The Trouble with Transformers
On any given Sunday I shake hands with a Transformer or two. These are wonderful inventions that can go from looking ordinary and harmless to extraordinary and dangerous. Yes, on any given Sunday I shake hands with 1 or 2 brought to church as the guest of one of our kids, so let me tell you the trouble with Transformers.
They can fool you by their appearance. You know not to judge a book by its cover; well, don't judge a Transformer by its look. It's just a car, maybe even a junky truck. Some Transformers are not even performance cars or race cars, but Chevrolets. Do you know how many Chevrolets there are out there? So many that you walk by them without even a first look. Nothing to see here. Nothing out of the ordinary here.
That brings me to our text. That's what they said about Jesus. He was just a carpenter's son. There were plenty of carpenter's in those days and they had plenty of sons. Jesus was from Nazareth. Nazareth was not much of a town. It was a common town, and He came from an ordinary family. He had brothers and sisters just like kids today do. Sure they called Jesus rabbi, master, teacher, but there were plenty of those around too.
You get my point. People walked by the great Transformer, Optimus Prime and thought him nothing but an ordinary Freightliner semi. People leaned on the very important Bumblebee thinking it was nothing but another Chevy Camaro. Even that was a step up because originally he was nothing but a Volkswagen Beetle.
This same thing happened to Jesus right before our text. Jesus told His disciples that He was going to Jerusalem to be rejected by the Church, to be ridiculed, and eventually be put to death. Now remember all that you know about who Jesus really is. He's not just the stepson of a carpenter but the Son of God Almighty. Not just a teacher but Lord of all creation. But Peter had been fooled by appearances. So he took Jesus aside and rebuked Him, scolded Him, corrected Him, saying none of that will ever happen to You Jesus. What Peter did was like telling Optimus Prime he'll never save the earth. All he'll ever do is haul bananas and TVs.
That's the trouble with Transformers and when God comes to you in an ordinary body that looks no different than anyone else: they can fool you by their appearance. But there's the opposite trouble with them too. You can be terrified down to your tippy-toes by who they really are.
Every Transformer show or movie has a scene where someone is leaning, sitting, or walking by an ordinary car or truck and it transforms before their eyes. Transformers are huge, bigger, smarter, more powerful than you. The voice of Optimus Prime alone is enough to make you tremble. The trouble with Transformers is that once you see what they really are you can't believe your eyes; you can only believe that your heart is in your throat.
That brings me back to our text. Remember that 6 days ago Peter had corrected the ordinary looking Jesus. At the time Jesus had sharply corrected Peter, but it was with words. Jesus didn't transform into who He really is. He went on walking and talking for 6 days till He says to Peter, James, and John, "Hey, why don't you guys come up to that mountain over there with me to pray." So up the mountain they go with Jesus. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Jesus had taken them up mountains before.
But then, the semi becomes a huge walking, talking machine. The Chevy Camaro becomes a muscular, powerful machine. They shake the ground when they walk. Optimus Prime shakes the air when he talks. But that's nothing compared to how Jesus transformed. Light came from the body of Jesus of Nazareth so that He was bright as the sun and His clothes had rays of light shooting through them.
And then, and then heaven itself came to Jesus. Heaven came down to earth and there was the long dead Moses and the long ago disappeared Elijah alive and talking with Jesus. The two greatest men in the history of the Church were talking reverently, politely, submissively as if they were talking to God Himself! And they were because God the Father comes down in a cloud and tells the disciples this ordinary looking Jesus is My only Son. And they must stop trying to correct Him and must start listening to Him.
"When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified." Here we see the trouble with Transformers. They always terrify the people they come to help when they first reveal who they really are. The people who need their help run from them; tell them to get away from them; tell them they want nothing to do with them. You can hear the panic in their voice; you see the panic in their eyes. If you're really wrapped up in the story you feel it too.
