6th Sunday after Epiphany:  Transfiguration  

First Reading: Exodus 24:12-18

12The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”
15Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Psalm: Psalm 2

1Why are the nations in an uproar?
  Why do the peoples mutter empty threats?
2Why do the kings of the earth rise up in revolt, and the princes plot together, against the Lord and against the Lord’s anointed?
3“Let us break their yoke,” they say;
  “let us cast off their bonds from us.”
4God whose throne is in heaven is laughing;
  the Lord holds them in derision.
5Then in wrath God speaks to them,
  and in rage fills them with terror.
6“As for me, I have anointed my king
  upon Zion, my holy mountain.”
7Let me announce the decree of the Lord,
  who said to me, “You are my son; this day have I begotten you.
8Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance
  and the ends of the earth for your possession.
9You shall crush them with an iron rod
  and shatter them like a piece of pottery.”
10And now, you kings, be wise;
  be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11Submit to the Lord with fear,
  and with trembling bow in worship;
12lest the Lord be angry, and you perish in a sudden blaze of wrath.
  Happy are all who take refuge in God!

 

Second Reading: 2 Peter 1:16-21

16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
19So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

1Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:

         “Beauty and the Beast” is a story that tells of a prince who has been transformed into a beast and he must learn to love and earn the love of another before a rose totally wilts.  The story, thanks to Disney, is much more complicated with subplots but basically a prince looks like a beast and Belle, the young girl, must learn to love him.  So turn to your neighbor and share why you would find the beast so repulsive?

Let us pray.  Lord, May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.

SERMON

         Today is Transfiguration Sunday.  The Son of God has appeared to us as, Jesus, the Son of Man, and we have been checking him out during Epiphany and learning to love him.  Unlike the fairy story, Jesus was not selfish and cursed but his life is not how our world paints heroes either.  We want God to ride in on a white charger, be handsome, and rescue us from the evil Garcon, that selfish bad-guy in the story who wants us as a trophy.  Through Epiphany we have seen Jesus talk about his kingdom but somehow “happy ever after” just does not happen.  If we read the rest of Matthew, as we have been doing in our daily devotions, we see Jesus doing remarkable feats of power.  He heals the sick, raises the dead, gives vision and is a fantastic teacher.  His people don’t fall asleep during the sermon, I bet. But he still looks human and the Romans, disease, problems and death still plague us.  In the tales of the kingdom of this world, the hero saves the poor and suffering, us, from pain and danger.  We want Jesus not only to  “walk the talk” but also rescues us, preferably before the next commercial.

         Today we have another “epiphany” moment as Jesus transfigures in the presence of Peter, James and John, and us.  Epiphany season is bookended by the voice of God speaking from heaven, “This is my son!”  For a brief moment in these epiphanies we see the caterpillar’s future form as a butterfly.  We glimpse the prince inside the beast.

Transfiguration

         My husband and I love to watch the beginning episodes of the series, “The Crown,” telling about the life journey of Queen Elizabeth.  The early episodes include Kenya and the famous hotel Treetops where even we stayed.  We watched yet again this week her coronation where she is anointed with oil as kings and priests of the Old Testament were.  The abdicated King, David, tries to explain what is happening to his French guests.  He shared how as the oil is applied, a spiritual experience occurs.  The presence of God transforms an ordinary woman into a goddess, the Queen of England.  The “mystery” of the moment is transformative.

         Jesus, Peter, James and John climb a mountain and at the summit Jesus for a moment is transfigured.  His face shines like the sun and his clothes glisten dazzling white.  Moses and Elijah appear and talk to him.  Twilight Zone could not do it better.  Beam us up, Scotty, to that mountain!!!  What was that about?

         I have looked at this moment before with you and pondered why Moses and Elijah were present.  God does not do random.  I have suggested that both these men came to encourage Jesus, Son of Man, who could step into eternity because he is also Son of God.  How could they encourage Jesus?

  • Moses stood on Mt. Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments.  Elijah stood on Mt. Carmel and confronted the 400 priests of Baal.  They knew what it was like to stand alone for people and for the truth of God.  Jesus would stand alone before Pilate and so the two saints encouraged him and us. 
  • Moses faced the Red Sea leading the people of Israel out of Egypt.  It looked impossible.  Elijah faced 400 prophets and a sacrifice that had 12 barrels of water poured over it and he believed God could make a fire.  It looked impossible.  Jesus would die for sin.  That seems impossible. The two saints encouraged him and us.
  • Jesus would face crucifixion and be deserted by his followers.  He would face death.  Moses went into the desert by himself to die but God was there to close his eyes.  Elijah was taken up by chariots in a whirlwind and walked through death.  Jesus would face death too.  He needed encouragement and so do we.

