First Lutheran Church
February 11, 2018 + The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Today we celebrate “The Transfiguration of Our Lord.” Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, and as such serves as a “bridge” to the season of Lent, which begins this coming week with Ash Wednesday. On Transfiguration Sunday we are brought up to the mountain top, we catch a glimpse of the glories of God, we are inspired, and in “all these things” we are prepared to come back down off the mountain and, out and into, the desert, in order that we might begin our Lenten journey, the journey that leads to the new life of Easter.
This morning I would like to simply “walk through” the story of the Transfiguration as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, highlighting the people, the images, and the context of the story that we might better understand the significance of this event and more importantly what it might mean for us today.
Our text begins in the Ninth chapter of Mark, with verse two, "Six days later." The Transfiguration is preceded by Jesus' announcement, six days earlier, that the Son of man must undergo great suffering, be rejected, and be killed. Peter rebukes Jesus for this morbid thought, the idea that Jesus is headed to the cross; and this prompts Jesus to rebuke Peter, "Get behind me Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." Jesus concludes by telling his disciples, "If any want to be my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me." The Transfiguration is preceded by the announcement of the cross, and the cost of discipleship. Perhaps spiritual highs, life’s incredible aha moments, - exist to inspire us and give us the strength we need to face the challenges of living out our faith in the world.
Have you been to the mountain lately? And how might that “event” have prepared you for your calling down here on the streets of downtown Fullerton?
Verse two also tells us that, “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John.” Peter, James, and John seem to be Jesus’ inner circle of disciples. Maybe they were his best friends, the people in which he confided, the ones he really trusted, the ones he hoped would “step up” when their names were called.
My friends have always been a big part of my faith journey, especially the friends who share my faith in Christ, the ones with whom I have climbed those holy mountains, the ones with whom I have dared to share my sense of calling and purpose, the ones who know my hopes and my fears, the ones who truly know me.
Who has been with you on that holy mountain? Who really knows you? Who keeps you accountable? Who do you keep accountable? How have you prepared each other to live out your faith in meaningful ways?
Again, still, from verse two, "a high mountain." We actually don't' know on what mountain this momentous event took place. It could have been “Mount Hermon,” known as a Holy Mountain by the Israelites, the worshipers of Baal, and the Greeks. In the sixth century the early church believed it was “Mount Tabor,” a mountain associated with the great Judges of Israel, and the conquest of the promised land. Or maybe just the fact that it was a “mountain” contains all the significance that we need to know. “Mountains” have always been perceived as “holy places,” places that are physically closer to heaven, places where God has touched people and human history. And we've all had what we call "mountain top experiences," times when we have felt closer to God or “existentially all together.”
Perhaps you can recall a mountain top moment from your life? Do you remember the place? Do you remember who was with you? Do you remember the exhilaration and the inspiration of the moment? And more importantly, do you ever wonder why God led you to that moment, that time and that place?
And one more excerpt from verse two, "and he was transfigured" ... The Greek used here means “to change.” In Matthew's version of The Transfiguration he reports that Jesus' face “shone like the sun.” When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai the scriptures say his face “shone” because he had encountered God. (Moses had a bright sunburn from being in the presence of God.) For many the transfiguration was a sign of the age to come when all would be changed into the glory of God.
How have your mountain top experiences “changed” you? And for what reason were you “changed?”
Let’s move on to verse 4, where two more characters are introduced, "Elijah and Moses" ....
Elijah is remembered as one of the greatest prophets, and the scriptures tells us that Elijah never suffered death, instead he ascended into heaven on a chariot. To this day at Passover the Jews always leave an empty seat for Elijah, hoping and waiting for the day that Elijah would return signaling the beginning of the Messianic age, the Day of the Lord.
And Moses, God's redeemer who was sent to bring the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt and lead them into the promised land. He was known as a prototype of the Messiah to come. Moses was chosen by God to be the person who received the law from God on Mt. Sinai, the covenant between God and the people.
Together Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets, the sacred writings of Israel, the heart of the faith of Israel. In “The Transfiguration” they come to speak with Jesus, and even though we don't know what they said, their very presence says it all.
In verse five we read that the disciples want to build, "dwellings" or booths (a more familiar translation) Peter wanting to capture “the moment” forever wants to build something that will last, something that will enshrine the moment. (Sounds like a guy thing!) The disciples don’t realize that this moment was not meant to last, but rather only to carry Jesus forward, to help him get to the place he was meant to go, to the place he pointed to six days earlier, - to the cross.
How often have we wanted to say up on the holy mountain, to stay in the moment of glory, to escape and hide in the bliss; instead of turning back down to pick up our cross and follow?
And finally in verse seven God speaks these words, "This is my beloved Son; listen to him!" This voice takes us back to the day when Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John, "And a voice came from heaven, You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." Baptism is the event that calls us, shapes us, and gives us mission and purpose. In the Gospel of Mark these words that proclaim Jesus as God’s beloved child will not be spoken again until chapter fifteen, “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, "Truly this man was God's Son!"
These words spoken on top of the mountain connect the two events, baptism and the cross. In our baptism we become the beloved children of God, we are invited into the work of the kingdom, and we are reminded of the cost of following Jesus, the cost of discipleship. In baptism we are united with Christ in death and resurrection.
“The Transfiguration” is a story packed with significance. For its first audience it was filled with images and people that authoritatively “ordained” the life and ministry of Jesus. But what does it say to us, today?
Certainly, it still serves to declare that Jesus is the Messiah, that Jesus is the authoritative revelation of God. But how does it affect us on a personal level, how does it impact our heart?
Personally, I find myself entering into this story through Peter. That's where the story becomes real for me. You see I've been on top of the mountain, I've seen and felt the glory of God, I've had those moments when I felt totally connected, and “existentially all together.” And often in those moments I want to build a dwelling place where I can stay forever! I want to somehow make my life one big and everlasting mountain top experience!
Yet that’s not what it’s all about, that’s not what life is all about, that’s not what my life is all about, that just not how it works. And so it is that I need to be reminded, like Peter, that The Transfiguration is not the end game but rather that “mountain top moments” happen for the sake of the cross. The Transfiguration strengthens Jesus and empowers him to move towards the cross. And so it is with us. We are blessed with moments of joy, moments of peace, moments of spiritual clarity, moments of divine insight, moments of inspiration; to empower us to carry the cross that has been set before us, that we might live with mission and purpose, using our gifts and talents and resources in service to the kingdom. God brings us to the top of the mountain that we might be strengthened for service, that we might head back down and into the world as the messengers of God’s grace, mercy, justice and love. Amen