Sermon, Transfiguration Sunday
February 11, 2018. St Petri.
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. 3 His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. 4 And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.
5 Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ 6 (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)
7 Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
8 Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what ‘rising from the dead’ meant.
11 And they asked him, ‘Why do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?’
12 Jesus replied, ‘To be sure, Elijah does come first, and restores all things. Why then is it written that the Son of Man must suffer much and be rejected? 13 But I tell you, Elijah has come, and they have done to him everything they wished, just as it is written about him.’
The Lord is always close to us. It is just that he is hidden in things we do not expect. Sometimes he has to simply open the curtain a little to let us in on his stunning presence; to let us know that he is right here with us as he promised. So Transfiguration Day comes…..
The curtain is drawn back in a special way for just a minute in time for three flabbergasted guys. The special man of God is revealed in the glory from which he came, and three blokes seeing it are tongue-tied and rather dazed by the brilliance of it. How long has it been since you were flabbergasted by the presence of the same Saviour man, Jesus?
These three have followed Jesus for a while now and they have followed him up this hill today. All the ‘bells and whistles’ of divine experience are coming their way.
It is an ancient experience reborn.
Moses and Elijah are there: two men of the Old Era who were taken to the Lord’s heaven without being dead and buried like the rest of us. Elijah went bodily into heaven (2 Kings 2:9-12) and Moses’ grave was never found (he was buried by God himself in Deuteronomy 34:4-7). As a result of their special departures, many Jewish people believed that these two could return to announce God’s new reign was at hand. And here that reign is, up on the hill – Jesus.
But what about those three tents or “booths” Peter asks about? People often say that Peter was stunned like a rabbit in the head lights and just blurting out some nonsensical stuff to try and make the moment last. Maybe. But maybe he is doing a lot more thoughtful thing as he says that the three amigos should built some booths to stay in.
According to some Jewish expectation of the day, and as stated in the book of Zechariah (see 14:16-21), God would usher in the “Day of the Lord,” during the Feast of Booths.
The Feast of Booths was upon them. Surely Moses, Elijah, and Jesus need not construct their own booths for the celebration. The three other amigos will do it!
And what about blinding dazzling light? Remember Moses and his dazzling face transformed by being in the presence of God (Exodus 34:2, 29-35). After Moses has been in conversation with God about the future life of God’s people, he descends from the mountain so reflecting the light of God’s glory that he must cover his face lest he frighten the children – not to mention his wife!
Similar in Daniel. In Daniel the “Son of Man” is also dazzling white. The mysterious messianic figure who will bring about God’s will and God’s justice, is a supernaturally stunning figure (Daniel 7:9-14).
And what about all in the cloud? The Shekinah. The ‘glory cloud’ that was there when it really counted – The Red sea crossing (Exodus 14). Every day of the desert journey (Exodus 13:21). The day the Tabernacle was dedicated as God’s dwelling place (Numbers 9:15), on Mt Sinai at the giving of the 10 Commandments and the feast of the Elders in God’s presence (Deuteronomy 5), the dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem by King Solomon (1 Kings 8).
With all these bells and whistles, it was easy to remember. The gospel writers record it in their proclaiming of Jesus. Peter obviously never forgot it because he reflects on it later in his second letter (1 Peter 2:16-18).
16 For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty. 17 He received honour and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’[b] 18 We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
How Peter remembers it later on, and how Mark tells it now gives us the clue as to what this mysterious spiritual experience is really all pointing to.
It is the clear Word of God that makes sense of this dazzling experience. Without this Word, it would just be a nice experience. Without this clear Word of God speaking, this would just be bells and whistles without any clear substance or meaning or sure promise.
God speaks into this experience and makes it clear and good and truth.
‘This is my Son, whom I love’.
It is all about the Son and the Father’s love for the Son. Like a lover on Valentine’s Day, she declares her love and loyalty to her man.
Mark has reported this same stunning affirmation of Jesus before this day. He will do it one more time after this day. The first was at Jesus’ baptism (Mark 1:11). These words will echo at Jesus’ death (15:39).
All three times God says to a world in waiting, Jesus is unique, a one-in-a-million person, divine, chosen, anointed and sent by me. He is the difference between mere human imagination and divine promise and power. He is light. He is glory. He is hope.
“This is my Son, the Beloved” (Mark 9:7). What a title! Especially when the one saying this is the God of Creation! (see also Deuteronomy 4:36; 2 Samuel 22:14; John 12:28; Acts 11:9).
