More Than I Imagined

Sunday, February 19, 2023
Pastor Bonnie Lomen

Matthew 16:24-17:8

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It is earlier in Chapter 16 when Jesus is standing in the area of Caesarea Philippi.  This area is a few miles north of the Sea of Galilee.  The area is heavily influenced by Greeks and Romans. The area is filled with pagan temples and near is a cave believed to be the doorway to Hades.

Jesus, fresh off the healing, teaching and feeding of people, had been approached by the Jewish leaders for ‘a sign.’  Jesus’ response is basically, “You can’t interpret the signs you have just seen.  No more signs except the sign of Jonah.  (three days of death-and a new life, Resurrection).

I imagine Jesus is a bit weary as He looks at the supposed gate of Hades and asks, “Who do people say I am?” The people think maybe you are John the Baptist alive, or a prophet.  “How about YOU?” Jesus asks.

Peter responds, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.”

I wondered if with His eyes on that cave, Jesus didn’t smile and respond, “Good job Simon!  On this rock, My identity, you as a future leader of the church, and this confession which will be voiced by many- this is the rock on which I will build my church.  AND THE GATES OF HADES WILL NOT OVERCOME IT.”

         Then Jesus’ real work begins.  He starts by teaching the disciples about a Himself being a servant-Messiah.  Not political, not rich, not military, but a servant Messiah who comes to suffer and die.

Peter (using what he knows of earthly kingdoms), objects. ‘Surely God would not ask that of You!?” Jesus observes that Peter responds with human concerns.  Jesus deals in God’s methods. In fact, disciples will have to put themselves aside, even lose their lives as they follow Him.

It was at this point in the text I was reminded of the final bible study in White Bear Lake before I came here for interim.  A woman reminded us of the story of the first grader who rose from his desk at noon, got on his jacket and prepared to leave.  The teacher asked where he was going. ‘I am going home, it’s lunch!” he replies.  The teacher says simply, “That was kindergarten when you had half a day.  In first grade you are here for the whole day.”

His response?  “WELL, WHO SIGNED ME UP FOR THAT!?”

I see that in Peter, and the disciples, and even us-as followers.  Who signed me up for suffering? Death?  Peter, like us, is expecting glory, position, infamy, success, wealth.

But….A cross?

Six days later, we find Peter, James and John climbing a mountain to hear a word from God; just as Moses did at Sinai and Elijah at Horeb.  Jesus begins to change form.  His face is shining of its own light (not a reflection.) His clothes are as white as light.  Moses and Elijah appear. Jesus’ place as a deity is confirmed in His glory.  Moses and Elijah stand as law and prophet at His side.

There are two reactions on the part of Peter, James and John.

  1. James and John’s mind goes back to scripture saying, ‘ if you see the face of God-you die’. So they are speechless.
  2. Peter’s mind may have gone back to the Exodus when God lived in the Tent of Meeting. God was contained.  The people knew where to go to access God.  He dares to speak. “I could build three tents!?  This could be a spot to come and remember what we are seeing! A memorial of sorts.”

But the voice of God interrupts. The words are affirmation for Jesus and direction for disciples. “This is my Chosen.  Listen to Him.” This is interpreted as ‘obey Him.’  Stop leading the plan and let Jesus lead.

Well, all 3 are speechless in their fear.  Even Peter has stopped talking.  They are terrified!

The next thing they know, Jesus touches them and invites them to rise.  Do not be afraid.  (Don’t miss this turn; Jesus chose to leave glory and engage fully with the disciples……with all humanity.

It is glory come down-like Christmas, GOD WITH US.”


Just as being a disciple of Jesus was more than Peter could imagine…… Jesus shows He is also more than they could imagine.  The human mind could not create a plan like this!  Mankind could not carry out deliverance of itself.  God joins us-voluntarily- to take our crisis and sin upon Himself.  He is with us.  He will step into our chaos, discern truth and do all that is necessary to save us from ourselves.  And the gates of hell will not prevail against Him.

Remember those words.  For ALL IS NOT WELL for us, as we see when we look around.

Jesus directs the disciples back down the mountain, away from the moment of glory and heads to Jerusalem.  His plan.  His rules. And we too are to follow.

