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Sermon for February 7, 2016

FIRST READING Deuteronomy 34:1-12

1 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees — as far as Zoar. 4 The LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5 Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the LORD’s command. 6He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. 9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses. 10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.


PSALM Psalm 99

1 The LORD is king; let the people tremble. The LORD is enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth shake. 2 The LORD, great in Zion, is high above all peoples. 3 Let them confess God’s name, which is great and awesome; God is the Holy One. 4 O mighty king, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. 5 Proclaim the greatness of the LORD and fall down before God’s footstool; God is the Holy One. 6 Moses and Aaron among your priests, and Samuel among those who call upon your name, O LORD, they called upon you, and you answered them, 7 you spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; they kept your testimonies and the decree that you gave them. 8 O LORD our God, you answered them indeed; you were a God who forgave them, yet punished them for their evil deeds. 9 Proclaim the greatness of the LORD and worship upon God’s holy hill; for the LORD our God is the Holy One.


SECOND READING Hebrews 3:1-6

1 Therefore, brothers and sisters, holy partners in a heavenly calling, consider that Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses also “was faithful in all God’s house.” 3 Yet Jesus is worthy of more glory than Moses, just as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. 6 Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.

GOSPEL Luke 9:28-36

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.


A nurse tells about caring for a couple’s newborn son after his cesarean birth. Since the mother was asleep under general anesthesia, the nurse took the tiny child directly to the newborn nursery to introduce him to his father. While holding his son for the first time, the new father noticed something disturbing about his newborn son’s ears. They were rather large and seemed to stand out conspicuously from his head. He expressed his concern that some kids might call his son names like “Dumbo.”
The pediatrician reassured the new dad that his son was healthy, the ears could be easily corrected later during childhood. The father still worried about his wife’s reaction to those large protruding ears. “She doesn’t take things as easily as I do,” he said. By this time, the new mother was ready to meet her precious son. The nurse placed the tiny bundle in his mother’s arms and eased the blanket back so that she could gaze upon her child for the first time. She took one look at her baby’s face and looked at her husband and gasped, “Oh, Honey! Look! He has your ears!” We can understand that father’s reaction. The first thing we notice about any person is their appearance. Of course over time our appearance changes.
You may have heard about the elderly woman who, when sitting in the waiting room for her first appointment with a new dentist, noticed his DDS diploma, which bore his full name. Suddenly, she remembered that a tall, handsome, dark-haired boy with the same name had been in her high school class some 40-odd years before. Could he be the same fellow that she had a secret crush on, way back then? Upon seeing him, however, she quickly discarded any such thought.
This balding, gray-haired man with the deeply lined face was way, way too old to have been her classmate. After he examined her teeth, she got up the courage to ask him if he had by any chance attended Morgan Park High School. “Yes. Yes. I did,” he gleamed with pride. “I’m a Morgan Mustang.” “When did you graduate?” she asked. He answered, “In 1959. Why do you ask?” “You were in my class!” she exclaimed. He looked at her closely and then asked, “Which subject did you teach?” Aging changes our appearance. And here’s something we need to think about: so do our emotions.
We see someone who is obviously angry, or happy, or sad. We could be wrong, but usually we’re right in discerning their emotion. Emotions change our appearance. “When we’re spending time in the presence of God regularly, our face changes,” writes Pastor Gene Brooks. “It changes from angry, upset, irritated, and critical to a contentment despite the circumstances, a joy despite the sorrow, a new perspective with better priorities informed of Scripture . . . Does your face,” asks Brooks “say about how much time you’re spending in the presence of God?”
I’ve known people, and I’m sure you do too, that by just looking at them, I could tell they’ve spent a lifetime in God’s presence. It shows in their face and how they carry themselves. Today’s lesson from Luke’s Gospel is about a time when three of Jesus’ disciples saw His appearance change in a powerful way and it had a powerful impact on their lives. We’re all familiar with the story; we hear it each year.
