February 27, 2022

Series: February 2022

Speaker: Rob McClellan


Today's Sermon




Luke 9: 28-35

          28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’

Hebrews 7:1-3, 15-17   

          7This ‘King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham as he was returning from defeating the kings and blessed him’; 2and to him Abraham apportioned ‘one-tenth of everything’. His name, in the first place, means ‘king of righteousness’; next he is also king of Salem, that is, ‘king of peace’. 3Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest for ever.

          15 It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek, 16one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life. 17For it is attested of him,

          ‘You are a priest forever,
               according to the order of Melchizedek.’ 


            Here is a powerful quote attributed to Albert Einstein:  “The most important decision we make is whether we believe we live in a friendly or hostile universe.”  That gets to the heart of the matter, doesn’t it?  Is the world out to get us or is it conspiring in our favor?  Google this quote and you will find it cited all over the place, from blogs to editorials, spiritual postings, Pinterest.  What’s almost always implied is that we are to choose “Yes,” for otherwise we will be lost to a realm of meaninglessness, and what rides on the tails of meaninglessness is hopelessness.  That Albert Einstein said it, this master of the mathematics of all things, elevates the question and presumed answer to even greater heights.

            The only catch, of course, is I can’t track down any evidence that Einstein actually said it.  I found countless people “requoting” this, but I couldn’t a single actual citation of where he supposedly said or wrote it.  One aggregate site, “Goodreads,” labeled the as misattributed to Einstein.  We shouldn’t be surprised; so many quotes that end up on t-shirts or posters are misattributed.  Whether it was Einstein’s question, it seems to be ours.  We’re fascinated with whether there is good at the center of this all? 

            You might say the passages from today address this question Einstein didn’t ask, but many people do.  In the first passage we encounter what we call the Transfiguration, when Jesus ascends a mountain with Peter, James, and John, is shrouded in light, encounters ancestors Moses and Elijah.  (It’s very Star Wars, Luke seeing the departed Obi Wan and Yoda in the sky – ignore that if you don’t get the reference).  A voice comes from the cloud, the universe, just as God spoke from the cloud in the time of Moses and Elijah, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Lk. 9:35).  Jesus is sent as a sign of God’s benevolence, giving both meaning and hope.

             The second reading from Hebrews is more obscure, yet it too is telling us something about who Jesus is and therefore what it means to be one of his followers. It features a mysterious figure, Melchizedek of Salem.  Melchizedek only shows up in two places in the Old Testament and two things are notable about him.  One, he is described as without mother or father, having neither beginning of days nor end of life.  Don’t get lost in the biology of this.  Recognize what is being said about him.  He is an eternal figure, not bound by the constraints of this life, a priest no less, there to provide intercession on our behalf.  This is the one to whom the author of Hebrews compares Jesus.

            Two, Melchizedek is “priest of the Most High God” (Hebrews 7:1), known for blessing Abram, the patriarch of the faith.  No big deal, we think, except that “Most High God” probably refers not to the God you’re thinking of, but to a Canaanite god.[1]This eternal priest is an outsider. Jesus is described as like this mysterious eternal priest from anothertradition.  Jesus, then, is truly limitless, bound by no time, bound by no people.  He belongs to all forevermore.  John Philip Newell tells a story about teaching at a retreat with a rabbi and being overcome at one point during the experience during some down time, brought to tears.  He realized, in so many words, that Christians had taken Jesus as if he were a possession (my words), rather than recognizing Jesus is God’s gift to all, one to be beheld by all, not held captive by some. 

            To Christians, Christ is always showing up, flowing out of the heart of things.  Rob Bell, in his book Love Wins, talks about these strange stories in the Bible, where God just emerges.  There’s the story of Moses leading the Israelites in the desert out of Egypt in the Book of Exodus and when they’re thirsty, God instructs Moses to strike a rock.  Against all odds, water flows from the rock.  A thousand years later, as Bell puts it, when Paul writes to the Corinthians, he says that rock was…Christ (1 Cor. 10).  Christ is that eternal source, at the heart of everything, even things that seem lifeless, hard, cold as stone, available and seemingly eager to come to our aid. 

