The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ August 6, 2017
Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36
The Transformation that Occurs with an Encounter with God
This is Transfiguration Day when we are shown Jesus’ divinity, Jesus is approved by God. This morning’s story is similar to the theophany or manifestation of God that we read about at Jesus’ Baptism.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” (LK 3:21-22)
Again we have the voice from heaven, but the message is for Jesus, “with you I am well pleased.” Jesus baptism is at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and it will be reassuring and comforting for Jesus to be reminded, to be told that he is God’s beloved son in whom God is well pleased. We want to please our own parents. We wanted to know that they love us and are proud of us, that they approve of us and accept us as we are.
In this morning’s gospel story, Jesus is nearing the end of his ministry, he is on his way to Jerusalem where he knows that he will be arrested and crucified. We are told, “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!”” (LK 9:34-35) Again we have the voice from heaven, but this time it is for the benefit of Peter, John and James. They are told that Jesus is God’s beloved Son, God’s chosen one and that they are to listen to him. It would be comforting for the disciples to remember hearing God’s voice in the days and weeks ahead, that Jesus is the Chosen one of God.
Luke is also drawing similarities between Jesus and Moses. Moses was told to come to the mountain with Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel. Jesus also goes up the mountain with three men Peter, John and James. When Moses went to the mountain a cloud descended and Moses waited six days before God spoke to him. We are told Jesus waited eight days after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah before Jesus took Peter, John and James and went up the mountain. Peter, John and James are very tired, but unlike the time in Gethsemane they do not fall asleep and they are witnesses to what happens. With three witnesses there should be no doubt as to the truth of their story.
Luke portrays Jesus as praying before significant events and today’s story is no exception. As Jesus prayed his face changed and even his clothes shone brightly. In our reading from Exodus we are told that when Moses descended the mountain his face was glowing from his encounter with God. An encounter with God is transforming we are left changed. Jesus’ transfiguration is like that after Jesus’ resurrection when his appearance is changed and his disciples do not initially recognize him, Jesus can walk through locked doors and can appear and disappear instantly, when Jesus appears in his full glory.
Suddenly two men, Moses and Elijah, appear with Jesus. There is life beyond this life. Moses represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets, Jesus is the promised one. The voice from the cloud tells the disciples to listen to Jesus that he is God’s chosen one, so as they would listen to Moses and Elijah, they should also listen to Jesus. Jesus is a peer with Moses and Elijah and perhaps even raised above them.
So who is Jesus? Jesus is the Son of God, God’s chosen one, the beloved one. Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophet. Jesus is a great prophet like Elijah. Jesus is divine and the glory of God shines forth from Jesus. God is well pleased with Jesus and Jesus does the will of God. The Pharisees and Scribes ask where Jesus gets his authority and these stories tell us that Jesus gets his authority from God. When Jesus is arrested, crucified and dies on the cross, Jesus is vindicated when God raises him from the dead three days later at his resurrection. Many great minds have struggled with this question of who Jesus is and what his relationship with God is. Is Jesus God? Was Jesus a man adopted by God? Was Jesus God in the disguise of a man? Was Jesus human? Was Jesus divine? The Nicene Creed and the doctrine of the Trinity grew out of this struggle to understand who Jesus was.
So what does the story of the transfiguration mean for us today? It tells us that Jesus was divine and had the full support of God, that we can and should trust Jesus and his teachings. It tells us that an encounter with God will leave us transformed, changed forever.
Last Wednesday Bishop Whayne Hougland came to Albion to bless the Albion Community Gardens and our new tractor. Many people including the Albion City Manager and the County Commissioner came to celebrate with us. We walked around the Jefferson Garden and visited the Albion & Erie and Center & Pearl Gardens. We visited the Food Hub and the Farmers’ Market. This is a big deal! The bishop is very pleased with what we are doing here in Albion. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has asked us to walk out of our churches and into our communities and we are doing it. We are working with the community of Albion. For the Reading Camp we work with the Albion Public Library, Albion College and the Albion Fellows, and the Albion Recreation Department. For the Albion Community Gardens we are working with the Albion City Council, the Albion Community Foundation, the United Thank Offering, the Diocese, Albion College, Dr. Trisha Franzen, Denise Porter, Dr. Sheryl Mitchell, Mayor Garrett Brown, Vision of Life, Mrs. Vera Simpson, Mr. Willie Tabb, Ms. Dorothy Feltner and the AmeriCorps Vista volunteers, Dr. Andrew French, gardeners Randy and Lisa, Caitlyn Bernard and the Albion Food Hub, Reverend David Habicht and the Presbyterian Prison Ministry and oh so many other people. We are not just growing fruits and vegetables; we are growing relationships, friendships, community. This is what it means to be the church in the world, to be transformed by an encounter with God. This is what it means to look beyond race, gender, socio-economic status and be brothers and sisters in the kingdom of God, to know that we are the beloved sons and daughters of God. This is what it means to be welcoming of all people who can all take a role building a fence, pulling weeds, laying mulch, teaching children to plant a garden with vegetables and flowers, obtaining agreements for access to water, painting, making signs, picking ripe tomatoes and eating them and delivering them to our neighbors. This is what it looks like to break down the walls between “us” and “them”. This is what it looks like to love our neighbor. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like, insidiously infiltrating the community so that the old barriers of race, hate, age, town and gown, male and female, “us” and “them” come crashing down. This is the church, the body of Christ, at work in the world. This is the transformation that occurs with an encounter with God. Amen.