Tag Archives: Transfiguration

Nailing down the mountain top

Matthew 17:1-9

…And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then 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.” (Read the whole passage) (Read the whole passage)

We are on the move again. Jesus is taking us to new places, to see new sights. Our journey first began in Advent. We made our way to Bethlehem, to the stable manger, to the Baby Jesus born to a virgin mother. And our journey continued through Epiphany, where the wise man travelled far to see this saviour born to human parents.

Yet, for the last 4 weeks, we paused. We rested. We took a break on the mountain side as we listened to Jesus sermon on the mount that begins, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” And we listened as Jesus talked about Salt and Light, as Jesus re-interpreted our understanding of the commandments, as Jesus reminded us that we do not save ourselves by our works, but that God alone saves.

Well today, Jesus gathers us up again to go up the mount of Transfiguration. With Peter, James and John, we find ourselves on the mountain top. And we witness something amazing, we witness Jesus transformed. Jesus shows these disciples, and shows us, a glimpse of the glory of God.

And you would think that the disciples would get it. Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, they have been struggling to understand who Jesus is and what Jesus is all about. In this moment, as Jesus is surround by Moses and Elijah, the two most important figures of the Old Testament, the disciples should figure it out. They should be able to see that Jesus is that long hoped for Messiah, the one we waited for in Advent, the one we saw born in a manger, the one we saw begin a ministry of teaching, preaching and healing.

Peter, thinks he has it figured it out. Simon who Jesus has re-named Peter or “The Rock” on which he will build the church. If Peter had been alive today, he would have been a salesman type, maybe the top dog at a car dealership, and he would be chair of the council and he would be the biggest giver in the congregation. When Peter spoke, we all would listen.

And Peter does what Church people do best. Once he finds a good place to worship and good place to experience God, he suggests a building project. If you want to get people excited and involved in the church, build something and people will get on board in droves.

Peter knows that when you find something good, you need to get it nailed down, make sure you can keep hold of it as long as you can.

(Pause)

Jim had been a member of the St. David’s property committee for 2 years now. One Saturday a month, he would meet with the committee in the church basement at 7AM. Or least that was the official start time, but the rest of the committee, Jim suspected, was always there long before 7:00, with half finished cups of coffee in hand. At the age of 47, Jim was the youngest member by at least 25 years.

Each month, Simon, the chair of the committee, would call the meeting to order and then read a list of chores that had accumulated over the previous month. Simon was definitely the leader of the group, whatever he decided, was the rule of law for the property committee. After Simon read the list, the committee would spend the morning carrying out their list of tasks. Changing light bulbs, replacing furnace filters, tightening screws and nails anywhere they were loose.

This month however, Simon did not read from his list. This month he passed around a sheet of paper to each member. It was a list of questions. Simon then spoke, “Our worship attendance has been growing. The church is almost full every Sunday and I think it is time we expanded our sanctuary and added some improvements. When I suggested the idea to council, they were not in favour. So we are going to poll the congregation and then show council that this is what everyone wants”. Simon read the list of questions on the survey. Would your worship experience be enhanced by a nicer sanctuary? Would upholstered pews be more comfortable? Would adding a balcony allow more people to attend? Would you be willing to give more offering for a renovation?

Jim felt uneasy about this idea, but Simon had already placed a copy in every member’s mailbox.

(Pause)

We are often like Peter on the mountaintop. When we find something good or that we like, we want to get it nailed down. Peter sees Jesus transfigured and wants to keep him that way. We see God’s glory in some manner and we wish we could control it.

But Jesus has different ideas.

Jesus is merely passing through. Jesus is on the move. Jesus has plans for transformation. Jesus no intention of stopping now.

Jesus invited Peter, James and John up the mountain. And Jesus brought them in order to reveal glimpse of divinity, a glimpse of God. But Jesus is also headed down the mountain. As Jesus reveals himself to these three disciples, Jesus is showing them, not just who he is, but what he is going to do. Or in other words, Jesus is set to show the disciples that God is about do something that will change and transform the whole world. God is putting into motion a new way for creation. God is reversing the direction of travel, and planning a new way for the world, a new path.

Peter’s desire to nail things down, to control this wonderful moment points to a deeper problem within us. Our desire to keep things controlled and unchanging, to make sure we keep a hold of the things we think are good. And this leads us only in one direction. When we nail things down we are headed towards death.

(Pause)

The following month at the St. David’s Property committee meeting, Jim arrived a little late. He joined in the middle of Simon reading, one at a time, the responses to his survey. The responses seemed to neither for nor against renovating. People were somewhat interested but not really enough to want to pay for anything too costly. Simon seemed to be getting more and more frustrated with every response he read.

Simon finally got to the last survey. Simon’s face turned red as he looked at it. He slammed it down on the table… Jim could see that only one question had been answered. Simon hadn’t even read the answer, and instead was fuming in his seat because he had been expecting overwhelming support for his plan.

Jim picked the survey up and began reading the one answer out loud. It was to the question “Would your worship experience be enhanced by a nicer sanctuary”.

“Dear property committee” someone wrote.