We too are to truly see what is around us, what has shaped us-the known and the unknowns. And if we truly understand, a small voice asks, “Who signed me up for this?”  As my 101-year-old friend, Margaret said recently, “I can’t believe I would live so long I would see so much of what I fought for being torn down and pushed aside.  Women’s rights. Voting. Blatant racism. Killing and hate.  It is evil-more than I ever imagined.”

         You and I could name together an array of problems which feel huge and way beyond anything WE can change. Wrongs and misunderstanding come from all directions:

  • A healthcare system which leaves the poor, the aging and voiceless without the help that is needed
  • Government -which in some cases doesn’t want us to know Black History. We might feel badly about ourselves or feel a need to atone for our sin. In our fear we might be treated as we have treated others, Native American, Black, Asian, Latino cultures (and others). We could choose to remain ignorant of our past. It is easier for us.
  • We live in a time when the answer to gun problems seems to be more guns. Or so we are told.
  • We are led to focus PROLIFE as a discussion about abortion. What if it is also, food, and shelter, and healthcare, and aging assistance. What if being pro-life means everyone should have a voice in their future and that we are called to follow through on the care and protection of our children- as well as those who have served us in the military and all those who have supported our families.
  • Our government conversations have changed from serving people to determining what is best for the political party
  • Our children can rarely play in their neighborhoods, they often do not know the kids in their neighborhoods or play with them. Neighborhoods aren’t safe for so many.
  • We have been lulled into believing Christianity is the norm. We claim every school should teach the commandments. Right? Why? Even in our Christian homes, we rarely have faith conversations. Why expect from schools what we ourselves won’t do.

I could go on with you and name others like

  • homelessness or affordability of homes,
  • access to work with a living wage

Each problem seems greater than we could imagine and we feel helpless to do anything about them. Who signed me up for this?!


But…disciples of Jesus, these problems which are larger than we can imagine, face off with a Savior who is more than we can imagine….and the problems lose to our God. Jesus comes to SAVE AND SEND.

We are entering into Lent to be reminded to clean up our hearts.  Know yourself so you can repent and remove those things which center on self rather than US as people.

Immanuel-God with us- is not just for Christmas.  Jesus does His very best work walking with us into large and small changes. Ours small change, when gathered together with other hearts-of-service, can make a difference.

As I grew up, my father was a weekend alcoholic.  In my upper elementary and Junior High years I broke up more fights than I care to count.  Saturday nights I often had to call a friend (from church) for even the pastor.  I was surprised on Sunday. It was as though nothing had happened.  No one asked how I was, or took the time to listen or address what was happening.  This has fueled in me a voice which says, “do something!!”

Loneliness of people is growing, Do something. Send notes, dare to have conversations, visit the aging, ask how others are doing……and listen.

  • Some have the gift of leading conversations around hard topics. Let’s do that.
  • Some can teach and love on kids. Let’s let them
  • When voices are screaming because of gun violence or hate around them, what can we do? Can we listen and then believe their pain? Can we start action rather than waiting for someone else.
  • Can we stand up for the truth tellers and quiet the voices of bullies?
  • Can we insist that our leaders have integrity and honesty?

Can we be courageous enough to examine who we are- as we do in Lent- so we can fearlessly walk to Jerusalem with Jesus?  We have a Savior.  We don’t have to wait for one. He is more than we can imagine as He works to bring justice and love, compassion and courage for change.

Jesus steps down from glory, touches us and asks us to rise, and not fear.

That will take the strength of the divine.  It will take the new eyes of Christ to find new ways we here at Augustana can touch lives.  We have started;

  • We serve community meals
  • We examine our nation and ultimately our own thoughts and beliefs as we discuss books like Caste, or The Power Worshippers. We care for and pray for our hurting. We study God’s Word. Mark Skinner will be hear to talk about ACTS. Note. It is not the Book of Remembrances. It the Book of Acts.

I am suggesting today that we put CHANGE in the hands of the Jesus who is more than we imagined…….God with us….as we at Augustana, and all who seek to follow the cross, pray and act largely as we move into tomorrow.

Guess what? At baptism-this is what we signed up for.

In Jesus’ name.


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