“Transfigured by the Transfiguration”

The following sermon was preached at the 8:30am and 11:00am Rite II Eucharist Services at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana on February 11, 2018, being the Last Sunday after the Epiphany (Quinquagesima).

Collect: O God, who before the Passion of Your Only-Begotten Son revealed His glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of His countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into His likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Readings: 2 Kings 2.1-12; Psalm 50.1-6; 2 Corinthians 4.3-6; Mark 9.2-9

“Elijah went up by a whirlwind into Heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried…And he saw him no more.”—2 Kings 2.11-12

“And [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and His garments became glistening, intensely white, as no fuller on Earth could bleach them…And a cloud overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him.”—Mark 9.3, 7[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today’s lectionary texts, particularly the Old Testament and the Gospel, are fitting for these closing days of Epiphanytide. They are fitting in that on the cusp of Ash Wednesday and Lent, beginning our way to the cross, they point us to the future that is Easter. Because of Christ, we are transfigured, transported to a new state of being. This transformation changes our “hearts to [receive] the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4.6) The light that is Christ’s glory is encouragement for Christian living, for in times of adversity, because of the Resurrection that is to come, the love and presence of God are assured.

The Old Testament story of Elijah’s walk from Gilgal to the Jordan River with his successor Elisha takes me back seven years to my final year of seminary, walking in formation with my own mentor, the Reverend Andrew Mead, then Rector of New York’s Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue. Just as Elijah trained Elisha for the prophetic ministry, so did Father Mead train me “for the Office and Work of a Priest in the Church of God,” that I would be mindful, using words from the old Prayer Book, of

“How high a Dignity, and to how weighty an Office and Charge ye are called…to teach and to premonish, to feed and provide for the Lord’s family; to seek for Christ’s sheep that are dispersed abroad, and for His children who are in the midst of this naughty world, that they may be saved through Christ forever.”[2]

Father Mead was a committed and faithful messenger, watchman, and steward of the Lord. His teaching and preaching, spiritual counsel, and pastoral care drew me closer in to God’s greater presence and glory. He always made clear that he was not the main thing, but that Jesus Christ was. The Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Creeds were superior to any and everything else.[3]

Hence, when the time was coming for my graduation from General Seminary and return to the Diocese of Alabama for ordination, my heart was not yet ready. I loved New York City and worshipping God at Saint Thomas Church. I loved Father Mead as a son loves his father. In the Old Testament lesson, the company of prophets twice remind Elisha, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” “I know,” Elisha says. “You don’t have to keep reminding me about it.[4]

Though my heart’s desire was to stay in New York, Father Mead reminded me of my obligation to return to Alabama, be obedient to God’s call, and the commitment I made to my Bishop. “Brandt, the people of Alabama are going to need you to be for them a loving pastor. If you love them and respect their local liturgical tradition, all will be well.” So, with that, I left Fifth Avenue in New York City for Fifth Avenue in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.[5] “And [Elisha] saw [Elijah] no more.”

By returning to Alabama, I learned that being a Priest of the Church requires entering deeply into the realities and relationships of the people to whom God sends you. It also requires vulnerability, completely depending on God’s word and mercy.[6] Through these realizations, I saw that Father Mead was right. All was well. And because of you, the people of Ascension, all still is well.

There is a point to me telling this story, which I promise to get to momentarily.

+         +          +

The Transfiguration marks the midway point between Jesus’ baptism and His Resurrection. Up on a high mountain, Jesus’ garments become glistening white and Moses and Elijah appear, talking with Him. What Peter, James, and John see in the intense light is the divine nature of God’s Incarnate Word, Jesus as the “image of the invisible God.” (Colossians 1.15) As the Psalmist today declares, “Out of Sion hath God appeared in perfect beauty.”[7] (Psalm 50.2)

Here is the connecting point of my story and between the Old Testament and Gospel lessons. Much like Elisha wanted to stay with Elijah and myself at Saint Thomas Church and with Father Mead, Peter, James, and John wanted to stay on the mountain, alone with Jesus in their own little world in their own shelters.[8] But that is not how the Christian life works. To be Jesus’ disciple is to be willing to descend the mountain and carry on, changed and willing to bear witness for God any and everywhere.

This brings us to God’s voice from out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him. OK, God, but to what? JESUS, to all that He says! What has He already said?

“If any man would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s will save it…For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed, when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8.34-35, 38)

Not only does the Transfiguration confirm Jesus as God’s Only-Begotten Son, but also invites us to a life of Christian discipleship. Through the Transfiguration, God affirms Christ’s way of the cross, it being in line with the Law and the Prophets, signified by Moses and Elijah’s presence. This Jesus descends the mountain to give “Himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” (Galatians 1.4) Through the cross, Christ will give the gift of redemption, we being forgiven of our sin by His most wonderful mercy. And for those that heed Christ’s call, His cross will become the power of God.[9] Therefore, to listen to Christ as God commands, we, along with Peter, James, and John, must descend with Jesus down the mountain.

Though Jesus was in one way transfigured, He remained what He has always been in another, for the author of Hebrews says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.(Hebrews 13.8) Jesus was more so revealed for what He is, the Christ, the Son of the living God. Rather, it was Peter, James, and John who were changed. We are the ones who are transfigured by Jesus. Jesus transfiguring us makes us “a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5.17) This calls us to a new way of life, presenting our “bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual worship.” (Romans 12.1) And if you are wondering if the Christian life is worth living, I offer these words from Saint Paul

“Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on Earth. When Christ who is our life appears, then you will also appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3.2, 4)

+         +         +

Living the Christian life is demanding yet transformational and worth it. We have no need to fear, for Jesus descends the mountain with us into life’s messy places and never rids Himself of us. This should give us confidence to walk the road of Christian discipleship, glorifying Christ in our own day. Jesus carries on to the mission that is His to accomplish. Maundy Thursday and Good Friday are going to be hard as all get out. But the most important thing is that Jesus will remain faithful and do what He has been sent to this earth to do. And because it will all work out for Jesus, it will all work out for us.

The Lord hath manifested forth His glory: O come, let us adore Him! Amen. Alleluia!

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Old Testament Section, Copyright 1952; New Testament Section, First Edition, Copyright 1946; Second Edition © 1971 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

[2] The Form and Manner of Ordering Priests, The Book of Common Prayer (1928), pp. 539-540, 546.

[3] Andrew C. Mead. Catechesis: A Collection of Sermons for the Christian Year (Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, 2004), pp. viii-x.

[4] New Revised Standard Version.

[5] Canterbury Episcopal Chapel and Student Center at the University of Alabama.

[6] David J. Lose. “Homiletical Perspective on 2 Kings 2:1-12,” Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary (Year B, Volume 1—Advent Through Transfiguration) (Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), p. 437.

[7] Miles Coverdale Psalter Translation.

[8] “The Glory and the Passion are One,” a sermon preached by the Reverend Canon Carl F. Turner, Rector of Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, February 15, 2015.

[9] 1 Corinthians 1.18

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