“If we can put a man on the moon …” You know that catch phrase right?
When Neil Armstrong hopped off the ladder of the lunar module Eagle and put the first footprint on the surface of the moon on July 20, 1969, the world became a very different place—we could do anything. From that point on, generations of people would point to that event as the pinnacle of human achievement and subsequently wonder why everything isn’t easier by comparison.
If we can put a man on the moon, for example, then why can’t we cure cancer? End world hunger? Make a doughnut that can help us lose weight!
All are worthy, if not apparently impossible, ideas and goals, but we have to remember every “moonshot” vision, as we now know them, began with a dream.
In their book The Moonshot Effect: Disrupting Business as Usual, Lisa Goldman and Kate Purmal define a moonshot goal as “a big idea project that harnesses human aspirations. It’s a turn away from business as usual, and involves new processes, audacious innovation and collaborative teamwork.”
A moonshot goal looks impossible on the surface, but determined people with a clear vision can make what seems impossible become a reality.
In our text for today, the transfiguration of Jesus, we see God’s moonshot vision presented—a vision that is imaginative and inspiring, an idea that seems impossible, but has been a dream for many. It’s a vision that will make the world a very different place.
The disciples didn’t seem all that interested in going to the moon, but that didn’t stop them from having moonshot ideas. After all, they had left behind their families and careers to follow an itinerant rabbi because they were compelled by his vision of the Kingdom of God.
For first-century Jews, that vision was not the peaceable kingdom of Isaiah, but the social justice of Amos, Joel, and Micah. It was gritty and political. For many of them, moonshot visioning was the thought that someday their Roman occupiers would be overthrown, God’s anointed king and messiah set on the throne, and God’s presence returned to the temple.
It was a vision of freedom from oppression with peace and security for all. It seemed like an impossibility given the number of Roman spears and warhorses that patrolled the roads and streets, but there was this Jesus who seemed to fit the mold of the kind of leader who could make it happen. He had performed amazing miracles, drawn huge crowds and become fairly popular with the people. Maybe he was the one who could shoot the moon, and make their dreams a reality.
Well it didn’t take long for Jesus to disabuse them of that notion. His vision of the kingdom and how it would come to be was quite different than theirs. No army. No weapons. No fighting. No coup. Just loving your neighbor as yourself.
With this in mind, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, and Peter answered explicitly, “The Messiah of God.” Implicitly he was saying, “…who will raise up an army and lead a coup to drive out the Romans.”
Jesus, however, would define the Messiah’s mission in much different terms than Peter and the disciples could have imagined. Before being fitted for a crown, Jesus would embrace a cross, which was for these dreamers, an unimaginable scenario.
Now fast forward eight days later. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on a mountain for a staff retreat.
The little detail of “eight days” indicates it was a new week, which biblically speaking, is a sign that something new is about to happen. It’s on this unnamed mountain that Jesus gives his ultimate moonshot idea by revealing his heavenly glory.
While Jesus was praying, his face and clothes were transformed into a kind of heavenly brilliance, an image that recalls a similar account of Moses’ meeting with God on Mount Sinai where Moses’ face became so brilliant he had to cover it with a veil.
In Luke’s account, Moses is not only mentioned, but he actually shows up, along with the prophet Elijah, to converse with the glorified Jesus. The disciples knew it was Moses and Elijah not because of any Facebook or Instagram postings, but because they knew their Scriptures.
In Deuteronomy, Moses died and was buried by God before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, but some traditions say Moses didn’t died and, like the prophet Elijah, was simply taken up into heaven. This made many believe Moses and Elijah would someday return as forerunners of the Messiah.
Therefore, if Jesus was the real Messiah, as Peter had stated, then it made sense that these two glorious figures, representing the Law and the Prophets, should appear beside Jesus in his glory. But the key here is not the appearance of the two towering figures of the Old Testament, but the conversation. Luke says they were speaking of Jesus’ “departure” which would soon to take place in Jerusalem.
The Greek word for “departure” is “exodus,” which puts Jesus’ mission into the larger context of the biblical story.
In the days of Moses, the Israelites were set free from slavery in Egypt— a moonshot vision for which they had prayed some 400 years. Their freedom was signified and subsequently remembered by the Passover meal and the blood of the sacrificed lamb that saved them from death and pointed the way to new life and a promised land.
Now, Jesus was about to initiate a new exodus, but this exodus would deliver all of humanity from the enslaving power of sin and death itself. That deliverance would require a new Passover and a new once-and-for-all sacrifice as Jesus himself became the Paschal Lamb.
