Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sermon -- The Transfiguration of our Lord (February 10, 2013

LUKE 9:28-36

In the name + of Jesus.

     Jesus had ascended a mountain to pray.  He took along with him Peter, James, and John.  These three disciples were often privy to Jesus’ most intimate moments of both agony and glory.  On that night in the Garden of Gethsemane, Peter, James, and John would be doing all they could to fight off sleep.  In the moments they were able to keep their eyes opened, they would have witnessed Jesus in utter humility and weakness as he prayed for strength to do his Father’s will.
     In the case of today’s Gospel, we see the polar opposite.  Jesus does not appear in humility; his appearance glows and blazes in glory.  Jesus does not struggle in weakness; his very being oozes with his divinity.  Jesus does not pray in the black of night, but a bright cloud appears and envelopes him and his disciples.  Jesus is not abandoned by his companions.  On the contrary, Jesus is flanked by heavenly guests, Moses and Elijah.  And on the night of Jesus’ transfiguration, the Father does not remain silent.  Rather, the Father confirms Jesus as his beloved Son.
     Most note-worthy of all at Jesus’ transfiguration is what the Father tells the disciples: “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)  The disciples had been fascinated with the vision they were seeing.  They were excited by the glory of Jesus and the saints of old.  Peter did not want to let it go.  Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here.  Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (Luke 9:33)  Who could blame Peter for wanting the glory to go on and on?  But the Father did not tell the disciples to take a good look.  And he certainly did not tell Peter to start making plans for a shrine.  He said, “This is my Son…; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)  If you want to know his glory, then listen to him.
     Jesus, Moses, and Elijah had been engaged in a heavenly conversation.  Sainted prophets were speaking with their Lord.  It would have been a very good idea for Peter to keep his mouth shut and his ears open.  After all, wouldn’t you want to know what they talk about in heaven?  Moses and Elijah represented the entire Old Testament, the Law and the Prophets.  And St. Luke tells us exactly what they were talking about.  Behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:30-31)  Moses, Elijah, angels and archangels, all the company of heaven are engaged in conversation about this one thing: Jesus’ sufferings, death, and resurrection at Jerusalem.  Though Jesus radiated glory on the mount of transfiguration, God’s glory is most vividly revealed at the mountain we call Calvary.  That is where we see God’s compassion for sinners.  That is his glory.  That is what the Law and the Prophets proclaim to us.  That is all Moses and Elijah could talk about with Jesus.  Even angels long to look into these things.  That is what the Father wanted Peter, James, and John to listen to.  If you want to know Jesus’ glory, then listen to him.
     That is the problem we sinners face, however.  We don’t listen to God.  We don’t let his word stand.  We are in love with our own opinions.  We go off and do whatever it is we please, no matter what God has said.  Then we insist that we did not defy God with our defiance.  “Yeah, I heard what God said.  But I am sure that his word did not mean me.  Don’t you dare tell my kids that they are guilty of sin.  My friends are cool; leave them alone.  How can you be so heartless and tactless to tell people that outside of Jesus there is only death and hell?”  And on and on it goes.  We are embarrassed that Jesus limits salvation to himself and doesn’t just give everyone everything.  But when the Lord speaks, he is not negotiating.  He is not waiting for any counter-offer regarding what is good and what is evil or between what is pleasing and what is forbidden. 
     If you turn a deaf ear to the Word made flesh or defy him, it is because you are seeking to establish your own glory at the expense of his.  You are trying to seek glory by having everything the way you like, by satisfying every craving you have, and by foisting your will on everyone else.  You either believe that God’s Word is to be reinterpreted, or that it does not apply to you.  This is simply refusing to listen to God, whose word has been written down in a permanent record so that anyone can see for themselves what God has plainly and clearly said.  Eternal shame awaits those who do not listen.  Repent.
     The Father declared, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)  Listen to him, because he alone has good news to announce to sinners.  Listen to him, because he alone will reveal how God is merciful to those who have defied him.  Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about his exodus (which is a more literal rendering of the word).  The exodus that most people are familiar with is when God led his people out of the land of death and slavery and brought them into the Promised Land.  And this is what Jesus has come to do for you.
     Jesus brings you out of sin and death and hell so that you will enter the glories of heaven.  But he did not do it by radiating in glory on some unnamed mountain in Israel.  He did it by suffering in weakness, by being crucified in humility, and by dying under a curse.  He died for your sins.  He cried out from the cross in agony.  On that day, there was not a word that came from his Father in heaven.  Rather than hearing of his Father’s love and approval, Jesus was disowned and deserted.  He endured pain and shame and damnation for your sins.
     When Peter, James and John were on the mountain and the cloud surrounded them, they fell to the ground in fear.  The cloud was the presence of God.  They had good reason to be afraid in God’s holy presence and to bury their faces in the ground.  But the still could hear Jesus’ words.  He brings words of peace and mercy and forgiveness.  And they are not just empty words.  They are divine promises of a Savior who went to hell and back to redeem you.  By his exodus from this world at Mt. Calvary, Jesus brought you out of slavery to sin.  He gave himself into death for you to bring you forgiveness of all your sin and freedom from all your guilt.  By his exodus from the grave at Jerusalem, Jesus has delivered you from the grave.  You are free from death and decay.  Your body shall rise to live forever free from weakness and pain and death.  By his exodus from the world in his ascension to heaven, Jesus shows you that you have a heavenly home waiting for you.  There is the glory that Peter desired.  There, we will dwell forever with Moses and Elijah, with angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven.  If you want to know such glory, then listen to him.
     But like Jesus, we do not live on the glorious mountain.  Jesus went down that hill to take up the cross and to suffer and die for us.  Then the glory would come.  And so it is for you.  Yes, you have great glory coming.  You will dwell in God’s presence without fear.  You will shine like stars and appear as the glorious sons and daughters of God.  You will, but not yet.  Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. (Acts 14:22)  But if you want to know that glory, then listen to Jesus.  He will call out to you and continue to lead you to repent of your sins so that you will not die in them.  Listen to him.  He will encourage and console you when you feel that you are practically alone in your faith and life.  Listen to him.  He will soothe and comfort you in all of your guilt and fears.  He will point you to the altar where you can hear him promise, “For you, for the forgiveness of sins.”  Listen to him.  For there, your Lord comes to you.  There, heaven touches earth.  There, we partake in holy things.  And there, Jesus both reveals and administers his glory and his mercy.  For the glory of the Lord is this: By his sufferings, Jesus forgives the guilt of sinners.  By his death, Jesus grants life to the dying.  By his resurrection, Jesus opens heaven to you.  This is what they talk about in heaven.  This is why the angels sing for joy.  This is the news the Church gathers to hear.  Listen to him.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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