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February 26, 2017

“Change is… Good?” 

Exodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-36


Today’s gospel lesson comes just after Peter has proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus then told the disciples that he must suffer and die- and that those who follow must pick up their crosses as well. 8 days after this difficult teaching, he invited Peter, James and John on a long hike up a mountain.


They probably left very early in the morning, and began their long climb. This mountain, which was probably Mt Herman was not an over glorified hill. Jesus took them up a mountain that is 9, 230 feet above sea level. This was a hard trip, and took a lot of effort. After what must’ve taken several hours, they made it to the top.


I can imagine Peter, James and John huffing and puffing, holding their sides in pain, and wondering what Jesus had in mind, why they came all this way. Why were they going up a mountain in the first place? If Jesus had said to them, “Because it is there!” I doubt that would’ve given them any comfort. Why did Jesus choose to take them up this high mountain? Because the mountain symbolizes the border between heaven and earth, between the material and the spiritual. Throughout the Bible, when someone went up to a high place it was to be with God, to break through the temporal realm to the spiritual realm.


I’ll never forget my experience of climbing Mt. Washington in Oregon which is about the same height as Mt. Herman. We began our climb early in the morning, and after several hours of hiking, I began to tire. I was only 16, and began to get a little whiney. Just as I was about ready to throw the backpack down and sit in protest, we broke through a tree line up on top of a ridge. There before us was a huge glacier, and the summit of the mountain. The sight took my breath away. I was in awe of the mountain, and at that very moment, I was taken out of the earthly complaining realm, and was lifted into the spiritual realm. This is what likely happened to Peter, James and John as well when they reached the summit.


While the three disciples were trying to catch their breath and rest, while they looked around at the beauty high above the earth- something quite amazing happened. Some unexpected guests arrived: Moses and Elijah.


Have you ever had friends or family members show up unexpectedly? There is a moment or two of panic, and back pedaling that occurs, as you try to think of what you have in the refrigerator, and if there are enough beds for everyone to sleep in. To some degree, I think that is what happened here with Peter. Peter is characterized throughout the Bible as one who blurted out the first thing on his mind at times, which always seemed to get him in some sort of trouble.



In some way, Peter may’ve been trying to help, while in a state of panic- “Let’s build three tents, one for each of you!” - To give everyone a place to sit and rest. It is also possible that Peter was just taken back by what he saw- He was transported from the earthly realm to the spiritual realm in an instant, and he didn’t know what to say or do. It must’ve been quite something to see this scene as it unfolded before him. Perhaps Peter wanted to extend his experience by prolonging the heavenly presence of Moses and Elijah in providing these three dwellings.


Why did Moses and Elijah make this appearance? These two were legends- they were the ones who had really helped the people of God. Moses was a hero of the people, the one who had led them from slavery into God’s promised land of freedom. And Moses experienced a transformation as well, which pre figured Jesus’ as we heard in the passage from Exodus this morning. Elijah was the first prophet of God to take on unfaithful kings for their not following God’s ways. Moses appeared as a representative of God’s first covenant with humanity. Elijah represented the one who would come again to restore all things according to the prophet Malachi. Moses and Elijah represented all of salvation history until Christ. Jewish tradition ascribes that Moses was carried off to heaven before he suffered a mortal death. According to II Kings 2:11, Elijah was also carried up to heaven before his death. Since these two heroes of faith ascended, so Jesus foreshadows his own ascension to heaven by being with them- LOTS of symbolism here, to be sure. These two figures of faith were there to remind the 3 disciples that just as God broke through the barriers of the earthly temporal world before through Moses and the prophets, God was doing so once again with Jesus, God’s son.


Then suddenly Jesus’ face and garments began to shine, just as Moses’ had all of those centuries earlier. He was transfigured- literally changed right before their eyes. What is the significance of this event? This story of the transfiguration is the stamp of approval from God-Jesus has just told the disciples that he must suffer and die. It is almost as if by Jesus telling the 12 about the cross, God was waiting until that moment to fully anoint him for the rest of his ministry. Jesus was changed by God’s Spirit in a new way. This was a mystical experience meant to confirm Jesus’s son ship, his continuity with the past, and his glory.


Then God broke in even further to the earthly realm- He spoke in a way that terrified the three disciples- A cloud descended upon them, and they heard the words- “This is my son, my beloved. LISTEN TO HIM!” I had a great experience once when doing the children’s sermon for this particular story at another church- I had a friend hidden with a microphone- and at the right moment, in a booming voice from nowhere, he said the same words- all the children jumped. They were startled by the voice- much as the three disciples must’ve been.


As God’s voice grew faint, and the cloud lifted, when all was said and done, Moses and Elijah were both gone- only Jesus remained. The focus was to be on this man now, the messiah.



Jesus then ordered the three not to tell anyone what they had seen until after his resurrection from the dead. This was a pretty amazing event to keep under wraps. Why did Jesus request this? Jesus had a game plan, a particular schedule or program, by which he was carrying out his ministry of preaching the reign of God’s love and justice. Only as people were able to examine his entire life, with his sacrifice on the cross, and the affirmation of God in the resurrection appearances, could they look back upon his life and see its true meaning. To begin to proclaim Christ in his glory during his lifetime was pre-emptive of his plan. So he asked his inner circle to keep quiet about this vision upon the mountaintop until after his resurrection.


