+ A sermon for Transfiguration Sunday (Year C) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on March 3, 2019 +

Texts: Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-14;17–4:2; Luke 9:28-43

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sometimes we just have to get away.
With the busyness of life, seemingly unending news cycles, and electronic devices constantly vying for our attention, sometimes it can just be too much.
In times like this, I like to go for a run, get outside, clear my head.
Some people use yoga, meditation, or prayer.
mountain-2158661_1280Here in the Pacific Northwest, hiking is a popular option—getting into the mountains and away from everything else.
Because sometimes you just need to have some time for yourself, to decompress, to process things, to feel rejuvenated.
Perhaps even a holy time to encounter the divine.
And while it doesn’t make everything magically go away, this time can help put problems in new perspectives as you’re standing hundreds of feet up a mountain looking down on the world below.

I remember one time I needed to get away—the first time I visited Holden Village, the beautiful Lutheran community and retreat center nestled in the Cascade Mountains.
If you’ve been to Holden, you know that when you travel up the mountainside and into that gorgeous valley, you leave behind things like internet and cell service.
Really, almost all connection with the outside world fades as you approach Holden.
My first visit was a three-week stay during the slower winter season, which meant even the mail and the newspapers only reached the Village a few times a week.
At first, it was so nice, so peaceful, so serene to be cut off from the rest of the world.
It was truly one of the most divine experiences I’ve had—filled with prayer and hiking and joy.
But by the end of the second week, I remember being so starved for news of what was happening beyond that little valley.
It was a great chance for rest and renewal, but I also knew there were things happening out there.
And while it was nice to be cut off from the problems of the world for a while, I knew that I needed to get back down the mountain and be in the world again.

“Christ Leading Peter, James, and John to the High Mountain for the Transfiguration” by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo

Today we hear two examples from scripture of retreats into the mountain.
In Exodus, we hear how Moses climbed Mt. Sinai and encountered God there.
He communed with God and received the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments.
When Moses returned to the level ground, his face shone from his encounter with the divine and all could witness the glory he had seen.

And from Luke we hear of Jesus needing a reprieve in the mountains.
As he was finishing his ministry in Galilee and transitioning to his journey toward Jerusalem, Jesus took some time away with three of his disciples.
After a breakneck tour of his homeland full of preaching and teaching, healing and feeding, Jesus heads up a mountain to get away for a time.
To pray and to rejuvenate.
And as he was praying, Luke tells us that Jesus was changed—transfigured even—his face shone and “his clothes became dazzling white.”
And Peter, James, and John were astounded at the unfolding scene before them that has enough symbolism and meaning to fill a dozen sermons.
They see Jesus talking with the two great paragons of the Hebrew Bible, Moses and Elijah.
They hear the divine voice telling them to listen to Jesus.
They are overwhelmed what they have seen and want to stay up there, basking in the glory of the Lord.

“The Transfiguration” by Raphael

But Luke also reminds us that while this scene is happening on the mountaintop, something very different is happening down below.
How while those up there may be basking in glory, those below are surrounded by chaos.
Because while we hear of the glory of the Lord shining forth from Jesus, we also hear of a father desperately trying to find help for his sick son, the terror that is gripping the poor boy, and the remaining nine disciples trying to heal him and failing.
It’s a reminder that even while some are experiencing the divine in profound ways, others are in the depths of despair.
That even as we retreat from the world to find rest, there is work to be done.

As we gather for worship here this morning, we may not be on the top of a mountain, but perhaps this too is a chance for us to get away from everything for a while.
A chance to rest and rejuvenate and pray.
A chance to listen to Jesus and the voices of scripture.
A holy and divine time.
But our gospel reminds us that this is not where we are called to remain—that this place, though good and holy as it is for us to gather and worship, is not where we are meant to stay.
Because while we are in here, there is another scene not far away where our neighbors are crying out for help.
That we cannot keep our eyes fixed up in the clouds, but should look around us and see the places we have been called.
We cannot only rest and pray, but also have to act.
Because while what is happening on the mountaintop is important and beautiful and holy, it’s just as important, or maybe even more important, what we hear when Jesus and the disciples come down from the mountain.

“Jesus Heals a Demon-possessed Boy” [Detail]
That’s where this all becomes real.
Even as Peter and James and John are marveling in the glory they saw up there, I get the sense that they didn’t really grasp what was going on.
But when they go back down and see the transfigured Jesus in action, when Jesus heals the boy, “all were astounded at the greatness of God,” Luke tells us.
When they saw what this glory really means, that’s when they understood.
And so the transfiguration does not happen only on the mountaintop when Jesus reveals his glory, but also when they go down from the mountain and the disciples are transformed—when they see God’s glory at work, when they see the places and ministry to which they have been called.
That glory becomes real when they see it in the everyday, their ordinary lives.
The transfiguration is not complete until it is brought from the isolation of the mountaintop into the world in need of its transformation.

