Sunday, January 25, 2015

Sermon for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

                                                                        Mt 17:1-9

            Most likely, you think that I am a good listener.  At least I hope so.  I can say that I have had a number of you say that to me during my time here at Good Shepherd.  I should be a good listener.  After all, listening to you is an important part of my calling as the pastor in this congregation. 
            As your pastor I need to listen carefully so that I know what is going on in your life – especially so that I am aware of struggles and challenges you are facing.  I need to listen carefully so that I can hear what is not being said – the real issues that sometime lurk in the background.  And of course there are times of very intense and focused listening, such as when I meet with members for pastoral care.  It is crucial in those situations to listen carefully as congregation members share profound and important situations and problems in their life, while seeking comfort, counsel and guidance.
            Now Amy knows that all of this is true, and she wouldn’t deny it.  However, if you ask her if I am good listener at home you will probably get a slightly different reply.  Don’t get me wrong - there are certainly many times when I give the same attention and care to listening to Amy that I exhibit here at church.  But she will tell you that there are occasions when that is not exactly true.
            It will probably not surprise you to hear that my mind does not stop thinking about things when I go home from work. That’s just who I am. I may be at home, but frequently I am still thinking about a theological question or some particular situation of pastoral care at church.  And if I am relaxing it often means I am thinking about the model railroad and how I am going to build something for it.
            It has been known to happen that Amy is telling me something and I am verbally acknowledging it, but really my mind is occupied in the background with something else.  I try to be careful not to do this because I soon learned in our marriage that there are few ways to irk my wife more than by saying something or asking a question that clearly demonstrates I have not been paying sufficient attention to what she has been saying.  Getting caught red handed not really listening is a very bad idea.
            In the Gospel lesson for the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, Peter says something that clearly demonstrates he has not really been listening. His statement on the mount of transfiguration shows that he was not listening to the things Jesus had just said.  And so God the Father calls him on it as he says about Jesus, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” This text calls us to consider whether we have been listening. And it also provides assurance to trust and believe what we have heard.
            Our text this morning begins with the words, “And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.”  The phrase “after six days” is significant.  Matthew does not usually make a big deal out of the temporal relation of events. The fact that he does so here, means that we need to understand our text in relation to what has just happened.
            This particular year, we are blessed that the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter fell on a Sunday, because the events we heard about least week are what has just happened before the transfiguration.  Between illness and the holiday weekend many of you were not able to be here last Sunday. So see, there was a reason I sent out the sermon to everyone this past week.
            At Caesarea Philippi Jesus had asked, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” The disciples named the wrong answers. Then Jesus asked, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Then Matthew tells us, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Jesus then went on to say, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
            Now Jesus takes along Peter, James and John up onto a high mountain.  While there, Jesus is transfigured.  His appearance changes as his face shines like the sun and his clothes are as white as light. The divine glory of the One who is true God and creator of the cosmos is revealed for a few moments.
            Matthew uses his favorite literary device – “behold!” – to announce that as if this was not dramatic enough, something else then happened. He writes, “And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”  Suddenly, there were two giants of the Old Testament – Moses and Elijah – talking with Jesus.  These two men had spoken with God during their lifetime on earth. And now guess what? They were seen talking with God again – the Son of God.
            Now what human being would choose to interject himself into the middle of this scene?  That is, of course, exactly what Peter does.  He said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 
            Peter’s statement contained in it two assumptions.  The first was that this moment was awesome and wonderful, and so he wanted to remain in it.  He offered to make shelters for Jesus and Moses and Elijah. And second, in his offer he was treating Jesus as if he was on the same level as the two Old Testament saints.
            Then, at that very moment, Matthew gives us another “behold!” The evangelist writes, “He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”’”
            A bright cloud announced God’s presence, and God the Father declared that Jesus was his Son with whom he was well pleased. And then he commanded, “Listen to him!”  In his statement to Jesus, Peter had shown that he wasn’t listening to Jesus.  Six days earlier Peter had confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  Jesus had replied to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” Jesus told Peter that he was exactly right, and that the Father had revealed this to him.  Yet now, Peter acts as if Jesus is on the same level with Moses and Elijah – mere human beings!
            After Peter’s confession of Christ, Matthew tells us, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”  Jesus had spoken of his mission to suffer, die and rise from the dead.  And now on the mount of transfiguration Peter talks about just hanging out there.
            Of course, Peter is not the only one who needs to hear the Father’s command, “Listen to him!”  You do too.  In your actions you put Jesus on the same level with other interests.  In fact, you often put him lower.  Did you spend more time this week in watching and reading about sports, or in reading God’s word and prayer?  If you broke down your budget, which receives more money – vacations and entertainment for yourself or your offering to God at church?  These kinds of questions reveal that so often, Jesus takes second place – he’s an also ran in your life … except of course when you have troubles and feel you need help.
            Just before our text, Jesus has not only predicted his own passion.  He also said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Here too, you need the Father’s command: “Listen to him!”  The cross is about suffering and hardship.  But deep down, you are inclined to buy into what American Christianity is selling.  It says that Christianity is supposed to make you feel good – to feel good about life and good about yourself. That’s the message you really want – not cross and sacrifice.
            Now these challenges are not unique to you.  They have been part of sinful human life ever since the fall.  They have always been present.  But where in the past the culture supported the true spiritual outlook in many ways – or at least didn’t work against it – now that has all changed.  It works to place Jesus as just one among many options.  It wants to help you to entertain yourself to death.
            For people like you, the Father’s command is, “Listen to him!”  When you listen, you will again find that Jesus is the Son of God who came to suffer, die and rise again … for you.  You will again find that the crucified and risen Lord has called you to follow him in a life of service and sacrifice.
            But where we might doubt this and avoid it, in the transfiguration of our Lord we receive strength and encouragement to believe and trust in him.  In our text God the Father says, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.”  We heard these same words at the beginning of the Epiphany season when Jesus was baptized. There we saw how Jesus stepped into our shoes.  He identified himself with sinners and took on the role of the suffering Servant in order to win us forgiveness.
            Jesus’ baptism was about service and suffering.  Yet in our text we also see Jesus’ face shine like the sun. We see that his clothes are as white as light.  We see the divine glory of the Lord. We see that he is God and so we can trust his work.  And in that glory we catch a glimpse of what awaits Jesus on the other side of the cross.  Yes he will suffer and die.  But on the third day he will rise in glory – indeed we know that he has risen in glory.  Because this is true, we know that we are forgiven.  We know that we will share in Jesus’ resurrection on the Last Day.  And because this is true, we are able to take up our cross and follow Jesus.  We are able to sacrifice and suffer for Christ as we live the faith because we know where this way leads.  It leads to resurrection and eternal life with the risen Lord.
            So pay attention this morning. See the transfigured Christ – his face shining like the sun and his clothes as white as light.  See Moses and Elijah present and talking with him. See the bright cloud overshadow it all. And then hear God the Father say, “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.  Listen to him!”


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