Every day, the boy fantasized about that loaf of bread. Finally, he quit dreaming and decided to do something. Though money was hard to come by, he eventually came up with the 5 cents. One day after school, he walked into the store, laid his pennies on the counter and said, “One loaf please.” The man behind the counter stared at him and said, “What did you say?” The boy repeated, “One loaf of bread please, like in the window.”And, he pointed at the sign. The man looked over at the sign and then looked at the boy and said, “Son, we don’t sell bread; we paint signs.” (Insight, Aug. 7, 1988)
Has the church gone into the sign business? What if we are handing out signs that say to a hurting and desperate world that we have answers to their spiritual needs, but when they get inside they discover we have great signs, we just don’t have any bread? If we’re not careful, we will forget that we are in the “Jesus business,” not the “voluntary, like-minded, spiritually oriented, people like us,” business. Sometimes we can get so fixated on what we do and what we offer that we can forget the God we serve and what our God promises to the world through us. We must not “proclaim ourselves.” We must, instead, “proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as (slaves of others) for Jesus’ sake.”
Our Gospel lesson shows how hard it is for people, both us now and the disciples then, to get a handle on what Jesus was about and what it means to follow Jesus. This story of the Transfiguration comes almost exactly in the middle of Mark’s Gospel, and it comes in the center of a three-chapter section of Mark.
This three-chapter section (Mark 8:20-10:52) begins and ends with the healing of a blind person. In between these healings, Jesus talks to the disciples three times about his death (Mark 8:31, 9:31, 10:33-34) and they never get it. They remain blind. This section contains that great story where Peter first calls Jesus the Messiah and then, almost immediately, tells him, “Oh no Lord, you don’t have to die; you don’t understand what is a Messiah.” To which Jesus replies, “Get behind me Satan.”
Just like us, the disciples resist the cross, they resist suffering, they resist service. As Fred Craddock says, “After all, how can persons who have lived with the motto, ‘When the Messiah comes, there will be no misery’ understand suffering and death as kingdom experiences?” (“Preaching Through the Christian Year B,” p. 127)
Mark shows us God demonstrating to the disciples, represented by Peter, James and John, who Jesus really is. All the mysterious pyrotechnics and the presence of long-gone prophets and the voice from heaven are for Peter, James and John’s benefit – for our benefit really.
By this time Jesus is clear about who he is – the issue is our becoming clear about who we are. And they still don’t get it. Peter says, “Wow, this is great. Let’s stay here.” Let’s be fair; let’s not be too hard on Peter – if we had a chance to hang out with Jesus and Moses and Elijah,we’d do whatever we could to make that moment stretch out as long as possible, wouldn’t we? And yet, they still didn’t get it, not really. They didn’t really get it until they experienced it. Until they saw Jesus die. Until they encountered the risen Christ. Until they saw him ascend into heaven. Then the pieces began to fall into place. Then they began to get a handle on the exciting and different and new thing God was and is doing in the world, in and through Jesus, in and through them, in and through us.
“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord – and ourselves as (the world’s) slaves for Jesus’ sake.”
Philip Yancey has recently written about a refugee camp in Somalia staffed by the Christian organization World Concern. “Medically, the camp was hell on earth. Dysentery, whooping cough, measles, diphtheria and tuberculosis were breaking out, their symptoms complicated by malnutrition.” There were 60,000 refugees and only seven relief workers, yet in seven months, they had managed to transform it from a boiling cauldron of discontent into an orderly, well-run community. With a break for the worst of the heat in the afternoon, the seven toiled from 7 in the morning until 7 at night. And when he visited, Yancey kept asking, why? Why do you do this? Why suffer like this for people you don’t know when you could be making good money and a good life back home in America?
Lois, a 21-year-old nursing school graduate said of her graduation day, “I remember the expressions on my friends’ faces when I said I would be doing relief work in a war-stricken Muslim country on the horn of Africa. ‘That’s a really insane thing to do,’ one girl said.” Lois then continued, “In some ways, I guess coming here does look like an insane thing to do. Yet I have never felt more satisfied and fulfilled in my life …. . A spirit of hope now infects every person in this camp, all because donors in the West and relief workers here sacrificially gave of themselves. I can’t verbalize the source of my hope here because the government forbids talking about the Christian faith. But I can demonstrate by my presence and my spirit that there is hope … . I almost feel sorry for people who never have the chance to serve God like this. I believe I am beginning to learn what Jesus meant when he said, ‘If you lose your life, you will find it.’” (Philip Yancey, “Vanishing Grace,” pp.106-108)
When Thielicke used to tell the story about the sign that said, “Bread, 5 cents a loaf,” he always said, “People can’t eat signs; they need bread.” Our calling is to bring the bread of Christ to the world. We are invited to serve the world in the name of Christ. We have the opportunity to reach out to the world with the loving presence of God in Christ.
“For, we do not preach about ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord – and ourselves as (the world’s) slaves for Jesus’ sake.”
Amen and amen.
Delmer Chilton is originally from North Carolina and received his education at the University of North Carolina, Duke Divinity School and the Graduate Theological Foundation. He received his Lutheran training at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, S.C. Ordained in 1977, Delmer has served parishes in North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.