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Transfiguration Sunday A Sermon
Matthew 17:1-9
23, 2020


Sermon Archives


Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’

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

I don’t know about you, but I predominantly rely upon head knowledge for my everyday life. Somewhere along the line I was taught to read, to do simple math, to write, how to drive, what to expect when the sun goes down, when the winter comes and when I eat to much fatty, sugary foods. Parents, teachers, doctors and others have shared this knowledge with me so that I might experience a better life. Even though I might not be the smartest person in the world, I often try to find as much information as possible to inform my lifestyle.

But even most of those lessons learned above are made more real with experiences that go along with them. You can be taught that when the sun goes down it will get dark … but it is when you are caught outside after dark without any kind of fire or flashlight that you experience what darkness is like. You can be told that it is 17 degrees outside by the T.V. weather person, but when you experience what that feels like, then you start to shiver. And if they were to give you a license without you having time between the wheel to practice, it would probably be a disaster the first time you drive.

It is personal experience alongside of information that transforms us in such a way that our lives are truly impacted and changed. More then head knowledge, it is bodily knowing. At the point when Jesus takes Peter, James and John up on the mountain in Matthew 17, they had witnessed some pretty impressive things, enough that Peter makes his stunning confession, “You are the Christ, the son of the living God!” But even then, Peter doesn’t quite understand the full implications of that that means. He doesn’t understand that the cross comes before the empty grave, so he rebukes Jesus and Jesus rebukes him. Peter and the rest of the disciples must have been wrestling between their minds and their bodies about what this all meant.

The transfiguration happens about six days after Peter’s confession … and Jesus is changed into a blazing white figure, standing alongside two of the most important and revered people from their history, Moses and Elijah. Imagine if you were going through your catechism classes and about two-thirds of the way through a bright light suddenly and unexplainably lights up the entire room, illuminating a vision of Jesus holding out his arms in love and welcome is seen by everyone as he says, “I love you more than you know.” You want it to last longer, but before you realize it, it is over. That experience would certainly make an impact on the students there – as well as the pastor - and it would probably also build the bonds between the people who shared that experience.

This odd little episode might blow our collective minds, but if we get past our head knowledge into the experiential part of our development, it makes total sense that God would afford these disciples an opportunity to see Jesus in such a glorious state. It is beyond explanation … it is hardly something that can be explained to fully do it justice. The disciples didn’t even know what to do with it! James and John sit there in stunned silence, and Peter offers to build booths for them to stick around in. All in all, the prevailing mood was that of fear, and Jesus senses that. I am sure he is worrying about what they might tell people, so he instructs them to tell no one anything until after he has been raised from the dead. Think about that – another head-teaching that they won’t understand until it is experienced!! Jesus knows it, hence the instruction.

Our bodies have a form of knowledge that is different from our cognitive minds, and it is stored in our bodies as wordless stories, pictures that can bring out all kinds of emotions at different times of our lives. As we live in these bodies, we fear, we hope, we react, we constrict, we relax, and our bodies prefer to be in a state of safety and survival. Anything that goes against those instincts can create trauma. Jesus knew that these three men experienced trauma – that is why, according to verse seven, Jesus touches them and utters the words, “get up and do not be afraid.” Literally in the Greek he says, “be raised,” words that Jesus speaks when he heals someone and lifts them up.

After worship, you are all invited to have some good food and support a very good cause. Last May, many young people in the Dayton, Ohio area experienced trauma because of the touching down of about 15 tornadoes in one day. Homes and belongings were ripped apart. There were reports this past fall that when some elementary schools had tornado drills, children experienced uncontrollable fits of panic as they re-lived what it was like to experience the real thing. Embedded trauma often manifests itself in these ways, and we call it PTSD and often are at a loss for what to do for those who suffer from it. Peace Lutheran Church in Beavercreek outside of Dayton is partnering with other Christian churches in the area to help put on five Camp Noahs, which utilize proven curriculum led by trained professionals and volunteers to help children process their disaster and trauma experience through creative activities and play. In this safe, supportive setting, children are encouraged to face their fears, grieve their losses, identify and share their unique gifts and talents, and plan for an amazing future. It sounds to me like a wonderful experience to help heal young people and bring hope to those whose experiences have thrown their lives into chaos.

The brilliance of the transfiguration of Jesus might be to us a spectacular site that we wish we could have seen, but it was experienced by Peter, James and John as a fearsome thing. I imagine their lives were impacted in many ways, one of which being a disconnect between the way they learned life should be, and this strange experience that they just had. Their world was certainly spun into chaos, as it would be again soon. Jesus helped them process that trauma with a personal touch and healing words. He continued to help them process it by teaching and healing all along the way to the cross. And by planting this foreshadowing in their minds, he prepared them for the wonderful resurrection that followed the cross. Even though they didn’t always remember it – they did deny and flee after all – I imagine there was still a measure of hope that was never forgotten.

May Jesus heal us when our experiences challenge our head knowledge of life so that we can trust this one who is our living Lord. And may we be part of the healing of others – like those children in Dayton – through prayer and our donations, so that Jesus can heal the world through his loving touch. Amen.