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Sermon for Sunday 3 March 2019

First Reading                         Deuteronomy 34:1-12

1Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, 2all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, 3the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. 4And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” 5So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, 6and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. 7Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. 8And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended. 9And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. 10And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.

Psalm                                                               Psalm 99

1The Lord is King; let the people tremble; he is enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth shake. 2The Lord is great in Zion; he is high above all peoples. 3Let them confess his name, which is great and awesome; he is the Holy One. 4“O mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.” 5Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God and fall down before his footstool; he is the Holy One. 6Moses and Aaron among his priests, and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, they called upon the Lord, and he answered them. 7He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; they kept his testimonies and the decree that he 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.” 9Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God and worship him upon his holy hill; for the Lord our God is the Holy One.

Second Reading                              Hebrews 3:1-6

1Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses — as much more glory 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.) 5Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.

Gospel                                                          Luke 9:28-36

28Now about eight days after these sayings {Jesus} took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said. 34As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.


In a YouTube video, attorney and educator Randall Niles addresses the wonders of creation.  He notes that on a clear night, with a full view of the sky and away from the city lights, you can count some 1,030 bodies of light with the naked eye.  Think about that for a moment . . . 1,030 different bodies.  “It was that way 4,000 years ago,” says Niles, “and it’s the same today.”

Then, about 400 years ago, Galileo invented the first telescope.  At that point, about 3,310 bodies of light were visible–more than tripling the number of stars which could be seen.  “Today,” Niles continues, “the Hubble Space Telescope and various land‑based telescopes and radio antennas have [discovered] approximately 100 billion stars in our own Milky Way Galaxy alone!”  100 billion stars!   “And if you think that’s huge, astronomers now estimate that there are some 70 sextillion stars in the visible universe, or some 70 thousand million million million.  That’s a 7 followed by 22 zeros.  That number makes my head hurt.  Looking up at the night sky, one can only stand in awe of the wonders of creation.

There’s a story of a man who wanted to build a scale model of the universe.  He began with a ball one inch in diameter, which he designated as earth.  To his amazement he discovered that in order to be true to scale to the size of the universe, he would have to place a ball representing the nearest star, Alpha Centaury, 51,000 miles away, that’s more than twice the circumference of the earth.  When you look at the vastness of the night sky, how could you not be in awe at the wonders of God’s creation.

It’s also easy to be in constant amazement at the accomplishments of humanity.  I bet if you were to ask Boots, who was born in 1921, she could tell you of many of the advancements that have been made in just the last 100 years:  of horse and buggy travel, of a time before telephone and electricity were not in every home.  Of a time before air travel, jet propulsion, television, motion pictures with sound and space travel was a thing of the imagination.  And yet, regardless of the technological progress humanity has made thus far in the 21st century, our highly developed and complex brains may still be too small to even imagine the frontiers yet to be explored.  

To paraphrase Al Jolson’s great line, “Chances are we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”  It’s easy to have a feeling of awe about creation and be amazed with the accomplishments of humanity when we really stop and ponder these two subjects.  But what you and I may have difficulty experiencing, is the sense of adoration that the disciples felt in the presence of Jesus; especially Peter, James and John.

Today’s gospel story takes place on a mountain we’ve learned to call The Mount of Transfiguration.  On most occasions in the New Testament, all of the disciples were present for events in Jesus’ life.  But from time to time, Jesus’ only seemed to want His inner circle to accompanied Him.  This was, of course, one of those occasions.  We know the sequence of events:  Peter, James and John went with Jesus to the mountain to pray.  As we’ve learned from the gospel writers, prayer was important to Jesus.  This is something essential we need to take notice of, because if you and I were wise, we too would spend more time alone with God in prayer.  If Jesus found need of such times, you and I should do this as well. 

Luke tells us that, on this occasion, as Jesus was praying, “the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.”  Then something dramatic happened.  Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.  I’ve always wondered, what did Moses and Elijah and Jesus talk about?  Of course, Luke gives us the overview, “They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem . . .”  It’s obvious that this was no ordinary mountain top experience.  Moses, who represents the law, and Elijah, who represents the prophets, had been gone from this earth for hundreds of years, yet here they were with Jesus on the mountain.  This part of the story alone should reaffirm our hope of the resurrection.

The Bible is clear that after God showed Moses the whole of the promised land, he died and was buried on Mount Horeb (Deut. 34).  Elijah according to the account in 2 Kings 2 did not die, rather God chose to take him by a whirlwind.  Because of Jesus, we do have hope for the future, life eternal with God.  Think about what it would have been like to witness this event, to be reassured of all that Jesus had been teaching!  But that’s a subject for a different time. 

Jesus takes Peter, James and John with Him on this occasion and now we find them sleeping heavily—something that seems to have become a habit with them when Jesus went to pray.  However, something awoke them because Luke tells us, “When they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him . . .”  As the men, Moses and Elijah, 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.”  

