God’s Interruption of Our Expectations – A Sermon on Transfiguration

GOSPEL: Luke 9:28-36 [37-43a]
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now 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. 33Just 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. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36When 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. 

Today, we come to the end of an unusually long season after Epiphany… Nearly two months ago, a lifetime ago, we gathered with the wisemen around the Christ-child to worship this new king sent to save the people. And in the weeks that followed, the divine Christ was revealed to us in different ways, each time pushing us, making us ready for today. For this journey up the mountain of Transfiguration… because on the mountaintop everything changes and the world as know it will come to an end. On this mountain, Jesus charts a course that puts him on a collision course with our efforts to be like God, to be in control of our own fate. 

Transfiguration Sunday is a hinge Sunday, a Sunday that swings us from one part of the story into the next. From the dark of Christmas night, into the bright noonday desert sun of Lent. Transfiguration is that moment where the bright lights are too much to take in and our eyes need some time to adjust.

These past two months have shown us a world that we were not prepared to see, a world that we did not expect. It has felt as between Sundays, between the stories that showed us again and again the Christ revealed in ways – in his baptism, at the wedding of Cana, filling fishing hets on the lake, preaching in Nazareth, and preaching blessings on the plain…. In between of all that a Pandemic thought to be winding down has raged, our family friends and neighbours occupied streets in Ottawa, important border crossings and the roadways outside of provincial legislatures all in name of freedom, with some white supremacy accelerationismon the side. And then as if that wasn’t enough… a peace between western nations that has last, if not uneasily, for 70 years, was broken as Russian military forces invaded Ukraine. 

In in twist of sick irony, the bright lights of bombs and gun fire has revealed to us a whole new world. 

Back on the mountain of transfiguration, things begin innocuously enough down in the valley, where Jesus decides to bring a select few with him to climb a mountain. Peter, James and John… oh, and the rest of us… are chosen to follow Jesus up the mountain. If you have ever had the chance to climb a mountain, you will know that it is not as glamorous as it sounds. It is mostly staring at the ground and the feet of the person in front of you as you tiredly trudge uphill. Once in a while there is a stop or pause to admire a view, but then more trudging. 

So after Jesus, Peter, James and John have trudged up their mountain, the disciples are understandably tired, sleepy even. And in their tired and sleepy state all of a sudden, Moses and Elijah appear. The two greatest prophets of Israel. And they are standing next to Jesus… but not normal Jesus. Jesus in dazzling white, looking suitably prophet-esque himself. 

Now before unpacking what happens next, it is important to know about all the clues we missed up until this point. The religious practice of Israel of the day was centred around the Jerusalem temple and laws of Leviticus. Making sacrifices in the temple and keeping the laws to maintain one’s purity and righteousness was how you stayed in God’s good books. The burden of righteousness of salvation rested on the shoulders of people. And the Jerusalem temple and its priests were the chief judges and gatekeepers of righteousness, making sure that only those who could keep the law and make sacrifices were given righteous status. 

But before the levitical laws and Jerusalem temple, there were the prophets of Israel. Messengers appointed by and speaking on behalf of God who brought God’s righteousness and mercy and compassion to God’s people. These prophets were the patriarchs of Israel, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But chiefly Moses and Elijah. And these prophets represented God away from the temple, and apart from the following the law. They often came preaching from the wilderness, they met God on holy mountains, they brought the very voice of God to God’s people. 

So as Jesus and his disciples trudge up this mountain, the clues are there. Jesus is not aligning himself with the centre of religious authority, with the temple and its laws. But rather with the prophets of old, those appointed directly by God to represent God to the people. 

And there on the mountain of transfiguration, Jesus receives his prophetic appointment, just as Moses and Elijah did. Confirmation that God was sending Jesus, the Messiah, to bring God’s righteousness, God’s love and mercy to God’s people. 

And yet even in this moment Peter cannot escape the burden of keeping the law, the sense that he must do that work of saving himself. 

“It is good for us to be here, let us make three dwellings.”

