Transformation – Listen to Him

A Sermon for Last after Epiphany Transfiguration; 2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9

You know the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. You know the mountaintop, that boundary place between heaven and earth, is similar to one of Moses’ cloud covered mountain top excursions. You know how visually stunning Jesus’ clothes are; glowing so bright they outshine even White Brite® Laundry Whitener.

They glow so brightly it is easy to forget the visual reference to heavenly beings (Perkins). You know the word ‘transfiguration’ means change and its root is the same as the word ‘repentance’ to change one’s behavior. You know Moses and Elijah represent the twin pillars of Jewish life the law and the prophets (Sakenfeld). You heard this morning that Elijah is taken into heaven and did not die, and you may remember Moses’ burial place is a secret and that he did not really die but lives in heaven with God (Perkins). You remember that Peter answers Jesus’ question “Who do you think that I am?” “You are the Messiah.” just a before Jesus take him, James, and John up the mountain. You all have heard that Peter’s 3 booths is an effort to capture the moment or contain it, by making a reference to the Festival of Booths (Harrelson) or maybe to Moses’ Tent of meeting (Perkins). You connect that God’s announcement This is my Son, the Beloved (Mark 9:7 with You are my Son, the Beloved (Mark 1:11) at Jesus’ baptism. We might be so caught up with this connection that we miss the complete surprise that in the middle of a Super-Bowl size visual extravaganza (Hoezee; Butler) the most significant moment, literally the final act, is spoken as God says …listen to him! Jesus’ transfiguration has been so central to study and preaching of this story that we focus only on Jesus’ transfiguration and not the broader transformation swirling around Peter, James, and John.

There is no question of the significance of this story in Jesus’ ministry. One indication of that is that it is also in Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel accounts. And though it is not directly evident, there is also a lot going on in the discipleships of Peter, James, and John. I mentioned Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. But, it is also important to mention that just after this Peter tries to rebuke Jesus for predicting his suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection, only to be rebuked by Jesus himself (Mark 8:31-33). It doesn’t take James and John long to make their request for positions in Jesus’, soon to be established, royal court (Mark 10:35-40). These, and the other similar signs, that the disciples do not truly understand Jesus’ calling, are steps in the wrong direction. However, they are also signs of their transformation, which by the way shares the same root as repent, and transfiguration.

That the disciples have trouble following Jesus should not surprise us. We heard the story of Elijah’s being taken up into heaven. It includes a story of Elisha’s dedication, and his request for a double share of Elijah’s spirit. The Living Church’s reflection notes that Elisha is formed under the direction of a human master, which is a slow learning process, it takes time (The Living Church). To get caught up in Jesus humanity versus his divinity is to miss the point that Peter, James, and John, indeed, all the disciples, including us, are all human. Their learning, our learning is a slow timely process.

Having witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration Peter, James, and John can never be same. The heavenly living presence of Moses and Elijah, the cloud, the brilliant light, associated with heavenly beings, the commanding voice of God, telling them, directing them to listen to him, is enough to change anyone’s life. True, it takes some time, and it takes some miss steps, nonetheless their presence at Jesus’ transfiguration is part of their transformation to the fullness of discipleship (Lewis).

By way of sacred story our witnessing the disciples witnessing Jesus’ transfiguration is a part of our story. This is not just another miracle story. This is not just another affirmation of baptism. This story intrudes into our lives. Though we may put into action our own version of three booths, we can no longer stay where we are. The transfiguration experience propels [us] to make manifest the Kingdom of God (Lewis). Inspired imagination redirects our attention from a glowing Jesus, up-there somewhere, to sharing the Kingdom that is right here, right here in River City, right now. Are we ready? Of course, not but, that is okay; we will go anyway, the disciples did, and Jesus will lead us just as he led them.

