Filed under: Sermons
Grace and peace to you, sisters and brothers in Christ.
I’m Pastor Elizabeth Davis. I serve Cross Lutheran Church in Ixonia. Thank you for welcoming me to be among you today. The United Methodist Church has always been very close to my heart. When I was little, my grandmother would bring me to her Methodist Church in Union Grove, and it was there I built memories of worshipping, learning in VBS, as well as counting ceiling tiles and swinging around poles in the basement. Her father and some uncles were Methodist ministers, so I feel like there might be some extra rejoicing in among the saints to see me worshiping among you all today.
I can’t quite remember who it was who suggested us pastors should switch things up and appear at each other’s services this week. I’ll give Pastor Ron credit since I’m here among you today. As I sat down to prepare with this text, my first thought was that we chose this date so that none of us would have to figure out what to say about the Transfiguration among our own people. It’s better to give the difficult texts to someone else- it feels good when we return and people are excited to hear their own pastor again!
The Transfiguration, and really this whole period after Epiphany, is about seeing something in a new light. It’s about seeing Jesus in a new- or deeper way. With that in mind, it makes a lot of sense for all us pastors to switch around today, because it gives us a chance to see our brothers and sisters in Christ in a new way. Hopefully, we are coming to a greater sense of each of our churches as part of a shared network, with our own specific gifts to bring to the shared work of praise and service. We may have looked at each other with suspicion, or viewed each other as competition, but if we really see each others, we discover we are brothers and sisters called to work together for the same goal. That goal is to follow Jesus in to the world today. We discover more about who Jesus is through the stories of the gospel.
Transfiguration is what we call the event in our Gospel text. Jesus takes his key disciples and goes up a mountain to pray. The disciples have a hard time staying awake. When they are able to open their eyes, they see Jesus changed. He’s shining- glowing- transfigured- the same Jesus they’ve known, but somehow also different.
I’ve been thinking about this as a movie scene, when a young man returns home from college and he sees the girl next door biking down the road. But he doesn’t recognize her at first. Her hair is streaming out, there’s a glow around her, and the scene slows down. Suddenly he realizes she’s the girl he’s spent summer playing kickball with, but now he sees her as something else, too- an attactive woman!
If you take out the hormones and the romantic tension, that’s what’s happening on this mountain. The disciples see Jesus clearly- in the glory that belongs to him, alongside and even honored above Elijah and Moses.
The Transfiguration is about seeing Jesus more clearly. Part of me wants to say, it’s about seeing Jesus as he really is. But it’s not. Not seeing Jesus as he is, as if he is really only about glory at the core of his being, while the suffering and the humanity is just a facade.
Jesus is both the Son of God, shining with glory and power, and the Messiah, whose way of saving is through giving up all power, even dying, so that all creation might be healed.
The disciples have been with Jesus in his ministry. They’ve seen him perform amazing signs, heard his words of wisdom, and even gotten to the point of recognizing him as the messiah. So you’d think they’d know who he is and wouldn’t have been so dumbfounded seeing Jesus in all his glory.
The disciples see this vision of Jesus’ glory and find themselves in the presence of Elijah and Moses, and Peter blurts out- it’s a good thing we’re here because we can build you all homes and then we can stay here forever. They are awed and amazed by this sight of raw power. What they’ve only halfway understood until now about all of who Jesus really is becomes blindingly clear. The mountain is a place of clarity and revelation of Jesus’ power.
Jesus doesn’t express a need to stay on the mountain, but his disciples do. Jesus will go down from this experience of assurance into the world of need. A crowd waits for him and they will demand he do more healing; they are desperate for his work. It’s Jesus who is honored on the mountain and not on the ground, but it’s the disciples begging to stay. I’m right there with them. Who among us wouldn’t have been just like Peter- wanting to stay right there, where faith is sure, where difficulties and suffering and the real needs of the world are far, far beneath us.
This mountaintop revelation is a reminder of the piece of who Jesus is that might be most difficult to believe in the days to come. This scene follows Jesus talking about his future of suffering, rejection, and death. When the disciples are in the midst of these most difficult days, when Peter hears the rooster crowing and realizes he has denied Jesus, will they remember this mountaintop moment, when they were so sure of Jesus’ power?
The experience of seeing Jesus revealed in all of God’s glory wasn’t enough for those disciples to remain steady in their faith when times got difficult. They still thought only of saving themselves when Jesus was arrested. They thought Jesus’ work had ended when they laid him in the tomb. When the heard the story of the empty tomb, they wouldn’t believe it at first. But then there was something in Peter that compelled him to go and see for himself. Perhaps it was that memory of this day on the mountain, a memory he might have discounted as a vision too strange to be trusted, but now, combined with the empty tomb, might just have resurrected some hope that the power of this Jesus was more than death itself.
Maybe the mountain wasn’t enough to completely change the disciples, to solidify their faith against all hardship, but it was enough to be a reminder- a glimmer of hope- that would come to them when it seemed all was lost.
As a pastor, I think people look at me and figure I must have a strong faith. But there are days of struggle when I just want to be sure. When I long for certain proof of God’s power. I’d love to be up there on that mountain, eyes wide open like Peter. Could you imagine seeing the power of God face to face? To hear God’s voice? To see the most important men of the faith? I’d want to stay right there forever. It would mean knowing for sure that God’s power really is greater than the power of death and destruction. It would mean that this man who spoke of loving enemies, giving away all for the sake of the poor, really did speak God’s vision for creation.
I wouldn’t want to come back down into the need of the world. That’s where I live today. That’s where it’s hard to believe and remember and trust that God really is working to make all things new, that God really does have the power to heal, that God will bring all things into life again.
It’s hard to hold on to a faith that declares Jesus’ power when we don’t see God’s power working as quickly as we’d like. When a young father discovers he has cancer, when a teenager dies of suicide, when a child is born to parents without the capacity to care for her, when some people are sick from too much to eat and others starve. The needs of the crowd are so great.
That’s why Jesus came back down off the mountain. That’s why Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit to come among us today. Jesus has shared a piece of his power and his compassion with each of you. Jesus calls us to follow him, down from holy heights and into the world of need.
On that mountain, it was so clear that God was present. When we’re in church, we’re surrounded by reminders that God is here. Then we go out the doors and into the world, and it can be hard to remember that God is most at work out there. But it’s out there that Jesus is already active.
When Jesus descends from heaven to be born to a human mother, when Jesus climbed down off the mountain to answer the needs of the crowd, when Jesus is raised up not on a throne but a cross, Jesus declares his place is among us, among the suffering, among the forgotten, overlooked outsiders. With eyes opened through faith, that’s where we’ll see him. Not only on a majestic mountain, not only in this sacred space, but in the places of daily life and among people who struggle.
So on next Sunday morning, I’ll be back at my own church, and you’ll have your own pastor restored to you. But that afternoon, and Monday, and Tuesday, and all the days after, I hope we’ll all have left our own holy sanctuaries to meet each other in the world and among the crowd. Then we won’t be Methodists or Lutherans or bound up in our liturgies or our confessions of faith, but we’ll be those who carry Jesus’ spirit and follow Jesus’ call to make things new, heal the sick, and comfort the despairing with God’s promise of new life. Then we’ll see revealed in each other the face and the power of Jesus. That’s the changed vision God is preparing for us today.
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