Jesus, the Glorious One
About eight days later Jesus took Peter, John, and James up on a mountain to pray. And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared and began talking with Jesus. They were glorious to see. And they were speaking about his exodus from this world, which was about to be fulfilled in Jerusalem. Peter and the others had fallen asleep. When they woke up, they saw Jesus’ glory and the two men standing with him. As Moses and Elijah were starting to leave, Peter, not even knowing what he was saying, blurted out, “Master, it’s wonderful for us to be here! Let’s make three shelters as memorials—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But even as he was saying this, a cloud overshadowed them, and terror gripped them as the cloud covered them. Then a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.” When the voice finished, Jesus was there alone. They didn’t tell anyone at that time what they had seen. -- Luke 9:28-36
You’re drained. You’re tapped out. You have little energy to give others. We’ve all been there. Usually, after a little break we revive and step back up to the plate. What happens, however, when these feelings don’t pass? What happens when you just want to give up? If you have ever cared for an elderly parent or a sick child, or worked as a health care worker of social worker, you might know what I’m talking about. Sometimes caregivers just give up. It’s called compassion fatigue. It refers to a physical, emotional and spiritual exhaustion that takes over a person and causes a decline in his or her ability to experience joy or to feel and care for others. It’s not that one day you’re living your life with a great deal of energy and enjoyment, and the next, you wake up exhausted and devoid of any energy. Compassion fatigue develops over time, taking weeks, sometimes years to surface. Basically, it’s a clouding of caring and concern for others in your life whether you work in or outside the home. Over time, your ability to feel and care for others becomes eroded through overuse of your skills of compassion.
Compassion fatigue also affects us when we hear news of disasters. Compassion fatigue sets in whenever there is a long-running news story that shows no signs of resolution. Viewers can become bored by even the most compelling story, if it seems never to change. Media audiences become jaded. Just think about the news cycle over few years: Katrina, Genocide in Sudan, War in the Middle East, Indonesian tsunami, Kashmir earthquake, Japan earthquake, China earthquake, Haiti earthquake, and the list goes on and on. There are days we wake up and, frankly, don't feel like turning the TV on. If I do watch TV, I’m stuck with a so-called “Reality TV Show.” The irony is not lost on me.
Isn’t there enough pain within ten miles of our homes to last us a lifetime? What do we do when we hear an orphanage was buried under a mudslide in Ecuador or a bus full of nuns holding babies in their arms went off a cliff in Singapore? I could probably spend two or three hours a day just praying for the crushing needs of people I know. So how can I shoulder the rest of the world’s problems? After all, God does not call ME to be the savior of the world. Sometimes I think about the pain all around, and all I can do is sit and put my bleary face into my cupped hands and pray.
Author Max Lucado tells another story of compassion fatigue: Four people snake up a mountain. The trip has been long. The hour is late. A level place on a hillside is reached, and they sit down. They’re tired. Their muscles hurt. The grayness of twilight settles over them like soft cloth. The quartet of pilgrims longs to sleep, but only three do. The fourth sits in the shadows, legs crossed. Face skyward. He slips off his sandals and rubs his sore feet and reflects on the wildness of it all. A God with sore legs? Holiness with hunger? Divinity with thirst? A World-maker made weary by his world?
His thoughts drift homeward. Nazareth. How good it would be to be home again. The memories surface so easily. A sawdust-covered work bench. Friends stopping to talk. Dinner-table laughter. Wrestling with his brothers. But Nazareth would never be home again. They tried to kill him last time he was there. Even his brothers and sisters considered him insane. They were ashamed to be known as his family. No, Nazareth would never be home again.
What about Galilee? The crowds listened in Galilee. There the people followed... as long as he said what they wanted to hear. He remembered the crowds as they turned away. He heard their jeering. He felt their rejection.
He thinks of Jerusalem. She offers no comfort. He knows what is waiting for him there. A foreboding pain stabs his wrists. He winces at the slicing of his brow. He sees the world around him growing darker. He shakes his head and takes a staggered breath. His thoughts return to the present. He plucks a shoot of grass, puts it into his mouth, and sits in the shadow of his fear. He looks at his followers, as asleep as they are naive. They have no idea. He speaks of suffering; they think of conquering. He speaks of sacrifice; they think of celebration. They think they hear. They think they see. But they don’t. Part of him knew it would be like this. And part of him never knew it would be so bad. Talk about compassion fatigue! Part of him wonders, Would it be so bad to give up? He has given his best and what does he have? A ragged band of good-hearted followers who are destined to fall flat on promises they can’t keep. He thinks about the future. Jesus will be banished by his people. Physical attack awaits him in Jerusalem. Only God really knows the cost of the struggle. So he sits down and puts his bleary face into cupped hands and prays. It’s all he can do.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it helper? You thought you could save the world one person at a time. You saw where you could best demonstrate your gifts of compassion, and you went there. But now you are tired, questioning your motives, feeling drained and useless, wondering when relief will come, kicking yourself for not having a back-up plan, resenting that you are the only one doing the work.
