Message:  The Critical Transaction

Scripture:   Mark 9:2-13

Date:   November 10, 2013


     Today is a crucial Sunday in the church.   First, it is the official last Sunday of the Church Wide  “Not A Fan” study.  It has been exciting to see how many lives have been touched through this study, as we have wrestled with our relationship with Jesus, and whether or not we are a fan or a follower of Christ.    So today is a day of decision.  And that leads into the second crucial piece of today’s puzzle.   Because this is also Commitment Sunday.  For the last several weeks, as part of the Five Habits of Fruitful Lives and Not A Fan series, we have been studying about, considering and praying about our support of the ministry of Christ’s Church.   This is a crucial time in the church because, quite frankly, in 2013 while ministry surged ahead in to lots of new places, the finances of the church lagged behind.   And we are faced with finishing the year and starting next year with a pretty significant deficit.   If we are going to continue to move forward boldly towards our vision of Jesus Christ In Every Life in the days ahead then the church, and all of us as individuals are going to have to take a major step of faith, and trust God to provide the resources, through us, to do all that he wants and needs  us to do in this community to make disciples for the transformation of lives and the world.   And so this is a big day in the church and before we make our commitments today, I want us to think about some of the basic questions of our faith, and how they relate to the decision that we must all make at some point in our journey:  are we simply going to be a fan of Jesus or are we  going to follow Him wherever he might lead us.   Are we going to be content to stay on the sidelines, cheering on others, or are we going to get in the game?

     E.  Stanley Jones was one of the great missionaries of the 20th Century or any century for that matter.   He was educated at Asbury College and spent much of his adult life as a missionary in India.   He would hold spiritual retreats and he would always begin the same way.  He’d say:  “I have three questions I want you to wrestle with in these next moments.”  And then he’d go on to say:  “The first question is:  Why are you here?   The second question is:  what do you need?  And the third is:  What do you want God to say to you?”    Well it seems to me that those are the questions that we need to be answering as we have come to this Sunday of  decision and Commitment.    In fact, those questions in some form should be on our hearts in everything we do in and as a church.    Every time a committee, or a  Sunday School class meets.   When we gather for worship and Bible Study.  Everything we do in the church  should really begin with those questions.   Why are we here?  What do we need?  What do we want God to say to us?    They are questions that center our hearts and minds on Christ.  They seek to get at the basic elements of our faith.   

     And they aren’t just faith questions.   At work and at home.  At school.   In social situations.  We should be constantly be asking: Why am I here?  What do we need?   What do we want?   In a life that is frequently complicated by a lot of insignificant clutter, those are questions which seek to break things down to simple, yet essential terms.   They reduce life to it’s basic elements.     I can remember that being the common theme in school.   In math, We would reduce things to their lowest common denominator.  In English we would diagram sentences and reduce them to the noun and the verb.  In Chemistry we would do all sorts of things to a compound to try to reduce it to its basic element.    It’s the natural flow of life.   Simplify.   Back to the basics.   Why are you here? What do you need?   What do you want God to say to you?   They are questions that seek to break our faith, which is often so complex and confusing, down to the basics.   It seems to me that as individuals we need to constantly be asking those questions, and when what we are doing with our life doesn’t correspond with how we answer those questions, then perhaps we need to go back to the basics. 

      And I think the same principal applies to businesses and institutions and organizations.  They need to be asking some form of those questions too.   Why are we here?  What do we need?  What do we want?   Understanding the basic product or service is essential to success of any business.   Sometimes that basic product or service is referred to in business circles as the critical transaction.   I like that as a faith concept.     Gordon McDonald is a pastor and author who is now President of Denver Seminary.   In one of his books entitled “Ordering Your Private World” he defined the critical transaction this way: 

(The critical transaction) simply means that there is one single event that all businesses need to have happen that legitimizes or justifies everything else they do.

And then he goes on to talk about how that also applies to churches.   He writes this:

The critical transaction in a church comes the moment someone says:  ‘I want to or need to change.’    A church is meant to be a place where the power of Almighty God can be felt through the strength of the Gospel, but it can only make sense in the heart, in the mind, through the ears of the person who says, ‘I need to change and grow.’   

Why are you here?  What do you need?  What do you want God to say to you?   Here at  St. Luke we express the critical transaction as “Jesus Christ in every life.”    And all of the ministries of the church should trace back to that basic common denominator.   Making disciples, making followers, for Jesus Christ.  As we have been moving through a complete review of all of the ministries of the church as part of our transition to a ministry based budget, the question we have continually asked is:  How does this ministry or program or activity move us toward our vision of Jesus Christ in Every Life?

