Sermon on Luke 9:28–36 for Transfiguration (C), February 24-27, 2022
- There is a difference between hearing and listening. The words are sometimes used interchangeably—even in different translations of the Bible. But I can see a distinction. Hearing is the sense. It’s the mechanics. Sound waves come into the outer ear, vibrate the eardrum, stimulate the nerves and send a bio-electrical signal to the brain. Listening is how we process that. Listening is an art. It is being attentive—paying attention. One of the prayers we use at the end of the non-communion service says, “Blessed Lord, you given us your Holy Scriptures for our learning. May we so hear them, read, learn, and take them to heart…” (CW21 p. 171; CW93 p. 25). “Hear, read, learn, and take to heart.” That describes listening—paying attention. Reflecting the value of what is heard. Seeking to learn and follow.
- Today, the Gospel begins with a loose end. “About eight days after he said these words…” What words? The lectionary committee could have suggested we drop that first phrase—but they didn’t. They didn’t because it has to do with listening too. Eight days earlier, Jesus told his disciples, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and experts in the law. He must be killed and be raised on the third day.” And then he told the disciples that they would share in his suffering—words that many of you know: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” This is what Jesus said eight days earlier, and we know the disciples heard what he said. We know that Peter, especially, wasn’t really listening. We’ll get back to that later.
- One of the themes we talk about at Christmas is the true nature of Jesus Christ—it’s also was a major issue covered by the Nicene Creed. The baby in the manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes, was “eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God. … through him all things were made.” He looks like any other baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, but he is really the maker of all. He hides the glory of God—the divine glory is always his, but to live among human beings, and as we’ll see again in the weeks of Lent, to carry out his work as the Lamb of God, he sets the glory aside and lives, walks, hungers, thirsts, sweats and bleeds—all for us and for our salvation.
- The point of “Epiphany” is that Jesus reveals who he is. He reveals it bit by bit. He revealed it at the wedding of Cana—doing creative work by speaking a word—“Fill the jars with water” and in an instant, there was wine—something that ordinarily would have taken years to cultivate, months to grow, more months to process and ferment. And he does that again and again: healing the sick, cleansing the lepers, driving out demons, stilling the storm and raising the dead. When he was reporting that first miracle, John said, “Jesus revealed his glory, and his disciples believed in him.” He revealed his glory by what he was doing. All of the miracles had the double purpose of helping people in their needs, and to show that he had every right to say the things he was saying about himself, about humanity, about heavenly and earthly things. The glory, revealed bit by bit in the miracles, was saying, “Listen to him!”
- Now on the mountain, Jesus reveals his glory by showing them who he is. His face shone like the sun. His clothing became dazzling white—like lightning. We remember the time Moses wanted to see the full glory of God, and God set him in the back of a cave and let him see his back as he passed by. Here’s an unanswerable question. Did Jesus let Peter, James and John see his full glory? Or did he show them as much as they could bear to see? That isn’t important compared to the fact that they saw Jesus displaying divine glory—the glory of God—enough for them to know, this Jesus is not just a nice person, a good teacher. This is God himself. Pay attention. He has a right to say what he says and claim for himself what he claims, that he is the Son of God and Son of Man. That he is the Savior. That he has a place prepared for them. That he is the resurrection and the life.
- Moses and Elijah appear–and that could be the subject of a sermon by itself. But then when they go, Peter wakes up and speaks, and shows that he wasn’t listening eight days before. “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let’s make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” In other words, “Oh, boy! Is this great!” “Moses! Elijah! Glory! Jesus shining like the sun! Let’s stay up here, here on the mountain. Let’s build some tents and stay as long as we can.” What did Jesus say eight days earlier? “The Son of Man must suffer many things.” And he spoke about his disciples, “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” That’s not fun. Not fun at all. That can’t compare with spending time with heroes of old and the Son of God in all his glory! But that kind of earthly glory isn’t what Jesus came for. He came to be the Lamb of God, to bear the sin of the world by his suffering—everything he talked about eight days earlier.
- So, just in case those disciples missed the message—the message from Jesus own mouth, the message that had its authority shown and highlighted with miraculous signs of divine glory, and with this display of Jesus’ glory, the Father speaks from the cloud. “This is my Son whom I love.”[Some of the early handwritten copies of Luke have “This is my Son whom I have chosen.”] We heard something like this before—at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son whom I love, in him I am well pleased.” But here the Father says, “Listen to him.” “Listen to him, Peter, because you aren’t really listening to Jesus. Jesus talks about suffering, and you want to talk about glory.” As Matthew tells it, it was this time eight days earlier when Jesus said “The Son of Man must suffer many things” that Peter objected, and “Lord! This will never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). He heard, but wasn’t listening. He heard what Jesus said about God’s plan, but Peter had a plan of his own. Glory. An earthly glory, even an earthly kingdom for Jesus, and a place for himself in it. Not suffering. So the Father says, “Listen to him.” About three more times, possible more, Jesus will say, “The Son of Man must suffer.” (See chart at the end.)
- We see both glimpses of Jesus’ glory and displays of his full glory—on the pages of Scripture. We see it at Christmas with the infinite becoming a small child. We will see the glory of his patient suffering and love in Lent. We will see Jesus’ dazzling glory again at Easter. Day by day we experience the glory of his grace. Every day we wake up and take a breath tells us that Jesus isn’t done with us. “His mercies are new every morning” (Lamentations 3:23). The glory tells us to listen to him. The Father’s voice from heaven tells us to listen to him, too, because, like Peter, we have our own ideas. Our own ideas about love—about how closely we want to follow Jesus. Sometimes we don’t want to follow Jesus at all if it is going to cost us or spoil our fun. Listen to him, the Father says. “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Follow where he leads. Follow what he guides you to do. Sometimes we have a problem with the grace. We feel alone, yet Jesus says, “Surely I am with you always.” Listen to him! We feel down, burdened by guilt, burdened by life, yet Jesus says, “Be of good cheer! Your sins are forgiven.” He teaches you to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses,” which surely means that he is willing to forgive. Listen to him. When we are afraid, afraid of what is happening in the world, we need to listen to him. He told us, “in this world you will have trouble,” and he also said, “Take heart! I have overcome the world.” Listen to him. He’s not just a good teacher. He’s the best Teacher of all—bringing the word of God from God’s own mouth. He’s not just a good example for you to follow—he is the one who redeemed you with his holy life and innocent death. His holiness covers you before God, and empowers you to reflect his holiness and love as you live with others. Listen to him. Follow him. Embrace him, since he has already embraced you.