Sermon for February 26, 2017

Pastor Anna V. Copeland, Preaching

Luke 9:28-45

                                    A Leg to Stand On

         It was Sunday morning and a mother was telling her son that it was almost time for church. The son said, “I don’t want to go.” The mother, like so many mothers, said, “I appreciate it that you don’t want to go this morning, but its Sunday and its time for church.” The son persisted, “But I don’t wanna go to church. I never get to play on Sunday. My three best friends got to go skiing this weekend.” “Son,” the mother said, “I know you don’t want to go to church, but put your jacket on right this minute and get out the door.” “But why do I have to go?” “Son, you have to go to church. You’re the Pastor.”

         Bet you didn’t see that one coming! We’re here for many different reasons this morning. Some of you came because you always come and this is your church and you love God and you need a little encouragement for the week to come and it’s as simple as that. Many of you have faced some kind of significant event in the past several weeks that has brought you here. It may have been good news like the birth of a grandchild or the recovery from a significant illness and you’re grateful. Or you may have come because you’re suffering after the loss of a relationship or the death of someone you held dear and you’re grieving. Some of you aren’t particularly religious, but times are tough and the world seems out of whack and you’re looking for a way to make meaning of what you’re experience in our time. All of us are looking for hope.

         You’ve come to the right place. We’re as different from one another as the early followers of Jesus more than two thousand years ago, men and women, Jew and Greek, slaves and free, children, the grieving parents of sick children, the lonely and set apart and down and out, and those who think they don’t have a leg to stand on.

         Whatever has brought you to church, hear this good news for you this morning. Life can be transformed in a heartbeat, with the memory of our former life already recessing in our mind. The new life you’re hoping for is already at hand.  

What if the purpose of his story isn’t just about illuminating who Jesus was and what he could do but who we are and what we can do.

This is a story about Jesus’ transfiguration or transformation, but it is also a story about our transformation. It is a story about a moment up the mountain when God revealed the authentic identity of Jesus to three of his followers, and it is also the story about the potential transformation of those who stayed behind.       

         Churches preach on this text every year on the last Sunday before Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras, and Ash Wednesday, signaling the beginning of Lent. Given the placement of this text, it is surely about that moment when Jesus was revealed in his most authentic identity. Just as clearly, it is the story of God’s transformation of us.

You remember the story you heard from the writings of Luke this morning, but two other followers of Jesus named Mark and Matthew wrote about the same incident in their version of the story too. Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, ancient prophets of Israel, talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.

Transfiguration means to be transformed or changed in a moment, or to be spiritually changed. “In this moment of Jesus’ transfiguration when they saw him radiant and surrounded by light, the disciples were allowed to see things as they really are, the reality that is ordinarily veiled by the material world.”     (Blogger Rod Dreher)

         While Jesus was saying this, Luke wrote: “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.”

This event revealed Jesus for who he was, illumined as God’s beloved. The fact that the disciples stay silent about the Transfiguration makes it possible for Jesus to become, for a time, a secret hidden in plain sight, so that he could do the work he was sent to do without getting arrested too soon. His work was a game changer, a paradigm shift for the way things were, and he needed time to accomplish God’s purposes through him.

         I don’t think that this story was told to prove to us as readers that Jesus was the Son of God, or that he was otherworldly, or was a super hero. We’ll talk more about the ways we think about who Jesus was in a few weeks as we approach Easter.

         What if the purpose of his story isn’t just about illuminating who Jesus was and what he could do but who we are and what we can do.

The transfiguration symbolizes what’s possible through Jesus but also for human life. Jesus healed and he said: “You can too”. Jesus turned the world right side up, and said with God’s help we can do the same. The vision of Jesus’ transfigured self points the way toward the radiant possibility of a whole and beautiful life now on earth as well as the transformed life to come. This promise is not only for us, but also for all human creatures as evidenced by Jesus compassion toward a man in the crowd who was about to lose his critically ill son.

