Here is my sermon from today. I know that I didn’t follow all of it exactly as I was speaking, and I had a hard time getting through the part about my mother-in-law, but I know that will happen every time I mention her. I have to resolve that some day. Anyway, here is the printed version. Hope it isn’t so long that you fall asleep.
Scriptures are: Matthew 17: 1-9, II Peter 1: 16-21 and Exodus 24: (9-11) 12-18
Transfiguration or making old junk shine
Just to be clear about a few things, especially the weather, I heard on the news that there is this thing called meteorological winter, and that is supposed to end with February. Well yesterday, I wanted to let that cold north wind know that we have reached March, so it is time to lay off. We were in Bismarck to meet with Victoria and Nate and Jaxon to celebrate Jaxon’s 4th birthday. Jessica and Tony were there from Jamestown, and it should have been a really fun day, but he was pretty sick, so it was a sort of quiet day. After the birthday gathering, we stopped to buy garden seeds. I have had enough of winter and I am hoping that just by having the seeds in the house it will cheer things up a bit.
Technically, we may have 20 days of winter left, but either tomorrow or Tuesday, I plan to get out the planter flats and start the tomatoes and peppers. The time has come, I can’t take it anymore. I am going to start thinking about the yard and the garden, and sitting on the porch having morning coffee. For this upcoming season of Lent, I am not giving up anything, but I am going to concentrate my efforts on what can be planted to make some corner of the world better.
The title of the message in the bulletin today should probably have been “Sitting on Mountains”or “From One Mountain to Another” or maybe “Jumping Mountains.” It seems that for people who live in the flat area of Northern South Dakota, we have been spending quite a bit of time sitting on mountains here in church these past few Sunday mornings. We have just spent three Sundays discussing the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus took his disciples and followers up onto a mountain and explained a little better path than the adherence to the Jewish law of the time.
The Old Testament lesson that we just read today is the story of Moses going up the Mountain to get the 10 Commandments from God. This was no simple task. When I think of mountains, I like to remember the story of Heidi who lived with her grandfather and went into the mountains with Peter to tend the goats. Neither of these stories is that same sort of warm breezes and soft grass with crocuses and other wild flowers. It isn’t sack lunches of homemade bread and cheese and fresh goat milk for lunch, though I am not so sure that I would have been really excited about that. Anyway, wipe that entire wholesome image from your mind. This trip up the mountain that Moses takes is not exactly fun. It isn’t even the snow covered, winter Olympics ski event with a chair lift and fans waiting at the bottom sort of mountain.
I see a mountain with very little vegetation. It has rocky crags and a narrow path and stones to step over. It is something that Moses can walk up, no fancy mountain climbing equipment or clothing, but nothing super easy just his long robe and sandals and a walking cane and Moses heading up the mountain to see what God has in store for him. The verses just before what we read say that Moses was not alone on the beginning of the journey. He had Aaron, Nadab, Abihu and 70 elders of the people along with him in the initial phase of this journey. He also had an assistant, Joshua, who he was able to take further along the trail, but in the end, it was just Moses, who went all the way to the end. It was only Moses who went to the very final phase to get the stone tablets with the 10 commandments on them. It was only Moses who sat on the mountain for six days waiting for the Lord, and then on the seventh day when God called to him, he went up further and stayed for 40 days until he received all the instructions and the tablets to take to the people. Now the tablets that Moses receives during this lesson are the first set of tablets that he is given. This is the story of the original 10 Commandments.
This story of Moses going up the mountain to get the law for the people of Israel directly from God is one of those Old Testament stories that points to the actions of Jesus. It is a foreshadowing of sorts of much of what happens when Jesus comes to fulfill the law. Moses stayed on the mountain for 40 days plus a week. Jesus was in the wilderness withstanding temptations for 40 days. We are about to embark on another season of Lent, for 40 days and then the Passion Week, or Holy Week before we get to Easter.
I can’t help but think of my mother-in-law when we draw close to the season of Easter. It was her favorite holiday. It was her favorite Christian celebration. She was a woman whose entire life was centered around the church. You never sat down to a meal at her place without participating in prayer and devotions before you left the table. Sundays for here were church and Sunday school whether she was teaching a class or participating in the adult class, and then it was home to lunch and rest for the remainder of the day. And having the family join together in celebrating Easter was really something special for her.
Growing up in my family, I remember Easter gatherings, but we didn’t really participate in Lent or especially the Maundy Thursday or Good Friday services until I was a member of Youth Group. For many years, and still to a degree, I dislike the solemness, the sadness of a Maundy Thursday service because of the impending thoughts of what Good Friday is all about. But I have learned over the years that without Good Friday, there would be no Easter. It is a lot like planting those seeds when you are starting a garden. If the flower, the blossom doesn’t die on the old plant, you don’t get the seed that sprouts the new plant. Without Jesus’ sacrifice, without his death on the cross, we don’t get the opportunity to gain forgiveness and become Easter people.
