Sermon for the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year A
February 26, 2017
Exodus 24:12-18 Psalm 99 2 Peter 1:16-21 Matthew 17:1-9
The last Sunday in the Season of Epiphany is referred to as Transfiguration Sunday because we read about Jesus going up onto a mountain with Peter, James, and John and being transfigured. Matthew writes, “he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”
This miracle is reported in Matthew, Mark, and Luke with no significant differences. The basic components of the story are that Jesus goes up the mountain, his appearance changes, a bright cloud overshadows them, Peter offers to build three tabernacles, or dwellings – one for Jesus, one for Elijah, and one for Moses – and then the Lord speaks.
This account roughly parallels today’s story from Exodus. Both stories involve these holy men (Jesus and Moses) going up a mountain, being surrounded by the cloud, and hearing God’s voice. If we had kept reading in Exodus, we would have seen that the face of Moses was transfigured as well. When he returns from his time on the mountain, it is reported that his face shines brightly as well. So, after leaving the mountain, Jesus heads toward the holy city of Jerusalem and Moses heads toward the Promised Land.
The fact that Jesus talks with Moses and Elijah makes the connection between Jesus and God’s covenant to the people of Israel clear to them. Jesus is the new Moses. Moses frees the people from their slavery to the Egyptians; Jesus frees us from our slavery to sin. On Mount Sinai, God speaks to Moses – and he is given the Ten Commandments which, if we follow, enable us to live faithful to our covenant with God. On the mountain, God speaks to the disciples, rather than Jesus, telling them – telling us – to listen to Jesus. The Ten Commandments represent the law and the covenant; Jesus represents the new covenant. Which is to say, Jesus provides us with new teachings on how to live a life that is faithful.
It is easy to read these stories as telling us that both Moses and Jesus are holy, righteous, or any other word we do not apply to ourselves. But I want us to consider these stories a bit differently this morning. One definition for the word transfiguration found in the Encarta Dictionary is, “a dramatic change in appearance, especially one that reveals great beauty, spirituality, or magnificence.” When I read this, it occurred to me that it is possible for us to be transfigured as well.
To be transfigured is to be transformed by the love of Christ into a more loving person. I have had the privilege here of being like Peter, James, and John and witnessing the transformation of members of our church – and I imagine you have too. I have seen members reaching out to help others and going to great lengths to do so. Sometimes they have helping other members, others times they are helping someone in the community but I see the love of Christ in them shining. I see how the love of Christ has filled them and it shows in their compassion and generosity.
Love is capable of making dramatic changes is how we respond to others. We are transformed by love and others can see it in our faces – and more importantly in our actions. We are told in Matthew that Elijah and Moses are talking with Jesus, but not what they are saying. In Luke’s account, we read, “they appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem.” I do believe that in those moments in our lives when we are filled with the love of Christ and we are transformed, we know clearly what we need to do – what we need to accomplish.
As Christians, it is easy to distance ourselves from doing what we know needs to be done, by saying we are not perfect like Jesus. Passages such as today’s scripture make it easy for us to view ourselves as witnesses, like Peter, James, and John, who never once thought that they might be transformed as well.
To say that we have been transformed by Christ’s love does not suggest that we have a messiah complex. Rather, to say that we have been transformed by Christ’s love is to acknowledge the power of God’s love in our lives. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter, James, and John, were transformed – they were changed people and I believe that anyone who knew them before would be able to clearly see they, too, had been transfigured.
That is what I ask you to consider today – how has God’s love changed you? How might others see you differently because you have chosen to follow Christ? That is, after all, what it means to be a Christian – it means that we have chosen to follow Jesus in love and service to others. Also, where do you see Christ at work around you? Who has shown you Christ’s love?
I say, it is good that we are here, not to build tabernacles, but it is good that we are here as witnesses to the transforming power of God’s love which permeates our world. We need witness Christ at work around us, and we are needed to bear witness to Christ’s love by how we live our lives.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God, help us to see your love that surrounds us, and help us to listen to what your Son has to teach us. Guide us to live our lives in such a way that others might experience your love through us. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.