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, dreamer? You wanted to badly change the world. Sure the mountain was high, but you were brave. Then winds came. Sharp rocks of reality cut your feet, breaking your stride . . . breaking your heart. And you found the role of the cynic was less costly than the role of the dreamer. So you sat down.
You need to know something. Jesus sat down, too. Sure, there were moments that he stood tall. There were hours of splendor. The days came when the sick leaped for joy and the dead came to life. But the peaks of popularity were corrupted by canyons of isolation. And on this day, the crevasse is deep. His strength has reached a low point.
Listen to what happens next. Luke writes, “As he was praying, the appearance of his face was transformed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” For just a moment Jesus is transfigured; a glorious radiance pours from him. For a few minutes, the burden of humanity is lifted. God holds him. The One who felt weary is soon reminded that the weariness will soon pass. As Jesus prepares himself for the work of death, Moses and Elijah draw near: Moses the lawgiver whose grave no one knew; Elijah the prophet who side-stepped death in a fiery chariot. The one who faces death is reminded: the grave is powerless.
And then the Voice thunders. In the Bible, God likes to show up in mountain-wrapping clouds. God’s enveloping presence transforms the mountain into a shining monument. And from the belly of the clouds the Father speaks: “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him.” It’s as if God shouts, “It doesn’t matter what people think. Right now, it only matters what I think, and I’m proud.” By now the apostles are awake. For Peter, James, and John, the scene must have looked bizarre: dazzling white clouds, a voice from the sky, living images from the past. But for Jesus, it is a view of home. A view into yesterday. A glimpse into tomorrow. And he heads down the mountain. You see, there is a boy who needs to be healed. There are disciples who need to understand. There is a cross waiting in Jerusalem.
If we look hard enough, we can see Jesus in faces all around us.
Look at the face of Jesus the underpaid nurse who puts up with abuse as she tends to her patient’s needs – Or in the rescue worker who hasn’t slept in days because of the crushing needs of humanity around her -- Or in the Mom who struggles to raise her family with solid values, but is just simply exhausted by her kid’s relentless demands.
Look at the face of Jesus in the couple seeking to pick up the pieces of the fractured relationship, worn out and looking for the strength to go on.
Look at the face of Jesus in the cancer patient fighting to survive or the Alzheimer patient who feels the future is hopeless.
Look at the face of Jesus in a grieving spouse, asking why and looking for answers and finding the courage to live.
Look at the face of Jesus in the teen who thinks nobody understands or even cares who she really is.
If you look hard enough, he is even there in your own lonely, spots where no one else is invited to sit with you.
There are people all around us who are tired. Weary. Suffering other’s irrational reactions to their principles. Tempted to give up and looking for anything to help them just endure. Jesus was there, too.
This morning I invite all of us to travel up the mountain top with a weary Christ. If you do, a wonderful thing will happen. You will see Jesus for who he really is. And when we see Jesus for who he is, we are also able to see ourselves for who we really are. The pure, transfiguring light of God exposes all. It revealed Jesus as God’s beloved. God’s light reveals your own need to be loved, your disappointment with yourself, your shame and frustration, your deepest fears, your isolation and emptiness. In the transfiguring light of God, there is nowhere to hide. We stand stripped and vulnerable before our God and we hear a voice that says, “This is my son who is much loved. This is my daughter, whom I adore.” God’s talking about you. God’s just crazy in love with you. God thinks you are magnificent. God fills us with glory when we are lost and weary.
It is so easy and yet so hard to accept. God loves you. God understands your weariness. God has felt your emptiness. The voice of God calls out to us. Are you listening?
Through Christ, God says:
Come, you who are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Through Christ, God says:
Give all your worries and cares to me, for I care about what happens to you.
Through Christ, God says:
You are my child. I choose you. Listen.
God loves you. Jesus calls you. The Spirit is ready to fill you. Are you listening?