SERMON FOR THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD, 1-17-2016
AT LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WISCONSIN
Rev. Brian German


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”


Yes, our Lord’s face should be shining like the sun—he is the Sun of Righteousness, after all, that Malachi said would rise with healing in its wings. And yes, our Lord’s clothes should be white as light—He is the Light of the world, who came to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Light of Light, very God of very God.


But the appearance of Moses and Elijah may cause us to take a second look at the guest list. Luke tells us that they were there talking about our Lord’s “departure.” And yet, when our Lord usually talks about his departure, as he did with Peter in the verses right before our reading, he does just that, without further ado. And when our Lord wants to put his glory on display, as he did at his baptism—another occasion with the Father’s voice from above—he does just that, without any Old Testament personnel needed. But here we have the great Law-giver, Moses, and the great prophet, Elijah.


And that might be a good place to start: the law and the prophets, of course, Christ Jesus came to fulfill. He is the prophet like Moses, and a much greater Elijah.

SERMON FOR THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD, 1-17-2016
AT LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL, SHOREWOOD, WISCONSIN
Rev. Brian German


Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.


“And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.”


Yes, our Lord’s face should be shining like the sun—he is the Sun of Righteousness, after all, that Malachi said would rise with healing in its wings. And yes, our Lord’s clothes should be white as light—He is the Light of the world, who came to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Light of Light, very God of very God.


But the appearance of Moses and Elijah may cause us to take a second look at the guest list. Luke tells us that they were there talking about our Lord’s “departure.” And yet, when our Lord usually talks about his departure, as he did with Peter in the verses right before our reading, he does just that, without further ado. And when our Lord wants to put his glory on display, as he did at his baptism—another occasion with the Father’s voice from above—he does just that, without any Old Testament personnel needed. But here we have the great Law-giver, Moses, and the great prophet, Elijah.


And that might be a good place to start: the law and the prophets, of course, Christ Jesus came to fulfill. He is the prophet like Moses, and a much greater Elijah.


But it’s also the case that Moses and Elijah were the only ones in the Old Testament to speak with God on Mount Sinai. As we heard in the first reading, Moses’ face even used to shine because of it; a veil would cover him up only when he wasn’t hearing or speaking God’s word; glory tied up with word, just as it was for Elijah. When things were rough for him—and I mean really rough—God came to Elijah not in the fire or the earthquake or the wind, but in a low whisper, in humble speech; again, glory tied up with God’s word. At the transfiguration, then, is the word of the God of Israel now made flesh…and we have seen his glory.


But it’s also the case that Moses and Elijah both also had miraculous departures of their own. Moses was buried by the Lord himself, with grave site unknown, and Elijah didn’t even die. So also our Lord, in his own departure, will be delivered from the grave, and his glorious body will not see corruption.


At this point, we, like Peter, have heard more than enough to pop the champagne. “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” There Peter was, standing before the likes of a Saint Augustine and a Martin Luther—and Someone far greater than both of them—and he couldn’t help but interrupt the conversation. Say nothing further; let’s call it a day right there. It’s a Kodak moment as is. In fact, build a shrine to it; people from all over will flock to it.


When I toured the holy land a few years ago, I soon learned that the exact locations of some holy sites are much more certain than others. Peter’s mother-in-law’s house? Hardly any doubt. King David’s tomb? Not really sure at all…and it’ll still cost you 20 shekels to see it. The mount of transfiguration? Some ideas float around, but there’s no hard evidence. Our tour guide lamented the fact, but that’s part of the whole point: you’re not supposed to enshrine a vision like this. Besides, there’s more that Moses and Elijah bring to the table.


The transfiguration may have been a mountaintop experience, but it wasn’t the only mountain involved that day. Moses brings with him Mount Sinai, the mountain of the law, the law that picks us apart and shows us a laundry list of sins that we’ve committed over the past week. Elijah brings with him Mount Carmel, the mountain of the battle with false prophets, the mountain of spiritual warfare, the mountain of the spiritual struggles that wage war against us…the doubt and the despair and the depression that plague us.