“I live in world that is always trying to be or get the newest and best thing. In my job, I have to be constantly looking for more, to be better, to find something that will attract more buyers. I feel like I am always running up a mountain.

That is why I come here. That is why I worship here. At St.David’s I get to come down the mountain. When I see the people around me, when we sing and pray, when we share the peace and drink coffee together, I get to see God. And God isn’t on the mountaintop. God comes down to be with me, with us. God walks with me, and after I worship here each week, I am reminded that Jesus goes with me, that Jesus comes and trudges up my mountain each week and he brings me back down, back to be here with you. Back to the place where I can see God in your faces, and I can hear God’s voice in your voices. That is why I worship here, not because of the building, but because of the people, because of you.”

Jim set the paper down. For the first time Jim had ever seen, the group was silent. Most were just staring into their coffee. Simon was just staring at Jim.

Jim then said to the committee, “That was my survey”.

Simon simply nodded and said, “Well, I guess that is that. Let’s get back to work”. And off the committee went attending to their regular monthly chores.

(Pause)

As Church people, even we can forget what Jesus is doing in our world, what Jesus is doing right here among us. Today, we are reminded of who Jesus is, we glimpse the glory of God and then Jesus brings us down the mountain, despite Peter’s desire to nail things down.

We are descending into Lent. We on our way with Jesus into the valley and shadow of death. We will be reminded on Ash Wednesday that we are dust and ash. We will be reminded that we are dead. And journey through Lent will take us to the next the next mountain.

We will go with Jesus to Golgatha.

And on mount Golgatha Jesus will finally be nailed down.

Jesus will hang on a cross.

What Peter wanted to preserve on the mount of Transfiguration today, humanity will want to kill on Good Friday.

But that is what God has come to show us. Not that Jesus can be transformed, but that Jesus is going to do the transforming. Jesus is going stare death right in the face and change it. Move it. Transform it. Re-make it.

Death will no longer be death. We will no longer be dead.

Death will become life. We will be made alive.

Alive in Christ. Alive to move and change and be different. Alive to go with Jesus up and down the mountains. Alive with Jesus to see God in people around us and to be reminded that we are not alone but that we are on the journey together.

Carrying our burdens up the mountain of Transfiguration

GOSPEL: Luke 9:28-36 [37-43a]

28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray….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. (Read the whole passage)

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 our Epiphany lingering, our time of sitting with Jesus as he is revealed to us in new ways, 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.

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 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 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.

And we get it.

We totally get the feeling of this burden.

Even as good Lutherans who know that we cannot earn our own salvation, but rather it is given as gift by grace through faith… We too still act as if the burden of faithfulness is ours.

Our world, and often the church too, conditions us to think that it is our good actions, our gifts of generosity, our ability to be moral and of good character, our prayers and worship, our biblical literacy and theological understanding are the things make us faithful. We fret over our families and communities when they start to show a waning interest in church, will they still be saved? We fear God’s punishment when the pews seem a little emptier than they used to and the budget a littler tighter than we like. We wonder how we have failed God when it is clear that world simply doesn’t care about what Christianity has to say anymore. And we often lap up the advice of experts and gurus of church mission and growth who promise to give us the secrets of successful faithfulness for just a small speakers fee.

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 for a deposit in our faithfulness bank account.

Yet, before Peter gets too far into his plans for righteousness earning,

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 to.

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, it is not our burden to be faithful… but that God has come to be our righteousness and our faithfulness for us.

God has always been coming down to meet us and to carry our burdens… even if we are trying to be faithful all on our own.

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 despite our morals or character, regardless of our prayers or biblical literacy.

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 mission expert’s steps to success or 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.

Not THE Transfiguration Story, but A Transfiguration Story

John 9:1-41 *

 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. (read the whole passage)

Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration Sunday is a day that swings us from the revelation of Epiphany to Lent and preparation. We go up the mountain to find God revealed to us on the mountain top and Jesus carries us down into the valley of Lent. Transfiguration is a moment that allows us to glimpse the way ahead before the journey begins, to see out into the valley of Lent, to landmark Holy Week as our next destination, and remind ourselves that Easter is just over the next hill – even if that hill is Golgatha.

Now today, we didn’t actually hear the familiar transfiguration story. The one where Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain, and then is transformed into dazzling white. Elijah and Moses show up, and Peter wants to build an altar. But then God’s intervenes, just like at Jesus’ baptism, and tells everyone gathered that Jesus is God’s beloved son. And then Jesus is back to normal, tells everyone to keep quiet about what they saw and they all head back down the mountain.

So instead of Transfiguration, we heard a story about Jesus encountering a Blind Man and restoring his sight. A story that follows the stories of Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman that we heard in the past couple weeks.

Yet, this story of the Blind man might not be THE Transfiguration story, but you could say it is A story of Transfiguration.

As Jesus and his disciples are walking along, they encounter a blind man, and in order to make a point, Jesus heals blind man’s sight. And then Jesus moves on.

The blind man however, begins an extended encounter with the incredulous community around him. At first people don’t even recognize him, they just cannot wrap their brains around this changed man. Still, once they accept it is the man, they have trouble accepting that this change in him in a good thing. They put him on trial, they want to know who has done this thing that has upset their whole community. They want to know how a sinner like him can now see.

