May the words of my mouth, the meditations of my heart be always acceptable to you o lord, my strength and my redeemer.
This is Transfiguration Sunday. That word, Transfiguration, isn’t one that we use every day. The only time I ever hear the word Transfiguration is in church. I think it would be quite possible to come to church every Sunday and not really understand what the word Transfiguration means.
Plus Transfiguration has too many syllables––five syllables––Trans-fi-gu-ra-shun. We don’t like five syllable words. We call them “five cylinder words” or “five dollar words.” Adjusting for inflation, we should call them “fifty dollar words” or “five hundred dollar words.” We prefer words with one syllable, like “church”––or two syllables, like “Jesus.” Anything over three syllables makes our eyes glaze over.
But let me take a minute to explain this five cylinder word, Trans-fi-gu-ra-shun. It has a very simple meaning. Transfiguration means “a change in appearance.” That’s simple, isn’t it––”a change in appearance.” That’s what Transfiguration means.
Let me give you an example of a transfiguration that’s easy to understand. It has to do with the loveliest of natural events––the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Caterpillars look like a big worm. I am not all that fond of caterpillars. But I like butterflies, which are lovely, delicate, and beautiful creatures.
Most of us have never seen a caterpillar turn into a butterfly, but many of us have seen pictures of them doing that. It’s amazing. First the butterfly becomes a chrysalis (pronounced CHRI-sa-lis)––which looks like the caterpillar is crawling into a sack. The caterpillar waits in that sack for quite a while. Then the sack opens and a butterfly emerges.
So a caterpillar goes into the sack, but a butterfly comes out. Sometimes we call that by another fifty dollar word––metamorphosis––but we could call it a transfiguration, because the caterpillar changes appearance when it becomes a butterfly.
in may in mariposa, we will see a lot of these creatures during the butterfly festival we will purposely release hundreds of these creatures into the sky and we will even have a parade to celebrate this event, and last year they made me grand marshal of the butterfly festival which gave me control of all the butterflies. well, maybe not? Ha! and after all, Mariposa is a spanish word for butterfly.
But we usually reserve the word Transfiguration to talk about something that happened to Jesus. The Transfiguration of Jesus took place on a mountain. That’s where many sacred events took place in the Bible––on a mountain. Moses received the Ten Commandments on a mountain. Jesus was transfigured on a mountain––in a place where earth pushed up to touch the heavens.
Jesus’ Transfiguration is an unusual story––so outside our realm of knowledge that we’re hard pressed to know how to understand it. Matthew, Mark and Luke each tell the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration––and the Transfiguration is one of the few stories that the lectionary uses every year instead of every three years. Why the fuss. Why would Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration? Why would we re-tell it every year in our preaching? What happened on that mountain, and what does it have to do with us?
First, let’s take a look at the story. Jesus took Peter, James and John, his inner circle, up onto a high mountain. There Jesus was transfigured in their presence. Jesus’ appearance changed. “His face shone like the sun, and his garments became as white as the light” (v. 2). What was that all about?
To understand Jesus’ Transfiguration, we need to know that there are a number of parallels between the story of Moses on Mount Sinai and the story of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration:
• Both events––the story of Moses and the story of Jesus––took place on a high mountain, symbolizing the place where earth meets heaven.
• When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, his face shined so brightly that he had to wear a veil––lest his shining face blind the people. In the story of the Transfiguration, Jesus’ face also shined––shined like the sun.
• On both occasions, God spoke from a cloud.
• God told Moses that God would raise up another prophet like Moses. Then God said, “You shall heed such a prophet”–– or “You shall listen to him” (Deuteronomy 18:15). God said of Jesus, “This is my beloved Son…. Listen to him!” (v. 5).
• And then, finally, the Israelites were afraid when they saw Moses’ shining face. Peter, James and John were afraid when they saw Jesus’ shining face.
Mount Sinai had been a place of great revelation. There, God revealed himself by giving Israel the Law––the Torah. After Mount Sinai, the Israelites knew a great deal more about God than they had ever known before.
Jesus’ Transfiguration was also a place of great revelation. At Jesus’ Transfiguration, God did not reveal himself on tablets of stone. God instead revealed himself in the person of his Son! That’s the meaning of Jesus’ Transfiguration. In Jesus’ Transfiguration, God tells Jesus’ disciples that Jesus is God’s Son. If they wanted to know something about God, they could look at Jesus and see the face of God.
Peter, James and John heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him” (v. 5). That voice from heaven was a call to Peter, James and John, but it’s also a call to us. God says to us, “Jesus is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”
So, in Jesus’ Transfiguration, God does two things. First God reveals Jesus to be God’s Son. Second, God calls us to obey Jesus.
