the Third World. Thousands of dollars have been raised and countless animals have been purchased that to the generosity of this church. Annually, our youth go on a mission trip to help the poot somewhere else. We have been doing this for twenty years. They have gone has far south and east as Wilmington, North Carolina and as far west and north as Madison, Wisconsin. The Giving Tree makes sure everyone gets a Christmas present. The Warm Weather Tree helps the locals of this area stay warm during the winter months. Did you know this church gave away $13,000 last year to missions, $10,000 went to Christian Camp Gideon in Estonia so boys and girls can learn about Jesus? We have never had a special offering that was a failure. If there has been a natural disaster, we have responded. Your generosity is extremely humbling. I could go on, but I will not. The other eight disciples were involved with human needs. In other words, they were involved in missions. If you want this church to be what God intended, then we must be involved in missions. Peter emphasized worship! The eight other disciples emphasized missions! Do you see the balance?

The story of the transfiguration and the story of the demon possessed boy cannot be separated. Those two stories model for us the perfect balance that should exist within the life of the church. The transfiguration on the mountain represent worship. In worship, we want to experience God. The Almighty is not just pleased with worship, He expects worship. The demon possessed boy represents missions. Our world, locally, nationally, and internationally are filled with problems. God expects the church to respond to human need. In the life of the church both worship and missions are important. It is impossible to be the church God intended and not worship. It is impossible to be the church God intended and not be involved in missions. It is imperative worship and mission stay in perfect balance. For if that balance is lost, we will fall.

Nik Wallenda (born 1979) is a seventh-generation family member of the Flying Wallendas. He is a true American daredevil. He has done some amazing things to display his courage. On June 16, 2012, he walked over Niagara Falls. Tens of thousands of people gathered around the falls on that Friday night to watch him do it, and millions more watched on television.I was one of the millions. He walked on a two-inch wire that was suspended 200 feet in the air over the Horseshoe Falls. It took him less than twenty-five minutes. It really was amazing! I have a difficult time walking on ice on my driveway. Can I state the obvious? It was vital he kept his balance.

It is vital for us to keep our balance too. To be the church God intended us to be we need both worship and missions. We need to keep worshipping and we need to continue to respond to human need. It is not just what I expect from us. It is what God expects from us.

Why is the Transfiguration Important?

We find ourselves today in the seventeenth chapter of Matthew. Our scene is set-up by the previous chapter, the sixteenth chapter of Matthew. For in that chapter, Jesus gives the disciples a little quiz. There are only two questions. This is the first question: who do people say that I am? They give a variety of impressive answers. Then, he asks the disciples the second question: Who do you say I am? Only Simon Peter’s answer is recorded for the ages. “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” That answer means the disciples are making spiritual progress. To show his approval, Jesus takes three of the disciples, Peter, James and John, to the top a mountain. The Mountain was probably Mount Hermon, which raises 9,000 feet above sea level. The inner circle must have believed they were going to receive some special instruction from the Master, but they received so much more. According to the text, verse 2, Jesus was transfigured. We are not exactly sure what that means. It will have to suffice to say, Jesus was glorified. His face began to shine like the sun and his clothes became as bright as light, itself. It was an amazing scene, then the scene grows more complex. Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared. They are endorsing Jesus’s ministry. The disciples are rattled, but then the truly miraculous happens. God, himself, suddenly appears. He identifies Jesus, so there can be on further question. Verse five quotes God. The Almighty says, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” The scene is suddenly over. It is a great scene in the Bible, but what does it mean?

Warren Wiersbe (1929-2019) was an American pastor, Bible teacher, theologian and and author. He said there are four things about the transfiguration of Jesus that should never be forgotten.  Consider them with me. They have merit.

The glory of His person – The transfiguration of Jesus came from his inside. It was not something that happened to Jesus, like a spotlight. It was something that came from within Jesus. His glory was permitted to shine. (Hebrews 1:3)

The glory of His kingdom – Moses and Elijah represented the Old Testament law and the Old Testament prophets. As great as they were, they are inferior to Jesus. Everything in the Old Testament pointed to Jesus and his ministry. Jesus was the final piece of God’s plan of salvation for the world. (Hebrews 1:1)

The glory of His cross – The transfiguration reminds us that suffering, and glory go hand in hand. In time, the transfigured, glorified Jesus would be nailed to the cross and die. (1 Peter 1:6-8)

The glory of His submission – In many ways, the transfiguration is the beginning of the end. Jesus did not go to the cross because he wanted to go. Jesus went to the cross because it was part of God’s plan of salvation. Jesus submitted to God’s will.

God said it clearly. We should listen to Jesus!

If the transfiguration of Jesus teaches us nothing else, it teaches us about the supremacy of Jesus. In the life of the church, if we don’t have Jesus, then we have nothing at all. That is one of my favorite themes. I have pounded that point countless times for many years. You have heard me. In the local church, I see it regularly. We get so involved maintaining our building, fundraising for a good cause and helping the needy, we forget about Jesus. That is why worship is so important. We are not a service club or a community action group. We are the church of Jesus Christ. Without Jesus, we have nothing at all. That is why we must keep Jesus the focal point of our ministry. If it is true in local congregations, then it is true of entire denominations. We must recognize the supremacy of Jesus and keep him the focal point of our ministry.

