Today was my last day flying solo at church. It was an uneventful couple weeks, honestly. Its funny to think how much anxiety I had last year around being on my own. I guess a lot changes in a year.
My sermon from the day is below. But for a really good sermon, you should go over to AKMA's place, and read the sermon on Transfiguration from his book Flesh & Bones. Look in his sidebar to find the links you need.
In other news, there is much rejoicing in the Shaefer house tonight, after I discovered... the return of televised football!!!! Tonight is the "Hall of Fame" game, featuring not one, but TWO teams with Michigan alum. So, if you need me sometime after 8pm tonight, you know where to find me, my beer, and my super-awesome Michigan bottle opener.
Sermon- Feast of the Transfiguration 2006
Coming up with titles must be a particular talent. A good title captures the essence of a story or song into a short phrase – it pulls at your curiosity without giving away the entire book. Sometimes a catchy title makes the difference between a best-seller and the bottom of an obscure shelf in the back of the store. Perhaps I exaggerate… but even in the Bible, it seems that the best known stories have their own catchy titles. Where do those titles come from? I’m really not sure. The Prodigal Son is what we call one of the best known parables – even though the word “prodigal” never appears in the story. Or today’s story, for example. We call it The Transfiguration. This story in Jesus’ life is so important that is gets not only a title, but its own feast day which we celebrate today.
Transfiguration, according to the dictionary, simply means “change in form or appearance.” Like a good title, it points to the climax of the story. On the feast of the Transfiguration, we remember – and give thanks- for the revelation to Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop: The glory of God shining in, around and through Jesus Christ in a vision rich with meaning and symbolism. First of all, in the Hebrew tradition, mountain tops were the prime location for encounters with divine majesty. It was on a mountaintop – as we heard in today’s Exodus reading –Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai,
and when he returned his own face shone “because he had been talking with God.” It was on a mountaintop when Elijah hid in a cave, waiting for the Lord to pass him by, when God was revealed in the sound of sheer silence to the prophet. To make the connection between these events even more clear, Jesus appears with both Moses and Elijah.
For a first-century Jew, however, these two figures have another layer of importance. In his preaching, Jesus often refers to “the law and the prophets” – a kind of rhetorical short hand for the entire Hebrew Scriptures. Now, Jesus appears with Moses – the giver of the law, and Elijah – the prototypical prophet – and they are speaking of “his departure in Jerusalem.” The text here actually says that they were speaking of “his exodus” – clearly another significant word in the Hebrew tradition. What Jesus is to accomplish in Jerusalem is nothing less than a second Exodus – the liberation of all God’s people. What happens in Jerusalem? The death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.
This vision, then is not only about an encounter with the divine majesty. On this mountain, it becomes clear that in Jesus Christ we encounter God, and the fulfillment of the tradition – of both the law and the prophets – is found in the ministry, and eventual death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. This is indeed a pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry: here, on the mountaintop, we have the revelation of both Jesus identity and the essence of his ministry all wrapped up into the glorious vision of dazzling light that we call the Transfiguration.
Transfiguration meaning change. But what really changed on that mountain? The appearance of Jesus changed, but Jesus was already the Son of God, and was already talking about his ministry in Jerusalem. If Jesus appearance was the only thing that changed on that mountain, are we responding just like Peter, trying to hold on to a moment in time, by calling this story “The Transfiguration” and focusing on the dazzling lights?
I believe another important change – a transfiguration – happened on that mountain top.
We know from the Old Testament stories that being a witness to an encounter with the divine changes people. It changed Moses. And I believe that it changed Peter, James and John. I know it did, because they came back down the mountain.
The Christian life is a journey – we follow in the ways of Jesus Christ, and along the way, hope to become more and more like him. Like any road, our journeys of faith will have ups and downs. Sometimes we get distracted by the valleys, thinking that if we are in such a low place, we must not be on the right path. Then, most of the time, someone will come along and remind us that God is with us in the low times, and will walk with us until we are back on level ground. It is much easier to get distracted by the mountains! In the shining moments of our spiritual journeys – the times when we feel closest to God, when we are sure of our purpose in the world and God’s presence among us – we can mistake those moments of the journey for our destination, and we try to stay there. But mountaintop experiences are only a part of the journey.
They are intended to move us along. Their true importance lies is what we do with them when we come back down the mountain.
Once we have seen God in a dramatic way, are we more able to see God in the everyday moments? If we are given a moment when we know that God has a purpose for us, can we carry that confidence into the frustrations and mundane tasks of our ministry? When we have felt God’s love in an almost tangible way, will we be able to offer it to another person who needs to know the same love of God?
That is what a mountaintop experience is all about – it is about getting a glimpse of the Holy One and carrying it back down the mountain, and being changed by the experience. It is the wonder of being transfigured by the love of God, and allowing that love to transfigure the world.