Still not being satisfied with the blind man’s answers, they ask his parents. But they are no help.

So they ask the man who had been blind once again, this time the Pharisees and community leaders are beginning to sound enraged. They simply cannot allows this kind of thing to mess with their community. Everyone has their place, this man was a blind beggar… who will do that now?

The blind man, sensing their rage, pokes fun at his community, asking them if they want to follow Jesus. That’s the last straw and the community drives him out.

The community just cannot see how this sinner among them was healed by some wandering preacher, who were a dime a dozen in those days. They cannot see through the flesh of Jesus, to what just might be a sign of God’s presence among them.

The community is blind.

Blind to God’s presence among them, blind to possibility that God could be close and doing something new.

We get what those people around the blind man feel. We have been there too. It is just as hard for us to dig through the fleshiness we see around us. Like them we can find it so hard to believe that God could be doing things with us.

We look around our community, at each other, at the people we have known for years and years, and those who are new among us… and we just cannot imagine that God could be found in us.

And we look around at this place, these walls and pews, this structure and building where it can feel so mundane and familiar… and we just cannot imagine, we just cannot see God here.

And we look at ourselves. Our own flaws and imperfections, our failings and limits, and we feel so human, so anything but God’s children… and we just cannot imagine, we just cannot see God near and close to us.

And so we can be just like that community around the Blind Man, unable, unwilling to imagine that God could do something among us.

We are blind just as they are. We are blind because we see what we see… which seems to be the absence of God in our very mundane surroundings.

But because the Blind Man doesn’t see what we see, what his community sees just might be why he experiences God.

The blind man is just doing what he always does, beginning at the side of the road, living off the charity and good will of those passing by.

Yet when Jesus and his disciples pass by, the Blind Man does not see what his community sees – another wandering preacher coming to town. Rather the Blind Man hears a voice say,

“I am the light of the world.”

And then the blind man feels hands on his face. Hands and mud. And then follows the simple command,

“Go and was in the pool of Siloam.”

So the Blind Man goes and washes…. and light floods in. The light floods into his eyes and he can now see.

But still, all that he knows of the one who healed him are a voice speaking light into the world. Hands fashioning something new out of the mud, and the command to go and be washed.

The Blind Man’s experience of Jesus follows a story that every Jew would know well, one that we know well. The story of the creation. The story a of voice who said,

“Let there be light.” and “I am the Light of the world.”

The story of hands that shaped the Adam, the first human out of the mud of the earth.

The story of the creator who commanded the creation to live in the good world that God had made.

The Blind Man’s experience was a divine one, the Blind Man had heard God’s voice and felt God’s hands.

But his community could only see another mundane human being, another preacher coming to live off the hospitality of the community.

So sent away because of the story he had to tell and the new life he had been given, Jesus finds the Blind Man again.

And it is there that we find a Transfiguration moment. Jesus meets the Blind Man and tells him that he is finally seeing and speaking with the Son of Man, the Messiah.

With that, Jesus bridges the distance between human and divine. Just like Jesus is Transfigured on the mountain top and then changed back, Jesus show the Blind Man that wrapped in flesh, is the God of the creation, the God who spoke life into the darkness, and who is still the light of the world.

The Blind Man, like the disciples on the mountaintop, finally, truly, sees.

And yet, we still struggle like the community who just couldn’t peer under Jesus’ flesh to see the divine.

But Jesus knows that about us. Jesus knows that we have trouble seeing God.

So here in this place, where we are supposed to encounter God, Jesus meets us in ways that don’t require us to see.

Here, Jesus speaks to us. Jesus speaks words like forgiven, healed, renewed, beloved, washed, raised. Jesus speaks to us with the Word of God proclaimed in this place. And just as God spoke in creation, God speaks to us in our ears.

And here Jesus reaches out to us. Jesus washes our eyes in the waters at the font, the waters of gospel promise, the waters of new life. And just as God commanded the Blind Man to wash, God washes the light into our world too.

And here Jesus presses flesh into our flesh. Bread and Wine, the very body and blood of Christ are pressed into our flesh, and brought to our lips. And just as Jesus reached out to touch the Blind Man, God reaches out and comes as close as God can to us.

So when we look around and only see regular, familiar faces, faces that we cannot seem to imagine God in, Jesus sees in us the Body of Christ, God’s hands and feet in the world.

When we look around and only see the walls and pews and hymnbooks of routine and mundane experience, Jesus sees people gathered in God’s house.

When look at ourselves  and only see flawed and imperfect people who cannot seem to get faith right, Jesus sees in you and me people that God has faith in, people who are God’s beloved children.

And just like the Blind Man, there is A Transfiguration story here too, week after week. A Transfiguration story where God is revealed in human flesh, where the light of creation shines on us, where Jesus comes to us in experiences where we do no see, but instead hear, and feel and taste and touch…  in Word, in Water, and in Bread and Wine.

*The congregations I serve are using the Narrative Lectionary in the first three months of 2018