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Transfiguration C Sermon
Luke 9:28-43
March
3, 2019

 

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Luke 9:28-43

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then, from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, ‘Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It throws him into convulsions until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.’ While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; Amen.

I often put myself in the place of the disciples when I hear the stories of Jesus, and think of how amazed I would have been at what he was saying and doing. Peter, James and John have especially witnessed some awesome things at Jesus’ hand leading up to this journey to the top of Mt. Tabor where he is transfigured in their sight. Immediately after they are called to follow him, he heals two people right off the bat – a leper and a paralytic, then goes on a healing rampage around the area of Galilee, attracting huge crowds. Luke also notes that he raises a widow’s son from death, calms a storm and feeds five thousand people with three loaves and two fish, all of these things miracles in addition to the what Jesus teaches everyone who comes out to hear him, which at times challenge and at times comfort.

These three disciples, sometimes referred to as Jesus’ inner circle, still seem to want more though. Eight days before the transfiguration, Peter confesses that he believes Jesus is the Messiah of God. While in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus commends Peter and calls him the rock upon which he will build the church, in Luke’s account, Jesus is more intent upon guarding this messianic secret – he sternly orders them not to tell anyone UNTIL he has accomplished what is setting out to Jerusalem to accomplish: a departure, or an exodus in the original language of the New Testament – to be arrested, beaten, suffer, killed and on the third day rise again. I can only imagine that the disciples were astounded at his words, and the subsequent teaching that everyone who follows him must take up their crosses as well. They must have mulled it over for these eight days, maybe even discussed it among themselves. I can imagine that it must have elicited many different opinions from Jesus’ followers.

Which brings us to the mount of Transfiguration, the turning point in Jesus’ story according to Luke. It is from here that Jesus will set his face toward Jerusalem to carry out his mission. It is from this mountain that he will return to the valley – to those who still need healing, fed and loved – while he makes his pilgrimage to the cross.

And all the while the disciples are looking for more – more evidence, more clear direction, more acts of glory to convince them that this man they are following isn’t just a fraud – isn’t like the rest of the people or powers in the world that want our devotion, promising things that they cannot deliver. They want more. And so, God gives them more – a little glimpse of the glory that will come after Jesus is resurrected from the dead. Moses beheld all of God’s glory and had to wear a veil every time he spoke to the Hebrews after that; Jesus stands with Moses and Elijah and glows, but only so much so that this inner circle will marvel at the sight … and will want it all to last a lot longer. Even when given this glimpse they still want more, they are still looking for more answers to who Jesus is and what he is calling them to do.

They are given more – before Peter is even done with his proposal to build some shelter for these shining guys, a cloud envelopes them as they stand on the mountain. Imagine it – you are on the top of a very high hill overlooking the flat plain below, and a cloud floats in and makes it impossible for you to get your bearings. You cannot see the base of the mountain, you cannot see the ground you are standing on, and you cannot see the person next to you. But you do hear an unfamiliar voice, one unlike you have ever heard before – “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!” And suddenly after the voice is done speaking, a breeze clears the cloud away and it is just you, your two friends and Jesus – no Moses or Elijah anymore, and you wonder if, while you were about ready to doze off, maybe instead of jolting back to consciousness at this amazing site, maybe you had fallen asleep and you dreamed it all. But no … it was all too vivid … too real. You can’t even talk about it – all you can do is marvel at what you’ve seen … but you are still looking for more.

Even after coming down from the mountain, Jesus returns to his old ways of healing people. According to our Gospel reading he drives an evil spirit out of a young man who, had this happened today, we would say suffered from epilepsy. Meanwhile, Jesus still challenges them. Before healing the boy, he says, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?” These words must have confused Peter and the rest then because, I must admit, they confuse me today! Is he speaking to the father or to people in general? Is he speaking to the disciples? Is it because he expected that by now, they would be starting to heal people as Jesus heals? Or maybe that they could have healed, but they just didn’t trust enough. Maybe he is just tired of them looking for more from him.

And what will happen after this healing? Jesus will once again remind them of the reason he is setting his face toward Jerusalem, to be betrayed and killed. But Luke reports that the disciples still do not understand it, although they are afraid to ask him about it. They are looking for more … and can we blame them? No, because when I identify with Peter and the rest while hearing these accounts, I must identify with the doubts, confusion and the desire to see and know more that they have. Are you looking for more? I know I am! I am looking for more evidence that God’s love is still an active, powerful force today in the valleys of life where it seems that evil often wins out. I am looking for more answers – clear, concise answers – to questions about sin and forgiveness and loving others and getting along and being kind – you remember, the kind of stuff Jesus told us we are supposed to do when we love our enemies!

I am looking for more whenever someone dies suddenly or unexpectedly, or after suffering from a long battle with cancer, ALS or AIDS. I am looking for more when people I love around me argue and get divorced and terminate friendships. I am looking for more when our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church enter into the same kinds of debate that the ELCA entered into 10 years ago and vote to strengthen their status quo attitude toward LGBTQ relationships and clergy. I am looking for more when the leaders of nations cannot agree to put the nuclear weapons away. I am looking for more when the debate over a wall to our south reminds me of the further division that the wall between Israel and Palestine causes between two peoples that I am called to love dearly.

Like Peter, James and John, we are all looking for more. And into that reality comes the messiah of God, who ultimately provides all that we need – giving himself over to his betrayers to suffer, to be beaten, and to end this life so that a new life can emerge. It is no accident that Luke uses the word, “exodus” when he describes what Jesus is about to accomplish in Jerusalem. Exodus elicits thoughts of Moses leading God’s people out of slavery, to the freedom of a new life in the promised land. When the disciples witness the resurrected Lord after three days in the tomb, that is all that they need to understand and to end their silence and to share the good news with everyone.

We will one day encounter that resurrected messiah in all his fulness. In the meantime, we have the life and witness of the transfigured one to remind us of what is coming. And that will keep us looking for more, looking for Jesus’ presence as it breaks into the brokenness of our culture with glimpses of the wonderful glory to which we all look forward. Keep looking and praying for more, modern day disciples of Christ! And expect that no matter what mountain or valley you are in, the glory of the Lord will appear to defeat darkness and evil. Amen.