Transfiguration Sunday – February 26, 2017
“Ch-Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes” Rev. Joe Moore
It has taken awhile but I’m finally starting to feel comfortable preaching from up here in this high pulpit. Like almost everything else involved with coming here to New Philadelphia, it was a big change. Only once had I ever preached from such a high pulpit. When I was in seminary, serving as the student pastor at Nazareth Moravian, their sanctuary had a pulpit that was probably even higher up than this one. It was rarely used. But on one Sunday, when I was going to be preaching, the pastor told me that I needed to try out preaching from the high pulpit. He said, “You never know, you might end up serving a church that has a high pulpit.” And here I am.
Like most changes, even insignificant ones, it seems daunting at first, but then with time, you begin to adjust, you begin to get used to it, you start to feel comfortable. Today is Transfiguration Sunday and it is a Sunday about change, specifically about change in appearance. One year, I even kind of had my own transfiguration Sunday, though it didn’t happen on the actual “Transfiguration Sunday” it did happen on an important Sunday about 7 Sundays later. My transfiguration Sunday was Easter Sunday 2015.
That Easter was a big one for me. Earlier in the year, I was elected the Chair of the Salem Congregation Board of Elders. Among other things, that meant that I got to preside at the Easter Sunrise Service in God’s Acre. Having grown up attending that service, and having several generations of my family buried in that cemetery, it was a pretty big thrill for me to get to lead that service. But after leading 8,000 people in proclaiming the resurrection, it was a bit anticlimactic to lead the morning worship at Fries Moravian. So I decided to make a little change.
So, are you ready for this? On Easter Sunday, I wore a bow tie for the first time ever. Now that may seem insignificant but for me, it was a big deal. I had spent years rolling my eyes whenever I saw someone sporting a bow tie. I just didn’t like them and thought that they looked kind of silly. They definitely weren’t for me. Until that Easter Sunday when I decided to transform my appearance by sporting a bow tie. And I can’t really tell you why I changed my mind about bow ties. I can’t really give you a reason why I changed that part of my appearance but I can tell you that I liked it enough to keep on wearing bow ties. I haven’t really worn one here because I’m not sure how it would look with a preaching robe. But I still wear them when I can. So change, even in something as trivial as me wearing a bow tie, can happen.
Change may take a long time to come about, or it may be instantaneous but when it happens it can be good and it can be lasting. In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus is “transfigured”. He is changed. His appearance changes. It begins as he takes Peter, James and John up on a mountaintop to pray. While they are there, while Jesus was praying, his appearance changes. His face becomes different. His clothes become dazzling white. And he just looks different.
While there is more to the story the fact that Jesus changes is the essence of Transfiguration Sunday. That is what it is all about. That is why we call it the “Transfiguration.” That is what transfiguration means. It is a change in appearance that signifies more than a physical change. It is also a spiritual change. Actually, the physical change is just a sign of the spiritual change.
Think about that for a second: Jesus (the Messiah, the Savior, the Son of God) Jesus himself underwent a spiritual change. I think that sometimes that idea kind of gets lost or overlooked in this story. We tend to focus on the physical change in Jesus–the altered appearance and dazzling white clothes- or on the sudden appearance of Moses and Elijah. Or even on the reactions of Peter, James and John; Peter wanting to build a shelter so that they could stay there forever. Or we focus on the voice of God, speaking from the cloud: “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him!” We focus on all of those important, amazing and exciting parts of this story. And, when we do, we overlook what it is really all about: that Jesus himself experienced a spiritual change.
The Gospel doesn’t go into the details of the spiritual change Jesus experienced. We don’t know the what or the why of the change that took place within him- the spiritual change that was seen in his transfigured appearance. But we do know that a change happened. And we know that very soon after Jesus was transfigured, he “set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Prior to this moment, he had spent most of his ministry in and around Galilee. It was there, away from the center of religious and political power, where he preached and taught and healed. It was there where he proclaimed the coming of the kingdom- where the meek will inherit the earth, where the deaf will hear, where the blind will see, where the world is turned upside down.
