Exodus 34:29-35, Matthew 17:1-8
February 10, 2013
Last week Harold gave you some thoughts on one of my favorite subjects the subject of encouragement! And I like that he called it a “ministry!” For that it is! I also understand that he took on one of the difficult sides of that subject, the issue of dis-couragement. And I’m very glad about that!
It’s too easy to do that, isn’t it? Its too easy to be dis-couraging literally “to take courage away from” someone. We do that when we use words like can’t or shouldn’t. “You can’t do this or that.” “It won’t work!” We do it when we use the favorite words of Presbyterians, “We’ve never done it that way before.” We used to joke that those were the seven last words of Christ on the cross! We Presbyterians don’t take well to change. We resist it ourselves, and we discourage it in others.
Someone once asked what I thought was a very interesting question. “How long does it take before something goes from ‘We’ve never done it that way’ to ‘We’ve always done it that way.'” The suggestion was that it was seven years!
Discouragement is a bad thing. But there’s another part of discouragement thats even worse. Discouragement’s ugly twin sister is criticism! I don’t know if Harold touched on that one. But that’s a tough one for me personally! And unfortunately we find it in churches! You know what I mean. Somebody works very hard on something, puts their heart and soul into it, and then somebody criticizes it. I hope you see how hugely discouraging that is! Imagine what it would be like if that happened to you! Maybe it has! Maybe you gave your all to some project, you worked a long time on it, and then in the end, someone shot it down. How would that make you feel?
Those two things ought not to be found in churches discouragement and criticism. Instead we should have – instead we should choose to have – encouragement! And I’m glad that Harold called that a ministry! I believe it is an indispensable part of the ministry of the Church. And it’s is a word that’s found all over the New Testament! The word encouragement can even be found in the list of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Encouragement is a ministry! So thank you, Harold.
Today I want to pick up where he left off. And I’ve built this up this way because what I want to talk about is closely related. Today I want us to think about another good New Testament word, the word “edification.” Maybe you know what that means. It comes from the same root as the word “edifice,” which means what? A building. A building is sometimes referred to as an edifice. Did you ever hear that? So edification then is a term that means “to build up.” And that’s an important word for the church, too. We need to build one another up. In I Thessalonians 5:11, Paul said, “Therefore encourage one another and edify one another, just as you are doing.”
Well I’d like to tell you that edification is also a ministry. One author referred it as one of the highest duties a Christian has. But of course it too has an antithesis. Sometimes people do the opposite. Sometimes instead of building one another up, people tear each other down. And again, that ought not happen in a church! But its too easy to do, isn’t it!
So today I want to encourage you(!) to think about “The Ministry of Edification.” I’d like you to think about how and why we build one another up. And I want to think about that in terms of this passage, this story we read today from Matthews Gospel, the story of the Transfiguration.
This was an important event in Jesus ministry. We can read about it in three of the four Gospels. Only John, as we might expect, is silent on this story. (Though he has stories of his own the others don’t have.) The Transfiguration is the story of when Jesus took his closest disciples and went to the mountaintop. And there they saw him transformed before their eyes. His appearance became dazzling, heavenly, supernatural. And they saw with him Moses and Elijah. And, like at his baptism, they heard the voice of God! And God said, “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.”
Do you think they would have remembered those words from before? Do you think they needed to hear them again?! As I look at this story, one thing I’m sure of is that these men needed to be edified! They needed to be built up. They needed a spiritual shot in the arm that would assure them of the validity of their faith and their trust in Jesus. Does that sound like anything we need from time to time? I think you know it is!
The more I read this story, the more I believe that this event took place for the benefit of the disciples! Remember, we asked a question a few weeks ago, a question that was on everybody’s mind. “Who is this man?” Do you remember that? People weren’t sure who this Jesus was! And frankly, neither were his disciples! They needed that assurance. They needed the encouragement in their faith in Jesus. They needed to be build up, to be edified by this event!
And they were! Through the assurance they found in this event, and eventually through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit, they went from being the timid, unsure, sometimes clueless men they were as Jesus disciples, to being the greatest of the leaders of the church in it’s earliest and most traumatic days! That change is so dramatic to me that sometimes I wonder who was transfigured here! These disciples were profoundly changed through this event, almost as much as was the appearance of Jesus!
We need that in our faith, don’t we! Because we aren’t sure sometimes. We aren’t sure who Jesus is, or that God’s power can help us, or that there’s anything more than this life. And we can’t assume everybody around us is doing just fine with those things either. We never know where another person is in their faith. We don’t know if they’re struggling or on the verge of giving up, and a critical word, or an encouraging word, can affect them either way! And the good thing is, as powerful as negativity and criticism can be for the bad, edification can be even more powerful for the good!
So, let me encourage you to be committed to the ministry of Edification! Make that conscious choice. Say to yourself, “I will be encouraging!” “I will be edifying!” Recognize that we all have within us the urge to say that discouraging comment or that critical word. Resist the urge! Turn it around. Be encouraging! Edify one another!
That will make all the difference in your lives. And it will make all the difference in our congregation. Let us commit ourselves to that.
Eternal God, sometimes we are discouraged. And sometimes we see that discouragement in others. And sometimes it’s there and we don’t see it. Help us to build one another up. Help us to point each other to you. Help us to have the strength we need through the encouragement of one another, to be the people you want us to be. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.