A Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday
February 11, 2018
(2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-12; Mark 9:2-9)
It is a strange, and unforgettable, passage.
Elijah setting out one last time. An army of prophets expectantly following at a distance. Elisha’s stubborn refusal to leave his master’s side. Elijah’s cloak parting the Jordan. The rash promise of a ‘double portion’. Chariots of fire escorting the prophet into heaven. Elisha’s clothes torn into shreds.
Is it any wonder these two God-mediators are revered? The account is eagerly – though carefully – witnessed by a myriad of lesser seers. The story is told and eventually recorded. Generations are able to remember: ‘Once, in this place, the great Elijah struck the Jordan. From here the great prophet was taken by heaven’s fiery army.’
Deuteronomy recalls the final words of another revered and mysterious God-mediator. Moses disappeared into the Egyptian palace and then into the desert. Decades later he returned as a miracle-working saviour. As he makes his final plea to the recently freed Israelites he is the only one of his generation left.
Is it any wonder Moses is revered? His story too is told and eventually recorded. Generations are able to remember: ‘Once, in this place, Moses walked. Here stood the great prophet and his staff while the sea parted.’
Of course, respect for such lives seems entirely appropriate. There is much we can learn from Elijah and Moses. Faithfulness. Courage. Obedience. Yet, as the story of God unfolds we continually come across passages like our Psalm:
The Mighty One, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
…The heavens declare his righteousness…
There are mighty mediators. Then, however, there is God. The one who spoke to the prophets, parted the waters, sent the fire armies. To this one Moses and Elijah point. And then they fade into insignificance. They are best seen, as we are, as stories of God’s power rather than of their own.
Our gospel reading sees Moses and Elijah in hushed conversation with Jesus. At first we may be tempted, as Peter was, to see this as a discussion among equals. Two towering legends of the past stand alongside the Jesus the disciples are so familiar with. Peter’s response: ‘Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ Our text states the obvious: ‘…he did not know what to say, for they were terrified.’
Three tents. Three equal places. One for Moses. One for Elijah. One for Jesus. To be sure, I am sympathetic with the disciple’s fear and I know that terror can produce in us the bazaar. Perhaps Peter really did just want to say something. He is, however, at least initially, missing the whole point of being there.
After all, the transfiguration is an unveiling. Here is a glimpse of reality. There is a real sense in which Jesus walked the earth veiled. God both hidden and revealed. On this mountain, however, Jesus is unveiled.
And next to him, both Moses and Elijah pale into insignificance. Note that Jesus alone glows white. The voice from the cloud pronounces Jesus alone as the ‘…beloved Son’. Even alongside Moses and Elijah the voice strongly advises the disciples to ‘listen to him’.
Perhaps, as the cloud disperses, the very purpose of the vision is finally fulfilled. Our text reads: ‘…suddenly,…they no longer saw anyone…but Jesus only’
It is a timely occurrence. They don’t know what to do with all this talk of a Christ who suffers, dies, and rises. They understand a display of fiery chariots. Perhaps another miraculously opened sea could close in over the empire. They relate to Elijah. They understand Moses. But this Jesus – they will have to listen very carefully to the one who authentically claims the title ‘Son of God’ and takes a path through suffering and death. It is good for us too to hear as we enter Lent: ‘Listen to him’.
The Apostle Paul knew how hard it was for people to really see Jesus and to not get stuck on his death. This is a strange and different kind of ‘Good News’. The Apostle believes ‘the gospel is veiled’ by ‘the god of this world’. Minds are ‘blinded’ and unable to see the ‘glory of Christ, who is the image of God’. Yet, Paul insists that his world-wide proclamation is all about this dying bearer of the image of God.
And this one, amazingly and graciously, shines through our broken hearts. Just like the veiled Jesus, we rarely looks anything like the radiant heart of God. Yet the heart of Jesus is the treasure in you the church. Jesus hidden in ‘jars of clay’. You, in all your fault and frailty, are a demonstration of the power of God. You may be afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down. In all this, however, you remain a manifestation of the very heart of God.
Once again we hear the call of the veiled Jesus to his veiled church: ‘Follow Me’. After all, one day God will unveil your God-restored heart and you will shine in all your brilliance before all creation.
Never underestimate what the God who came veiled into our world can hide in you – or indeed in another. There is God-won treasure in these ‘jars of clay’.