Transfiguration A

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Transfiguration of Our Lord, Year A

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Brothers and sisters in Christ: May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The Gospel passage we just heard is the story of Jesus’ “Transfiguration” - a description of a physical change to the body of Jesus where "he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” (Matthew 17:2.) This word that Matthew uses - “transfigured” - is metamorphoo - the root of our English word “metamorphosis”. Its literal translation is “to change into another form” which is a good approximation of what happened on top of that mountain.
It’s interesting that this word is only used 4 times in the New Testament: here in Matthew 17, in Mark 9 (his version of the Transfiguration), and twice by Paul: Romans 12:2, and 2 Corinthians 3:18. Both of these Gospel passages show us how Jesus is revealed to his closest disciples as the Son of God. It’s appropriate to conclude the season of Epiphany with this text, as it puts the exclamation point on the end of the sentence - the whole season since Christmas has been about the revealing of Jesus of Nazareth to the world as the Messiah foretold by the prophets. In this one scene, Peter, James, and John see “something of both the preincarnate glory which the Son of God left behind at his incarnation as well as his future glory which he received at his resurrection and which all will see when he returns to judge the world.” [Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Transfiguration,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 2098.] And if that wasn’t enough, they also hear the voice of God the Father Himself, making sure they knew exactly who they were dealing with.
In today’s passage, Matthew begins “and after six days...” Six days earlier, they had been in Caesarea Philippi, where Peter had made his great statement of faith “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus responds by bestowing both great authority and great responsibility on Peter, telling him that he will build the church on him, and giving him the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Of course, in typical Peter fashion, he bungles it up and refuses to accept that Jesus must die. Jesus reply: “Get behind me, Satan!” Peter makes me feel so much better about myself. He has wonderful insights and moments of great faith and testimony. And on the very same page he can be a perfect example of “open mouth, insert foot.”
Peter saw Jesus transfigured right in front of him. He had witnessed Jesus in his majestic glory, engulfed in blinding light. But he apparently also suffered from a bit of celebrity hype. Two of the greatest figures in the Bible appeared before him, and he lost all sense of what his teacher had been telling him. Moses, who brought God’s Law to the Hebrew people, was responsible for some of the greatest events in Jewish history (as God’s servant, of course). And Elijah was one of God’s greatest prophets…so great that God chose to take him up rather than let him die. Elijah was expected to precede the coming of the Messiah. So when Peter sees these two giants of Israel’s history, his excitement is understandable. His problem is that he is looking backward instead of forward. He wanted to stay where he was instead of following Jesus to where he was leading Peter.
Let’s look at how Paul uses this word, starting with 2 Corinthians 3:18 “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Knowing who Jesus is - who he *really* is - changes you. C.S. Lewis said that “Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic, or He was who He said He was.” And if Jesus was telling the truth - and we know that he was - then that means he *is* the Son of God, and everything he ever said was true. That’s life-changing when you encounter it. The Gospel is meant to be that powerful.
So as we encounter this Good News and begin to know this Messiah who died for our sins, it starts to change us. This is also by design. And that brings us to Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Now there’s some *real* change. How are we transformed? By being different from the world.
Is it hard to be different from the world? A Canadian high school student was suspended in November for protesting against transgender people's use of bathrooms and saying there are only two genders, and on Feb 6 was arrested for trying to come to back to school. Note that this is a Roman Catholic high school. He was suspended for proclaiming his belief in the Biblical definition of sex and gender. Do you think there’s pressure to be conformed to this world?
The last 3 years have shown us that the world does not have any room for Christian beliefs or practice. It used to be tolerant of us. We’re way beyond that now. And that means we can’t be the same kind of Christians we used to be. We won’t be able to just be comfortable in our pews forever. How are we going to respond to a world that is hostile to the Good News of Jesus Christ? How are we going to deal with the intolerance and animosity toward our Savior, our faith, our worship? I’ve heard it said, “if being Christian was a crime, is there enough evidence to convict you?” Never in my dreams did I imagine that sentence being carried out literally. And yet, here we are. I pray that the evidence against me in such a case is stacked high.
Romans 12:2 “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” The renewal of your mind. This is “referring to the progressive change in [your] entire way of looking at things, and [your] disposition towards them, produced by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The ‘mind’ here is the faculty that discriminates between the right and the wrong, the true and the false.” [Henry E. Jacobs, Annotations on the Epistles of Paul to the Romans and 1 Corinthians, Chaps. 1–6, ed. Henry E. Jacobs, vol. VII, The Lutheran Commentary (New York: The Christian Literature Co., 1896), 254.] This is becoming more and more important as we hear the world tell us that there’s no such thing as “truth”, there’s no “right” or “wrong”…that everything is relative. That how someone feels is more important than who is “technically correct.” Do not be conformed to this world. Don’t follow the crowd. In Nazi Germany in WW2, there were some Germans who chose to do the right thing. They helped the Jews where they could. Some called them righteous. One who survived said it like this: “remember, the righteous didn’t suddenly become righteous. They just refused to go over the cliff with everybody else.” [(30) "The righteous didn’t suddenly become righteous. They just refused to go over the cliff with everybody else"​ | LinkedIn] Don’t go over the cliff with the world.
Jesus being revealed to the world as the Messiah foretold by the prophets was not something that the world wanted to hear, even when he could prove it to them in person. It doesn’t appear that the world is any more ready to hear that today than it was back then. We are the stewards of this message, and we have been called to take it to people who don’t want to hear it. We have been called to proclaim it to an audience who will resist it - even though they so desperately need it.
If faith in Jesus Christ is transformative and good … then we must first model that before we offer it. If we are to live up to the charge given to us in our baptism (let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in Heaven), then this transformation by the renewal of our minds that Paul describes is a perfect place to start, and it is a perfect segue into the penitence of Lent that begins next week. A spiritual spring cleaning, you might say. What does that look like? How is God calling you to walk closer to Him? What can you change in your life that will bring you closer to God and grow in faith? Is it something you’re doing that you need to give up, or something you’re not doing that you need to start? These are good questions to reflect upon as we approach Ash Wednesday.
Shortly, we will come to the altar to celebrate the New Covenant we have with God. Not the old covenant that Moses sealed by splashing blood on the people and the altar. No, this covenant is sealed by Jesus’ blood, and it spilled on him alone. He alone is responsible for this covenant. He alone is able to fulfill its requirements. He alone is able to bear its burden, to suffer its pain, and to die the death it demands. But he does this willingly, and he offers us the reward, which we celebrate and enjoy when we taste the freedom he gives us in this covenant when we receive that bread and wine that have been mysteriously transformed into his very flesh and blood. When we eat his body broken for us and drink his blood shed for us, and bring our savior as close to us as he can possibly come, how can we not be changed in that moment? In this sacrament, our faith is renewed and we are again reminded of all that Christ has done for us. This is the most physical way that our Savior is revealed to us. And having received him, we are sent into the world.
What does it look like when God sends us? Asbury University in Wilmore, KY had a chapel service on Feb 8. Near the end, they invited anyone who needed prayer to come down to the front. Students began coming down for that. As of 10:00 pm last night, they were still going. They’ve been going 24/7 since that service. There’s a hunger out there among that hostility. Word has spread of this spiritual event, and people from across the country (even some other nations) came to Kentucky for it. Now it’s sparked other events like it, springing up across the USA.
Let us pray that he will send us where we can best be used. Let us pray that he will send us where he can use our gifts as a lamp shining in a dark place. Let us pray that he will renew and refresh us so that we will grow closer to him and reflect his love to the world around us. And let’s enjoy watching as he transforms the world.
In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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