August 11, 2019
(2 Peter 1:16-19; Luke 9:28-36)
When Neil Armstrong hopped off the ladder of the lunar module Eagle and put the first footprint on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, the world became a very different place.
From that point on, generations of people would point to that event as the pinnacle of human achievement and subsequently wonder why everything isn’t easier by comparison.
If we can put a man on the moon, for example, then why can’t we cure cancer? End world hunger? Or keep certain individuals in leadership off of Twitter?
All are worthy, if not apparently impossible, goals, but we have to remember that every “moonshot” goal, as we now know them, began with a dream.
In their book The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business as Usual, Lisa Goldman and Kate Purmal define a moonshot goal as a big idea project that harnesses human aspirations. It’s a turn away from business as usual, and involves —
•and collaborative teamwork.
The value of such goals is often found in the aftereffects — elevating new and heroic leaders and enabling ordinary people to accomplish extraordinary things.
Think of the massive numbers of steely-eyed missile men (and women) with slide rules and those first plucky astronauts at NASA who invested their lives in the Apollo 11 mission and its predecessors and you get the idea. As an example, three brilliant African-American women at NASA -- Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson -- serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit. (There’s a great movie about these three women called, “Hidden Figures” I recommend it!) A moonshot goal looks impossible on the surface, but determined people with a clear vision can make what seems impossible become a reality.
The disciples of Jesus didn’t seem all that interested in going to the moon, but that didn’t stop them from having stars in their eyes and their own.
They had left behind their former occupations to follow an itinerant rabbi around Galilee because they were compelled by his vision of the kingdom of God. For first-century Jews, that vision was not the peaceable kingdom of Isaiah, but the social justice of an Amos or Joel. It was gritty and political. For many of them, moonshot thinking was the thought that someday their Roman occupiers would be overthrown, God’s anointed king and messiah set on the throne, and God’s presence returned to the temple.
It was a vision of freedom from oppression with peace and security for all. It seemed like an impossibility given the number of Roman spears and warhorses that patrolled the roads and streets. But then again, there was this Jesus who seemed to fit the mold of the kind of leader who could make it happen. He had performed amazing miracles, drawn huge crowds and become somewhat popular with the people. Maybe he was the one who could shoot the moon, reverse their fortunes and transform them from paupers into princes.
It didn’t take long for Jesus to correct them of that notion. His vision of the kingdom and how it would come to be was quite different than theirs.
In Matthew 16:13-16, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was and Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus, however, would define the Messiah’s mission in far more graphic terms than Peter and his mates could have imagined. Before being fitted for a crown, Jesus would need to embrace a cross. It was an unimaginable scenario.
This is not moonshot thinking. This is moonbeam thinking.
Eight days later, Jesus pulls his executive team of Peter, James and John aside and takes them up on a mountain for a corporate retreat. It’s on this unnamed mountain that Jesus gives them a glimpse of his ultimate moonshot idea by revealing his own heavenly glory.
The high mountain in this passage has been surmised by historians as Tabor or Hermon, but probably no specific mountain was intended by the Luke. Its meaning is theological rather than geographical, possibly recalling the revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai (Ex 24:12–18) and to Elijah at the same place.
While Jesus was praying, his face and clothes were transformed into a kind of heavenly brilliance. It’s an image that recalls a similar account of Moses’ meeting God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 34). Moses’ face became so brilliant that he had to cover it with a veil afterward.
In Luke’s account, Moses is not only mentioned, but he actually shows up to converse with the glorified Jesus along with the prophet Elijah.
How did the disciples know it was Moses and Elijah? It wasn’t that they were wearing nametags like one would on a corporate retreat!
Instead, they knew their Scriptures and the tradition. According to Deuteronomy, Moses died and was buried by God before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, but some traditions had said that Moses hadn’t died at all and, like the prophet Elijah, had simply been taken up into heaven (Deuteronomy 34:1-8; 2 Kings 2). (There is also a Scripture from Jude 1:9 which indicates that St. Michael and Satan have a disagreement over Moses body, though it is not clear as to what specifically. Additionally, in a Jewish apocryphal, called the Assumption of Moses with reference similar.) Moses and Elijah, many believed, would someday return as forerunners of the Messiah. If Jesus was the real Messiah, as Peter had discerned, then it made sense that these two glorious figures should appear beside him in his glory, representing the Law and the Prophets.
The key here, however, is not so much the appearance of the two towering figures of the Old Testament, but the conversation. Luke says they were speaking of Jesus’ “departure” which would soon to take place in Jerusalem. The Greek word for “departure” is “exodus,” which puts Jesus’ mission into the larger context of the biblical story.
In the days of Moses, the Israelites were set free from slavery in Egypt — a moonshot vision for which they had prayed some 400 years. Their freedom was signified and subsequently remembered by the Passover meal and the blood of the sacrificed lamb that saved them from death and pointed the way to new life and a promised land.
Jesus was about to initiate a new exodus, but in this case, this exodus would deliver all of humanity from the enslaving power of sin and death itself. That deliverance would require a new Passover and a new once-for-all sacrifice as Jesus himself became the Paschal Lamb.
