What Do You See?
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration Sunday is observed every year; every year. It is always the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, the final Sunday before the start of Lent.
I just read the story to you. I am going to hope you remember what happens. There is an account of this event in each of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, & Luke). John has no accounting, but it is widely assumed this is the reference in John 1:14. Peter does write about the Transfiguration – in 2 Peter 1:16-18.
Pretty powerful stuff. And significant to the story of Jesus and his time among the disciples.
We did just read the story. So I had rather not use precious time to retell it - unless you were distracted earlier and or couldn’t hear. Are we okay? Each of you do have a printed copy, in your bible or bulletin. Keep it open, and you can refer back to is as necessary.
So, it is safe to assume that you have the sequence of events registered: in short-term memory if not in long-term?
Okay. Then rather than pick at the bit and pieces of the story, what I would like for us to do in these next nine minutes is to ask what impact this story might have on us and the way that we will conduct ourselves when we come down off whatever mountain the experience of Jesus has taken us.
Transfiguration Sunday is the last Sunday before the start of Lent. We will talk more about Lent when Lent gets started – come on Wednesday night and you will get a good introduction. Transfiguration Sunday is the final Sunday of the season of Epiphany.
In a sermon a few weeks ago I pointed out that Epiphany is all about “seeing.” The word in Greek might be more accurately translated as “reveal.” It is the translating of this Greek word into old French that brings us the current English translation of “Epiphany.”
“Epiphanies” are spoken of in places other than in Church. There will be mentions of “an epiphany”, or insight coming to someone and leading to scientific discovery. An “epiphany” may lie at the base of a dramatic change of heart or course of action.
The Christian Church’s season of Epiphany is all about revealing the true nature of the one who is born in Bethlehem. Help in seeing this scrawny little boy as the Son of God is necessary. Born to simple laborers. Born to an unwed mother. Born in a borrowed outhouse. A refuge forced to flee to Egypt and then carried back across the border in way as to avoid encountering the legal authorities. We have a story about him being in the Temple as a child of 10, but there is no mention of his attending Rabbinic school or of his having been advanced in his studies by a qualified teacher.
The Christian Church’s season of Epiphany gives us a chance to see – to see the true nature of the scrawny little boy born in the back-water village of Bethlehem.
At the end of this season, and these efforts, we observe Transfiguration Sunday. One last try to make sure that we see. One more attempt to cast a bright spotlight upon one whose identity is difficult to comprehend and whose presence is a challenge to accept.
So, what do we see? What is revealed?
Turn to someone sitting beside you. (Make sure to look for the persons sitting alone who might not have an obvious talking partner.) Share with your neighbor what is revealed – to the disciples of Jesus, to you – on this mountain top. I am only going to give you a minute – so start now!
As you depart this morning, you can share your insights – or what you learned from your discussion partner. What I want to say is that I hope you were more impressed than Peter, James, and John. They didn’t see very clearly. And so I pray that you didn’t fall into a similar trap – one which clinches shut their hearts and limits their reactions.
You kept your bibles open – right? Look at verse 6. Peter - who is always the one who says what most of the rest of Jesus’ disciples are thinking – wants to build three booths (dwellings/tents). Already on the Jewish liturgical calendar is an occasion when dwellings are built. It is called Sukkot – and observed in the fall of the year, around the time of the conclusion of the harvest.
Peter’s reacts to God’s attempt to reveal who Jesus truly is, by looking for a way to tuck this revelation into a habit and a tradition already popular among him and his fellow believers.
Let me say that one more time: Peter’s reacts to God’s attempt to reveal who Jesus truly is, by looking for a way to tuck this revelation into a habit and a tradition already popular among him and his fellow believers.
Isn’t there something wrong with his trying to do this?
Isn’t there something equally wrong if we were to attempt to do this?
Transfiguration Sunday comes every year – every year. It isn’t on the calendar because we aren’t sure if congregants will have remembered the story from twelve months ago. It is on the calendar to force us to see – to see clearly – the dazzling thing that God is doing – IS DOING, not merely did once upon a time.
Transfiguration Sunday comes every year – every year. It is an attempt and an invitation to totally and unequivocally reject any attempt to tuck the word of God and the work of Jesus into our pre-existing habits and traditions.
What does it say in verse 3 – “dazzling white, such as no one (no fuller) on earth could bleach them.” Mark isn’t referring to the efforts of a laundress; he is saying that no one – no teacher, no preacher, no historian, no theologian, no Sunday School Teacher, or no parent – can reveal or expose what God makes known.
Transfiguration Sunday come every year – every year. And every time it comes we are presented the opportunity to set aside our habits and traditions and assumptions and seek to see, strive to perceive, attempt to glimpse what God wants to make known.
Too often, we skip over Transfiguration. We allow ourselves to remain stuck in the convictions and confessions which have proven to be so popular among others. Too often, we pay lip service to Transfiguration. And we fail to allow the brightness of Christ’s light to expose the darkness of our self-centered and self-serving self-justifications.