Saturday, March 5, 2011

Transfiguration and transformation

Matthew 17:1-9


The story of the transfiguration of Jesus is read and preached every year, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. So, it’s a very familiar story, and rather easy to visualize. You can make your own mental images of what it looked like.

There’s the mountain, with Jesus and the three disciples, taking time out together for prayer. There’s Jesus, mysteriously changed, transformed before them. There’s the vision of Moses and Elijah. There’s Peter, offering to build shelters, probably like the ones he has made many times to remember the Exodus and the Israelites time of  living in the wilderness.  There’s the voice from the cloud, claiming Jesus as the Son of God. There’s the disciples cowering on the ground in fear – everyone knows that directly experiencing God can be deadly. Then, there’s the trip down the mountain, with Jesus urging the disciples to not say anything about what they have just seen.

I can only assume Jesus and the disciples talked more fully about the experience on the way down the mountain. I can also imagine Jesus not being very specific or very clear in his explanation – “You can not understand this now, but you will some day, after the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”  “Huh???” we think, on behalf of the disciples.

We usually focus on Jesus on this day, trying to explain what happened to Jesus and what it means; we talk about the context in Matthew – a week after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah, and that from this point on, Jesus is headed to Jerusalem and death; we talk about the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and what that probably means; we talk about the dwellings Peter wants to make, and the probable meaning of them.

We rarely talk about Peter himself. I like Peter – he’s brash, impulsive, not always tactful, speaks before he thinks about what he’s saying, kind of like me. Sometimes, that’s good, sometimes not so good.

Yet, we all know that Peter’s heart is in the right place. He tries so hard to get it – what Jesus is trying to say, what Jesus wants; but he makes mistakes. Two thousand years after he lived, he lives in our hearts because he is so much like us.

Peter is the perfect biblical example of the saying, “Please be patient. God isn’t finished with me yet.” We are all works in progress, never outgrowing the need to learn more about Jesus and what it means to follow him with our whole lives. Peter is transformed, a little at a time, by his experiences with Jesus.

I did a search on Peter in Matthew’s gospel. Here’s a snapshot of what I found. Peter is one of the first disciples, called from fishing to following Jesus, learning to fish for people. Peter’s wife’s mother is healed by Jesus. Peter dares Jesus to allow him to walk on water, and actually gets out of the boat to try it. Peter asks for clarification about a parable. Peter declares that Jesus is the messiah. Peter is called the rock, on whom the church will be built. Peter wants to build shelters on the mountain. Peter refuses to believe that Jesus will die in Jerusalem. Peter wants to know how many times he must forgive. When the young man finds it hard to give away all his possessions and follow Jesus, Peter reminds Jesus that he and the others have left their homes to follow him and deserve some kind of reward, don’t they? Peter sleeps while Jesus prays in the garden. Peter promises to die before he denies Jesus, and within 12 hours, has denied Jesus 3 times.

Included with the other disciples in many more places, this is Peter’s story in Matthew. Peter is a man of action, often acting and speaking before he thinks. He is a man of faith, growing one step at a time in his understanding of Jesus. He has been transformed, one step at a time, into the disciple Jesus wants him to be.

There are some who believe that we must have a specific moment of coming to faith, one instant of being brought to our knees in despair before we can be lifted up by Jesus. Most of us, however, would confess to many such moments, mostly smaller events, in which we recognized we needed God’s help, in which we gave thanks for God’s guidance, in which we received mercy we thought we didn’t deserve.

Many of you have heard John Chiappetta’s story of his transformation, coming to faith and service in Jesus’ name. After many years of not needing God in his life, he was sent to church because God urged him to stop, eventually at St Timothy’s in Crystal River. Pastors there encouraged him to follow God’s leading and calling to become a deacon. Today, John can’t imagine his life without a commitment to serving Jesus by serving people. He makes a new commitment today as he officially becomes a deacon at Hope.

Paul says to the people of Rome: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds. How has your life been transformed over the years? We never outgrow the need to study, pray, learn, serve, and follow. Where has God called you to serve? What challenges have you overcome with God’s help? How do you continue to learn about God? In what ways do you follow Jesus today?

On the mountain, Jesus revealed his divine nature to the disciples, and they were transformed by the revelation. Even though we may miss it, Jesus continues to be present in our lives, and to reveal himself to us in surprising and mysterious ways. Let us be on the lookout for Jesus moments, and be transformed by them.

Please pray with me: God of transformation, we give you thanks for your presence in our lives, for your leading, for your challenging, and for your forgiveness when we fail to follow. Amen