Luke 9:28-43 February 27, 2022
So, here’s the deal.
The disciples had been following Jesus around Galilee, listening to his sermons, being astounded by his healings, and puzzling how he’d fed thousands of people from two loaves of bread and a couple of fish.
Finally, Jesus turned to them and asked what they made of all this.
He put them on the spot and asked directly, “Who do think I am?”
That’s when Peter made his famous confession that Jesus must be the long-awaited Messiah.
It’s the first time anyone had said this, and Jesus replied, “Bingo! You got it.”
That would be great, except Jesus then went on to say that being the Messiah meant that he’d need to suffer and die, and he then to top it off he alluded to the “suffering servant” passages of the prophet Isaiah.
That seemed like Jesus was getting way off track because what everybody really needed was a Messiah with the chutzpah to throw the Roman occupiers out and overturn the 1-percenters of their day who were keeping everyone else poor.
But by then Jesus was on a roll and said that to follow him means that you’ll have to sacrifice too.
That’s not what we want to hear from our Messiah.
He said, “Look. You’ll have to get over your old self if you ever hope to find your true self.
Luke 9:24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, he added that if they were ashamed of his words, then to heck with them.
After that, something quite surprising happened: apparently, nothing.
According to Luke, the disciples dropped the topic and said nothing about it for eight days.
I imagine there was an awkward silence all week, with everyone going about their chores but avoiding eye contact with Jesus because this discipleship thing was not turning out like they’d hoped.
I can imagine that this may have made Jesus feel a bit discouraged.
Maybe he’d not been such a good teacher after all because even those closest to him, the ones who’d heard his sermons over and over, hadn’t gotten it.
Maybe in the back of his mind he was imagining the Tempter’s voice taunting, “I told you so. Why not just claim your earthly power and do some good here and now and let all this salvation business go?”
About that time Jesus said, “You know what? I need some time to pray”, and he invited Peter, John and James to hike up a mountain and join him.
That’s what Shirley read about this morning where his clothes glowed with holy radiance, and Moses and Elijah mysteriously appeared.
Luke 9:29-30 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.
At first, the disciples weren’t paying much attention … they were sleepy and despite the lightening and fireworks they nearly missed the whole thing.
This passage makes me wonder how often I’ve missed the presence of God because I was distracted or wrapped up in my own head.
God’s Spirit always surrounds us, is always at work around us and can always amaze us – yet even being with Jesus in person required thunder, lightning and shimmering clothes to get the disciples’ attention.
But they eventually snapped to and seeing the holiness and power of the shimmering Jesus they thought, “Now that’s what I’m talking about. That’s the Messiah we want.”
This is called the Transfiguration, a theophany that is reported in all three of the synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark and Luke – and is the turning-point in their narratives for three reasons.
First, because the presence of Moses the Law-giver and Elijah the prophet affirms that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament promises – that everything God had done throughout the ages had now come together in this man.
The second reason is because of what Moses and Elijah did with Jesus.
They weren’t there to just hang out with him.
Do you remember from Shirley’s reading what Moses and Elijah came to talk with Jesus about?
Luke 9:31 They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.
It’s like at the midpoint of his ministry, Moses and Elijah came to encourage Jesus to continue his difficult journey to Jerusalem where he knew that the cross awaited him.
In fact, the word that frequently gets translated as “departure” is “exodus” … they spoke to him about his exodus.
The Hebrew slaves’ journey to freedom was the Exodus through the desert.
Of course, the powers of oppression and evil never grant freedom without a struggle,
so every journey to freedom requires sacrifice – a fact the Jesus understood but that his disciples resisted.
You want to get sober?
Then you have to give up alcohol, or drugs, or all hope of controlling others – which may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
You want to improve your relationship?
Then you may have to give up self-righteousness, or always getting in the last word and being right.
Or, in some cases, for your safety and personal worth, you may have to leave altogether … often a gut-wrenching decision.
You want your personal dream to blossom?
Then you have to give up whatever fear is holding you back from taking the next step.
By the way, this is why in the traditional church calendar, the Transfiguration is read the Sunday before the beginning of Lent, which is a journey of sacrifice leading to Jerusalem and the Cross.
From this point forward, Jesus’ journey inexorably leads to his ultimate sacrifice in Jerusalem.
We could consider this first part of the Transfiguration being for Jesus’ sake – his encouragement by Israel’s two most powerful and famous prophets.
And the third reason this is the theological turning-point is because of what happened next.
A cloud enveloped the whole group and God’s voice spoke directly to the disciples, (vs. 36)
“This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
Unlike at Jesus’ baptism when the voice from heaven saying, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” was only heard by Jesus, this time the heavenly voice was also heard by the disciples.
So, this second part of the theophany was meant for both Jesus and his disciples.
Peter and the others had trekked up the mountain because Jesus had wanted to pray, then they had zoned-out and almost missed the whole thing, but now in a kind of reversal, they were the ones told to pray.
I say “pray” because as Dr. Ralph Martin observed, “prayer is, at root, simply paying attention to God.”
That is such a clear, straight-forward way to describe prayer: “simply paying attention to God.”
We sometimes call prayer a conversation with God, which is a pretty good definition except that conversation has a talking element to it, and some of us are much better talkers than listeners.
I still remember a dinner Vivienne and I had at the Safari Room when we were seated in a booth next to a woman who talked non-stop for the entire time we were there.
She was talking as we arrived, and she was still talking as we left – I don’t see how she managed to eat a bite of her dinner because her words gushed as if from a fire hydrant.
We were treated to the details of her recent doctor visit, her blood test and CAT scan results, and personal intimacies we really could have done without.
Then, when she’d finished with her own case history, she started with her husband’s medical woes, and then about her friend Maria – although she cautioned that what she was sharing was strictly confidential.
Leaving the restaurant, I turned back to look at the woman sitting across from her; she actually appeared beaten down by the verbal bombardment of her friend.
I’m sure the over-talkative woman finished the evening thinking, “What a delightful time we had”.
I wonder if, on occasion, we don’t do that to God.
Might we sometimes recite long prayers, eloquent prayers, pleading prayers but in the end pay little attention to God?
Can you feel how different it is to say, “I am now setting aside some time to pay attention to God”?
You see, prayer doesn’t always have to be asking for something.
But to be receptive, there have to be times when we set aside Facebook and our never-ending “to do” list just to rejoice in the gift of this very moment or ponder as deeply as I can God’s presence.
If the Transfiguration is the theological turning point of the Gospel, what comes next?
Well, Peter offers to build tents on the mountaintop where they can all remain and bathe in the divine, but Jesus would have none of it.
We aren’t to just hang out with God in serenity, we are to go and live in the world in partnership with God.
This is the point when God interrupted Peter’s plan to tell the disciples to listen to Jesus, and so the very next day they were back with the people below confronting an evil spirit in a demon-possessed boy.
The Transfiguration is not a template for how we are to encounter God … as a matter of fact, if you start thinking of it that way you will end up disappointed with your faith.
However God does come to you, it may be for comfort, or for encouragement, or to send you on a journey toward freedom and to service.