Love That Transfigures You and Me Matthew 17:1-9
“A Love That Transfigures You and Me” Matthew 17:1-9 2/24/17
I am a believer in short prayers, but also a doubter of short prayers. I am a believer in short sermons- but also a doubter of short sermons. I am a believer in not pressuring folks to give, but also a doubter of not challenging people to give. Let me explain. I believe that if the minister prays too long they may lose the people. I have seen it happen. My own father used to go to sleep during the prayers of the associate pastor that we had when I was growing up- his prayers were flowery and full of rhetoric and almost poetry- but they did not seem to be addressed to God. My father would put his head down- he would put his fist on his head and lean down further the more the minister prayed on and on- then he would lean on the pew in front of him. On occasion mom would elbow him. I’ve seen some women elbow some men in this sanctuary too! Once or twice dad would start to snore- and then I would elbow him! Luke says that Jesus took Peter, James and John up on the mountain to pray. But they fell asleep. The Mount of Transfiguration still stands in Israel today- the tour guides can point it out to you. It is a far journey from everything. It is in the middle between Galilee where Jesus’ ministry was fruitful and Judea where he would be crucified. It was a long way- and the disciples were tired, Jesus started praying. I don’t doubt they stayed with him at first. But after awhile, it probably got dark and they started snoring. This is how we view prayers, and sermons, and giving, and faith. It is okay to have just a little. We can handle that- maybe. Religion-Lite; Discipleship-Lite. But too much of a good thing- and we are talking over 3 minute prayers for us- our eyes get heavy. In Korea the church is exploding with spiritual vitality and in part it is because the people there have seen the importance of daily extended time talking to God in prayer. Each church gets up at 5 in the morning to pray- and they will have as many there as they do on Sunday morning. I remember asking, “What if you can’t get there at 5:00.” The minister of the largest Presbyterian Church in the world answered me saying, “If you can’t get there at 5 we have a 4:00 AM service.” And he was serious! 28 SC Presbyterians went and I looked and about half were asleep within 15 minutes. Tonight we will have our Fourth Sunday Community service and we will have an African American preach or pray a little longer than you are used to. This will keep some away. Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane- the night he was arrested and said, “Watch and Pray” they kept falling asleep even after Jesus woke them up and asked them to stay up. Matthew writes about it with regret. But part of this is we expect little from God. Peter, James, and John did not expect to see Moses and Elijah and to see Jesus transfigured with a luminous glow- and they themselves glowing a bit. They just expected to go up a hill and pray- even after all the miracles they had seen. Let me tell you, we are no different- maybe a bit more unbelieving and apathetic. We do not expect God to transform us when we come to worship. When we pray we usually do not imagine Jesus sitting right next to us listening to each silent request. We tend to imagine that we are saying things in the dark expecting God to be silent and uncaring. We are far more skeptical than the disciples. But that doesn’t mean there is no hope.
The hope is not found in our sleeping during prayer, or our being asleep to God. The hope is found in Jesus who wakes us up! The transfiguration was really a glmpse of heaven and the resurrection. It was a glmpse written down for us so we could share in the amazing moment. Jesus was revealed for who he really was. It was meant to be an encouragement to Peter who would betray him- so that he would come back. It was mean to encourage James who would die early for his faith. It was meant to encourage John who would be the last apostle to die. It was meant to encourage Jesus himself who was about to take a direct turn away from ministry into his road to calvary and death. It is written for us who are discouraged or afraid that we might take courage and be encouraged- but you have to trust the message or it will do you no good at all. The message of Christ is not ordinary and it is not natural. If it were it might help us cope with life and maybe enlighten life but that is all. Jesus came to give us more than information and coping skills. Jesus came to teach us how to die and therefore how to live. He came to give us forgiveness so we won’t be stuck in our inadequacies and failures. He came to make a way for us to enter into God’s presence. God is not natural- or He would be little help. He is outside of us-above us- more than we expect and a lot more than our overused word “awesome” can project. The transfiguration reveals a bit of the truth- the reality behind what we see on the surface- it confirms our faith by three things: 1) You hear God’s voice saying “This is my Son- listen to him”; 2) You see the saints who also confirm Jesus as Lord; 3) You get a glance of God’s glory. The transfiguration reveals the transformation we will have when we get to heaven.
If you think about it, Jesus whole ministry was about getting our heart right with God, and getting a glmpse of our goal is part of getting that right. So there will be no more sickness- so we get a glimpse when Jesus heals the leper, the deaf, the dumb, the leper. In heaven there will be no more guilt- so we see Jesus telling the man his sins are forgiven and telling the woman caught in adultery- neither do I condemn you- go and sin no more. In heaven there will be no more miscommunication with God- so at both the baptism and here in the transfiguration we hear the voice saying, “This is my Son whom I love.” In heaven there will be no more death- so Jesus raises Jairus’s daughter and Lazarus. In heaven we will be cleaned and changed- so we get a glimpse of this change in the transfiguration- where we see Jesus illuminated with glory.
We believe that the Good News of Christ doesn’t just get you into heaven, but it changes us now- it transforms us. The love of God transfigures us- makes us better people now- with hope and a purpose and a desire to love God and neighbor. If we have no transformation- no change in our hearts we are little help. Several years ago there was an episode of the Simpsons called “Mission Impossible” (2000) in which Homer is about to go bankrupt from a false $10k pledge he gave to NPR, and he has all these people chasing him. He runs into a church where he is kept safe by Pastor Lovejoy and smuggled out to a deserted island where he is to be a missionary. But Homer while grateful for being safe knows nothing about the faith. He pounds on the beach in frustration saying, “Oh God, Oh God!” The natives of the island imitate him. He realizes he must teach them something but he knows nothing. So he teaches them what he does know. He opens a casino on the island called, “The Lucky Savage” and spreads gambling, alcohol abuse, and swearing and violence throughout the island. The island’s natives are ruined. This is an over-exaggeration, but it is a good story. To talk about our faith but not be transformed on the inside will lead to trouble- in fact fake religion is worse than no religion. But the good news is that the Gospel can transform us. But it reminds me to ask you- if you were a missionary right now- what would you teach? Truth is, you are a missionary to Chapin and Irmo- some of you are getting ready to be a missionary to Mexico. Homer didn’t have his heart changed, and he didn’t know what the faith taught. Let your heart be changed and grow in your discipleship of Christ. There is deep inside of us a desire to be transformed. So Cindarella is changed into a Princess. Sleeping Beauty awakes; The Little Mermaid gets legs- transformed by love. So the Poppy Grumpy Troll begins to sing. So we would like to turn our meaninglessness into purpose. We would like our worry to be transfigured into peace. There is this God designed part of us that has hope that we can be changed. The good news is that we can be. If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation- the old has passed everything has become new. The transfiguration reminds us God changes our heart- so we want to pray when we would rather sleep; we want to worship; we want to sing. Faith is not a matter of going through the motions or ethics- but it is a change of the heart- a change in what we want and what we love, that transfigures heaven to earth.