Transfiguration moments

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. <;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 26 2 2016. <;.

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. <;.

Lewis, Karoline. Change Matters. 26 2 2017. <>.

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





 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?



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, , 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,,, Last Sunday After Epiphany / World Mission Sunday (A) – 2014