Sunday, February 23, 2020
Our kids are at an age where we have to constantly remind them about safety when crossing the street. I have taught them the same thing I was taught when I was little, that when you get to a crosswalk, you need to STOP, LOOK both ways at least twice, LISTEN to hear if any vehicles might be coming, and then, if it’s all clear, you can go. Transfiguration Sunday is a strange church festival. I mean, probably the last time you even used that word “transfiguration,” (if ever) was to talk about this Sunday in church. I have personally never seen anybody transfigured before my eyes, and likely never will. To wrap our heads around what God is doing in this story, and how Jesus calls us to be his modern-day disciples, I think we can break down this Transfiguration event with those words: Stop, look, listen…then go!
First, Stop. Jesus takes three of his closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, up a high mountain to get away from the regular rhythms of their life and ministry. As we heard from our Exodus reading (and elsewhere in scripture), it was believed that mountains were often where you could feel closer to God and where God more likely would make an appearance. This may hold true for you personally, as well, today. If you’ve had the opportunity to go hiking or skiing in the mountains, there is a feeling that God is closer as you take time to savor the beauty of God’s creation from up high. Partly, we’re often in the mountains when we’re on vacation, so we have the time to relax and pay attention more fully to what’s around us. So often in our day to day lives, we are just simply too busy or distracted to notice God’s constant presence and power at work in our lives. We need those mountaintop moments, even if it’s not literally on a mountaintop, like Sunday morning worship, as a regular spiritual practice to stand in awe and wonder in God’s presence. The disciples stop with Jesus, and it is then that God reveals Jesus’ full glory as the Son of God, Son of Man in a way that just might not have been as clear or as powerful down on the ground on the road near Capernaum in the busyness of their ministry of healing and teaching. As Christians today, God calls us to regular sabbath –to stop our regular routines to rest, to worship, to ponder the amazing mystery of Christ’s glory and power.
Then, Look. Unfortunately, this translation of Matthew’s passage is lacking, because the Greek includes a little word that in older translations was included: “Behold!” In modern-day English, we would say, “look!” rather than the “Suddenly” of this translation. “Look! There appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.” “Look, a bright cloud overshadowed them.” “Look! From the cloud a voice said.” On the mountaintop, because they’ve taken the time to stop, the disciples are able to see Jesus with new eyes. They don’t fully get it at first. Peter suggests making three dwellings, equating Jesus with the other prophets of Moses and Elijah of old, but suddenly, “when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.” When Jesus gives them the courage to look up after they fall to the ground in fear, they see that Jesus is somehow following in the tradition of Moses and Elijah but different, alone, set apart. Six days earlier, Jesus told his disciples that he had to go to Jerusalem to the cross to die for the sins of humanity, and Peter strongly disagreed with Jesus’ words, even as he confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, and the Son of God. Peter is probably still trying to figure out what Jesus meant by all of this when he is able to see this amazing scene of Jesus transfigured with Moses and Elijah, and then Jesus standing alone. Look. Behold. God calls us to look for those signs of Christ’s presence among us and in us, to see glimpses of God’s glory. We also, like these first disciples, are looking to make sense of our suffering and the suffering of others as we prepare for Lent and journeying with Jesus to the cross. We don’t always know quite what we are looking for or how to make sense of what we see, but like Peter, James, and John, we know that God will be with us on the way, and we have Jesus’ promise that resurrection follows death.
Look, then Listen. Similar to Jesus’ baptism, a voice comes from a cloud to tell the disciples, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” I could preach a whole sermon on listening to Jesus. We are SO bad at listening in general as people. We’re much better at talking. Even when we think about prayer and how we pray, we eagerly tell God what we need and want and what we’re worried about, but we often forget to listen for what God is trying to say back to us. God’s instructions are pretty clear to the disciples – listen to Jesus, my Beloved Son. And do you know what Jesus’ first words are? “Get up and do not be afraid.” I think Jesus tells them this partly to give them courage for the difficult journey ahead as they follow Jesus to the cross BEFORE the empty tomb, and as they continue to witness and proclaim the gospel of Jesus the Christ at risk of their own deaths. We likely do not face death for following Jesus, but how do we heed those simple words, before any other words from Jesus, to “Get up and do not be afraid?” Watch the daily news as we hear about shootings and coronavirus outbreaks and an election season that is tearing our country apart and then say to yourself, “Get up and do not be afraid.” Start your day with the promise, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And trust in the resurrection promise that one day, when our time comes to face our own death, we will greet death with the promise that we will get up and not be afraid, that is, we will be raised with Christ. Listen to Jesus. His words are strength for our life journeys and often JUST what we need to hear.
Finally, Go. Certainly, there is much for us to do as modern-day disciples of Jesus as we go back down the mountaintop to journey with him to the cross. We can’t stay up on the mountaintop, enjoying our own awesome, powerful encounters with the living God forever. Jesus is calling us to get up and to not be afraid of walking with him through the messiness of life in the real world. The rhythm of weekly worship and a discipline of daily scripture reading and prayer, spending time in Christian community with other disciples is a pattern of Stop, Look, Listen and then Go. We need those moments to stand transfixed before God’s awesome power and majesty, to remember who Christ truly is for us – son of God and son of Man, and to remember to listen to his voice above all others, and most of all to remember to not be afraid, because he goes with us and before us to show us the way. After we stop, look, and listen, we have this commission from Jesus to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them. Jesus instructs the disciples to tell others about their vision after he is raised from the dead. We, too, are called to get up, to go and tell others what God has done for us and what God WILL DO for us. Stop, look, listen, and go, knowing that Christ goes with us all the way. Amen.