Transfiguration Sunday – February 26, 2017
Luke 9:28-45 and Psalm 36:5-10
I am a fairly obsessive person, whenever I find something that I like I tend to really like it. I go fully in right away and immerse myself in that lifestyle. It has happened in my life with soccer, craft beer, and hiking.. For example a few summers ago I was really into the Narnia series by CS Lewis. I read through the entire series in English, then listened to all of them on audiobook, then started reading the series in French. During the following year I had the chance to speak at several different places and venues and found myself using Narnia stories for every analogy that I needed that year. After this I started picking up other books by CS Lewis and reading more of his philosophy and theological books, each of them proving to entice me and encourage me to dig deeper. I bring this up because this is where I find myself again today. As I read over the transfiguration passage I found myself thinking back to CS Lewis’ most famous character of all; Aslan.
For those who are not familiar with Aslan he is a lion that represents God in the Narnia series. Throughout the series Aslan showcases many different attributes and offers a great insight into the character of our own God. The character of Aslan is very mysterious, it is hard to know what to expect from him throughout the series and often his actions seem very counter intuitive.. One of my favourite descriptions of Aslan though is from the beaver characters. At this point in the story our four human children characters are asking the beavers who Aslan is. As the beavers continue to speak highly of him and cannot help but express their excitement about the prospect of Aslan’s return. The children then ask the beavers if Aslan, being a lion, is safe; the beavers’ response is surprising “no… but he is good”.
Before we start looking at our Scripture reading I want to talk briefly about Peter. Peter is one of my favourite Biblical characters as in the Gospels Peter can never seem to get anything right.. he has a reputation for blurting out and saying things without thinking then being harshly scolded by Jesus. A few examples of this are when Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to die and Peter declares that he will not allow this and instead he will protect him, Jesus responds to this by calling Peter Satan! Again when Jesus tells his disciples that one of them will betray him Peter is quick to exclaim that he would never be the one to do that, yet Jesus tells him that he will in fact deny him 3 times before morning.. Peter has a reputation for speaking out of turn and looking like a fool in the end.
In our Scripture reading today we found a very confusing passage. Jesus takes aside his core group of disciples and leads them up to a mountain top where he suddenly begins to shine, has some sort of encounter with Elijah and Moses, there is a loud voice from heaven which declares Jesus as the Son of God and then the disciples say nothing about it to anyone after.. it is hard to know what to make of this passage as some miraculous things happen very quickly. I am a big fan of Peter in the Bible as he often represents so much of how we think as humans. If we look in another Gospel text found in the book of Matthew as Jesus is shining bright and conversing with Moses and Elijah Peter pips up and asks Jesus if he can build a shelter for the three holy figures. To me this is Peter simply speaking because he isn’t sure what to do with himself during this event, I find it funny too how as Peter is speaking God cuts him off to declare Jesus as His Son.
Often times in life when we encounter something that is awkward or unknown to us we try to talk our way through it, or just avoid it as much as possible, but my challenge for us today is to try and rest in this moment with God. When we encounter things that we do not understand, or simply cannot comprehend we can use it as a time to rest in the fact that we have an all-powerful God. Based on my own understanding I have a lot of questions for God, I do not understand why there is suffering in the world, why some people are born certain ways, why some people become sick.. it doesn’t make sense to me. If we understood everything that God did then God would not be much of a God.. God is beyond our understanding.
This mystery of God is a great gift that we have.. one that is often overlooked. I often find myself thinking about many other things in my life before I think about God. Personally I grew up in a Christian home and God has been a part of my life since I was born. The unfortunate truth that I find is that I often find myself not looking at God with awe.. To try and explain my thoughts a bit more.. I remember when I was younger and I was given my first soccer jersey, it was a nice bright yellow Brazilian Ronaldo jersey back in 2001 leading up to the 2002 World Cup in Japan! I always had a messy room growing up, my clothes were all over the floor and they stayed there until laundry day. But my jersey never touched the ground! It was far too valuable and precious to be mixed in with the rest of my clothes. Over time though I occasionally stopped putting my yellow Ronaldo shirt on my hanger and it joined the clothes on my floor. I often would catch myself and pick it up to place back on the hanger. Eventually though I gave up on it and it joined the rest of my clothes on the floor, the excitement around it had worn out. At this point in life I have no idea where that jersey is that I once valued so much.. How often is our relationship with God like this? Are you, like me, guilty of falling out of love with God?
