(Matthew 17: 1-9)
Back when I was a free agent, you know, in between jobs and the church picked me up off waivers, I had a hobby where I would find some discarded treasure and repurpose it into something useful and hopefully beautiful. It might be something that I found on the side of the road, at a yard sale or at Waste-Not-Want-Not. I would look at it and try to figure out how I could change it from its prior use and transfigure its’ appearance into something that would have a repurposed life, a life with a new meaning that would appeal to a new owner. We even have an example of my handiwork in our nursery. I found an old television entertainment center at Waste-Not-Want-Not and turned it into a play kitchen for my granddaughter who was three years old at the time. When she outgrew it, she agreed to donate it to the church for other kids to enjoy. If you get a chance, go take a look at it. Hopefully, you’ll be impressed.
According to Merriam-Webster, a transfiguration means a change in form or appearance, a metamorphosis. In Christian parlance, a transfiguration means a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state.
And that’s where we find ourselves in our scripture reading for today. Jesus had been teaching, preaching and healing everywhere he went, and his ministry was growing by leaps and bounds. And, people were beginning to wonder if he really was the one sent by God to save Israel. Jesus was well aware of the timetable and the fate that was rapidly approaching, so he decided it was time to talk with a few of his closest disciples about what lay ahead.
Several days earlier, Jesus had told his disciples that if anyone would come after him, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow him. He said; For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. Sometimes, it just seemed like Jesus was talking in circles, making it difficult to follow his meaning. There were probably times when the disciples thought to themselves how much easier it would be if Jesus would just come out and tell them what was going on. As much as he probably wanted to, it would be too hard for them to comprehend, as they and the people were expecting someone like King David to come in and run the Romans out of the country and set up the kingdom that God had promised long ago.
So, Jesus takes Peter, James and his brother John up on a high mountain where they could be alone. Of the twelve disciples and all the other followers of Jesus, these three were his most trusted and in his inner circle. We’re told that right there before them Jesus was transfigured, his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became a dazzling white. And, suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. 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. I don’t think we can imagine the shock and awe Peter was experiencing as he tried to take in what he was seeing. It was like he had to do or say something as he and the other two disciples found themselves in the presence of God’s most holy men. As Peter was 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! When the disciples heard this, they fell on the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying; Get up and do not be afraid. And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself, alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus said to them; Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. Can you imagine having to keep something like that a secret? And, there he goes again talking about death. How can this be a part of the plan to establish the new kingdom? I’m not seeing it.
For Jewish men, this was quite an occurrence. Moses and Elijah were the two greatest prophets in the Old Testament. Moses represented the law, or the old covenant. He also wrote the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible, or the Torah, and predicted the coming of a great prophet. Elijah represents the prophets who foretold the coming of the Messiah. Moses’ and Elijah’s presence with Jesus before the disciples confirmed his Messianic mission to fulfill God’s law and the words of God’s prophets. God’s voice in speaking to the disciples exalted Jesus above Moses and Elijah as the long-awaited Messiah with full divine authority. The Apostle Peter would later write about this encounter in 2 Peter 1: 16-21 when he said they did not follow cleverly devised myths when they made known the power and coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. He told his readers that he had been an eyewitness, along with the other two, to his majesty, and that they were present on the mountain when God said Jesus was his Son, his Beloved, and of whom he was well pleased.
God, in no uncertain terms, told the three disciples to listen to Jesus because he had a lot to say and wasn’t talking just to hear the sound of his own voice. Jesus was laying the foundation for the church and they would be the ones who would get it up and running. Jesus had much to teach the disciples about God’s plan and they really needed to pay attention to what was being told them and what was about to be revealed. Jesus wanted to be sure that his disciples, all twelve, and the others who would follow, would be able to reach the masses with his message in a way that would be understood and inspire people to change their lives and work to establish God’s kingdom on earth.
Christ operated on the principle that quality begets quantity, not vice versa and that church leaders today need to recapture this principle. And, this is why I think the time is right for us to transfigure Christ’s Holy Church. To many, it no longer shines brightly as the light has dimmed and, in some cases, been put under a bushel basket where it can’t be seen. It is incumbent upon us to transform our church into a more beautiful and spiritual state. We think we’re doing a great job, but we have a public relations problem. People don’t think we’re relevant and serve no purpose in serving the greater good, especially when you see the bad press we’re getting on television and in the news. I don’t know about you, but it aggravates me when certain pollsters predict one candidate, or another will carry the religious vote. It’s like they are feeding into this stereotype that we’re of one political persuasion or another, when we can have separate political views and still put the practices and teachings of Jesus Christ into action. Like other groups who have been unfairly stereotyped, we have to work hard to break the negative perceptions people have of us, which is why I work so hard to do what the other churches aren’t doing or appear not to be doing. I do this so that when I hear one of these misperceptions, I can say I don’t know about the church you are talking about, but I can assure you that our church isn’t that way. Our church listens to Jesus.
So, what do we do? We remember and follow God’s instructions to Peter, James and John. We listen to him; we listen to what Jesus is telling us through the scriptures and what the Holy Spirit lays on our hearts. And, we pray that we have the courage and conviction to step up and step out making our presence known in our community as God’s faithful servants, ready and willing to meet the needs of our neighbors and share God’s love. We pray for those churches who have stopped listening and have turned themselves inward. We pray that they experience a revival of the Holy Spirit and come alive in the Word. We pray for the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church that it will see its’ strength and mission lays in the small churches that are doing the daily, boots-on-the-ground work of serving the least, the last and the lost. We pray that the United Methodist Church experiences a renewing transfiguration that works to expand our reach and influence out into a world that desperately needs to listen to God’s beloved Son, of whom he is well pleased.
Please pray with me.
Loving Lord of our hearts, be thou our vision as we look out into a dark world that so much needs the light of your Beloved Son. Through your saving grace you are in our best thoughts by day and by night. Whether we are awake or asleep, your presence is our light. Through listening to your Son, we gain true wisdom by his Word and his Way. And by his great sacrifice, in our unworthiness, we are forever with you and you with us. Great God in heaven, our transfigured life in your love is our treasure. You are first in our hearts as we cherish your vision for a world fit for all your children. O Ruler of all, be thou our vision. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.