Jesus had been there and he had done that. And now he was transfigured, he was spiritually changed. His face was set and he was ready to go and “accomplish” what he needed to do in Jerusalem. He was ready to enter the city in humble triumph, to cleanse the Temple and confront the Pharisees. Jesus was ready to share a last supper with his disciples and to tell them to take his body and blood and to ask them to remember him in them. Jesus was even ready for Judas to betray him and lead his enemies to him to arrest him. He was ready for his trial before the Chief Priests and Pilate. He was even ready for his crucifixion.
After Jesus was transfigured, after that spiritual change had occurred, JESUS WAS READY. He was ready to die and rise to new life. And we all know what happened when he did. So, what about us? Are we ready? Are we ready to be transfigured? To be spiritually changed? To be transformed? Are we ready to die to our old lives and rise to new life?
We may think that we don’t need to be changed, to be transformed. But if it was necessary for Jesus, then it is probably necessary for us. And while we don’t know the what and the why of Jesus’ transformation, the what and they why of our transformation is easy to see: we need to change to be more like him. We need to change to be more like Jesus.
As followers of Jesus, we are called to live our lives in such a way that when people look at us, they see Jesus. They see grace. They see forgiveness. They see compassion. They see faith. They see hope. They see love. So the change that needs to take place within us, the transformation that needs to occur, is for us to live as “imitators of Jesus.”
Living our lives as imitators of Jesus is what the weeks to come are all about. The season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday, it is a time for us to examine ourselves. It is an opportunity for us to determine the what and the why of our own spiritual change. It is a chance for us to begin our own transfiguration. We do so as we ask ourselves what we need to do to be imitators of Christ, as we examine what we need to change so that we can be more like Jesus. The season of Lent is the time for us to “set our face to Jerusalem” It is when we confront those things in our lives that we need to allow to die, in order for God to bring new life.
The next six weeks give us the chance to change to be more like Jesus. It may seem daunting at first, the idea that we can change to be more like Jesus. It may be something that we even resist. Being like Jesus looks like it is something that is hard to do. Living like Jesus looks like it is something that is hard to do. Loving like Jesus looks like it is something that is hard to do. Serving like Jesus looks like something that is hard to do. Can we serve others before we even take care of our own needs? Because that is how Jesus served. Can we love unconditionally? Because that is how Jesus loved. Can we live, not for what we want but for what God wants? Because that is how Jesus lived.
Those are tough questions. They represent changes that are difficult for us to even see, much less for us to make in our lives. But that is what the season of Lent allows us to do. It allows to see how we need to change to be like Jesus. During the next six weeks, the time between now and Easter, we have opportunity for prayer and reflection. We have the chance to study and learn. We have the chance to worship and serve. We have the chance to change to be more like Jesus.
Change is not easy. Transformation is hard. And it can’t be done alone, we need each other to help each other as we change and grow. The day of my “transfiguration”, that Easter Sunday when I wore my first bow tie, there was one thing that I didn’t tell you about it. But I needed help to do it. I couldn’t tie my bow tie. I watched videos online and I tried and I tried and I tried. And I came close but never got it quite right. So I asked for help. I brought my bow tie to church and one of the church members helped me to tie it.
That’s important to remember. No matter what change that we need to make in our lives. No matter what it is that we need to do to be more like Jesus. No matter how hard it is to do that, there are people who have already done it. People right here in this church. And they can help us. We can help each other. That is one of the reasons that God has brought us together.
As we enter into the season of Lent, let us set our faces to Jerusalem. Let us get ready. Let us get ready to change, so that we can be more like Jesus. So that we can live like Jesus, so that we can love like Jesus, so that we can serve like Jesus. The only way to be it is to do it. It is time to face the “strange” things in our lives, those things that prevent us from revealing the image of God that dwells in each of us. It is time to face the changes that we need to make. It is time for us become imitators of Jesus. It is time for our transfiguration.