A sermon for Epiphany Last – Transfiguration; Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9
As you may remember, last weekend was The Diocese of Arkansas’ 145th annual Convention. A disadvantage of ending mid afternoon is that it is mid-evening, sometime after 8 pm, when I arrived home. There was no time, and there was no energy, for thoughtful inclusions of the convention’s action in homiletic reflection within the appointed readings. The short sharing of a presentation doesn’t count, no matter enthusiastic it might have been. However, a week to reflect on convention and this week’s Gospel reading of the transfiguration raises such an opportunity.
St. Andrew’s Horseshoe village presented a resolution to close. The bishop had explained the circumstances before the resolution was presented. The resolution included the congregation’s prayerful considerations, thanks to the faithful members, and plans for how they will continue in the body of Christ. St. Andrew’s did close. They did shed themselves of the burden of maintaining things that were consuming too many resources. However, St. Andrew’s did not die. They were transfigured as they became a part of another tradition of the larger continuing body of Christ. It was both a difficult and a glorious action, for the people of St. Andrew’s and for Convention. It was an action that allowed them and convention to let go of what was holding them so they could grasp the future being given them.
St. Stephen’s is in a transfiguration moment. We know what we are, but we sometimes still pretend to be what we were. We know what we are becoming, but we don’t know what that really means. Angie and I are in a similar place, a couple of times.
You know Nugget’s story. That because of sudden illness, he is no longer able to be Angie’s service dog. We know and accept this. And then there are those moments when he is his old self, and we instinctively act like he is until we get to the moment when we realize we can’t, which most often involves getting ready to go somewhere. We know who Nugget is, our pet. But at times, we still act as if he is a service dog.
Last week we acquired Burt, a dog we believe will become Angie’s new service dog. Right now, is he a 120-pound canine toddler. There is name recognition training. There is basic behavior training. There is AKA Good Citizen training. And finally, there is service dog training. We know who Burt is becoming. We know the six-month plan, but we don’t know what that really means.
The other transition place for us is my move to ¼ time about July 1st. There is a general agreement as to what my continuing role with St. Stephen’s will be, but there are lots of details to figure out. There are plans for the other ¾ of my time. But they are not moving as quickly as imagined. There are options, some better than others, all of them have good opportunities, but we really don’t know what that means.
I am sure you have recognized the other ¾ time means there will be changes for St. Stephens. For those things, I’ll no longer be responsible for we must determine what to keep and how, who will be responsible and when. There all sorts of considerations, most every part of our church life is affected. Things like our liturgical life; all the liturgy planning, the scheduling, and the bulletin making. This is important because our worship life informs our mission life. There are ministries like discretionary outreach, our participation in the Ignite backpack and Christmas ministry, our community ministry support; all of these and more will require who, how much, and when decisions. There is also our community life, how are we going to gather, when will we gather, and who will coordinate it. There is the financial aspect of our community life which requires constant thoughtful attention and is both influenced by and influences our liturgy, our mission, and our communal life. And then there all those mundane everyday things like checking the answering machine, checking the mail, checking the email, keeping Facebook up to date, postings to twitter, providing material to our webmaster, and keeping our public google calendar up to date. We know something of what all this will be like, but we don’t know what that really means.
So, in light of St. Andrew’s story and of Matthew’s gospel story of the Transfiguration, I got to wondering, what does the Transfiguration have to teach us about – well – transfiguration – metamorphosis – change?
Let’s begin towards the end. God speaks from the cloud: This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased …. (Matthew 17:5b) God speaks the same words spoken at Jesus’ baptism; only this time everyone hears, well Peter, James, and John hear (Boring). The phrase does end differently as God adds listen to him! Not look at, not admire, not clump together with anything that has come before, but listen to him. ‘Listen’ carries the connotation to obey, to understand or better yet, to live accordingly (Harrelson, Boring). That God tells the disciples, and us, to listen gives us a clue that we are missing something.
The word for Jesus’ transfiguration is metamorphosis. You remember from school this is what happens to a caterpillar when it becomes a butterfly. Change is important, and the past is still important, even if it is not visible as It no longer is in the butterfly (Lewis). I suspect the divine command to listen is a divine nudge to not get all caught up in the incomprehensible grandeur, which for Peter is the presence of Moses and Elijah, and for many of us is Jesus all aglow. Either way along with Peter we are to beware of distractions and listen to, live as Jesus lives.
While there is respect for the past in the story, there is still that warning to beware. When Moses and Elijah appear, Peter immediately wants to build three dwellings. Again, words point the way. The word skēnai means dwelling or tent, also means tabernacle, the home of the Ark. The Shekinah is the fiery cloud that symbolized the continuing presence of God among Israel, and that was over the ark of the covenant (Boring). As we navigate the changes in our individual lives, family and as St. Stephen’s we should honor the past for what it is; but, we should beware and not misunderstand it and do as Peter wants to and build something because of some reminder of the past. If we pay attention that after the majesty dissipates, all that glowing goes away, Jesus is alone, and that reveals to us that Jesus is the true tabernacle, the skēnē, the reality of God’s abiding presence with us (Boring). It is also the assurance that you, that we are not alone, never have been, and never will be; we are never alone in the journey into a new and different future. The final thought or vision is that Jesus really is God with us, Jesus was with us yesterday, he is right here right now, he will be with us tomorrow.
As we head into Lenten reflection, and the process of our own metamorphosis, our own change, let us envision ourselves rowing a boat – looking at the shore that is opposite of where we are going to find the vision that grounds us in where we were and trust, that even though we cannot see it our future is secure. Let us envision who we might be changing into as Peter, James, and John saw glimpses of the glory to come. We can see glimpses of how God continues to be present to us, we can see glimpses of how God will be present through us, as heirs of Jesus, so that the presence of the Kingdom of God will continue to be proclaimed.
Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.
Carter, Warren. Commentary on Matthew 17:19. 26 2 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 26 2 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Helmer, Ben. “Transformation, Last Sunday after Epiphany (A).” 26 2 2016. Sermons that Work.
Hoezee, Scott. Last Epiphany A – Matthew 17:1-9. 26 2 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel>.
Lewis, Karoline. Change Matters. 26 2 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.