Exodus 24: 12-18/ Psalm 99/ Matthew 17:1-9
Being Transformed So We May Transform
When I was living in central Kenya, I lived not too far away from Mount Kenya. Mount Kenya is the highest mountain in Kenya and the second highest mountain in Africa. Since it is high, there is snow on the summit all year round. Since it never snows in Kenya, Kenyans don’t know what that white stuff is. So, there is something mysterious about that mountain. But if you think about it, mountains have always been a mysterious place for our ancestors. In a lot of cultures, mountains have been thought to be the dwelling place of their gods. Maybe it was because mountains are high and often unreachable. Even today, when I see clouds covering mountains, I think of our ancestors who thought gods lived there. Mountain is a mysterious place.
Divine Encounter on the Mountain
Both today’s biblical stories from Exodus and the Gospel of Matthew take place on the mountain. In Exodus, mountain is a sacred and mysterious place where God meets Moses and gives him the ten commandments. Only a few chosen people are allowed up there and Moses brought his deputy Joshua with him. It must have been a surreal experience. It is an honour to have the opportunity to be on a sacred ground.
Jesus and his chosen disciples also experience the mystery of a divine encounter on the mountain, but there is an important twist to the experience of Jesus and his disciples.
Need to Come Down the Mountain
The real point of this gospel story is not that the chosen disciples witnessed a divine vision on that mountain. The part of this story that needs our most attention is that the disciples wanted to stay there, but they had to come back down. Why did they have to leave the wonderful place? Spoiler alert: down the mountain while Jesus was on the mountain, the remainder of his disciples were having trouble casting out demon from a child. It reminds the disciples that they cannot remain in a happy place forever, that they cannot be under Jesus’ protection and guidance forever. Some day, Jesus will be gone and they have to take Jesus’ place and continue the ministry that he started.
It is much like being a student. We cannot be students forever. Some day, we have to graduate and work in the real world. In this sense, mountains are like the academic institution that we call ivory tower. We have to come down from that tower to the real world.
It is also like our worship gatherings. When we come to church, sing hymns together, pray together, have fellowship with each other, and listen to (hopefully) uplifting messages, it feels good. We are spiritually refreshed. But afterwards, we are sent out into our communities to live a Christian life. We know that there is a lot of work to be done as the followers of Jesus. There are people to love and serve. There are animals and nature to take care of because all are God’s beautiful creation. Just like during Jesus’ time, the ministry of God’s kingdom is seemingly never-ending. We cannot stay in our cozy little church community forever. We should go down the metaphorical mountain to do the work of God’s reign.
Justice of God’s Reign
God’s reign is all about compassionate love and justice. Throughout the whole Bible, the message of God’s justice is prominent. We read together in Psalm 99 about God’s rule of justice. This psalm sings of God who rules with justice. We praise God because God cares about justice and our suffering. If we believe in the God of justice, it is our duty to make sure all God’s people experience God’s love and justice. Considering the prevalent evil in our world, it requires a lot of hard work. We should be transformed by God so that we may transform the world with the love of God.
At the beginning of our service today, we listened to a South African song called Senzeni Na. Senzeni Na means “what have we done,” as in “What have we done to deserve this oppression.” This is a song for black South African from when they were fighting the apartheid. This song is black South Africans crying out for justice.
Just like them, there are cries for justice everywhere in our world, from every part of the earth, people and nature alike. It is nice to listen to black people’s songs and talk about racial injustice, but our mission is to leave this place of love and comfort to share God’s love and message of justice with all God’s people. Black Lives Matter movement is needed because black lives are often treated like they don’t matter. There are people who cry out “All lives matter” as a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, but the “All Lives Matter” slogan doesn’t work because not all lives are treated equally.
Last Sunday, I mentioned that nobody is perfect and that we all have prejudices no matter how subtle they may be. That is why all of us need to be transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. The purpose of our spiritual transformation is to become like Jesus to transform the world with God’s message of love and justice. During this month, let us pray for transformation to get rid of our prejudices and have the heart of Jesus. With God’s compassionate love and justice, let us go out and heal our unjust world. We should pray for those who experience systemic oppression, but we should not end there. We should educate ourselves more on the issues and find ways to contribute to their struggles.