Crash and Burn
When my son Joel was young, he used to be fascinated by Youtube videos of crashes.
His favorite was a compilation of car, plane and motorbike collisions called “Crash and Burn.” The collisions were impressive and some were indeed fiery.
It turns out there people are pretty good a crashing vehicles—there were some spectacular failures. I think that “Crash and Burn” could be the title to our Gospel lesson today.
At first glance, this title might seem out of place. After all, Peter, James and John were invited up the holy mountain with Jesus. While Jesus was praying, they had a mystical experience. They saw the greats of the faith, Moses and Elijah, having a conversation with Jesus. Jesus turned dazzlingly bright, and they heard the voice of God. Seeing Jesus in all God’s glory was pretty much a once in a lifetime experience--a true high. But the disciples didn’t understand what it was all about. Peter stuck his foot in his mouth in a big way.
Upon seeing Moses and Elijah, he blurted out: “Lord, it is good to be here. Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Elijah and one for Moses.” Peter wanted to make a big Mount Rushmore so that the moment could be preserved. But the vision of Jesus with Elijah and Moses wasn’t about permanence—It was a momentary revelation of who Jesus was, Messiah and Lord. God himself rebukes Peter, interrupting his chatter with:
“This is my son, the chosen; listen to him!” It was so terrifying that the three disciples fell to ground with fear. Not a great performance for a once in a lifetime experience—more like a crash.
Throughout the gospel of Matthew, the disciples’ make mistakes. They were in denial when Jesus predicts his death They argued about who was the greatest disciple, they all ran away when Jesus was arrested. Talk about crash and burn—when it really counted, the disciples blew it. Jesus had reason to be pretty disappointed with his disciples.
He had chosen them to train them up to take over after he was gone; He took them up the mountain to share with them his glory. But they didn’t look like promising successors.
And yet Jesus didn’t trade the disciples in like a hand of cards. When they were cowering on the ground in abject terror at the voice of God, Jesus went to them and touched them.
He didn’t rebuke them, but instead said “Get up and do not be afraid” Jesus offered comfort and then sent the disciples back down the mountain. It’s like that with all of us.
Once upon a time we all had great aspirations, we were full of potential We saw that mountaintop, and we were certain that we were gonna get there. But along the way we made errors, we’ve taken falls we have crashed and burned so many times we can’t even see that mountain anymore. Amid the wreckage of our lives, we are broken and we wonder if we’ll ever travel again. But despite our weakness and failure, God hasn’t traded us in.
He reached out and touches us. He gives us words of strength and comfort, and sends us on our way. Because like the disciples of old, we modern day disciples have to grow into our calling. Peter recalled this moment of the transfiguration in his second letter,
Which we read today in the epistle lesson. Surely he remembered his great faux pas, but that is not what he writes about. Instead he talks about how God confirmed what he already knew to be true: That Jesus is God’s Son, God’s beloved, living among us now.
This is no longer a story about Peter’s great humiliation It is a story about God’s shining moment. And Peter is no longer the center of the story: Jesus is.
That’s what it means to be a disciple. To take one’s ego far enough out of the picture to realize that isn’t about how good we are It isn’t about whether we crash and burn or shine with the brilliance of the sun. It is about what God is doing in and through us And if God can use some no count fisherman from the backwaters of the Roman Empire 2000 years ago
Then God can pretty much work with whomever God chooses-Including you and me.
The transfiguration story sets up a huge contrast-God’s unbelievable glory paired side by side with the disciples’ bumbling mistakes. But there is something beautiful in this picture.
Though Peter is wrong headed, Jesus still stuck with him. Even though the disciples abandon and deny Jesus, he still works on them. Their mistakes turn into openings for Jesus to teach them and transform them. Perhaps its time for a new story line--
One that doesn’t end taking the car out of the race. Perhaps the storyline is this:
Yes, there are crashes, there are big wrecks But that’s where God’s grace comes in.
You see, God’s glory isn’t found in some pristine place with perfect people But with bumblers and broken people. Our crashes break us open for God get in there and remake us.
Jesus’ crucifixion was the biggest crash of all, and God’s greatest work Because in it we all are claimed and put back together. Friends, there isn’t a person here who hasn’t made some mess of their lives. Each of us has crashed and burned. But those flames shine like gold, full of God’s grace and glory And when we look back on it, may we have the faith to say with Peter, We have the message more fully confirmed. Jesus claims us, and God works through us, crashes and all.