Peter wants to preserve this holy moment and make it a holy place, a place where the faithful can go to earn their righteousness. Peter just cannot imagine a faithfulness that doesn’t include his responsibility to earn his salvation. Peter cannot imagine a faithfulness outside of what he knows and experienced outside of his expectations.

We see you Peter. And we know you. 

We totally get this feeling. 

As for the past 20 years our world slowly shifted and twisted away from our expectations, as the church slowly but surely stopped being a given in Canadian society, in the lives our neighbours, friends, and family… maybe even in our own week to week routines… We understood that feeling that Peter has… we know in our bones what the world is supposed to look like, we know what being faithful Christians takes. And it almost hurts things aren’t just woking they are supposed to anymore. 

Following the rules, paying taxes, working hard is not the guarantee of a safe, secure, peaceful life it once was. Showing up to church with an offering envelope – when Sunday morning didn’t conflict other more exciting options – isn’t the promise that church will just be there when we need it that it once was. 

And certainly these past 2 years have crumbled our expectations that life will just keep going as it always has, the pace of change accelerated while we have held on desperately to the hope that we can go back to what things were. 

Finally this week, the 70 years of relative security and comfort for the Western World has come crashing down. Where we go from here no one knows, but building a dwelling place on top of a mountain is possible any more. There is no going back. 

So yeah, we totally get Peter’s feeling of being burdened. We would almost certainly want to do the same thing if we were standing on that mountain, we would try to capture the moment, hoping to continue life as we once knew it. 

Yet, before Peter gets too far into his plans to hold on.

God interrupts. 

Just as God spoke in Jesus’ Baptism, just as God spoke over the waters of creation, God speaks again. 

“This is My Son, My Chosen, listen to him!”

And what is that Jesus has said?

Well, he has NOT told his disciples and the crowds that earning their righteousness comes through keeping the law and making sacrifice at the temple. 

In fact, the last time that Jesus said anything before going up this mountain was to predict his death. That he will suffer, be rejected and be killed. And on the third day be raised again. 

Jesus has just told his confused disciples that he is coming to meet God’s people, to meet them in the midst of their suffering and rejection. And to die just as they die. Jesus has just told his disciples that he has come to bridge the distance between God and creation, and has come to carry their burdens. 

Jesus has come to carry their burden of righteousness earning to the cross.

Jesus has come to carry our burden of faithfulness to the grave. 

Jesus has come to carry the burdens of God’s people so that we don’t have carry our burdens alone.

This Messiah born in the manger, baptized in the Jordan, who turned water into wine in Cana, who filled the fishing nets on the lake, who preached on the plain… this Jesus, transfigured Prophet of the most high God does not stay on the mountain for an important reason. 

God’s prophets are not sent to go up mountains.

They are sent to go down.  

To bring God down to God’s people. 

Jesus the Messiah is coming down the mountain with Peter, James and John… and the rest of us… so that we can know that it is not our burden to earn our righteousness nor our right to stay on the mountain-top. So that we can face our changing world, even though we would rather stick with a world that meets our expectations. 

Still, God has always been coming down to meet us and to carry our burdens, to walk with us in suffering, to show us the way through uncharted waters.

God comes down to meet us every time we gather as community, no matter how many of us there are. 

God comes down to us whether we are in church every week, or have forgotten that church entirely. 

God comes to down to us in a world that we hardly recognize, to remind that us in the midst of the chaos God reminds the same and holds us to a faith that roots us in the image of God, that gives us an identity in the Body of Christ. 

God comes to meet us in this place and in many more places of worship whether they are full or nearly empty, whether the budget is easy to meet or underwater, whether we follow the success comes easy or we have no idea where to begin. 

God comes to meet us because we are God’s people, weighed down with burdens that only God can carry. 

And so God comes to carry them and to carry us. 

In God’s Word spoken here, in the waters of God’s cleansing grace, in the bread and wine of mercy, Christ’ body and blood – in all these things, God comes down the mountain to us. 

And so on this Transfiguration Sunday, as we also go down the mountain with Jesus, we are reminded  God is always on the way down to us. 

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