Sermon February 26: Be Who God Intends You To Be!

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Faith United Methodist Church

February 26, 2017

Transfiguration Sunday

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture:  Matthew 17:1-9, Exodus 24:12-18

Response to the Word (Responsive)

Precious Lord, let us walk with you

as you have walked with us.

May we follow your Spirit to new mountaintops,

through low valleys, and even to the cross.

May we follow your Spirit to new life,

through the grace of Jesus Christ, now and forevermore. Amen.

And may the words that I speak and the thoughts that we form be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Sermon:   Be Who God Intends You To Be!

This Sunday we may say we are at a crossroads. And, no, I’m not talking about the Oscars. Will La La Land win for best picture? Will Meryl Streep add a fourth statue to her collection? And who will be wearing the best dress!? Despite the Oscar buzz and red-carpet commentary of tonight, I would argue that today we encounter something even more important ~ and spectacular. At this moment between Epiphany and Lent we have a startling story of dazzling brightness, ancient visitors, declarations from heaven and awe-struck disciples. If this were a movie it would be Oscar material, but it is not. It is the story of our faith.

Still, the Transfiguration was a major ‘special effects’ moment in Jesus’ life. Jesus was enveloped in a shining light. His face glowed like the sun. His clothes appeared whiter than any bleaching. And then two of the giants of the faith appeared with him. Moses and Elijah stood beside Jesus as a radiant cloud enveloped them all and the voice of God declared, “This is my Son. Listen to him.” And the disciples, the supporting actors, bore witness to the miracle.

And the disciples reacted in two ways, which brings us to the conflict in the story. First, Peter suggested making this mountain top miracle a permanent situation. He wanted to move in, make houses and capture the glory forever. Peter was ready to whip out his hammer and nails and erect a shrine so the magnificence of the event would not pass by. But then, before they could do anything, the disciples got scared and fell on their faces, blinking and shielding their eyes from the glare of God’s glory.

Those of us looking on from 2,000 years distance recognize Peter’s faux pas. We know we can’t stay in worship forever, because on the flip side of worship is service.   And this is shown in how Jesus led the disciples back down the mountain. After Moses and Elijah were taken back into heaven, Jesus led the disciples right back to the villages to heal and teach and minister to the crowds.

The lesson we might glean from this story is that, like the disciples, we are to follow Jesus from our worship back into the world to serve. And, while I think this is a valid interpretation, it lacks something. This interpretation of the Transfiguration doesn’t appreciate the mystery of God. Jesus, just for a moment, lifted the covering of his humanity. The best of what we can do, it seems, is to stand back in awe.

The Transfiguration wasn’t about doing, but experiencing, experiencing God’s glory in a new and exciting way through Jesus Christ. In the words of the professor and great preacher, Fred Craddock, to encounter the Transfiguration is to, “…stand before a text full of dazzling light, hovering clouds and a heavenly voice – a text that we cannot explain fully…a text that is simply there night and day, offering disturbing consolation, a text before which we live out our faith in awe and praise.”

And clearly the experience had quite a profound effect on Peter, James and John. The story is included in three out of the four gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke each record this event. And it is also mentioned in a fourth place in the New Testament. In Peter’s second letter he alludes to it writing, “We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” This wasn’t something Peter easily forgot.

But we know that, right? Because our own experiences of God’s glory are not easily forgotten either. Our experiences may not be as dramatic as the disciples, but they can be just as powerful. Even life-changing. As Frederick Buechner suggests, those moments are, “…fleeting instants when a human face is transformed by understanding or beauty or joy.”

And it’s important to be reminded of these glory moments as we get ready to embark on our Lenten Journey. Because these glory moments give us strength to get through the more difficult times. They remind us who and whose we are. As one preacher explained it, “The mountain top’s holy light was meant not to dazzle or overwhelm, but to empower and set free.”  Just as we are one thumbprint among a community of thumbprints on our tree, we are each beloved children of God within the body of Christ, each of us with a different purpose in strengthening the whole.

A year and a half ago Tricia and I went to a Jurisdictional Event in Hershey, PA. A couple of the workshops were on church development. All of us attending were eager to know what these co-called experts had to say. The speakers said that often people come to them asking for the secret, the set of steps or actions they can do to get their church to grow. To much dismay, though, they admitted that there is no such thing – no secret formula, no instruction manual, no steps one through five to follow to grow by ten or twenty or thirty percent.

This does not sit very easy with our task driven lives. Like Peter, we want to do. Get out the hammer and nails. Get to work. Rather, they said, we need to sit with God, to spend time discovering who we are and become committed to that vision. As that vision becomes clear we will see the steps we need to take and in that, those steps will be authentic. Only then can transformation truly happen.

Sr. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine Sister and writer, describes this in a little different way. She suggests, “I don’t find it particularly helpful to argue about what the ‘event’ of the Transfiguration might have been….” Instead she asks, “What does the light from the transfiguration expose to me about my own life, my own piety, my own carefully ordered faith within a world that is struggling?” Sitting with the Transfiguration, the glory of God shining on us, who are we? Who is God calling us to be?

So here we are between Epiphany and Lent, surrounded by dazzling brightness – not the flashing camera bulbs of the Oscar’s Red Carpet. There’s a story I’d like to share with you as we close. Some students asked their teacher, “Does your God work miracles?” The teacher replied, “Well, it all depends on what you mean by miracle. Some people say it’s a miracle when God does the will of the people. We say it’s a miracle when people do the will of God.” Amen? Amen. Stand in the awe. Behold the majesty. Recall the moments in your life when you have experienced God’s glory and reflect on them. Discover, and be, who God intends you to be. Embody the transformation you seek in the world. Amen.