This was Jesus’ moonshot mission and destiny: the salvation of the whole world. All that Moses and Elijah represented, the witness of the Law and the Prophets, had been pointing to this goal.
The sleepy disciples saw most of this dazzling vision, but it still didn’t sink in that Jesus was more than they imagined and his mission more comprehensive than a political coup.
Peter piped up with an idea: “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Luke adds that Peter didn’t really know what he was saying.
Peter’s construction plan essentially put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah, which tells us that he still didn’t get who Jesus was. It took the cloud of God the Father’s own presence and glory and his voice to set Peter straight: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him!” It’s a moment that reminds us of the Father’s voice at Jesus’ baptism. The voice says, in effect, that this is the Son of God, not just another prophet. He is preeminent — not over and against the Law and the Prophets but as the one who interprets and fulfills them. He is the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant promises God made to Adam, to Abraham, to Moses and to David. He is the one who will crush the serpent’s head and the one through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed.
In this revelation of glory, we learn along with the disciples that the God who could rescue his Son from suffering confirms that his mission will nonetheless go through the cross. He will not go there because it is easy, but because it is hard, to borrow a phrase from John F. Kennedy. It is a challenge he is willing to accept out of love, one he is unwilling to postpone and one that he will win for all of us. It’s the ultimate moonshot, but one that will be accomplished by the very God who put the moon there in the first place!
The disciples still don’t get this right away. In the next scene, there is the dilemma about casting out a demon, which they can’t seem to accomplish. In the next, they are arguing cabinet positions in the coming administration. It will take the death and resurrection of Jesus to bring things into focus and help them realize that God’s project was more audacious than anything humans could ever conceive. God could have done something easier, but it would not have the impact we needed.
But it’s not just a moonshot goal that we admire as a historical reality. Like any great moonshot, its value is found in the aftereffect. To know that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again reminds us that anything is possible.
We are followers of the one who has beaten sin and death and given us the freedom not only to imagine God’s kingdom of ultimate peace, redemption and renewal, but to begin living it out in the present. When we look at the world as it currently is, with its constant cycle of bad news and what seems to be an increasingly broken way of life, we remember that this is not the way things will always be. We live and work in the present in light of the future made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
To that end, Jesus invites us to dream of our own moonshot goals for the places we live and serve. Often we have dreams, ideas and goals that are too small and too easily attainable — goals that look good on a stat sheet.
Jesus, however, invites us to dream of the transformation of the world and the community around us. A transfigurative experience empowered by moonshot thinking may take some cross bearing, sacrifice and commitment to make it happen.
We follow the ultimate visionary leader, however, who promises to be with us always and offers us the power of the Holy Spirit.
We humans have put a man on the moon.
God raised a man from the dead and “seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion and above every name that is named, not only in this age but in the age to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21).
This is the God-man, the Christ, the Son of the living God, about whom the voice on the mountain declared, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him” (v. 35).
When we follow Jesus, there is no moonshot too imaginative, too daring, too audacious for us to consider.
Let us pray.
That we commit ourselves to always meditate on the moonshot goal that Jesus accomplished for us, and to this end, we know and believe that all things are indeed possible through Christ our Lord. We pray to the Lord.
That we will see the transfigurative light waiting for us when Christ calls us home to him. We pray to the Lord.
For national and local leaders, may God’s wisdom inspire and guide them as they seek ways to confront, and eliminate, violence in our communities, and to ensure the safety of all people. We pray to the Lord.
For victims of gun violence throughout our country, especially all who were killed by the senseless and evil shootings (and stabbings) this week, may they rest in peace. May the family and friends left behind be comforted. We pray to the Lord.
That our governmental leaders stop the separation of immigrant children from their parents, and use more appropriate moral and ethical treatment of undocumented immigrants than what is currently being employed. We pray to the Lord.
That the two sisters from Israel studying at the University of Indiana who returned to their dorm to find two swastikas on the wall may find compassion and support and that religious tolerance be spread amongst all humankind. We pray to the Lord.
For those on our parish prayer list, that they may find consolation through Christ’s healing presence. We pray to the Lord.
We bow our heads and remember in silence our own personal intentions and the intentions of those who have asked for our prayers (pause). We pray to the Lord.
Sovereign Lord, forgive us for choosing violence instead of grace. Give us the courage to trust that the cross is more powerful than the sword. We thank you for the assurance that, in the end, love wins. Help us to live without fear in the light of your promise. Holy God, we confess that we have betrayed the Good News by turning inward, serving ourselves first. We have not taken up our cross and we have been too quick to build up worldly possessions for ourselves. Forgive us for not helping to reveal Christ to the world. Forgive us for not living into Christ’s example and serving those in need before serving ourselves. Draw us back to the way of Christ, so that we might know the reign of God is drawing near – an everlasting moonshot goal! We ask all these things through Christ our Lord. Amen.
God Love You +++
++ The Most Rev. Robert Winzens
Pastor – St. Francis Chapel
San Diego, CA