     So how do the two passages of scripture that were just read point to the critical transaction of the church, to lives that are changed.   Now many of us don’t like to talk about change much.  We’d be just as happy to leave everything the way it is, even if the way it is isn’t very good.   Many of us don’t even like to admit to change.   Perhaps you’re like the man who went to his thirty year college reunion and was talking with his wife and pointed to one of the other men and said:   “It’s amazing how much some people have changed.   See that fellow over there.  Well we were pretty good friends in college.   But I went up to talk with him and he’s gotten so bald and fat, that he didn’t even recognize me.”   I think that one of the reasons why so many aren’t comfortable in the church, is because the church is all about change.   The critical transaction for the church is changed lives.   It is, quite frankly,  a change from living our lives for ourselves to living our lives for God as disciples, as followers, of Jesus Christ.   It is change that will impact everything we do and say and are.   It is change in how we live our lives, and how we give our lives.   And these two passages are all about change.   Both of them take place on the mountaintop where change often takes place in scripture.   But they are very different mountains.   Mark tells of what we have come to call the transfiguration of Jesus.   Now that word transfiguration means change.  Mark tells us that Jesus takes Peter, James and John up to the mountain top with Him.   And while they were there,  they see a vision of Moses and Elijah speaking with Jesus.   And their appearance together frightens the disciples.    But, Mark says, Peter was able to find his voice.  Isn’t it great that we were here to see this?   We’ll build three chapels to honor this moment.    But before construction can begin, God indicates He has other ideas,  and just as He did at Jesus’ baptism, He claims the moment.   This is my beloved son.   Listen to Him.   And when they look around, Elijah and Moses are gone, and as they head back down the mountain, Jesus tells them to not tell anyone what happened on the mountain top.  And as they headed back down, those disciples must have realized that their lives had changed forever.   They went to the mountaintop as fans, but they descended as followers.

     The second story from Luke, also ends up on a mountain, but a very different mountain.  Jesus returns from the days in the wilderness where Satan had spent forty days tempting him to turn from his mission.  And, after resisting the temptations, Jesus has returned to his hometown and on the Sabbath he goes to the synagogue to teach.   And when the time came, He stepped forward and read the scripture proclaiming that the time for the Messiah had come and on that very day, at that very moment, the scripture had been fulfilled in their presence.   And the people, knowing that He was claiming that He was the Messiah they had been waiting for centuries to come, became enraged at what many people considered to be blasphemy.   He may have worked a few miracles, even have a gift of healing, But He’s no Messiah.   He’s just the carpenter’s son.  So they took him up to the mountaintop and are ready to throw Him off,  but Jesus walks through their midst and sets out on the road.  And we don’t know if He ever returned home again.  But we do know that at that moment the world changed forever.  They were different mountains.   One was the stairway to eternity.   The other the threshold of death.  But yet on both the message was a message of change.    Change often takes place on the mountain top.   So often in scripture persons go up to the mountaintop, either literally or figuratively to meet God.   The Psalmist says,  “I lift up my eyes to the hills because that’s where my help is.”  On the mountain top we are changed.   We call the story that Mark gives us the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, but when we encounter Jesus on the mountaintop, He is not the one who is changed, we are.   Whenever we truly encounter Christ,  we are transfigured, we are the ones who are changed.   It is on the mountaintop that we come to that moment of change, transfiguration, critical transaction. But here’s the thing.  For many that moment of change, that moment of critical transaction, only makes us a fan of Jesus.   We like the excitement of that moment and spend the rest of our life trying to replicate that.   “What a great moment this is Jesus.   Seeing you with Moses and Elijah.  Let’s build some monuments so that we can return to the mountaintop and capture this moment and relive it forever.”   For many that’s their attitude about church.   Church is where we first experienced God, and so if we are not careful we build the church as a monument to that moment, and we keep coming back to relive that.   But eventually the excitement of the mountaintop wears off, and so climbing the mountain every week  becomes a chore.   And we start to drift away.   Fans are always looking for the next mountaintop experience, but change on the mountaintop can be fleeting.   Change becomes commitment when we decide to follow Jesus down from the mountain.   In Mark’s story, transfiguration did not truly happen for the disciples until they decided to follow Jesus back down the mountain.   On the mountaintop they were fans, seeking the moment.   It was in the valley that they became followers, seeking lives.    Followers are those who are committed to Jesus no matter where he leads us to go, or what he leads us to do.   Each time I read the story from Luke, I can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t even one who heard what Jesus said and watched what Jesus did, who had the courage to follow him away from the cliff and into the world.   True change comes when we choose to follow Christ no matter where He may lead.   One writer spells it out in no uncertain terms when he says:  Wherever Jesus went, in synagogues and on the hillsides, His message was the same.   He said: “I’ve come to offer you a changed life.  But what I say will not make sense, and you will not hear me, unless you come with a heart that is ready and open, unless you are ready to say, ‘I have a deep need, which only you can meet.”    So, today, on this commitment Sunday, it’s time for each one of us to decide.  Why are you here?  What do you need?  What do you want to hear from God?  

     The sixth chapter of John is all about the critical transaction of faith.   It begins with a great crowd of people, numbering in the thousands, following Jesus to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee because they are anxious to see “miraculous signs performed on the sick.”   And they follow Jesus up the mountainside to hear him teach and witness his miracles.   They are amazed and transfixed.   And when it comes time for a meal, they don’t want to go down from the mountain, and so Jesus arranges for a feast of a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, and when all have eaten their fill, there is a great deal left over.  And the people began to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.   But the next day they follow Jesus back across the lake and they ask Jesus what they must do to receive the living bread that he offers forever.   And that’s when  Jesus tells them about the true cost of following, of committing to be His disciple.  About the price that must be paid in flesh and blood.   

And the fans respond This is a hard teaching.  Who can live up to it.    And then John says:  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 

And so many still do turn back.   Fans aren’t willing to pay the price.   Followers are all in.  And so now we come to the moment of decision.   For the past several weeks we have been focusing on the critical transaction of faith.   This moment of decision.   And these commitment cards reflecting our financial commitments as well as our life commitments, are the reflections of our answer to the question that God has been placing before us in so many ways:   As you come forward today, are you a fan or a follower?  

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