SERMON ~ 02/27/2022 ~ Transfiguration Sunday ~ “My Name Is Peter”

02/27/2022 ~ Transfiguration Sunday ~ Last Sunday of the Season of Epiphany and the Last Sunday Before Lent ~ Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a) VIDEO OF FULL SERVICE: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bRjXCaFZRo

My Name Is Peter

“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here;…’” — (Luke 9:33b) [Long pause as the pastor changes to a white robe and moves to a stand away from the pulpit.]

My name is Peter. (Pause.) I saw my friend die today. I do not know what to think. I do not know what to say. I am frightened. That’s because I saw my friend die today. (Pause.)

No. That’s not right. I watched as my friend was executed today. No, that’s not right, either. I saw my friend murdered today.

And it was brutal–– what they did to him. In fact, I could not watch to the end. I ran away. I hid. I was fearful, ashamed, sad, angry. I wanted to lash out, to hit someone, anyone. I did not know how to react. I did not… know what to do.

And I do not know what this means… that he was executed, murdered… by the state, by the government, by Rome. He was… my friend. (Pause.)

His name was Yeshuah, Jesus in Greek. The name means ‘God saves.’ That is what I thought every time I saw him–– ‘God saves.’ That is what I thought I saw in him–– ‘God saves.’

What I thought I was seeing in Yeshuah was that God’s dominion could be and was present, real. What I thought I was seeing in Yeshuah was that God is with us, God is present to us and that God is in the here, God is in the now!

And I knew, I was confident, that the things which had been written about, those things which are foretold, things which say the time of God’s dominion is here— those things, that time had finally arrived.

Did Yeshuah not fulfill the very things about which the prophets speak? Did those who are blind see? It happened! Did it not? Did those who are lame walk? It happened! Did it not? What had been prophesied about God’s dominion happened!

It happened here, in this time, among us! It was real! (Softly.) It happened in Yeshuah! And now this, now this— murdered by the state. (Pause.)

He was kinder and more giving than any one I’ve ever met. And he was filled with wisdom. He knew the writings we hold sacred in an intimate way.

He did not just know what they said. Anyone can memorize the sacred writings, even gentiles. But he knew what the writings meant. He knew what was written in the law. The Rabbi knew the spirit of the law, the Spirit of Yahweh, the Spirit of God. (Pause.)

I remember the day I first met Yeshuah. We, my brother Andrew and I, had been trying to catch fish all night— nothing— we caught nothing. We came in.

Yeshuah was on the shore and asked to come on board, asked us to pull out a short way onto the lake. That was so all the people who had gathered to listen could hear what was said.

After he spoke Yeshuah told us to go to go deeper into the water out on the lake and put out our nets. We did. Suddenly there were fish— more than I had ever seen before! The nets were breaking.

Next I heard this: “Follow— I will make you fish for people.” I wasn’t sure what it meant— ‘…fish for people.’

What I do know is when Yeshuah spoke I suddenly knew the reality of God, knew God’s will for my life. I abandoned the nets. I followed.

There were twelve of us who were very close to him. But there were more than just the twelve. And this group was like no other group I had ever been a part of before.

It did not seem to matter to Yeshuah if those in the group, those who followed, were in many ways different. He treated each of us as individuals and yet seemed to be able to connect with all of us simultaneously, met each of us where we were at and yet met all of us together, as one.

I do not know how he did that. We were young, old, children, adults, men, women, rich, poor, wise, foolish, tax collectors, tent makers— none of us were alike. Yet what seemed to matter to the Rabbi was not our differences but our willingness to know God, to participate in the work of God, to be in relationship with God.

He told us that the most important thing we could do was to love God and love our neighbors. When we asked who our neighbors were, he said our neighbors included everybody— Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, men, women— everybody.

He told us if we had two cloaks give one away, turn the other cheek. He told us to avoid judging others. I had never heard any teacher, any rabbi say these things before.

He said all of these things, but he didn’t just say them. He did them. He lived life not just by words, but by choices, by actions. He lived a life centered on God.

He told us to not worry and to trust totally in God. And Yeshuah did that. Yeshuah trusted God totally, called God abba, daddy. (Pause.)

