February 11, 2018
St. Jacob’s and Trinity Lutheran Churches
Rev. Kirk Shipley, Interim Pastor
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. It is both figuratively and literally one of the great mountain top experiences recorded in the Bible. It is an event that is an even more immense impact when we remember the previous recorded time with his disciples in St. Mark’s Gospel.
Six days earlier .Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered “You are the Christ.” Having heard Jesus teach publicly and privately and seen him do amazing things, cast out demons, walk on water, and feed thousands with very little ready resources they were probably all surprised and shocked at his following teaching, “the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” It is no wonder that Peter, probably reflecting much of the group’s thinking, rebuked, that is corrected Jesus. In turn Peter is strongly rebuked by Jesus. I can hear the ‘Oh my’ silence of the other disciples.
Now Peter, James, and John are apart from the others on a high mountain with Jesus. And what occurs could easily support Peter’s rebuke at the beginning of the week. They see a most incredible sight. Jesus is changed. He takes on a very different, dazzling appearance. The closest image that comes to my mind is those fantasy or science fiction movies when a character is bathed in a bright distorting light where the features become less or more clearly identifiable. His clothing becomes a brilliant white, beyond anything they knew as white. The image I have is a reflecting, bleached, ultra pure white shirt or blouse.
To top it off those three men are given the awareness that Jesus has been joined by the men most closely identified with the two main pillars of their scripture, the Law and the Prophets, Moses recipient and transmitter of God’s Law, and Elijah, the prophet’s prophet, who had held the line with great courage and strength at a time when the worship of God was on the decline while the worship of the Canaanite God Baal, validated by Israel’s monarchy, was on the increase.
Finally a cloud overshadows the view and they hear the Father’s voice declare what was declared from heaven at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved” adding a declaration of Jesus’ authority, with the words “listen to him.” If ever an ‘O Wow,’ leaves one speechless, moment, had taken place, this is IT. What a display of divine favor resting on someone. Clearly Peter had it right when he answered the question, “Who do you say I am?” with “You are the Christ!”
Then that moment passes. The cloud, Moses and Elijah, the dazzling light, are gone. They find they are standing with Jesus, just as they have been living with him. As they go down the mountain they are told to say nothing of what they have seen, and again those now even stranger words, having experienced such an event as Jesus’ transfiguration, “until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead?’ It is no wonder the encounter ends with the disciples listening to him as instructed: “keeping the matter to themselves,” yet, discussing with each other “what this rising from the dead could mean?” An outlaw’s death and Transfiguration did not compute.
Over the years the disciple’s perplexity continues to be something that is quite understandable. Reading this passage this year I am again reminded that even in this incredible moment Jesus declarations about being executed by the religious and civic leaders of their nation is being supported by an important part of that amazing mountain high episode.
Jesus connection with Moses and Elijah speaks to that. Both men were regarded as among the most important giants of the Faith. Yet, even after they are chosen by God to be spokesmen and leaders, their lives are rough. Being picked by God did not mean walking through the meadows with a song of praise on their lips.
Moses after he had returned to Egypt did what he was instructed. He went to the Pharaoh and told him the Lord wanted the Egyptians to let the Hebrew people go. The Lord gave Moses and Aaron the ability to do a mighty act to assure Pharaoh they came with power from God. Aaron’s staff when thrown down became a snake. The Pharaoh’s response was to order the Hebrew slaves to work harder by having to gather their own straw and still make their quota of bricks. The people showed their trust in Moses by telling him, “The Lord look upon you and Judge! You have brought us into bad odor with Pharaoh and his officials, and have put a sword into their hand to kill us.” From that point on, time and again, Moses would be criticized and challenged by the people he had been sent to liberate from slavery and establish a recognizable nation. His real difficulties with them occurred after they had made their escape from bondage.
In 1 Kings 18, Elijah triumphs over the prophets of Baal in a contest over whose God could ignite a sacrifice at Mt. Carmel in the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Upon losing the prophets of Baal were put to the sword. If any prophet should have been riding a wave of great popularity you would think it would be Elijah. Triumphant generals and kings were celebrated. Queen Jezebel promises Elijah, “So may the gods slay me and more also if I do not make your life like one of the slain prophets by this time tomorrow.” Nobody rallies to his defense and Elijah flees, a wanted man.
Through God Moses and Elijah succeed, but they do not have an easy path. Looking at a prophet’s life in its’ whole and it is easy to see serving God with such purpose can lead one on a path marked by many miles of rocky road before one sees God’s purposes are being accomplished.
On the face of it, a Savior with such power as Jesus has displayed being killed does not add up. Yet it does fit much of the pattern of God’s working in the midst of people who generally do not see reconciling redemption as a first option, whether they are prone to defend or attack what is currently in place at any given time in history.
At the Transfiguration we see and hear the divine presence and power in Jesus. We also see and hear that knowing willingness to take the road of suffering sacrifice to accomplish God’s way for divided hearts us. At Transfiguration we receive an astonishing vision that calls us to ‘listen to him’ as Peter, James and John did, wrestling with some sense of Jesus’ unique importance and his declarations of a very different recipe for successful endeavor. Amen.