Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"Spiritual Spinach"

Psalm 99

Luke 9:28-43, 46-48

Politically-incorrect as they are now considered, how many of us enjoyed – or still enjoy in

syndication – the old Popeye cartoons?  When we were little, my sister and I would sit on the living

room floor every Saturday morning, eating our Frosty-O’s cereal, and watching the Captain Bob Hour

which featured a bunch of Popeye episodes.  While the story line was always predictable, every epi-

sode had a slightly different twist. 

One time, Popeye was saving his pappy from the Island of the Goons.  Other times, he’d be fighting

his arch-nemesis Bluto, always trying to win the favor of the ne’er-do-well Olive Oyl.  On yet another

occasion, Popeye took on Ali Baba [another of Bluto’s many guises] and the forty thieves.

      One thing which remained constant was that whatever trial or nemesis the crusty sailor faced, he

always came out on top.  But on the way to victory, he always took a terrible beating….until……he got

his spinach.  Spinach alone was the source of Popeye’s strength.  Without it, he was no match for

eight-foot goons, or the 250 pound Bluto, or Ali Baba and the sabers of his forty thieves.  In a sense,

spinach was Popeye’s lifeline. Disconnected from his green, leafy power source, there was not much

Popeye could do against his enemies other than take that terrible beating.

      I would suggest it’s that way for disciples of Christ as well.  Jesus Christ is our lifeline.  Disconnec-

ted from Him, there is not much we as Christians can do in the face of our spiritual Bluto’s.  I would

propose that the sequence of this morning’s Scripture reading vividly illustrates the power source,

and illustrates as well the consequences of becoming disconnected from that power source.

     The episode begins with Jesus moving into what we can assume was an extended time of prayer.

He was accompanied by three of his closest friends.  Especially in the Gospel of Luke, we find Jesus at

prayer a lot.  Jesus connection with His Father in heaven through ardent prayer and meditation was

the source of His power.  Suddenly in the midst of this prayer time, that power – the very power of

Almighty God – manifested itself in what has come to be called “the transfiguration.”  The holy re- 

cord tells us that as Jesus was praying, He was transformed in appearance by the power of God’s full

presence upon Him.  Luke tells us that “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became

dazzling white.  Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him.  They appeared in

glory and were speaking of his departure…..” 

     How might we describe such a scene in terms we might be able to relate to?  Years ago, my cousin

Rita spoke of her experience of seeing the late Liberace at Carnegie Hall.  She described him as

dressed in a white, three-piece suit entirely covered in sequins, sitting at his grand piano, also

entirely covered in sequins.  She said that when what seemed like a hundred floodlights hit him, he

and his piano literally disappeared for the brilliance of those thousands of shimmering mirrors.  She

commented that it hurt her eyes to even look at him.  Multiply this effect by a hundred and perhaps

this would give us some hint of Jesus’ altered appearance.  Standing next to Him in that same glori-

ous light were two great leaders and prophets of Israel – Moses and Elijah – both of whom had been

dead for many centuries.  So we have in the transfiguration a scene of indescribable glory; a moment

in time when God’s power through Christ was made visible in blinding light and the overshadowing

cloud of God’s presence.

      Needless to say, the disciples who bore witness to this vision – Peter, James, and John – were utterly

overwhelmed.I’m sure that at the time, they had no idea what was happening; caught up in this surrealistic event of

unprecedented proportion.In the midst of all this, the only thing Peter could think to say, I suspect in a

quivering voice, was “We’d better pitch some tents for you all to sleep in if we’re going to camp out here.” 

But this was not some celestial slumber party.  God’s voice came thundering out of the overshadowing cloud,

putting the whole awesome event into perspective:  “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  Then

as quickly as this transfiguration began, it ended, with Jesus and His three bewildered friends quietly

standing on top of the mountain.  Dumbfounded, thinking they had just awoke from one whale of a dream,

 “…..they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.”  Can’t say

I blame them.

