Preached by Rev. Gary Dalton, February 26, 2017
Scripture: Matthew 17: 1-9
“The MoJo of Jesus”…what in the world could that possibly be? Well, let’s first consider how “mojo” is generally described.
Executive coach Marshall Goldsmith describes mojo as “that positive spirit—toward what we are doing—now—that starts from the inside—and radiates to the outside.”1
He says that “Our Mojo is apparent [to others] when the positive feelings toward what we are doing are coming from inside us and are evident for others to see.”
Goldsmith’s description captured my attention: Mojo—that positive spirit that radiates so others can see it. I read Goldsmith’s words about the same time that I was first reading this Scripture, anticipating this Sunday.
This Sunday in the Christian year we call “Transfiguration Sunday”. It’s our annual remembrance of this moment in our Lord’s life, when he takes Peter, James, and John up on this mountain and there, as Matthew describes it, “… he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.” (verse 2).
The word Matthew uses there for transfigured you’ll recognize; it’s the word “metamorpho-o”. We usually learn that word in elementary school when it comes to caterpillars and butterflies: the seemingly magical process where a yucky caterpillar spins its way into a grayish, boring pod, where it then appears to sit inert and dead. Then one day, out comes a beautiful winged creature called a “butterfly”. It’s the process of metamorphosis.
Same word as Matthew uses here: Jesus was metamorphosed in a way that expressed an inner reality that normally was not apparent to the physical eyes of the disciples, as though his mortal body were the cocoon and his inner spiritual self was the butterfly.
The transfiguration of this mortal, Jesus, the rabbi from Nazareth: his face, now says Matthew, turning into a visage of brilliant, radiant light like the sun’s own brightness. Apparently, his body was shining this same light causing his clothing to turn an incandescent white like the filament of a light bulb.
I thought of Matthew’s description of Jesus’ transfigured body and Goldsmith’s description of Mojo as “positive spirit…that starts from the inside—and radiates to the outside….evident for others to see”.
That’s it, isn’t it? The Transfiguration of Jesus was the MoJo of Jesus made plain. But, again, then, what exactly was this Mojo of Jesus?
People speculate that the Transfiguration was Jesus’ divinity spilling out of him, like water getting squished out of a wet sponge. A sponge can be quite wet even if it’s not dripping wet, but give it a squeeze and out the water squirts through all those pores.
Was the Transfiguration that? Was Jesus’ mojo his supernatural essence, superseding his mortal flesh? Was Jesus like some amazing supernatural burrito, flesh enwrapping a divine filling? Thankfully, the early church rejected such a simplistic understanding of Jesus, as though he existed in two neatly separated parts, body and spirit.
Well, what was the Transfiguration, then, if it wasn’t the divine nature of Eternal Christ shining out through the pores of the mortal flesh of Jesus? I’ll tell you what it was: it was the MoJo of Jesus showing through, that’s what it was. And it’s to be our Mojo, too.
I would define the MoJo of Jesus this way: it is Jesus’ “Moment of Joy On-Going”. I know it’s kind of corny, you know, “M-o, J-O…Moment of Joy On-Going”, but for Jesus, I think that’s it: Jesus’ MoJo was that he knew, he experienced, he felt in his inner most self, God’s joy in him and his joy returned to God. That was what was radiated from him there on that mountaintop.
Before you pooh-pooh that claim, go watch children at play when they don’t know they’re being watched. It’s sheer joy wiggling out their bodies. Go watch two people very much in love looking into one another’s faces when they don’t know they’re being watched. Their faces glow in the pleasure each finds in the other. Go watch a grandparent being all goo-gooey with their grandchildren. They glow with delight in the children of their children.
You can’t separate the two…the emotion of joy and the physiology of joy.
Physicists describe four fundamental interactive forces at work in the universe. There’s gravity, there’s electromagnetism, and there’s two others called “strong nuclear” force and “weak nuclear” force. These four invisible forces interact with matter from the sub-atomic to the intergalactic. You and I would not be what we are except as these four forces interact with the stuff that is us.
There is, though, a fifth fundamental interactive force at work in this material universe. You all know it. It is love. Love, plain and simple. You can’t quantify love, you can’t hold on to it, and yet love interacts with every bit of matter, because there is no bit of matter in this universe that can be shielded from the presence of its Creator and Sustainer, God. Even God cannot be separated from the interactive force of love because God is love itself, says the Scripture. 1 John 4:8 says, “The one who does not love does not know God for God is love.”
And I would argue that the prime evidence of love’s presence is joy. Joy, as in delight: exuberant and radiating at its best, though subtle when required. But whether shining brilliantly without reservation or contained out of the wisdom of necessity, God who is love delights in every bit of God’s creation, and we humans are the fortunate ones whom God created to understand and to mirror that love as we delight in God.
It is a joyful moment when a person glimpses the love with which God delights in him or her. It’s like nothing else in this created order because its source lies not within creation; it originates within our Creator. If we in our lifetimes get but a single glimpse or two of God’s joy in us, it is enough to propel us into ecstasy.
Consider, then, Jesus, who never allowed anything to dim that joy in his own experience. Whatever he had to surrender, whatever sacrifice, he made for his ultimate joy in God. Jesus knew that Moment of Joy On-going.
