Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And 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. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer (Psalm 19:14)
I could care less when going to the movies and having to sit through 15 minutes of previews for other films, but I know others who enjoy these “sneak peeks” of other works. Of course even the most well-crafted preview affords only a hint of the story and the directorial vision of the film. The key is to entice patrons by giving them “just enough” to ensure they’ll return to the theater in the future.
Matthew’s story of the Transfiguration strikes me as something like a movie preview.
We’re not ready yet for the full production, for the glory of God, but we need a little preview to keep us focused and wanting more. In fact, I can almost envision this “sneak peek” with the highest quality digital projection and Dolby surround sound. It’s a defining moment for Peter, James, and John. For a brief time they encounter the full glory of the LORD. Instead of not-so-regular Rabbi Jesus, his closest followers find themselves face down and fearful in the presence of the Cosmic Christ, God the Father, Moses, and Elijah. There must have been a little Holy Spirit work going on because Peter doesn’t have access to Google images to
make sure these guys with Jesus were indeed a couple of the rock stars of Israel’s history.
Somehow Peter just knows, and he does what any normal human would do in the same situation. He tries the first century equivalent of FOMO (fear of missing out) and social media documentation. Without the access to platforms like Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook, or TikTok, Peter relies on an attempt to build his own platform. Three platforms, in fact, to house these amazing beings: Peter is thinking big. As always, God is thinking bigger, eyeing the big picture, not just the preview. God interrupts Peter with an important clarifying announcement: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him.” Preview over and life goes on.
In fact, Jesus tells them two important things: 1) don’t be afraid, and 2) keep the full story under wraps until the big Easter premiere. Then they all get back to the work of ministry and discipleship.
What, then, does the Transfiguration have to do with followers of Jesus today? Surely it’s more than a reference to movie previews.
I’m quite sure that the Holy Spirit can work through a movie preview to give one a glimpse of the glory of the Lord, but one can experience a mountaintop Transfiguration moment almost anywhere if we but pay attention.
In college I had friends on the debate team, their coach gave them an important rule for their class debates: No one was allowed to raise their hand while another person was speaking. It was a wonderful rule, and the reason was simple.
As the coach pointed out, when you raise your hand, you have stopped listening. From that moment on, you are thinking about what you are going to say, not listening to the current speaker. In our Gospel lesson today, Peter has let his enthusiasm run away with him, and he has metaphorically raised his hand.
- What did Peter do wrong? Aren’t we supposed to get excited and want to work for God?
The problem isn’t Peter’s enthusiasm. Instead, it’s the fact that Peter’s eagerness to do something was stopping him from experiencing what the moment truly was. Peter was so busy with planning his next moves that he failed to truly experience the magnificence, and awe, of Jesus’ transfiguration. The voice of God had to
remind him to be quiet, be still, and truly listen so that he could grow.
It is certainly possible that we do this today, even when we’re trying hard to be great followers of God.
- Do we get caught up in planning church fellowship & learning events, youth gatherings, and even outreach programs?
- Do we work so hard on building up our church that we sometimes forget to be still and listen?
It is easy to get caught up in our excitement to serve God. Sometimes, like Peter, we need to be reminded to be quiet, be still, and bask in the presence of God’s love.
So it’s confession time, Transfiguration is such a weird and wonderful day to celebrate. In so many ways, nothing really happened. Nothing changed.
- The world wasn’t turned upside down.
- All the disciples weren’t suddenly flooded with a new understanding of God or of Jesus.
In other ways, it was incredibly important. The moment highlighted how quick we are to categorize our experiences of holiness into easy, comfortable boxes. Peter’s response was just perfect: “something holy happened, let’s put up a tent!
But, in the scheme of life and ministry and faith, big moments are always just that. They are moments that stand out as significant and important nestled between other moments. For most people, life is filled with significant moments. Even if they are big and mind-blowing, those moments are rarely actually life-changing. Very few people have had single moments that changed the course of their life. That’s just not how life usually works.
Most of us require several moments strung together to start making an impact on our lives. We need multiple experiences nudging us in the same direction before we start walking faithfully.
As I read the Gospel of Matthew, that is exactly what I see. I see a group of friends who experience a series of significant moments together in the presence of Jesus, who slowly allow their lives and their perspective to be changed.
They witnessed healings and exorcisms, miraculous meals, thoughtful teachings, resurrections, and even the transfiguration of a friend into dazzling white. They witnessed faithfulness, and doubt, and growth. They witnessed lives transformed. They witnessed lives reborn.
For the disciples, it took every single one of these moments for them to start to understand the holiness and power of God’s Kingdom.
Instead of standing idle and waiting for God to be revealed to us in some extraordinary way, we are called to get up every day and look for Jesus’ presence in our ordinary lives. Admittedly, recognizing God at work in ordinary life can be difficult, especially when we face setbacks, sorrow, or general annoyance. But rest
assured, God is there.
- God is there with the widow whose Social Security check isn’t quite enough to keep her in her home of over 50 years.
- God is there with the night school student who is late to class because her teenager got detention again.
- God is there with the young mother of four whose youngest refuses to potty-train.
- And God is even there with you when the cable guy doesn’t show up between nine and noon.
All of God’s people have bad days; the trick is learning to look for Jesus anyway. That’s a habit that truly would be extraordinary! Anybody can recognize Jesus when times are good. Somebody’s cancer is cured; they give the credit to God. Somebody meets an old flame and falls in love all over again; they claim that their prayers have been answered. Somebody gets a long-awaited raise; they give God the glory.
Just to be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing God in the good; nor should it be our goal to see God exclusively in the bad, but it is necessary for us to look for God in the ordinary because the ordinary is what we have the most of.
Startling revelation is not necessary to convince us of the validity of our faith. Faithfulness does not grow out of God’s unanticipated intervention but from a life spent looking for Jesus at all times, and in all the ordinary places.
Our tradition gives us plenty of ways to look for Jesus. A couple of daily doses of prayer should do the trick. Reading the Bible helps. Saying “I love you” is a good start. Talking to God out loud is also a healthy thing to do, especially when you’re angry.
Coming to worship is also important, not for the sake of average weekend attendance, but for the sake of your relationship with God, a relationship fueled by hearing God’s word and participating in the rituals of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection.
So brothers and sisters, our task is simple. Look for Jesus. When you finally do catch a glimpse of him, your perspective will change in an instant. He may not always appear in the way you want him to, or in the way you think he should, but nevertheless, he will be there.