Lord, show us a sign!

a sermon, based on Luke 9.28-36 and Exodus 34.29-35, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the Feast of the Transfiguration, August 6, 2017

Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “The Messiah of God.”[1] His identity confirmed it was important for Jesus to declare what kind of Messiah he was: “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering…and be killed, and on the third day be raised”[2] and, therefore, what kind of disciples they were: “If you want to be my followers, deny yourselves, take up your cross daily, and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”[3]

Hard words to hear. Harder to heed. The disciples had left everything to follow Jesus. They had heard his great teaching, beheld his grand miracles, experienced his wondrous love. Now this! The promise of his suffering and death and their self-sacrifice. What on earth would, could compel them to keep going, to continue following? Perhaps nothing on earth, but rather only a heavenly sign of their destination, their destiny.

The Transfiguration (1518-1520), Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (Raphael), 1483-1520

“Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.” There, the first sign. Jesus is transfigured; his face and clothing blindingly bright. The Greek indicates that Jesus does not reflect, like the moon, like Moses on Mount Sinai whose face shone, mirroring the glory of God, but rather, like the sun, radiates light. His transfiguration is effulgent; the external emanation of his internal glory of God.

Second sign. Moses and Elijah, chief representatives of God’s Law and the prophets, appear, speaking with Jesus about his departure, his death, resurrection, and ascension that he will accomplish in Jerusalem thus, confirming the truth of everything Jesus has told his disciples about his suffering and death and their self-sacrifice.

Third sign. If the disciples want or need additional proof of Jesus’ identity, the vox Deus, the voice of God resounds from the heavens: “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!”

One of our Epiphany season hymns of praise to Jesus glories in his transfiguration:

Manifest on mountain height, shining in resplendent light,

where disciples filled with awe Thy transfigured glory saw,

When from there Thou leddest them steadfast to Jerusalem,

cross and Easter Day attest God in man made manifest.[4]

There on that mountaintop, for Peter, John, and James, there is no doubt. Jesus is the Messiah, the revelation, the revealer of God!

So, now what? What do we do with this story? We weren’t there. We didn’t see it. And that’s a good thing.

Peter had an idea: “Let’s build houses!” We can’t blame him. We’d want to stay, too. But funny thing about this and any other mountaintop transfiguration when God’s glory unmistakably is revealed. They don’t last. Transfigurations, appearing in numerous ways – a ray of sunlight through dark clouds, a brilliant rainbow after a storm, a kind word when we’re discouraged, a tender touch when tired, forgiveness when we have offended, acceptance when all we see is the worst about ourselves – come and go as splendid serendipity, beyond our power to command or control, encouraging us to keep going, continuing to follow Jesus.

Transfigurations don’t last. But “on the next day, when they had come down from the mountain”, a man begging that his ailing son be made well approached Jesus, who healed the boy.[5]

This is a sign that the mountaintop transfiguration, whilst never enduring forever, can be repeated in our daily living. Wherever, whenever you and I, through word and deed, transform discord into harmony, despair into hope, disappointment into forgiveness, sorrow into joy, there is a transfiguration moment when we become signs, revelations, revealers of the glory of God.

 

Illustration: The Transfiguration (1518-1520), Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (Raphael), 1483-1520. Note: The Transfiguration is depicted in the upper part of the painting. Jesus floats aloft, with Moses and Elijah, bathed in an aura of light and clouds, as, below, Peter, John, and James, bowed and supine in fatigue, shield their eyes from the radiance. (The two figures kneeling to the left of the mountain top are said to be St. Felicissimus and St. Agapitus, two 3rd century Christian martyrs.) The lower part of the painting portrays Jesus’ disciples seeking, without success, to cure the demon-possessed boy (Luke 9.40), who, in his agony, is naked to his waist, his flesh pale, his body contorted, his arms outstretched, his eyes rolled upward.

Footnotes:

[1] Luke 9.20

[2] Luke 9.22

[3] Luke 9.23-24, paraphrased

[4] From the hymn, Songs of thankfulness and praise, Jesus, Lord, to thee we raise, The Hymnal 1982, #135, verse 4; words by F. Bland Tucker

[5] Luke 9.37-42

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2 thoughts on “Lord, show us a sign!

  1. Paul,

    Amazing sermon as usual! “For those who want to save their life for my sake will save it.” The heavenly signs of their destiny definitely had been enough to keep them going! I wonder how many of us would have done the same? I’ve asked myself that many times.

    What struck me most about your sermon and the sermon at St. Mark’s today was about transformation and transfiguration! I’ve always talked to God, but since Tim’s death, I’ve been listening much more than talking. So I haven’t seen the radiating light like in the first sign to the Disciples, or the truth of resurrection and other teaching as in the second sign, BUT I have listened to God as in third sign, and He’s clearly spoken to me. God hasn’t spoken to me in words, but certainly in signs – like a double rainbow, incredible landscapes, flowing streams and waterfalls – ALL telling me that I need to live on to feel and experience God’s love for me in spite of the fact that Tim was no longer in the world with me.

    Your closing for me was key in my life, and spurred me to speak at Sermon Seminar at church this morning about my life over the past year without Tim. In my daily living, I’ve worked hard in my words and deeds to transform despair into hope and sorrow into joy, both for myself and for those to whom I speak. When people are so moved by my words that they cry I know I am in the process of transforming myself and them…..I’ve had many a transfiguration moments over the last 365 plus days, the most startling of which occurred in the Episcopal Church across the street from the hospital where Tim died about an hour after his death. We went to the church and sat in the beautiful gardens and ground. I then went into the open chapel and sat alone for a couple of minutes in the dark. All of a sudden the lights on the altar flickered on and off a few times. I believed that the flickering lights was my sign from God that he was with me in my time of need and grief. I believe that God had saved me and Tim from 30 days of pain and suffering with pancreatic cancer he showed mercy in allowing Tim to pass peacefully in his sleep. Since then, my life has transformed to one of helping others to find joy in every moment, even when it’s hard. I’ve found joy and peace in this year in spite of the fact that my heart is broken… and to me, it’s all been God! I now find hope when I think of my future instead of despair, and I find joy as opposed to sorrow when thinking of our memories or looking at photos.

    Thank you Paul for allowing me to be able to articulate a part of this last year, seeing the lights in the chapel, that I’d not shared with anyone until now.

    Much love!

    Loretta

    Liked by 1 person

    • Loretta, Loretta, Loretta, amen, amen, amen…

      Your witness to the presence and power of God speaking to you, being with you AND your testimony of God’s using you to witness to others, Lord, have mercy, yes, amen!

      Another of my immediate reflections is that all of us, for whate’er the reasons (oft undercover and unknown) of our history and psychology and spirituality, cannot and do not carry on from life’s devastating blows of misfortune with the courage and perseverance you exhibit, verily, embody. I intend no judgment and surely not condemnation in this. The pains of this life and world can and do bring us all low. Still, your determination to sally forth is inspirational (though I know your days have been replete with pain and tears). I honor and admire you. Carry on!

      With love beyond the telling

      Like

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