Today we stand at the very edge of Epiphany For the past 7 or 8 weeks we have been in the light of Jesus’ birth – the incarnation God coming among us, as one of us; we stand in the visionary light of the Wise men who follow the strange star and listen to urgent dreams to find the Christ child and to not unwittingly lead Herod’s fear-driven murderous action. Jesus was majestically transfigured revealing the light of his divine being. We have been mystically immersed in transforming light of divine presence. We stand at the boundary of that light and retrospection. The fruit of our next journey is born of the commitment ~ to listen.


References

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 9:2-9. 11 2 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Butterworth, Susan. “Behind the Veil, Last Sunday after Epiphany (B).” 11 2 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 11 2 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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.

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 9:2-9. 11 2 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Lewis, Karoline. It Is Good To Be Here. 11 2 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

The Living Church. Ascending Flame and Descending Love. 5 2 20108. <livingchurch.org>.

Thomas Nelson. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

 

 

 

 

Listen

 A sermon for Epiphany Last

 Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9, Psalm 2 or, Psalm 99

 In a story filled with powerful visual images: “ high mountain, shone like the sun”,” dazzling white”, “bright cloud,” it is quite possible that the key phrase is listen to him. But to get there we should understand all the visual clues.

Jesus and core crew go up on a high mountain; knowledgeable Jews catch the implications to God & Moses on Mt. Sinai, and Elijah’s divine encounter on a high mountain. [i] Matthew’s audience knows

[a] high mountain symbolizes the border zone between earth and heaven, between the material and the spiritual. [ii]

Jesus is suddenly all lit up; knowledgeable Jews know that glowing with glory is a characteristic of heavenly beings;  [iii] and any one hearing Matthew’s Gospel read, as was the custom of the day, would recall that just a chapter ago, in explaining the parable of weeds in the wheat Jesus concludes saying:

the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father [iv]  [v]

The appearance of Moses and Elijah certainly get a Jew’s attention; as Matthew places Jesus in continuity with God’s continuing
work [vi] revealed in what we call the Old Testament Eugene Boring writes

Matthew pairs Moses and Elijah … because they were both prophets who were initially rejected by the people but vindicated by God, both were advocates of the covenant and the Torah, both worked miracles, and both were considered by first-century Judaism to be transcendent figures who did not die but were taken directly to heaven. [vii]

Perhaps the least understood image is the three dwellings. Skēnē (skay-nay’) [viii] is interpreted as dwellings, or tents, (NSRV) tabernacles, (KJV) booths, (YLT) or memorial. (MSG) Many of you have heard of the connection to the festival of the Booths. What we are unlikely to hear is the verbal similarity to ‘Shekinah’ the fiery presence that symbolizes the continuing presence of God among the people. [ix] Perhaps Peter wants to prolong the heavenly presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus. [x] It would be a very Jewish action.

 The final image is a bright cloud that overshadows them. I always associate shadows, and certainly overshadowing, with dark clouds. You’ve noticed that when it suddenly gets darker; you look up and see a dark cloud, not a bright cloud. It must be me, because no one mentions it, and to be honest, I’ve never noticed it before. Oh well.

So Peter, James and John are on a high mountain top, the boundary between heaven and earth between spiritual and the worldly; they see Jesus lit up with righteousness like a heavenly being; they see him speaking with Moses and Elijah in continuity of God’s redeeming work; then Peter, for better or worse, connects it all with the fiery presence in the Temple And then they/we hear God’s voice:

This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!

We all know listening is more than hearing; how often has your child answered I hear you!  and you know they haven’t a clue what you said. It gets more complicated. In the Old Testament to ‘hear’ carries the connotation to ‘obey.’ [xi] Douglas Hare notes that ‘word’ or hearing has priority over vision. [xii] He also writes listen to him! emphasizes Jesus’ role as teacher who is revealing God’s will, [xiii] which I believe implies emphasis on moral and ethical lessons. Hare concludes:

Seeing Jesus transfigured has value only if it leads the disciples to listen obediently to his divinely authorized teaching.

