Preaching : Luke 9:28-43
It can be helpful to approach sermon preparation with a question in mind. One possible question is, Who is the God who speaks in and through the Bible? This is different from the question, What does this passage tell us about God? The latter is much more static, the former alive and dynamic. It asks, Who is the God who spoke yesterday, is speaking today and will speak tomorrow? It carries with it the expectation that God is acting in the world around us, and, on an even more personal level, is speaking to us at this very moment through the words in front of us. Today's Gospel passage is the account of Jesus' Transfiguration, which listeners may be tempted to hear as an historical account with little bearing on their lives today. However, when we dive into this passage, we find much beneath the surface for thought, reflection and development.
Perhaps one of the most common themes preached on in relation to this text falls into the category of Mountain Top Experiences and the Day After. Such sermons often emphasize the glory of mountain top experiences and the necessity of descending the mountain at some point. They point to the inclusiveness of life experiences along the spectrum of tragedy to ecstasy, and the fullness that comes from a life lived in touch with both these realities. While this extraction of the mountain top theme is one possible homiletical path, there are many other significant points in this passage, any of which can serve as a sermon focus for those who do not wish to run the text. First there is the context in which it occurs. Jesus invites several of the disciples to accompany him up the mountain to pray. They went with him not expecting anything unusual to happen as best we can tell. It was standard operating procedure for Jesus to draw apart to pray (that too is significant), and the disciples did not go with Jesus "looking for a thrill" or a sign. A clue to this is that we are told they were weighed down with sleep (evincing images of the Garden scene for those who know the whole story). The disciples almost missed this glimpse of glory! Plodding through their lives without expectations, tired from the cares of the day, they almost missed God's revelation of His Son! What about us? Do we expect to meet God in the ordinary routines of our lives? Do we miss God's self-revelation in the frantic pace of the nineties?
"Don't just stand there! Say something—anything!" is sometimes our way of reacting to the unexpected twists and turns of our lives. Peter models this approach for us. He speaks, we are told, not knowing what he said. Then it is none other than God who says, "Close your mouth and LISTEN to my Chosen One!" Discerning when to speak and when to keep silent and listen is a lifelong task. Listening to God and the One He sent, also is.
Some people are puzzled at the disciples' silence upon their descent from the mountain (And they kept silent, and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen). Our reactions to glimpses of the holy in our lives seem to be either enthusiastic sharing: "You won't believe what happened to me!" (and sometimes they don't) or silent reflection/awe/wonder: What happened? Did it happen? Was it real? Speechlessness shrouds us.
This lectionary passage for Transfiguration Sunday includes the option of reading through to verse 43. One may wish to do that in order to place this passage in its full context, or one may choose to summarize what follows in the body of the sermon itself. The disciples and Jesus come down from the mountain and are immediately confronted with the human need that was ever so present then as now: a man shouts at Jesus, begging him to heal his son. Following quickly on the heels of Jesus' glorification is the daily call to ministry.
Let us return once again to the question posed at the opening of this section: Who is the God who is speaking to us in this account of the Transfiguration? This is the God who wants us to know Him, who chooses to reveal the God-self to us in the ordinary, who reveals Himself even when we do not seek Him, and who silences us by a glimpse of His holiness and glory. This is the One who is calling us yet today to participate in the redeeming work of bringing in His kingdom!