Think about it. You may remember that in Jesus’ absence the remaining disciples had been asked by a certain man to heal his only child and they couldn’t do it. When Jesus got back and heard about it, he was really ticked. While the transfiguration showed the three disciples who went up the mountain with him his true identity, they couldn’t see who THEY WERE.

Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” And the story says that Jesus healed the boy and gave him back to his father And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”

This experience revealed Jesus for who he was, illumined as God’s beloved. It also shows us that we too can be changed in the blink of an eye and the world with us. That’s actually why we’re here, isn’t it? We’re more powerful than we think. As Jesus charged his disciples to heal in his name, we’re equipped with the power to heal the suffering of people, or the whole planet. Yet like the disciples, we falter. We make excuses. We get distracted. We turn away. We pray for God to do it.

Like the disciples, we wait for Jesus to show up again and say, “You heal this mess. We tried and we couldn’t do it.” Jesus got ticked off because we have capacities far greater than we know and don’t use them. We sometimes act helpless and wait for someone else or something outside ourselves to make things better.

God isn’t some puppeteer in the sky manipulating circumstances in the world to make everything turn out all right. God came to be with us in power through a man named Jesus to show us what’s possible and ask us to do the same.

Every culture of the world has a language for God to help understand the power and potential of our lives. In one Native American tradition, animals represent various qualities of what we call God. The Badger is an animal with focused attention. Native Americans believe those persons with Badger Medicine have the courage to use unconventional means to exact a cure when something is out of synch in our physical bodies, the body of our community or the body of the world. Like a mother who sits for days nursing a child with a high fever, Badger is willing to persist. Healing takes place by aggressively removing the barriers that don’t “grow corn.” Cut away the dead wood and the power of Badger’s medicine will be released.

         For Christians, that’s the work of the season ahead called Lent. In Lent we strip away, cut away and release habits that distract, derail or diffuse the power of God at work through us. We also embrace practices that help us remember who we are and what we’re called to be and do. We come to church this Wednesday night, Ash Wednesday at 7 o’clock, for the Imposition of Ashes. We share the freeing words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, from dust we’ve come and to dust we’ve returned.” The practice is freeing because God gives us a do-over. We lament because we regret the wasted opportunities and the squandered resources and time we’ve spent on nothing that mattered. We also lament because as distracting as it has become, we’re really going to miss binge watching that favorite Net Flex or the news fake or otherwise that we’re about to give up for Lent.

Transformation resembles the process of refinishing old furniture. It is a two-stage process. It involves taking off the old and replacing it with the new. The old is all the things we tell ourselves that keep us distracted and powerless. It represents the faulty attitudes and ideas that have become a part of our thinking and habits but that do not reflect reality. The new is the truth of who God created us to be. To renew our mind is to open ourselves to God’s transforming process. During the season of Lent, we allow God to bring to the surface mistaken ideas about the world and ourselves and replace them with truth. To the degree that we do this, our power to act will be transformed.

Think back in your life to that grace-filled moment when against all odds a power greater than yourself changed everything. We call such moments a kind of conversion, those remarkable occasions when we’ve glimpsed the world as it really is, healed and whole. Once we’ve experienced such a healing we can never forget what we’ve come to know. Our inner vision changes and what seemed previously impossible now becomes reality. For some people that happens but once. Others awaken every day radiant and hope-filled to the possibility of a world reconciled and healed even when there is no evidence that such a thing is possible. God reveals a way out of no way, and asks us to participate in making it so. God instills in us capacities for transformation greater than we think.

If the purpose of Jesus’ transfiguration is also about who we are and what we can do, then perhaps its time to get on with it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to see Jesus coming down that mountain calling us a faithless and perverse generation because we were unwilling or unable to do what we’re charged and equipped to do. That’s not where the Bible story ends and that isn’t where our story needs to end either. As God transfigured Jesus, illuminating who he was and what he could do, so may our lives be transformed in the image and power of God to transform the world.