Sunday, January 25, 2015
Homily for The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord
Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Your flesh wants to do something for God. Or, to be more accurate, your flesh wants to receive credit for doing something for itself. That’s the way it is with the flesh: It’s proud, and independent, selfish, and self-righteous. So, is it really any surprise that your flesh wants worship to be about what you want, and what you do for yourself, … uh, I mean, for God, rather than what God wants and is doing for you? After all, you’re here this morning, unlike so many others. You could be sleeping in, or cleaning the house, or visiting the city, or any number of things. But, you’re here. Surely you get credit for that, right? Surely God is pleased with you because you’re a good church-going, Bible-believing Christian, right? Well, yes. That’s true. God is pleased with you. However, God is pleased with you, not because of your good works, your church attendance, or even your pious thoughts, but, God is pleased with you because of your faith in Jesus Christ His Son, with whom He is well pleased, faith which produces good works with which He is well pleased. For, the Gospel truth is that you can only serve God and your neighbor if God has first served you Himself. Or, to put it another way, you can only give of what you have first received. If you don’t have any water, then you cannot give a thirsty person a drink. If you haven’t received forgiveness, then you cannot forgive your brother or your neighbor. And, if you have not first been loved, then you cannot love even those who love you, let alone those who hate you, as your LORD requires.
Nevertheless, you stand in good – or, I suppose, not so good – company. After all, King David wanted to do something for the LORD. He wanted to build a house for the LORD – you know, put God in a box. And, he had all kinds of visions of grandeur to make God, and His worship of God, just the way he wanted them to be. Now, David had good intentions – we always do, – but you know what they say about good intentions. The LORD had promised to be with David always. The LORD had promised that the throne would never depart from his family. David had the promise of the LORD, He had the LORD’s unbreakable Word, but still he wanted to do something for God. In his misguided faith, David wanted to put the LORD into a box. And, likewise, centuries later, the Pharisees believed that they were doing good works for the LORD meriting His favor in their prayers and their tithes and their obedience to the Law. But, these, too, were worthless deeds, vanity, and filthy rags because they were not done in faithful response to the LORD’s gracious service to them.
And, then there’s Peter. Good ole Peter, so named for the rocks in his head, maybe? No, just kidding, … kind of. But, still, no one in the Scriptures exhibits the highs and lows and the hots and the colds of faith quite like Peter. I mean, for a man to give the stunning, revelatory confession of who Jesus is, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and then, moments later, vow to thwart the Christ’s mission to die on the cross so as to earn the rebuke “Get behind me Satan,” ought to put faith in perspective, don’tcha think? Truly, we must all confess, “Lord, I believe; help me in my unbelief.” For, when he was blown away by the vision of His Lord in glory, with Moses and Elijah standing and talking with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration, what did Peter want to do, but to put them in boxes and to preserve that mountain-top experience forever. Like I said, the intention might have been good, but you know what they say about good intentions.
And so, the Transfiguration of Our Lord is every bit as much about your own transfiguration as it is that of Jesus. Though Peter, James, and John went up the mountain to worship the Lord in one way, with their own ideas of worship, and praise, and glory, they came down the mountain in a different way, changed, metamorphosed. Metamorphosed? Yes, changed, like a caterpillar into a butterfly. Indeed, metamorphosis is precisely the Greek word that Matthew uses in his Gospel, which is translated into the English as transfigured. In Jesus’ case, He wasn’t so much changed into something else, something glorious, but, rather, the fullness of His glory, which was veiled in humility, but, nevertheless, already present, – You know, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see. Hail the incarnate deity.” – that glory was revealed, at least partially, so that the disciples might believe and be better prepared to face and to endure what Jesus was about to face and to endure in His Passion and death in Jerusalem. The disciples needed to be metamorphosed; they needed to be changed. And, so do you, dear Christian. You need to be metamorphosed. You need to be changed, that you may see the Lord’s glory revealed in His Passion and death, that you may thus see your worship and praise of Him, not in terms of what you want or what you do, but in terms of who He is, what He wants for you, and what He has done and is still doing for you. For, then, your whole life will be metamorphosed; your whole life will be changed, for you will see the glory of the Lord, not in the things your flesh and this world values and desires, but in the things to which the Lord has attached His Word and His Promise.
