Last Sunday After The Epiphany: February 23, 2020
Feast of the Transfiguration
Year A: Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9
At the time of this posting, there was no audio recording of this sermon.
“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.”
If you look at the Gospel of Matthew, a lot of things happened in the days that immediately precede this statement. The six days later refers to Chapter 16, which sets the stage for what we call the Transfiguration when “he was transfigured before then, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”. In Chapter 16, when Jesus asks the disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter, of course, responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”
Another important focus of Chapter 16 is that Jesus began to teach his followers that discipleship involves a cross. Thus, Jesus’ identity, mission and method are well established by the time this transfiguration occurs. That, of course, makes the disciples more than a bit nervous. In that same encounter when Peter acknowledges Jesus as Lord, Peter took Jesus to the side and began to lecture him that he should be a little more upbeat and appropriate. Jesus’ reply – “Get behind me, Satan!” And following up on that reproach, he said to his disciples:
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, 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.”
So that is the context that we look at the story of the Transfiguration. It’s a story of that cannot be separated from Jesus’ journey to the cross, of how he would be betrayed, of how religious and government people would be threatened by his witness and kill him.
They went up on the mountain and they saw the glory of God. And in it they saw Jesus’ face shining in the glory of God. It makes no sense of course as a simple image. We know that the disciples often needed to be hit over the head to understand what Jesus was telling them. Thus, a grand occurrence as described would probably be necessary for the disciples to understand. And lest we think this is a myth, our epistle from Peter clearly states that Peter, James and John were witness to this event.
Moses and Elijah appear. The two key prophets of Israel, who brought truth to God’s people. Our lesson from Exodus tells us about Moses. He went up on the mountain with his assistant Joshua. And for six days—notice that, SIX DAYS—they were on the mountain, covered by a cloud and the Glory of God appeared on them like a devouring fire.
Here Jesus is on the mountaintop with two great prophets known for their fidelity to God, and Jesus has been accompanied by Peter, James and John. We might wonder why Jesus chose thee three. Peter’s importance of course becomes evident as time goes on. Yet, importantly these same three will accompany Jesus to Gethsemane; the Transfiguration and Gethsemane are the two most intimate experiences that Jesus shares with his disciples and the same three disciples witness both.
I love Peter. As I said he had been admonished by Jesus in their last encounter. In this setting, he offers to make three tens or dwellings for Jesus, Moses and Elijah – accommodations worthy of these men. You might note, though, that he couches his proposal very carefully, addressing Jesus as Lord, acknowledging the honor that the disciples are experiencing, and adding, “if you wish.” The last time Peter opened his mouth, Jesus had soundly rebuked him, and Peter is being careful not to repeat that experience.
Peter is a man of action and I think feels the need to do something. Essentially, he is asking the Lord, “what do you want me to do?”
A great question for all of us – what do you want me to do, Lord?
I think the answer is right at the beginning.
“Listen to him.”
God commands the disciples and the early church, and us, to listen to Jesus. In the early church, there was no New Testament scripture to read. They had the Torah and they had the prophets. Now, Peter, James and John hear this voice and it was the real deal. This is my beloved son—LISTEN TO HIM.
Listen to him. We would be so much better off in this world if we truly listened to Jesus Christ instead of the commentators nattering about what is happening and what should be done, voices of judgment, voices of second guessing, voices of fear. There are voices of self-doubt, criticism, and all the “would’ve(s), should’ve(s), and could’ve(s).” Some voices tell us to run and hide. Other voices tell us to fight and resist. Some voices ask questions and others give us the answers to questions we haven’t even asked.
So many voices cry out for our attention. Not every voice, however, is helpful or worth listening to. The story of the Transfiguration tells us there is only one voice to listen to. The voice of God speaks from a cloud, “This is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.”
What if in the midst of this world, we sought to hear and listen to one voice, the voice of Christ? What if we kept our ears open to what he is saying in our life and world today? To let ourselves become aware of and attentive to what he is saying, and doing, to let his concerns and desires become our concerns and desires, to let his way of engaging life and the world become our way of engaging life and the world.
It would mean that others do not have the final world. There is another voice. Jesus is always speaking a word larger and more powerful than all the other voices.
Finally, why did Jesus told the disciples to say nothing. Well because in the context of what is happening around then, the image makes no sense until it is lived out through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. People are apt to confuse God’s glory with shininess, or the messiah with success, or the prophets with some sort of memorial. We do that. But for Peter and James and John, this was real, and it wasn’t about shininess, it was about Jesus and the journey they were taking with him.
Today is also the last Sunday before we embark on the journey of Lent. The season of Lent has been, since ancient times, the season of preparation for baptisms which were normally done at Easter. While many of us were baptized years ago, we are preparing to own our own baptism, our death with Christ and resurrection in him. It’s serious business to be Jesus’ disciple, and I invite you to a season of reflection. Join us for Ash Wednesday services this Wednesday. Take time to reflect on how God is guiding you and us together to live into your baptism and live into Christ’s glory.
Jesus is here.
Listen to him.
 Matthew 17:1, New Revised Standard Version, (“NRSV”)
 Matthew 17:2, NRSV
 Matthew 16:16, NRSV
 Matthew 16:23, NRSV
 Matthew 16:24
 Matthew 17:5, NRSV
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