February 23, 2020
Sermon: “Transfiguration Sunday”
Scripture: 2 Corinthians 3:4-18 and Luke 9:23-36
It’s easy to hide from the truth. It’s easy to read the Gospels and simply disregard the parts we don’t like. If something Jesus says makes us feel uncomfortable, we can simply ignore it by telling ourselves that the Gospels were written 2,000 years ago and society has changed since then. So, the archaic words of Jesus don’t really apply to us. And if we don’t take the words of Jesus as the ultimate Truth, then we will not understand exactly who Jesus is.
The first disciples didn’t truly understand who Jesus is even after seeing him transfigured and hearing the voice of God proclaiming the true identity of Jesus. But, it’s not their fault. Everything about Jesus was so revolutionary that comprehending exactly who he is was overwhelming for the first disciples and for us today.
In today’s scripture, the Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus took Peter, James and John to the mountain to pray. This was a brief moment in time when these three disciples had the opportunity to glimpse the divine nature shining through Jesus Christ. They got to see behind the veil of eternity and literally see the brilliance of God’s glory in human form. And they were amazed. So amazed, in fact, that Peter wants to build some shrines to all three men in the vision, but before Jesus can respond, the cloud of God’s presence overshadows thee and speaks to reveal the unique person of Jesus. God says, “This is my Son, my chosen One.”
The voice confirmed the message spoken at Jesus’ baptism at the beginning of his ministry. But here, the voice from the cloud adds “my chosen One and listen to him” to the pronouncement of his son. My chosen One is the Messiah whom the nation of Israel had long awaited. This pronouncement highlights the fact that Jesus is God’s chosen person to bring salvation to His people. And, Jesus was God coming down to humanity in the flesh.
It was after this encounter on the mountain that the Apostle John would call Jesus “the Word became flesh.” And Peter, who was there on the mountain, would write in 2 Pet. 1:16-18, “For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have seen his majestic splendor with our own eyes. And he received honor and glory from God the Father when God’s glorious, majestic voice called down from heaven saying, ‘This is my beloved Son.” We ourselves heard the voice when we were there with him on the holy mountain.”
Our interactions with others, not only with God, change us because there is no reliable process to unknow, or willfully forget, what we have seen, experienced… or participated in. Through our experiences, we gain knowledge, and knowledge stubbornly refuses to let us remain the same. If we are changed by our everyday interactions with others—how could we not be changed when we come into contact with God, the Holy One whose greatness we have been called to proclaim? In other words, who can see God and remain the same? Who can see God and not be changed forever?
There is a story in the Hebrew Bible of Moses who was called by God to lead the people of Israel out of bondage and into the promised land. Like so many stories in the Bible, the epic of Moses leading the people of Israel through the desert is full of twists and turns, success and failures. Just like us the people of Israel tended to be their own worst enemy. The Israelites continually set up unnecessary obstacles for themselves and allowed themselves to be distracted by lesser gods. The people of Israel had been led out of bondage, but they still needed direction. Not just directions of how far to go in their journey toward the Promised Land. They also needed directions for how to live as a people who had been chosen and called by God to be the light to all nations.
As the people of Israel camped at the base of the mountain Moses went up to receive instruction and to see God. But, when he came down from the Mountain and returned to the people of Israel, he was unaware of how this interaction with God had changed him. He descended the mountain not only with tablets containing the Ten Commandments, but also with his face brightly shining. This was a result of his coming into close proximity with God. Moses was unaware of his changed appearance until he realized that the people were struck with fear by the sight of him. Moses came into contact with God and he was changed. Not only in appearance, but deep down into the core of his being. He had come close to the Holy One. He had seen God, and he had been changed forever.
Over a thousand years later, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth and compared the transformation of Moses on Mount Sinai to the conversion of our mind, when we come to faith in God through trust in Christ. Paul writes in 2 Cor. 3:18, “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit”.
This morning, we are reminded in our Gospel passage of another mountaintop encounter with God. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Jesus, and a small group of his closest disciples, had slipped away from the crowds to go up to the mountain and pray.
