Every Monday I share a few tidbits, nuggets, or ideas for incorporating some stewardship themes in your preaching. This week’s nuggets based on the appointed readings from the Revised Common Lectionary and Narrative Lectionary for the Transfiguration of Our Lord are as follows:
There are some weeks where perhaps its best to just tell the story and then wonder about what God might be up to in it, and in that way today around us. Transfiguration is one such week to be sure.
In approaching this familiar story found in the gospels, one of my favorite ways to unpack it and relate it to with others, is to wonder about mountain top experiences. When have you in your life had a moment of complete transcendence, wonder, and awe? Because that is what I believe Peter, James, and John experienced with Jesus being dazzling before their eyes, and in seeing Moses and Elijah with them too.
In pondering that, it is important then to connect the experience with what happens next. Despite the human idea to stay in that moment of awe for as long as possible, and to stay in that awesome mountaintop experience, the moment is just that, a moment. And from that mountaintop, Jesus leads them back down to the valley below and the work and ministry that they are called to. That’s where stewardship comes in. Where our lives as stewards are lived. Where our lives as disciples grow, and flourish, as we learn and serve together, responding to the real needs of the world.
That approach would be a fine sermon. But if looking for another idea this week, I am suddenly being drawn to a different sense. Usually with this story I imagine it’s all about sight, and seeing this dazzling white and light, and being overwhelmed with what you see. But what about what one hears?
Read Luke 9:33-36 again and focus on the words from the voice in the cloud which we could only assume are God’s own words, just like we heard God’s own words when Jesus was baptized early in this Epiphany season. “Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’ —not knowing what he said. 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 9:33-36, NRSV).
“This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” God’s words largely book-end the Epiphany season, don’t they. But God’s words here include the command and call to listen to Jesus. And I am picking up on this I think because I think Luke is trying to make a point in his Gospel. There is great importance in listening. It’s a fact that would have been made even clearer if this Epiphany season had one more week in it. The gospel text for the Eighth Sunday after Epiphany in Year C (when there are 8 Sundays after Epiphany) seems to underscore the importance of listening. It also seems to clarify a key point of the gospel of Luke, that not only with God in Christ will there be a great reversal, hearing must lead to action.
I admit, this might make some Lutheran alarm bells ring about possible works righteousness. But I think the point the gospel writer is making is that, hearing God’s word does change us. And because of that, it naturally follows that how we live, serve, and are disciples and stewards will be and will change because of it. If this doesn’t happen, it might be fair to ask if we’re really listening at all. Because it’s clear in Jesus’ words that he is calling us to change, and to act. (So, perhaps it is worth to give some thought this week to pairing either Luke 6:39-49 with the Transfiguration story, or at least Luke 6:46-49, since because of the calendar and lectionary we will miss that story this time around.)
Consider this in light of God’s voice saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” Jesus says, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house” (Luke 6:46-49, NRSV).
With this parable explanation it seems clear that Jesus is saying that listening and action go hand-in-hand. If one does one without the other, the results might be akin to one building a house without a foundation, or building on sand or in a flood plain, for example. It might work in the short-run, but I bet it’s not going to work out well in the long run.
One final word about the Transfiguration gospel story. If the story itself and/or the heart of listening as it relates to our action as stewards and disciples doesn’t seem to excite you about stewardship, perhaps the last included verse with the bracketed verses might? “And all were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing…” (Luke 9:43, NRSV). Focusing on this verse might be an easy way to think about our reaction to God’s work for us, promises for us, and God’s presence and activity all around us. Are we amazed at what God is doing? And if so, how do we share that amazement? Because Peter, James, and John were understandably amazed and terrified at the awesomeness of God on display in the Transfiguration. I could only imagine and hope that we would be likewise.
Outside of the Transfiguration story there are a couple other possible stewardship nuggets to note and consider this week. From Psalm 99, “Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is he! Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is he!” (Psalm 99:3-5, NRSV). The psalmist this week gives words to our praise and sense of wonder at what God is up to. Perhaps this might pair well with a sermon picking up on Luke 9:43.
And finally, two verses stand out to me in particular from 2 Corinthians. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17, NRSV). And, “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart” (2 Corinthians 4:1, NRSV).
The second verse in particular seems helpful when thinking about coming down from the mountaintop experiences in our life, and going back to the work and ministry to which we are called. It can feel overwhelming at times, just as life more broadly can and the balance of vocations that we all live, lead, and experience. But when we remember that it is God who calls us to these vocations and is with us, in them, we know we are not alone, and we do not live and serve in these in vain. We do not lose heart because we know that our God is with us, loves us, and is for us. And perhaps that is the biggest promise of all in this familiar Transfiguration story.
Whatever point or part of these stories catches your imagination this week, may God’s love, presence, and promise be with you and made known through you.
Sunday March 3, 2019: Narrative Lectionary- The Transfiguration of Our Lord (Year 1- Week 26)
Narrative Theme for the Day: Transfiguration
Focus Passages: Matthew 16:24-17:8
Psalm Accompaniment: Psalm 41:7-10
The Narrative continues in our journey through the Gospel of Matthew. Though its Transfiguration story is similar to Luke’s, there are few differences and additions worth noting. To avoid repeating some general Transfiguration observations, please read my comments about the Revised Common Lectionary above which could well apply to thinking about the Transfiguration story with the Gospel of Matthew as well.
Additionally, what is unique in the narrative is the inclusion of a Passion prediction, and the idea of image of bearing the cross. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?” (Matthew 16:24-26, NRSV).
This is what is at the heart of being a disciple and steward. These are familiar words. But dwelling in them as our response to God’s work, and perhaps in response to the awesomeness of God that we see and witness in the Transfiguration and then know ultimately through the life, death o the cross, and resurrection of Christ might make for a powerful stewardship sermon this week.
In terms of stewardship too with this passage I have always been struck by the question, “For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life?” Rhetorically we all know the answer. Nothing. It will be death. Such profit will be absent abundant life. But at the same time, our human sides might at times be tempted to think, “who cares?” “What’s the big deal?” The problem with this temptation and sin is that God calls us into relationship with God and with each other, so that we can care for each other and be a part of God’s work in the world in some way together.
Now in terms of the Transfiguration story, let’s briefly take it in two parts. “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” (Matthew 17:1-3, NRSV). What would you be wondering and imagining if you might be Peter, James, and John in the midst of this experience?
What might you be wondering and feeling as you experience what comes next? “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” (Matthew 17:5-8, NRSV).
Jesus again says, “do not be afraid.” With these words we take heart. And we lean into God’s story for us, and God’s presence with us, and promises for us. With this call to “not be afraid” we move toward the beginning of our Lenten journey together, but we also lean into our vocations and calls as disciples and stewards, bearers of God’s love, mercy, and work in the world.
In whatever ways God’s story speaks to you this week, may God’s love, promise, and comfort be with you, and made real through you.