GCI Sermon – 27February2022

Eye-Opening Worship & Prayer

Luke 9:28-43a (NRSV)


Today is Transfiguration Sunday, which concludes the season of Epiphany. GCI typically follows the lectionary, which means this year, which is Year C in a three-year cycle, we have the option of revisiting the story of the Transfiguration as recorded in Luke’s Gospel. The story is found in Luke 9:28-36, and for those who want to extend the sermon, there is the option to include the follow-up story in verses 37-43. We will venture to do that as well.

You may be familiar with the story since it is presented in all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) and has its own special day on the calendar. Since we are going to include the follow-up story, it may be helpful to see the Transfiguration as a hinge story in the liturgical calendar. Let me explain.

The Season of Epiphany is all about seeing God’s glory. It is a season of seeing the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ. We look at the stories and passages in Scripture during the Epiphany Season, when we come to see more fully who God is in his character and being. We call this having an “epiphany” because what was once hidden is now plainly visible. Then we have the season culminate with Transfiguration Sunday.

As a magnified story, we see God’s glory revealed in Jesus in a way that can only be described by imagery and metaphor. It is a true story, but fantastic, nonetheless.

After Transfiguration Sunday, the Epiphany season gives way to the season of Lent (in GCI we call this Easter Preparation). Typically, this is a season of repentance (changing the way we think). This makes sense when you follow the logic of Epiphany. When something that has been hidden is suddenly revealed, then one must change how they relate to that new reality. For example, if you discovered a document that showed that your house was a historical landmark worth millions of dollars, that would hopefully change how you live in that house. Making those nagging repairs you have been putting off will probably find a higher priority. Perhaps calling the exterminator is not such a bad idea after all. Your “epiphany” puts you in a different place that requires changes. And that is why Lent, a season to repent, naturally follows Epiphany, a season of revelation. In that way, Transfiguration Sunday serves as a hinge story, turning the pages of Epiphany naturally onto the pages of repentance in the story of our journey with the Lord. Also, for us today, seeing the Transfiguration story as a hinge story will also give us some insight to the follow-up story, Luke, as well as Matthew and Mark, chose to include.


But first, let us reacquaint ourselves with the story of the Transfiguration.

Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. (Luke 9:28-29 NRSV)

Similar to Matthew and Mark’s account of the story, Luke begins with language and imagery that is reminiscent of Old Testament history. He notes that Jesus takes three companions (Peter, James and John) up on a mountain. This trio with Jesus going up on a mountain sets up a connection to the details of the story of Moses and his three companions (Aaron, Nadab and Abihu) being led up a mountain where God speaks to Moses. That story ends with Moses coming down the mountain with his face shining. When Luke describes the appearance of Jesus’ face changing and his clothes becoming “dazzling white,” the parallel to Moses on Mt. Sinai is reinforced.

All three synoptic Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration have the event taking place immediately after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus’ teaching about his death.

(Note: Luke has two variations on how he introduces the story that differ from Matthew and Mark. Luke says this takes place “about eight days after these sayings.” The other two Gospels state that it was “after six days.” Those who may want to discredit the Bible may use this as an opportunity to claim that the Bible is unreliable and full of contradictions. But that would deny the fact that the authors of the different books in the Bible had a specific purpose in writing and availed themselves to literary devices to get their message across.

Each author is trying to share the story of Jesus from a certain angle. Luke, for some reason, wants to use eight days in setting up the story instead of six. And to be fair, Luke is not misrepresenting the facts of the story. He doesn’t say this took place in exactly eight twenty-four-hour days after these sayings, but rather he says it took place “about” eight days after these sayings. He is apparently counting some partial days to get to his total, which was commonly done in Judaism. Whatever method he uses, by using the word “about,” Luke is letting us know that he is counting the days loosely to get to eight. That is not being deceptive— that is being a good author. Why does Luke want to insert an eight-day motif here? We do not know for certain, but we have some plausible explanations. Perhaps Luke wants to tie the Transfiguration to the resurrection, which occurred after the sabbath and therefore could be counted as the eighth day. It is because the resurrection occurred on Sunday, or the “eighth day,” that the early church chose the practice of gathering for worship on that day instead of the sabbath. Whatever his reasons, the eighth day can tease us to see this story in light of the Resurrection of Jesus and the worship due him.)

