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The Voice of God

Eternal God,

you revealed to the disciples

the everlasting glory of Jesus Christ.

Grant us, who have not seen and yet believe,

the gift of your Holy Spirit,

that we may boldly live the gospel

and shine with your transforming glory,

as people changed and changing

through the redeeming presence of our Savior. Amen.

 

 

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/Beloved; 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.

 

My friend Lindsay recently moved from Burlington to Mankato, Minnesota.  If you’re not familiar with the smaller towns of The North Star State, Mankato is about an hour and half southwest of Minneapolis. In her first two months of living there, Lindsay has endured five snow storms and temperatures as low as negative 29 degrees.  After spending two years in Michigan, Lindsay thought she was fairly prepared for the winter, but this year has been a challenge. The snow has been relentless, even to the natives.  Lindsay told me that after the most recent snow fell, she was dismayed to have to shovel her driveway and sidewalk once again.  She bundled up in all her gear, pulled out her snow shovel, and started to clear her front steps.  Soon, her neighbor from across the street showed up with his snow-blower.  Lindsay was elated.  He didn’t waste time introducing himself; he simply went to work, clearing her walkway and then taking care of her driveway.  Lindsay told me that she felt awkward watching him, but she wanted to thank him as soon as he took a break.  Once he had finished clearing her driveway, he cut off the blower, and Lindsay walked up to thank him.  He was shy and didn’t say much.  “I hate shoveling, so when I saw you start with your shovel, I knew I could take care of it much faster.” She thanked him profusely.  She was so touched by her neighbor’s kindness; she is still trying to think of the best way to extend her gratitude. Sometimes the events of life can catch us off guard and surprise us.

 

Luke’s gospel is full of surprises, and his story of the Transfiguration is no different.  Surprising things happen to Jesus on the mountain, and the disciples are puzzled by what they experience. Yet, the surprises don’t begin or end with this passage.

The context of this text is important.  Just before this story begins, Jesus describes his approaching suffering, persecution, death, and resurrection. He then explains to the disciples their role in his act of grace.  He tells them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”[1]  Jesus continues his teaching of loving sacrifice and mercy. The disciples have a hard time understanding what Jesus is talking about, and today’s passage is another chance for them to get a glimpse of God’s glory and Jesus’ mission.

 

After feeding the 5,000 and curing the crowds, it is no surprise that Jesus took time away with three of the disciples to pray. Jesus often takes time to pray.  In fact, “Jesus is seen praying in Luke more than all three other Gospels combined.”[2]  However, this is no ordinary prayer session.  First, the face of Jesus changes.  Then his clothes become dazzling white, like you’d see in a Tide commercial showcasing the whitest white tunic.

Then Moses and Elijah show up on the scene, and the surprises continue.  The three talk.  They discuss the journey Jesus has ahead of him to Jerusalem.  They appear in glory.

Just as this scene is breaking up, dear Peter pipes up, with his idea to build dwellings or monuments to mark the sacred place where these three greats have conversed.

But there is no time to catch a breath, because a cloud overshadows them all, and the disciples are terrified of the sudden darkness.

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about darkness and light recently.  The way we think in binary terms instead of embracing the fullness and glory of both the day and the night.

My thoughts have been enriched through the discussions with Circle One; they are reading Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, Learning to Walk in the Dark.  Taylor explores the assumptions we make with darkness and how we tie darkness together with fear. She describes the ways she was encouraged to explore the dark as a child, and how she continues to venture into the dark at night around her farm in Georgia. Through the words of Gregory of Nyssa, Taylor encourages that “those of us who wish to draw near to God should not be surprised when our vision goes cloudy, for this is a sign that we are approaching the opaque splendor of God.  If we decide to keep going beyond the point where our eyes or minds are any help to us, we may finally arrive at the pinnacle of the spiritual journey toward God, which exists in complete and dazzling darkness.”[3]

 

Both the dazzling light and the surrounding cloud surprised the disciples as they witnessed what was happening on the mountain.

 

But wait…there’s more!

The voice of God comes from the cloud, declaring, “This is my Son, my chosen. Listen to him!”  Some manuscripts translate to, “This is my Son, my beloved.”

The cloud disperses, and Jesus is there alone with just the three disciples.  Peter, James, and John are speechless and don’t say a word about what they’ve witnessed to anyone.  Just as the voice from the heavens declared Jesus’ identity at his baptism, the voice of God identifies Jesus.  The disciples have witnessed the glory of the Lord.  They understand that Moses represents the law and Elijah illustrates the prophets of God.  God’s speech confirms that Jesus is the embodiment and fulfillment of both.  After the disciples see the glory of God and hear the voice of God, Jesus alone remains, the fulfillment of the law and prophets, the glory of God in the flesh.

 

We can relate to how terrifying and confusing this event must have been for Peter, James, and John.  Like us, they were ordinary people, striving to make sense of the teachings and actions of Jesus. Like the disciples, we are called to listen to Jesus too.

 

The truth is, many of us will never hear the clear, distinctive voice of God, bellowing to us from a cloud.  Most of us will likely never see visions of Moses, Elijah, and Jesus chatting it up on a mountaintop.  But we know what it’s like to feel weighed down and weary.  We know what it’s like to be afraid and confused.  There are parts of this story that are familiar to our lives today.

 

And the truth is, we too, are called beloved of God.  It’s true.  No one here is Jesus, and yet we are all beloved children of God.  I have one more surprise for you. I invite you to take a moment for participation in the pews.  Look your neighbor in the eye and tell them, “You are not Jesus.”   Now turn to someone else and remind them, “You are not Jesus, but you are God’s beloved.”  Go ahead.  This is good news, even on a cloudy day.  Even if you are weary and confused, you are beloved.  All of you.  All of us.  As the beloved of God, we are called to listen to Jesus and to return changed.  Even though we may be surprised and confused by what we experience, listening to Jesus changes us.  Through the waters of baptism and after time together at the table, we are claimed, transformed, and charged to share the love of Jesus.

 

Like the disciples, we see a glimpse of God’s glory and receive an affirmation. Listen to Jesus in the coming weeks.  The season of Lent is a time to pay attention, to focus on prayer, to redirect our lives so that our faith leads the way.  The Transfiguration story assures us that in all the surprises and challenges we face, we trust Jesus.  Listen to him, and you too can experience the glory of God in dazzling brightness and in the dark.

 

 

 

[1] Luke 9:23

[2] “Luke as the Gospel of Prayer” http://scalar.usc.edu/works/jesus-christ-in-luke-acts/luke-as-the-gospel-of-prayer

[3] Taylor, Barbara Brown. Learning to Walk in the Dark. New York:  Harper One, 2014. 48.

Kate Fiedler , Associate Pastor for Adult Ministries

Email: kate@upcch.org

Phone: (919) 929.2102 ext. 130

Bio:

Kate joined the staff in November of 2014 as the Associate Pastor for Adult Ministries. She focuses her energy on strengthening the adult education program, coordinating congregational life events, and extending warm hospitality to new members. Kate grew up in Virginia and North Carolina, and she has moved back and forth across the state line seven times. She is a graduate of Davidson College and Union Presbyterian Seminary. Before arriving in Chapel Hill, Kate served as the Associate Chaplain at Trinity Episcopal School in Charlotte–teaching third through eighth graders–and then as the Director of Admissions at Union Presbyterian Seminary. Kate enjoys road trips, live music, reading, exploring new restaurants, and cheering on her favorite sports teams: the Bears, the Cubs, and the Tar Heels.