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.
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly 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. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While 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. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands.” But they did not understand this saying; its meaning was concealed from them, so that they could not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying. --Luke 9:28-45 (NRSV)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
It’s a big leap for us today as we jump from the seventh chapter of Luke to the ninth chapter. In between, we see Jesus’ continue to minister. To teach. And to heal, particularly those dealing with demons. At the beginning of chapter 9, the disciples are ready to be sent out. Jesus gives them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, verse 1 tells us. They go out into the countryside as extensions of Jesus himself, reliant upon the hospitality of those they will meet.
At the same time, we hear the Herod is perplexed. He’s already arrested and beheaded John the Baptist. But, now he’s hearing about someone new. And even tries to see Jesus.
The disciples return and report all that they have done. As the day drew to a close, surrounded by a crowd, they are witness to God’s way of abundance - over 5,000 men, not including women and children, fed that day from five loaves of bread and two fish. It leads Peter to make a declaration about Jesus - that he truly is “the Messiah of God.” When he does, Jesus sternly tells them not to say anything. Instead, he continues to teach them what it means to be his followers. “If any want to become my followers,” Jesus tells them, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Discipleship, as they are learning, is not easy.
To the beginning of God’s story. Where God creates everything. And it is good. And then the relationship between God and humanity is broken. Over and over again, God relentlessly tries to restore that relationship. Beginning first with Israel. Calling Moses to lead Israel out of bondage. Israel’s exodus from Egypt. That they will be blessed as God’s people and through whom all people will be blessed. Led by Moses, who experiences his own theophany - his own God-sighting. On Mt. Sinai in the midst of the terrifying thunder and lightning. Witness to a God so powerful that Moses cannot even look into God’s face. Yet, whose own face becomes transfigured, like that of Jesus.
But, this attempt by God to restore the relationship does not work. Even when God sends prophets, like Elijah. Elijah, who has his own theophany, his own God sighting. But not like that of Moses. Instead, as Elijah flees Jezebel and Ahab (remember that story?), God appears to him at Mt. Horeb, also known as Sinai. God comes not as Elijah expects. Not in the wind. Not in the earthquake, not in the fire. But in sheer, sheer silence.
Even with the prophets, Israel continues to rebel. It’s the human way, isn’t it. Our way. Thinking that we know better. Seeking our own power apart from God. Like the disciples, who, even after witnessing this transfiguration moment don’t fully get it. That God still wants us. Still relentlessly seeks us. Who sends Jesus to us to once and for all restore the broken relationship. Jesus, God’s Son, breaking into our world in human form. Who has come to begin the restoration of the wholeness and abundance and goodness first tasted at the very beginning in Eden.
The transfiguration of Jesus in Luke marks the beginning of his exodus. He will now turn his face toward Jerusalem and move into the final chapter of his incarnated life on earth. It will bring the beginning - not the end - but the beginning of the restoration of freedom for all humanity and all creation. It is a story about transformation - the hoped outcome for the church, which will be given power and authority to heal and to transform people into disciples. Disciples - you and me - to transform the world into the kingdom of God. This is the gospel. The good news of Jesus.
As we now turn our faces with Jesus to Jerusalem. As we enter the season of Lent, a time that, once again, gives us an opportunity to move into deeper relationship with a God who loves us so deeply and who desires nothing for us other than Eden’s shalom, these are the questions for us. How will we meet God? How will we be transfigured? And how will we transform our small part of the world?
Preached February 14, 2021, at Grace & Glory Lutheran and Third Lutheran churches, Goshen and Louisville, KY
Transfiguration of Our Lord
Readings: Luke 9:25-48; Psalm 36:5-10