2/26/2017 Transformation of Our Lord The text is Matthew 17:1-9.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is the day of Transfiguration and it’s a day which usually slides by without any fanfare. But the day used to be a “big deal” in many churches. The services on this Sunday were filled with extra music, sung by choirs. Guest preachers often were brought in to provide the “special emphasis” for the morning. Members of the congregation provided fancy cookies and other refreshments for the worshippers at a special reception after the service.
But, that was “then.” This is today. And except for the unusually warm temperatures and the music being led by guitar, harmonica and voice, the Transfiguration of our Lord seems like any other Sunday in February. It simply seems to have run out of steam and lost its peculiar character and significance. And that’s sad. For, the Transfiguration marks a turning point in the life of the disciples who witness it, as well as for Jesus whose life is about to come to an untimely and gruesome end in Jerusalem.
Before the Transfiguration, the disciples followed the man Jesus, whom they believed to be a man of God. Only Peter was able to confess that Jesus was the Christ, and Peter really didn’t understand what he was saying. The disciples had been with Jesus for nearly three years. They had watched him do amazing things, like feeding over 5,000 people with a handful of food, raising children from the dead and walking on the waves during a stormy sea. Yet, they still didn’t get it. They still didn’t understand that Jesus was more than a miracle worker with powerful teachings. They, like Abraham and Moses, needed a more spectacular encounter with God in order to have their faith move to a new level. They needed to have the core of their understanding about Jesus shaken so that they could grow in faith, the faith that they would need for their mission and ministry in the world without the presence of Jesus.
We do not know a world with the physical presence of our Lord. Long ago, Jesus ascended into heaven. We only have the written accounts of the miracles and the teachings that the disciples witness first-hand. We only have the living example of faith in people who never walked with Jesus. So, the danger of becoming too comfortable with our own understanding about Jesus and our part in God’s mission and ministry in the world is even greater than it was for those first disciples.
The truth is, most of us could benefit from a little foundation rattling. Just like a baby rattle needs to be shaken in order for it work, we who have become comfortable with what we believe about Jesus and the mission set before us, need to be shaken up a bit in order to be strengthened in faith and participate in the work of the church. We may prefer to sit on the sidelines, to watch, to keep the status quo, so to speak, and to hold onto salvation without personal involvement. We prefer to receive redemption without sacrifice. But, that’s not the road to discipleship.
The story of the transfiguration doesn’t end on the mountaintop. It begins there as Jesus takes Peter and James and John with him as he communes with his heavenly Father. On the peak, apart from distractions, these three men have their eyes opened, and their memory banks loaded with special insight that is to sustain them and the church forever. For, on this day, the true identity of Jesus is revealed to them in a way that shakes their lives to the core. For, right before their very eyes, they see Moses, dead for about 1,300 years, and Elijah, who had been taken into heaven about 800 year before, talking with Jesus. If that were not enough to get the point across to these men, Jesus’ face begins to gleam like the sun and his robes become glistening bright, and the voice of Jesus’ Father becomes audible, radiating from the “bright cloud” that overshadows them. They hear with their very ears, the Father proclaim, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And then, they hear something that may be even more unexpected. They hear the words, “listen to him!”
On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus is raised to his proper level right in front of the disciples and they can no longer deny his divinity. They see his glory, the glory as of the only Son of the Father, and they want to hold onto that vision and contain it and the glory forever. They want to box in the experience. They want to box Jesus in, much in the same way we box in our understanding of God in ways that make us comfortable. But, Jesus cannot be boxed in and neither can faith. It just doesn’t work that way. Faith cannot be contained. Faith is living. It cannot be learned like new math. There is no set number of rules or laws or passages from the Bible that we must know in order to believe and trust in the Lord. Faith is a life-long growth process that involves peaks and valleys, times of great insight and vision and times of rest. And faith grows stronger through God’s word and as God interacts with human experience.
If we are lucky, and if we are quiet enough to listen to the Lord’s directions, we have moments of great insight. We may have some mountain top experiences. But, those experiences only come when we are open to receive them and are willing to have foundations of what we believe rattled and shaken a bit. Just like what the disciples experienced on the Mount of Transfiguration, these experiences can be both frightening and awesome. And yet, like Peter and James and John, we cannot stay on the mountain top or box in what we’ve gained through the experience. For, faith is for living, not sitting down in an easy chair and enjoying the view.
The glory that shown around Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration is but a glimpse of what is in store for the future. It is meant to inspire and to instill hope. It was never meant to be contained. Peter and James and John need to come down the other side of the mountain…come on down in faith and certainty, knowing that Jesus is Lord…come on down and listen and follow where Jesus will lead them – through the valley of the shadow of death, to Jerusalem, to the praetorium, the cross and the grave. The disciples will follow, having no idea where they are being lead. The disciples experience the highest peak, before plunging to the lowest point. For, it will not be until after the resurrection that the disciples will once again remember the mountain top experience with Jesus. It won’t be until after Easter that they will see the experience on the Day of Transfiguration in its true light and they will share what they have seen with others. Before this will happen, the foundations of their faith will be rattled again and again by the events of Holy Week.
My friends, we are no different than Peter and James and John. As with them, life for us is full of peaks and valleys, some of which can shake the very core of what we believe. There will be times of searching and doubt, and times of resurgence in faith. May we trust that the Lord can use what we experience to help us grow in faith and mission. May we look for the Lord in the midst of the rubble or in the light of the revelation that is set before us. For, Jesus will be there to lead us in new directions and empower us for the living of our lives in faith.
Remember, the mountain top is only a stopping point to help us get through the valleys of life. We can’t stay on the mountain top forever. We have to come on down. Come on down, knowing that Jesus is with us, to lead us into lives of faith. Listen to him! Be transfigured by his grace and mercy. Follow his lead through the best and the worst of what is to come and into eternity. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.