In 2014, the World Council of Churches reported there were 12 million United Methodists in the world. That means we are the second largest denomination in the world, behind Southern Baptist Convention. Many believe that will change in the next two months. Our denomination is ready to divide over one issue, sexuality. A 2017 Gallup poll reported 4.5% of American adults identified as LGBTQ. Many believe that figure is much lower. They say the research was faulty. The entertainment industry seems to believe the figure is much higher. The conflict will come to a head in Minneapolis, Minnesota between May 5-15. That is where and when the next General Conference, the largest administrative body in United Methodism, will gather. No one has uttered the word compromise. No one is permitted to be neutral. Everyone must choose a side. The sides are clear. On the one side, there are those who are opposed to ordaining homosexuals and officiating at gay marriages. They quote various Bible verses to support their stance. On the other side, there are those who think we should ordain the gay and officiate at gay weddings. They say the faith should include everyone. No one should be excluded.

How ugly is the situation? A group of influential United Methodist leaders, both lay and clergy, both liberal and conservative, have come up with an exit plan. Under that plan, entire Jurisdictions will be permitted to leave the United Methodist Church. (We are in the North Central Jurisdiction, which covers the Midwest.) Under that plan, entire Annual Conferences will be permitted to leave the United Methodist Church. (We are in the East Ohio Annual Conference.) Under that plan, entire churches will be permitted to leave the United Methodist Church. With means, under this plan, we will have to decide if we are going to leave the United Methodist Church and help for a new denomination. That means, we will lose people because people hate change. If the United Methodist Church begins to ordain gays and officiates at gay weddings, would you vote to leave the United Methodist Church or stay within the United Methodist Church? Everyone will be forced to make a choice.

The transfiguration is important because it reminds us of the supremacy of Jesus! Do you know what Jesus said about sexuality? Jesus said nothing at all. That means sexuality is a secondary issue. It is human beings who have made it a primary issue. I wish the Master would have said one thing, but he didn’t. It would have made the whole matter easier. However, Jesus did say to love everyone. (John 13:34) Jesus did say to judge no one. (Matthew 7:1) Can I be honest with you? The whole topic exhausts me. I have listened to both sides of the issue, those who support ordaining and marrying the gay and others who are against ordaining and marrying the gay. They are so passionate about the issue they have forgotten about Jesus. We have a shortage of love and a surplus of judgment. The one side is calling the other side homophobic. The other side is called the other side non-Biblical and compromising. Both sides seem to be using the issue. Those who want to accept the change, see it as a marketing tool. They seem to believe the entire LGBTQ will suddenly join the United Methodist Church. (I don’t see that happening.) Those who don’t want to see the change, are using the issue to begin their own denomination. They seem to have some ax to grind. May God have mercy on us, because in the end no one wins. In the end, the United Methodist Church, once one of the greatest evangelistic churches in the world, will be crippled. In the end, the only one who will win is Satan. The transfiguration is important because it reminds of the supremacy of Jesus.

When I was in seminary, I served a small membership church between Danville and Lancaster, Kentucky. It was called the Pleasant Grove Christian Church. It is still there. I have nothing negative to say about those people. They were kind to me at a time when I needed some kindness. In the three years, I served that church, I got to know other churches in that community. One of those churches was the Mount Olivet Baptist Church. In Kentucky, at that time, every church was Baptist, regardless of the sign. Their theology leaned to the right. It was named after the Mount of Olives. Since I left that area, the Mount Olivet Baptist Church closed. The reason is sad. The church simply shattered over a series of differences of opinions. It all began when the Board of Elders held an emergency meeting. They were upset the pastor and his wife had filed for divorce. Being Baptist, they believed in the Bible and the Bible teaches against divorce. They decided to let that preacher go. The problem was the church was divided over the dismissal. Everyone who had suffered through a divorced, or had a family member who had been divorced, was upset. A large portion of that congregation left and swore they would never return. People from Kentucky are true to their word. They never returned. A search committee was formed to find a new pastor to fix the mess. They collected a few names. One of the names was a woman. She was by far the most qualified. She had an excellent education, could preach up a storm and was effective in every church she served. There was only one problem. She was a woman and you know what the Bible says about women preachers. For that reason, she didn’t get the call. They called an inferior man. Everything was supposed to be done confidentially, but the word leaked out. Once again, the church was in an uproar. Everyone seemed to know a gifted and effective female pastor. From that moment on, the Mount Olivet Baptist Church splintered. Each side quoted Bible verses and each side claimed they were right. In the end, the once healthy church struggled paying basic bills. In time, the church building and property was sold to a local brewpub. It wasn’t all a loss. I hear both the food and the beer are great. Can I ask you a question?

Why do you think the Mount Olivet Baptist Church closed? Was it a lack of Bible? Was it a lack of love? What it a surplus of a judgmental attitudes. I believe that church closed because they forget about the supremacy of Jesus. Do you remember what God said? He once said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”