17 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain.2 He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.
3 Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” 6 Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe.
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 commanded them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One is raised from the dead.”
Thoughts on the passage:
One of the preaching techniques I was taught in seminary is something called the four-page sermon. (“The Four Pages of the Sermon” by Paul Scott Wilson) It is named not because of the length of a sermon, but because the sermon should really be in four parts. The parts of the sermon are: trouble in the Bible, hope in the Bible, trouble in the world, and hope in the world. The idea is not that there is a defined order to these four parts but that a sermon would address these four areas. Sometimes you might start with the trouble in world and then relate it to trouble in the Bible before showing how the hope in the Bible offers us hope in the world. Another time you might start with trouble in the Bible and show how there is also hope in the Bible before explaining how that hope is seen in the world even as we face similar challenges.
The text for this week is the story of the transfiguration. This is the term we use to describe how Jesus becomes changed during this holy moment on the mountain. Just like Moses after his encounter with God, Jesus is also transformed in that moment and shines with the divine presence. As I studied this passage however I was struggling to see what the problem was. Where is the trouble in this story that needs to be solved? In fact, in this story, everything seems to go well. Jesus and some of the disciples go to the mountain. They have this powerful experience. The disciples are in awe of the presence of God. Then they all return down the mountain together. There is a lot of hope in this passage. Where is the problem or challenge in the text?
As I read and reread the text, the last command that Jesus gives the disciples hung in my mind, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until after the Human One is raised from the dead.” The challenge or problem in the story is that the disciples have this amazing vision of Jesus and hear the voice of God and then are not allowed to tell other people about it. The tension that exists in going from this moment of wonder and awe and move into a time of silence and secrecy.
Most of us have had a secret that is hard to keep to ourselves. I remember the challenge of keeping a secret when Marianne and I learned that we were pregnant with Bryce. After doing an at-home test Marianne had set up a doctor’s visit to confirm the result. The day of her appointment I had a meeting in the Twin Cities. I was out disc golfing with my dad and brother when I got a text from her that the results were positive. Since I wanted my mom to be around to share the good news, I waited until later at dinner to let them know. Even though it was just for a few hours, it was hard to keep such wonderful news to myself.
Imagine how it must have felt for the disciples. They have been following Jesus around for probably two years at this point. They have seen some wonderful signs and wonders, but nothing like this moment on the mountaintop. Here they experience the glory of Christ and they hear the voice of God. If they had ever had doubts about what they were doing following Jesus, in this moment they were all erased. Despite this joy, they need to contain what they have seen and keep it to themselves. What a challenge that must have been.
So now we can see the hope in the Bible, Christ in all his glory, and we can see the trouble in the Bible, that the disciples need to keep it a secret. What is the trouble in the world as it relates to this story? Ironically, I think the trouble in the world is exactly the opposite of the trouble in scripture. The trouble in the world is that even when we have seen the glory of God revealed to us and even though Jesus, the Human One, has already been raised from the dead we are still keeping it a secret. The problem for us is that we are not telling anybody about our experience of God.
I am as guilty of this as anyone. I suspect that if you look back over the content of my sermons, they are not filled with examples and stories of what God has done in my life. My problem is that I tend to reduce things to academic ideas and rationale arguments. Stories like the transfiguration sound funny or different and are hard to explain to other people. Instead I tend to look for broad and general statements. In doing so I do not let the full glory of Christ be revealed in what I am preaching.
The reality is that I do have stories to tell. I came to faith because of a moment when I was overcome with the glory and wonder of the divine. Suddenly I could believe in this God I had been learning about each week in church because I had experienced God all around me. I have since experienced God in other ways often as a presence of peace in the midst of fear, stress, or turmoil. Other times I have experienced God in the fullness of a moment. Why don’t I preach about these times? Why do I keep these moments a secret? That is a good question.
I think some of it is that for me, God is deeply personal. Even with my family who believe in God, talking about those private experiences is hard. To share when I have experienced God in my life is to share something that is intimate and that is hard. Another reason is I am sure based in fear. It is easy to not share something because I am worried what others might think. What if my experiences of God make people think I am crazy or stupid? What if my experiences of God are inadequate compared to those of others? These uncertainties and fears can make it easier to say nothing.
The final “page” in the sermon is hope in the world. What is the hope in the world? The hope is that all around us are stories of God’s transforming work. We are not limited to the story we have from Peter, James, and John. We have our own stories of when we have experienced God’s presence in our lives. These stories give us all hope of the amazing things that God is doing in the world. The hope is that these moments are a part of the even greater story of God’s redeeming love for the world. It is a love we have experienced in our lives and a love that we can see in the great story of the resurrected Christ.
Now we have a challenge. The disciples were told to wait until they had seen the full work that God was doing, not just in that moment of transfiguration, but in the resurrection to follow, before they told of their experience. That time of waiting has passed for them and it has passed for us. We know of what God is doing through the resurrection and the salvation that is offered to everyone. We know of what God is doing in our lives too. Now we need to share the story of our faith with others.
Questions to Ponder:
When is a time you have experienced God in your life?
Who is someone who needs to hear your story?
Amazing and loving God, your presence transforms us all. Your grace turns us into radiant beings that are blessed and loved by you. Help us to share our experiences of your love and grace that others might come to believe in you through what you have done for us. Amen