The transfiguration was God's turning point for the rest of humanity. As Jesus was changed, he became the first transformed human, the first pioneer and perfecter of those who would become his followers. The transfiguration holds meaning for us in that both our world and we too can be transformed, changed as we follow Christ.


Desmond Tutu tells about a transfiguration experience that he will never forget. It occurred when apartheid was still in full swing. Tutu and other church leaders were preparing for a meeting with the prime minister of South Africa to discuss the troubles that were destroying their nation. They met at a theological college that had closed down because of the white government’s racist policies. During a break from the proceedings, Tutu walked into the college’s garden for some quiet time. In the midst of the garden was a huge wooden cross. As Tutu looked at the barren cross, he realized that it was winter, a time when the grass was pale and dry, a time when almost no one could imagine that in a few short weeks it would be lush, green, and beautiful again. In a few short weeks, the grass and all the surrounding world would be transfigured. As the archbishop sat there and pondered that, he obtained a new insight into the power of the transfiguration, of God’s ability to transform our world. Tutu concluded that transfiguration means that no one and no situation is “untransfigurable.” The time will eventually come when the whole world will be released from its current bondage and brought to share in the glorious liberty that God intends. I would say the current South Africa is quite an example of God bringing change. I saw glimpses of that transfiguration this past week- on Monday night as we hosted the homeless shelter and on Wednesday night when our church hosted the community dinner.



No person is “untransfigurable” either. Each of us who claim Christ as our Lord can look towards the possibility of change within us. There is hope that Christ is changing, transforming our thoughts, our words- changing our very inner nature. As it says in 2nd Corinthians 3:18, “And we all with  unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” We are not what we once were. We are not yet all we will be. Thank God!


Christ brings about change- change in the world, change within us, and I also firmly believe change in the church. The American church, as we well know, is in the midst of decline. All we have to do to see that is to look at nearly every church in town to see that decline, including our own.  Nationally, the American church is aging, while young people who have been raised in the church are no longer attending. Why is that? In the book by David Kinnamen, Un-Christian, he revealed how shocked he was to find data which revealed the frustrations of young Christians. “Millions of young Christians were describing Christianity as hypocritical, judgmental, too political, and out of touch with reality.” And in his follow up book, You Lost Me, Kinnamen notes that a majority of 18-29 year olds aren’t walking away from faith- they are walking away from church. He writes, “Most young Christians are struggling less with their faith in Christ than with their experience of church.” These young people are looking to go out and do acts of mission and ministry. They aren’t interested in the institutionalized church. The structure, format, style of the big C church is in need of change, and I believe Christ is beginning that transformation now, which is not easy for those of us who have grown up in and loved the church as we know it. Change isn’t always easy.

For example, take a plain old cheese grater .We got our first cheese grater a little over 29 years ago as part of the wedding stuff people bought for us when we got married on June 20, 1987. Now quite a few years ago, when either Paula or I was grating cheese for something, the grater bent in half. After that, it was harder to grate cheese. Because of the bend in the grater, it was easy to skin your fingers when grating, or even cut them on the sharp metal near the break. And yet, this was the first cheese grater we ever had. We just couldn’t get rid of it! We did finally purchase a new one, at the lavish expense of $3, after putting up with the broken one for more than a couple of decades. Change isn’t easy.  As I said in last month’s pastor’s pen, Mark Twain said of change, “The only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper.” But change is necessary and part of God’s plan for the world, for us, and for the church. And when it comes to the Christian church in America, there may be some cheese graters we need to get rid of, trusting that Christ is doing something new to His church.


And now, just as Jesus called the disciples down from the mountain, so we too are called to leave this place of worship to change, to transform the world. We must trust that Christ is changing us as well, as we think of others before ourselves, as we lift up the lowly and care for those in need, as we learn to beat our swords into plowshares, and learn to be caretakers of this earth. Inner transformation through Christ helps us live more Godly lives, and our lives begin to reflect the light and purpose of Christ. As we come down from this mountain, the world then sees that light, and it too is transformed, for others begin to believe also that no person, no situation, and no church  is “untransfigurable.”  Until the day when the world is released from its current bondage, may we be bearers of Christ’s change, so that the world might be changed more and more into Christ’s likeness from one degree of glory to another. Alleluia! Amen.


Pastoral Prayer.  We thank you O God, for the story of the transfiguration. May our lives also be transfigured by the presence of the Holy Spirit. Help us, in all that we think, say, and do, to demonstrate your love. Use us this week in some special way that we will be instruments of that love. We come to You today with our concerns-for our church, community, nation, world, and ourselves. Help us to want only those things which You want, that will up build and strengthen others, as well as ourselves. At our work or school, in our homes and community, grant us the energy and perseverance to strive for those things which are honorable, decent, and uplifting.  We pray for our church that we will seek out your will and walk in your way. We pray for our nation and for all nations that they will care more for the hungry and the poor and seek ways of peace, so that your light might shine, and this world would be forever transfigured into Your likeness. In the name of Jesus Christ we pray, Amen.

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