Peter it would seem wanted to stay on the mountain with his teacher and these two iconic figures and I guess we can’t blame him for that.  All of us want to stay on the mountain.  And like Peter we want to build monuments to memorialize high sacred moments.  Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here.  Let us put up three shelters… 

And we do the same don’t we; anytime we want to forever keep a place, or an event, memorialized we place something there as a reminder.  Sometimes we’ll even erect a building to capture the present moment as a place for rest and inspiration.  But the kingdom of God isn’t about erecting buildings or monuments.  It’s about being in service to God and others; to build the kingdom, not structures.  It’s amazing what we can accomplish when we focus our energy on a priority.

The pyramids of Egypt, for example, are the world’s most impressive man-made monuments.  The Great Pyramid of the Pharaoh Khufu is staggering in size.  Nearly 500 feet tall, it contains about 2,300,000 blocks of stone, each of which weighs at least two tons.  Many comparisons have been used to try to convey an accurate impression of the vastness of this pyramid.  One scholar has suggested that within its base there would be room for the great Italian cathedrals of Florence, Milan and St. Peter’s in the Vatican, as well as St. Paul’s Cathedral and Westminster Abbey in London. 

During the time of Napoleon, it was determined that there was enough stone in three of the pyramids to build a wall ten feet high and one foot thick around the entire realm of France.  We have the monuments, but who remembers anything about those who constructed them?  The Christian faith isn’t a monument but a movement.  It’s a dynamic encounter with the living Christ. 

Not to pick on Peter, but he couldn’t have been more wrong in his desire to build three shelters.  The good thing is, he didn’t have time to follow through his hasty suggestion, because as he’s saying this, a cloud appeared and covered them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud.  And for a second time God speaks:  a voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”  This is of course a second event in this story that we need to stop and ponder.  God the Father Himself speaks, so we need to pay close attention to His message.  “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.”  Anytime God speaks to us, whether it’s through an audible sound, the Bible or through pastors and teachers, we need to listen carefully and obey.

Luke continues, and when the voice had spoken, the cloud lifted, and Elijah and Moses were gone . . . and the disciples found Jesus by Himself.  Luke then concludes the story by telling us that the disciples kept silent and told no one at that time anything of what they had seen.  It doesn’t do much good for others, if we keep important events to ourselves.  This is why Jesus commanded us to go and share the good news.  But in all fairness, this was an awe-inspiring event; seeing Moses and Elijah, hearing God’s voice, Jesus Transfigured.

It’s no wonder they kept this to themselves for the time being.  I’m sure they were asking themselves, who will believe us?  How can we make such an extraordinary event credible to an unbelieving world?  But the experience of the transfiguration of Jesus is important because St. Paul tells us in Philippians 3 that there will come a time when we also will be transfigured.  He writes, “But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (3:20-21).

The whole purpose of His revealing His glory to us is that we might catch a glimpse of the glory that awaits us.  The disciples viewed that glory in a deep and dramatic way, and it transformed their lives.  This is what is important for us today.  Before we can be transfigured, we must be transformed.  Before we can put on His glory, we must take up His cross.  Before we can be resurrected, we must be willing to die.  So how does this happen and how can that transformation take place in our lives?  

For transformation to take place in our lives, three things need to happen.  First, we are transformed when we see and understand Jesus as He really is; God’s only begotten Son and our Lord and Savior.  It’s fascinating to watch the disciples as they slowly began to perceive the fact that there was something about Jesus that went beyond mere humanity.  Recall if you will, early in Jesus’ ministry, when He and the disciples were on the Sea of Galilee and a storm arose and the boat was awash with waves?  The disciples were terrified.  They woke Jesus up in the back of the boat and cried out, “Lord, save us!  We are drowning.”  Jesus chided them for their lack of faith and turned to the wind and waves and said, “Peace!  Peace!  Be Still!”  Suddenly there was a great calm.  Now the disciples really were afraid.  They were afraid of Jesus.  “What sort of man is this?” they asked.  “Even the wind and waves do what he tells them.” 

Some of you may be familiar with the classic children’s book, The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, first published in 1908.  The Wind in the Willows focuses on four animals–Rat, Mole, Badger and the preposterous Mr. Toad–who are experiencing a world of enchantment and adventure.  There’s a scene in which Rat and Mole first hear the haunting, heavenly music of Pan, who in this fantasy is the god of the animals.  As they draw near to the music’s source, “suddenly the mole feels a great awe that turns his muscles to water.”  The feeling he was experiencing wasn’t panic, it was a feeling of peace and happiness.  It was a sense of awe that came over him–an awe “that some Majestic Presence was very, very near.”  This was the feeling that the disciples had at times in the presence of Jesus.  

