Sermons from San Diego

Don't Just Do Something

March 10, 2024 Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ Season 3 Episode 9
Don't Just Do Something
Sermons from San Diego
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Sermons from San Diego
Don't Just Do Something
Mar 10, 2024 Season 3 Episode 9
Mission Hills UCC - United Church of Christ

Read Matthew 17: 1-9.  Peter wasn't sure how to respond to something that couldn't be explained - the way Jesus had been transformed right in front of his face.  So he proposed something to do.

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Show Notes Transcript

Read Matthew 17: 1-9.  Peter wasn't sure how to respond to something that couldn't be explained - the way Jesus had been transformed right in front of his face.  So he proposed something to do.

If this sermon was meaningful to you, learn more about the rest of our church at You are invited to support the ministry of Mission Hills United Church of Christ with a one time or recurring contribution -

Sermons from Mission Hills UCC

San Diego, California


Rev. Dr. David Bahr


March 10, 2024


“Don’t Just Do Something”


Matthew 17: 1-9 – Common English Bible

Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain. 2 He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.

3 Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

5 While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” 6 Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe.

7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One[a] is raised from the dead.”



Who One cold winter morning, the matriarch of a small New England church was nervous when she came to worship.  Not that the sidewalks might be icy or that the boiler might not have kicked in overnight to warm the sanctuary.  Betty was anxious because it was the first Sunday with their new pastor.  It wasn’t a Congregational Church, so she had had no say in the pastor assigned to them.  She and many others in her coffee klatch traded rumors that this pastor had been a troublemaker in the past and might try to shake things up.  But by the end of the service, Betty was reassured.  As she grasped the hand of the new pastor, Betty told her that all her fears had been relieved.  “I listened carefully to your sermon and I am so happy.  You were wonderful!  You didn’t say a thing!” [1]

 In contrast, a white pastor in 1960s Alabama, inspired by the civil rights movement, began preaching about issues of race, every week, preaching from such passages as Ephesians, “in Christ’s flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”  One by one, he preached the church down to just a handful of people.  He then remarked, “Good.  Now we can become a Christian church.”
In seminary we were told that we should “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  Among your group of peers, freshly called to ministry, that sounds fun and exciting – in practice, it’s a little scary.  But, in case Peter thought his call to follow Jesus would be an exciting fun-filled adventure, Jesus afflicted him with some uncomfortable clarity.
The text today begins by saying “six days later.”  Later than what?  We talked about this last week.  Jesus asked his disciples, who do people say that I am.  And then he turned to Peter and asked, who do you say that I am.  “You are the Christ, the Messiah, Son of the Living God.”  Jesus told Peter, “You are right,” and then told everyone not to tell anyone.  And then Jesus began to share that soon they would go to Jerusalem where he would suffer many things, be killed and raised on the third day.  Peter took hold of Jesus and began to rebuke him.  “This must not happen!”  But Jesus then rebuked Peter, “Get behind me, Satan,” and went on to explain what kind of Messiah he was.  Not someone who would ride in on a white horse and crush enemies and proclaim retribution.  Jesus very patiently described the call of a disciple to this kind of Messiah – “Pick up your cross.  What good is it to gain the whole world but lose your lives?”


And then, six days later, they climbed to the top of a very high mountain.  Six days after Peter’s “you’re the messiah!” and Jesus’ response that “I’m not the kind of messiah you might be expecting…” that’s when something extraordinary happened.  In the Common English Bible, it says, Jesus was transformed right in front of them.  It’s also known as the transfiguration of Jesus.


Transfiguration is one of those odd words only used in the church.  Eugene Peterson tries to describe the indescribable as “His appearance changed from the inside out.  Sunlight poured from his face.  His clothes were filled with light.”  Something happened, but what was its purpose?
Throughout Matthew’s gospel, he tried to link Jesus as the new Moses.  “Up a high mountain” is just one example.  And it’s where Jesus too encountered the magnificent light of God’s presence.  This time with Elijah was there too.  Why?  According to Matthew, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, represented by Moses and Elijah.  

So again, six days earlier, Peter declared Jesus the Messiah, as well as the Son of the Living God.  And now God’s voice is heard saying exactly that.  “Listen to my Son.  My beloved.”  It was the same voice heard at his baptism, at the start of his ministry, and now again to start his descent to death – to Jerusalem and his betrayal and crucifixion. 
 OK, so there’s a lot of symbolism going on in this text.  Enough that we may we start to ask, “so what?”  So, if I’ve lost you with all of this background and context, you can come back now because I want to talk about what we do with this text.  What is Peter’s response to all of this? 


My father’s mother rarely smiled.  She rarely, or perhaps never, hugged anyone – including my dad.  Here’s my most vivid memory of her:  We were visiting her when I was about 6 or 7 years old and I told my mom I was hungry.  Grandma Bahr brought me to the kitchen and handed me a black banana.  The kind that is so ripe that it squishes in your hands.  I looked at it suspiciously and she screamed “Eat it!!!”  I cried and looked at my mother and she just shrugged her shoulders.  No doubt being her daughter-in-law wouldn’t have been easy.  Anyway, one of Grandma Bahr’s warm and fuzzy sayings was:  “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Meaning, “Don’t just stand there.  Do something!”  Well, maybe Peter had someone like that in his life too, so he naturally tried to think of something to do.  So, let’s build something!