      In summary, the disciples witnessed a super spectacular event; an event unparalleled before or

since; an event which I believe expressed in visible and audible ways the full glory and the full poten-

cy of Almighty God; the full light of God which is the source of all power for Jesus Christ the Son, and

for all who choose to follow Jesus.  It could be said that the three disciples experienced with their

own eyes and ears the fullness of Christ’s glory and power; a power which would make possible their

own ministries; a source which would supply the spiritual nutrition they would need to be vigorously

and victoriously about the work of the gospel.  Returning to the Popeye analogy, they had found

their spinach which would give them the strength to overcome any spiritual goon, Bluto, or Arabian

thieves they might encounter.  And in the days following Jesus’ ascension into heaven, they

encountered plenty.

      I believe when Luke wrote his gospel, he inserted in the sequence of events following the trans-

figuration examples of what happens when disciples don’t eat their vegetables.  The first event is a

story of frustrated healing.  Early in chapter nine of Luke, Jesus had called the twelve disciples toge-

ther and given them power and authority over all demons and disease, sending them out to preach

and to heal. Their successes were many.  Yet not many days later, the disciples found themselves

powerless to overcome a particular evil spirit which was indwelling a child.  The discouraged father

came to Jesus and asked Him to intervene where the disciples had been unsuccessful.  Notice Jesus’

reply, not to the father of the possessed child, but to His disciples:  “You faithless and perverse

generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?”  It appears that Jesus per-

ceived the failed healing as a sign of malnourished faith.  Perhaps their prayer life had became lax. 

Maybe they were at a spiritual low.  Possibly the demon was too strong.  Then again, maybe the

disciples were becoming a little too full of themselves; a little presumptuous that they were them-

selves the source of their own strength.  And there are few things that can starve faith in Christ faster

than an unhealthy helping of self-pride and self-presumption.

      This unhealthy spiritual attitude seems confirmed by the second event in Luke’s sequence which

was infighting over which of the disciples was the greatest.  They were debating among themselves who

in essence wielded the highest degree of power; who was in a more prestigious position of authority.

Jesus knew what was in their hearts, and He understood how such a prideful posture could quickly

deplete the nutrients the disciples needed to be effective in their efforts.  So Jesus used a child to

illustrate a point.  If one would be called great in the Kingdom, they must have the heart attitude of

a child; void of selfish pride and envious strife; humble, and trusting, and innocent; motives pure. 

Jesus implied that a child’s heart is most closely connected to Jesus’ heart.  So if one wants to be

closely connected to Jesus – to Jesus glory and power – they must become as a child.  “….for the

least among all of you is the greatest.” 

      The transfiguration revealed to Jesus’ three closest disciples the source of power and glory for

those who follow Him.  It comes exclusively from the hand of God the Father through the person of

Jesus the Son.  God’s word “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him” is at the top of the nutrition

pyramid.  If any Christian disciple – then or now – is to have strength, power, and effectiveness in his

or her ministry, their nutritional source of power must be Christ, and no other.  And an ongoing diet

of the iron-enriched, the green and leafy, is of utmost importance.  Otherwise, slow spiritual starva-

tion is inevitable, and every effort becomes weakened and frustrated. 

      So let’s acknowledge the source of our power, strength, and effectiveness as Christian witnesses;

the same power and strength revealed on the mountaintop to Peter, James, and John.  Let’s see to it

that this source of power remains our source of power.  Let’s daily draw near to Christ in childlike

humility and trust, with an appetite for what is good and right.  Let’s live as witnesses and bearers of

God’s glory in Christ.  Let’s eat our spiritual spinach.

Heavenly Father, as Your Christ was transfigured, may we be transformed into His glorious image.

Let us feed upon the food of truth, wisdom, righteousness, and humility, deriving power and

strength to serve You, even far beyond our own.  This we ask in Jesus’ holy name.  Amen.

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102