Change. What do you feel as soon as you hear this word? Are you feeling totally fine with it? Comfortable? Or a little bit anxious about? Do you like changes in your life? Well, some changes are good and positive. And for sure, there are necessary changes we should make to improve our lives. But some changes certainly discomfort and irritate us. Then, what’s the difference between these two types of change? I think, in general, we are okay with the changes made by our own will because they happen within our control. Whereas, we are not that okay with the changes made against our will, especially some unexpected changes that just happen in our lives. These uncontrollable changes certainly bother us, because we just have to admit them and move on.
Let’s say, one day, I changed the carpet at home without telling Jee Hei about it. But I like it because I picked it. Then, Jee Hei comes back home from work and says what? Even if she likes the carpet, she may be surprised and ask me, “Why didn’t you tell me about this change?” And what if she doesn’t like the carpet? Let’s not go there now. And here’s a simpler example. Imagine that you are watching your favorite TV show or a sports match with your friends. You are so into it now and having so much fun. But suddenly one of your friends suddenly changes the channel without asking anybody about anything. Are you feeling alright with that kind of change? Of course, not.
In today’s Gospel story, the disciples experience one serious change in their lives. And no doubt, this change is neither what they want, nor what they can handle. Let’s follow their journey. It’s another day with Jesus for Peter, James, and John. Jesus calls them and leads them up to a high mountain. But there, all of sudden, Jesus is transfigured. His face shines like the sun, and his clothes become dazzling white. Then, out of nowhere, Moses and Elijah, the two greatest prophets of Israel, appear to them (Matthew 17:2-3). And they’re talking with Jesus in divine glory. To the disciples, Jesus looks so different. And they feel, this change is not just about Jesus himself but also about them. They certainly sense that their lives will never stay the same after this watershed moment.
Why? Why do the disciples feel that way? It’s because right before this event, Jesus taught them about his upcoming death and resurrection. As soon as Peter, James and John witness the transfiguration, they realize that the time has finally come and something groundbreaking, something radical, is really going to follow soon. In fact, the transfiguration of Jesus is not just any given event. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this story commonly marks a turning point in Jesus’ ministry, which leads to the final days of Jesus in Jerusalem where he gets arrested and finally crucified.
Peter, James, and John… about three years ago, when they were fishermen, Jesus called them to follow him. They immediately left everything behind and followed Jesus. This change is what they made by their own will. That’s what they wanted. But now, at the mountain top, the disciples encounter the change of Jesus that signals a series of unruly changes to come. And they know, this time, those changes will be out of their control. They already heard the scary word, death, from Jesus. And they don’t know what to expect from resurrection. It’s just an absurd idea to them. These things are more than enough to terrify them. Indeed, the Gospel tells us, while Jesus is transfigured, they fall to the ground and are overcome by fear (Matthew 17:6).
I believe, Peter, James, and John in today’s Gospel story are the precise reflections of us. Facing the overwhelming changes, it is natural for any human to feel fear. But here, we should pay more attention to the rest of their story. Now, they fall to the ground and are overcome by fear. What happens then? Then… Jesus comes to them and touches them. And he talks to them. Let us read it together. “Get up and do not be afraid” (Matthew 17:7). Get up and do not be afraid. And at the mountain top, the disciples somehow pull themselves together and start walking the way to Jerusalem with Jesus, even though they are still scared to death.
Like the disciples’ journey, our Christian journey also encounters unavoidable changes. But remember, at the moment when we committed ourselves to following Jesus, we basically agreed to obey Jesus; we agreed to surrender our will and let God’s will be done in our lives; we agreed to humble our egos and let the mind of Christ live in us. Today we sang, “Change my heart oh God. Make it ever true. Change my heart oh God. May I be like you. You are the potter. I am the clay. Mold me and make me. This is what I pray.” Yes, again, today we asked God to reshape us and asked the Holy Spirt to transform and sanctify our lives. Then, what if today Jesus wants to change us and our life more radically and totally against our will? What if Jesus makes unexpected changes in our life and changes the direction of our journey right to the cross?
If we ask God’s will to be done in our lives, we will never be the same. We will do what Christ wants us to do, go where God wants us to go, and follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit who is like a wind that blows where it wills.
From this coming Wednesday, another Season of Lent begins. In this season of penitence and reflection we are invited to walk the way of Jesus, the way through the wilderness. I hope and pray, this journey through Lent be filled with hope rather than fear, with radical changes even against our will rather than maintenance of the status quo.
Get up and do not be afraid, Jesus is telling us today. Going through whatever changes, whatever hardships, challenges, and struggles, I will be with you. Jesus is saying to us. Get up and do not be afraid. Even though there are daunting changes in your life, in your family, in your church, in The United Methodist Church, in the U.S. politics, and in the world, I will lift you up today as I did to Peter, James, and John. I will come to you, touch you, empower you, and say to you, “Get up and do not be afraid.” Therefore, let us open our hearts wide to Jesus every day in our prayers and meditation, so that he can truly change us. He is knocking at the door. So let him in. Let him lead our ways to his cross. Amen.
Pastor Earl Kim