— A Sermon by Robert W. Prim —
~~~ “Transfiguration of the Lord” Sunday ~~~
Today in the liturgical year we are on a mountaintop.
Three days from now we will be in the valley of ash.
Today we find ourselves being bathed in sunlight.
Three days from now we will walk in the shadow of death.
Today we hear from the depths of the clouds words of delight.
Three days from now we will be marked as dust to dust.
The story you are about to hear is beautifully placed as we stand on the edge of the Lenten season that begins in three days with Ash Wednesday. This Sunday, Transfiguration Sunday, brings to our minds – just as a did to the earliest of Jesus’ followers – the beauty and glory of Jesus even though he followed the road of suffering, rejection, and death. The story you are about to hear of Jesus with James, John, and Peter on the mountaintop where Jesus’ face and clothes are transfigured into bright light shining like the sun was and is now a gift to the followers of Jesus that reminds us of the truth of Jesus’ deepest identity – and by faithful association, our deepest identity.
Come what may we say this day, Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus in his essence is light and love. The outer garments Jesus wore in Jerusalem were stripped away, the flesh of Jesus bruised and torn, crowds jeered him and mocked his powerlessness, his followers ran away in fear, Jesus’ breath was choked out of his body; Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Man, was executed by the Roman Empire.
This Sunday tells us not to lose sight of the truth of the man.
Jesus is light from light,
love from love,
pure grace from pure grace!
He is God’s Word to a world
too often blinded and overcome by darkness!
A few scholars speculate that this passage in Matthew is a misplaced resurrection story. Some think it was meant to come at the end of the gospel narrative. I think it is just where it should be… a reminder to us of our true identities as shining and beloved children of God no matter our circumstances.
The reading from the Gospel of Matthew begins with the phrase – Six days later… This passage, as Matthew orders the story, is six days removed from Jesus’ proclamation that he must suffer and die and Peter’s protestations that it must never unfold that way. Jesus had declared six days earlier that Peter was on the side of Satan in his attempt to lure Jesus away from following the path he had to follow into Jerusalem. Six days after this emotional and painful moment between Jesus and his disciples, especially Peter, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up a mountain to clear the air and to see Jesus in all his glory.
Listen now for the Word of God in Matthew 17:1-13
Six days later, three of them saw that glory. Jesus took Peter and the brothers, James and John, and led them up a high mountain. His appearance changed from the inside out, right before their eyes. Sunlight poured from his face. His clothes were filled with light. Then they realized that Moses and Elijah were also there in deep conversation with him.
Peter broke in, “Master, this is a great moment! What would you think if I built three memorials here on the mountain – one for you, one for Moses, one for Elijah?”
While he was going on like this, babbling, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them, and sounding from deep in the cloud a voice: “This is my Son, marked by my love, focus of my delight. Listen to him.”
When the disciples heard it, they fell flat on their faces, scared to death. But Jesus came over and touched them. “Don’t be afraid.” When they opened their eyes and looked around all they saw was Jesus, only Jesus.
Coming down the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy. “Don’t breathe a word of what you’ve seen. After the Son of Man is raised from the dead, you are free to talk.”
The disciples, meanwhile, were asking questions. “Why do the religion scholars say that Elijah has to come first?”
Jesus answered, “Elijah does come and get everything ready. I’m telling you, Elijah has already come but they didn’t know him when they saw him. They treated him like dirt, the same way they are about to treat the Son of Man.” That’s when the disciples realized that all along he had been talking about John the Baptizer (from The Message by Eugene H. Peterson).
This sermon is a simple story.
A simple story that can happen any day and at any time.
A simple story about seeing the light beneath the surface…
Pastor Teresa went to the skilled care home once or twice a month to visit with three of her members who resided there. These were difficult but important visits. The smells, whimpers, and vacuous stares always drove Teresa into a protective shell as she made her way down the hallway to the rooms of her three parishioners. Teresa’s goal was to hold the hands of her folks and pray with them and then leave. It was Teresa’s duty to be there, and she was faithful in her visits, but she did so under the dark cloud of dread born of what…fear, despair, sadness? On her most recent visit, however, the cloud began to lift. She heard a heavenly voice.
As pastor Teresa approached the third room and final visit of her day at the home she walked up the door and noticed it was cracked open and there was a nurse’s aid, Jessie, tending to Mrs. Johnson. Teresa could hear Jessie talking to Mrs. Johnson. Betsy Johnson had been mostly incoherent and bedridden for months. Teresa had not had a two-way conversation with Betsy for her last four visits. As her pastor she would walk into the room and hold Betsy’s hand for a brief time and then pray for God to speak to them both of enduring love and the unfailing care of a God who holds us in the palm of God’s hand. Pastor Teresa was usually there for five minutes or so. On this day, Pastor Teresa stood out in the hallway and listened to Jessie, the nurse’s aid, as she cared for Betsy.
Jessie was cheery with Mrs. Johnson. She was saying – “Mrs. Johnson, I’ve been looking forward to seeing you today. You know I saw your two grandsons last week. They told me about how you used to bake them birthday cakes with six layers – they said you were baking them ‘mountain cakes’ so they would know how much you loved them. Their momma, your little girl Elizabeth, told me you once hiked the Appalachian trail. I sure do admire that. I don’t know how anyone could survive it, but you did. You are a special woman, Mrs. Johnson, I knew it the first time I laid my eyes on you.” All the while that Jessie was talking she was bathing Betsy Johnson and then combing her hair and tending to her sheets. Pastor Teresa leaned against the wall next to the door and listened.
Jessie continued to speak tenderly to Betsy. She told Mrs. Johnson what she knew about the happenings of her grandchildren. “You know little Jack is playing soccer – he cannot get enough of it. And your namesake, little Betsy, is learning to dance. She loves her science class, too…” Jessie continued on like this while she was tending to Mrs. Johnson, and then she started to sing…
Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine! O what a
foretaste of glory divine! Heir of salvation,
purchase of God, born of his Spirit, washed in his blood
This is my story; this is my song, praising my Savior
all the day long; this is my story this is my
song, praising my Savior all the day long.
Jessie continued and Teresa, entranced, bowed her head…
Perfect submission, perfect delight, visions of
rapture now burst on my sight; angels descending,
bring from above echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
Pastor Teresa waited until Jessie was finished. As she came out of Betsy’s room, Teresa said to Jessie – “Thank you. You see Betsy with the eyes of an angel. You see her for who she is even now… a beloved child of God. You have brought to her and to me echoes of mercy, whispers of love.” The pastor then went into the room of Betsy Johnson and, after opening the blinds to let in more of the morning sun, pulled up a chair held the hand of one of God’s radiant children.