This is a sermon I wrote for my homiletics course. Enjoy!
Feast of the Transfiguration
When I was kid I can remember sitting in my grandparents’ living room in their mobile home with my eyes glued to the tv. Robert Stack would appear and preview the slate of stories that would be revealed on that night’s episode of, you guessed it, Unsolved Mysteries. I can still remember the very 1980s graphics rolling across the screen and the macabre xylophonic synth music that accompanied the show’s opener. Personally, I thought that Robert Stack was a creepy old man, but the stories that he told about criminal cases, lost loves, unexplained history, and the paranormal captivated me and led me to wonder what kind of unsolved mysteries were lurking around my little village in rural Alabama. I wanted so badly to phone in to the show and have our stories told on the air. Needless to say, in the one-horse town that I grew up in, not much happened, except the local legend of a UFO that appeared over a neighboring town once, but we all knew that it was just a top-secret military aircraft. Nothing much to say about that, really.
But today, consider if you will, a story of three Galilean fishermen turned followers of a radical religious fanatic from Nazareth. One Jesus, purportedly born to a virgin in the city of David has brought three of his followers: Peter, the son of John, and James and John the sons of Zebedee, to a mountain side in the wilderness of Israel. What unfolds next, cannot be explained. Please remember that the stories you are about to hear are reconstructed from actual biblical testimony
“ I didn’t know what was going on.” Peter tells us, One minute were walking up a mountain with Jesus to pray. The next thing we know Jesus is glowing like the sun and Moses and Elijah Show up.”
“Well, John and I just sat there dumbfounded”, James tells us.” There was Jesus in dazzling clothes, and Moses and Elijah were just….they were just standing there talking to him like…like they were old friends.”
“Yeah”, Peter interjects,” I offered the three of us guys to build houses for the three of them, and then the voice of God told me to pipe down and to pay attention to Jesus. We never told anybody what happened that day. It was only until years later after Jesus had died and rose again that we said anything. Honestly it still leaves me shaking when i think about it.” Robert Stack and the creepy music would probably come back to the screen at this point and give a teaser to keep us from changing the channel during the commercial break, and we would be left wondering what was going to happen next.
The idea of Peter, James and John appearing on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries may be a little farfetched, but the transfiguration remains a mystery of the faith that we just can’t fully wrap our minds around. Jesus at his prayers suddenly being transfigured is something that we can scarcely imagine, explain, or understand. We are captivated, silenced, and left in awe of what can only be described as…a mystery.
The word “mystery” comes from a greek word that means, basically, mystery. It all boils down to not being able to put into words that which we see before us. Try as we might we cannot always articulate those profound moments in life when we recognize that something unexplainable has happened to us or around us. We try and we stumble around in our our verbal soup and still don’t really come up with anything that improves upon the silence. Because there are some things that cannot be captured with words, but only appreciated, and meditated on.
The Bible tells of strange and amazing things happen to people who go up the mountain. In today’s gospel reading we’re reminded of Moses who received the Law from the hand of God when he went up the mountain. We also have Elijah who heard the voice of God in the midst of the sound of silence during his time on the mountainside. Mountains are the intersection of the heavens and the earth and the place where God often chose to meet humanity face to face.
Biblical scholars have paused, and marveled at what is happening with the Lukan account of the transfiguration…and then have promptly tried to explain it away. Every explanation under the sun has been given about what was going on here. Some have gone as far to explain how this scene is actually a carry over from an esoteric text that talks about an angelic messiah figure coming to save humanity, but I digress. It leaves me wondering why is it that we need to explain it. Jesus turned the water into wine, raised Lazarus from the dead, and fed the 5000 with a few loaves of bread and a couple of sardines. For all of these marvelous events, there is simply no explanation. Instead of trying to embrace the silence that our minds are struck with, we, like Peter try to fill the void of our wonder with words that simply are not necessary.
We live in a time when all the great mysteries of the world seem to be explained by science. We no longer believe that the world is flat or that the Earth is the center of the universe for that matter, although there are some people who believe that they are. Long gone are the days when we believed stars were holes in the fabric of the cosmos and what we see is the light of heaven shining through or that there were terrible sea monsters lurking at the edges of the maps. Yes, science tells us that the world is round and shaped by tectonic forces and revolves around the sun. We now understand that stars are actually balls of gases held together by gravity burning millions of light years away. But it cannot tell us what any of that means. We can explain the how of almost everything that happens under the sun, but we cannot always say why it happens. What was it about Jesus’ prayer that day that caused him to become luminous before the eyes of those disciples? Why did Elijah and Moses show up on that mountain with Jesus? Why did the voice of God tell Peter to shut up and listen to Jesus, who wasn’t really saying anything? We may not gain answers to the questions until we come to the fullness of time. But in embracing the mystery, and harnessing the power of our own silence, we may well encounter the glory of God and experience true wonder and awe.
Perhaps the greatest mystery is not the transfiguration, but the incarnation itself. Jesus being transfigured into a glorified form certainly serves as a major turning point in Luke’s gospel and in the lives of the disciples who were there to witness it, but it cannot rival the mystery of the word made flesh that we encounter from week to week in the breaking of the bread. God himself coming among us to live and die as one of us. Ultimately all of Jesus’ miracles, including the transfiguration point us back to this central mystery, this central turning point in the lives of all of us who believe. Even though we cannot explain the why or the how, those of us who have a relationship with Jesus know that without the mystery of the word made flesh life as we know it would be less abundant.
This mystery, my friends, is what has drawn us God’s Holy Mountain, to this moment, in time when we have been brought together to learn to serve God’s people, and it will be these fleeting days that we look back on as a mystery that helped to shape a new generation of Priests in God’s one holy catholic and apostolic church. It is a mystery that we cannot fathom, a mystery that we cannot explain, but it is a shimmering moment in time that we will forever cherish as a moment that followed us off this mountain and continues to speak to our hearts.
The day I was confirmed into The Episcopal Church serves as a major turning point in my life. That day, perhaps more than any other before it, is the day that cemented the person that I am today. Before that day, I was someone who had experienced at least a dozen incidents of being “saved” in my quest for God. Before that day I had jumped from one denomination to another searching for a home and and a vantage point where I might see the face of God. Before then I had, at best, a shallow understanding of what it was to be a Christian. I kneeled down that day as a person who was looking for a home, and I rose up that day feeling, for the first time in my life, that I finally found a dwelling place under the shadow of God’s wings. Right smack dab in the middle of the mystery of God.