A Sermon for 26 February 2017 – Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday
A reading from the gospel of Matthew 17:1-9. Listen for God’s word to us.
“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 will make three dwellings 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; 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.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Week ONE among you has been wonderful! Amid the new-hire paperwork, setting up the office, and preparing for this first Sunday together; I had a chance to meet a hand-full of you. Beebe has been incredibly welcoming and helpful. Session members have come by to fill me in on immediate info. A few of us already have begun dreaming about ministries to begin to strengthen your connection with one another and ready this congregation for a future filled with hope. Day two was especially fun, as that was the day I followed the boisterous sounds of young children’s voices down the stairs, up the hall, and into the Playcare Directors’ office. I’d already met little Ziggy earlier that day – and his momma Kendra too. Then as I stood in the Playcare office, another little one made her presence known. Instead of Ziggy’s shy gaze that eventually turned to smiles, the little one in the office that afternoon was beat red. Her whole little peach-fuzz head was as scarlet as a ripened tomato. She screamed at the top of her little baby lungs. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one having her first week here. For in the arms of a patient Playcare teacher was thee most unhappy three-month-old you ever did see. She squirmed and bellowed as the teacher gently tried to satisfy what had to be insatiable screams of hunger. It was 2:15 p.m. on day one of Playcare for that precious little girl. And no one all day long had been able to get her to take her bottle to eat. Her face was contorted while tears streamed down her red-hot cheeks. You could feel the heat of her discontent all the way across the room. Her whole countenance was unhappy!
That little one stands in stark contrast to the transfigured Christ we hear of in Matthew’s gospel. Six days after he had asked them “who do you say I am,” six days after Peter proudly proclaimed him the Son of the living God, six days after Jesus told them the path of self-emptying love would lead directly to a cross before resurrected life could begin. Six days after all that, Jesus’ countenance was changed too. His face wasn’t beat red like the little Playcare three-month-old, but shining as bright as the hot summer sun. Up on that mountain, when Peter, James, and John looked upon him; he radiated. It was as if everything about him turned the purest white. Translucent-like. Like in art that circles the risen Christ with a glorious golden aura; halos around the crown of his head and something like light exuding all about. It was a miraculous transfiguration for sure, something absolutely incredible to behold. But it wasn’t the first time it had occurred. In the first Scripture reading, we heard when Yahweh called Moses up on a mountain. There he was to receive the law. As God was working to transform the newly-freed-from-Egypt slaves into God’s very own; a cloud covered Moses and the mountain. “The glory of the LORD settled on Mount Sinai,” Exodus 24:16 reads. “And the cloud covered it for six days.” Moses face eventually would burn red-hot with anger when at last he returned to the people to discover their transgression not just of making, but also of reveling before a golden calf (Ex. 32:19). When at last he returns to the mountain in order again to be enveloped by God, this time Moses’ face continues to carry the radiant splendor of the LORD. The Scriptures record it as “the skin of his face” shining “because he had been talking with God” (Ex. 34:29).
I imagine it as love. Beaming right from the center of his chest, to every cell in his body, until at last his face glimmered and his eyes sparkled from the amazing energy of God. . . . I’ve seen it elsewhere too, haven’t you? In faces alight when lovers gaze into the eyes of the one who fully accepts them for who they are. In the glow of grateful parents when first they hold their newborn child. In the way we look when we are in our flow – using our particular gifts to meet the needs about which we care the most. It is said about such folk that they radiate. That they sparkle. That they shine for all the world to see. Every cell of their bodies filled with the loving light of God.
I can’t help but wonder if Jesus’ encounter on the mountain intentionally included three eyewitnesses just to be sure his followers would get that transfiguration is for them too. O, it certainly was a wake-up call to the closest of his disciples. Peter, James, and John saw their Lord changed. They got caught up with Jesus in a cloud that overshadowed them too. They saw the figures of Moses and Elijah with Jesus and heard the beautiful words: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him!” (Mt. 17:5). Trembling in fear they fell to the ground – maybe because they’d just heard the definitive voice of God. Or maybe because the command to heed one who’d just told them of a path of letting it all go . . . perhaps that Way was too much for the disciples to integrate. At least before they saw it enacted in full in Christ.
Three Sundays ago the lectionary took us to the gospel of Matthew’s telling of Jesus’ great sermon. I hope your guest preacher that day used The Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus brilliantly said: “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” Remember that? “No one after lighting a lamp,” Jesus says “puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way,” he then commanded “let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:14-16a). Shine. Radiate. Glow. Let your face sparkle with the amazing love of God for us and for all! You know, without such joy in us. Without such grace exuding from the very center of our beings, how are others today going to see the loving Light of God? . . . Sometimes we’re our own worst advertisements. We follow the One who lit-up this world wherever he set his feet. Yet we put on our serious, church-going faces to get all somber about what we’re supposed to be doing in here – and out there in the world as well. We can take ourselves way too seriously and get all caught up on head trips about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit too. But it’s a celebration to which we’ve been invited. A party thrown by the risen Christ who does not want us to fear one thing, but to radiate with the very same Love that transfigured him on that mountain. He’s chosen us to be behind him in this great adventure of letting ourselves go that others may join the dance too. He commands us to be light – enlightening others as well. Allowing all to see. He needs us to shine. And glow. And sparkle with a Love that always leads to Life.
It’s why we’re here – as members of the body of Christ. Why we, the church, exist. To shine brightly for all the world to see. . . . Part of my work among you as your interim pastor will be to help you tease out – as you begin a new chapter in your life as a congregation without your previous pastor – now and in your future; what will be your unique mission? I want to know and then help you build upon the particular difference you, as a congregation, seek to make in the lives of people. I want to know what you are passionate about. What matters so deeply to you all that you joyously and generously will invest your blood, sweat, and treasures into that piece of God’s mission in this world. As a part of the body of Christ, what ministry is it that will set your hearts on fire until ya’ll brilliantly shine?!?!
This is our charge, brothers and sisters in Christ. And the work we will undertake together. . . . Transfiguration is also for us. He told us so. For we are the light of the world.
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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