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03.02.14 It’s Just Jesus Matthew 17:1-9 Sermon Summary

by on March 3, 2014

The reason we have Transfiguration Sunday is to inspire us to follow Jesus into the season of Lent. But who is this Jesus we are to follow?

Summary Points

  • The three heroes on the mountain
  • In the presence of the holy
  • Jesus above everything, even religion
  • Following Jesus in Lent
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

If you could select your heroes to meet with on a mountain, who would you choose? Some contenders for me: Mandela, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., Augustine, Aquinas, Barth, Luther, Calvin, Cranmer. The list goes on.

For Peter, James, and John, the lineup included Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. Moses: the one who had the showdown with Pharaoh, who spoke to God in the cloud and devouring fire, who sat with God face to face. He was the great lawgiver. And Elijah! He stood against Ahab and Jezebel, met God in the “still small voice,” and had that great showdown with the prophets of Baal.

What does it mean that Jesus would be joined by these heroes? Today’s Psalm adds Aaron and Samuel to the inner circle who talked to God in the cloud and on the mountain. Peter, James, and John must have been thinking of all these “greats:” Moses the Lawgiver, Aaron the Priest, Samuel the Judge, Elijah the Prophet, and Jesus the Christ.

When you’re in the company of greatness, there is gravitas, it is weighty, and it is holy. In religious circles, the mountain is a symbol of the habitation of the gods, of the divine presence, of the holy. We have two responses in the presence of the holy. On one hand, we have awe and inspiration. If you’re a musician in the presence of a great musician, for example, you just enjoy and dream.

The other response betrays a deep insecurity. And here, before the Lawgiver, we have to admit that we are lawbreakers. Before the great Prophet, we have to admit that our devotion is only halfhearted. And before the Christ, we have to admit that we are in need of a savior. So the mountain is a double-edged metaphor: it is majestic to us, representing our goals and achievements and aspirations. But to God is but a footstool.

When you’re in the presence of the holy, you are aware of two things: what you could be, and of what you aren’t. There’s a mixture of excitement and trepidation about what God is calling you to be. This is how you know you are on sacred ground.

All this is going on for Jesus’ three disciples, and then there is the voice which says, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well-pleased.” There was a time when God was frustrated with Moses. God was also disappointed with Elijah. But with Jesus, all God has to say is that he is well-pleased. So the holiness on this mountain takes on something new; it takes on intimacy and delight.

But there is more: “Listen,” God says, “to him.” Over the Lawgiver, over the prophet, over the whole OT, over religion itself—listen to him. When Moses met with God, his face shone. But here Jesus’ whole body was shining, right through his clothes. What new brand of holiness is this? What kind of calling? Above Mosaic obedience to the law, above Elijah’s exuberant devotion to God, this is new, this is being God’s beloved, this is being God’s delight.

We balk under this new holiness. It is hard enough to obey the law. It is hard enough to keep up our exuberance. This new calling, a calling to follow Christ above Moses and Elijah, above law and prophets, above religion, is unsettling and disturbing. It’s an invitation that goes beyond evoking and inspiring us—it overwhelms us. It raises our doubts . . . and fears.

Peter, James, and John heard this and they fell to the ground and were overcome with fear. We despair, we fear, we make excuses, we run, we avoid, we bury ourselves deeper in religion because the relationship God wants with us is too much.

And then it happens. Just when we want to take refuge in the comfort of laws and prophets, in obedience and exuberance, all the showy stuff of religion in order to avoid actually relating to God, Jesus reaches out his hand and touches us. “Get up,” he says, “and do not be afraid.” And we lift up our eyes, and discover it is only him. Just Jesus. No Moses, no Elijah. No obedience, no exuberance. No religion, no show. Just Jesus, just the man, just like us, inviting us to follow him.

Lent is traditionally a time of preparation for baptism and for penitents to be restored to the church. Today it is a time of deep reflection on what it means to follow Jesus. Sometimes it gets buried in obedience and exuberance, in laws and prophecies. Today, Transfiguration Sunday, reminds us that on one hand that Jesus is above these things. But on the other hand, it reminds us that it’s just Jesus we’re to follow. We’re to follow him back down the mountain. Back into our ordinary lives.

Second Peter urges us to be attentive to this, as light shining in a dark place. Don’t pay attention, Peter says, and you’ll find yourself in the dark, lost, mindful that there once was a light, but now it’s out of sight. But pay attention, Peter says, and this light will begin to shine like the morning star and the dawning day in your heart.

Lent begins soon. It’s time to follow Jesus. It’s time to let the light of Epiphany shine ever brighter in our own lives. It’s time to come down from the mountain, and follow Jesus—only Jesus—to Jerusalem.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • Think of the heroes of your faith journey. What would it mean if you put following Jesus even above these heroes? What does it mean to you to follow Jesus above religion?
  • When have you been both inspired and fearful, both awestruck and intimidated? Do you recognize this as a holy place, as “sacred ground”? What is God calling you to in this place?
  • Christian theology teaches that Jesus is both “fully divine and fully human.” Have you ever contemplated what it means to follow the “fully human” Christ, that Jesus is “just” a human like you? What impact would it have this Lent if you followed “just Jesus”?

 

 

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