February 26, 2017 Transfiguration Sunday
Exodus 24:12–18 2 Peter 1:16–21 Matthew 17:1–9
In the last month we’ve been working our way through the first two chapters of the Sermon on the Mount. But now, the week before Lent begins, we are going to skip to the Transfiguration of Jesus. Transfiguration basically means that the figure or form of Jesus was changed.
The story is told in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and 2 Peter, and is referred to in the Gospel of John. We read it before Lent because this is the middle and turning point of Jesus’ ministry in the three Gospels. Before this point Jesus is walking around preaching, but after this point he moves toward Jerusalem where he will end up being crucified and then resurrected.
Jesus took the disciples Peter, James, John on a journey up to the top of a high mountain. When they arrived at the top, Jesus suddenly began shining like the sun. Not only was Jesus shining, but his clothes became a dazzling white color. And then, Moses and Elijah appeared alongside him.
Peter apparently decided that the best way to cope with the situation was to initiate a conversation. “Um, Jesus, I’m really honored to be here for this momentous occasion. I’m sure you three have a lot to talk about. If you’d like, we could put together three tents for you guys so you could camp out here on the mountainside for a few days and catch up!”
I want you to realize that Peter wasn’t being flippant – he was being traditionally courteous. During the harvest festival of Sukkot people build booths or tents to live in during that time, and they always make a place in their tent for the ancient prophets. So Peter was extending his hospitality to these two great prophets.
But then, a cloud came over the entire gathering and a voice began speaking out of the cloud which said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
Matthew tells us that when the voice spoke from the cloud, Peter, James and John were scared out of their wits. I think it was just one sensation too many. First Jesus starts to turn into something beyond human, then two ancient prophets appear, and then they hear a voice from God. One event I might be able to process, but three at once? I would throw myself on the ground too, because the next thing that comes is going to be a real thunder-bolt and I’m going to be the one getting hit.
But then, after the three disciples hit the deck and hide, Jesus tapped them on the shoulder and said, gently, “Hey there. It’s okay. Get up. You don’t need to be afraid.” When they looked up, all the fantastic weird stuff had gone away and only Jesus was standing there.
Things were back to normal – sort of. I say, “sort of” because you can’t un-remember an experience like that. Maybe you can’t process it all at first – but that sort of encounter leaves a lasting impression on a person.
That’s the thing about coming up against God’s glory – it’s overwhelming. Often it is just too much information for us to handle all at once. It is wonderful, and awe-full, and tremendous, and earth shattering, and scary, and your breath gets taken away, but it is transformative, and you don’t look at life the same way again.
Jesus was transfigured. His form was changed. For the first time despite all the miracles, and preaching to crowds, and the private teachings that Jesus was giving to his disciples, for the first time Peter, James, and John saw Jesus’ divinity. They saw what he truly was that was beyond his humanity. They saw the soul beyond the shell of the body that he was in. And it was strong, and powerful, and glorious.
But the disciples were transformed in how they looked at Jesus. Before them was the glorious divinity of God that they were participating in, not just in that moment, but everyday when they traveled with Jesus. Can you imagine what they were thinking of when they had a few moments to breathe and think about what they had seen? Jesus had become divine but now he was human again. He was eating, drinking, walking, talking, laughing, and sleeping with them. He was normal – except for the part about the miracles – but he was just like them.
And if he looked just like them; and he had been assuring them all this time that they too had souls; and that they too had the ability to work miracles, and that they too were in contact with their Father in Heaven; then was it possible that they also had a connection to all that powerful divinity and glory that they had seen? Wasn’t Jesus telling them that if they only had a little bit of faith that they could move mountains? Wow! What could they do with all that faith? What could they accomplish in the name of all that divine, pure, love that had come pouring out of Jesus on top of the mountain?
I am sure that in many ways Peter, James, and John couldn’t comprehend the magnificence of the divine presence. The entire experience was a mystery way beyond their ability to understand. But that inability to understand doesn’t negate it when it happens to you.
The last few weeks my sermons have had the word INVITATION in their titles, because invitation is what the story of Christ offers to us. We have been invited to remember that we are connected to God; we are invited to come and see what God does in our lives; we are invited to join God and Jesus on our journey; we are invited to participate in God’s blessing no matter who we are; God invites us to be in mission in our lives; and we are invited to forgive and reconcile, and to be radical with our love. God doesn’t push, God invites us, because he loves us and wants us to come and participate with Him freely.
Jesus invited those disciples up to that mountain-top. He wouldn’t have invited them unless he thought that they could in some way handle the revealing of his divinity and power and learn from it. But it was not only His divinity that He revealed but the potential of theirs as well. All through the Gospel Jesus invites people to participate in God’s love and glory and kingdom by being, acting, and living in God’s love. And when we do that, we encounter our own divine eternal souls that rest within us.
When you encounter the potential of your soul, and what it can accomplish, that can be overwhelming because you recognize that it is not just you doing the operating, but that you are operating with the power of God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit, who are so much bigger and so much more than you are. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed when you encounter God’s glory. But remember, Jesus said something to the disciples after it was all over. He said, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
And that’s a really good strategy for us to carry forward in life: To get up, keep going, and don’t be afraid of the power that God’s love brings into our lives.
Sometimes the invitation to step outside of the box and work with the transforming power of God is scary. We never really know where it will lead us. We never really know what’s going to be created from it – because we know that Christ is making all things new, and all-things-new can sometimes be really scary because we won’t know how to handle it. But we have the assurance from Jesus that even when it seems to be too much to handle we can get up, keep going, and not be afraid of where it will lead to. And remember – Jesus came down off of the mountain with his disciples. So he’s going to be with you too.
Jesus showed his disciples that he was divine, but he also showed them that they could participate in that divinity, and that there was no need to be afraid. Jesus is inviting us to participate as well. When we see that God’s glory truly exists we can recognize and believe our worth with God, and recognize and believe that with God’s love we can do anything.
Jesus is inviting you to live with his divinity, the glory of God, and God’s love. Let his divinity touch your sacred soul so that you will be transformed into His instrument of love on this earth. Open your heart, and do not be afraid.