Anytime we catch even a glimpse of the glory of Jesus, it will change our life.  C. William Mosley tells about a gripping scene in the movie, The Greatest Story Ever Told.  He writes, The camera looks out from the darkened tomb into the face of Jesus as He prays.  Then it cuts to a long shot from the foot of the hill.”  Then the crowd buzzes with excitement as they watch Lazarus come out of the tomb.  “Three people from the crowd get really excited and . . . begin running.  As they run the short distance from Bethany to the walls of Jerusalem, we notice who they are; we’ve seen these folks earlier in the movie.  “One is the man born blind, [now] having no trouble seeing where he is going.”  One is a man who was lame, but now he not only walks, he’s running.

“As they run on toward Jerusalem, we hear the music coming up from a whisper.  It gradually gets louder, and we know this familiar music; it’s the ‘Hallelujah Chorus.’ The three runners breathlessly reach the city walls and, as the music pauses, each in turn shouts out to the sentries on the wall, ‘The blind see,’ [they shout.]  ‘The lame walk.’  ‘The dead now live!’  And the music returns in a crescendo with its ‘Hallelujah!’”  Such was the power and the majesty that the disciples experienced in the presence of Jesus . . . as they began to see Jesus as He really is.

The second thing that needs to happen for transformation to take place in our lives is, we need to see ourselves as we really are.  The disciples were continually responding to evidence of Jesus’ glory with fear.  That’s because in the light of His holiness they became aware of their own imperfection.  You may think the trim on your house is white until a new fallen snow overlays it.  Then you notice the yellowing process that has taken place as the paint has aged.  So it is with each of us in the presence of Jesus. 

No wonder that in the New Testament we so often read, “Do not be afraid.”  Jesus didn’t come to instill fear.  He came to redeem us and to give us hope.  He wants us to know that we aren’t worms that must grovel in the dirt, but we are indeed children of the King.  However, when we remain slaves to sin, we’re denying the purpose for which we were born; we’re despoiling the image of God in which we were created–we are destroying the divine potential that is our birthright. 

In one of his books, Robert Schuller tells the ancient Greek legend of Helen of Troy.  You may remember that the beautiful Helen was kidnapped and taken to a distant land where she contracted amnesia.  She didn’t remember her name or that she was of royal blood.  In her desperate condition she became a prostitute on the streets of a city.   However, She was not forgotten in Troy.  One admiring adventurer went to look for her.  He never lost faith that she was alive. 

One day on the waterfront of a strange city he saw a wretched woman with deep lines across her face and wearing tattered clothes.  Could it possibly be Helen?  “What is your name?” he asked.  She responded with a name that was meaningless to him.  “Can I see your hands?” he asked.  (He knew the lines in Helen’s hands.)  She held her hands out in front of her, and he gasped.  “You are Helen!  You are Helen of Troy!  Do you remember?”  She looked up at him in astonishment. “Helen!” he shouted.  Then the fog seemed to clear, and a sense of recognition came to her face.  Helen discovered her lost self, and she put her arms around her old friend and wept.  Then Helen discarded the tattered clothes and once more became the queen she was born to be.”   We were not created for sin but for salvation.  When we see ourselves as God created us to be, then the possibility of transformation is ours.  First, we need to see Jesus as He really is.  Then, we need to see ourselves as God intends for us to be.

The third thing that needs to happen for us to be transformed is, we need to see the world for which Christ gave His life.  Rabbi Abraham Heschel tells a parable about a kingdom in which the grain crop was poisoned.  Everyone who ate the grain went crazy.  But because there were few other food supplies, the people were faced with eating the grain or starving.  Surveying the situation, the king said, “Very well, then, let us eat the grain, for we cannot starve.  But let us at the same time feed a few people on a different diet so we will at least have some people who will know that we are insane.”

We live in an insane world–a world of terror and tragedies that defy comprehension.  It reminds me of something animal tamer Clyde Beatty once said.  He said that the moment in his act that he dreaded most was the one when the big cats that are natural enemies–lions, tigers, and leopards–discovered that they were close together in the same small cage.  That is the kind of world we go out into, and in this insane world, there needs to be one group of people who are dedicated to sanity–to love and forgiveness and healing.  In order to give the world that kind of sanity, Jesus died.  The proof of our transformation is when we move out–as did those first disciples–to transform the world. 

The account of Jesus’ transfiguration is so much more than simply a story of Jesus’ glory revealed.  It’s also a story that reassures us that death does not have the final say, there is a new life coming.  It’s an account of how when God speaks, we need to listen carefully and obey.  And finally, it’s a story of how transformation is possible for everyone.  

Transformation for each of us can come when we first behold Jesus in all His glory.  Second, we need to recognize ourselves for who we are and for what God intends for us to be.  And finally, we need to behold the world for which Christ died.  When we do, we and anyone who will listen and believe can be transformed.  But for this to happen we must not do as the disciples did and tell no one, rather we are called to go and share God’s good news in Jesus Christ with all who will listen.          


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