Who's Changed

March 3, 2019

Series: March 2019

Category: Communion Sunday

Speaker: Rob McClellan

Gospel Luke 9:28-43

28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" — not knowing what he said. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" 36When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

37On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." 41Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." 42While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43And all were astounded at the greatness of God.  THIS IS HOLY WISDOM, HOLY WORD.  THANKS BE TO GOD. 

 Who’s Changed

          According to the church calendar, today is Transfiguration Sunday.  The word transfiguration is quite “churchy” and it may hold little meaning for you.  It almost sounds like some technical term:  I can’t respond to you right now because my computer is undergoing a transfiguration, and but once the updates are complete I’ll email you back.  This is not transfiguration, nor is what happened this week when many of you received an email from someone posing to be me asking for money in the form of gift cards.  That was not transfiguration but old-fashioned impersonation.

          The transfiguration merely refers to the story in which Jesus takes three of his disciples, his students, up on a mountain, harkening to the time Moses went up the mountain to encounter God and receive the commandments.  You heard that story a few moments ago as well.  When Jesus takes his disciples who appears but Elijah, the prophet that Jesus resembles so much, and Moses himself.  The word transfiguration is defined simply as a change into something more beautiful.[1]  In the story, Jesus glows in a dazzling white light and accordingly, the church has often spoken about this moment in terms of Jesus and how he was changed.  That’s what signifies to us who he is, echoing the divine approval expressed at his baptism, “This is my Son, my chosen,” this time with the addition, “listen to him!” (Lk. 9:35-36).

          Within that telling, it’s straightforward and there’s not much more to say.  However, what if Jesus isn’t the only one changed into something more beautiful in this story?  David Lose, pastor and former seminary professor and president, tells us that this isn’t Jesus’ transfiguration alone; it’s Peter’s as well.[2]  In fact, dazzling white aside, it may be Peter who is more changed than Jesus.  Peter, at seeing Jesus, in a scene filled with symbolic allusion, is given a glimpse of the divine presence, given a look at who this one is who has come to be among them and show them the Way, is profoundly changed.

          What does that change look like—when you experience the divine presence, when you encounter Christ?  Some would tell you it makes your problems go away.  Others promise it’s the key to personal success or happiness.  What happens to Peter instead is that he is moved instantly and irresistibly toward hospitality.  Upon encountering the transfigured Christ, he starts to prepare dwellings for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, which should remind the hearer of a story from Genesis when Moses is met by three visitors from God.  He too starts to set up camp for his holy visitors.  Think of that.  Don’t brush past it.  The most direct encounter with God leads not to achievement or personal gain, but to offering hospitality, reverence, the making of space for God to come and stay a while.

          Peter becomes a model for us because he recognizes the presence of Christ right before him, and he is moved instantly into offering hospitality.  The invitation for us is to do likewise.  Praising Jesus at church is one thing or recognizing him on the mountaintop of spiritual experience.  Learning to recognize Christ in the other out in the world is quite another.  The story begs the question of where we can learn to recognize the presence of Christ and be likewise similarly moved.  That’s the miracle.  It’s reminiscent of how the rabbis talk about the story of the Burning Bush.  Here we are again with Moses who meets God for the first time in a bush that is burning but is not consumed.  The miracle, say the rabbis, is not that the bush was burning; the miracle is that Moses noticed, for every bush is burning with the divine presence.  Similarly, every countenance bears the image of the living God. 

          I can imagine many people saying this recognition and response would be easy if only we were given as dramatic an encounter as Peter.  Perhaps so.  Some have had such encounters, others have not, and I have no explanation about the mystery of such things.  However, my experience is that no matter how much we are shown we tend to remain on the search for just one more measure of proof, one slightly more complete picture or encounter.  The reality is, as science has taught us, most of the universe, is dark matter.  We just don’t get to see that much.  NASA puts it succinctly, “More is unknown than is known.”  It’s a spiritual truth as much as a scientific one.  And yet, in the midst of this shrouded reality, as author Mary Gordon puts it, “Jesus insists upon being seen.”[3]  Or, you could say, in Christ, God insists on being seen, and we’re called to trust that what we’ve seen is enough.

          Peter’s story should make us feel better about ourselves, not worse.  For even with his seemingly exclusive look, he stumbles.  If you follow his story, his progress is not constant.  He sometimes misses it and gets it wrong.  In today’s story, just a few lines after receiving this once in the world’s lifetime view of Christ, Peter and his fellow disciples are unable to bring healing to those in need.  They can’t care for those right in front of them.  They don’t believe they have it in them to offer the same care he was so ready to offer Jesus on the mountaintop.  Down here at sea level it’s harder, and on the way to Calvary later, for Peter it’s impossible as he denies Christ when it counts the most.

          And yet, on this rock, which is Peter’s name—his name is Rocky—on this rock, which sometimes seems most like sandstone, is built the church, the beloved community.  If Peter is enough, you are enough. 

          After that email went out last week, fishing for money from members of the congregation, I learned that a number of churches have been hit with a similar scam.  Upon sharing that one of you asked me.  “Why would someone target a church?”  If we’re playful, we can answer because it’s access to a group of caring, generous people who would be trusting of a spiritual leader’s request to give.  Now, is that such a bad legacy to inherit, an identity to bear?  What a testament, what a gift this hacker gave us, a reminder of who we are – people who have been changed by recognizing Christ into something more beautiful.  They got us right.  Let us continue to prove them so with credible acts of generosity and hospitality to those truly in need so that we can say with the transfiguration that it is not only Jesus, not only Peter, but it is we too who have been changed into something more beautiful.  Amen.

[1] https://mcgillchristians.wordpress.com/2015/08/05/be-not-transformed-but-transfigured/, https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/transfiguration

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=1524

[3] See https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/6723002-reading-jesus