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Sermon for Sunday 23 February 2020

First Reading                                  Exodus 24:8-18

8And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.” 9Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel went up, 10and they saw the God of Israel. There was under his feet as it were a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness. 11And he did not lay his hand on the chief men of the people of Israel; they beheld God, and ate and drank. 12The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14And he said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them.” 15Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

Psalm                                                          Psalm 2:6-12

6”I myself have set my king upon my holy hill of Zion.”  7Let me announce the decree of the Lord:  He said to me, “You are my Son; this day have I begotten you. 8Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for your inheritance and the ends of the earth for your possession. 9You shall crush them with an iron rod and shatter them like a piece of pottery.” 10And now, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. 11Submit to the Lord with fear, and with trembling bow before him; 12Lest he be angry and you perish; for his wrath is quickly kindled.

Second Reading                             2 Peter 1:16-21

16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” 18we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 20knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

Gospel                                                 Matthew 17:1-9

1And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. 3And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” 5He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” 8And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. 9And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”


I’m sure everyone here is aware that certain topics, habits or beliefs can separate people into sides that align with their sensibilities.  And anytime one of these subjects come up, people will separate into one camp or the other on that topic.  For example, coffee drinkers vs. coffee haters.  Cat people vs. dog people.  Morning people vs. night people.  Now I’ll stop here with the examples, for fear of dividing the congregation along tightly held understandings.  However, there’s one more habit that divides people into separate camps that’s not so controversial.  It’s the habit of reading a book all the way through to the end, verses reading the last chapter first.  Some may say that skipping to the end spoils things while others say it makes the book more enjoyable.

Well believe it or not, a couple of psychologists from the University of California San Diego did a study on this subject, and they found that those who read the end of a story first, actually enjoyed the story more than those who read the story from beginning to end.  One of the psychologists who led the study, said once people know the ending to the story, it becomes easier to process the information and gain a deeper understanding of the action within the story.  On the other hand, knowing the ending to a story can be frustrating to some people.  That’s why these folks insist on being advised of what’s known as spoiler alerts.

A spoiler alert is a warning given in advance that something you’re about to say could spoil the plot or answer the “who done it” of a story or movie.  A movie fan in Hong Kong was beaten up not long ago when he came out of a theater and began loudly announcing to the fans waiting in line for the next showing the ending to the movie Avengers: Endgame, which had just been released.  Not everyone likes a peek at the ending first.  It spoils the experience for them.  As you know, this Sunday is designated as Transfiguration Sunday, a day when God gives three of Jesus’ disciples—Peter, James and John—a peek at the end of the story.  It was on a mountaintop, that these disciples got a glimpse of Jesus’ true identity and His true mission.

Six days prior to this event, Jesus confronted His disciples about their lack of faith.  It was during this conversation that He asked them two pivotal questions: “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (16:13) and then He asked, “And who do you say that I am?” (16:14).  To the first question, who do people say that the Son of Man is, the disciples answered, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”  Sounds like the answer to your average opinion poll, doesn’t it?  The people understood that Jesus was someone important, someone sent by God with a mission, but the respondents were somewhat vague on the details.  But on the second question—who do you say that I am? —everybody got strangely quiet.  If they had cell phones back then, I bet all the disciples would have probably be looking down at their cell phones, pretending either that they’d just received an urgent text, or were frantically looking Jesus up on Google.  That is all but Simon Peter.

Peter was the only one to speak up: “You are the Messiah,” he said, “the Son of the living God.”  At that moment, Jesus blessed him by changing his name.  The name Simon literally means “to hear” or “he has heard,” and the name Peter means “rock.”  In that moment, Simon Peter confessed the truth of God—that Jesus is the Messiah.  Because of this, Jesus blessed him and changed his name to Peter—Rock, because the truth of his confession would become the rock on which God is building the worldwide church. Sounds like a great story.  That is until we encounter a twist in the plot.

Immediately after revealing to the disciples that He was the Messiah sent from God, Jesus tells them that He must go to Jerusalem to contend with the religious leaders, that He would be killed, and would rise again after three days.  This completely catches the disciples off guard.  Peter, as we’ve come to learn, tries to argue with Jesus, and Jesus quickly shuts him down.  How could the events He had just described be part of God’s plan?  Wasn’t the Messiah supposed to lead a revolt to free the Hebrew nation from Roman rule and restore the nation of Israel to independence and the glory of the Davidic kingdom?  This being the popular understanding, how then could Jesus’ death fit into that story line?  This is where our Bible passage for today begins.

After six days, Jesus takes Peter, James and John and leads them up either Mount Tabor or Hermon.  Once there, He was transfigured.  His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as the light.  Suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking with Jesus.  Peter then pipes up and says, “Well ain’t this nice, it’s a good thing we’re here.”  How about we pitch some tents for y’all—that way we can stay awhile, and we can also have something to remember this event by.  But, while Peter was spouting off, a bright cloud covers them, and God speaks, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”  And then comes the command, “Listen to him!”  Now before we go on, we need to pause and consider God’s announcement.

