Owing to our churches 100th anniversary being this year, Transfiguration was moved a week. Here is my transfiguration sermon, which ended up being far more apologetic/polemic than I thought it would be.
The Transfiguration is the stuff of myth and legend. The great man ascends the mountain, and when he reaches the top, he touches the mind of god. He comes down changed, more serene, more powerful.
But this is no myth. Jesus does not go up on the mountaintop to find enlightenment, to finish some great quest, to impress the disciples. He goes up there to talk to Moses and Elijah. It’s for the disciples sake that his face glows like the sun. Peter James and John are eyewitnesses – they saw the glory, they heard the voice. And then, it’s all over. Back down the mountain, and Jesus telling them that no one is to know what they have seen, not until Jesus is raised from the dead. If it weren’t for the eyewitness testimony of Peter, it would be easy to discount this as a pleasant story, a nice parable about the divine spark in each one of us, or perhaps about how special Jesus really is to each one of us, and that we should let him shine in our hearts.
But this is no myth, this is not mere legend. In a world that increasingly has no use for religion, in a society where the fastest growing segment of the population is “Spiritual but not religious”, we need to hold on the truth that the basis of our faith is not just pie in the sky hopes and dreams for a better tomorrow, but the hard facts of Jesus life and death. The brightly shining face, the voice from the cloud make it seem as though maybe this is more of a story than a real event. Like the walking on water thing – it conveys a spiritual message – whatever that may be, but we live in a scientific age. We are not so easily taken in as the disciples were. We know how procreation works, and it isn’t by immaculate conception. We know how the weather works and it isn’t controlled by human command. We know all about mountaintop experiences, and we can tell the difference between reality, and mass hysteria. The resurrection is a nice thought – especially if you’ve lost a loved one, but this is the technological age – we deal in facts, not fantasy.
But what about this eyewitness testimony? The Apostles are not civic or national leaders. They are killed for the faith. And those who killed them have every reason to publicize it if they recanted and admitted that it was all a hoax. Twelve apostles, and not one of them ever said, “We didn’t really see that. And since eleven out of twelve died, and the twelfth was exiled, there is no possible benefit to telling stories. Lies always have some sort of benefit for the liar. A scheme for making money, getting women, building a power base. The apostles do none of that. They never back down from their claims. They suffer beatings, imprisonments, and even martyrdom, and not one of them – or any of the other witnesses of the resurrection, ever say it was not real. So, if they weren’t lying, what other options are there? They could be crazy. But modern psychologists have looked at the New Testament. They have examined the writings of the apostles. These are not the writings of insane people. Every one of the authors was sane. And if the apostles were not liars, and were not insane, this leaves us with only one other possibility – Jesus actually went up a mountain where he met Moses and Elijah, his face gleaming like the son, as he discussed his impending crucifixion, and as the disciples cowered in fear. There really was a voice from the cloud, saying “This is my beloved son.” The things they report, as fantastic as they sound to us – as mythic, as legendary as they may seem – are what actually happened.
The apostles did go with Jesus onto a mountain. Moses and Elijah really were there talking to him, while his face glowed like the light of the sun. The voice really did come from the cloud. And then, just when the story is about to take off into earthly glory – Moses Elijah, Jesus ruling from the mountain, the Romans falling before the glory of God like so many gnats, just as it happened in the days of Joshua, with the disciples taking their place at Jesus side as his generals – at the moment when that is supposed to start, they disciples look up and see Jesus only.
That’s the way it always is with Jesus. Jesus when you think you know what’s going on, he changes things. The mountain turns out to be a big nothing – the disciples are sworn to secrecy. The triumphal entry into Jerusalem leads not to a great and mighty rebellion against the heathen government, but to a cross, to suffering and death.
The same Peter who would write “we were eyewitnesses to his majesty… we have the prophetic word confirmed” would also write “do not be surprised by the fiery trial. Peter know what happens to those who speak God’s word. He has seen what happened to Jesus. He himself has suffered persecution at the hands of the leaders. He will go to his death for the faith.
The world has no interest at all in the glory on the mountain. And every year at Easter there is some new discovery, some new study, some new book explaining why it’s all just a lie. The world makes very clear how it feels about this whole Jesus thing. Ignore, belittle, and when possible, imprison.
500,000 marched on Washington this weekend to end the culture of death that we live in that declares that some life is not worthy of life: The very young, the very old, the infirm, the handicapped. If they can not make a meaningful contribution to society then they can be done away with. Ignore it, just those crazy Christians again. Telling there tall tales. Voice from the cloud and all that.
So, we are ignored, we are belittled. We are told that we can either violate our conscience by choosing door number one that we find offensive, or door number two. But it does not matter. We have the prophetic word confirmed. Not just that the prophets spoke and now we see it came true in Jesus. But that the word, the voice from heaven itself, this is my son, is proven by the glory that we see.
But the glory that we see is not on the mountaintop with the shining face and heroes of faith. The glory is in the agony and bloody sweat, the cross and passion the precious death and burial of our Lord. The glory is that that world sees only shame. The world sees a madman who got to big for his britches and was cut down by the government. The world sees a crazy martyr who was killed for talking about love. We see the creator of the universe made man for us. We know that it isn’t just a delusion. That the disciples really saw the glory of God breaking through from heaven. That when we sing our hosannas in the highest, that we are joining with that heavenly crowd, including the Son of God, who is also the son of Mary, the man who sits enthroned, the God who came down and has returned to his heavenly Father.
Know that the death he died was for you. That the resurrection was accomplished. That death is no more. The culture of death in which we live continues to try and destroy the gift of life. Continues to try and convince us that death is for the greater good. But the Lord of Life, risen from the dead, has defeated death. We live as alive in Christ. Not just in this world with the hope of something greater, but with that new life now. The forgiveness that Jesus gives working in your new life. No longer subject to the old Adam with its sinful deathly desires, but now in Christ’s death, a new person, with a new life given already in your baptism. A new life that you have today so that you do not need to live in the culture of death. A new life means you stand forgiven and forgiving. Jesus Christ, living in you, as you live in him.
It is the life of Jesus only. There is no other. He is all and is in all.