Peter, James, and John had already given up everything to follow Jesus. They had heard his teaching, they had asked questions, and they had witnessed the miraculous. Yet it wasn’t until this time and place that their eyes were opened to see Jesus the Christ in his true appearance, accompanied by two of the greatest prophets of their faith. And they heard the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen one; listen to him.” They couldn’t un-see what they had witnessed. Reality had momentarily changed to give them a glimpse of the Kingdom of God. And, they were changed. How could they not be? Like Moses who saw God on the mountaintop, or the people who witnessed the Kingdom of God through the life of Christ on earth we too are changed forever, when we see and encounter God through the Gospels. How could we not be?
The person of Jesus Christ is still unique today. He is still the Messiah. He is still the One sent from God to save us from our sins. He is still God who loves us and calls us to himself. And Jesus stands apart from every other religious leader in history. Even Moses and Elijah, whose presence in this scene represent the Law and the Prophets, they could not fully reveal the true nature of God. The Law, given through Moses, could only point people to God. And Elijah, and the other prophets, could only tell people what God’s great expectations were. But Jesus could show us God, he could allow us to touch God, and to be touched by God. The Law and the Prophets were only partial revelations of God. But here, on the mountain, God was revealing himself fully and finally through his Son, Jesus.
Jesus’ mission is unlike any other mission or religion. Religion has been defined as man’s attempt to reach up to God. But Christianity is defined as God’s attempt to reach down to humanity. And, Christianity is not just a religion. It’s a person. The person… Jesus the Christ by fulfilling his unique mission, beckons us to the cross in order to find forgiveness and reconciliation. But Jesus’ journey did not end at the cross—for on the third day he arose, and gained the victory over death, victory over hell and the grave, and today he sits on the throne with our Father in heaven.
Today’s scripture was a revolutionary message for the three disciples, and it would be a revolutionary message for the Gospel of Luke as well. The message from God was very clear, “You’ve heard the Law, and you’ve heard the prophets, now listen to my Son.” As great as the Law and the Prophets were, they were now secondary to the fullest revelation of God in his Son, Jesus. But what was the message spoken by Jesus? Luke 9:23 says “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me.” Jesus came to show us that the way to God is through self-denial and self-sacrifice. He came to show that the way to God is the way of the cross. Self-sacrifice and self-denial are not the only things a disciple needs to hear. We need to always be reminded to “Love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” A disciple needs to hear “come to me all who are weary, and I will give you rest.” A disciple needs to hear “come you that are hungry and eat the bread of life.”
A disciple needs to hear “come, you who are thirsty and drink from the spring of living water.” And a disciple needs to hear “come sinner and find forgiveness.” These are the unique messages of Jesus Christ. And the unique responsibility of a disciple, according to God, is to “listen to him.” We are to listen and to be obedient to everything Jesus says in the Gospels, not just the sayings we like, or the sayings that meet our chosen lifestyle. We are to observe all the teachings of Jesus and we are not to disregard the teachings of Jesus that society says are not true. Or, are out of date in our time of progressive thought and enlightenment.
The Transfiguration is just as revolutionary in the first Century, as it is today. In an age of religious pluralism and multi-culturalism, to claim the unique nature of Jesus Christ as God’s chosen one… is opening yourself to charges of intolerance. In our culture, we have done exactly what Peter attempted to do on the mountain that day. He wanted to build shrines for Moses, Elijah and Jesus. Peter wanted to put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. But the voice from heaven would have none of that. The transfiguration reminds us that Jesus transcends all cultures and is called to minister to all humanity as God’s chosen servant. Jesus is the multicultural icon for every generation, and his call is an equal opportunity call.
Think about this: If the greatest need of humanity had been information… God would have sent us an educator. If our greatest need had been technology… God would have sent a scientist. If our greatest need had been money… God would have sent an economist. If our greatest need had been pleasure…. God would have sent an entertainer. But… our greatest need was forgiveness… so God sent us a Savior.
Today, more than ever, our world needs a Savior, and not just another religious figure. The transfiguration is God’s declaration that just such a unique person exists. And that person is Jesus, who is the Christ, the Anointed One and the Messiah. He is not just another nice guy or prophet among others religious leaders. Jesus is God in the flesh. And when Jesus speaks in the Gospels…that is God talking to you. Today, we know what happened at the Transfiguration, and, I pray…we will know that God wants Jesus to transform us all… into his image and likeness… Amen.