Luke 9:28-36 Transfiguration
A curio cabinet from my mother stands in our house. Keeping it with me is just one way of keeping my mom with me; Mom lives with dementia and is slipping away from us a little bit at a time. But she always loved her knick-knacks, so, while I don’t have the same attachment to them that my mother did, I keep some of her favorite items in the curio. Statuettes of angels, birds, and children live on the glass shelves of the cabinet where I can enjoy them, think of Mom, and keep them safe.
I have friends who have sets of china or linens or other precious things that were handed down to them by parents or grandparents, and in most cases, they, too, keep them on display or hidden away in closets, trunks, or even boxes.
We keep treasures like these safe and out of the hands (and sight) of unapproved users. They sometimes come out to be used and enjoyed, but most of the time we consider them too precious or too fragile to be out of protective custody.
When we have something that holds special meaning or value to us, our instinct is to hold onto it, hide it, box it in, or otherwise preserve it. Think about it for a minute. What do you have in your life that is so treasured?
The story of the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop comes each year on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. It, too, becomes a story that we read about, talk about, and then put away until the same time next year. And yet, the Transfiguration of Jesus was considered such an important event by the writers of the synoptic Gospels that Matthew, Mark, and Luke each included it in his account of Jesus’ life.
With this story, a line is drawn that connects Jesus’ baptism and the cross.
It is fitting as we approach the beginning of Lent that the scene described in our Gospel text should be the view in our mind’s eye. Before we contemplate the passion, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we first witness the glory of God revealed in Jesus the Christ.
See that cross up there? Or the one back there? They remind us of a pivotal part of our story. The story of the Transfiguration of Jesus stands as a reminder too, that no matter what happens to Jesus, the glory of God is established in him. Therefore, God will have the last word and will raise him up in glory. Despite the events that will unfold in Jerusalem, including his own passion and death that Jesus himself has predicted, God’s claim and God’s love rest on him and will carry him beyond the darkness of death and into eternal glory.
Peter, James, and John accompany Jesus who is on his way up the mountain to pray.
Here in this sacred place, while he is praying, Jesus’ face takes on a unique glow, is changed, and his clothes become dazzling white. The two greatest prophets of Israel appear beside him.
The disciples, while sleepy, are awake enough to see this vision. It’s an interesting contrast to a scene that will take place soon, when Jesus, in his agony, repeatedly asks them to stay awake with him in the Garden of Gethsemane, but they fall asleep instead. But here, so moved are they by the sight before them, they want to leap into action.
Peter tells Jesus that they should build three dwellings – one for Moses, one for Elijah and one for Jesus. Peter wants to preserve this holy experience to keep it from slipping away. They want to keep Jesus and this moment grounded to this place.
Perhaps Peter’s reaction is at least in part a response and denial to what Jesus’ repeated predictions of his passion and death. His first instinct is to build something around Jesus to hold onto him and to keep things from changing – like my curio cabinet preserves the items inside and keeps me connected to my mother.
We’ve already established that you and I like to preserve what is precious to us; that often means storing it, hiding it, or locking it away. Does our propensity toward memorializing things extend even to Jesus?
Do we build dwellings around Jesus too? Is that what the church is to us? Do we create these buildings that help us hold on to the Jesus that makes us most comfortable, a Jesus that looks and thinks remarkably like us? A Jesus that maybe we even think will serve as a talisman against trouble? Do we box Jesus in and bring him out only when it suits us?
Perhaps the dwelling place we create for Jesus is even a barrier to let those we don’t approve of from knowing the blessing of Jesus for themselves. Perhaps that is why our churches all too often lack the diversity that reflects of the universality of Jesus’ mission of salvation for all people.
My friends, the light that emanates from Jesus in our Gospel today is not metaphorical light. Rather, it is a literal, physical light that shines brilliantly. Jesus himself is the source of the light that glows in what is truly a mountaintop experience for these disciples. It comes from within. It is not a manufactured light or reflected light. The source and quality of the light with which Jesus shone is divine. And the voice the disciples hear is also divine, “This is my Son, my Chosen. Listen to him!”
If we listen, truly listen to Jesus what we will hear is:
· God desires freedom and life for all nations.
· God is with us and for us through all the trials of life.
· God loves us and all of God’s children more than we can imagine, and God desires that we share this love with our neighbor.
· God will do absolutely anything – including dying on the cross – to save and preserve us from the stain and sentence of sin.
Episcopal priest, Wil Gafney writes, “The worlds in which [the texts this morning] are set include brutal wars, occupation, colonization, slavery, financial exploitation, and interpersonal violence. And yet God chooses to dwell among her people, accompanying them through the perils of a very broken world. These texts testify to God’s presence in our world as well; we are every bit as broken and God is every bit as present. In a world deluged by floods, shaken by architectural and economic collapses, and bruised by violence between persons and nations, the enduring presence and undimmed glory of God is a beacon of hope and comfort.”
God’s final word in this text is a word of command – listen to him. To listen to Jesus is to hear his word, to follow his call to serve as his disciples. To listen to Jesus involves picking up our crosses to follow wherever he leads, knowing that he does not leave us alone. Neither we nor Jesus are meant to be preserved inside buildings, institutions, or the restrictions of human determination.
To listen to Jesus is to know that in him, God pours out God’s heart and love into the world to transform you and me and all who believe in Jesus so that we can follow him, for the life of the world.
Jesus transforms our lives by his very presence – we are transformed as disciples who live our lives like his, caring about what he cares about, persisting against the injustices and sin he himself persisted in speaking out and acting against. Listening to Jesus involves shaping our lives into cruciform witness to his glory and his love.
In Jesus, God has ensured that we are never alone. The same God who created each and every one of us in his own image sees all people as worthwhile, worthy of love, dignity, and respect. We can never look into the face of another – regardless of who they are, and not see the face of one whom God fiercely loves. Through Jesus, God intends to use the gifts God has given us to care for each other and the world.
The reality is that brutal wars, occupation, colonization, slavery, financial exploitation, and interpersonal violence still exist in our world. We are both part of the brokenness, and part of the solution.
Acknowledging our need for a savior, God transforms us into servants of the world, sent to listen to Jesus and reflect the light of his love in our lives.
As Jesus and the disciples will leave the mountain and its glory behind and descend into the brokenness of the world to live out their callings, the church heeds the call to Lenten disciplines amid the troubles of the world. As we “leave our alleluias” behind today, we pledge to focus not on the dazzle and shine of the light of Christ, but on what it means that he not only descended from heaven to live among us, but that he came down from that mountain again, to complete his journey to the cross.
Despite the pain and the sorrow of what is to come, God is there. The light shining from Jesus upon the mountaintop is light that will defeat sin and death once and for all.
We, who have been baptized in his name, we will remember the God who claims us as his own as we welcome new members among us. May we come down from that mountaintop experience to share our faith and the good news of God’s love not inside these walls, but outside them; not preserving them for our own safe-keeping, but gifting them to all whom we meet.
May it be so.