This was Jesus’ moonshot vision: the salvation of the whole world.
The sleepy disciples saw most of this dazzling vision, but it still didn’t sink in that Jesus was more than they imagined and his mission more comprehensive than a political coup.
Peter piped up with an idea: “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter’s construction plan essentially put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah, which shows he still didn’t get who Jesus was. It took God’s own voice to set Peter straight: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
It’s a moment that reminds us of God’s voice at Jesus’ baptism, the voice that says this is not just another prophet. He is preeminent— not over and against the Law and the Prophets but as the one who interprets and fulfills them. He is the ultimate fulfillment of the covenant promises God made to Adam, to Abraham, to Moses and to David, and the one through whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed.
It’s the ultimate moonshot vision, but one that will be accomplished by the very God who put the moon there in the first place.
But it’s not just a moonshot vision that we admire as a historical reality. Like any great moonshot, its value is found in the aftereffect. To know that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again reminds us that anything is possible. We are followers of the one who has beaten sin and death and given us the freedom not only to imagine God’s kingdom of ultimate peace, redemption and renewal, but to begin living it out in the present.
When we look at the world as it currently is, with its constant cycle of bad news and what seems to be an increasingly broken way of life, we can remember this is not the way things will always be. We live and work in the present in light of the future made possible by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
To that end, Jesus invites us to dream of our own moonshot visions for the places we live and serve. Often we have dreams, ideas and goals that are too small and too easily attainable— goals that look good on a stat sheet. Jesus, however, invites us to dream of the transformation of the world and the community around us.
Business leaders Scott Anthony and Mark Johnson argue that any good moonshot idea has at least three characteristics:
First, it inspires. It’s the kind of goal that makes people sit up and pay attention and helps them imagine a different sort of future.
Second, it’s credible. It’s an idea, a goal that, while a stretch, has a realistic potential for success—and in our case, especially if God is involved.
And third, it’s imaginative. It’s the kind of goal that offers a meaningful break from the past in order to embrace a new future.
Moonshot visions are often scoffed at by some—always have been and always will be.
But thank God those with moonshot visions that changed the world never listened to those scoffers.
So what kinds of moonshot visions do we have for the church?
What kind of moonshot visions do we have for us as followers of Christ?
What can we imagine for our communities if the living Christ began to run loose in the lives of people?
Now, yes, a transfiguration experience empowered by moonshot visioning may take some cross bearing, sacrifice and commitment to make it happen. But we follow the ultimate visionary leader who promises to be with us always and offers us the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is critical for us to have in our minds as we take this Lenten walk with Jesus—where we aim to “put on Jesus” so that we might reflect him in all we say and do.
So just as Lent is a season to turn back and right ourselves toward God’s vision, let us do some moonshot visioning with God as well.
What might we do—that is audacious and transformative—that could end up making our community, our world, look like a very different place?
Because when we follow Jesus, when we walk with him and aim to put him on, there is no moonshot too imaginative, too daring, too audacious for us to consider.
So if people can put a man on the moon, what can we and God do together? Amen.
Holy God you are the Creator who calls forth light out of dimness. You are the One who restores the earth after the flood. You are the One who hears the cries of your children and responds with goodness and mercy. You are the One who makes all things new.
All of this is why you invite us to return to you again and again, most especially here in this season of Lent.
Creator God, we confess we have betrayed the Good News by turning inward, serving ourselves first. We have not taken up our cross and we have been too quick to build up worldly possessions for ourselves.
Forgive us for not helping to reveal Christ to the world. Forgive us for not living into Christ’s example and serving those in need before serving ourselves.
Forgive us then draw us back to the way of Christ, so that we might know the how near his grace and mercy and love are—waiting to be received again, waiting to be shared again.
Help us in this season of Lent to not just turn around and go a better way, but to truly put on Jesus and live in the Spirit of our baptisms, even when we are led into the wild and hard places of life.
Reveal to us again the ways of repentance and trust when we give ourselves to you with fasting and prayer.
Yes, the struggle of turning from and overcoming the lost ways of this world is real, and often overwhelming. It seems impossible. So may you show us again that when enfolded in your lasting love, inspired by the works of Jesus, and equipped by the Holy Spirit, we can partner with you and change the world for the better.
Hear now we ask, the prayers we need to share with you in this time of Holy Silence.
All this we pray in the name of the one who we walk with today, all the way to the Cross, Christ Jesus our Savior, who taught us to pray saying, “Our…”