Fr. Terry Gatwood: To Be

Sermon delivered on Transfiguration Sunday A, February 26, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Exodus 24.12-18; Psalm 2.1-12; 2 Peter 1.16-21; Matthew 17.1-9.

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

This morning St. Matthew tells of one of the most amazing things to occur during the time of the public ministry of Jesus. The transfiguration is one of the stories in Scripture that has long gripped many people. Six days after Jesus tells his disciples that to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him. This would have been a troubling moment in the disciples time with Jesus, for they must have wondered why Jesus would be talking about them lugging along a heavy, splintery, wooden, Roman torture device. What is Jesus talking about? Why would he be talking about being killed? Jesus is promising that he is going to die and rise again, but at the same time talking about some who were standing there that day not tasting death before the Son of Man comes in his kingdom. How are these oppressive Romans going to be sacked by the coming of the Kingdom of God if they kill Jesus, whom we believe to be the one sent from God?

Now on this sixth day after rebuking Peter for taking Jesus aside and rebuking him of foretelling of his own death, he takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain. And something so utterly amazing, something more beautiful and glorious than when the sun breaks through the dark clouds of the sky after a terrible storm happens, occurs. Jesus is transfigured before their eyes. The Scripture tells us that Jesus’ face shone like the brightness of the sun, so radiant and so warming like when, in the dark and cold we face into the east and the rising sun hits our face after a long, difficult, freezing night. It’s so welcome, and so comforting to the person who has been surrounded by the dark cold. Jesus’ clothing became whiter than the most brilliant of whites that could ever exist. It was as if they were the bright light.

And there, along with Jesus fully illuminated and shining before these three disciples, were Moses, the great lawgiver, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets. There the two of them were, long after their departure from the earth, talking with this Jesus, whom had less than a week ago foretold of his coming death and resurrection.

And then Peter speaks out quickly. Peter is known to sometimes put the old cart before the horse. He’s the one who says to Jesus he’ll die for him, that he won’t deny him, then he denies Jesus the night before his crucifixion. He’s the guy who grabbed a sword and lopped off the ear of the High Priest’s servant, Malchus, when they came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. And now, in this place where he sees Jesus being transfigured so beautifully and brilliantly, Peter blurts out, “Lord, if you want we’ll build three booths for the three of you.” He wants to put up a monument to this amazing moment in the history of God’s people, not yet fully understanding what is going on.

And then a great cloud, gleaming with brilliance, envelops them as they stand on this mountain with the one representing the law, the one representing the prophets, and the one to whom they were always pointing, Jesus. And from the midst of this bright cloud boomed that same voice that had once proclaimed the sonship and pleasure of God at Jesus’ baptism, now saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” They had known all their lives that they must listen to the words of Moses, who delivered the law of God to his people that they might do the righteous will of God, and listen to the words of the prophet Elijah, that they might understand so directly their need to know that the Lord is God, who is the one who turns hearts back toward him. And now, the voice of this same God who called Moses and Elijah, confirms their need to listen to the voice of Jesus.

And this shook these three men to their very core. Terrified, completely awestruck, they hit the ground, prostrating themselves before this voice coming from the cloud which had overshadowed them. Jesus, this teacher and master whom they have been following, by the voice of God himself, has been declared not only on equal standing with Moses and Elijah, but acknowledged as the one whom they were pointing: God’s own Son.

In the presence of the appearing of the glory of God Jesus comes to them, reaching down with outstretched hand, touching Peter, James, and John, saying to them the thing they most needed to hear in the moment, and that thing which we so often to need to hear from the voice of our Lord: “Rise, and have no fear.”

And just as Moses did so many years before, Jesus comes down from the mountain to his people, this time not bringing a new law, but in himself the fulfillment of it. Jesus is God, and only by him do we see what the law and the prophets were pointing to. Here is he, the one. What God has started he will finish in and through Christ. Thanks be to God.

The glory of God has appeared again in Israel, right in the sight of those whom God has called. There is no denying it; upon Jesus was the favor of the Lord, and the law and the prophets stood there testifying to the completeness of Christ. No longer would the creation, and humanity especially, be asking “when will the promised Messiah come.” Here he is, blazing in brilliant light before our eyes. Listen to the law; listen to the prophets; and hear them saying, along with the voice of God himself, “This is my Son…listen to him.” He has shown us the path to eternal life, and it comes through Jesus and the cross.

But what about here, and how about the present? How shall we live in the meanwhile? We can live in the blessed hope of the return of Jesus Christ, knowing that in Christ and through Christ we have been born anew into a kingdom that overlaps our presently earthly kingdoms, and that we can live, through the power of the Holy Spirit, in that newness of life being able to begin to do that which we were always intended to do: live in peace and fellowship with our God.

This is a game changer. Being accounted as righteous, being filled with God’s Spirit empowers us to truly take up our vocations in holiness and righteousness. That we have been blessed to be a blessing through our prayerful involvement in God’s creation, caring for it all, bearing witness to God’s perfect and holy love for that which he has made. This is glorifying to God, showing forth his power and his might. And, although, we might still not be able to follow God’s law in the same perfection that Jesus did, by the Christ who was able to we can live in peace even in the most troubling of times and situations.

From Moses we could have understood God’s law as “do.” From the mountain he pronounced the Ten Commandments to the people of God; this law is good and holy, and works to convince of sin, and moves us toward the one who fulfills its demands. From Elijah we take heart that God is moving to turn our hearts toward him, bringing us to repentance and a life of faith. And now, through Jesus, we understand how all of this fits together, as we are now empowered through the Holy Spirit who is in our hearts, who has been given us by God, to follow Christ in holiness, not just in the doing, but in the being. We can rise, and not fear, as we are empowered by him, the promised Messiah, to be, as we hear him sum up the law for us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind,” with the fullness of our created being, our purpose, and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Upon these things hang all the law and the prophets, Moses, and Elijah, and all the rest of those who testified to the coming of the Christ. Let us rise, and not fear, knowing our salvation and empowerment to be, to exist and live in perfect loving relationship with God and our fellow human beings as has always been intended, is something that is not just for when Christ returns, but is now in this kingdom that Christ has already begun on earth. Let us be. Let us worship and serve him with every fiber of our being. Let us not fear, but rise.

To him be glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.