Sermon #220 St. James the Less #127 2/14/21
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.
As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
When you arrive at seminary and sit down for your introductory theology class one of the first topics that you’ll have to learn about is the nature of revelation, not the book Revelation, but rather the act of the Almighty God who has willingly revealed himself to creation.
For ancient societies, it was a given that God or the gods revealed, or disclosed, their presence to humans in one form or another. If you read ancient Greek mythology the gods are always interacting with humans. Their behavior is quite erratic, they are driven by their anger, jealousy, and lust. Every other story of Zeus is about him kidnapping and seducing a pretty young woman.
Other societies throughout history tried to stay on the good side of the gods. They would sacrifice animals even their own children at times to ensure the gods would send rain and a good harvest. These regional gods were perpetually in a bad mood in need of being appeased by humanity.
For the ancients then, it wasn’t a question of if the gods would show themselves to humans, but just how angry or unpredictable were they when they did finally reveal themselves.
It wasn’t until the 17th century when “rationalists,” as they were called, began to question the long-held assumption of divine revelation.
And if you think about it, we usually take for granted that there is not only a God but a God who wants us to know him—the invisible, all-powerful God has chosen to be known rather than unknown, revealed rather than hidden.
The word revelation means “lifting the veil” and throughout the Bible, God lifts the veil a myriad of times so that mortals can behold the divine. Moses met God through a burning bush and a heavenly voice, another time he climbed up a mountain and entered a cloud that signified God’s presence. Elijah met God on a mountain, and after a lot of commotion, he realized God’s presence was in a still small voice.
There are these moments when God allows the veil to be lifted so that mortals can get a small glimpse of the immortal. In a romantic relationship or a friendship someone may put up an emotional wall, only allowing the person to get so far, but after a while when more trust is built the wall is taken down, the veil is lifted and you then know them, truly know them for who they are—there’s no more guessing or pretending.
And Christians have always claimed that if you want to see the clearest example of God revealing himself to humanity, you don’t need to look any further than God in the flesh. If you want to know what God is like, all you must do is look at Jesus.
Anyone who walked with Jesus or heard him speak was a witness to God’s incarnate revelation.
For Peter, James, and John in our gospel reading this morning they get a closer look at this divine revelation—they not only see Jesus, but they see his glory. The veil is lifted, and like the prophets of old, they are wrapped up in a transcendent moment that included an otherworldly brightness, a cloud, and a heavenly voice that seems to always accompany God’s presence. It’s a sensory overload—no wonder they were dazed and out of sorts after the whole thing.
It is fitting that we read this passage today. The season of Epiphany, which concludes early this week, has been showing us one example after another of how Jesus has made himself known to Jew and Gentile alike.
But now we are figuratively heading off that mountain, just like the disciples were walking off the mountain and trying to process the revelation they just saw—this transfiguration.
Visually it was a lot to process, maybe too much for them as they quietly headed down the mountain to meet up with the other disciples. I’ve always imagined that they were in a daze after this transcendent experience, and the only thing they could do was repeat the words they heard, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him.”
This phrase is the focal point of the whole passage in my opinion. It was a powerful message that they would not forget. Though they didn’t understand what it all meant, they could at least get the last part—they could listen to Jesus.
For us, as we walk off this Epiphany mountain and make our way towards the season of Lent, this is a good time to look at the words they heard and see how they will not only inform our Lenten journey but our entire Christian pilgrimage.
I want to take a moment to look at how this phrase helps us firstly, recognize the Beloved Son, and then secondly the call for each disciple to listen to him.
Recognizing the Beloved Son
So, recognizing the Beloved Son. Ever since the disciples met Jesus they knew he was different. He didn’t act like any other rabbi they had known. He was eating meals with tax collectors, healing the sick, walking on water for goodness sake, and doing something only God could do…forgive sins.
As Jesus continued to do these things which got him in more and more trouble with the religious elite, the disciples must have been asking themselves, “Who is this guy?” At one-point, Jesus even asks them, “Who do people say that I am?”
Apparently, everyone was asking this question, and everyone seemed to have a different answer. Some thought he was John the Baptist, others thought he was the second coming of Elijah, or another one of the prophets. Everyone had an opinion, and so Jesus asks them, “Who do you say that I am?”
A priest I know loves to ask pretty much anyone a similar question, “Who is Jesus Christ to you?” He’ll ask parishioners, vestry members, and he is not shy in asking clergy who want to join his staff. In one interview he asked a recent seminary grad this question and the grad responded, “I didn’t know you were going to ask that, or I would have prepared for it.” Let’s just say that interview did go too well.
And so that is our question, “Who do you say Jesus is?” That question continues to be answered in a variety of ways even to this day. It is one that we need to continue to ask ourselves because the answer has implications.
If Jesus is the Beloved Son of God then he’s not just a nice moral teacher, a guru with some spiritual advice, but rather the full revelation of the Almighty God. What he says, and what he asks of us, his followers, cannot be tossed to the side when we don’t want to do it. His words have power because of who he is.
If Jesus is the Son of God, the Beloved, then we do not stand on equal ground with him. He is the one being transfigured on the mountain, not us. He is the one our hearts long for, he is the one to whom all heaven worships and adores. We are not the Beloved, we are the disciple of the Beloved. That alone is a great honor.
I personally need to be reminded that it’s not all about me, and maybe you do too. We can get so wrapped up in ourselves that we forget the larger story of God that is being played out, and accordingly, our life and the gifts we have are to be given to the glory of the Beloved. We fall before Jesus, like the disciples on the mountain, knowing that he is the Beloved Son, and because of him we are made sons and daughters of God.
Listen to Him
And so, to our second point, we need to listen to him. But maybe I should put that in the form of a question: Are we listening? If Jesus is the full revelation of God then his words have authority, like no one else.
Have we carved out some time in our day to listen and pray? We may be trying to live our best lives, seeking to do the most good, but if we are not connecting ourselves to him through prayer then we’re liable of getting out of sorts.
What might we need to change in our daily routine to make sure that we are listening? When walking off the mountain the command to listen was the one thing Peter, James, and John understood, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
They listened, and because they listened, their hearts and their lives were transformed. Because they listened to him, and later witnessed his death and resurrection, they were then sent out to reflect the glory of God to all nations. And I don’t think that anything less is expected of us.
With this in mind, we need to seriously prepare for Lent which begins on Wednesday.
I’m afraid ridding ourselves of chocolate won’t get us that much closer to God. It is only through our continual rediscovery of who Jesus is, and what it means to listen and follow him, that we can become the person, the disciple, he is calling us to be.
Last Sunday after the Epiphany. Year B. Mark 9:2-9. Loosely based on Sermon #88. Notes on Revelation found in Systematic Theology v. 1 Fiorenza ed. Avery Dulles author. Pic here.