You see, Jesus knew His disciples. Jesus knew Peter. And, Jesus also knows you. Jesus knew that Peter could be a man of strong faith and confession; but He also knew that Peter often let his own ideas and understanding, and the ideas and understanding of the world, form, guide, and direct his thoughts and His actions. This is brilliantly displayed in Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” and then in Peter’s attempt to prevent His Lord’s going to the cross. Peter understood who Jesus was, an understanding that Jesus says was a gift of His Father in heaven, but he did not yet understand what Jesus came to do, what Jesus had to do, in order to make Peter, and all men, and all of creation, right with God once again. And, so, Peter swore an oath to stop Jesus from doing what He said he came, and had, to do. And, in His rebuke of Peter, Jesus named precisely whose ideas and understanding Peter was expressing: “Get behind me Satan!” Therefore, just days before His entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to commence His Passion which would culminate in His death upon the cross, Jesus took His closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, up with Him high on a mountain so that they might experience a momentary revealing of His glory, that their faith might be strengthened and that they might have hope as they faced both the darkness of Jesus’ suffering and death, and the darkness of their own trials and tribulations, suffering, and even death as they lived their lives in Christ and in selfless and sacrificial service of their brother and neighbor to the glory of God.
Of course, Peter, holding the ideas and understanding of the world and the flesh, upon witnessing Jesus’ glory, along with Moses and Elijah, wanted to bottle it up, put it in a box, enshrine it and keep it forever. Peter still did not understand that Jesus had to come down from the mountain and go to another mountain, to Mount Calvary, and there suffer and die to atone for the sins of the world. Once again, Peter sought to prevent Jesus from fulfilling His purpose and mission. This is inevitably what happens when you think and act in accord with what your flesh and the world consider glorious. For, your flesh and the world subscribe to a theology of glory which enshrines created things, things that are not, and things that are passing away, effectively calling evil good and good evil. Your Jesus would have you subscribe to a theology of the cross, which simply calls a thing what it is, regardless of how weak, foolish, and pitiable it may appear to the flesh and the world. Jesus would have you find His glory, not in temporary grandeur and magnificence, not in fickle emotions of ecstasy, peace, and joy, not in wealth, power, and possessions, but in His humility, suffering, and death upon the cross.
And, so, following Jesus’ discourse with Moses and Elijah about His departure, or, in the Greek, literally, His Exodus, which Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem, Jesus lead His disciples down from their mountaintop experience and into the valley below, where they immediately encountered the demon-possessed, the blind, and many others afflicted by the effects of sin, along with pride and aspirations of worldly and fleshly glory, temptations to sin, and all manner of evils that afflict you as you make your pilgrimage through the valley of the shadow of death. That’s why Moses and Elijah were discussing the Exodus with Jesus, for Jesus’ death and resurrection are the glorious subject of discourse amongst the saints and angels in heaven. Then, the cloud of glory lifted, and Jesus’ face and clothing ceased shining, and Moses and Elijah disappeared, and the disciples were left with Jesus alone, of whom the Father’s voice from heaven declared His pleasure and gave the exhortation and command, “Listen to Him.” For, it is not the magnificence of glory and power, nor is it the emotional highs of joy and exultation, nor works of any kind whatsoever that make you right with God, but it is Jesus alone and His Word alone which makes you right with God. Therefore, you must cling to Him and to His Word alone, and place no trust in your emotions, in your works, or in any person or institution. And, you must not succumb to the temptation to place your trust in the things your flesh and this world count as glorious. For, these things are creaturely and are passing away. They are not God, but they can become idols, which get between you and God and threaten to weaken or destroy your faith in Jesus Christ, in whom alone is forgiveness, life, and salvation.
And, now your Lord Jesus invites you to ascend to the high mountain of the altar in this Holy Eucharist where Jesus is truly present with Moses and Elijah, and with angels and archangels, and with all the company of heaven, to eat His flesh and to drink His blood, that your faith may be strengthened, your sins forgiven, and that you may be preserved and protected as you descend from the high altar back into the valley in which you live your lives, trusting in Him and in His Word alone, to the glory of His holy Name. For, you cannot live on the mountaintop; the air is to thin there for you now. Nevertheless, you were created to live there with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit forevermore. And so, He gives you this foretaste, now, of the feast that is yet to come, a feast that you will eat and drink with your Lord and Bridegroom Jesus Christ when He comes again in glory, glory that will be fully revealed and never fade away. For that day the Church, His Bride cries out, “Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus! Come, quickly come!”
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.