In our Liturgical calendar, that is, the calendar of the church year we are preparing to move seasons again. The Liturgical calendar provides us with what I call “set-aside” times, times that invite us to look at different aspects of our faith life. Since the last week in November we have been moving in and out of set aside times at a rapid pace. First Advent when we waited and prepared out hearts for the coming of Christ. Then the short Christmas season when we celebrated the arrival. Then we moved into Epiphany, a time set aside for use to discover our relationship with God and NOW we prepare for Lent, a time that we are given to deepen our discovered relationship.
In each season, it feels like we are invited to consider a fantastical event, a virgin birth heralded by angles, wise men directed to an obscure town by a strangely appearing star, a baptism under a rendered open sky and now this week, we hear of a gleaming whiter than snow Jesus and two long departed prophets, what in the World is in store for us now?
17 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I[a] will make three dwellings[b] here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved;[c] with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 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 God bless to our understanding the words that we hear today.
Can I be honest with you? I have kind of a love hate relationship with preaching the transfiguration story. I love it because it’s such an interesting story, I hate it because it means I needs to do some self-examination and that is always difficult.
Several years ago, I worked for an organization that was making some changes in the way it did business. My boss, ever the morale booster, took to placing inspirational signs around the office that had uplifting morale boosting messages on them, which most of us read once and then paid little attention to so caught up were we in our angst of the upcoming changes. The mood of the office was caught beautifully when one morning he put up a large sign that said “Change is good” by the afternoon some office wit had added Then you go first. Change is good; you go first.
We all have things about ourselves that we would like to change, don’t we? I would like to change my weight, the way my hair is turning gray faster than I would like, my tendency to get cranky when m hungry. But the changes I want to talk about today are not ordinary changes that we want to make in our everyday lives. I want to talk about divine changes, spiritual changes that will open us up to the presence of God; I want to talk about our ability to experience our own transfiguration.
Will you pray with me please?
May the Words of my mouth and the meditation of all of our hearts and minds be acceptable in your sight O Lord. Our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen
Before we can go forward in our scripture today I want to take us backward. Six days to be exact to an event that happened in Matthew 16 13-19 Jesus was having a conversation with his disciples and he asked them “Who do people say I am?” The response was that some said John the Baptist, some Elijah and others that he was a prophet from long ago who came back. Jesus keeps pushing them for an answer and asks “But what about you? Who do you say that I am?”. Now by this time Jesus and the disciples had been together for a while, they had witnessed his healings, heard his teachings lived every day with him and yet, no one wanted to answer that question… but he keeps pushing them…who do YOU say that I am and Peter finally answers “You are the Christ. The son of the living God”
It is six days after this conversation that Jesus heads up the mountain with Peter, James and John. There he changed in front of them and his face shines like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. And if that isn’t enough Moses and Elijah then appeared before them talking with Jesus.
“Ok, cool”, you may say, “but what’s so important about that?” you may also say. Well, it’s important that the disciple saw Jesus talking to Moses and Elijah, because this gave them, and us the opportunity to see that Jesus was NOT Elijah or Moses or another prophet as people suspected. We all get to see that Jesus is no one other than Jesus. It establishes who Jesus is not. So, that’s good. The importance of this event continues when we remember that Moses and Elijah were very significant people to the Hebrews, Moses was a part of the important covenant between God and the people, he symbolized the law that was given to the people at Mt. Saini after God brought them out of exile in Egypt. Elijah symbolized the prophets who worked to call the people back to the law. The Law and the Prophets are the 2 main parts of the Hebrew Bible it was how the people knew and understood God. Jesus’s ministry was all about bringing God to the people in a new way, a way that depended on Love and not law. The presence of the three of them together represented the shift that was about to take place and it was important that the disciples understood that and just to make certain that the disciple GOT IT, they watched as Jesus, Moses and Elijah were enveloped in a cloud of God’s glory and God’s voice was heard saying. “This is my Son whom I have chosen. Listen to him.”
There are about 10,000 sermons that could have come out of today’s scripture, the story of the transfiguration is extraordinary because there are so many different layers to it, for some it is an illumination into the divinity of Christ, an affirmation of Jesus as the Son of God. For others, it’s a commentary on the upcoming death and promised resurrection of Jesus. The interesting thing is that it is all that and more.
I see it as holding the key to our own personal transfiguration. Why does it hold the key? Because I think it makes us go back to that question Jesus asked six days ago, “Who do people say I am? Who do you say I am?” This isn’t a question for 2000- year- old disciples. This is a question for each one of us today. Who do we say Jesus is? How do we choose to understand Jesus and how does that understanding transform our relationship with God?
The story of the transfiguration, is always the last story of the season of Epiphany, it is always the story we look at before we go into the season of Lent. Epiphany has been a time of discovery, all along the way we have been discovering Jesus, contemplating what his birth meant to the world, discovery the grace of our baptism in his baptism, hearing again his call for us to join him in ministry, discovering how his words and his teachings give us a new way to experience our relationship with God and today we have this time to consider the answer to the question “Who do you say that I am?”
It feels a little bit like an open book quiz because Matthew seems to supply us with the answer when God says, “This is my son,” but that is only part of the answer because for some self-transformation to happen we have to know that answer for ourselves. (Imagine Jesus sitting next to you…. Who do you say that I am?)
Some of us may feel very prepared to answer that question. When you are asked. Who do you say I am? You answer with confidence. Some of us may not be as sure we don’t know what to answer we may still be working that out in our hearts and in our heads. I want you to know, to understand that it doesn’t matter where you are on your faith journey, the important thing is that you are on the journey at all, that you are prepared to be open and willing to answer the question. “Who do you say that I am?” and you are prepared for the change that will come. Transfiguration, transformation is a process, it’s not an event, so don’t expect instant change, or get inpatient if change doesn’t happen fast enough, do remember this; change is good. and Jesus went first. HA