That’s the limitation on Goldsmith’s description of Mojo. His description I think is a good one, but it’s self-limiting because it’s entirely self-referencing. Goldsmith’s Mojo: “that positive spirit—toward what we are doing—now—that starts from the inside—and radiates to the outside.”
Yes, it’s our task of maturing, to grow up to become a person who knows who we are in our values and our aspirations and to live with integrity according to our values and our aspirations.
But, there is so much more to life than living with integrity to ourselves; it’s our living with integrity to God. It is the intentional living in the ever-present experience of God’s love because God is the overriding joy in our lives. Whatever threatens to divest us of that joy of God, whatever lesser source of joy presents itself in distraction or betrayal from our joy in God, we turn away from it. That’s the meaning of repentance.
Jesus, this child of Mary and Joseph did that, over and over, as his growing years challenged him in all the ways our growing years challenge us, challenging Jesus to dampen the joy of God within him. Yet, he persisted where we all failed, and that divine joy continued in Jesus undiminished and growing.
Into his young adulthood, Jesus chose the joy of God, moment by moment until that moment he realized he could not remain there in Nazareth as the dutiful son of Mary; he could not remain in his father’s service as the dutiful apprentice to Joseph’s craft; he was more God’s Son than he was their son.
Here, in this moment of Jesus’ transfiguration, God calls on Peter, James, and John, in verse 5: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” God speaks now of Jesus on this day of Transfiguration just as God spoke on that earlier day by the shores of the River Jordan, as Jesus came up from the water at his baptism, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17)
Jesus knew God’s delight not as a proposition written on a page and memorized in his head. Jesus knew God’s great pleasure not as a fleeting feeling of euphoria. Jesus knew God’s delight in him as one, constant moment drawn through every moment of his mortal life: this Moment of Divine Joy On-Going.
It was this Mojo of Jesus that kept him on-track and going despite everything else that could have tripped him up in the clutter of life and despite the abuse that stripped away at his humanity.
That, indeed, is where Jesus now finds himself. Jesus can see where it’s all headed as he heads for Jerusalem. To continue true to God, to keep on bearing witness of God who is love, will bring his death. Jesus knows he is about to have his dignity, literally his flesh, stripped off of him. But, he keeps on going up to Jerusalem. How? Why? Because of the abiding presence of joy he knew in God’s love. There is now nothing left for him to deny or surrender; all that is left is the pure joy of God radiating from within him.
Interpreters of this passage typically say this experience of transfiguration and the appearance of Moses and Elijah at Jesus’ side in conversation with him…this is all about strengthening Jesus for the trial he is about to endure. No doubt, that is true. But, it is not only for Jesus’ benefit; it is also very much for the benefit of Peter, James, and John. Through their later witness, it will be for the encouragement of all of Jesus’ followers. Jesus knew, they all would need this vivid reminder of Jesus’ own joy as they also experienced the demands of the cross.
See how Matthew introduces the Transfiguration? Verse 1, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain apart.” Six days after what? What’s the reference point there for Matthew’s first readers? Six days after what?
Six days after Jesus has told them about their own crosses. As Matthew records in chapter 16, beginning with verse 24, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?”
Will they cling to all the stuff of this world, or will they falter under the load of abuse that must come their way? Or, will they leave all that aside in order to cling to the Jesus who is their joy?
Matt Paxton is a member of the Richmond church where I served as interim pastor before coming to serve here with you. You may not know Matt’s name, but you probably do know something about what he does for a living. Matt worked up until very recently for the A&E cable channel show, “Hoarders”.
Matt Paxton and his crew are the men and women who actually come in and haul out the stuff until the house or the apartment are empty, and then they do the final cleaning so the person can move back in.
Before he removes the first thing, Matt says he goes in and talks with the obsessive hoarder about all the possessions and the meaning those things have for him or her. He tries to help them do a kind of mental and emotional sorting through of their things. Matt assures them he’s not there to rob them or deprive them. When he’s satisfied that the owner understands his purpose, then Matt and his crew don their protective gear and get to work.
That profound mental illness that culminates in a literally life-threatening clutter is the extremity of what Jesus reasons with his followers, “what will it profit any of you if you gain all the stuff of this world only to forfeit your lives?” (chapter 16:26) Why surrender your ultimate joy, Jesus was challenging his followers, choose God’s Moment of Joy On-Going for themselves at whatever the cost.
What’s that kind of MoJo look like? It looks like a metamorphosis happening in your life; it looks like a transfiguration.
Do you each know just how much God delights in you? Do you grasp what pleasure your life brings to God? Can you say, without embarrassment, without self-censoring, without self-reproach, “God rejoices in me. God who is love, loves me.”
Not in theory, mind you; not hinging on some if, and, or but. The love of God penetrates through the darkness of the Universe, pierces through the cloud cover of earth’s atmosphere, ranges far and wide across the landscape until coming to rest right on you and, there, God’s love having found you, God smiles with a smile only you can bring to God. If you understand that reality, if that is your experience, how could you not radiate like a hot neon light glowing in the darkness too much in this world?
God’s love is not for you to earn; it is present for you to receive. The Spirit of the Resurrected Lord Jesus, the Christ, continues to make that experience real. That’s some kind of MoJo to have at work in you and at work through you.
1 Marshall Goldsmith, Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, and How to Get It Back When You Need It, (NY: Hyperion, 2009), p.5.