So, I figure it was one of the inevitable things of having two congregations: I gave two different sermons. The Transfiguration story (Matthew 17:1-9) has so many meanings, and it was one of those days the story meant something different for each congregation because of what’s going on in them. So here ya go….
I have always had trouble with this story, the Transfiguration of Jesus. It’s a strange story, too strange to be real. The disciples hike up a mountain with Jesus, and before their eyes, Jesus’ face starts to shine, his clothes change to a dazzling white, and he’s standing there with Moses and Elijah, the great heroes and prophets of the Jewish faith….and talks to them. And as they came down the mountain, Jesus tells them essentially, “We’re not gonna talk about it.”
Now I don’t know about you, but if I were one of the disciples, that’d raise a whole lot of questions for me. And perhaps, as you listened to the story yourself, you probably questions just as the disciples did then.
And like the disciples, our questions don’t get answered. We don’t don’t get any more helpful answers to help us make sense of this story.
And perhaps there’s something to that…..I wonder, if the notion of this glorious Jesus, face shining like the sun, clothes dazzling white, standing with people who lived hundreds and thousands of years ago – is simply too much for us to comprehend.
And because there’s so much to comprehend in the story, from the historical relevance of Moses and Elijah and Peter asking to make dwellings, to the theological significance of Jesus being transfigured before them, the voice from the cloud….perhaps that’s the thing: there’s too much standing in the way of making sense of what an all-powerful, glorious Jesus means for our lives.
So maybe we need to simplify things….so we can understand.
You often hear sports athletes talk about “simplifying things.” Baseball season is upon us, and so I’m following what’s going on with teams during spring training. I came across an interview with some of the San Francisco Giants players, who were expressing how excited they were to have Barry Bonds – the controversial, but super-talented hitter who played for the Giants, setting all sorts of records – come to spring training to teach hitting to them.
And the remark they all made was, “I’ve heard he has this really simple approach to hitting….and the simpler it is, the easier it is to understanding what it means to be a successful hitter.”
I think this preacher is gonna take that advice….and pass that on to you today. How do we simplify this story so that it makes sense, so that it connects to Christian faith and life? How do we simplify things so that we can say: “Yup, that right there…..that was an encounter with God. God was present, and God was doing something here.”
The voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved…Listen to him!” And Jesus says as they come down the mountain….”Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Say nothing. Listen more. Simplify things.
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning the season of Lent in the church. Lent is a time of listening, simplifying…..a time of repentance, turning towards God, reflecting deeply on how God is present and how God is working in our lives….especially through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
And I wonder: How will you simplify things in your life so that you might reflect deeply on God’s presence in your life, how God is working in your life and in others around you? How will you simplify things so that we might more clearly see and say in the moments of our lives, “Yup, that right there….God was here.”
I know I’m taking these questions to heart as your pastor. Because I’ve decided to simplify things for us during our Sunday worship in Lent. We’re going to pare things down in our worship – do less of the liturgy, the choir isn’t going to sing. Instead of the usual four texts we read every Sunday from the lectionary, we’re only going to read and consider one.
We’re even going to change up the role of the assisting ministers. I’m going to ask that a different person do the reading each Sunday. If you want to read, but feel like you need practice doing so, you can sign up right here. Otherwise, if no one signs up, you might just get asked by me to read that Sunday! Trust me, it’s not hard…..if I can do the same thing every Sunday, I know you all can too! But in listening to different voices, perhaps we’ll hear God’s more fully.
I’m even going to simplify my sermons…..say a bit less, and leave more space for essential things. Things like discussing the texts with each other or reflecting on our own. Paring things down will leave more time for encounters with God in our worship….things like taking time to pray more together, not just one person reading the prayers.
And my hope, and I hope yours also, is that in simplifying things, we’ll experience this glorious Jesus who is in our midst, this beautiful savior, more fully in sharing our prayers and thoughts with each other. We’ll understand this transfigured Jesus who has the power to transform our lives just a little bit better.
And in simplifying things in our worship, it’ll help us understand Christ more fully, working in our lives….“Yup, that right there…..God is present. Christ is here. The Holy Spirit is working among us.”
