Grace to you and peace, from God…
Transfiguration Sunday: the day that Jesus’ face and clothes change right before his disciples’ sleepy eyes.
I think the “sleepy disciples” image resonates particularly this time of year. Did you catch that in the story? Unique to Luke. Matthew and Mark both include an account of the Transfiguration, but it doesn’t say that the disciples were weighed down with sleep. (Message: “hunched over with sleep” -- Paul Gaske, sleeping in church)
Please don’t hear me wrong, sleep is good, a gift from God in other parts of the scripture—but in the Gospel of Luke, for Jesus, sleepiness is an opportunity to fall into temptation.
I wonder if you can think of another time the disciples fall asleep while their with Jesus at a critical time? [Gethsemane] And Jesus command in that moment was “Pray—don’t fall asleep—pray, so that you may not be led into temptation.”
Sleepiness in this context is a fuzzy-mindedness. Foggy brain.
When I’m slumped over with sleep, I’m grumpy if I get woken. Part of me is glad that wasn’t me on the mountain with Jesus, because I would have really embarrassed myself and snapped, when the bright lights and the 2 Old Testament heroes showed up. I probably would have barked at them: “Get out of here!”
My fuzzy-mindedness, my being hunched over with sleepiness, and the temptation that can accompany my sleepiness, leads me to anger and grumpiness.
The disciples, on the other hand, weren’t grumpy, thanks be to God. They didn’t bark at Jesus or Moses or Elijah, like perhaps I would have. They were much more like happy-drunks in their sleepiness. They came to, and “not knowing what they were saying,” the Scripture tells us, blurted out, “Let’s build something and stay here forever!”
And can you blame them? They are hanging with Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Moses and Elijah?! That’s like hanging with your heroes -- like Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, or 2016 MVP and World Champion on the Chicago Cubs Kris Bryant. I mean these were the All Stars of the past and present! And they woke into it — can you blame? — with elation and frenzied processing? They were star-struck and jolted awake at the same time. The few experiences I’ve had being star-struck, I said something stupid.
Peter, James and John were star-struck, sleepy happy-drunk...and away from the world. That’s the other thing!
Can you blame them for wanting to build and stay up there forever? They were far away from the hurting, real world, and they only wanted to capture that moment, and keep cozy forever. It’s like being nice and warm in your bed—all snug and cozy—and even thinking about getting up is daunting. “Lord, it is good for us to be here. Let’s build, let’s add-on to this glory, and let’s stay here forever.”
But precisely as Peter is rambling, a cloud comes over them all, a thick fog moves in [just when they thought everything was so clear and beautiful] and they hear a voice: “This is my Son, the Chosen. Listen to him.” In other words, God says to the disciples of old and to us today — listen to him, to Jesus, not to your own voices of vanity, celebrating accomplishments, craving safety and protection from the world, not to your own fuzzy-mindedness. Listen to him.
And suddenly the cloud lifts and it’s just Jesus...and what’s he doing? He’s headed back down the mountain, back to the pain and the brokenness, the division, the cruelty, the evil of the world. No better example of that than the last part of this reading today: Jesus casts out a demon IMMEDIATELY after this great glorious event. Listen to him — the one who confronts evil and oppression with love. [pause]
Here’s the gift of Transfiguration: we a get just a glimpse of God’s glory, and then we get back to work. Just a little flare, to remind us, that this work in the trenches is a worthy cause— more than that: it is a divine cause, it’s God’s cause -- God’s work, our hands. Because sometimes it seems like there’s no difference being made, no hope, no change, no matter. But our work, your work, people of God, in your everyday lives is not in vain — caring for the poor and the sick, caring for the hungry, the outsider, the immigrant and refugee, reaching out to support a friend in need, being a loving parent, doing the right thing (even if it’s more costly to your reputation or your wallet), staying alert so that you don’t fall into temptation (we don’t live on the mountain top, we live in the valley) — living and working in a valley is not in vain...even if sometimes it feels like it.
One of the themes in the Gospel of Luke is that he says it...and then he does it: “Proclaim liberty and release to the captive, stand with the oppressed...here, let me show you…
“And if it doesn’t go well, then shake the dust from your sandals and just keep moving.”
Jesus talked about this when he sent out his disciples, and then he gets chased out of his own hometown. Just keep moving. [Dory from Finding Nemo: “Just keep swimming.”]
Today we get a peek at God’s glory, and this week we descend the mountain top into the journey of Lent — 40 days of valley living, coming face to face with our sin and the sin of our world. And yet we “just keep swimming” in the waters and the promise of our baptism.
Today we get a peek at God’s glory, at this peaceful Christ, who is the true hope and safety of our lives and of the life of this world. Let us bask this morning in the wonder of his presence, shining among us even today, even in 2017, let us be in silent awe of Christ’s glory [not babbling or happy-drunk with suggestions on how to package and domesticate the moment]. Let’s just be in praise. The German mystic Rilke: “Praise my dear ones. Let us disappear into praising. Nothing belongs to us.”
And when the glimpse is past. When the cloud of praise lifts, then, O God, give us the courage to follow your Son, the Chosen One, down the rocky path to face the world’s pain and sorrow, but to do so knowing that the glimpse of God that we have today, both in the scripture and the sacraments, the glimpse of God is only a foretaste of the feast to come, when we shall dwell with all the saints in endless glory.
Thanks be to God, who goes with us now, who leads us now, into the valley of our lives, who casts out demons, and welcomes the stranger, who loves everyone -- even you -- this day and always. AMEN.