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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

Be Transformed

The Transfiguration of Our Lord

 

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

 

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters - one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

 

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”

 

Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

 

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

Mark 9:2-9

 

Most of you have probably been to the eye doctor for an examination, and had drops put in your eyes to dilate your pupils. That makes it easy for the doctor to look into your eyes. But it doesn’t make it easier for you to see out of them! When your pupils get so big your iris almost disappears, you’re almost blinded by any light.

 

I’ve had my pupils dilated dozens of times, but the time I remember most was one winter when I was about 12 years old. We lived a mile from downtown and I rode my bike to Dr. Hornbogen’s office. Everything was covered with fresh snow from the night before, but we rode our bikes all winter.

 

So off I went, got the drops to make my pupils big, had my eyes examined, and went back outdoors. The sky was blue and the sun was shining – and reflecting off the fresh, white snow! I almost went blind! I tried to ride my bike but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was gonna get killed! So I pushed my bike home, with one eye shut, then the other eye shut – back and forth all the way home. When I got in the house I don’t think I opened my eyes for an hour! I’d had all the bright light I needed for a lifetime!

 

Our Gospel lesson for this Transfiguration Sunday tells of Peter, James, and John going up on a mountain and seeing the brightest light they’d ever seen! We read that Jesus was “transfigured” before them. What does that mean, "transfigured"? We don’t know, exactly. The dictionary says it means “to transform so as to exalt or glorify.” But somehow those Disciples saw Jesus transformed into the glorified Christ who will one day rule over all of life.

 

Mark tells us that “His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Of course Jesus’ clothes weren’t transfigured – He was! And His clothes were bright because He was shining through them. Just like my snow was bright because the sun was shining on it. Telling the story, Matthew says, “His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became as white as the light.” (Matt. 17:2) And Luke wrote, “The appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” (Luke 9:29)

 

Maybe if I’d been there, I’d have written, “As bright as the sun on new-fallen snow when your pupils have been dilated!” Or, maybe not 

 

Then, says Mark, the disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. Moses, of course, gave the Children of Israel the Law. And Elijah was the greatest of the Prophets. So, here were the highest representatives of the Law and the Prophets, meeting with the transfigured Jesus. And then the Disciples heard a voice from above: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!” And the disciples were terrified!

 

The disciples were terrified! We can appreciate that. We’d have been terrified too. Here was Jesus in all His glory. Here was someone whose life shone with a beauty and an integrity that they certainly didn’t have. Here was one whose dazzling white robe indicated His holiness, His purity, His uniqueness - and they were just ordinary mortals. And they were afraid! They were sinners in the presence of one who was sinless. They were imperfect men in the presence of the perfect man. No wonder they were terrified.

 

While serving aboard a gunboat in Vietnam, Dave Roever was holding a phosphorus grenade some six inches from his face when a sniper’s bullet ignited the explosive. In his book, “Welcome Home, Davey,” he describes the first time he saw his face after the explosion: “When I looked in that mirror, I saw a monster, not a human being… My soul seemed to shrivel up and collapse in on itself, to be sucked into a black hole of despair. I was left with an indescribable and terrifying emptiness. I was alone in the way the souls in Hell must feel alone.” Finally Roever came back to the States to meet with his young bride, Brenda. Just before Brenda arrived, Roever watched the wife of another burn victim tell her husband that she wanted a divorce. Then Brenda walked in.

 

“Showing not the slightest tremor of horror or shock,” Roever writes, “she bent down and kissed me on what was left of my face. Then she looked me in my good eye, smiled, and said, ‘Welcome home, Davey! I love you.’ To understand what that meant to me you have to know, that’s what she called me when we were most intimate, she would whisper, ‘Davey’ over and over in my ear… By using her term of endearment for me, she said, you are my husband. You will always be my husband. You are still my man.”

 

To understand the grace of God given in Jesus Christ, we must first understand our inadequacy, our imperfection, our ugliness, as it were. But the transfigured Christ, in all His loveliness, in all His holiness, in all His glory, still loves us! There was no need for the Disciples to be terrified, but they didn’t know that. All they could see was Jesus’ holiness and their own unworthiness. And they were terrified!

 

But they were also transformed. We need to see that, too. They were transformed. Oh, not all at once. Salvation happens all at once when you believe in Jesus as your Savior from sin, but transformation – or sanctification as it’s usually called – is a process that continues all our lives. The experience on the Mount of Transfiguration was just one stop on the Disciples’ pilgrimage to becoming Apostles of Christ. They would share many other important experiences with Jesus. And all the time, they would be becoming more and more like the Master. They would become more committed to Him and to one another. Their faith would continue to grow. They would stumble from time to time, but they would always get up again until they shook the mighty Roman Empire. These men would move from being terrified to being terrific! Their faith would grow, from being easily intimidated to being almost invincible. They were in the process of being transformed by the presence of the transfigured Christ.

 

And the same thing can happen to us! Like the Disciples, we can also be terrified in Jesus’ presence because we are imperfect. But from His word we discover that in His sight we have great value, and so we have hope. Because Jesus loves us, change is possible. Even for us!  This is the heart of today’s lesson: the proper response to the transfigured Christ is our transformation. To see the transfigured Christ is to be aware not only of our short-comings, but also our possibilities. The Apostle John tells us a most amazing thing in his first Epistle: “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” (1 John 3:2) Did you hear that? “We shall be like Him!”

 

To see Christ as He really is, is to experience personal transformation. I love the way that C.S. Lewis put it: “Jesus never talked vague, idealistic gas. When He said, ‘Be perfect,’ He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are hankering after is harder – in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird, but it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg! We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.”

 

I like that picture. Before we experience Christ’s transforming power, we are unhatched eggs. To experience the transfigured Christ is first of all to be terrified, then it’s to be transformed.

 

And finally it’s to be turned loose – to be turned loose to transform the world for which Jesus died. He came preaching the Kingdom of God – the reign of God in every heart. And it’s to His followers that He’s given the commission for the teaching and preaching of this Kingdom. That’s you and me! We are to transformed, and we are to be transformers.

 

You know how the story of the Mount of Transfiguration ends. Peter wants to build three booths, or tabernacles – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah – and stay up on the mountain. But it wasn’t Jesus’ mission to stay on the mountain and be worshipped. His was a ministry of love to the people in the valley below. And that’s our ministry, too!

 

Suppose you and I had been there with Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop when Jesus was transfigured. What would have happened to us? Wouldn’t we have been terrified? Wouldn’t we have been transformed? Wouldn’t we have been turned loose to transform the world for whom Christ died? Well, the transfigured Christ is here! And He’s saying to us, “Don’t be terrified, but be transformed. Now go out and change the world!”

 

Amen

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