Sermon August 6, 2017

 The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

The Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ

August 6, 2017

The Rev. R. Allan McCaslin

Readings: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36

From the 2nd Letter of Peter, “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” I speak to you in the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Having heard today’s scripture lessons, some of you may be having a sense of deja vu this morning because our readings sound awfully familiar. And they are. In fact, we heard Matthew’s version of this morning’s gospel lesson just a few weeks ago. You might recall on that occasion I shared with you the theological significance of our Lord’s mountaintop appearance with the two greatest prophets of Israel, Moses and Elijah. You see, just like Jesus, those men, and their message, were initially rejected by their people. And yet they returned and brought with them deliverance for God’s people on a level no one could ever have imagined. For Moses – Moses who had seen the face of God and lived - it was Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt. For Elijah – Elijah who like Jesus ascended into heaven - it was deliverance from Baal worship that threatened to forever annihilate any worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Both of these men, the Hebrew Scriptures tell us, had mountaintop encounters with God that radically changed their appearance and their lives. And in Hebrew tradition, it is believed that both Moses and Elijah will return before the final judgement of the earth (Deut. 18:15, Malachi 4:5), before the appearing of that promised “morning star” known as the Messiah. In some Jewish writings, Moses represents the Law while Elijah represents the prophets. And it is into this setting with these two men that Jesus himself participates. Jesus, the very face of God, Jesus, God incarnate, is present and his appearance changes for all to see. All of this bears important meaning for us.  

You see, for Christians, the appearance of both Elijah and Moses in conversation with Jesus, and his own transfiguration, affirms that Jesus Christ is Lord, is God incarnate, is that morning star, the redeemer and the Messiah of the whole world. Yes, this feast day of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ holds a significant place in the Christian Calendar because of it holds a significant place in the ongoing life of every believer. It is a day to be celebrated with awe and wonder that God, the creator of all this is and is to come, was truly made flesh in order to dwell among us as one of us, and set us free from sin. The transfiguration affirms the Lordship of Christ and the fulfillment of Hebrew prophecy concerning the redemption of both Jews and Gentiles. It affirms who we are in Christ. Thanks be to God!

And yet, on this particular Transfiguration Sunday 2017, I wonder if God might be saying something even more compelling to us as a community of faith. 

Our Old Testament lesson speaks very clearly about how an encounter with God changed the very outward appearance of Moses. An appearance, Exodus tells us, that was so radical it frightened people. We will soon find out that this new mountaintop encounter with God incarnate as told by Luke, changed the lives of Peter, James and John – changed them to their core. I find the timing of today’s observance of the Transfiguration of Christ uncanny given all the activity that is going on in our midst as we restore our facilities at Holy Cross. There is even talk about restoring St. Johns with a new roof and creating some song books for use at worship services. In many ways, these buildings are being restored to their former glory. And yes, that is a physical change and yet, could it not also be a metaphor, an invitation, for a new sense of the glory of God being reflected not just in our buildings, but in our daily lives as well?

The Christian journey of faith, the Christian way of life, is marked by continuous, daily conversion into Christ. That is why Christians are urged to set aside time each and every day for prayer and study of the scriptures. That is why on-going Christian formation through participation in Christian Education and other edifying seminars and classes is so important to our way of life. Ours is a life marked by continuous change as, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ works within us to shape us into his very image. Christ works within our hearts and minds to transform how we think, what we value, and how we speak and live our faith. That is what conversion and transformation is about. That is the way of life we committed to embrace in our Baptismal Promises – promises that offer a chance for each of us to be transfigured just as Christ was transfigured.

We might remember that, in those baptismal promises, each question about our walk with Christ is answered with a firm, “I will” – that is a determined answer from our hearts and minds. And only then do we add, “With God’s help.” See, there is a comma between those two phrases: we state our intent first and then ask God’s help in truly living that promise. I think there is a tendency to place the emphasis on God to do the work as if God is some kind of scapegoat when we fail to live up to our promises. Nothing could further from the truth. The onus is on us to commit ourselves to live as Christ’s own. And by God’s help, God’s transforming, converting, transfiguring help, those promises can come to fruition so deeply in us that our very appearance to our neighbors and friends will be noticeably changed.

In his sermon last week, Fr. Richard Sutcliffe invited us to set aside time to discern what it is that God is calling each of us to do. For some, he said, that might be a doctor, a nurse, a clerk, a teacher, a lay minister, a secretary, a helper, even a priest or deacon. He went on to remind us that if God can so transform the lives of misfits like Peter, James and John so that the world was turned upside down, and, frankly, I’d add in misfits like Moses and Elijah, too, imagine, Fr. Richard asked, what God can do in us if we will so choose to listen and discern God’s direction.

And therein we find a connection to today’s celebration. The Transfiguration of Christ affirms that God was at work within our Lord throughout his ministry then and is still at work in Christ today. Yet, the Transfiguration of Christ also affirms that God desires to be at work within each of us transforming who we are and how we live. The Transfiguration invites us to discern God’s voice and direction, to encounter and know God so deeply that our appearance reflects the image of God incarnate: the very grace, mercy, love and forgiveness of Christ who, in baptism, marked us as his own forever.

Imagine what God can do when whole churches are not just physically renewed, but whole congregations – all of us - are renewed, converted, transformed and transfigured, as well. Ah, but transfiguration as inviting as it is, involves a choice. The choice to answer that invitation is ours alone to make. 

St Peter writes, “You will do well to be attentive to the prophets,” (in other words, to the teachings of the great patriarchs and matriarchs of Israel and all the Saints of God) “as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” – until the day when Christ becomes who we are – the day when to look at us is to see the risen Christ.

May God grant us the wisdom and the courage to answer the Transfiguration invitation with a resounding, “I WILL!” … For then, with and by God’s help, our whole lives will indeed bring glory to God this day and forever. Amen.