2/23/2020 Transfiguration of Our Lord The text is Matthew 17: 1-9.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, our rock and our Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The definition of ‘Transfigure’ according to Webster: ‘to give a new, typically exalted or spiritual appearance’. Or: ‘to transform outwardly and usually for the better’. For our purposes, the lesson we should take from this definition of ‘transfiguration’, is that it refers to the exterior change that’s apparent when something or someone is transformed, or changed in some way. Also, the adjectives ‘exalted’ and ‘spiritual’ obviously come into play, when considering the shining of Moses’ face when he brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain of God; and the dazzling glow emanating from Jesus on the mountain this morning.
I’d like us to keep these terms in mind and we’ll come back to them in a bit; but first let’s take a look at the several complex layers within this morning’s readings.
The great majority of Christian denominations use the same common lectionary, so in churches all over the world today, sermons are being preached about the ‘Transfiguration of our Lord’. And in preparation, preachers will have utilized the several tools available to them to help determine the direction of the message they’re striving to share. These include some pretty fancy terms. ‘Exegesis’, spelled ‘e.x.e.g.e.s.i.s.’, not ‘J.e.s.u.s.’. This is the study of scripture taking into account the meaning behind the words, with respect to the historical, cultural, social, and political realities of the time. Another is ‘hermeneutics’, which refers to the interpretation of text though a specific lens or point of view. For Lutherans, that lens is defined by how scripture reflects the divinity, mission, and ministry of Jesus Christ. Everything in Scripture points to Jesus.
Using these and other tools, much will be said this morning concerning the multi-layered relationships that exist between those we read about in today’s texts; Moses, Jesus, the disciples on the mountain. Here are a few examples of the connections highlighted in the readings:
-Moses’ face glowed after he spoke with God when receiving the Commandments. Jesus’ appearance also changed and he became dazzling white on the mountaintop. Both of these events reveal the glory of God.
-Moses and Elijah appear on the mountain with Jesus. It’s generally accepted that Moses represents the Jewish Law, while Elijah symbolizes the Old Testament prophets.
– After the voice of God speaks from the cloud, Moses and Elijah are gone; Jesus stands alone. This signifies that the old covenant that God made with the Jews, symbolized by the Law and the prophets, (Moses and Elijah), has been replaced through the incarnation of Christ, God’s own Son.
-At Jesus’ baptism by his cousin John, God’s voice speaks from the heavens, proclaiming that the Father is pleased with Jesus. On the mountain this morning God again speaks from above, telling the disciples to listen to Jesus.
Ironic, isn’t it that the voice of God is heard at these two important events in Jesus’ ministry? At his baptism by John in the Jordan, and for lack of a better term, his ‘confirmation’ this morning on the mountain.
But Jesus’ is unlike that of those undergoing the rite of confirmation these two thousand years later, where the confirmand affirms their own adherence to the faith. On the mountain God is confirming Christ’s divinity for the benefit of others, specifically the witnessing disciples. And through them, to us.
As I said, all over the world sermons are being preached today and I’m sure very many of them are centering on these points:
-The relationships among Moses, Elijah, and Jesus, and what that all means; for the Jewish disciples at the time, and for us, as modern-day followers of the Way of Jesus.
-The similarities of the shining of Moses and the glowing of Jesus, both signifying God’s glory.
-Some might even touch on the fact that Peter once again shows himself to be blissfully unaware of exactly what’s going on with Jesus and what will be the ultimate conclusion of his earthly ministry. He sees the long-departed Moses and Elijah having a conversation with a glowing Jesus and he wants to build a couple of huts so they can all live happily ever after there on the mountain! The truth is, Moses and Elijah were discussing Jesus’ imminent travel to Jerusalem, and that from there he was destined to depart this earth and return to the Father.
But none of these is the premise that speaks to me when delving into today’s readings. I feel more comfortably drawn to the simple term that Webster defined for us a moment ago. ‘Transfiguration’; being the change in outward appearance.