Now our lesson in the book of Matthew today is not a continuation of the teachings that Jesus has been giving his disciples through the Sermon on the Mount, it is another teaching on another mountain. Our story today is a bit of a fast forward from the verses we have been covering. This time, Jesus takes only three of the 12 disciples and no other followers. Much like Moses took three important leaders with him when he went up the mountain to see God. Jesus takes Peter and James and John to the mountain with him where he is transfigured.
Here is where I got a little stuck. I knew/know that transfigured means changed, but exactly what sort of changed. According to a dictionary online I found this definition: a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state. The sentence they put with it said: “in this light the junk undergoes a transfiguration; it shines.” I am not sure that I would equate the human Jesus as junk, but the text in verse 2 says that his face (meaning Jesus’ face) shone like the sun, and his clothes became a dazzling white. We can all pretty much picture in our minds a bright light shining behind someone lighting up their appearance, though I am sure there can never be an exact picture of what the transfiguration must have been like.
It had to have been one of those events that is/was so powerful and so beyond any sort of comparable experience that the disciples were just in awe. Peter, you have to sort of feel for him, he is so caught up in the whole experience that when he sees Moses and Elijah, he just blurts out something about building three dwelling places for them to stay in while they are there on the mountain. I really have to feel for Peter here. As much as he sort of stands out amongst the disciples, (Jesus says he will be the cornerstone and such) it seems that Peter so often has these moments when he just runs off at the mouth without really thinking. It is almost like an adolescent moment for him to be saying those things without thinking.
And then, just as Peter gets finished speaking out loud his completely ridiculous idea about building permanent houses for prophets who are not even living on the earth, a cloud covers what they can see, and God speaks from the midst of the cloud telling them how pleased he is with Jesus his son. Here is Peter in middle of saying something about building houses, and all of a sudden there is a cloud and a voice and no wonder they end up on the ground scared about what is going to happen next.
I can’t imagine where Peter and James and John were mentally as this happened. When you go back and look at the context of where the author of Matthew puts this story, it is shortly after Jesus has been harassed by the Pharisees and Sadducees who want him to show them a sign from heaven to prove who he is. Next Jesus talks to the disciples about being infected or corrupted by the ideas of the current leaders. And then he asks them who they think he is, and he begins to prepare them for the crucifixion and death that he will endure.
So today, our final day of the season of Epiphany, which means revelation, we have the story of the Transfiguration. The story of when Jesus took Peter and James and John up the mountain to show them a bit more about whom he really is. For some this story might just seem like it is really too far out to really believe it. They may think that the whole thing might have been more like a dream or some confusion, or maybe it really happened after Jesus was resurrected, but the fact is that the author of Matthew puts it here in this spot. And the author of II Peter confirms it by saying that what they saw and reported was not some clever myth, it was a true account of what happened.
Jesus told his disciples to keep what they saw to themselves. He said they weren’t to talk about the transfiguration until after the Passion Week was over. They didn’t know exactly what Jesus was talking about, but they obeyed. They were likely so amazed and befuddled by what was happening that they didn’t know where to start talking about what they saw.
The transfiguration is one of five stages of the manifestations of the coming of Christ’s Messianic kingdom. It is the second event that shows us that Jesus is the one who will bring God’s kingdom to earth so that we can participate in it fully without the former blood sacrifices that went with the Commandments that Moses brought down from the mountain. Jesus’ Baptism, Transfiguration, Death on the Cross, Resurrection and the sending of the spirit at Pentecost are all events that lead to our ability to be part of God’s kingdom without any blood sacrifice on our part.
No we don’t have to die, or offer any sacrifice to get to be Easter people. All we have to do is accept and believe. And when we do that, we will want to follow, we will want to participate, and we will not be able to keep it to ourselves as Jesus asked Peter and James and John to do. We are about to enter into the church season of Lent. We are coming on the time of thinking of what Jesus endured on earth so that we could be heirs to the kingdom. Like the seeds that get planted in the spring and grow into plants that produce food or flowers or soft grass to lie on, let’s resolve ourselves to becoming something/someone that works to further God’s kingdom in this world. And in case you might want to believe you have no ability to do anything, well guess again. There was a great theologian by the name of John Milton who wrote his best work after he was blind. One of the most famous lines in one of his poems was, “They also serve who only stand and wait.” I am sure that anyone of us can at the least do that, and I have seen most of you in action, I know that we can all do just a bit more than that. Amen