Have you ever been disappointed in Jesus? disappointed in God?
Times when I lost, or got turned down for, an opportunity or a job that I really thought God was leading me toward. When the underdog, faithful athlete or team is overwhelmed by the cheaters or the arrogant dynasty. When my candidate – obviously on the side of right, or at least better for the world than the other one – doesn’t get elected, the courts make the “wrong” decision, or the bill that makes the world better doesn’t pass. When doing the right thing – in compassion, in retirement planning, in workplace ethics or relationships – backfires and dumps me or you in conflict or crisis.
And maybe it all works out in the long run – the very long run – but still, I can feel my disappointment.
So can Peter.
Peter is painfully disappointed in Jesus, right now. Just six days ago, Peter’s deep, hope that the Messiah, God’s anointed, had finally come was spoken out loud, and affirmed by Jesus.
Yes! This is it. This is what we’ve been dreaming and waiting for.
And then – in the next breath – it’s denied. Yes, Jesus is the Messiah. But he’s talking about failure. About dying. About shameful crucifixion instead of about making God’s constant promises about freedom and abundance and a world you can actually trust come true. It’s a bitter disappointment, and Peter probably still doesn’t know how to take it.
And now Jesus invites him, and James and John, up the mountain for a little retreat day, and the two greatest heroes of the faith just appear. Clearly, unmistakably: Moses the founder of the faith and Elijah the greatest of prophets are so close he could actually touch them. Jesus is blindingly, unnaturally, bright, bleached, and dazzling. And God’s voice – unmistakably, powerfully – God’s voice announces that this Jesus is closer to God than anyone ever before, full of glory, worthy of trust.
All of God’s glory is right there. Face-to-face with Peter, all around Peter. Confused, impulsive, error-prone, oh-so-human Peter, is now standing in the full glory of the presence of God – which, by the way, is supposed to kill you if you encounter it un-purified – and living to tell about it.
Peter is learning, again, that Jesus is not going to save the world the way Peter knew he was supposed to. Instead – though Peter may not realize it yet – Jesus has already saved Peter (and James, and John, not to mention you and me), already transformed and transfigured Peter so that he can stand in the full glory of the presence of God and not be destroyed by his flaws and faults and errors.
It’s still a disappointment, maybe. It’s a power and a gift Peter wasn’t looking for, and it disrupts his hopes and plans just as much as this news about crucifixion for the Messiah does.
Because – for better or worse – it seems God’s promises to transform the world don’t necessarily mean that God is going to do it all by Godself; so that the Savior comes, or the moment is right, we will wake up one morning to a world that’s right at last.
We probably won’t ever get a messiah – political, emotional, or divine – who does make it right from the top down.
That probably won’t stop me from hoping or wishing. But God has a track record of doing salvation the way I wasn’t planning. God has a history of transforming us – flawed, ordinary, confused human beings – with the power and the gift we weren’t looking for, so that we can be part of making God’s vision and promises real.
Now, you might look around at other human beings you know – at home, at work, in the next lane on the highway, or in DC or Trenton – and expect that humans are going to screw up whatever God leaves in human hands.
It would be so much simpler for God to send one good savior – a good politician, a religious figure, maybe Oprah. One messiah seems so much more trustworthy; so much stronger and simpler, than the whole messy mass of our humanity.
But every time we fall into the temptation of trusting that there is someone else God will send to make it better, we are bound to be disappointed. Even in Jesus.
Not because God doesn’t want to save us, not because Jesus doesn’t keep God’s promises – but because while we were waiting, Jesus has already transformed and transfigured us to stand in the presence of God with all our flaws and frailties that should by rights have destroyed us, and still – like Moses, like Elijah, like Peter eventually – carry that overwhelming grace and glory out into the ordinary world. To be building blocks of the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven.
It’s a big job, yes.
I can’t solve poverty by myself, or division and racism and economic inequality. I’d like to pray or vote that done by God or some charismatic leader who can fix it all. Of course, when I try that, I’m usually disappointed – in other people, in myself, and, in spite of myself, in God.
But down in Camden, Project Interaction is making the abundance of the Kingdom of God real one breakfast at a time, built on the actions of ordinary, fragile, perfectly normal human beings from this congregation, among others.
You’ll get to hear more about that next Sunday, as our Lenten series on Loving Our Neighbor begins. And you can hear more, again, each Sunday during Lent, about the organizations Trinity supports, and the ordinary people that make the abundance, justice, compassion, and healing of the kingdom of God real in small and transformative ways in our neighborhood and region.
I can’t solve the long-term, pervasive, dismissal of women’s pain and the objectification of women’s bodies that has created a culture which accepts sexual assault and harassment as normal, accidental, and “natural.” And I'm aware, sadly, of my own temptation to play down a violation rather than to challenge that culture with my words and actions.
But over in a Michigan courtroom a couple weeks ago, there was a parade of ordinary women and girls and their parents who let their own flaws and faults and limits show as they told their stories of assault and pain and silencing, and in that speaking, shed light and grace and the opportunity for healing into a history of errors and evil. And grace and glory grew brighter and stronger in our everyday world where we need it most.
You and I aren’t superheroes or saviors. We can’t, ourselves, solve the many complex pains and challenges that face the world. We aren’t the ones who can make the world right overnight.
But we can’t wait for those people, either. We’re bound to be disappointed if we do.
And we might just be more like Peter than we know: transformed and transfigured without expecting or asking for it, into carriers of God’s grace and glory.
Just as we have been called, as Peter was called, to bear the cross, we have also been called to bear the glory. To be the transfigured Body of Christ: not one person to fix the whole world, but many workers.
We might not get invited up a mountain with Moses and Elijah this week, but we can, we should, in the coming weeks of Lent, go to these Sunday conversations, read the news, pay attention to the people around us, and examine our own lives, looking for the bright, unexpected clues that God has transfigured us into people who can experience the full glory of God in our ordinary, flawed and fragile human state, and carry that grace out, a little bit at a time, into actions that transform the world.