17 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2 And he was transfigured (or transformed) before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes as dazzling light. 3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” 10 And the disciples asked him, “Why, then, do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” 11 He replied, “Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; 12 but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of Man is about to suffer at their hands.” 13 Then the disciples understood that he was speaking to them about John the Baptist.
My favorite TV show is Project Runway. Do you know it? Its reality design show, where as you know in fashion, one day you are in and the next day you are out. I’m such a fan, that the last time we were in NYC, we went to Mood, the fabric store they use in the show. Basically, in each episode a group of designers is given a fashion challenge – create a red carpet, couture, every daywear, etc. And in each season, there is one episode that is the Unconventional Challenge. In this episode, designers put away their silk and beautiful fabrics. Instead to make clothing out of materials found in, for example, a flower shop, out of hallmark cards, items from a hardware store, or recycled computer parts. In this season the group had to rummage through a paper recycling plant to find materials that they could transform into a high-end fashion look. And it was a team challenge so they had to make 4 looks that all complemented each other and looked like they belonged together.
This episode is always one of my favorites. I am amazed how anyone can take seemly simple and unfashionable items like vinyl records or newspaper and turn them into clothes. And as you can expect, some of the designers love this kind of thinking outside the box and some of them hate it. Some so transform the materials that you can no longer recognize what it was originally and others create outfits that are a hot mess.
Our theme for today’s service is Unrecognizable: A Total Transformation. And our passage today is the transfiguration of Jesus. This word means, metamorphosis, which means, a profound change in form from one stage to the next. In this passage Jesus changes into a beautiful, more spiritual state right in front of Peter, James and John.
And then Moses and Elijah show up! This mountaintop experience bridges the past to the present and draws us into the promise of the future. Moses and Elijah had each has their own mountain top experiences. They both lied in times of dangerous kings and when people needed their cries to God to be answered. And now are seen with Jesus, who stands in opposition of the Roman government, who is the revelation of God’s love for all people. So Peter wanting to do something, says something like “this is good stuff Jesus. What a great moment! Let’s mark this occasion; maybe we should stay up here, you wait here, I’ll run to first century Home Depot and get some stuff and build 3 monuments, one to you and Moses and Elijah”. While he is still rambling on, God literally tells Peter, in the nicest way possible, to stop talking and to experience being in the presence of God. And as at his baptism, God calls Jesus the Son of God, the beloved.
Like Peter many of us would in that moment also want to build a memorial instead of relishing in the moment. We would, if were honest, get out our phone and Instagram and Snapchat the whole thing to our friends. Mountain top moments are amazing. And we need them in life and in our spiritual journey.
Some of us want to live on the mountaintop and to some extent every cathedral in this land is a monument to a mountaintop experience, a place where we seek God’s glory breaking through to humanity. But Jesus tells us like he told Peter and James and John, that we can not stay up on the mountain, no we must go back down to the valley, to the low places where the people are, where they are hungry and where they are suffering. And if you continue reading in Matthew, the first thing Jesus does when he comes down from the mountain is heal a young boy.
Jesus is all his humility, taught his friends about God and their own belovedness. Jesus transformed and still transforms lives. What Peter, James and John saw on that mountain that day was the fulfillment of the Law, the Prophets and the Gospels (before they were even written).
People, Jesus is saying that the way of Jesus is this; come to the mountain and seek God’s vision for your life, for all of creation, and then go out your door and meet people where they are and treat them in such a way that helps them see that they are beloved by God.
According to Phyllis Tickle, the author of The Great Emergence, the Church goes through a significant shift every 500 years. Looking back over the past 2000 years, she calls the time of Jesus, when God walked on earth, the Great Transformation, when Jesus showed us a new way to understand God. 500 years after that was the fall of Rome and the Council of Calcedon, 500 years after that was the Great Schism between the East and West, and 500 years later is the Great Reformation in 1517. So every 500 years there has been a significant shift in the Church, a great rummage sale, she calls it. When the Church seeks to determine what to keep and what to let go to make room for new ways.
Next month, we will celebrate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing those 95 theses on the cathedral door in Wittenberg thus birthing the Protestant Reformation. We are living in the time of the next great transformation for the Church. For some of us this is scary and we are fearful and for some of us this is exciting and gets our creative juices following. Either way, the challenge is real and cannot be avoid. We find ourselves in 2017 living in an increasing secular, post-denomination, wired world and we are losing ground because we appear less and less relevant to the general population. To be clear, we are not less relevant, in fact some would say we are needed more now than ever. The church will not cease being the church in the future but we must respond to this unconventional challenge.
How does transformation happen? How do we enter into a new stage of existence? We can start by seeking God by seeking God’s vision for this place at this time and in the future. We can engage in spiritual practices that help us to be still and listen to God. I hope each of you is engaging in our small group experiences –through them may we open ourselves up to be transformed and also our church. What a wonderful opportunity we have to loosen our grip on what is and together dream of what can be.
In our reading today, something that has never happened before is about to happen. Jesus is about to be killed, the church is about to be born and if Phyllis Tickle is right the great rummage sale has already started and something new is emerging in the world and in the Church Universal.
Jesus calls us to vision together and to catch a glimpse of ourselves and our church in the future and to then to act with intention. Do not be afraid, Jesus always says. Do not continue to build monuments to institutions and systems that oppress but be the people of God following the way of Christ in glory for all creation. Do not worry about pride of place, for programs that come and go but the word of the Lord shall stand forever.
Are we up for this challenge? Jesus says, it is time to rise up! Resurrect yourselves and resurrect the church and remember this is a team challenge; and I am with you each step of the way.
May it be so for all of us.