One variation Luke offers in his telling of the Transfiguration is he places the event in the context of prayer. Luke records that the event took place “while he [Jesus] was praying.” This variation is consistent with Luke’s emphasis in other parts of his Gospel account. For example, earlier in verse 18 Luke records that Jesus was praying just before Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Messiah and Jesus’ teaching about his soon-coming death. Going back further, we see Luke recounting Jesus being in prayer when he received the Holy Spirit and heard the voice of the Father’s approval after his baptism. Luke throughout records the major movements of Jesus’ life as being marked by prayer.

Luke includes this to encourage us to consider the importance of worship and prayer as the context of seeing more fully the glory of God. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus does not consider worship and prayer as optional or add-ons to his life and ministry. For Jesus, worship and prayer was a way of life. It marked and permeated everything he did. In Jesus’ continual practice of worship and prayer, we see a glimpse into the inner life of the Trinity. It is a glorious epiphany. The Son is continually worshiping the Father, and is in constant communion with him. And this is the life held out to us in Jesus Christ.

Worship and prayer are not to be seen as laborious acts to appease some deity, but rather, it is indicative of the nature and flow of the relationship between the Father and Son in the Spirit that has been going on for all eternity. When Christians gather for worship and prayer on Sunday, they are doing far more than just exercising some arbitrary religious duty. They are participating in the very worship and prayer, of enjoyment and intimate communion, that is going on in the divine Triune life. In doing so, the church is also serving as a witness to the world that Jesus is Lord and worthy of worship.

Glory is a good word to use for the Transfiguration story. As we see Jesus transfigured, we see God’s glory, a revelation of who he is. Glory in the Old Testament was presented in terms of both a person and a light (Ezekiel 1). These two images come together here in the person of Jesus. Jesus radiating light reveals to us that the Father is not like the pagan gods who need worshipers to bring him glory, as if they are lacking in some way. The Father is self-sufficient and sustaining like the sun. His life is a life of giving, going out and bringing warmth and life. The Father we see in Jesus is not a God turned inward, needing the praise from humans but rather a God of love, radiating life outward to his creation. Jesus’ transfiguration gives us yet another glorious epiphany.

Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. (Luke 9:30-32 NRSV)

As the Transfiguration takes place, we see Moses and Elijah appear on the scene talking to Jesus. Here, Luke offers an additional insight into the conversation that Matthew and Mark do not include. They are “speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Notice how Luke encapsulates this conversation in terms of glory, also a unique contribution from Luke. Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory” while speaking with Jesus and afterward “Peter and his companions…saw his [Jesus] glory and the two men who stood with him.” In addition to the glory of God being presented in terms of a person and light, Luke connects Jesus’ passion as part of that glory. This means that the love displayed by Jesus on the cross for sinners like you and me is not just an exception to how God relates to us. It is a revelation, another epiphany, of who God is in his very being.

The Father’s outgoing light and love in the person of Jesus is not repelled by our sin and darkness, but rather he goes out, even at great cost to himself, to bring revelation and reconciliation. The Father’s love for us does not settle by leaving us in our darkness and alienation. He wants us to know him and to receive the life of love he has for us. Seeing God’s glory in terms of suffering will certainly call us to rethink how we understand God and his relationship to us. This is another epiphany that calls forth a response of repentance, changing our minds about how we think of God and his relationship to us.

Peter’s response to seeing Jesus’ glory is to speak: “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” to which Luke adds that Peter did not know what he was saying. Peter’s response begins well by calling Jesus “Master,” and he is grateful to be able to witness the Transfiguration. But his response indicates he does not fully see the implications of God’s glory revealed in Jesus. Notice how Peter’s words contrast to the revelation of God as light and love.

Peter here is turned inward. He has determined for himself what is good, and that goodness is to be kept on the mountain for those who are present. It doesn’t occur to him that the nature of light and love is to go out and be shared with others. Also, Peter’s suggestion to build three shelters falls short of God’s purposes in Jesus. First, Peter wants to control the experience. He wants to remain on the mountain with Moses, Elijah and Jesus. By building shelters, he feels he can extend their time on the mountain and capture this “mountaintop” experience. His thinking seems limited only to how this benefits him and his companions. His second shortcoming in his suggestion implies that Moses and Elijah are equals to Jesus, each deserving of their own shelter. Jesus has no equal. He alone is worthy of worship.