On top of all this is the fact that Moses and Elijah were fellow sufferers with Christ. Moses was rejected numerous times by his own people, even though he worked miracles for them and was the meekest man on earth. Elijah was exiled and on the brink of death, even though he had the words of eternal life. So also when our Lord came to his own, his own didn’t receive him. And because of that, Jesus brings a mountain with him to the transfiguration too: Mount Calvary, where the very face that was once shining like the sun at high noon would be spit on.


Whatever else there is to say about Moses and Elijah, their lofty presence at the transfiguration keeps the whole thing grounded, and reminds us all that the only way to true glory is through suffering with Christ. Peter was fine with the dazzling clothes, but all this talk about “departure” was too hard on the ears.

 

So also for our old Adam, who wants to take the glory and run. Forget the final exam; take the diploma now. Bottle up the God-moments, and find a way for others to bask in our afterglow. We may be members at LMC, but our hearts seek memberships in trophy cases. How long can I hold on to this glorious moment? How far can I make it shine? How can I get others to see it? Better yet, how can I get others to flock to it?


Meanwhile, churches throughout the world chase after the big vision and the game changer, the pastor with celebrity status, the edgy and the hip, the totally new, the glory of the moment. They set themselves up like sound-proof tents, where any talk of suffering can’t be heard.


But Moses and Elijah bear on their bodies the marks of Jesus, and so they beg to differ. When I started teaching at Concordia, I was told that the students can easily tell if a prof is trying too hard to speak their lingo. They can smell a fake. If the Christian faith is only about health and wealth, it’ll eventually be exposed. After all, what does it mean to call on the name of the Lord, if we’re too ashamed to take a hit for the sake of the name? What does it mean to wear a crucifix, if we’re not willing to bear a cross? The most popular topic of conversation in heaven is our Lord’s “departure.” What, then, should we discuss on earth?

 

“While [Peter] was still speaking—while he was interrupting a glorious conversation about how it’s through many tribulations [that] we must enter the kingdom of God—behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’”


While we were busy building tabernacles for all of our glorious moments, the only legitimate “Tabernacle” came to tabernacle among us. Moses reflected the glory and Elijah heard the glory, but Jesus is the Glory; divinity in, with, and under humanity; the same substance of the Father; very DNA of very DNA.

 

So dear friends in Christ, put down the tent supplies, and listen to him. Don’t interrupt your hearing of God’s word, and don’t listen to your surroundings about what counts for glorious. Don’t be left alone with your thoughts, either; there’s no comfort in speculation. Rather, listen to him. This one is God’s Son. Listen to how his death is actually at the very center of his glory, and how the way of that cross is also central for his disciples and for you and for me. And then, listen to how glorious our future will be.


Whatever it is that troubles you the most, God’s beloved Son is the Word for it. If you’re down in the doubt and despair of Elijah, listen and be assured. If you’re feeling the rejection that Moses felt, listen and be comforted. If you’re in the midst of a spiritual wilderness, listen and be refreshed. If you’re being tempted, listen and be strengthened. If you’re bottling up guilt, listen to his forgiveness. Rise up to your vocations in life, and have no fear. And if there’s just no end in sight for a thorn in your side, know that the sufferings of this present time can’t even compare with the glory that is to be revealed to us.


When Peter was getting close to his own departure—when he knew that his tent of a body was fading fast—he looked back on the transfiguration with enlightened eyes and said that there’s something even better: “the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”


At the end of the day, Moses and Elijah were prime examples of those who had to undergo transfigurations of their own until the day of the bright morning star. The same would go for Peter and John, Saint


Augustine and Martin Luther, Pastor and Vicar, you and me. For the same Christ who joined with Moses and Elijah in suffering clings to us, too, transfiguring us from the inside out through the daily killing off of the old Adam and the daily bringing forth of a new man, all the while conforming us more and more into the image of God’s beloved Son.

 

And then, a final transfiguration for us all, when in the twinkling of an eye we shall be changed, and our lowly bodies will be transformed into glorious bodies. Yes, “what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”


In the meantime, dear Christians, enter into the conversation with not only Moses and Elijah, but with angels, archangels, and all the company of heaven.


In the name of Jesus, Amen.


The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Luther Memorial Chapel & University Student Center | 3833 N Maryland Ave | Shorewood, WI  53211
(414) 332-5732 |lmcusc@lmcusc.org

Divine Service: Sundays - 9:00a Mondays - 7:00p Bible Study & Sunday School: Sundays - 10:45a