This sermon was delivered on Transfiguration Sunday, February 11, 2018. Enjoy!
–The Nerdcore Theologian
2 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain where they were alone. He was transformed in front of them,3 and his clothes were amazingly bright, brighter than if they had been bleached white. 4 Elijah and Moses appeared and were talking with Jesus. 5 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Rabbi, it’s good that we’re here. Let’s make three shrines—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He said this because he didn’t know how to respond, for the three of them were terrified.
7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice spoke from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!” 8 Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after the Human One[a] had risen from the dead.
Transfigurations are big business today.
I don’t know anybody who doesn’t want one, including me. That’s how advertising works: want a change? We can sell you a change! We can make you into a new you, for the low low price of…whatever, you get the idea. But Sometimes the change is not just in looks but in our whole image — including our name.
Issur Danielovitch Densky didn’t like the image his name projected, so he changed it to Kirk Douglas. In the same way, Frances Gum transfigured herself and her image into Judy Garland. Archibald Leach became Cary Grant. And would you have paid money to see Marion Morrison in the movies? Maybe, but Marion didn’t take that chance, he became John Wayne.
Remember that in Holy Scriptures many people got new names to go with a new life and a new image. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Jacob became Israel. Saul became Paul. Simon became Peter, “The Rock.”
What I mean to say is that Transfigurations are not the exception. They are the rule.
We are all being altered in the appearance of our face, our countenance. We are all changing. To live is to be continually transfigured. So who are you becoming? (Source: https://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-bobby-scobey-stories-change-transfiguration-72630)
Are you being changed into someone that reflects the glory of God? Or are you changing to become someone different, something fearful, someone unwilling to embrace change in the world? Is your heart more loving, or is it hardening, becoming more like a stone?
Jesus went on the mountain with his disciples to show them something miraculous. It was beautiful, but also terrifying–as is the nature of change. Change can scare us. But we must not be afraid. We must be bold enough to embrace the changes that God is making to us, and walk forward to carry out the mission God has for all of us.
The Terror of it All
I’m quite fond of the story of the transfiguration for many reasons. One of them, is that it’s the topic of my first public sermon.
As such, it’s a topic that I have probably preached on the most, and each year I look forward to reliving the scripture. At the same time, there is fear in my heart regarding it: have I said before all that can be said about it? Is there anything left? Invariably, I do find new things to say about it, but still, fear is there.
It’s such a strange event after all. Jesus, taking three disciples up a mountain, and suddenly revealing himself in all of his godly glory to a chosen few, dancing with the two other biggest prophets in Jewish history. The voice of God the Father booming above them, commanding them to listen. Just describing the event in its stark detail is strange. It feels like encountering something from another world–which it is! And because of that, there’s the fear in the eyes of the disciples.
Peter of course is the one to speak up, and so it’s Peter we are meant to identify with.
It’s easy to identify with Peter, as he frequently inserts himself in the narrative. Mark has no problem with doing that with Peter, either: Peter is the exact person he’s modeled the narrative of Jesus and his disciples around. Peter constantly means well, but makes the wrong choice. He recognizes Jesus as the son of God, but fails to realize the grand purpose of the resurrection. He’ll be called the rock upon which the church will be built, and that rock, though well meaning, is flawed.
He sets the tone for the future of the church, and Mark uses that as a commentary. Peter witnesses this amazing event, this life-changing mystery, and he’s spellbound by it. The first idea he can come up with is an old one, one that given precedent by the Torah–let’s build some monuments. The word differs between translations–the CEB says “shrines”, but others will say “churches” or “dwelling places”–but the meaning remains the same: Let’s do what our ancestors did when something like this happened! It makes sense, after all. This is history in the making! Why not make a monument?
But Jesus tells him no. This is a moment of change. And change requires us to respond differently.
Let’s not be afraid to do something new. Let’s not be afraid to move forward. WE can’t live on the mountain. We have to take this experience with us. We need to become a living monument to the transformational power of God. We can be overwhelmed, yes, but we can’t stay in a state of terror, petrified by God’s glory. We must move forward.
I like the quotation by Henry Drummond, the Scottish theologian when he said,
“God does not make the mountains in order to be inhabited. God does not make the mountaintops for us to live on the mountaintops. It is not God’s desire that we live on the mountaintops. We only ascend to the heights to catch a broader vision of the earthly surroundings below. But we don’t live there. We don’t tarry there. The streams begin in the uplands, but these streams descend quickly to gladden the valleys below.” The streams start in the mountaintops, but they come down to gladden the valleys below.
The Beauty of Moving Forward
The fear the disciples felt was real. God’s glory can be overwhelming. But the other half of the coin is the beauty of this moment, and the beauty we carry with us.
Think of the prophets that Jesus meets on the mountain. Moses was transformed when he saw God, so much so that his face shone like a star when he came down from the mountain, so bright that people had to shield their eyes. When Elijah encountered God in the small still silence on the mountain, it forever changed his ministry, and propelled him onward to choose a disciple, Elisha, to carry on his legacy. He didn’t stay on the mountain, he came down to keep going forward. The beauty changed him, and he used that beauty to change the world.
So we see these examples of people who didn’t fall back on the old way of doing things when faced with a life changing event. We see people who, when given the opportunity, embrace change.
In our church right now, we are faced with a mountaintop decision. Going forward, things are going to have to change. WE can’t rely on the old way of doing things in order to thrive. We’ve made strides in the past, but we can’t be complacent.
We’ve been praying over our pews, so that they would be filled. Now is the time to move forward and actively seek it in the world. We’ve been praying for our hearts to be kindled by deeper discipleship. Well guess what? Lent starts this week. What better time to make the change, embrace the glory of God, and move forward with that desire for a deeper relationship. We’ve been praying for ways to make an impact in our community. We can’t simply build up what we have–we must seek out new opportunities outside these church walls.
I could come up with ideas, but my time here is temporary. Such is the nature of the United Methodist itineracy, for good or for ill. We pastors are charged with caring over the ministry of word, service to the church, the sacraments of worship, and the order of church business so that we might make more disciples. It’s up to you all, then, to carry the torch. You are here to be transformed. You are here to take up a new name, and go into the world to share it.
So this day is the turning point. Change is upon you. You can be terrified by it, or awed by it, but don’t be petrified by it. Move. And God will move with you. Thanks be to God. Amen.