         How does transfiguration speak to us?  We have tracked the differences between the kingdom of this world and the kingdom of heaven during this Epiphany season.   We learn to tell in this world if our eyes are blue or brown.  We fill out forms about our ethnicity, height, and weight.  We see life with eyes of flesh that are trained to function in the kingdom of this world.  But we also have spiritual eyes.  Do we look at others, our friends and grandkids, our neighbors and those we meet seeing the potential within them.  When they are discouraged can we say that word of encouragement that draws their hearts to God and to a positive future? Or do the words of criticism and critique jump to our lips?  I pray Bethany will be known as a place where lives are transformed into being their better selves and our community will be a better place to live, a place of hope. May we see the prince in others and not just focus on the beasts we can often be!

Voice

         Our text continues and we hear two voices in response to the transfiguration.  The seen and unseen world witnessed as Jesus transfigured and met with Moses and Elijah.  Peter speaks up and says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”  Then for the second time this Epiphany season we hear the voice of God speak from heaven, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

         May I suggest that as we have been tracking the kingdom of this world through Epiphany, that I think we see that in this world we have a tendency to freeze time.  We like to build memorials to those special moments in our life.  Peter is ready to build three “dwellings” or perhaps churches or monuments so people can visit and remember this moment.  This is not necessarily a bad thing.  People go to the special sites in the Holy Land all the time.  Those special moments from our past are preserved in scrapbooks, in videos, put into movies and socially dissected from the various points of view of people involved.  The present walks on the heels of the past and we need to learn those lessons.  We don’t want to get stuck in the past, though.

       Also Peter makes the mistake of making Moses, Jesus and Elijah equal.  Peter is still not clear about what is happening.  Those special memories from the past are a piece of the picture of our lives in God’s story but they are only a piece of the picture. They are not the whole picture.  We learn from them but we don’t want our history to freeze us there so there is no room for growth.

         It is then that God speaks.  Even as God spoke at the baptism of Jesus when Jesus stepped onto the public stage, God now steps out of eternity.  This is not transfiguration like Jesus who has taken on humanity.  This is God speaking from beyond our reality, coming to us.  He again affirms the deity of Jesus but adds a phrase, “Listen to him.”  The Kingdom of Heaven transfigures us and reveals the truth of Jesus but that is not just a special mountaintop experience when we become believers that Jesus is God and will someday return to claim us in all his glory.  The Kingdom of Heaven is about relationship where we “listen”.  That is an ongoing activity, not a moment in time to be memorialized.  God says, “Listen.”

         Our holy moments and experiences are not places to stay but places to get up and get started.  Listening starts our journey with God but then we must walk the talk and be his person.  We come down from the mountain and live in our everyday world. So often we focus on wanting God to listen to our concerns that we forget to listen to his concerns and how he sees the events in our lives unfolding today. 

         So are we listening or are we too busy doing?  Perhaps our reflection here is to ask ourselves how we have stagnated, memorialized our faith and how can we better “listen” and increase the vitality of our relationships.  I’m guessing most of us have room for growth.  Even as Belle was challenged to learn to love the Beast, may we be growing in loving God who sometimes appears cruel and angry like a beast while he loves us.

“Get up and do not be afraid.” 

         Our text concludes with Jesus’ words to Peter, “Get up and do not be afraid.”  I have confessed before that I am a “fearling” so whenever I read the words, “do not be afraid,” God has my attention.  The disciples see Jesus transfigured and hear the voice of God and they fall on their faces in fear.  Jesus tells them to “get up and not be afraid.”      

         You have heard me talk about that other voice that seems to sit on our shoulders and seems to like to whisper in our ears doubts and fears that would discourage us.  Listening is a spiritual skill that grows as our faith grows.  We learn to recognize the voices of our friends and of God.  We can easily become afraid that we will make a mistake or misunderstand.  But that is what the body of Christ is for.  We are not alone.  We are part of a team with God and with his body.  We help each other to hear and to do.  God said, “listen”, and Jesus says, “Get up, and don’t be afraid.”

         We will all leave church today.  I do not know what “get up” will look like in your life but for sure, God is working in us, with us, and through us.  We must come down from the mountaintop.  Jesus walked with the disciples into their challenges, not to rescue them from the pains of life but to walk with them through the pains, as the God who understands our humanity.  Belle runs from the Beast but the story climaxes with her return amidst the attack by the town.  She loves the Beast.  As she has learned to love him, the truth is gradually unveiled.  He is the Prince that will walk with her into “happy ever after.” 

         So as we come to the end of Epiphany and celebrate Ash Wednesday this week, we turn our hearts to Lent and the journey to the cross.  Jesus, Son of Man who came to us as a small babe in Bethlehem and who entered public ministry with the voice from heaven calling him, “my son,” has now stepped through that veil of time and transfigured and we glimpse the Son of God.  It is a dazzling, frightful moment that we are tempted to freeze in our memories but the voice again reminds us that “this is my son, listen.”  We pick ourselves up and return to all the challenges of our everyday life.  We do not need to be afraid of the beast for as we learn to love and trust him we discover he is a wonderful prince who will fulfill all our real dreams and even more.  We will live happily ever after some day in his kingdom.

Let the people of God say “AMEN!”

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