Monday, March 7, 2011

Professor McGonnagall has nothing on Jesus or We need Jesus to transfigure us

Below is the message that I shared yesterday with Good Shepherd.  Yesterday was Transfiguration Sunday, which of course gets me thinking about Harry Potter, but not much else.  I think that is too bad, because I think there is a lot for us up on the mountaintop of Jesus' transfiguration.  Below is my attempt to share some of that.  See you tomorrow.  

Matthew 17:1-9 (New International Version, ©2011)

 1 After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.
 4 Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”  5 While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”   6 When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. 7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.  9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
This week, as we are on the precipice of Lent we remember the Transfiguration of our Lord.  It is a event that we don’t pay much attention to.  It is sometimes forgotten, almost always overlooked and usually misunderstood.
But it happened for a reason, it is in our bibles for a reason and we mark and remember it for a reason. 
To get a better understanding of what really happened on that mountain, let’s try and look at the context of the situation
Peter has just, in the previous chapter of Matthew, confessed Jesus is “the Christ, the son of the living God…”, but shortly after this inspired confession of faith, Jesus began giving his disciples some profoundly disturbing news.  He would be captured and put to death – and on the third day, he would rise again. ”  
However, the promise of the resurrection was either not heard or it sounded too preposterous.  The disciples didn’t so much as refuse to listen, but were unable to comprehend the idea that anything could happen to Jesus, an idea strengthened and solidified by their belief that he was, in fact the savior. 
Of course, Jesus had more news as well.  He told his disciples that if they were to truly, really follow him then they would likely suffer the same fate – And then urged them to take up their cross and follow him.  
With words of challenge ringing in their ears, Jesus invites his closest disciples – Peter, James and John –  up to the top of the mountain with him.
Without any warning or fanfare Jesus is transfigured before their eyes.  His physical appearance has changed, but it is more than that.  This is something supernatural and unique.  Suddenly they see Jesus in a new and entirely different way. 
“Transfigured” is the word the Gospel uses and apart from Harry Potter, most of us have no reference for understanding the meaning of the word. 
But the recording of the event itself in Matthew gives its own definition of the word.  They saw Jesus “glorified” or “illumined” in a way they had never seem him before. 
Clearly, they saw a vision – and the vision was of Moses and Elijah talking to Jesus.  On hearing the voice of God, they fell on their faces in fright: “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.  Hear him!”
The whole thing happens so fast we are left, as I am sure the disciples were, not really sure of what we have seen or experienced.
And 2000 years later we are still left with the question of what we would do if we were on that mountain with Jesus and we had seen him transfigured. 
While none of us has witnessed the transfiguration, we all – I would imagine – have had an experience of connecting to God.  We have all had a moment, no matter how fleeting and brief of connecting to or seeing God.  And these places where we meet Jesus – where we meet Jesus and see him for who and what he is on the Mountain Top – the same mountain top of the transfiguration (I think this is why, unlike almost every other ‘mountain top’ story in the bible, the mountain where the transfiguration takes place is not named – it is simply called ‘the mountain top’.  I think it is supposed to connect and relate universally)
But this mountain top is not where Jesus stays – and, as we are called to follow Jesus – it is not where we are to stay either. 
So the real question about the transfiguration isn’t, ‘what happened on the mountain top?’ or ‘what is/was it?’ – that is actually pretty clear, it was the disciples that were with Jesus finally getting a glimpse of the full glory of who Jesus is.  It was a peek at Jesus as he really is, as who he really is. 
But really, the question is – ‘what do we do now?’ or more pointedly, ‘where do we go from here?’  We have to ask these questions because once you have seen Jesus for all that he really and truly is, something has to happen.  This is why Peter – foolish, speak before-he-thinks Peter wants to build monuments to Jesus, Moses and Elijah, he knows that what he has just seen and he now knows who Jesus really is.
The transfiguration serves for Peter, and for us, as the visual reveal and reinforcement of the truth of his verbal confession a few days earlier, that Jesus was, in fact ‘The Christ’
This Transfiguration, this revelation of the reality of who Jesus is requires a response.
Something has to be done in response to the revelation of who Jesus is and his place within the law and the prophets (Moses & Elijah). 
And really the only appropriate response is to allow the truth and reality of who Jesus is to transform, transfigure and change us.
Because after all, Jesus isn’t really being transfigured, but rather the disciples were simply given a glimpse of who and what Jesus really is and was.  So, when we see Jesus for who and what he really is, we are the ones that are transfigured or changed. 
When we come down from the mountain -  which is what we must do.
Our lives should be transformed, changed, and altered. And not just in some minimalist ways. We should be transfigured. We should take on the appearance of Jesus. We should take on the qualities of Jesus.
We should live life with grace and tranquillity. We should radiate love and kindness. We should be overflowing with exuberance and excitement. Because those are the very things that Jesus displayed.
We must be transformed. We must be changed. We cannot look at the loving face of God and not take on his appearance, his countenance, his grace and his love.
We must get alongside those who walk the journey with us, to share their pain, their sorrow, their frustrations, their joys, their happiness, their lives. To share something of our understanding of God’s love, and to learn lessons ourselves.
To get the picture of what it might look like to be transformed and transfigured by a mountain top experience with Christ, we need only to look at Peter
Peter hears the voice of God announcing that this Jesus is none other than God's beloved Son and so the most important thing Peter can do is simply listen to him. In that moment everything for Peter, I suspect, was still...and clear...and made sense.

But of course it didn't last. Peter pulls himself off the ground, perhaps wondering if anything had actually happened or whether he had imagined it all. And then on the way down the mountain Jesus will again intimate of his impending death and destiny. Peter will struggle to listen, to follow, to be faithful. Actually, he will more than struggle, he will fail. And Jesus will reach out, raise him up again, and send him forth. I have a hunch that each time Peter fell down and got up again, he would look back on this day and recall those words, "Just listen to him!"

Peter is in the midst of his transfiguration – when he fails, falls, and is lifted up again and realizes that above and beyond everything else, he is called to listen to Jesus.
This pattern, I think, shapes the life of every Christian.
We, too, of course, try our best, sometimes succeeding and sometimes coming up short. We, too, have moments of insight and moments of denial.
We, too, fall down in fear and are raised up again to go forth in confidence.
We, too, that is, are called to listen, called to discern God's way in the world, called to partner with God and in this way be transformed.
As we hear and remember the story of God’s transfiguration, let us remember that in the story too is the story of Peter’s transfiguration. 
And in Peter’s story we see the path of our own transfiguration. 
And to remember that in all of us the transfiguration begins when we Listen to God, get up and follow Christ back down the mountain into the world that needs his transforming love just as much as us. 

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