Luke 9:28-36 (37-43) The Transfiguration
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Ever had something happen to you that was overwhelming?
Training for a marathon is hard work…lots of hard work… and it’s a bit overwhelming, but I know it takes one day at a time…each workout leads to something more…and, there’s change and growth in the process. When I first set out to train for a marathon with the goal of qualifying for Boston, it brought a lot of change in how I structured my day, what I ate and didn’t eat… it also brought change in my body….most of it welcome.
After getting to the Boston Marathon, running it while injured, finishing in that crowd, I was overwhelmed. I didn’t know how to process it. I cried and called my daughter.
The Luke story of the Transfiguration comes days after a series of events where Jesus is going around sharing the good news of God’s Presence, a message that was about a different narrative or story that was being lived at the time. A narrative of God’s desire for us to be in deep relationship with one another.
At one point in previous stories, Jesus is asking what others were saying about him. Some said that he was Elijah, John the Baptist. Peter said that He was the Messiah though…he had also healed some folks, one story right before this was a healing from blindness. He’s also beginning to share some hard things about his own suffering that was soon to come, that he would experience deep pain, and that he would die and rise again. As more and more crowds were following him, I’m sure it was hard for them to understand, and even harder for Jesus to convey this message.
We see that Jesus is getting away from the crowds, as he often did. He went up to a mountain with three of his friends. These were good guys I’m sure, but not always on top of things, and they had some issues, like we all do…I guess that’s why we can relate to them so well. Peter seemed prone to making big statements that he couldn’t always back up. He denied even knowing Jesus during his darkest hour a short time later. James and John were concerned with greatness and arguing about who would sit where in eternity. They seemed to be way more concerned by another life other than the one they were living, which, to this day is unnecessary and unhealthy conversation in the church. They seemed consumed with theological discussions and fantasies on power rather than helping those around them.
Yet, through it all, through their anxieties, image issues, and failures, Jesus counted them as friends and believed in them. He invited them into events and life experiences with him that were transformative and meaningful, he extended grace and presence to them.
This event, this mountain top experience had a profound impact on Peter, James, and John. They saw before them Jesus, their friend, changed, transfigured, beautiful. In Jewish understanding from the Torah, when someone’s face or countenance changed, or there is comment about one’s clothes being radiant, that’s a statement about one’s relationship with God and others, it’s symbolic of where their heart is. The disciples are seeing Jesus for who Jesus is.
How did they react? Well, they were overwhelmed, but they were glad to be there, they knew they wanted to be there. Peter was so caught up in the moment, that he wanted to create three dwellings or set up tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses. Somehow he wanted to contain that moment. He was terrified, as they all were. They didn’t know where to go or what to do, yet, they knew that things had changed.
It’s interesting that Elijah and Moses were the ones that Jesus was talking to…the author of this passage is making a statement about Jesus. Jesus, like Elijah, engages in prophetic ministry. Elijah’s ministry was marked by a passion for those on the outside of the “elect” or Israel, those on the margins, the poor, and how God had a purpose for them and loved them, and included them.
Moses gave us the law, our relational rules for how to treat one another and God. Jesus embodies the law and demonstrated to us how to live.
Moses also represents the exodus and Jesus’ exodus is representative of us, of everyone being released from bondage to whatever is holding us back from being the persons we were created to be.
Then, the clouds came. Maybe that’s to say that things aren’t always clear. Yet, God says, this is my son, part of me, I love him, LISTEN to him.
They left the mountain. But, notice that Jesus is with them. He’s not distant. Jesus told them not to tell anyone, they don’t have to validate themselves, just wait, there’s more to the story. Jesus would die, but he’d rise again.
I think that this story has a lot to say about us as persons and as a church. We are being changed, all of us. We experience change throughout our lives. It’s inevitable. Sometimes that change can be overwhelming. It can be confusing and also exciting. We know we want change and need it. When it comes, we’re not sure how to respond or the way for us may not be clear. But God says that we are not alone, that he’s with us, going through change with us, and to listen to his son. This Jesus is also rising up within us. He is alive and is working in and through us, calling us to have confidence in ourselves as his friends…to be made aware of ourselves, of God, and of others.
That Son lives in us and his Spirit is moving all around us. I sense that in this church and community.
I believe that Fleming Road UCC is going through a transfiguration. I also believe that each of one of us, together, are experiencing transfiguration in our relationships with one another and those we meet. We are being changed into something beautiful. We are inviting in conversation partners to help us see through the clouds of what that change will bring, we are practicing listening skills to each other, our community, and the word of God. I know I’m listening.
I want to see this church filled with people of all sorts of ages, color, economic backgrounds, thoughts, opinions, beliefs, orientations, etc.. Folks all being called to live life together in the way of Jesus and folks seeking out a Jesus who is pursuing them. I hope to see all of us living into Jesus, a Jesus who was changed before the eyes of his disciples where they could see him in even deeper ways. It will take time, hard work, and some suffering, overwhelming at times, but it will also be dazzling, encouraging, and wonderful.
I don’t know what is in store for the church that I pastor, Fleming Road UCC, but it will be beautiful, it will be good for you, for me, and for everyone in this neighborhood and in other neighborhoods, wherever we find ourselves in some way. We will be changed, and we will be glad to be on the mountaintop as that change happens. We won’t change overnight more than likely, and we will grow over time together. But, isn’t it so good to be together as we go to the mountaintop and hear God’s voice telling us, I love you, I’m with you, I am present.
As we approach Lent, may we use those 40 days as a time of repentance which simply means transformation, growth, of a changing of our minds and hearts and move towards renewal. Just as spring time will arrive, delivering us out of the death of winter, God wants to bring us into new life, deeper awareness, and to know that God has faith in us.
Jesus calls us friend, and invites us to be overwhelmed with something new, his love for us that transcends time and space and is present with us today and everyday. This love is demonstrated by Jesus’ pouring out his life for us and being broken for us and is symbolized in the Lord’s Supper which we participate in with remembrance of God’s action on our behalf and God’s invitation for us to come to the table of life that God shares with us, all of us.