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God's Sound and Light Show

This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, Feb. 7 at St. Timothy and St. Mark Lutheran Churches. The text is Luke 9:28-36. 

Some of you may be familiar with the Sound and Light Theater in Lancaster, PA. Through sound and light, biblical stories are dramatized bringing them to life. More of you are likely familiar with the Grain Elevator Light Display which can be seen from the inner and outer harbors in Buffalo. The grain elevators are ugly structures, that are transformed into something  beautiful by the dazzling, colorful light shows. As amazing and inspiring as these two examples are, God puts on the greatest sound and light show imaginable in today's gospel reading.

The transfiguration occurs immediately after Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah and the the passion is introduced into Jesus’ teaching (vv. 18-27).

Luke is the only gospel that names prayer as the reason for going to the mountain. Once on the mountaintop, Jesus seems to be the one doing all the praying. Jesus is then joined by Moses and Elijah.

In the Transfiguration God affirms Jesus’ identity. The Transfiguration provides another way of answering the question “Who is Jesus?

Conversation among Jesus, Moses and Elijah concerned Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection and ascension. The three discuss the nature of Jesus’ journey through rejection and death to his exaltation. Jerusalem is where Jesus’ opposition will put him to death. It is also the place where he will be vindicated through his resurrection (v. 22).

Moses represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets. Elijah was looked on as a forerunner to the Messiah.

The disciples get to see and hear what’s going on. As much as the disciples were “weighed down with sleep,” they managed to stay awake and boy was it worth it. Jesus now shines with the light of heaven itself. He is joined by Moses and Elijah. The entire scene is cast as a moment of revelation.

Peter suggests they build dwellings, so they can stay on the mountain. However, as he is prone to do, Peter gets things both exactly right and exactly wrong. He understands that he has seen a manifestation of God to people, but Peter didn’t know how to respond. Luke presents his suggestion of building shelters as a faux pas. In fact, God interrupts the chatter, cutting Peter’s transcendental moment short and points to Jesus in the flesh. God says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

The disciples entered the cloud. Here Jesus is the shelter and the disciples can enter the cloud with him and learn of God’s pleasure in a way that is indescribable. As Jesus promised earlier in the gospel, these apostles have now seen, if only for a moment, the consummation of the kingdom, for they have seen the Son in his glory.

The mountain, the light, the cloud, and the voice denote God’s presence, as it was on Mt. Sinai for Moses. God’s naming Jesus as his beloved Son, was spoken in the first chapter of Luke by the angel to Mary and then at Jesus’ baptism. This time, God’s words were directed to the disciples, not to Jesus.

After Moses and Elijah disappeared, Jesus was all alone as the beloved. Jesus’ glory is revealed and then, just as suddenly, a cloud descends and the vision fades.

The disciples were so overwhelmed after their experience in the cloud, that they were in awe and silent! Their silence acknowledges the mystery of this event and the magnitude of its implications. Their silence also signals their obedience to Jesus’ warning not to tell anyone (v. 21) about what they had seen.

The disciples were nowhere near ready to witness to what they had experienced. It was not yet their time to speak. That would occur after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.

The story of the transfiguration can seem quite foreign to us. We struggle to imagine details like Jesus’ transfiguration, the appearance of Moses and Elijah and a mysterious cloud. However, there are elements common to Christian witness through the centuries. At times, we may have  a “mountaintop experience” of God’s presence, with a sense of being enveloped and surrounded by mystery.

If it took the dazzling transfiguration of Jesus before the very eyes of Peter, James and John, to wake them up, what will it take for us to see God’s presence in our lives?

God's radiance can indeed be seen on earth when we gather to hear the word.

Where else do we see God’s glory on earth? For some of us it may be in nature. For the elderly or homebound, it is the kindness and love extended to them. Someone may bring them communion, sit and visit with them, share with them the cookies the children have made. For the homeless, it may be receiving a jacket to wear, obtaining a meal, or finding a warm place to stay on a cold, snowy night. For the young, it may be having a mentor or a tutor. It could be helping a single mom, by watching her children so she can do errands or, by a talented person fixing her car. We can assist one another in seeing God’s glory in many places and in many ways.

As we awake to God’s presence, let us not lock it away in booths of our own security and salvation. Let us open our hearts to God’s presence, a source of courage, power and might that will motivate us to go out into the world and tell of our mountain top experience so we can point others to the beloved and convey God’s message to “listen to him!”

Verity Jones,
Sundays and Seasons,
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