So it is with us.
We can talk about the good news of God’s love for us and for all people, we can listen to what that gospel means for us and for our lives, but if we are only encountering this good news in this building, we are only glimpsing a part of it.
We can’t truly understand the magnitude of its glory until we see it in action until we put it in action, until we live the good news with our lives and allow it to transform us.
Because, as the Apostle Paul tells us, through our encounters here with God “we are being transformed into the same image” of Christ.
We are being changed to better reflect the glory of God like mirrors reflecting dazzling light.
And then at the end of our liturgy, we are sent back into the world to be agents of that same transformation.
We are sent out and the things we experienced in worship take life.
It is in our lives, in the every day things, the ordinary, the real world, where we are called to be bearers of Christ’s love. image
It’s in our homes and our jobs, in our schools and our communities, in our friendships and in our everyday actions that we get to live out the good news we have glimpsed here and see it blossom into fruition.
Here in this place, we are being transformed to see, to embody, and to live the ministry of Jesus and to show forth his glory.
And through our transformation, through the transformation of our congregation, we partner with Christ to transform our lives, our relationships, our neighborhood, and eventually the world into the Commonwealth of God.

Pastor Heidi Neumark uses today’s gospel story to help tell about the transformation of her former parish, aptly named Transfiguration Lutheran Church.
When Pastor Neumark arrived, the South Bronx congregation was struggling to survive.
As the neighborhood around them changed and became more mired in poverty and all its accompanying ills, the congregation turned in on itself and tried to keep out the world around it.
It tried to hold on to the divine experience it had within its walls.
But using today’s gospel as her example, Pastor Neumark invited her congregation into a different understanding of their calling.

“When Peter and the others came down from the mountain,” she writes, “they found a father and a child gasping for life. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And they found transfiguration. And so it is. When the disciples of this Bronx church unlocked the doors of their private shelter and stepped out into the neighborhood, they did meet the distress of the community convulsed and mailed by poverty…but they also discovered transfiguration as a congregation in connection with others.”

Transfiguration Lutheran was transformed as they began to meet the needs of their neighbors.
They provided job training and education, care for those living with HIV/AIDS, support for victims of domestic violence, built affordable housing and more.
The story of their transfiguration was not complete until the glory they had glimpsed in worship was put into action in the Bronx.
That’s where we see the fullness of Jesus’ transfiguration, not on the mountaintop, but brought back below realizing the implications of this glory and living into the ministry to which we are called.
Pastor Neumark writes, “Living high up in the rarefied air isn’t the point of transfiguration … [It was] never meant as a private experience of spirituality removed from the public square. It was a vision to carry us down, a glimpse of unimagined possibility at ground level.”[1]

“The Transfiguration” by Libuse Lukas Miller

Now clearly, this is not a congregation that needs to be told to engage with the world around us.
We know that we have experienced the transformational power of the gospel.
We talk about feeding the hungry as we also support the ministry of Backpack Meals for Kids and Hopelink.
We talk about caring for the earth as we protect our little slice of creation through the orchard and our garden.
We talk about caring for our neighbors as we work with Congregations for the Homeless, make quilts for Lutheran World Relief, and welcome all people into this community.
But we also know there is more to do.
And as St. Paul reminds us, our transformation is not complete, but we are still being transformed into Christ’s image “from one degree of glory to another.”
We still come here for rest and renewal, to worship and pray.
We still come to listen to where Christ is calling us next, to experience how God is still working to transform our lives, our congregation, and our community.

How will we allow ourselves to be changed?
How will Holy Cross be transfigured to better love and serve our neighbors?
How will we be transformed to better reflect Christ’s light?
What unimagined possibility will we boldly help realize?

My friends, our journey is not complete, our transformation is still underway.
We know the needs of our community, we can hear their cries.
We can see them on the street corners and under overpasses and at food banks.
We can see our friends and neighbors grieving and searching for love and grace.
How will we let the gospel transform us?
How will we witness again to the changing love that we have experienced in Christ Jesus?
How will we enact the glory we have witnessed here?
How will we let God transform us, transform our congregation, and through us, transform the world?

[1] This story drawn from Hale, Lori Brandt Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol 1. “Transfiguration: Theological Perspective,” with quotes from Heidi Neumark, Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx (Boston: Beacon Press, 2001), 268-269.

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