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. (Luke 9:34-35 NRSV)

Peter’s selfish suggestions are interrupted when “a cloud came and overshadowed them.” The Father does not scold or reprimand Peter. But he also does not negotiate or entertain Peter’s suggestions. He just goes right on with his purposes. While Peter wanted to provide cover for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, God ends up providing cover for the three disciples.

The word “overshadowed” here is picking up the language in the old covenant of God’s “Shekinah” or presence. Despite Peter’s self-focused intentions, God’s outward movement of love is not thwarted. He covers them with his grace. Then the Father’s voice is heard saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Peter’s response to seeing God’s glory was to speak, but the Father instructs him that his response should be to listen. This too, is God’s grace to them. He does not leave them in their inappropriate response. He leads them to respond in a fitting manner to what they just witnessed.

This can be encouraging for us as we recount our many failures of responding to the Lord. How often have we responded in ways that do not fit the epiphanies we are given? God’s grace, his light and love, does not leave us trapped in our poor responses, but he instructs and guides us by his Spirit to align our responses to his revelations to us. God is not looking to zap us for our missteps, but rather he is continually calling us to a deeper walk with him.

Also notice that the disciples were “terrified as they entered the cloud.” This captures the story of the Israelites with Moses, who were afraid to hear from God directly. But the voice heard here directs their ears to listen to the Chosen Son. Jesus is God’s Word spoken to us. With the epiphanies we see in Jesus, we are not left to fear God’s Word spoken to us. His words to us are words of life. And as Luke records, “Jesus was found alone” after God’s instruction to “listen to him.” There was no Moses, no Elijah, just Jesus alone. There is no other voice to listen to if we are to hear God’s words of life. Jesus alone is God’s Word to us. Jesus alone is the Father’s self-revelation. Jesus alone is our true Epiphany that our response swings on.

Now we have concluded the epiphany story of the Transfiguration and Luke concludes this story by linking it back to Jesus’ baptism with the Father speaking the words, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” If you have been following the stories of the Epiphany season, you may recall that the season began with the story of Jesus’ baptism, where we also hear the Father’s voice saying similarly, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). In this way, Luke has created a section of his Gospel between these two stories. Much of what falls within this section finds its way on the liturgical calendar for the season of Epiphany. But Luke includes a follow-up story that helps us see what these epiphanies add up to.

Luke has been intentional to include Jesus’ upcoming crucifixion and death as having something to do with his “glory.” The disciples struggled to see suffering as fitting for a Messiah’s glory. We too may have problems seeing how suffering fits in with understanding God’s glory and our response to seeing his glory. But Jesus is not done in displaying God’s glory on a mountain. He will once again find himself on a mountain in prayer and accompanied by two men speaking with him. Only this time it will be on Mount Calvary and his companions will not be Moses and Elijah, but two criminals.

Luke’s follow-up story connected with the Transfiguration foreshadows what will take place on this other mountaintop experience where God’s glory will once again be revealed.

On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God. (Luke 9:37-43 NRSV)

After Jesus and his disciples come down the mountain, Jesus alone is able to answer the distraught request of the man from the crowd. Before Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain, he was praying to the Father. After Jesus comes down the mountain, a desperate father is praying to him. The disciples are not able to answer this man’s request. Jesus alone is the one who will bring healing and deliverance to the man’s tortured son. The description Luke gives mirrors what Jesus will accomplish on Mount Calvary.

First, “Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit…” Just as the son’s condition is attributed to demonic forces, so has humanity been seized by sin and evil. But on the cross, we see the Son, once and for all, claiming victory over evil. Satan and his demonic realm will finally have to leave at Jesus’ coming.

Second, Jesus “healed the boy…” Jesus goes to the cross, not only to abolish everything that stands against us, but he also provides healing from all the damage sin and evil have caused.

And lastly, Jesus “gave him back to his father.” It is here we see the Father’s glory displayed in accomplishing his purpose of “bringing many sons to glory” through the suffering of Christ (Hebrews 2:10). Jesus on Mount Calvary brings reconciliation, giving us back to his Father in heaven.

In Jesus, we are set free, made whole, and brought back into restored relationship with the Father. Both mountains Jesus climbed give us a view of God’s glory. We see in these stories that God is for us and nothing, not even death itself, will stand between him and his children. As we come to see Jesus and the revelation of the Father he brings, we will agree with Luke’s final sentence recorded in this passage: “And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”



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