Various translations of the specific word Peter used for his “let’s build something” idea include dwellings, booths, shrines, tabernacles, shelters, and more.  Just like translators have a difficult time describing exactly what happened to Jesus on the mountain, they have a difficult time describing what exactly Peter was suggesting they build.  But whatever exactly it was, it was to do something.  Perhaps it was a shrine to memorialize the moment up there.  Another interpretation puts the emphasis on “let’s build something up here,” like a shelter or dwelling, stay here so we don’t have to go to Jerusalem – avoid all that conflict. 

 But before Jesus could reply to such an idea, that voice from heaven intervened and said, “Listen to him.”  Or, here is my translation of this verse:  “Don’t just do something.  Stand there!”
How does that phrase make you feel?  “Don’t just do something.  Stand there!”  For all of us who are too busy, overprogrammed, driving our children across town from a soccer game to a piano lesson, continuously checking our emails, responding to texts, burdened with too much homework, busier in retirement than ever before – that sounds good.  A relief.  “Don’t just do something.  Stand there!”  


It sounds comforting.  Comfort for the burned out.  Comfort for the broken down.  Comfort for the afflicted.  But some church folks, like Betty, our matriarch from New England, not to pick on her, they don’t want that comfort interrupted, to be afflicted by hearing about the needs of the world.  What happens when the mission of the church is “don’t just do something, sit there?”  


I’m in a group of preachers that get together every quarter to discuss worship and improve our craft of preaching.  Our conversation on Thursday turned to a discussion on preaching for the next six months leading to the presidential election.  The whole country is weary of the idea that we have to repeat the last one, which will only harden the divide among the people of our country.  What affect will this have on our preaching?  Do we just ignore it in order to comfort all of us feeling afflicted?  Do we accept the status quo?  Turn a blind eye to suffering?  Do we not challenge the voices tearing us apart?


Yesterday, Franklin Graham came to town on his so-called God Loves You campaign promoting something his father Billy warned again.  You may have heard the term christian nationalism.  Christian nationalists believe that the United States was founded to be a Christian nation – despite the clear intentions of our founders not to establish a state church.  Many were seeking freedom from persecution by state churches in their home countries.  But that lie only stands as the foundation on which to proclaim that therefore, only Christians should control the government – from school boards to the presidency, and only according to their own very narrow view of the Bible.  By all means necessary, they seek to dominate, coerce, and control the people of our nation because, in their view, that’s what God wants.  One race over the others.  One gender over the others.  One religion over the others.  A religion at complete odds with the teaching of Jesus.  But actually, it’s not a religion at all but a wolf in sheep’s clothing.


Some members of our church and I along with other UCC pastors and many more went to Chula Vista yesterday to learn more and begin to counter the voices like Franklin Graham and the “christian nationalist” movement.  It is not the voice of Christianity.  And not only do they counter the ideals of democracy, they are further damaging churches, frightening, repelling those who want nothing to do with this vision of America thinking that all Christians share a desire to suppress the rights and freedoms of women and queer people and People of Color, of Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Buddhists, Hindus, wiccans, and everyone outside their narrative.  A narrative that people with brown and black skin represent an existential threat to the country, not that all together we represent the promise of our country.  Jesus said, “bring all to me who are weary, and I will give them rest.”


The transfiguration, or the transformation, of Jesus on that high mountain teaches us to, first of all, stop – stand there or sit down and listen, listen to my son, my beloved, not just do something.  But then, we do have to come back down from the mountain.  Jesus taught the disciples that we can’t avoid the difficult challenges waiting ahead, like those he would face in Jerusalem.  It’s not that Jesus was seeking out conflict, but only by doing something can we redeem hate and bring forth love; we can’t follow him but avoid Jerusalem.  Only by doing something can we redeem hate and bring forth love.  To bring peace among divided people we must address what divides us.  


That’s how we bring divided Christians together, the hope found in Ephesians, chapter 2:  “Christ tore down the wall we used to keep each other at a distance. He repealed the code that had become so clogged with fine print and footnotes that it hindered more than it helped. Then he started over. Instead of continuing with two groups of people separated by centuries of animosity and suspicion, he created a new kind of human being, a fresh start for everybody.”  That sounds beautiful and like a lot of work.


It all starts in relationship, and so, during the season between Easter and Pentecost, we are going to get to know each other better by learning and practicing the skills of listening – 1 on 1 with each other.  Everyone who wants to participate will gather after worship every Sunday in April and early May, to deepen our relationships and grow in our faith.  And those who want to, will continue to listen deeply to our neighbors and family among whom walls divide us as we search for unity.


But first, don’t just do something, stand there.  Listen.  And then, don’t just stand there, don’t just sit around, do something!  That might make my grandma proud, though she’d never let on by cracking a smile.


[1] Adapted from Will Willimon