Transfiguration of our Lord
February 27, 2021
Stuck in the Glory
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
For the past two years, we have heard relatively the same transfiguration story. Matthew and Mark's recounts are nearly identical, including the part after Jesus and the disciples come off the mountain. What is interesting is how Mark and Matthew lay out their retelling of the story versus Luke. Mark and Matthew both included this thing about Elijah having to come first before the messiah. Luke leaves this bit out. I find that strange. So, I did a little digging and there are others who share in my weird curiosity. Mark's question of Elijah is slightly different from Matthew. In Mark 9:14 Jesus says, “But I tell you that Elijah has come, and they did to him whatever they pleased, as it is written of him.” Matthew has a similar phrase but the narrator (i.e. Matthew) adds "then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them of John the Baptist." Matthew, of course, loves to talk about scripture being fulfilled. Mark has a different emphasis with reminding his readers that Elijah has to come first before the messiah and allow the reader to interpret that on their own. Since Mark was written first, I would assume that this sparked some controversy and questions that Matthew is trying to clear up hence the additional line about Elijah being John the Baptist.
But what is even more strange is that Luke does not included this little conversation about Elijah anywhere in his gospel. Luke simply has the transfiguration story that leads directly into the healing of the boy possessed by a demon. Often this is called the Healing of the Epileptic but there is more going on here than a seizure. This boy is possessed by a demon that has taken over his life and has prevented this young man from living a normal life. This father comes to Jesus out of desperation. He says to Jesus, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child." And Jesus responds by saying, "Quickly everyone, let us make haste to help the boy." I mean, that is what we want him to say. Rather he says, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you?" This man has only one son. He comes to Jesus out of desperation because nothing else has worked. Jesus' very own disciples cannot heal the boy. Why speak to this father in this way?
Unfortunately, the scholars are baffled just as much as I am over his words. But when I stepped back from this text for a moment, I notice that the voice from the cloud says, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" Listen to him. How many times have we said at work, at home, at church, "If only they would have listened to me...How much longer am I going to have to put up with their nonsense? If only they would have listen to me?" I am not excusing some very hard, tough words from Jesus but in some ways, I think we get bogged down on this part of the story and not on the part where Jesus goes and heals this boy. He restores this boy’s life despite the fact that he is frustrated.
Notice that we go from beautiful, transformed Jesus to miracle worker Jesus in just a few, quick words. This order is unique to Luke. Luke is doing something here so subtle that most of us have missed it. Luke has been toying with the question, “What are we suppose to do with someone like Jesus?” Up to this point in Luke's gospel, Jesus could be seen as just a moral, ethical teacher with some pretty cool magic tricks. Jesus is beginning to make a change. A significant change and emphasis. A change and emphasis over the character and nature of what the Savior and Lord is suppose to be. And we see this change come in a very exciting way when his clothes become dazzling white and characters such as Moses and Elijah appear and speak with him. Jesus is no longer just a good teacher. Jesus is God and we see him in all his splendor, but Jesus doesn’t stay on that mountain.
Peter tried to keep him there, but Jesus got down off that mountain. How many of us want Jesus to stay up on that mountain? Don't raise your hands, just think about this and answer these questions to yourself. How many of us want the church of the 1950's back? How many of us have this idea that the best kind of church is one with a large youth group, a large population of young families? How many feel that church can only exist with a huge Sunday School program? How many feel that the church can only exist if it has a roof over its head?
Those who answered yes to any of those questions are like Peter. You are not wrong for wanting to preserve these holy moments in time, but they are just that, a moment in time when it felt like the church was on top of a mountain and the glory of the Lord shown around us. We are stuck in the glory of God—stuck on the mountain. We are stuck and can't seem to find our way back off that mountain. You know, when we put all our trust in young people saving our church, we are no longer putting our trust in the fact that Jesus has already saved the church through his precious blood on the cross. We shouldn’t put our trust in anyone “saving our church” except Jesus. We need to stop caring just about reaching out only to young families. and I don’t care if you are young or old sitting in our pews. I only care about reaching out to as many people as we possibly can. Luke does not want us to stay on top of the mountain. Luke wants us to come down and do the real work of the church.
Tend to the needs of the people like this boy possessed by a demon because these people need it. The people down here on earth, on the ground, need to know the truth about Jesus no matter their race, creed, age, or gender. They need to know the hope that he brings. They need to know that despite our frustration and perceived lack of faith, Jesus is not going to throw in the towel on you.
We need to get off the mountain and give the people what they need; what they crave the most—Jesus. We need to put into the hands of all who believe the body and blood of our Lord. We need to be the ones who answer the calls of help from people who lives are being disrupted by illness or another force. And we answer these calls of help not because our salvation is on the line but because we have witness God's kingdom and we know these words from our Lord lead to eternal life. As our gospel reminded us last week, God's kingdom is shared when we love our enemies and love those who hurt us. The difference between secular love and Christian love is that when we show love to someone else, God's kingdom breaks through our world and we glimmer a glimpse of the new age being ushered in by our Lord, Jesus Christ. That is why we do the things we do. We want to see God’s coming kingdom and experience the good news first hand, but this good news, these good things can only happen if we are willing to get off the mountain and change our views of what it means to be church.
We can't stay up here and not allow anyone else a chance to glimmer the transformed Jesus Christ. The disciples witness a foretaste of what is to come on the day Jesus resurrection. That is what they see in the glory of Jesus on the mountain. The same language used in this story will be used again with Jesus as the tomb. The disciples want to hold Jesus on the mountain and keep him to himself. But Jesus doesn't want that and the church doesn't want that either. We can't be the ones who keep Jesus to ourselves. That is why we evangelize. This is why we want people to come into our community—we have a message that has the ability to transform lives and we refuse to keep it in a shack up on a mountain so far away. The church is meant to be in the muck. In the chaos of life. The church is at its best NOT when things are going great and everyone is happy, but the church is at its best when our hands are dirty from being on the ground praying for someone in need, worshiping with open doors to all who wish to wander in and encounter the holy, transformed God, and eating with someone who has nothing left in his or her bag to give. The church cannot get stuck in the glory. We can't get stuck on that mountain we affectionately called nostalgia. We need to get down, off this mountain of high, unobtainable visions for how the church should be and see that the church is the church when it gathers together to hear the word of God, partake in the sacraments, (end) and then we get out into the world with messages of hope, love, and forgiveness.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen