Message for Transfiguration on Matthew 17:1-9 on Feb 19, 2023 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas
Dan and I used to go to the movies a lot on our day off. One of Dan’s funny antics walking out of the theater used to be imitating the movie trailers we saw, most of which began with the same exact phrase in the 90’s and early 2000’s. I could count on hearing his imitations as we walked to the car:
In a world…where nothing is at is seems…
In a world… where violence rules the streets…
In a world… fraught with corruption…
He can do the deep, scary voice much better than I can. But this phrase draws us in by touching our anxiety and fear that we no longer live in a world we are used to and can navigate with ease and a sense of control.
Indeed, our world is not what it once was. If you were to write the movie trailer for life today—what would you say?
• In a world—where war rages and more international conflict looms
• In a world—where the economy is uncertain, and finances are squeezed
• In a world—where loneliness is its own pandemic and disease continues to threaten
It is different of course whether we are raising children, dealing with the shifts of middle age, or praying our senior benefits last as long as we do. The future has an awful habit of being unpredictable, uncontrollable and unknowable, all of which leave us feeling anxious and afraid.
I imagine the disciples feel the very same way as they follow Jesus. They left everything familiar when they walked away from their fishing nets, their tax accounts, and even their family to live a new way of life with Jesus. They too, live in a world whose future was as unpredictable, uncontrollable, and unknowable as it is today.
• One day Jesus is preaching and being well-received, and the next, the Synagogue leaders are in a fury.
• One day people are amazed at Jesus’ healing and the next, they’re full of derision at them for eating with sinners and prostitutes.
• One day, Jesus feeds 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish, and the next minute, he starts going on about how he must undergo great suffering and death, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."
Nothing was making sense or felt at ease. “Why is Jesus talking about suffering and death right after this miraculous picnic?” They wonder. “I signed up to fish for people, not for suffering, rejection and death – what is he up to…really??? What does the future hold?”
The disciples live in a world that leaves them feeling anxious and afraid. It is right at this moment when Jesus is about to head to Jerusalem, and the future he predicts of death and resurrection is about to unfold, that he takes Peter, James and John with him up the mountain. And Jesus 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.
There on the mountaintop, suddenly God’s luminescence fills Jesus. He is aglow with light and shimmering glory pours from him – radiating like the sun. Jesus’ presence becomes both transcendent and immanent all at the same time—both other-worldly and startlingly real in front of their very eyes.
In this one surpassing and sacred moment, Jesus answers the disciples’ questions, doubts and fears about the future – The veil of heaven draws back as God transforms Jesus into his resurrected form; and not only him, but, Moses and Elijah appear in their resurrected bodies as well. Peter, James and John behold them in the fullness of their heavenly being. What was an unknowable, unpredictable future is laid out before them in all its fullness and truth and predictability. The mountaintop experience of Transfiguration reveals the resurrection to the disciples. It turns a crucifixion prediction into a resurrection prediction.
When Jesus says, “and on the 3rd day he will be raised” he means it! The resurrection is real and they are seeing it with their own eyes and experiencing it with all of their senses.
This is the end of the story. This is the future toward which they are moving, toward which all of us are moving. There is no unknowable future. We know the end. It’s like reading the last paragraph of the Book of Life before you begin. It’s not death—war, disease, loneliness—it is life! Life with God, that begins, here and now through Jesus!
I would like to share a story of a time when the resurrection became real for another group of Christians. This story comes from an ELCA congregation in a rough inner-city neighborhood of the Bronx in New York:
One Easter morning, the Pastor and the worship team designed a drama that would help make the resurrection more real for worshipers. The drama started in the Sanctuary of the church and then moved out into the neighborhood. They acted out the crucifixion and resurrection story. When the congregation returned to the Sanctuary, the drama shifted to a courtroom scene in which the resurrection itself was put on trial.
When it came time for the witnesses to speak, the actor playing Mary Magdalene stood up from in the congregation and said, "I know the resurrection is real because Jesus said my name in the garden." Another actor playing Peter stood up from the pews and said, "I know the resurrection is real because Jesus cooked fish for me on the beach." At that point, the play was supposed to move to the attorneys' closing arguments. But something remarkable happened.
A woman, who was not part of the play, stood up and said, "Well I know the resurrection is real because my son was in a gang, but Jesus led him out of that life." And then another worshiper stood up and gave his testimony: "Well I know the resurrection is real because I was a drug addict and Jesus helped me get clean." And still another stood up: "I know the resurrection is real because I am an alcoholic and now, I have given my life to Jesus, my higher power, and I am getting help in a 12-step program."
And what about you? When have you experienced renewed life, a second chance, the washing of forgiveness, help you never imagined or expected, a sign of hope in the midst of suffering, uncertainty, or adversity? (You can watch the video here and see/hear 6 church members offer their testimony!).
In all of these stories, the resurrection is so real it overpowers and transfigures adversity. That’s why we have this story here. Peter, James and John need to experience that the resurrection is real, before they can head down the mountain toward the cross with Jesus. So even before the morning of that 3rd day after Jesus’ death, even before the morning of the empty tomb, and even before the angels and the women announcing that Jesus is risen, James could have stood up and said - I know the resurrection is real because I saw Moses and Elijah with Jesus on the mountaintop! And Peter - I know the resurrection is real, because Jesus calmed the storm, healed lepers and cast out demons! And John - And I know the resurrection is real because I saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead!
Like the disciples, we not only know the end of the story—we have already experienced the new life of the resurrection here and now! Our mission is to help others experiencing adversity, know that the resurrection is real. That new life, and forgiveness and joy and hope are available today through the power of Jesus Christ.
This happened numerous times yesterday at our free community breakfast—it was a great time with new people cooking and serving, and new people coming to eat.
We had one new family come—they arrived here 2 weeks ago from Odessa, Ukraine. They were so grateful for a free breakfast, and food from the food pantry. I showed their son our Luke’s Learners room and invited them to church. He played in the sand cross, and I prayed for them and for peace in their country, and tears were shed. For them, the resurrection was real in a warm welcome at St. Luke’s.
Another Mom came, originally from Nigeria, whom I know pretty well. She said she almost forgot about the breakfast today, but her 7-year old remembered and they got here just before 10 to get burritos for this Mom and 5 daughters! For those girls, the resurrection is real is in reliable food on the weekend!
Another new family came—it took me a minute to figure out they did not speak English. With my limited Spanish and Google translate, I told them we would be starting an ESL class soon and asked if they were interested? They said “yes!” The young man put his information in my phone so I can contact him when the classes start. The resurrection is real when help comes in adversity.
These are just 3 stories from 1 morning at St. Luke’s. Where might the resurrection become real anew for you this week? In your family? Through your friends? In your workplace or somewhere unexpected? Be a detective of divinity and look for places where the resurrection of Jesus is made real in moments of love and new life and grace and deep acceptance for YOU.
But do not stop there. Remember that God uses your resurrection experiences, your hope during adversity to help make God’s love real for the person near you who is struggling. How might God use you this week to help make the resurrection real for someone else? Ask God to guide you in this mission.
We do not know the details of everything that will happen in the future. But that does not matter. We can move into tomorrow, next week and next year with confidence, excitement, and hope, because we know all that we need to know: We live In a world where the resurrection is real and will always be our future! Amen.
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