Stop and think about this for a moment.  God’s statement is packed with information.  In this single declaration God first validates Peter’s earlier profession of Jesus’ identity, He then proclaims His love for Jesus and lets us know that what Jesus is doing is what God the Father has sent Him to do.  Then, we have the command; we’re not only listen what He’s telling us, but the implied command also tells us that we’re to act upon what we hear.  This is the second time God has audibly affirmed who Jesus is and that He is doing what God sent Him to do.  “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.  Listen to him!”

We hear this account at this time each year and for those who have taken the time to imagine the scene, we can appreciate the disciples’ reaction: “the disciples fall face down and tremble in fear.  Jesus comes and touches them and says, “Get up, “don’t be afraid.”  And when they looked up, they see no one except Jesus.”  But as they head down the mountain, something just as confusing occurs, Jesus instructs them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  It’s here that we get a peek at the end of the story.  Jesus, just a week before, has said that He was going to be horribly treated by the religious establishment and then be killed.  But, three days later He would come back to life.  Top this all off with hearing God the Father Himself say, “Listen to Him.”

In this Man, in this moment, on this mountain, God’s ultimate plan for humanity is revealed for just a brief moment.  The whole of human history is now pointing in a certain direction.  In the Transfiguration, we see what that direction is.  In that moment, the disciples see who Jesus really is.  On that mountaintop the disciples finally begin to understand that Jesus isn’t simply a man who has been touched by the glory of God.  He is God in human flesh, and he’s been hiding His divine glory from human eyes until now.

St. John in his gospel would later write of this moment: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Up until then, Peter, James and John may have struggled with the idea that Jesus was a great holy man, a great teacher, a mystic, a prophet.  But, in His transfiguration, Jesus erased all those ideas.  He isn’t a prophet sent from God; He is God come to earth to redeem His people.  Peter had professed correctly, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16b).

I read recently about an interesting individual in Mexico named Father Sergio Benitez.  Father Benitez was known as a caring priest who operated a small orphanage in Mexico.  At least that was his identity by day.  By night, the good father was somebody else altogether.  Unknown to his flock, Father Benitez would put on a showy mask and cape and transform himself into a professional wrestler named Fray Tormenta, or Friar Storm.  You may have heard his story.  His life is the basis for the movie Nacho Libre.

For almost twenty-three years, Father Benitez hid his identity from his fans.  He only began wrestling to earn prize money to keep his orphanage running.  Eventually, another wrestler discovered Father Benitez’ true identity and gave away his secret.  By then, Father Benitez was ready to retire from the ring anyway.

Many of the former orphans under Father Benitez’ care went on to lead productive, successful lives.  One of these former orphans is now a criminal law specialist in the city of Hidalgo.  That’s his identity in the daytime.  But at night, he transforms himself into a masked wrestler by the name of Fray Tormenta Jr. in honor of the priest who fought on his behalf.  In that moment, Peter, James and John got a peek at Jesus’ true identity.  Jesus is God revealed in human flesh.  This is crucial for us to comprehend.  This means that anything He tells us is absolute truth.  Remember, God said, “listen to Him.”  Any plan He sets forth is unquestionable, unshakeable, set in stone.  Any action He performs or word He speaks is absolutely holy and meant to express the heart and mind of God.

Pastor A.W. Tozer once wrote, “Jesus does not offer an opinion, for He never uttered opinions.  He never guessed; He knew, and He knows.  His words are not as Solomon’s were, the sum of sound wisdom or the results of keen observation.  Jesus spoke out of the fullness of the Godhead, and His words are very Truth itself.”  Jesus did tell us, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  This is important because Jesus had just warned His disciples that He was going to face a brutal, shameful and public death, and that as His followers, they would suffer as well.  They wouldn’t get a free pass.  They too would experience persecution as well.  The disciples needed to see that these heartbreaking events were all part of God’s perfect plan for reconciling humanity to Him.  In that moment, the disciples saw Jesus clearly.  We also need to see that in that moment, they also saw the mission of Christ fulfilled. 

Matthew didn’t tell us why Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain, but in Luke 9 we read, that Jesus, Moses and Elijah talked about Jesus’ upcoming death.  That doesn’t sound like casual chit-chat.  Why would Moses and Elijah be talking to Jesus about His death?  Because Jesus’ death and His resurrection would complete the ministries that Moses and Elijah had begun more than 1,500 years before.

Through Moses, God gave the law that would define His relationship with the nation of Israel.  And yet the law was also a symbol of our failure to live up to God’s holiness.  Elijah represents the greatest prophet to the nation of Israel.  And yet the prophets failed too.  Now God Himself has come to fulfill the mission of the law and the prophets: to call the people back to a true relationship with God.

