* a sermon preached at New Hope Lutheran Church on February 26, 2017 *
Since sermons are primarily intended to be heard, you can listen along here.
Texts for the Transfiguration of Our Lord:
Exodus 24:12-18 + Psalm 2 + 2 Peter 1:16-21 + Matthew 17:1-9
Please pray with me this morning:
You call us to live in the in-between.
Between the now and the not yet…
The is and the what could be…
Between death and life.
Open us to being transformed today,
And give us courage to live transfigured lives.
At one of the churches I served in Chicago, we had a program that we called Community Dinners. It was an outgrowth out of the food pantry that we housed there, but it took the concept a step further. See, instead of only giving people food, our volunteers cooked a meal, every week, and we opened our doors and fed anyone who wanted to come in for a meal.
We served the meals family-style, around big circular tables, and members of the church interspersed ourselves among members of our neighborhood. We had a prayer, and then the rest of the meal was just conversation. Seeing how things were going, checking in with each other’s families, things like that. It was truly a vision of the kingdom of heaven.
Because what made these Community Dinners unique was that the folks that were coming through our doors were predominantly homeless, nearly all were unsure of where their next meal would come from, and most were native Spanish speakers. There were immigrants from Honduras, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Mexico, and a few other Central American countries. There were refugees from countries ravaged by war and economic depression. And every single one of them had a remarkable story about life in their country of origin, their attempts at a better life in Chicago, and how they were currently managing through tough times.
My eyes were opened and my heart was broken in ways that they wouldn’t have been if I wasn’t conversational in Spanish and couldn’t hear the nuances and intricacies of their stories as they told them in a language that was familiar and comfortable for them.
My experiences at Community Dinners combine to form a hinge point for me in how I understand myself in ministry and in my understanding of the complete and utter expansiveness of God’s love and God’s mercy in a world full of nuances and intricacies.
We are transformed by experiences and stories.
We are transformed when we intentionally place ourselves in situations to experience and hear God’s story of love and redemption in new and unique ways through voices that are different than how we’ve experienced and heard that story before.
This is what I mean when I say that we must be open to transformation.
Our text for today forms a hinge point in the Gospel of Matthew. From the time Jesus, Peter, James, and John come down off of this mountain, they are making their way toward Jerusalem.
Starting this Wednesday at 7pm here in this sanctuary, we’ll also be making our way toward Jerusalem with Jesus.
Transfiguration is when we see God for who God truly is. When God is viewed in all of God’s glory. In Exodus, when Moses sees the glory of the Lord, that Hebrew word for “glory” translates as a heaviness, it’s a weighty thing. God’s glory is not something filled with rainbows and bluebonnets.
The Gospel of Matthew says that Jesus’ face shone like the sun. Church, if you’ve ever stared at the sun, you know that sucker’s bright, it hurts your eyes.
The glory of God is not a thing to be beheld lightly. Of course the disciples were afraid!
Placing ourselves in situations to hear how God is at work in someone else’s life is an uncomfortable thing. It intentionally stretches us and challenges our preconceived notions about our neighbor.
Transfiguration and transformation are linked experiences, I think.
I think transfiguration is an outward reflection of an inward reality of transformation. That is, when we are transformed, when our heart starts to break open and our very being starts to fundamentally be altered, I think it has an effect on our outward appearance.
Transformation happens, incrementally, little by little, when we come down off our mountaintop experiences, and truly engage the world and the people in it.
Mountaintop experiences are important. We need to be reminded of those overwhelmingly tremendous experiences of seeing and feeling God in all of God’s glory. But we are not called to stay on the mountain. Peter wants to build dwellings, to contain and preserve this glorious moment. But just as quickly as Moses and Elijah appeared, they were gone.
We’re not called to stay on the mountain, we are called to come down from the mountain and follow Jesus.
Because notice what happens immediately before our verses for today. If you have your Bibles with you or your Bible apps on your phone, go ahead and flip to Matthew, chapter 17, to our Gospel lesson for today…
Go ahead…I’ll wait……
Got it? Ok, now look back just 5 verses to chapter 16, verse 24. Just before the Transfiguration, we hear these words from Jesus: “If anyone wants to become my disciple, let them deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow me. Those who want save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”
When we follow Jesus down off the mountain with Peter, James, and John, we’re following Jesus to the cross. We’re making our way, with Jesus, to certain death.
But we who live on this side of Easter know that death is not the end of the story.
Save by giving up….
Gain by losing…
It’s upside-down and backwards logic to a world that tells you to build bigger barns and store up as much as you can, to wall yourself off from others, to build bigger fences rather than longer tables.
A world that champions hyper-individuality over radical hospitality and inclusivity.
One thing I learned at Community Dinners was that my own story is richer and more full now that I have Angél’s, and José’s, and Pedro’s, and Amalia’s stories to carry around with my own.
I was transformed by those Community Dinners, and as a result of that transformation, I was transfigured. Where once I was blind to the crushing realities of homelessness and food insecurity, I began to truly see people as God sees them. As so incredibly precious and so deserving of love and dignity and care.
As we make our way to Lent, church, you might be considering giving something up. Lent is a time for practicing and cultivating spiritual disciplines. I want to suggest to us a communal Lenten spiritual discipline of serving.
New Hope Lutheran Church has started and sustained 2 incredible social agencies in our area. The East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry and Fort Bend Family Promise both have deep ties to our faith community. Over the past few months, as I’ve had the opportunity to meet with both organizations, I’m both extremely proud of the work they’re doing and convicted by what I think we can do better.
I want to challenge you this Lent, church. During these 6 weeks of spiritual housecleaning and spiritual growth, gather a group of people together. Get a group of 5-10 people; it can be the commission that you serve on, your bible study group…it could even be a group of your friends. However you choose to get people together, coordinate with Mark Perin, or Don Fought, or Jim Uschkrat and go and serve people at either the East Fort Bend Human Needs Ministry or Family Promise.
Please do this at least once, ideally twice in the next 2 months.
Put yourself in a position to be changed by the experiences and stories of someone you’ve never met before. And then come and tell me about it. I want to hear your stories of transformation.
I guarantee you that it will happen.
It just might be a hinge point in your own life of faith.
It will change how you view the world and God’s people in it.
Be transformed. And live transfigured.