Peace Presbyterian Church
Matthew 17:1-9 Transfiguration Sunday
Elizabeth M. Deibert 26 February 2017
Three years ago in 2014 on Transfiguration Sunday, we had just settled into this building and joyfully dedicated it to God’s purposes. Six years ago, in 2011 we were settling into our worship life at the Manatee Realtors Building on Lakewood Ranch Blvd. Nine years ago in 2008, we were still trying to gather enough people in the auditorium of SCF – Lakewood Ranch campus to be chartered as a “real church.” And twelve years ago, on this very day – February 26, 2005, I wrote a letter to the Pastor Nominating Committee, expressing interest in this new church development, still in the dreaming stage. By God’s grace, changed from glory into glory, this church has been transformed year by year. With each new person who comes in, in whose face we see the glory of God shining, the church is changed into a more beautifully diverse and glorious body of Jesus Christ.
Before we read this mysterious and powerful text about the Transfiguration of Christ, let me remind you of what comes before it. We were reading from the Sermon on the Mount which is Matthew 5-7. Then chapters 8-15, Jesus teaches, heals, and calls followers. Matthew makes a huge transition in chapter 16, saying in verse 21, from that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must suffer and be killed and on the third day rise again. But Peter argues, “God forbid that this should ever happen, Lord. No.” But Jesus rebukes him. He says, “Peter your mind is on human things, not divine.” Then he says anyone who wishes to follow him must deny self and take up the cross, for whoever wishes to save life will lose it, and whoever loses it for Jesus’ sake, will find it. Hear now the Gospel according to Matthew, the 17th chapter.
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (NRSV)
Some of us have had mountain top experiences with God. In fact, I go regularly to the mountains, to Montreat in particular, looking for mountain top experiences and inviting others, especially our youth and young adults to come along. I’m excited that we have eight high schoolers already signed up to go this summer.
We have our mountain- top experiences like the disciples, like Moses, but few of us this dramatic. Glory of God shining in our midst. What does that look like?
I’ve seen the glory of God shining in faces of those who prepared a meal at Beth-El on Valentines Day. I’ve seen the glory of God shining at the Presbytery meeting on Thursday, as folks walked down the aisle to receive communion, I saw generations passing before my eyes, the church through the ages, as I joined them in tasting the goodness of God.
I’ve seen the glory of God in the hoy struggle of Anne Catherine Paul, whose suffering ended last Monday just before noon, and there was a sort of mysterious glory in the room though sadness in the house as I held her still warm hand, and marked the sign of the cross on her cold forehead, knowing that she was free at last, free at last from a body that was failing her. Free to enter the glory of God more completely.
Glory of God I have seen in a passionate discussion of college students at Montreat, and in a small group of high school students as they worked hard to make a teen who was visibly uncomfortable to feel loved and accepted.
I have seen the glory of God in the red-shouldered hawks soaring over this campus, and in the sandhill cranes crooning, and in the deer prancing over the green.
Glory of God is clear so often in our children, whose faces brighten my life every Sunday in worship, and in the youth, as they recite scripture in confirmation and learn to pray with more comfort and grow in the ability to share the responsibilities of being Christian in this world of ours.
I have seen the glory of God in our peace forums, as we discussed challenging topics gracefully ad courageously and in our adult classes, where personal struggles of faith are shared and wisdom imparted one to another.
I have seen the glory of God in Session and team meetings when someone beams with a great new idea or when self-control is exercised in conflict such that irritations are washed away by patience, understanding, and mercy.
The glory of God can be found in small group ministry, where lives are shared as well as food, and friends are loved and encouraged to grow into their Christ-like identity.
Glory of God is in music, when the Spirit grabs hold of fingers on the keyboards and makes melodies shine and life seems right again, when the Spirit takes voices and bells of all tones and timbre and blends them into harmonies ringing true.
I have seen the glory of God in your faces, when you are engaging the Word proclaimed, encouraging the Word to come out of me right by your look, by your nod, and even, amen!
The glory of God is easy to see in a caring person who listens so well and, who asks follow-up questions to be a good friend, not just one who rambles on.
The glory of God in homes shared with others who need a hand. Glory of God in the attentive love and advocacy of one caring for a beloved spouse who is ill.
The glory of God in a warm welcome of someone who is new to worship. Glory of God is why someone returns. Glory of God inexplicable, not something that can be explained.
Peter tries to figure out what to do. Make three dwellings. Take three pictures, we’d offer, trying to preserve the moment. But that is objectifying the glory, making it into something it is not. So God just speaks from the cloud, “This is my Son. Listen to him.” Same thing was said at his baptism. Now again – God’s Son, Beloved, listen to him. So now afraid, the disciples are bowed down, but told to get up. And when impulse might be to rush out and tell what they’ve seen and heard, they are told “Tell no one. At least not now.”
Why would Jesus not want this told? It seems fairly often he emphasizes the Messianic secret – don’t tell. Was it humility? Or fear of not finishing what he needed to do, if the authorities were alerted of his power?
On Wednesday Lent begins. The gospel lesson for that day invites us to pray in our closets and to fast in secret. Just after that, Jesus says, “where your heart is, there will be your treasure.” Where is your heart? Is it with Christ? Or it is busy doing what it wants. God’s will or your will. You cannot serve two masters. Seek first the way of God, the righteousness, the glory of God. And what if we, every minute of every day, were seeking the glory of God, living and striving in every way to show the glory of God in every action, every thought, every impulse? We see the glory of God in the fully alive human person of Jesus. And we see how Christ invites us and empowers us to see the glory of God in the flesh-and-blood human being we simply are and are called to be…There are not two minds of Christ, one human and the other divine. Rather, the mind of Christ is the realized oneness of the divine and all that we are as human beings. (James Finley, Being Human, Richard Rohr Daily Meditations)
It is true what Paul said to the Corinthians in the second letter, the third chapter: Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent to be ministers of a new covenant not of letter but of spirit….and where the Spirit is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. Believe in the potential of your transformation in Christ. Imagine your truest self, the one God intended you to be, and start to live into that vision in the power of the Spirit through a disciplined life of seeking Christ in all things.