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Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’
I’d like to begin my sermon with a question. What makes our life significant? In other words, what gives it worth? Why do we matter? I have to say, this is a question our world is desperate to answer. There’s a famous song by the Righteous Brothers – “You’re My Soul and Inspiration” – and one line in particular captures what I’m talking about. “You’re all I’ve got to get me by; you’re my soul and my life’s inspiration; without you baby, what good am I?” How would you answer that question? Without blank, what good am I?
You see today’s Gospel raises that question because it’s about the glory of Jesus, which is a Biblical word that describes something of infinite worth and significance. “O God,” we prayed in our collect, “who before the passion of your Son revealed his glory upon the mountain.” The Transfiguration is about Jesus’ glory, about His infinite worth and significance. But not only that, it’s about Jesus wanting his disciples to know his significance and to know that their significance is tied to Him.
Now, you may be wondering – didn’t they already know? After all, Matthew begins by telling us this event took place “six days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ.” In other words, Peter has already been tested on the doctrine of Christ, and Peter got an A! Intellectually speaking, Peter knows – he knows that Jesus is the Son of God. But, Peter doesn’t know. You see, we can know something intellectually without that knowledge taking hold of our heart. We “know” we should eat better, but until we have a heart attack or heart surgery that knowledge might not change our life. Today’s Gospel is about God giving Jesus’ disciples a little heart attack. According to Matthew, “they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.” In a way they hadn’t yet experienced, Peter, James and John felt Jesus’ weight. His significance. His glory. For the first time in their life they knew.
But didn’t they already know? Well, let me ask you this – do we? You see, what Peter tried to do is something we all do – put Jesus on a shelf. Peter’s up on this mountain, Jesus starts to glow and then suddenly Moses and Elijah show up! “Lord, this is great – you’re here, Moses is here, Elijah’s here – we’ve got the hall of fame! So I’ll build three booths and you can sit here right next to Moses.” And in response to Peter’s foolishness comes a Voice. “This is my Son! He won’t fit in a booth! He’s not another prophet seeking God; He’s the God the prophets have all been seeking. This is my Son – my weighty, significant, Son – take him off the shelf. Listen to him!”
I’m afraid that far too often we try and keep Jesus on a shelf, in a booth. We give him a spot – maybe a Sunday morning spot – and we put him right next to everything else in our life we think makes us significant – next to our career, our reputation, our family, our need to be liked, our need to be right, our need to be in control, our need to be comfortable, our need to be successful – we put him on a shelf. We balance our devotion to him with our devotion to other things. Like Peter, we’ve confessed Him to be the Christ. Intellectually speaking, we know He’s the Son of God, but that knowledge hasn’t fully taken hold of our hearts. For instance, why are we so hurt by criticism? We can we be so anxious and irritable? Why are we always trying to prove ourselves? Why are we so harsh and unsympathetic and critical? And the answer, which is a really hard thing to admit, is that the opinions of others are often more real to us than the opinion of God. It’s that our sense of worth is tied more to what we achieve and how we look and what people think than to what God says about us and what He’s done for us.
You see today’s Gospel doesn’t give us any new information about God. But don’t you see information is not what we need. What we need is to be up on that mountain, for Jesus’ grace to knock us to the ground. What we need is to know Jesus’ glory – to have who He is and what He’s done be more real, more weighty, and more significant than anything else in our life. And so with that being said – two questions I think we need to ask. Where does that happen and how does that happen?
First, where – where does Jesus’ love become more real to our hearts than all the anxiety and fear that we carry around? Well, Peter was not on that mountain alone. He was with James and John. Our relationship with Christ may be personal, but it definitely isn’t private. You see in a matter of moments we’re going to baptize Antonio and Alivia and Angel and Saya and Lily into the Body of Christ, and as far as I know, they didn’t have to take a test or prove themselves or demonstrate their competency before coming here. And yet, we’re going to mark them as Christ’s own forever. We’re going to tell them they’re significant – that they matter – not because of who they are, but because of Who God is; not because of what they do, but because of what God’s done; not because they’re good but because God is. And today isn’t for them only, it’s for us! Not only will we take a vow to do everything in our power to support them in their new life with Christ, but we’ll reaffirm our own baptismal vows, which our way of reminding ourselves that our primary calling as a church is to provide a definitive answer to that question – that question our world is desperate to answer. What makes our life significant? Why do we matter? Baptism is our answer to that question. We matter because Christ has freely chosen to claim us as his own.
Can you feel the weight of what’s about to happen, the significance of what we’re about to do? The word God spoke to Jesus on that mountain is the same word He speaks to us in baptism. This is my son! This is my daughter! You’re now a part of my family. In baptism, God makes that promise, and so where do we gather to know that promise? Right here, this community, we’re on that mountain now!
Of course, this raises another question – how? How does Jesus become more real to our hearts than all the idols on that shelf we’ve put him next to? The answer’s hidden in the last verse. We have to follow him down the mountain. Peter wanted to stay there, but not Jesus. Because what Jesus wanted more than anything was for his disciples to know – to know that their worth is tied to His; that their significance is found in Him.
Without blank, what good am I? What makes our life significant? The answer to that question – it has nothing to do with what happened to Jesus on top of a mountain, but what happened to him on a little hill – a tiny little hill outside of Jerusalem. You see on the mountain Jesus was revealed in glory, but on that hill he was revealed in shame. On the mountain his clothes were shining; but on that hill his clothes were stripped. On the mountain Jesus is with Moses and Elijah; but on that hill he’s with two criminals. On the mountain a bright cloud overshadowed him; but on that hill darkness covered the land. On the mountain Peter blurts out how great it all is; but on that hill Peter’s nowhere to be found. On the mountain the Father speaks a word of blessing – “This is my Son;” but on the hill the Father was silent.
In his letter to the Romans St. Paul asks a question. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” Do you not know? The reason the church exists – our only purpose – is to answer Paul’s question with a definitive yes. Our purpose is to know – not intellectually but in our hearts – that life has no significance apart from the cross of Jesus Christ, and that because of Jesus’ cross, all things have significance – that in spite of our failing and fears and fumbling, we matter tremendously.
Confess the faith of Christ crucified – let his cross be more real and more weighty and more significant than anything else in your life. Listen to what He says. “Don’t be afraid. Get up. I’ve claimed you as my own. Let’s go down the mountain – follow me to the hill and watch what happens there – because even though you believe what I want more than anything is for you to know.”