            Bell begins that section of his book by telling a story about a man operating a giant lift in a factory. The lift tipped and pinned him against a support beam, crushing him, holding him 100 feet off the ground.  Then it happened.  He saw—as people do—a white light.  Bell writes, “He said that he knew instantly that the white light was powerfully good and right,” and it also produced in him a recognition that not everything in his life was good and right.  It served as this invitation to come into alignment with the light in his life.[2]

            In a word, wow.  I tell all of you this because you could say that the whole of the Christian story is a simple answer to that question to which we’re so drawn, that I shared at the outset.  Is the universe friendly or not?  Yes. Yes.  There is something eternal and eternally present, accessible to us, accessible in the form of strength, accessible in the form of courage, accessible in the form of wisdom and compassion.  It is accessible and yearning to be accessed.  We call that The Christ.  As John’s Gospel says, this one was “In the beginning” and this one will be there through the end and beyond.  Bell says, “Paul finds Jesus everywhere.”  He goes onto say, “There is an energy in the world, a spark, and electricity that everything is plugged into.  The Greeks called it zoe, the mystics call it “Spirit,” and Obi-Wan called it ‘the Force.’ ”[3]  There we are with Star Warsagain. 

            Bell says elsewhere, “Jesus…was the ultimate exposing of what God has been up to all along.”  Maybe that’s all you need to hear, that affirmative of what is at the heart of the universe, the heart of all things, connecting us and pushing us forward.  If so, you can go.  You can start coffee hour early, you can gaze out the window, appreciate the beauty, and start to daydream.  I mean it. Sometimes you just need that bit of encouragement.  This is your day.  Jesus believed it, countless have, and so why shouldn’t you?

            But, for some of us, there are two “wait a minute” moments this discussion raises.  One, if Jesus is God’s sign that the universe is kind, the universe wasn’t very kind to Jesus.  It’s not a story of unopposed success.  He seemed to have access to this, well…force, but he used it for healing, not defeating his enemies.  He did prevail, but only after enduring humiliation, crucifixion, and the grave. He preached about losing your life, about laying it down for others.  Jesus felt close enough to this Force, close enough to call it “Dad,” and he expressed feeling abandoned by his Dad.

            Two, maybe you’ve had that experience of seeing the light, or feeling a presence, of hearing a voice, or otherwise just knowing, really knowing there’s something there, something good, something God. Maybe you had an experience you just can’t describe, or you wouldn’t dare try because people would think you were crazy.  More people have had those than often talk about them.  And, maybe you haven’t.  Maybe you’ve felt mightily opposed in this world, and chronically under resourced. Maybe you have felt abandoned, not just by others in this world, but by the world itself.  Maybe you don’t feel persecuted, but you have a profound sense that the world is simply and unavoidably indifferent to you, to all of us.           

            What then?  What if we can’t answer our opening question, in the affirmative, or at all?  Is there good at the center of it all, available to us all.  Maybe there is.  Maybe our faith indeed testifies there is.  Maybe, though, it’s not the right question.  I know that may sound strange coming from me.  Remember, though, the one we routinely call one of the smartest people who ever lived, Einstein, in fact did notask that question, maybe because he knew he couldn’t answer it.  Wewant to know if the universe is friendly.  Is that the question, though?

            Let’s go back to the Transfiguration.  Jesus, bathed in light, with the ancestors and the future of the church in one moment, his disciples.  The voice from the cloud says “Listen to him.”  So, let’s listen to him.  What did he say, with his words and his deeds?  On the one hand, Jesus seemed to reaffirm in his life that there was good at the heart of it all, that God was not only an idea, but a relationship. God was real. 

          And, on the other hand, most of Jesus’ live was not answering that question of whether God was real, whether the universe was “friendly,” benevolent, caring, just.  Jesus spent his life challenging us to answer the question of whether we are just, whether we are caring, whether we are benevolent, whether we are “friendly.”  We ask if the universe is friendly.  The universe sends us Jesus.  Jesus asks us if we are friendly.  Are we? 

          Paul Farmer died this week.  I can’t possibly do him justice in the time we have remaining today.  Dr. Paul Farmer was a MD and PhD from Harvard, who founded Partners in Health, and dedicated his life to improving healthcare for the world’s poorest.  If you have not read Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains, about his work in Haiti, I implore you to do so. Farmer once said, “The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that is wrong with the world.”[4]  Now, few people would explicitly claim some lives matter less, but by the way different people and groups of people are treated, disadvantaged, and discriminated against our world functions as if some lives matter less. This is why groups have been crying out, “Hey, our lives matter!”

          At the heart of the matter is the question not, is the universe benevolent or not, but are we.  Are we good, in what we enact and embody, as well as what we think and say, are we good, not only to our friends, but to our enemies?  Listen to Jesus.  That’s the question that he asks us to answer with his life, his death, and his resurrection, now and forevermore.  Christ is in the rock.  Is Christ in us?



[1]Thomas G. Long, Hebrewsfrom Interpretation:  A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching(Louisville:  John Knox Press, 1997), 83.

[2]Rob Bell, Love Wins:  A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived  (New York:  HarperCollins, 2011), 141.

[3]Ibid., 144.