We live in a time and place where it is hard to see the divine presence; it is hard to see miracles, hard to see the glory of God, hard to see God’s presence. Many take the lack of visions as evidence that God is absent, or that God doesn’t exist. This logic equivocates God with the Ivory-billed woodpecker. And if today’s gospel teaches us anything, it’s that we don’t come to understand scripture through the usual and customary methods of historical criticism and/or the scientific method. [xiv] But have you ever noticed that people who listen to the Word, see God’s Glory; that when we listen to Jesus, the Spirit, we see Glory we otherwise miss? A couple of weeks ago David Lose encouraged preachers to ask their congregations to ask each other when they saw God this week. Today I’d be tempted to ask you: When you listened to the Divine this week?

[pause]

Nervous?

Perhaps we should be; no we really should be. We know that listening to God will make us uncomfortable, will challenge us to go where no one has gone before, and it frightens us. No one likes to get out of our comfort zones; but that is where Peter, James, John, and the rest of the disciples go, it is where we are called to go. [xv]

But, as a colleague of mine experienced this week, Jesus will not leave us alone. After he really stretched himself to speak from a highly technical rules point; as he sat down, a good friend gently laid a hand on his shoulder, until my colleague calmed. His friend brought him back, not to comfort, but to where he was no longer afraid.

I have laid out for us goals of:  Welcome Home, Friday Families, Brewing Faith and Stephens’s House.  They are anywhere from simple to complex, from no-big-deal to audacious. No matter what, they will take us out of our comfort zone. However, as we listen to Jesus, we will see not only his presence, but the path opening for us to follow. We will know the calming touch of friend. And who knows, perhaps we will be transformed into a people who, by our very existence, proclaim God’s Kingdom on earth.

Epiphany, the season we dedicate to divine light is drawing to its close. It’s time to listen for the voice of God. It may be in a bright cloud, it may be in dark cloud, it may come from unexpected places, no matter it will lead you to glory beyond imagination.

By the way, when did you listen to Jesus this week?

 


[i] Judith Jones, Workingpreacher.org , Commentary on Matthew 17:1-9, 2/26/2014
[ii] Douglas Hare, Interpretation, Matthew A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching
[iii] M Eugene Boring, New Interpreter’s Bible, Matthew, Introduction, Commentary and Reflections
[iv] Matthew 16:43
[v] Hare, ibid
[vi] Boring, ibid
[vii] ibid
[viii] Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary
[ix] Boring, ibid
x] Hare, ibid
[xi] Boring, ibid
[xii] Hare, ibid
[xiii] ibid
[xiv] ibid
[xv] Paul Daniels, episcopaldigitalnetwork.com, http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2014/02/07/last-sunday-after-epiphany-world-mission-sunday-a-2014/, Last Sunday After Epiphany / World Mission Sunday (A) – 2014

Mary, wine and belief

Today is the observation of St. Mary, and as often as this reading is used a reading in marriage rites, it has almost nothing to do with marriage. The, perhaps lost, catch line in this story is the last phrase of verse 11 and his disciples believed in him. Chapter 1 is all about John, the revelation of Jesus identity and the beginning of gathering disciples, some of whom express an opinion about who Jesus is. Nothing is said about believe, Nathaniel’s proclamation … you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” is close; however Jesus reply might cause us to ponder if it is a very zealous expression of identity, but not belief. After (indirectly) witnessing the water becoming wine, it is clear the disciples believe in Jesus.

Their belief is wonderful news. But my attention has often been caught by the exchange between Mary and Jesus, between mother and son. She tells him the wine is out. He tells her, not my problem, not my time. His mother then tells the servants to do what ever Jesus tells them to do. It’s powerfully evocative of God ‘s words in the Transfiguration (Mark and Luke) listen to him. They do, Jesus does what Jesus does, bring life where this is none, and people, here the disciples, come to belief. So maybe this is a model for intractable problem solving. Tell Jesus the problem. Listen to him, and do what he says. Look for new life. The best part is not that the problem will be solved, but that people will come to believe, and that’s where true life is.