The Transfiguration?

February 23, 2020

 

 

Matthew 16: 13-20 & 17: 1-9.

 

Did you know that it came from the Latin word transfiguratio?

Did you care?

Did you know that it means a metamorphosis, or a complete change in form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state?

Did you care?

 

And yet I could guarantee that 99% of sermons today will have preachers trying to explain what is going on physically.

They will talk about how butterflies have different states and they move from one to the other. Jesus’ transfiguration is like a butterfly going from the cocoon phase to the flying insect, the same being...but so different.

And probably 99% of their congregations will say ‘So what?’, or be more confused after the sermon than they were before the sermon.

 

Preachers and congregations get succoured by the name transfiguration, and do you want to know the real irony...the heading wasn’t even in the original Gospel. When the Gospel was written it didn’t have chapter numbers and verse numbers and headings, those were all added later, probably to help people like us find our way around the Bible.

So at some point some monk has decided that the heading for this part is called, The Transfiguration, and we got stuck with it.

And from then on preachers started to preach on the title of the passage rather than the passage itself; preachers found themselves trying to explain the heading of the passage rather than the passage itself.

 

So let’s forget the fancy word for a while, and get back to what is going on in the passage.

Over the last few weeks we have been studying the Sermon on the Mount, a summary of Jesus’ teaching.

Jesus has explained that God is part of our lives, and that has consequences on how we live our lives. Do we live those lives inspired and empowered by a vision of God working in the world, or do we just do our own thing?

And the disciples, and others, have taken that on board, they want a life, a world inspired and empowered by God, with Jesus as the leader of that movement, the Messiah of that movement.

They would have thought that movement would start with Jews and move throughout the world, creating an empire that would put the Roman Empire to shame.

From there Peter has declared that he believes that Jesus is the Messiah come to bring in that Kingdom of God on earth.

And Jesus in return has tried to explain what being the Messiah means. Not to rule an empire in might, but to suffer for the people.

Then comes the transfiguration.

 

All transfiguration is, is seeing differently.

The moment when the penny drops and all changes.

 

I know when you look at Roseanna and I you see the perfect couple.

And I know that you imagine what it must have been like when the two of us met for the first time.

I was young and handsome and rugged, she was young and delicate and adorable, our eyes met across a crowded room and instantly we knew that we were soul-mates.

From that second on, we knew that we were destined from eternity to be together.

Well that’s the Mills and Boon version of the first time we met.

I don’t actually remember the first time we met.

I know that it was a Summer Fayre in the grounds of Castlemilk West. I was walking down to the stalls and Roseanna was in the BB stall and she saw me coming down the slope and said, ‘Who is that numpty in a tweed jacket?’

And her fellow BB officer looked up and said, ‘Oh that’s the new minister’

And she said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’

Not a great start.

 

Years later, there was a moment when we saw each other differently.

Years later, there was a moment, when we saw how significant the one was to the other; that would change our relationship, that would change our lives.

 

At its most basic, that is what is happening here to Peter and the disciples.

Suddenly all those months, years, of watching Jesus perform miracles on others, all the years of listening to sermons and seeing how Jesus lives his life, all that information and all those discussions, have led to this moment when suddenly Peter sees Jesus differently.

Peter begins to glimpse the significance of Jesus in his life.

That would completely change his relationship; that would change his life.

 

Here’s the bad news...there is no romantic happy ever after in this story.

We know there is no Christian Empire that gets created. We know that this isn’t the beginning of a world where there is only goodness and light.

We know there is no force-field round Peter now that will prevent him from doing things wrong and he will always make the right decision and he will be wise and wonderful and be an inspiration for others for ever more.

If things change, then the change is more complicated than just ‘things get better’.

 

When Roseanna and I started to see each other differently that just made things more complicated.

People left the church in disgust when we got engaged because in their eyes it was wrong for a minister to marry an ex-catholic divorcee.

I suddenly became a father for a 10 year old and an 8 year old...you cannot imagine the potential for getting things wrong there.

The only thing you could do to make things worse was add to the problems...so that is what we did and had three children within five years.

