Monday, February 23, 2009

Secret Identity

The Saturday Night folks are the only ones who heard this sermon preached. Illness prevented me from leading worship on Sunday. So Sunday people, this is what you would've heard if I would've been up to it.

I’d like to play a little word association game with you today. I’m going to say a few names and you tell me who comes to mind. Ready? Clark Kent. Peter Parker. Bruce Wayne. Bruce Banner. OK. Your comic book literacy is where is should be. One big feature of superhero stories is the idea of a secret identity. The concept creates all kinds of dramatic tension, centering on what might happen if the true identity of the super hero is revealed. You get a lot of close calls and once in a while the mask is pulled back and somebody discovers the truth.
I would submit to you that there’s an element of this in the story from our Gospel Lesson today. The curious mountaintop experience recorded there is the brief exposure of Jesus’ secret identity. We call this Jesus’ transfiguration. That means his figure or appearance changed. In front of his closest friends, Jesus peels back the human mask and lets them see who He really is. Mark just says that Jesus was transfigured before them and His clothes became dazzling white. Luke adds that the appearance of Jesus’ face changed and his clothes were as bright as a flash of lightning. Matthew says it like this: “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.” The secret identity is revealed. Jesus, who looks like just another guy from Galilee, is God.
What do you do with information like that? Peter, James, and John, weren’t sure. What do you do when you find out that the rabbi you’ve been hanging out with has the full glory of the Almighty God hidden inside Him? What do you do when you discover that he can hold conversations with Moses and Elijah? How do you handle the voice of the Almighty One speaking the ultimate reveal: “This is my beloved Son—Listen to Him!” Well, the first thing you’d probably do is just that—you would listen to Jesus. There’s more than meets the eye here. And then you might start to wonder, what can’t Jesus do? If he’s connected to this type of power, He might be the answer our people have been looking for.
But the moment things seem normal again, Jesus asks you not to talk about it. He doesn’t mean forget about it. How could you? He wants you to remember. One day it will make perfect sense. But He’s concerned. He knows what people will say and do if the word gets out that he has super-heroic power. But he did not come to leap tall buildings in a single bound, nor did he come shatter the shields of the Roman Empire. He came for the cross. He came to stagger up the hill of the Skull. This superhero’s power is made perfect in weakness. With love and strength that defies description, he will lie down on the wooden beams and allow the nails to enter his flesh. His heart will stop beating and he will breathe no more. Only then will sin be cancelled. Only then will it be clear what the power of Jesus is. It is the power of sacrifice. It is the power of mercy. It is the power of forgiveness. It is the power of love for the undeserving. He used this peculiar power for you.
And then He would live again. Not in some eulogizing sort of “He’ll live on in our hearts forever” type of thing, but he would really live again, physically, resurrected, walking around, eating, breathing, teaching. There, too, is the power and glory of God. Death is defeated. Its stranglehold is broken. Jesus will share resurrected life with all who believe in Him.
Jesus had His cross and tomb in mind when he told Peter, James, and John not to say anything about his transfiguration. His secret identity would be revealed to the whole world, all in due time. But for now, his path led to Jerusalem. His work of saving you and me from a horrible life in this world and even worse things in eternity was not complete until cross and tomb were dealt with.
With all this talk about secret identities, we can’t leave today without wrestling with this question. Are you keeping your Christian faith a secret? Is your Christian life with Jesus a secret identity that you keep under wraps? Is there a part of you that hopes that your friends and acquaintances never discover your link to Jesus? If you’ve struggled with this, you’re not alone. Sin would have us hide the light of Jesus under a bushel basket. Society would have us keep our faith private. But that’s simply not what Jesus would have you do.
Jesus would have you repent of the times when you have made Him your little secret. He would have you know that there is forgiveness for you through faith in His actions at the cross and tomb. And He would have you see yourself through His eyes when he says: “You are the light of the world. A town can’t be hidden when it’s built on a hill. You put a lamp on the lampstand, where it gives light to everybody in the house. So let you light shine before people that they may see the good you do and praise your Father in heaven.” Likewise, the apostle Paul writes to Timothy, “God didn’t give us a cowardly Spirit, but a Spirit of power and love and good judgment.” And Paul can write to the Corinthian Church: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” If you have been connected to Jesus through Holy Baptism, and you continue to trust in Jesus for forgiveness and strength, then this is your true identity. It is an identity that cannot be kept secret. It isn’t possible. Because if Jesus is alive in you, He’s going to cause you to look for someone to help. He’s going to cause to you look for someone to serve. He’s going to cause you to come alongside someone with words of gospel hope and deeds of kindness. That’s just the way He is. Sure, we can decide to not go along with it. We can try to put the lid on His compassion. But even then, the Spirit calls us to turn around and seek forgiveness for frustrating God’s purposes for us. We’re called to trust that we have been given a Spirit of power and love and good judgment. And we’re freed to let our true identity—our connected-to-Christ-identity—shine through each and every day of our lives.
God wants this to be our reality. He wants to give us Himself. The same God who hid his full glory in a normal-looking teacher and carpenter from Nazareth still hides Himself today. He hides himself in words on a page; words that are sung; words that are preached; words that are discovered in Holy Scripture. Every time you hear those words it is God speaking to your heart and mind.
He hides himself in ordinary water; water scooped out of a bowl. Every time that water is accompanied by God’s Name, it is God Himself cleansing a person and gifting them with His life.
He hides himself in flatbread wafers and wine from the grape. When this food is combined with Jesus’ words, we take the broken body and shed blood of our Savior into ourselves. He literally pours Himself into us, sharing His identity with us, giving us the things we need most. Far more than a hero, Jesus is our reason for living. Amen.