Message Manuscript for Transfiguration Sunday 2017 Matthew 17:1-9
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John Henson
Sunday, February 26, 2017
Audio of this sermon is here
I was driving down Southfield Dr. this past week until I was stopped by a red light at the intersection with Fern. I never mind having to stop and wait there until the light changes. As you know, it is a festive place. The house on the Northwest corner of the intersection is famous for having an entire yard full of decorations for every season. This is how I know what season we are in. Without fail, the owners quickly moved from Valentines to St. Patrick’s Day. The green-colored decorations, leprechauns, and the pots of gold leave no room for guessing.
As we travel down our busy pathways to work, school, play, church, and errands, the reading from Matthew’s gospel we’ve heard this morning boldly marks for us a shift in seasons. The season of Epiphany, with all of its bright lights and inspirational sights, is giving way to a new season. Lent is almost here. Before we enter it, though, we are invited to travel up a mountain for one more epiphany experience.
Matthew begins his account of what took place on the mountain that day with a description of how Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a “high mountain, by themselves.” Matthew gets right to the action, reporting how Jesus was “transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” He goes on with what happened next; how Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking with Jesus. Matthew doesn’t fill in with much detail, but his quote from Peter speaks to the epiphany moment this was for all of them. Peter says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here . . .” and wanted to set up three dwellings so they could stay longer. As soon as Peter could get his suggestion out of his mouth, a cloud rolled in and obscured their beautiful sight. Though they could not see much, they could hear. And what they heard was God’s voice saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” God had given them some great sights of Jesus to see. Now God was giving them something—someone—to listen to.
What we are to know this morning is God’s desire to direct us to a time and a place to listen to Jesus. For Peter, James, and John it was a nearby mountain (one, by the way, Matthew describes as “high” as so not necessarily easy to get to). Where might God lead you to go with Jesus as we begin a new season of Lent? Chances are it is nearby. It is also likely not an easy place to get to. Getting there may take some extra steps, discipline, and exertion. Going to your mountaintop may involve getting up half an hour earlier, saying no to commitments more often than you say yes. You might even get frustrated just trying to get to your mountain. But oh the view once you get there!
When we get to the place where we find that we are alone with Jesus; where we hear the voice of God’s affirmation of who he is, we are to hear God’s call for us to listen to Jesus. To help us out and to get us to develop our listening skills, God allows the clouds to hinder our sight and our dependence on it. Yes, we are to listen, especially when the bright light of Jesus gets obscured by clouds. When we lose sight of the sun due to the clouds, our tendency is to become blue or even afraid, just as happened to Peter, James, and John. But then Jesus comes to us in our fear and touches us with the first words we need to hear, “Get up and do not be afraid.” So we listen by getting up, by getting rid of our fear. In her commentary on this text from Matthew, Maryetta Madeleine Anschutz writes that “God prepares people in the transcendent encounters of our lives to endure the world below, the world of the cross, the world that has the ability to break us and yet is never beyond God’s redemption.”1 She quotes from C.S. Lewis’ book, The Silver Chair, when Aslan speaks a final word,
Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly. I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearance. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.2
Jesus says to us, get up and be on your way down the mountain of epiphany and go into the world below. And, as you go, remember what you saw of Jesus with your eyes but also don’t forget to listen to what you hear from his words. Listen to Jesus by reading his words. Listen to Jesus by writing his words. Listen to Jesus by speaking his words. Listen to Jesus by listening to your neighbor. Listen to Jesus by not listening to everyone and everything else. Listen to Jesus by listening with other people, young and old.
One more way you can listen to Jesus is by attending our Lenten study on Wednesday nights. It will be a study of Thomas Merton’s writings about developing our spirituality; going deeper in our faith through contemplative practices. It involves personal devotions during the week plus time together sharing on Wednesday nights. It begins on March 15. I hope you can be there to participate, to listen to the words Jesus has for you to hear.
The light finally changed from red to green, and it was my turn to go through the intersection. Just as I started to go a car came barreling through the intersection, running the red light. I should have just waited, knowing how people tend to run the light. Each time I see this happen, it makes me wonder what’s going to happen to them or someone they run into one day. Seeing it makes me wonder what could happen if they just stopped and looked. And listened.
1 Marytetta Madeline Anschutz. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year A, Volume 1. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors, (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, Kentucky,) 2010, 454.
2 C.S. Lewis. The Silver Chair (New York: HarperCollins, 1981), 25-26.