Sermon; Transfiguration 2018 (Alma Lewis)
Today we have a prophesy, an eyewitness account of the prophesy fulfilled and a description of the actual event, the Transfiguration! Now that’s good organization. However I have to admit that I have had great difficulty in getting my head around the meaning of the Transfiguration so I apologise, in advance, for my ramblings
Before we explore the event itself I’d like to look at the prophesy, and the prophet.
We probably, all know about Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego from childhood stories. Daniel was thrown to the lions and escaped unhurt, while his friends were cast into the fiery furnace, because they had dared to defy the king by remaining faithful to God, and survived without a hair on their heads being singed. We probably have some memory of hearing about King Nebuchadnezzar who asked Daniel to interpret his dream and King Belshazzar who saw the writing on the wall. Jesus would have been brought up on these stories too, as a child. In fact I suspect that Daniel would have been considered something of a hero to the little Jewish boys just as King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table were to my generation, and the whole range of present day super-heroes are to my little grandsons.
The story is set during the Jewish Exile, starting when King Nebuchadnezzar brought some of the young Israelites of the royal family and nobility, including Daniel and his three friends, to his palace where they were well cared for and well educated. Daniel distinguished himself by his ability to interpret dreams and proved the power of YHWH who protected him from the lions, but he was also known for his prophesies, one of which we heard today. These prophesies were important for the exiles because they promised an end to their troubles and a new beginning.
The Old Testament is, on the whole, strongly anchored to this world. Hardly any prophet ventures to hope for anything beyond this life. The conception was that when a man died his intellect, emotions and aspirations died with him. There was no after-life. YHWH administered punishments and rewards in terms of material prosperity and adversity in this world, a view still held by the Sadducees in Jesus’ time.
But by the time the story of Daniel was written the Jews had been under foreign domination for about 450 years and people were beginning to give up hope of anything changing despite their adherence to the Law, and the idea of the possibility of vindication or retribution in a life after death began to take hold. This was the view held by the Pharisees.
And so we have Daniel prophesying about the Ancient One, with a wonderful description of God, with clothing as white as snow and hair like pure wool, with a thousand, thousand serving him and ten thousand times ten thousand attending him. It really gives you some idea of the whole host of heaven doesn’t it? And then came a human being, coming with the clouds of heaven, to whom was given dominion and glory and kingship that shall never be destroyed.
Now to the Gospel and the fulfillment of the prophesy. Jesus takes three of his disciples, Peter, James and John up to the mountain where they are given the vision of their master transfigured and talking to Moses and Elijah ‘appearing in glory’, the same word that Daniel used. They heard the voice of God saying ‘This is my chosen one. Listen to him.’ But when they left the mountain they told no one what they had seen.
That statement interests me. Surely if you had experienced anything like that you would want to tell everyone! I wonder if Jesus told them not to say anything? Quite possibly, because he often asked people not to report what had happened. Could it be because he was preparing them for the Resurrection. After all, he knew that he was going to be killed because he was known to be a troublemaker by the authorities, and he also knew that he would rise again, so by allowing his three most important disciples to experience this transfiguration he would have witnesses who would remember what they had seen on the mountain. It would also confirm to them that he was the Son of God. It must have been a transforming moment for the three disciples, as we know from Peter’s eyewitness account and all three became significant figures in the growth of the early Christian Church.
They would have known the story of Daniel just as Jesus would and must have compared Daniels description to what they were seeing on the mountain. Jesus had previously asked them “who do the crowds say I am? And one of the answers he received was Elijah. But when he asked ‘And who do you think I am?’ Peter answered, ‘The Messiah.” I wonder if that is why Jesus took them with him? Perhaps to help them realize who he really was. In Peter’s letter he tells us, ‘we have been eye witnesses of his Majesty and we have had the prophetic message more fully confirmed.’ No wonder they were silent, it was a lot to take in!
We have no problem accepting this image of Christ because we only know him as our Heavenly king, yet to the people who knew him in the
flesh, he was an ordinary man who could do extraordinary things, a superhero, who was still human and who inspired his followers to continue his work and preach his command to love one another, even though many of them were persecuted and killed for doing so. Surely they too could be called superheroes?
However there doesn’t seem much call for superheroes today except in fantasy films and books.
So where does that leave us? Christ’s message is still the same, ‘Love one another,’ and Gods message is still the same, ‘This is my son, listen to him!’ Yet there are lots of heroes today listening to Jesus’ message to love one another and striving to follow it, Think of the divers who risked their lives to save the Thai boys trapped in the cave. Think of the aid workers who help people caught up in war and disasters. Think of the doctors and nurses who work tirelessly to heal the sick. Think of the carers who look after relatives at home. Think of those who fight for justie for the oppressed. The list goes on.
And think back over the last few weeks in your own life when someone has done an unexpected kindness to you, or who has said something to cheer you up or make you feel better about yourself. There is a saying ‘You may forget what people have said to you, you may forget what people have done to you but you never forget how someone has made you feel.’ These people might not do the great deeds of heroes but they have shown love, and love is of God!
Lastly, think of something that you have done to make someone’s life a little better. That’s probably much harder than remembering kindnesses done to you, but I suspect that for someone, somewhere, you too were a hero who changed their life if only for a short while.
Jesus said, ‘’Love God, love each other.”
God said, “Listen to Him.”
 William Neil. The Hodder Pocket Bible Commentary