Transfiguration – Matthew 17:1-9

 

I bow down to pray  

I try to make the worst seem better  

Lord, show me the way   

To cut through all this worn out leather  

I’ve got a hundred million reasons to walk away  

But baby, I just need one good one to stay.  

(Million Reasons, Lady Gaga) – click to watch the video  

Have you ever had one of those moments? You know that a change has to happen but you’re just not ready. Maybe you know that a difficult decision is looming. Maybe you know that the path forward will be challenging and arduous. You’ve got to go but you want to stay.

Any of you that can remember leaving home for the first time know that moment. If you’ve have had children leave for college, or leave your home to live on their own may know that feeling.

A doctor tells you that you need surgery, that you have a disease that requires extensive and even life-threatening treatment. You learn that your entire lifestyle – your eating habits, drinking habits, smoking habits, the friends you “hang out” with – must change. You know that feeling.

If you’ve heard the dreaded words from a boss, “We’re going to have to let you go,” you know what I’m talking about.

From a girlfriend, boyfriend or spouse, if you’ve heard that a relationship is over – you know that feeling.

You’ve got “a hundred million reasons” to take the hard path, face the difficult future, but you “just need one good one to stay” on the easy, less challenging way.

When we meet the three disciples – Peter, James, and John – in today’s scripture, they’ve had an energizing, encouraging, yet tumultuous three years with Jesus. Just go back a couple of chapters in Matthew:

  • Matthew 14:13ff – after hearing about the death John the Baptist, Jesus withdraws to grieve, ponder and pray. 5000 men (plus all the women and children) follow. Jesus feeds them all with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.
  • Matthew 14:22ff – After all that, Jesus still needs some prayer time, so he sends the disciples on ahead across the lake. A storm blows up. Jesus comes walking on the water to the boat. Peter decides to join him, takes a few steps, but sees the waves and fear makes him sink. Jesus rescues him, gets in the boat, and the storm calms.
    • Then, into chapter 15, Jesus heals the sick, argues with the Pharisees, and miraculously feeds 4000 more – with “7 loves and a few fish!”
    • After more disputes with the Pharisees, they arrive at a place called Caesarea Philippi. There Peter (the same guy that tried to walk on water) confesses that he believes that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” That sounds pretty good until Jesus begins to tell them that he must suffer and die – and be raised. Peter disagrees and Jesus calls him “Satan,” saying that people like Peter might be the one reason Jesus needs to stay on the easy path. So, Peter needs to hush!

Then we come to the Transfiguration – the strange and wonderful moment that we all must face every year, right before Lent. Right before we begin the season of Lent – the 40 days before Easter, the 40-day-path through suffering and rejection and death on the way to the glorious resurrection of Easter morning – we read this story in which Jesus’ full glory is revealed.

Matthew 17:1-9 

Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain. He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light. Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One is raised from the dead.”

For Peter, James, and John, there are “a hundred million reasons” to follow the path ahead, some they have seen first-hand,  some they only know but can’t admit. Jesus performs miracles! Jesus is the Messiah! Of course we will follow him wherever he leads!

They have just as many reasons to know the way forward will be difficult. They’ve seen Jesus arguing with the most powerful people they knew. They’ve heard the whispered threats – and the not-so-whispered threats. Jesus himself even said he must suffer and die – though they didn’t want to hear that!

This moment – this glorious moment – is the “one good reason” Peter needs to avoid all the change and turmoil that lies ahead. “Let’s build some tents and the 6 of us could just live up here for the rest of our lives!”

Life as he knows it is about to change, and Peter is trying as hard as he can to avoid it.

Peter sounds a little bit like us.

There are many things (“a hundred million” things?) telling us that life as we know it is changing – and in some respects has already changed. We are fighting like hell to find that “one good reason” to stay the same.

Every day we hear and see evidence that our world, our society, our culture is changing. Every day we see more evidence that it has already changed.

The evidence is not always as dramatic as a glowing Savior and his two glowing friends, but our reaction to the evidence is almost always like Peter’s – “Hey, y’all! Let’s build us a tent so we don’t ever have to leave! Let’s just keep things just the way they are.” We just want a little more time up on the mountain of the “good ol’ days.” We just want to hold on to the glory for just a little while longer.

And mother and father sending their child away to school or work, can’t bear to let them go,  so they hold on for a little while longer, following him to the driveway with one more question,one more piece of advice with tears in their eyes.

And we put off surgery or treatment – “let me get through the school year,” or the holidays, or “this big project at work.”

Just one more minute before we have to face the challenging task of change.

If our reaction is always like Peter’s, Jesus’ answer is always the same, “Get up. Don’t be afraid.”

The Transfiguration is “a threshold moment between what was and what is to come. . . . It’s not that we haven’t seen the change coming. It’s not that we haven’t recognized what it might look like. We just wonder if we are ready. If we can handle it. If we are prepared.” (Karoline Lewis)

This mountaintop moment means that – for the disciples and even for Jesus – change is coming. It means that change – though it may be difficult – is needed.

Let me take this “threshold moment” before the 40 days of Lent to remind us of the same. We are on the cusp of what was and what is to be. The path ahead may be unknown and challenging, but the glory of Jesus will see us through. Though we want to stay one more minute in the glory, the courage of Jesus, the determination of Jesus, will help us “Get up” and not be afraid.

That may just be the one reason we need to move!

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