(Here Minister Tom paused to gather the props.)
This is a Scottish cap; I bought it in Scotland. When I put it on it might announce to people that I have suddenly become Scottish, or Irish. This is not the case; this is a type of transfiguration, right? My outward appearance has slightly changed, but the wearing of the cap doesn’t make me a Scot. I’m not changed at all; actually, I’ve always been Scottish.
These are aviator sunglasses. Wearing them may signify to some that I am a pilot. Again, I happen to be a pilot, but the small change in my appearance brought about by the wearing of the glasses doesn’t make that happen. More likely, it was the year of lessons and the many hours spent unintendedly nearly destroying a perfectly fine training airplane that led to getting a pilot’s license.
Last one; this is a motorcycle helmet. It’s obvious that I ride a bike when I put this on. But yet again, the helmet does nothing to change me internally. The best I can hope for is that it keeps my noggin intact if I happen to do something foolish while riding.
These illustrations are examples of what transfiguration really shows us. That outward change is just that, superficial. Hence, Jesus glowing with the glory of God was for the benefit of the disciples; it didn’t change Jesus internally in any way. Jesus was, and is, who he always was; God made flesh! Yet, Christ knows he has to remind his contemporaries, and us, that he is still the same; he comes down off the mountain and goes about his daily business. The outer transformation isn’t the important thing; ‘tell no one’ he admonishes the disciples.
We make changes to our outward appearance to signify to others who we are, what we stand for, or believe in. All well and good, but what about the inside, who we are deep within our hearts, our spirits, our souls? Caps don’t change our nationality, sunglasses certainly don’t give us the ability to fly a small plane, and a helmet surely doesn’t automatically make us able to safely ride a motorcycle in heavy traffic. These accessories may transfigure us, they may alter our outward appearance, but they do not a Scotsman, a pilot, or a motorcyclist make.
So how do we change our inner selves? How do we transform who we are on that deeper level, the inner core that defines us? Well, first of all I think we need to remember that we were all changed in the most significant way possible already, and we had nothing to do with it. The Holy Spirit made us a completely new creation at our baptism. We were transformed by God’s grace from the old Adam and Eve, into a new creature, one that is justified before God and is at once adopted into God’s family. We become children of God, destined to live grace-filled lives, marked with the cross of Christ forever.
So, we’re all set, right? We have been transfigured from the inside out and we need do nothing at all to maintain our new selves, since God has already claimed us as His own, right?
Not so fast! God will always remember us as His beloved sons and daughters, but we must continually remind ourselves that that is who, and what we are. God’s memory is perfect; ours, not so much. It’s not always apparent to us that the Holy Spirit is at work within us, reminding us of our baptismal transformation. We have to continually undergo the remembrance of God’s grace in a tangible, visible way. In a moment we’ll be able to do just that. We are invited to the Lord’s Table. We will take the bread and wine, earthly symbols of God’s grace, which along with the Word tell us yet again that we have been transformed. We have been internally transfigured. We are God’s own!
All we need do is approach the table with the belief that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross makes us different from what we were. We are new creations, formed by God into the people He wants us to be; freed by grace to live lives of service; changed from the inside. Transfigured deep in our souls. And that my friends, is no mere alteration of our outer appearance; it is the true transformation of our very being.
So, draw near to Christ’s table; hear the Word, partake of the gathered grains of wheat and the fruit of the vine. Share in the transformation that comes through belief in the One shining with divine glory on the mountain-top. And with a heart and spirit filled with a bold faith, and with overwhelming thanks to God; once again, be transfigured!
Will you pray with me? Good and gracious God, without regard for our outward appearance you offer us the opportunity to experience the inner transformation that reminds once again, that we are your sons and daughters. Through your unmerited grace we pray for our transfiguration that comes through the presence of Christ Jesus; in the bread, the wine, and by the Holy Spirit.
And in Jesus’ name together the people of God say…Amen.
God is good, all the time. All the time, God is good. Amen.