Creekside Church
Sermon of February 7, 2016

"You've Changed! "
Luke 9:28-36

Rosanna McFadden


Good morning! Today our text is from the gospel of Luke: a passage which should get us thinking about change, and vision and mission. These are ideas which you should have heard about if you’ve hung around Creekside for very long. That doesn’t mean that change comes easily for us, or for anyone. The challenge of making a change is so cliché that there’s even a series of jokes about it. I’m sure you’ve heard them: How many doctors does it take to change a light bulb? Just one to call, “Nurse!” How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change. How many teachers does it take to change a light bulb? Teachers can’t change them, but they can help make the dim ones brighter. You get the idea. Not surprisingly, there’s a whole page of these jokes about church people of different persuasions. How many people in an established congregation does it take to change a light bulb? Ten. One to change the bulb and 9 to say how they liked the old one better. There’s even a joke especially for us: How many Brethren does it take to change a light bulb? Change? Change?!

Funny stuff, right? But it’s probably good for us to consider just how possible it is for people to change. I’ve come to realize, to my chagrin, that I have a decent shot a changing maybe one person -- and that person is usually not very cooperative. I speak from long experience, believe me. There are plenty of things I’d like to change about myself, but some of them just aren’t possible: there’s no point in scolding a shy person and saying, “you ought to be more outgoing!” or telling an anxious person, “just stop worrying!” I believe we can learn to be aware of those personality traits and find ways to adapt to them, but fundamentally, we don’t stop being who we are. This is important to acknowledge as we stand on the threshold of Lent, a time when we’re called to repent, change direction, and draw closer to God. It’s no coincidence that the story of Jesus’ transfiguration is always the text for the Sunday before Lent begins; I think this story can help us as we consider the possibility and the purpose of change in ourselves and other people.

Transfiguration means to be changed; in people this usually means their appearance is changed somehow, but they are still recognizably the same person. It’s more than putting on a new outfit or getting a haircut; there’s often supernatural or magical power involved: transfiguration is Cinderella becoming a princess, or Clark Kent changing in to Superman. Jesus’ transfiguration is recorded in Luke 9, as well as in Matthew 17 and Mark 9. In each account, Jesus’ face shines and his clothes become dazzling white when he is touched by the glory of God; but there no question that it’s still recognizably Jesus. His closest friends, Peter, James and John witness this transfiguration.

It’s no coincidence that this occurs on a mountain top, and that Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah. In Jewish tradition, a mountain -- like the wilderness -- is a place which has coded meaning. Mountains are the place where earth is closest to heaven; where the human reaches toward the divine. Mountains are the place where people encounter God. No one knows this better than Moses and Elijah, the most famous mountain man prophets from Jewish history. Moses received the Ten Commandments from God’s hand on Mt. Horeb, and Moses’ own face shone after he glimpsed God passing. Elijah challenged the false priests of Baal on Mt. Carmel by invoking Yahweh’s power; then he fled to Mt. Horeb where he watched for God in earthquake, wind, and fire, only to hear God’s voice speaking from the silence. Moses and Elijah embody the phrase “mountaintop experience.” Whether you encounter God at National Youth Conference in the mountains of Colorado, or next to the cornfields at Camp Mack, or in the Prayer Garden at Creekside, that is a mountaintop experience. Jesus has his own mountaintop experience when Moses and Elijah joined him. I would have loved to have overheard what those three talked about, but for Peter and the Zebedee brothers, it was enough just to see Jesus and those famous prophets, all shining with the glory of God. For the second time after Jesus’ baptism, there is a voice from heaven: this time it says, “This is my Son, my Chosen One. Listen to him!”

Peter, James and John respond to the presence of the Divine in a predictably human way: they try to capture the moment and hold on to the glory of God. Can’t we just stay up here on the mountaintop? We don’t have to go home yet, do we? But sadly, we don’t get to stay up on the mountain, and the disciples don’t either. They are overshadowed by God’s presence, Elijah and Moses disappear, and they have to walk back down the mountain with Jesus. When they get back to the other disciples, Jesus isn’t shining any more.

Or is he? That’s an interesting question. The thing about mountaintop experiences is that they change us -- but maybe not in ways that other people can see all the time. Let me ask it this way: does Superman still have his superpowers when he’s dressed as Clark Kent? If Lois Lane knows Clark Kent is really Superman, whom does she see when she looks at Clark Kent? Peter, James and John have witnessed the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus Christ; I don’t think they will ever see Jesus in quite the same way again. Even when the face of Jesus is no longer shining, the disciples will see him in a new light. A prophet who is equal to Moses and Elijah -- no, even more than that, God’s Chosen One.

And here’s an important detail that appears in each gospel account: what does Jesus do right after this transfiguration story, right after he experiences the glory of God, and the confirmation of his identity as God’s Chosen One? Jesus goes down the mountain, is met by a crowd of needy people, and heals a child with an unclean spirit. Identity and affirmation are followed immediately by Jesus fulfilling his mission of healing and sharing good news. In other words, being touched by God’s glory doesn’t set us apart from the world -- comfortable in our little tents up on the mountain -- God’s glory empowers us to go down the mountain and into the world to preach, teach, and reach others.

I believe that the glory of God is all around us. If we are intentional about going to the mountain to pray -- wherever that mountain is for you -- we can encounter God there. I believe that God can change people. I also believe that when I encounter God, the person who is the most likely to change is me; even if my prayer is for God to change someone else. God can change the way I see other people; God can teach me to see the glory that I couldn’t or wouldn’t acknowledge on my own. It’s the transformation which happens when we stop dismissing others as Clark Kent, and realize that maybe there’s a Superman whom we have failed to recognize. It happens when we see other people in a new light: the light of their identity and purpose as God’s child. I don’t know if you have ever had an experience like this -- I hope you have. Perhaps you have had a bad interaction with someone, or formed a negative opinion of them, and then you learn some new information: maybe she’s late all the time because she’s caring for her elderly mother; maybe his grades are bad not because he’s stupid, but because there’s no one at home to help him. Sometimes seeing someone in a different light can transform the way we interact with them. It begins by looking for the brush of God’s glory in their lives, not by demand that they see it in us.

Let me tell you a parable; I believe this actually happened in an 18th century spiritual community. A wise and compassionate Christian leader started this community of learning and prayer, and people came from all over Europe to learn from him, live together, and deepen their own spiritual lives. There was a man who came to this community who made life difficult for his fellow seekers. He was irritating, abrasive, and rude. The others seekers didn’t like him, and wondered why their leader tolerated this man. Finally, when the leader was gone for several weeks, the members of the community contrived to get the irritating person to leave. When the leader returned, he was distressed by this man’s absence, and went in search of him. After searching for several weeks, the leader found the man, and begged him to return to the community. He even offered the man a stipend if he would return.

When they returned, the other seekers were dismayed. They went to the leader and said, “Why did you bring him back? He was a troublemaker, none of us liked him -- and you’re going to pay him to stay here?” And the leader replied, “You came to this community because you wanted to learn patience and love. This man can challenge you to learn those lessons in a way that I never could. We need to learn what he can teach us.”

As Jesus’ followers, each one of us is called to God’s mission to preach, teach, and reach others. I pray that God would help us to see ourselves and others in new ways, and that we can find those places where we encounter God and are lost in wonder, love, and praise. Amen.


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