Associate Rector, Rebecca Tankersley Sermon by: The Rev. Rebecca Tankersley
Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration | Dallas, Texas
August 12, 2018
Feast of the Transfiguration

Feast of the Transfiguration: Transformed into Disciples

Texts:

About 8 days after these sayings, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray.

In the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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Good morning. There’s so much going on here at the Fig today! I want to extend a special welcome to all our visitors this morning. We’re so glad you’re here! I hope I’ll get a chance to meet you after the service. Welcome to all the families and friends of our three baptizands as well. It’s a great day for baptisms – this day we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration – remembering the day Jesus took his inner circle up a high mountain and was transformed before their eyes.

In the first week of seminary, one of my favorite professors taught me something I’ll never forget. “Whenever you read the Bible,” he said, “pay attention to the questions the text raises for you. Active engagement with the Word of God requires this of us.”

I’ve never forgotten his advice … and today’s Gospel passage raises a question right from the start. “About 8 days after these sayings, Jesus took …”

Wait. Eight days after which sayings?

Before we jump into the Feast of the Transfiguration, let’s stop and answer that question. Because it seems to me – right from the start – that whatever is coming next might have something to do with these “sayings.”

We don’t have to look far. Just before our passage today, Jesus asks his disciples: “Who do people say that I am?”

“Some say John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the prophets,” they answer. Jesus continues, “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter – bold, brave Peter – answers, “The Messiah of God.”

There’s a saying! Jesus is the Messiah of God!

And that’s not all. Jesus continues:

“The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Four more sayings: Jesus must suffer, be rejected, die, and rise again. The disciples’ must have been reeling. But wait – there’s more! Jesus continues:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”

“If any want to become my followers…” Jesus is talking to people who have left everything – families, vocations, lives – to follow him. I wonder how they heard that.

“… let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Take up a cross? You said you’re were going to suffer, be rejected and die. Is that what you’re asking of me?

These “sayings” – from Peter’s confession to Jesus’ passion prediction and call to follow – are shocking. If I were among the disciples hearing these saying, I’m not sure how I’d feel. Confused. Anxious. Distraught.

Now we get to our passage.

“About 8 days after these [shocking] sayings,” Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray. Imagine their faces as they climb: they’ve got to be wondering what it means to be walking with the Messiah of God, why he says he will die, and what he means when he tells them to take up a cross.

Luke tells us Peter, James, and John are “weighed down with sleep.” I can relate. They’re anxious and overwhelmed – exhaustion is a natural response. They fight through their exhaustion and are rewarded with a vision of Jesus, talking with Moses and Elijah. Their elation at this is quickly eclipsed by fear when a cloud overshadows them.

Into the exhaustion and fear, God speaks: “This is my Son, my Chosen.”

Peter’s confession of 8 days earlier now is confirmed by God’s own voice. And in case the implications of that truth are unclear, God couples it with a command: “listen to him.”

Listen to Jesus. It sounds straightforward enough in the abstract, doesn’t it? And yet, here atop the mountain, Jesus’s last words are still ringing in my ears.

“… become my followers, … take up [a] cross … follow me … those who want to save their life will lose it.”

“Listen to Jesus” sounds so simple, until we hold that command in the light of “these sayings” from 8 days earlier. Now it feels very much like God is asking the disciples to listen to Jesus as he calls them a cross and death: to go where they don’t want to go and witness what they don’t want to see. Listen to him: not so simple.

Yet, we know how it ends: they descend, Jesus sets his face to Jerusalem, and they follow. They follow through his passion, death, resurrection, and ascension. And eventually they lose their lives for his sake.

It seems to me that something happens on the mountain to Peter, James, and John which enables them – not only to respond to the call – but to lead others to do the same. They won’t respond perfectly: Peter will deny Jesus three times in the early morning hours on Good Friday, but they will take up crosses and follow him.

Let’s look more closely at the text for clues about what empowers them to do this. As we do, we’ll find not just one … not two … but three transfigurations.

First and foremost, there’s Jesus. Luke tells us “the appearance of his face was changed and his clothes became dazzling white.” We know this as the Transfiguration – a term we get from Matthew and Mark – though Luke doesn’t actually say Jesus was “transfigured.” Matthew and Mark’s word for what happened comes from the Greek verb μεταμορφόω, from which we get “metamorphosis.” The Oxford Dictionary defines “metamorphosis” as “a change of the form … of a thing or person into a completely different one.”[1] Maybe Luke stops short of using the term “transfigured” to make the theological point that – whatever happened atop the mountain – Jesus didn’t change into something completely different. He was the Messiah before ascending; he’s the Messiah after. Luke may have omitted the term, but Matthew and Mark’s description stuck. Jesus was transfigured.

The Oxford Dictionary offers another definition of “metamorphosis”: “the process of transformation from an immature form to an adult form.”[2] While this definition doesn’t seem to apply to Jesus, it does uncover a second transfiguration in the text: the disciples’.

Seeing Jesus shining with the glory of God and hearing God’s affirmation they’re in the presence of God’s Son, the disciples themselves were metamorphosed: their faith, their understanding, their commitment – all were transfigured. The result reflected in our reading from 2 Peter today:

“We,” Peter writes, are “eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son” … We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.”

They ascended as anxious, exhausted, immature, would-be disciples. The withdrew with Jesus to pray, watched for God to act, heard God’s voice, then descended as cross-bearing, self-denying followers of the Son of God.

It strikes me this level of transformation is what God desires from all of us who would call ourselves disciples. Paul says as much in his second letter to the Corinthians (don’t look for this in your bulletins … it’s not there … I’m taking a page from the Baptist preaching manuals and looking all over the Bible today … it’s chapter 3, verse 18 if you want to check me). “All of us are being transformed” – there it is again – metamorphosed “into the image of Christ.”

God seeks nothing less than our metamorphosis – our total transfiguration – from inquirers dipping a toe into faith, to believers who show up on Sunday mornings, to cross-bearing disciples. This sort of transformation requires us to allow God to speak into every aspect of our lives: our vocations; our stewardship of our time, talent, and treasure; our relationships with our families; the way we use and abuse the material world; our willingness to welcome others into our lives not just on “bring a friend Sunday” but in every place we go every day.

In a few moments, we’ll baptize Chizara, Zachary, and James. On their behalf, their parents and sponsors will commit to continuing in the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, resisting evil, proclaiming the Good News of God in Christ, seeking and serving Christ in all people, and striving for justice and peace. These promises (which we made in our baptisms as well), connect us to the transfiguration – as we promise to withdraw with Jesus to pray, watch for God to act, and listen to God’s voice. Like the disciples atop the mountain and each of us at baptism, these children will to commit to following Jesus – not in the abstract – but throughout their lifetimes … in ways that take them to places they’d otherwise not want to go and to witness things they’d otherwise choose not to see. We’re asking them to join us on the journey of metamorphosis – of transfiguration. The third transfiguration in our text this morning is our own.

“When the voice had spoken,” Luke tells us, “Jesus was found alone.” Put another way, after this experience, the only thing the disciples saw was Jesus. Their focus – their attention – was focused solely on him.

It strikes me that this is our objective as well. We will know that our lives have connected with Christ’s transfiguration and with that of the disciples in our Gospel passage today … we will know that our metamorphosis is well underway when our attention is so focused that the only thing we see is Jesus.

Let us pray: O God, who before the passion of your only begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be metamorphosed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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[1] “Metamorphosis” in Oxford Dictionary (American English) (US), accessed online at www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_english/metamorphosis on August 8, 2018.

[2] Ibid.