In the book of Revelations John had a vision where he was able to encounter God and he describes God as a being on a throne without flesh and blood but made with diamonds and rubies which were absorbed in fire and glowed as it was surrounded by angels. In another instance Isaiah had a vision where he was able to encounter God and the cuff of God’s robes filled the entire Jewish temple as God was surrounded by cherubim and seraphim, all that Isaiah could do was sit quietly on the side as he was so awe struck he could not speak..
When we take into account these things I feel like in most cases we would act like the disciples did at the end of this event. They sat there in silence and did not say anything to anyone. Everyone was in awe of what they just witnessed.. even Peter was silent..
This is something that I think we should take away from the transfiguration passage. God is someone who we cannot understand or fathom, and at times our best response is to stand in silent reverence before him as we are unable to speak as we fathom at his greatness.. we do not want God to end up like that old yellow Ronaldo jersey and be forgotten in a dirty pile of clothes.
This passage has a second message as well, in addition to being about the power and mystery of God it is also about the purpose of Jesus’ life on earth. Near the end of this passage Jesus confirms again with his disciples that he will die soon at the hand of one of his own disciples. This is very fitting as we head into the season of lent now in the church calendar. At this time in both the church calendar and in our Scripture reading the tone of our lives changes. Jesus is now very near the time of his death. Jesus is moving forward with God’s plan to sacrifice him for the sake of these people who consistently fall asleep in his presence.. Jesus knew what he was about to endure, yet he carried on anyway. As he knew that the purpose of his life was more important than the comfort that he endured during his life.. Jesus was up on the mountain top preparing himself for the hard road ahead and during this time he was revealed by the glory of God..
Jesus had a destiny, it was not an easy road ahead of him. It was one that he wrestled with so much that it brought him to tears in the Garden of Gethsemane. It is hard to imagine willingly moving forward knowing that such a terrible situation awaits you. But Jesus pressed on, despite the fear.
God does not have a history of doing things the easy or comfortable way. An example of this is found in the book of Judges when God called Gideon to lead the Israelite army into battle against the Midianites. This story begins by Gideon gathering up all of his forces and suiting them up for battle. Looking into the battle the Israelites were outnumbered and terrified, but yet God promised them victory. God then told Gideon to allow all of the soldiers to leave who were afraid and at that Gideon had lost half of his army. Even with this God was still not satisfied, He went further and commanded that Gideon perform this odd test where he watches how the soldiers drink their water and judging by that he then sends those unworthy home. After this Gideon is left with 300 soldiers.. even with this God was not satisfied as he commands that Gidon attack the Midianite camp with only clay jars, torches, and horns; and as you can likely guess God leads Gideon to an unorthodox victory.
God is known for doing things the hard and uncomfortable way. God is known for doing things in his own way. God is not for us to fully understand.. as we now move into this Lenten season it is important for us to remember the encounter that Jesus had up on the mountain top, and remember the form that God takes in both John and Isaiah’s visions. This God is beyond our comprehension. All that we have to understand is that this God is prepared to sacrifice a great deal for us because of how much he loves us. It is important during all of this that we still remember that this divine being loves us unconditionally, and not because of anything we have done, or can do. Jesus did not love Peter for his wise words.. he loved Peter because he was Peter. As it says in the book of Romans, Christ loved us so much that while we were still sinners he died for us… We do not know what tomorrow holds, except that despite any suffering that it may hold that we have an all-powerful being who loves us. We have God’s love, beyond that much is a mystery. And mystery is something that we can rest in.
To conclude I think that some of the important things we can take away from the Transfiguration of Jesus are that God is amazing and beyond our comprehension. When we think of God next let through a humble and grateful lens. God has a plan for us just like he had a plan for the life of Jesus. Regardless of if we understand it or not. That is part of what makes God so great. He is beyond our understanding. The response of the three disciples, John, and Isaiah when they came face to face with the power of God was complete silence. They were in such aw that they were unable to speak. Next time you pray stop and imagine that you were standing before this being that our three stories described and you may be surprised how it changes how you come before God.
Copyright 2017 – Shane Johnson, Youth Coordinator of Dayspring Presbyterian Church
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