Scripture tells us that Jesus often went off by Himself for a time of prayer. This time He took three of His closest disciples with Him–Peter, James and John. Together they went up onto a mountain to pray. And while they were on that mountain, something dramatic happened. Luke tells us, “As [Jesus] was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” And even more astounding, “Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” This last statement is an important part of this occurrence.
Luke is tying the Transfiguration experience with the events of Good Friday and Easter as part of God’s salvation history. Moses, the Law-giver and Elijah, the prophet, who appeared on the mountain with Jesus are part of that history. From the beginning of creation, God has had a plan for earth and its people. We, in our greed and irresponsibility, often frustrate God’s plan, but there is a plan, and one day that plan will be fulfilled.
According to the lesson, “Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw [Christ’s] glory and the two men standing with Him. As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters–one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Then Luke adds parenthetically, “[Peter] did not know what he was saying.”
Truth be told, Simon Peter is one of us. I have to confess, in such a setting, in the aftermath of such an experience, I wouldn’t have known what to say either. “While he was speaking,” Luke continues, “a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. A voice came from the cloud, saying, ‘This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.’ When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone.” Then Luke adds, “The disciples kept this to themselves and did not tell anyone at that time what they had seen.” That’s understandable, isn’t it?
Stop and think about it from their perspective. Who would have believed them? But even more importantly, this was such a deep, mysterious experience that they needed time to process it. There was more to this man Jesus than they realized. Sure, Peter had affirmed Him as God’s Messiah, but what does that mean? Obviously it means more than they had ever imagined.
The disciples were devout Jews. They revered Moses and Elijah. Were Moses and Elijah still alive? Evidently they were. Even more importantly, was their friend Jesus greater than were Moses and Elijah? The answer, of course, is yes. Jesus is greater. He’s in a league all His own, as we would put it in the popular vernacular. A cloud covered the disciples there on that mountain, and they were terrified. But I don’t think they weren’t terrified of the cloud.
I think they were terrified by what was happening right before their eyes. Everything they believed about life and their friend, Jesus, was being shaken up. There was a much bigger meaning to existence than they had ever realized. And then to hear God’s voice, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”
“Listen to him.” Remember when Jesus first began discussing His suffering, death and resurrection, how Peter blew Him off? Matthew tells us it was just after Peter, in response to Christ’s question about who He was, declared, “[You are] God’s Messiah.” Then Jesus began speaking about His suffering, death and resurrection. Peter has the audacity then to take Jesus aside and rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” You’ll remember that Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan!” (16:22-23). That’s the quickest fall from grace in history–from declaring Jesus to be the Messiah to playing the role of satan in the same conversation.
Perhaps this is why God the Father is saying to Peter and the other disciples, “Listen to Him. You’ve doubted Him before, but this time listen to what He’s saying. He’s trying to tell you something critical to life. He’s My Messenger, My Messiah. He has come to deliver you, but only if you will listen to Him.”
We generally point to the resurrection as the transforming experience in the disciples’ life that allowed them to be unstoppable witnesses for Christ, but the resurrection was only a part of the gradual revealing of who Christ was. The transfiguration, as well as the resurrection, was only part of a series of events through which God worked to transform the disciples. And transformation is what Christ’s transfiguration is all about. It’s not about Christ’s transformation as much as it’s about the disciples’ transformation–and ours. When we fully understand who Christ is, it changes our life.
A news report sometime back detailed the search of a unique group of people to find their identity. This was a report about the so-called test tube babies of the 1980’s. They’re all grown now, and, according to this report, some of them are quite unhappy. On a television talk show some of those young people were interviewed. These test-tube babies were children who were conceived by a mother and an anonymous donor. They had no knowledge of their biological father, and it had robbed them of their sense of identity. Many of them had begun a desperate search for their donor-fathers and any siblings they may have. On the TV show, they confessed with tears that they have a huge void inside that refuses to be satisfied and they were willing to use all their energies to seek the truth about their origins. These young people were consumed with seeking their true identities. One teenage boy only knew he was from test tube #46.