And as people who do that, we become disciples – we become the church and people God is calling us to be. And in becoming that, this is how God in Christ is transfiguring us as well….and simply put, I – and I hope you do too – like that idea of that. Amen.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday – every year in the church, the Sunday before Lent is dedicated to the story of Jesus’ transfiguration in front of his disciples – his face becomes shining like the sun; his clothes become dazzling white. And he stands there, talking to Moses and Elijah – heroes of the Jewish faith, but people who have been gone for hundreds and thousands of years. And then, a cloud comes over them and a voice comes from it – the voice of God – announces, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him!”
There are a lot of things happening in this story….the story of Jesus’ transfiguration is significant and meaningful in a number of ways. But considering the fact I’ll probably be around here for a few more years……I won’t try to cover them all today. That could be to be a pretty long sermon….and I know you don’t want that!
I think what draws me into the story is the notion that the disciples were afraid. After seeing Jesus in all his glory and power, and hearing that he is the Son of God – why would they be overcome with fear? This is the moment, the sign they were looking for….if there was ever a moment in which their questions about Jesus being the Messiah were answered, this was it. Jesus was the Messiah – the one powerful enough to transform their lives, transform their worlds.
Why would they be afraid at all?
There’s an organization in Minneapolis, Minnesota called “From Death to Life.” The organization was started out of the tragedy and road to forgiveness and reconciliation between two people – Mary Johnson and Oshea Israel. In 1993, Oshea shot and murdered Mary’s son. Oshea was convicted and incarcerated for the crime.
During that time, in the midst of grieving the brutal death of her son, harboring feelings of frustration and hatred both for the life her son had chosen that led to his death, and for Oshea, Mary was able to forgive Oshea. And that led her to seek out a relationship with him while he was in prison….something that Oshea initially rejected and resisted.
However, over the course of a 17-plus year journey, they reconciled….and when Oshea was released from prison in 2010, Mary held a homecoming for him in their North Minneapolis neighborhood….celebrating Oshea’s return and welcoming this man whom she called her “spiritual son” back into the neighborhood.
From death to life……from tragedy to reconciliation.
It’s a beautiful story forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. But it’s also a story of two people who experienced a massive amount of pain and hurt between each other, and inflicted it on each other. And in telling this story they are quick to acknowledge that things didn’t improve overnight.
It wasn’t that they were able to forgive and forget and move on with their lives. It wasn’t out of their own effort and power to remove those damaged feelings from their lives. Forgiveness wasn’t this one time decision – a decision made on their own – that magically made things better for themselves.
Forgiveness was just the beginning for Mary and Oshea. It was a process, a journey…..one they needed to travel together, sharing each other’s hurt and pain; their anger and hatred. It was a long, hard process, with struggles along the way.
Yet when they looked outside themselves for forgiveness and healing, something happened. While facing the pain and hurt together, sharing it, listening to each other, trying to understand each other’s hurt and suffering…something happened. Something powerful. Something glorious.
I think that’s why Jesus tells the disciples to say nothing about the transfiguration until after his resurrection. Because to understand God’s power and glory in this transfigured Jesus, it means experiencing the reality of Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross.
The transformation we seek in our lives….it comes from outside ourselves. It comes in the power and glory of a God who comes down and in love and grace suffers for us and suffers with us.
Transformation, transfiguration, comes through the power of the cross.
I think the disciples were afraid not so much in Jesus’ display of power, but how that would change things going forward. The disciples were afraid….because what did all this mean….for the journey ahead?
I wonder if it’s not the same for us….we fear transformation in our lives because it’s hard. We can’t see where it’s leading to. Transformation has the power to change us in radical ways….in ways that has nothing to do with what we do on our own. It comes from outside ourselves.
But such transformation…..the kind that comes from forgiveness and love that suffers for and with another, it is a fearful thing, because we have to sacrifice a bit. We have to make space for the other person and really listen to them. But it’s still a powerful thing.
It’s a powerful thing because there’s just something about God’s sacrificial love and grace that does something….It has the ability to bring possibility out of the impossible. It has the ability to transform us, to move us from death….to life.
And that move…..it takes courage. It takes faith.
And that faith is a journey, a difficult one at times…..but it’s a journey that God walks with us. Jesus walks with us, just as Mary and Oshea openly testify to the same when they tell their story.
In Jesus, glorious Son of God, beautiful savior, the impossible is made possible….the reconciliation and healing that comes out of love and forgiveness is promised unconditionally over and over….and, that promise has the power to transform us in glorious ways. Amen.