Can you feel it in this Bible story? Maybe not. The translation is too tame. They were really "overwhelmed with fear;" they were "exceedingly afraid." They were knocked down to the ground by fear. They couldn't have stood up if they had dared to. Like the Transformers Jesus is here to help but when He first reveals Himself all they can do is be scared out of their mind.
This ought not to seem too strange to you. In every one of the explanations to the 10 Commandments we say, "We should fear and love God." We sing, "O Lord how shall I meet Thee" not daring to think we can meet Him in our own power or holiness. We come up to the Communion rail knowing that it's not just a little piece of bread and a little glass of wine but the true Body and Blood of our God Jesus and so we bow and kneel before Him.
So how come we don't fall down on our faces terrified like the disciples do in this Bible story? Because we don't just fear God, we also love God. But how can you love what you're afraid of? You can't go from being knocked down by fear to being raised up by love until you are transformed.
You see this at the end of Transformer shows and movies. The Transformers have used their superhuman powers to save the weaker people and now the people love those great big machines. O they can't help but fear their huge size and power, but they love the fact that all this is on their side. You can see this change in our text. Even though it's before Jesus dies on the cross, before Jesus rises on the 3rd day, Jesus shows them He's there to help by coming over to the disciples shaking in fear unable even to look up they're so scared, and touches them. And remember they had just been commanded to listen to Jesus and the first words He says to them are, "Get up; you can stop being afraid."
You know how you put yourself in a Transformer movie? You're the one running with Bumblebee; you're the one scooped up by Optimus Prime. Bible stories are to be heard like that too. We're the disciples. The God we have let down, did wrong against in so many ways, sends His only Son into the world to help us, to save us. The God we can't see, but who sees all things, knows all things, and demands that we obey Him, knows we can't. So He sends His only Son in Person. God is a Spirit, which means He has no hands, arms, legs, no body like you have, but it is your hands, arms, legs, and body which were commanded to keep the Law and were to be punished if you didn't. So God prepared a Body for His only Son in a woman named Mary.
Yes that's right; Jesus came into the world just like you did: as a cooing, crying Baby that needed to be fed and changed. But like that ordinary looking semi is really Optimus Prime, so this ordinary looking Baby is really God. And God the Father says that He is pleased in Him. You know what that means? In Jesus you are saved and safe.
The wrongs we do make it so Death and the Devil himself have a right to take us away. But Jesus takes that right away from them. How? It's the wrongs we do that give them that right. So God sent Jesus into a body just like ours to do right all the things we do wrong. So now in Jesus God can't see one single thing that needs doing. In Jesus God the Father says, "Obeyed parent, check. Cleaned room, check. Got along with others, check. Listened in church, check." In Jesus, God is only pleased.
But wait a minute. You said that God said I needed to be punished if I didn't do everything He said. That's right. You should be punished and so should I, but God sent Jesus in person to do that too. God didn't just send Jesus to do right all the things we do wrong. He sent Him to suffer and die for all those wrong things. That's the story we hear in Lent. How Jesus, perfect and holy, is punished anyway because He's taking your place. The Father says, "Disobeyed parent; paid for by Jesus. Didn't clean room, paid for by Jesus. Fought with others, paid for by Jesus. Didn't listen in church, paid for by Jesus." And to prove to you that all your sins are paid for God raises Jesus from the dead on Easter.
You must listen to Jesus. That takes us back to Transformers. In the middle of saving people, when the people are especially afraid, the Transformer will say, "Listen to me." And he is right. He knows how to help. Listen to Jesus in your Baptism where He says I've made you a new person. Listen to Jesus when the pastor forgives the things you do wrong. They really are sent away from you by what he says. Listen to Jesus when He says He gave all of Himself to save you, to rescue you. Listen to Jesus He is even more of a Friend to you then any Transformer has ever been to anyone.
I said I've shaken hands with Transformers a time or two. Never met one I didn't like once I got to know him, once I found out that his power and greatness were here to help me. That's true of Jesus. Once He transforms you into one of His children through Baptism, you have no more trouble with Him and God has no trouble with you in Him. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Transfiguration of our Lord (20140302); Matthew 17: 1-9