One mother, when asked by her child where his father was, explained that another man, who already had a family, was loving enough to donate his sperm and that made the child a “love child.” That was about as good an answer as he was going to get about his identity. But this is true of all humanity. We’re confused about our true identity. Unless we’re willing to listen to Christ, we’ll never know who we truly are–that we are children of God. Nor will we won’t know what possibilities are available to us.
For example, are you totally happy with who you are? Here’s the good news—if you don’t like the person you are (and I’m sure most of us have some things we don’t like about ourselves), we can change by the grace of God! The word “transform” in Greek is metamorphoo which means “to change into another form.” It comes from meta (change) and morpho (form). These are the words, of course, from which we get the word, “metamorphosis.”
Some of our young people and their parents remember the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers of a few years ago, a group of teenage super-heroes who were a hit for a while with the elementary-age crowd. “They were an unlikely hit,” says Pastor John Ortberg, “originally produced with a very low budget in Japan, then badly dubbed into English. But their appeal was that–while ordinary teenagers by day–when called upon, they could transform themselves into powerful martial arts experts for justice. They would cry, ‘It’s morphin time!’” Maybe that should be our cry, its “morphin” time.
This term metamorphoo is only used twice in the New Testament. Once is in Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration, and the other is in 2 Corinthians 3:18, where Paul describes the transformation of believers into the image of Christ. Morpho refers to an inner change that is lasting and permanent. And it happens to anyone who truly comes to see Christ as He really is; our Lord and Savior, God’s Messiah. This is the purpose of worship. True worship results in an ongoing change of our personality, of who we are as human beings. God wants us to have real change in our nature and personality, not just a surface change that is an exterior image. The process of transformation is the renewing of our mind.
“As a person thinks in his heart, so is he,” says the writer of Proverbs (23:7). The way we think determines the way we live. The goal of transformation, therefore, is that we will put into practice the will of God. The will of God speaks of a relationship of intimacy with Him by which we are changed into His image. Betty Wein retells an old tale she once heard from Elie Wiesel.
A just man comes to Sodom hoping to save the city. He pickets. What else can he do? He goes from street to street, from marketplace to marketplace, shouting, “Men and women repent for what you are doing is wrong. It will kill you; it will destroy you.” They laugh, but he goes on shouting, until one day a child stops him. “Poor stranger, don’t you see it’s useless?” “Yes,” the man replies. “Then why do you go on shouting?” the child asks. The man answers, “At first I was convinced that I would change them. Now I go on shouting because I don’t want them to change me.”
We don’t want to be changed by the world, but we do want for Christ to change us, just as He transformed those men and women who came to know Him personally two thousand years ago. That’s why we’re here today–to listen to Christ. To catch the same vision as those disciples caught that day on the Mount of Transfiguration. We long to see Christ in all His power and glory, not simply for the spectacle, but for the transformation that might take place within us. We’re here today with the prayer that, by God’s grace we can become mighty “morphin” people.
A man named Oscar Cervantes is a dramatic example of Christ’s power to transform lives. As a child, Oscar began to get into trouble. Then as he got older, he was jailed 17 times for brutal crimes. Prison psychiatrists said he was beyond help, but they were wrong! During a brief interval of freedom, Oscar met an elderly man who told him about Jesus. Oscar put his trust in Christ and was changed into a kind, caring man! Shortly thereafter, he started a prison ministry. Inmates now come for over 2 hours to hear and see a transformed Oscar sing and preach, and many turn to Christ! All because Oscar saw the glorified Lord!
My prayer today is that such a change will happen to us. All we have to do is truly listen to Christ. He is who He says He is. He is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. And He has the power to transform us today. All we have to do is listen to Him.

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