No one else gets this title; “God’s Son.” Not Moses. Not Elijah. Not John the baptizer. None of Galilee’s other preachers or demon casting exorcists (Mark 6:7, 12-13; 9:38). Only Jesus is the beloved Son. He is “unique,” “one-of-a-kind.” A father’s love for such a son is fathomless, because there is no other.
What are supposed to do with this cloud, this dazzling white, this mountain, this Son of God, this man of all men? Only one thing is needed. Listen.
‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’
“Listen to him!” (Mark 9:7). This is the first and only time in Mark, the voice from heaven orders Jesus’ disciples. The only way to glimpse his giftedness and receive his light and hope is by the ears.
And what should we be listening for especially. Well that is clear here too. The crucial stuff to hear is everything to do with Jesus’ suffering and victory over evil and death stated in Mark 8:31.
31 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.
It is when he rises that the curtain will be torn in two for all time and heaven will be open to all believers in a new and close way. That is us and that is now.
But do we value him as we could? Or does he blend into the background of voices we hear?
I wonder whether I have often lost any deeper appreciation of Jesus’ uniqueness and his high place and transforming presence in my life. How about you?
It is easy to lose true appreciation and love for him in all the long-held things we do and say in this rather comfortable life (for a lot of us but not all).
It is just so easy to reduce Jesus to be like others and miss his uniqueness and his divine presence and transforming word. It is so easy to just never peer through the curtain as we whizz by doing all the things we believe we must.
And so, for many, Jesus can only then be our sage, our hero, or even just a tragically betrayed and naïve fool. He can and is often reduced to an historical person you learn about on some history show. We can lock him in that closet and stay with him there and never come out.
But come out he will, as he did here on this mountain! Here he is uncaged. Like a mountaineer finally summiting the mountain and dropping off the heavy pack to enjoy the moment of light sun, the Jesus we try and cage is uncaged and we feel his hope and light.
Thank him for that. I need that tiger loose in my life! So do you, for he is light and sun and life. He is grace. In our attempts to make our own light and draw our curtains on Christianity and the church, he speaks and the curtain is drawn open again and there is hope and life and love again.
Whatever happens in my life, he is in it. Jesus will be heard, and his kingdom will continue to come close to me. Whatever happens to us as a church, he will speak and some people somewhere sometimes will catch a glimpse of his love and his light and his grace and be lit up themselves.
I pray that is you today
Read the text out loud again pausing to try and picture this scene Mark paints.
What words, phrases, images catch your ear? What questions come to mind?
Someone said recently that it not as if God is in another space and has to travel to come close to us. He is always close to us but unseen. But now and again he draws back the curtain of his presence and our day is transformed! This is what is happening here on this Transfiguration hill.
Where else does God draw back the curtains so you can know his presence for you?
How long has it been since you experience this kind of presence of the Lord in your life?
I suggested that this was a word totally founded in and rich with Old Testament themes and images. Go through those and the reference texts to enjoy that rich texture. Note your conclusions/learning points.
I suggested that the thing that makes this overwhelming experience of God’s presence gracious and clear is the Word that is heard in it.
“This is my Son whom I love. Listen to him”. Do you agree/disagree and why?
It is one thing to have an extraordinary experience of the Divine, but quite another to have an experience of closeness and power of God, Father, Son ad Holy Spirit. The way God lets us know it is him is by his Word. Has this happened to you – where you have heard God’s speak to you or found that a bible text has met you in a moment of spiritual experience? Real that experience and the Ord that God gave….. Is this still current for you now?
I suggested that for long term church people or for people who have largely given up on a personal relationship with Jesus, Jesus quickly can become so much less than who he really is – Saviour, Brother, Friend, Lord…. How have you sometimes forgot his uniqueness and his transforming power? What distracts you from his presence at the moment? Is the Lord calling you to look beyond the curtain of everyday life to see and hear his promises?
We believe that the curtain separating us from the Lord’s glory has been ripped in two by the resurrection of Jesus. We believe that even though it may not feel like it, worship in God’s presence with God’s people is a meeting of heaven and earth and a moment of open access to Jesus as we hear him speak and receive his gifts of grace. What hinders you from trusting this? What does the Lord need to do for you to help you hear him and see his light and love in your life up close?
Pray to him for the things you need and ask him to show you what you need to have the curtain pulled away and his light and love more present in your job, your school, your family, your life.