Transfiguration Sunday, 2016
Today we celebrate the transfiguration of our Lord, and we read from the gospel of Luke the story of Jesus’ transfiguration.
Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him up on a high mountain. While they are there, suddenly, Jesus is transfigured before them: bright, shining light coming from him, Jesus revealed in all his divine splendor. And then, Moses and Elijah appear beside him in bright, shining light, Moses and Elijah, the most important of all prophets from Old Testament times, prophets who had died generations before. Jesus, Moses, and Elijah together shine brightly and seem to indicate that Jesus is indeed in the line of these great prophets, an affirmation of Jesus’ divine identity. Now, Peter, James, and John, they are sleepy, but Peter manages to ask a question: why don’t we build three dwellings here on this mountain so that we can stay here and live in this glory, in this splendor, in this majesty? While Peter asks this, a cloud envelopes them, and a voice comes from the cloud: This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him! When the cloud lifts, Jesus stands alone with the disciples, and the disciples say nothing to anyone about the glory and the splendor and the majesty they saw.
The next day, after coming down the mountain, Jesus is, as he typically is, surrounded by a crowd of people in need of healing. One man, a father, shouts out to Jesus, imploring him to heal his son of an unclean spirit. Apparently, while Jesus, Peter, James, and John were on the mountain, the father had asked the remaining disciples to heal his son—just as Jesus commissioned them to do, heal people—but the disciples couldn’t do it. I can just imagine Jesus sighing and looking over at these disciples with despair. He says: Bring the boy to me, and he heals the boy of the unclean spirit. And then, what is most striking to me about this story is recorded. The gospel writer Luke shares that, at the healing of the boy, all were astounded at the greatness of God. All were astounded at the greatness of God when Jesus healed the boy of the unclean spirit.
Now, Peter, James, and John could hardly keep their eyes open when they stood on the mountain with a bright, shining Jesus accompanied by the two greatest Old Testament prophets long ago dead who were also brightly shining. They could hardly keep their eyes open, and they had an inane idea about how to hold onto the glory of that moment. And they were terrified and sufficiently confused that they did not say anything to anyone about the glory and the splendor and the majesty they had encountered on that mountain! But all were astounded by the greatness of God when Jesus healed the boy of an unclean spirit.
Transfiguration of our Lord Sunday is such a strange Sunday to preach because I suspect we are like the crowds and the disciples. We don’t know what to make of the transfiguration. We may appreciate Jesus’ glory and splendor and majesty in some faraway intellectual way, but when it really comes right down to it, what does the transfiguration have to do with our lives? I suspect we are more like the crowds who, when they saw Jesus at work in the daily, ordinary, small, individual life of a father and son, they were astounded. Are we not similar? Are we not astounded when we see God working in our own individual lives? Is this not the place where we actually see God’s glory revealed—in small and seemingly insignificant ways? The transfiguration is almost too much. The disciples didn’t know what to make of it, and even we who know that the resurrection is coming and that it is in the resurrection that something similar will again happen to Jesus, even we can’t quite make sense of this miraculous transfiguration. Because the healing of an unclean spirit in the life of someone we know, the healing that God brings to us, that is miracle enough.
The good news on transfiguration Sunday is that God is glorious, majestic, and dwells in splendor. The good news on transfiguration Sunday is that our glorious, majestic God who lives in splendor meets us in our ordinary, small, seemingly insignificant lives. God is a god of all creation but cares about us, about us as individuals. God is great and beyond our ability to comprehend in God’s greatness. And God cannot turn away from a father, a mother, a child in need. We are astounded not by the fact that God is great, majestic, divine, glorious. We are astounded by the fact that, in God’s greatness, God cares about us. But God does.
My dear friends in Christ, there is no one who doesn’t matter. Or to say it another way: everyone matters. Everyone matters to God. You matter to God. Everyone matters. Each person is a gift from God. Each person. Whether we like them or not, whether we agree with their politics or not, whether we would make life choices similar to theirs or not, whether we can understand or appreciate their life stories or not, each person matters. They really do. We really do. We know this to be true because, when Jesus came down the mountain after a glorious, majestic experience of splendor, his first order of business was to tend to a child and that child’s desperate father.
When we are that desperate father or that child in need of healing, today’s story proclaims a truth I hope you can hear: you matter to God. God cares about you. God is at work in your life. And when we come face-to-face with a desperate father or a child in need of healing, today’s story challenges us to care for, to not ignore that father or child because everyone matters to God. And we are the hands and feet of God in this world.
The transfiguration is almost too much, but the healing of a child in need, the care Jesus extended to a desperate father, this we understand. This is God’s glory revealed: the deep love of Jesus for us and for all people.