Although we are only in the second Sunday of Lent, Holy Mother Church has given us a wonderful and hopeful set of readings in this penitential season. For many of us who have done a service week at Nazareth Farm, the Gospel today will sound very familiar. The story of the Transfiguration is one that is told each Saturday morning of a group week. I often had the honor of sharing reflections on this story while on staff. The mountain top experience had by Peter, James, and John is very relatable to many volunteers as they closed out their retreat week. They encountered God through the cornerstones of prayer, community, simplicity, and service. They felt and perhaps had even seen His presence working throughout the week. Finally, they desired to “make camp” and stay “up on the mountain,” cue Steven Curtis Chapman! (Circle up, sing along dance party, am I right? WOO!) And as great as that is, and as often as I’ve heard this story, today I want to share it with you in a different light.
Before we begin, I want to introduce to 4 words that I’ll ask you to know and commit to memory this Lent. These words are: Created, Captured, Rescued, and Respond. These four words summarize the Kerygma, which is a Greek word that means Proclamation. (In our case it means Proclamation of the Gospel.) Lets begin.
Created. I think anyone who has visited Nazareth Farm knows what it is like to be immersed in the beauty and simplicity of creation. It is one of my favorite parts of being there. I have so many memories of God’s grandeur that I encountered while at Naz Farm, and I’ll share them here for you envision yourself.
-The view from the top of the hike in the winter or spring when you can see for miles as the gentle breeze blows past your face.
-The smell of the most lovely spring air while the trees are in bloom, riding with the windows down on Route 23
-Driving to a worksite early in the morning on Route 50, seeing the sun rising over the hills and illuminating the heavy fog that still lingers in the air on a humid summer morning.
-Walking back to the staff house on a clear cold January night and stopping to look up at the millions of stars in the sky
It is in moments like this where I am reminded that God, in a plan of sheer goodness, created the world and everything in it. But do you know what God also made? He made us, human beings, in His image and likeness! Out of everything we just mentioned, all the beautiful memories I have shared, in the eyes of God WE are what is “very good” (to quote Genesis). We have an inherent dignity given to us by God because we are made in His image and likeness. Why would He do that? Because God loves us. Plain and simple, God loves you. In fact, He delights in loving you. He desires to be with us always and give us all that is good. So, what happened? Why, despite all the beauty and goodness, are things still so messed up?
Captured. Let this word sink in. It’s not a word we would often associate with ourselves these days. The reality is, however, we were captured. Our captor is a fallen creature who rebelled against God out of hate of Him and hate for us. This creature is Satan. What is his strategy? To convince us that God is not a loving Father and that we can be happy without Him. Satan’s tactics are accusations, lies, flattery, division, temptations, and discouragement. He is real, he despises you and will do all He can to separate us from God. And because he succeeded in tricking the human race, we all became bound and chained to the powers of Sin and Death. Now, let’s pause for a moment. What I just said is not a small thing. In a modern society like ours, I think its hard for us to understand what it means to be under the rule of a suppressive power. The closest thing I can compare it to in our modern society is suffering under human trafficking, maybe there is another horrible act that resonates with you. This evil fully captures, takes us away from family, friends, and the life given to us. In this, we feel alone, helpless, and in pain. My brothers and sisters, this is humanity without the rescuing actions of Jesus Christ.
Rescued. For Peter, James, and John, they understood the meaning of the word captured. All their lives, The Roman Empire had been ruling over Israel. There was no true freedom for them. The Romans had complete authority over their lives. One step out of line or false word against Caesar, could lead you to prison, beatings, or even crucifixion. The Jewish people were longing for a Messiah who would lead them out of bondage to Rome and restore them to freedom. But even greater than their bondage to Rome, was the human race’s bondage to the Powers of Sin and Death. And this is what Jesus came to do. He came to recuse us. By His death and resurrection, Jesus bound up the Satan who had captured us and restored our hope that had been taken away. He liberated us from bondage and brought us into the glorious light! This is the good news of the Gospel!! The gospel is not simply that Jesus what a great teacher (which he was), or that he was a miracle worker (which he did plenty of). Or even that he was simply a good and holy man. He is more than that, He is our Redeemer and Rescuer. So what Peter, James, and John were witnessing in the transfiguration was not merely a beautiful encounter with God, it was a foretaste of the glory of Jesus Christ’s victory over Sin and Death!!
Respond. So where does this leave us? What do we do now? We respond to Jesus in worship, prayer, and thanksgiving. We surrender ourselves totally to the one who has defeated sin and death, so that we might be freed from it in our daily life. We read the Word of God in the Bible and encounter Him deeply in the Sacraments. Do we then take this good news and keep it to ourselves? No! We share it with anyone and everyone we meet! Why? Let me put it this way. If you had a life changing experience, whether it was an incredible service trip to Naz Farm, just landed your dream job, or got engaged to the person of your dreams, wouldn’t you be dying to tell people about it? Of course you would, because it is good news worth sharing! Yet why are we so apprehensive to share the greatest news in human history? Are we afraid of what others may think? Do we fear rejection or the apathy of others? Possibly. Do you think that Peter, James, John, and the other disciples were afraid? I’m sure they were! But God gave them His Holy Spirit to send them out on mission to help God get his world back, and He wants to fill us in the same way! We talk so much about changing the world and fixing the problems in this world. I truly believe that this is the best way we can do that on a lasting level.
My brothers and sisters, there is so much more that could be said here. This Lenten season I invite you to keep going. Dive deep into the Kerygma. Meditate on the 4 words we have reflected on today; Created, Captured, Rescued, Response. And actively grow in your response to what God, in His plan of sheer goodness has done for you. I hope and prayer that this begins a journey for you to bring as many home to the Kingdom of Heaven as you can. And on that day, before God in His glory, we might all be able to say together, “It is great to be here!”
-Josh LaFave, past staff member