Transfiguration of Our Lord
2 Kings 2:1-12
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the beloved of God. Amen
“And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”
Now I know what you’re thinking, it’s a Tide Ad.
For those of you who did not watch the Superbowl,
or follow the superbowl advertisements,
this year there was a series of ads by Tide,
the clothing detergent company,
their premise was that as long as there were clean clothes in an ad,
it was an ad for their product,
it was quite clever how it was done,
the commercial would start
and it would look like a stereotypical ad played during the superbowl,
a sleek car roaring around a curvy road at dusk,
a group of friends at a bar,
a horse galloping through a pasture,
all scenes that we as consumers
have been conditioned to associate with particular products if not companies,
we see a group of mature ladies playing tennis
and we immediately think
this is going to about some medication
followed by a list of horrific side effects,
but just as the commercial gets to the point
where the voice over should start talking about increased such and such
the spokesperson jumps into the ad,and says
‘no, it’s a tide ad’
and points out that there are no stains on the ladies’ white tennis outfits.
Now the connection and the timing to the Transfiguration were too good to pass up.
I mean, it’s an odd story,
what are we to make of this trip up the mountain
where Jesus is changed before the very eyes of the disciples?
It’s not a Tide Ad,
that’s a joke
but the more I thought about it
the more I saw how the transfiguration story parallels these ads.
It is a story where people think they know what’s going to happen
And it turns out they don’t.
The story begins and it is a scene that those listeners who are Jewish are familiar with,
they have been conditioned to associate a story like this
with particular religious events.
We’re a little less conditioned but the cues are there.
The story starts “six days later”
six signals the days of creation,
on the sixth day of creation God made humanity,
this is a cue that something important is about to happen.
The event this story follows is Peter proclaiming at Caesarea Philippi
that Jesus is the Messiah
and Jesus predicting his death and resurrection
an idea that Peter finds so ridiculous
he tries to exorcise whatever demon has possessed Jesus.
Next Jesus leads the disciples up a mountain.
The mountain is a cue that there may be some communication with God coming up.
In the wilderness after the Exodus,
Moses went up Mt. Sinai to talk to God,
on the mountain was where he received the gift of the law
and when he came down from the mountain
his face shone with the Glory of God
and was so bright that the people couldn’t bear to look at Moses’ face
and they made him wear a veil.
And sure enough,
up on this mountain,
Jesus changes before the eyes of the disciples
the dazzling white of his clothing
associated with the glory of God
and other apocalyptic legends,
and then Moses and Elijah show up,
two more important figures
in the life and history of the people of Israel,
both servants who talked directly with God,
Elijah even ascended to heaven without dying
as we heard in our first reading.
These are important figures and they’re talking with Jesus
who has confirmed that he is the messiah
is a new era about to begin?
Peter responds to the cues as he’s been taught,
he opens his mouth and says in amazement
that this is a good place to be
and then offers to make dwellings for each of the major figures,
one commentary I read said that tents or booths
were associated as the dwelling of divine beings,
there’s also a Jewish holiday, the festival of booths
that commemorates the Israelites wandering in the desert.
Either way these are things that Peter is familiar with,
when faced with something we are hard pressed to explain
we generally try to find a way to fit it in to how we understand the world already.
And of course only after Peter opens his big mouth
are we told that he did not know what to say for they were all terrified.
Peter responds to the cues given him
but just as he thinks he knows what’s coming next
God breaks in and says it’s not what you think Peter
“This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him.”
Jesus is in a new category,
one that Peter and the other disciples don’t yet understand
and they won’t understand for a while
at least not until after Jesus rises from the dead.
And Jesus knows this,
after the presence of God disappears
leaving the disciples alone with Jesus
it’s time to come down off the mountain,
and as they’re traveling down
after this amazing experience
Jesus orders them to tell no one about what they had seen
until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
We can’t understand the transfiguration
without the cross
where the beloved of God dies for the sake of the world.
And we can’t understand Jesus
without obeying the order from the voice of God at the transfiguration,
to listen to Jesus the beloved Son of God.
We are to pay attention to everything he says and does
in an attempt to answer the questions who is Jesus?
And what does it mean to confess that Jesus is the Son of God?
And we must wrestle with these questions
knowing that we have been conditioned to respond
to the cues of past generations
that place Jesus in a framework t
hat we are comfortable with
but which fail to capture to full picture of the new life
that the resurrected Jesus is bringing into our lives here and now.
There’s an old pastor’s joke, you may have heard it before, but we tell it to one another to warn about teaching these cues too strongly, There’s this pastor in worship and it’s time for the children’s sermon and the kids come up and that pastor says, kids, I’m going to describe something for you and I want you to listen and tell me what you think I’m describing, what I’m thinking of is brown, and small, it’s furry, and has a tail, it likes to eat nuts, and the kids just stare at the pastor, who is running out of descriptors until after a long pause one of the kids raises his hand and says to the pastor “I know the answer is Jesus but is sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
Beware of the expected answer
Because Jesus is always beyond our expectations and
As we head down off the mountain of epiphany
and into the season of Lent,
we are invited to wrestle with the questions of faith,
to listen to what Jesus says and does
for us and for the sake of the world,
and we’d better pay attention
because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from listening to Jesus,
it’s that he rarely does what is expected of him,
especially when people think they have him figured out...
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.