In the same building we had children who were used to having two parents, children who were used to having one parent, a parent who was used to doing parenting on her own, a parent who was used to doing life on his own.

I don’t know about Roseanna, but when I saw her differently I knew it would change my life, I just didn't know it would be a life of perpetual change.

 

And maybe that’s the real mistake that we make with transfiguration.

The truth is that we understand that there is a moment when we see Christ differently.

Instead of seeing Jesus as a nice guy or a good teacher or even a miracle worker, we start to see him as our guide, the one who came to save us from ourselves, the one who forgives us our past, the one who offers us a future...we see him differently.

And we know that will change us, what we don’t cotton on to, what becomes really confusing, is that we don’t realise that it will be a life of perpetual change.

 

I think that is why so many of the Billy Graham campaigns failed.

For the young among us, Billy Graham was an evangelist, who went round the world in the 1950’s onwards preaching a message inviting people to make Jesus their Saviour. Millions came forward in a declaration of faith...then they disappeared. If everyone who walked forward in a Billy Graham campaign were still going to church then all our churches would be full. But they are not.

Millions of people went forward saying that they believed, and then just disappearing.

 

I suspect that what happened was that they believed that their lives had changed with the realisation that Jesus came to save them. But they thought that that was it. Change complete.

They were now the finished article, they wouldn't make mistakes, they wouldn’t be the same idiots they were before; they would never get angry or guilty or selfish. They would be always loving and caring and supportive. They would always do good deeds and be helpful to others.

And they tried so hard to be the best them that they could be, and that became so tiring and exhausting and eventually they just gave up.

They didn't realise that when they saw Jesus differently, Jesus wasn’t inviting them to change; he was inviting them to a life of perpetual change.

Jesus wasn’t inviting them to a destination that they would arrive at; Jesus was inviting them to a journey.

 

We see that in Peter’s life.

Peter walks this journey with Christ and it is a journey of perpetual mistakes and learning and growing.

Sure he sees Jesus differently he realises that his life will change.

But he is still the Peter who will argue with the rest about who is the greatest disciple.

He will still be the disciple who falls asleep instead of praying with Jesus in Gethsemane.

He will still be the disciple that betrays Jesus three times when he promised he would never betray him.

Even after Jesus dies and is resurrected and Jesus inspired him to give the sermon at Pentecost and he becomes the head disciple and the head of the church...he still makes mistakes, still has to learn, still has to grow.

Because that is what transfiguration is really about...that moment we see things differently, and realise that we have to change, that we realise that we are committing ourselves to a lifetime of change, a journey of change.

 

And that’s scary.

I suspect that’s why we do the Latin stuff, if today's sermon was about the Latin meaning of transfiguration being like metamorphosis then we would all leave being perfectly bored, but feel perfectly safe.

But seeing that we need to live a life, a journey, of perpetual change that’s disturbing.

 

So let’s give the reason why we do it...

Because it is better then not doing it.

My life with Roseanna has been interesting, but it has been worth it. Not because it is interesting, but because it is with Roseanna.

Our life with Christ becomes significant because it is a life WITH Christ.

And the joy we have is the joy of knowing that we are always a work in progress.

We are never expected to be perfect; no one calls us to be perfect, because in this life we never reach perfection.

We don't need to live with the disappointment and the guilt and the stress of getting everything right, because God doesn’t expect us to get everything right.

All God expects from us, is taking that next step on the journey, the next step that will bring us closer to Him, and to others.

 

You see the truth is, that maybe the reason the disciples were so dumbstruck, so uncertain about what to do next, was at that moment of transfiguration they realised the real truth....it wasn’t Jesus that had changed, they just saw Jesus differently.

The truth that Peter, James and John began to see, the real miracle that would blow their mind, was that it wasn't Jesus that was changing, it wasn’t Jesus that would be transfigurating, it would be them.

 

And I suppose that then becomes the moment that we see wonder.

Not in how Jesus has changed, he never really changes, we just see him differently.

But in how over the days, the months, the years he gradually changes us,

if we are willing to go on the journey of life with him.

 

 

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Alva Parish Church

Stirling Street

Alva

FK12 5EH

alvaparishchurch@gmail.com

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