Listening to Jesus – Transfiguration Sunday
Michael F. Bailey
February 9, 2016
Luke 9:28-36 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now 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. Just 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. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ When 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.
So, this is the super Sunday everyone in the Carolinas has been waiting for isn’t it; it’s finally here, Transfiguration Sunday!
I know, this is what you’ve been waiting for (holding up a Luke Kuechly Carolina Panthers jersey). Many of us have been anticipating the fun of Super Bowl Sunday and a Carolina Panthers victory this evening! Now, please stay away from my jersey. As a man of the cloth, I know I’m not supposed to be superstitious, but I’ve not washed this jersey this season and I’ve not shaved either. Somehow in the mystery of the universe, I feel responsible for their winning. Well, not actually, but just in case…the beard doesn’t come off until tomorrow and the jersey will be in the hamper on Monday.
I also love the fact that the United Methodists of North Carolina and of Colorado are having a whimsical but helpful competition: collecting items for local food banks. Regardless of the outcome on the field tonight, what could be more important than hungry people being fed? That’s the true winning aspect of this game. You may bring your donations up until midnight. No one will be here, but you can even leave your donations in the porte cochère.
I do hope you have fun tonight with family and friends. The Super Bowl is almost a new national holiday. Perhaps it could be called “National Men’s Cooking Day.” Men like to cook on Super Bowl Sunday, making their dips and concoctions with their favorite hot sauces and gloppy cheeses. We’re a picky lot; we men never give a Texas Pete man any other sauce. And among the many things we’re at fault for, men are at fault for turning the poultry market upside down! As a child, in a day when whole chickens were cut up at home and fried, the two lowliest pieces were the back and the wings. Now, at the fault of men and football, I could head to Harris Teeter and buy boneless chicken breasts from the butcher counter for $1.99, but wings would cost me $2.29! There’s something upside down about that fact.
And seriously, as church family and friends gather together, Transfiguration Sunday is a super Sunday; an important day with deep spiritual meaning; a day many scholars believe should be honored as one of the 5 most important days to celebrate from the life of Christ (along with His birth, baptism, death and Resurrection). You see, the Transfiguration of Christ reveals much to us. Let’s think about this together.
First and foremost, the Transfiguration reveals who Jesus truly is! The context is that a few days prior to the Transfiguration, Jesus had been declared by Peter, at Caesarea Philippi to be the Lord, the Messiah. Importantly, Jesus then revealed that the Son of Man would be rejected, killed and raised. Peter protested and Jesus said to him, “Get behind me Satan.” We’ll be exploring all of these teaching in the season of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday. But could it be that Jesus, after teaching of his destiny, felt it important to have Peter experience the transfiguration? Jesus took the inner core of his disciples, Peter, James and John to a mountaintop to pray; this was his practice. The mountaintop in Hebrew belief was also a place where God was more likely to be encountered. And though sleepy, the three disciples say Jesus transformed before their very eyes. His divine nature was somehow revealed and poetically described. More, Elijah and Moses appeared with him. Peter then offered to build tents or booths. Suddenly, a cloud overcame the scene. For the Hebrew people a cloud was one image for the Presence of God. And out of the cloud the voice of God spoke words re-iterating the message of Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son” and importantly, “Listen to Him.” The cloud left and the disciples saw Jesus, Moses and Elijah were gone and Jesus stood alone in his humanity.
In that mystical experience, Jesus' true nature was revealed—by appearance and by God's voice—to be the Son of God, the Messiah. This is the core message of Christianity, revealed and affirmed in the Transfiguration.
But more, in the Transfiguration Jesus was revealed as the lens through which Christian are to interpret all scripture. Academics would say that Jesus is our ultimate hermeneutic.
Biblical scholars teach this is revealed by the initial presence of Moses, the Giver of the Law and Elijah, the Prophet. They were the representatives of the scriptures the Chosen People had at the time. Then, as they disappeared, God said of Jesus, “Listen to him.” Perhaps you could safely paraphrase and state God’s intent as, “Listen to my Son now as you interpret all of your scripture.”
The Bible spans generations, myriad writers and cultures. It often reflects the humanity of the writers, their historical setting and their culture. Through the years, some have chosen to ignore the human nature the Bible contains and find a “cultural” verse and ascribe it totally and purely to God. They use such a verse to prove a point that typically validates their prejudices. The Bible has been used, or shall I say abused, to “keep people in their place,” exclude people, and prevent women from leadership in the world and church and even to justify slavery. Here’s what I’d suggest as a takeaway from Transfiguration: whenever you hear the Bible used to justify a point of view, particularly one that subjugates, rejects or excludes, look at what Jesus said about the topic being raised. Look at what he said more than once to gain insight on His emphases. For instance, Deuteronomy 21:21 advocates stoning rebellious teenagers to death outside the city gates. Most of us wouldn’t be here if that were taken literally! The point is, weigh that against Jesus teachings on love and forgiveness. Do that every time you hear someone espousing a view that might harm or exclude others.
Finally, the Transfiguration reveals much about who we truly are and what we’re to be as disciples.
Theologians for years thought the Transfiguration was a “misplaced” post-resurrection appearance of Jesus. Now, all scholars agree that it’s not mis-placed; it happened to prepare the disciples for the cross and resurrection. It is a picture of Jesus in all his divinity. But get this! It also provides a glimpse at our own nature, as those who have the promise of the resurrection! The promise to us is that the imago Dei, the image of God upon us, will one day, by Jesus’ grace and resurrection, flow forth from us in heaven. And more, the Transfiguration teaches what we’re to be about until that day; how we are to live as disciples, by “listening to Him.” But how? Our forbearer, John Wesley has much to offer in this regard by urging the people called Methodist to practice what he termed, the “Means of Grace.”
Wesley urged “works of piety” as ways to listen to Jesus. These include the practices of reading, meditating and studying scripture, prayer, fasting, attending worship, healthy living, sharing faith with others, the sacraments, conferencing and group Bible study.
Wesley also urged, “works of mercy” as ways to meet and listen to Jesus, in deed. These include visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, feeding the hungry, giving generously, seeking justice, and addressing the needs of the poor.
Lent starts this Wednesday. Many would give up something in order to check their desire for something other than Jesus. This is a helpful spiritual discipline for many. But how about taking up something? How about taking up one of the means of grace for 40 days and listening to Jesus. Lent is a gift to us; it is a time to “keep pounding” and double down of the means of grace and respond ever deeply to Jesus.
Share with your group your Super Bowl experience.
Share with your group why you think Jesus divine nature was revealed to the disciples prior to the events of Holy Week.
Share with your group how you would take a scripture passage and pass it through the lens/filter of Jesus words and teaching.
Share with your group a commitment to practice one of Wesley’s means of grace throughout Lent.