We traveled throughout all of Galilee with him, right by his side. And he taught. He befriended the poor. He healed the sick.

He sent us, the twelve, out, told us to preach, to teach about the good news of the dominion of God and to cast out demons and cure lepers. And this I still do not believe, but we preached, taught, cast out demons and cured those who were leporus! We did it! All of us. (Pause.) It was awesome!

And then… and then there was that day on the mountain. Yeshuah took us up the hill. There were four of us, myself, James, John, Yeshuah. The day was hot, but it was very clear. The sky was as blue as I had ever seen it.

We reached the top and just sat, stared out at the countryside, all of us together. It was beautiful. Then we prayed. But we were tired. The climb was hard. We slept.

Suddenly we were all awake at the same time. Perhaps we had sensed something had happened.

We all experienced it but I’m not sure how to describe it. The face of Yeshuah was as bright as the sun. His clothes were dazzling.

Then both Moses and Elijah were standing there with Yeshuah. I don’t even know how I knew they were Moses and Elijah. I just knew.

I said something stupid like, ‘It is good for us to be here;…’ I was so tongue tied, I didn’t know what else to say.

Then there was a cloud, a voice. We all saw the cloud. We all heard the voice.

The voice rang out loud and clear and strong: “This is my Own, my Chosen; listen!” I fell to the ground, covered my eyes. I did not know what to do. I was very, very frightened. (Pause.)

Suddenly Yeshuah touched me. I had felt that touch before, a touch only the Rabbi seemed to have— warm, friendly, sensitive. I felt that touch on my back.

Yeshuah could touch you with his hand, with his voice, with his eyes. I always seemed to know when he was looking at me. Yeshuah touched me. I looked up.

He was alone. I stood. We all stood. We did not tell anyone about this. We simply did not know what to say. (Pause.)

I do not know what to make of this. I do not understand it. My name is Peter. (Pause.) I saw my friend die today. I watched as my friend was murdered today. I do not know what to think. I am… frightened. (Sit with one hand held over the face. Very long pause.)

{Note: This is followed by a solo voice singing Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?}

02/27/2022
South Freeport Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, South Freeport, Maine

ENDPIECE: It is the practice of the Pastor to speak after the Closing Hymn, but before the Choral Response and Benediction. This is an précis of what was said: “As was said in our time of prayer, this week we witnessed a sovereign state invade by another. [1] And some might think I failed to address it in my sermon today. I would suggest I did. Last I heard the Christ was murdered by the state. Despite what has happened, I maintain hope. Or as the Rev. Dr. William Sloane-Coffin the late anti-war activist said (quote:) ‘Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your hearts are full of hope, you can be persistent when you can’t be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I’m not optimistic, I’m always very hopeful.’”

BENEDICTION: God heals and restores. God grants to us the grace and the talent to witness to the love God has for us. So let us live in the light God offers. And, therefore, let us be ready as we go into the world, for we are baptized in the power of the Spirit. And may the peace of Christ, which surpasses understanding, transform us and keep our minds and hearts in the companionship and will of the Holy Spirit, this day and forever more. Amen.

[1] . It should be noted that during the time of prayer the pastor lifted this poem by Ann Weems as a prayer. It was said that despite the fact that Weems had written this a number of years ago or perhaps because of that fact, this poem seemed like an appropriate prayer given the war waged against the Ukraine.

“I No Longer Pray For Peace” ~ By Ann Weems (1934-2016)

On the edge of war, one foot already in,

I no longer pray for peace:
I pray for miracles.

I pray that stone hearts will turn
to tenderheartedness,
and evil intentions will turn
to mercifulness,
and all the soldiers already deployed
will be snatched out of harm’s way,
and the whole world will be
astounded onto its knees.

I pray that all the “God talk”
will take bones,
and stand up and shed
its cloak of faithlessness,
and walk again in its powerful truth.

I pray that the whole world might
sit down together and share
its bread and its wine.

Some say there is no hope,
but then I’ve always applauded the holy fools
who never seem to give up on
the scandalousness of our faith:
that we are loved by God……
that we can truly love one another.

I no longer pray for peace:
I pray for miracles.

The pastor added “amen.”

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