Our experience differs from that of Peter, James and John. We have not been on a mountaintop with Jesus. We have not seen Jesus’ face shining like the sun. We have not heard a voice from the cloud. Our experiences are less dramatic and more down-to-earth. But God reveals Jesus to us too! God helps us to know Jesus as the Son of God too! God calls to us, just as he did to Peter, James and John, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. LISTEN TO HIM.”
I don’t know how God revealed Christ to you, but I know how God did that for me. The first step took place before I was born. my grandmother on my mother’s side expected her to attend church, and she did. My mother became a Christian––that didn’t happen to my father, even though his father was a high altar boy in the catholic church. As I was growing up, my mother read to me bible stories but she never insisted that I would attend church every Sunday. my scoutmaster encouraged me to attend church, sunday school and Vacation Bible School every summer. he encouraged me to attend a church youth group. he gave me every possible opportunity to see Jesus, and I did see him. Sometimes I saw him dimly, and sometimes I saw him brightly, but I did see him.
In the years since then, I have seen Jesus in many experiences and many people. God gives me a glimpse of Jesus every so often––whenever I open my spiritual eyes to see. God offers all of us opportunities to see Jesus––if we will open our eyes to see.
God also calls to us saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.” Listen to Jesus! Hear him! Obey him! Do you do that? Do you listen to Jesus? Do you obey him? If so, I’m sure that you live a blessed life. That doesn’t mean that you live an easy life. God seldom gives his servants an easy life. But God is with us when we listen to Jesus––when we obey him. In my experience, the people who have done that live good lives.
A student once asked a famous evangelical theologian to tell him “in plain and simple words what it means to be a Christian.” The old man thought for a moment, and then he said: “To be a Christian means that one is faithfully responding to all of the meanings he (or she) increasingly finds in Jesus Christ.”
Let me repeat that. Listen carefully. he said: “To be a Christian means that one is faithfully responding to all of the meanings he (or she) increasingly finds in Jesus Christ.”
Stop for a moment and consider this––how would your life be different if you would faithfully respond to all the meanings that you increasingly find in Jesus Christ? Would you treat your loved ones differently––your husband or wife––your children? Would you treat people who you don’t love differently? Would you be more involved in your church––in your community? How would your life be different if you would faithfully respond to all of the meanings that you increasingly find in Jesus Christ?
Let me tell you about a woman who listened to Jesus––and responded. Rachel Sparkowich was a stay-at-home mom leading what appeared to be an idyllic life. But beneath the surface there were problems. Rachel says of that time in her life, “I did not want to live.” In her desperation she prayed to God, “If you are real, if you will get me out of this and make everything better, I will serve you the rest of my life.”
Some days later, Rachel was driving her car when she felt the overwhelming presence of God. Deeply moved, she began to cry. She had to pull off the road. She says:
“As I sat there, I felt this deep, deep love and compassion. I felt so much pain for people who were hurting, and I didn’t even know anyone who was hurting. I felt God calling me to serve the poor.
I thought, This can’t be me.”
A few days later, Rachel visited the home of a woman from her prayer group. When the woman opened her refrigerator, it contained only a jar of mayonnaise, a bottle of ketchup and a dish of spaghetti. Rachel went to the grocery store and bought her a bag of food. Then she invited people from her church to help. She soon found herself involved in ministry to needy people. She gave it a name––Operation Blessing––a ministry that began with one bag of groceries.”
People from Rachel’s church continued to bring donations, and Rachel continued to give them to needy people. Through the years, Operation Blessing has served hundreds of thousands of people. Rachel says, “Transforming people’s lives means a lot more to me than just giving away food. This is the greatest joy of my life.”
In our Gospel lesson today, Peter, James and John saw Jesus transfigured and heard a voice from heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. LISTEN to him.” are you a little sick of my repeating this statement, well, get used to it. In a like manner, but in differing ways, God reveals Jesus to us saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. LISTEN to him.” When Rachel Sparkowich obeyed that call it transformed her life, her community, and the lives of thousands of needy people. Her obedience brought joy to her and to many thousands of others.
It’s worth noting that God did not call Rachel to build a warehouse to serve thousands of families––although in time she would do that. God called her to buy a bag of groceries for a woman who had no food in her refrigerator. As Rachel was faithful to that small call, God began giving her a greater vision that led to greater responsibilities. Operation Blessing is the result of many years of faithfulness and spiritual growth.
God reveals Christ to us in a multitude of ways saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. LISTEN to him.” When we obey, God transforms our lives and the world around us. Our obedience helps to reveal Christ’s glory to other people, and opens the doors to give and to receive God’s blessings.
Today, God says to each one of us, “Jesus is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. LISTEN to him!” are we ready to receive god’s blessings? Amen?