In 2008, two college women’s softball teams—the Western Oregon Wolves and the Central Washington University Wildcats—faced each other for a final game before the division playoffs.  Sara Tucholsky played for Oregon.  She wasn’t one of their strongest players, but that day she hit a home run.  As she ran around the bases, she accidentally missed first base.  As she turned back to touch the base, Sara tore her ACL.  Unable to even walk, Sara wouldn’t be able to complete her home run, the only one she’d ever hit.  If her teammates helped her in any way, Sara would be called out by the umpires.  She was safe on first base, but she couldn’t even stand up on her own, much less run the bases.  The fans began shouting for Sara to get off the field, but she wouldn’t budge.  Just then, Mallory Holtman, who played first base for the opposing team, jogged out onto the field and lifted Sara Tucholsky up from the dirt.  She called out to the umpires, “Can I help her around the bases?”

One umpire shouted back, “Why would you want to do that?”  No one really needed to know the answer.  Mallory half-carried her injured opponent as Sara hobbled around the baseline and touched each base.  The crowd rose to its feet as Mallory Holtman helped Sara Tucholsky complete her first ever home run.  No matter how much we try, we humans always fall short of the law and the prophets.  In fact, they serve as reminders of our failure to match God’s holiness.  The law cannot save us.  The prophets could not save us.  God saw our fallen state, and He sent Jesus to lift us up out of the dirt.  By His own sacrifice, He carried us to home plate.  There’s one more thing we need to consider this morning; that is, Peter’s response to seeing the Jesus, Moses and Elijah talking about Jesus’ impending death and resurrection.

Notice in verses 5-8, Peter wants to build three booths on the mountain, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah, so they could stay there a while longer.  But, while he’s still making this suggestion, God interrupts him.  Notice that!  God interrupts him!  From this we need to be reminded of two things.  First, when God interrupts you, it’s time to stop talking.  This passage says, “While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!’”

Remember, these are the exact words that God spoke after Jesus’ baptism but with one major addition—God ended this affirmation with a command, “Listen to Him!”  We’re not told to listen to Moses, or to Elijah, nor to any other great prophet or mystic or holy man.  We’re commanded to listen to Jesus.  He is the very voice of God.  And then we read, “When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified.  But Jesus came and touched them.  ‘Get up,’ he said. ‘Don’t be afraid.’  When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.”  That’s significant.  

When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.  Moses and Elijah’s ministries were complete.  The only one left on that mountain was Jesus.  The only one to look to is Jesus.  The only one to listen to is Jesus.  Any competing beliefs or philosophies simply disappear in the truth of who Jesus is and what His mission accomplished.  Second thing we need to be reminded of is, that Peter want to erect structures and was cut off by God during his suggestion.

Far too many people come to church for the wrong reasons.  Some people come because it’s simply the place you go on Sunday mornings.  Some come so they can keep their membership current and thus be able to enjoy the benefits.  Some come to network.  Some come to socialize.  Some come to meet a spouse.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these, so long as they aren’t your primary objective.  Peter was interrupted because structures aren’t the focus here, it isn’t about any of those things.  God brought us here today to see Jesus.  It’s here that we encounter God.  It’s here that we hear what Jesus has to say, it’s here that God reveals to us His purpose and desires for us.  Our focus is to be on Jesus alone, this is why when the disciples looked up, there was no one there but Him.

Many of you are familiar with British singer and songwriter Adele who has sold millions of songs worldwide.  She has won just about every music award you can imagine.  She’s an international star with a huge fan club, and a host of impersonators.  Well, a few years ago, Adele played a little prank on a group of her fans.  

Adele put on a disguise and went to an audition for her impersonators, where she introduced herself as a nervous young singer named Jenny.  The other impersonators at the audition spoke about how much they admired Adele and what a great talent she was.  One of them joked that she was being really slow in releasing her new album.  After all the other singers had their chance to audition, “Jenny” took the stage.

She nervously cleared her throat and began to sing.  In spite of her disguise, the other contestants quickly recognized her voice.  No one else could imitate her magnificent voice.  Some of the other contestants began to cry, overjoyed that they were in the presence of a superstar.  Then Adele removed her disguise and revealed her true identity to cheers and hugs from her fans.  In Jesus, at that moment, on that mountain, the disciples saw the one True God.  No one else could imitate His glory.  No one else could speak God’s perfect truth.  No one else had the power to restore humanity back to God.  And knowing the truth about Jesus means making a decision. 

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:20, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.  And so through Him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God.”  Jesus’ transfiguration is a glimpse of God’s promises fulfilled.  It’s a peek at God’s ultimate “Yes” over sin, death and the devil.  Can we see the “Yes” of God, and can we respond “Amen?”  Can we say, there is nothing else in this world that has my allegiance more than Jesus, the One True God, and I proclaim Him as the Son of God and because of this proclamation, I listen and obey Him?”  The truth is, how we answer these two questions will determine our identity, our mission and our destiny.


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