Saturday Sermons from the Sidelines: Transfiguration 2021

Jesus draws back the curtain and shows us the whole picture.

One of my pastoral colleagues raised two Ethiopian boys as foster sons. Their home had been engulfed in civil war and famine. The boys ran cross country in high school and track for the University of Nebraska.

The foster sons never lost touch with their Ethiopian parents and family. One of the boys got married to an American woman, and the couple had a baby. My colleague asked if I would have the baptism. I said an enthusiastic yes!

Ten minutes before worship, my colleague introduced me to one of the Ethiopian grandfathers. He was a small, unassuming and very serious man. He was also the president of the Mekane Jesus Church in Ethiopia. This was the fastest growing Lutheran community in the world, with nearly seven million members.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on

I was about to baptize his first grandchild.

I am not easily rattled when leading worship. But that was an exception. It all went very well. It went well because the grandfather was a kind, gentle and gracious man. We all rejoiced in God’s grace that day.

Two weeks later, I saw him on television. He had addressed a meeting of international political and church leaders and received a standing ovation. That was when I really began to sweat about my preaching two weeks before.

On television the curtain was drawn back for a moment. I saw the power and wisdom, the courage and strength of the man who had sat in our pews.

In his transfiguration, Jesus draws back the curtain. That’s my first thought today.

Today we remember the Transfiguration of Our Lord. We see the full glory of Jesus, the Messiah. Along with the disciples, we might be scared witless. The Greek word for “terrified” means “to be beyond ourselves with fear.”

Jesus is God’s beloved and chosen Son. In Jesus God launches the project to take the world back from sin, death and evil. So Jesus is the Jewish Messiah and the Lord of All Creation. He is the human face of God, and the Divine face of humanity. In him, as we read in Colossians 1, all the fullness of God is pleased to dwell. Through him, God speaks words of grace and mercy and hope to a world enslaved to law and vengeance and despair.

For a moment, we get to see Jesus in the light of his glory. This prepares us for the Lenten journey back into the Valley of the Shadow. We get this vision so we can go forward, not so we can stay put.

In his transfiguration, Jesus draws back the curtain.

This is a preview of Easter. But this preview is about encouragement, not entitlement. I once stood in the crowd waiting for the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park. The geyser is supposed to erupt on a strict schedule. Apparently it was some seconds later this time. The man next to me glanced at his watch.  “It’s late, Mabel,” he said in disgust. “Let’s get a postcard and go.”

The Transfiguration isn’t a preview for our convenience. But it is about encouragement. Jesus shines with the light of God’s grace and love. That light is given to us in our baptism. It comes to us as a gift. We have the privilege of letting that light shine through us to others. “Let your light so shine,” Jesus says to us, “that others may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

In his transfiguration, Jesus draws back the curtain.

He does that in our Gospel reading. And he wants to do that through you. He wants to do that every time you serve someone with his love. He wants to do that every time you speak his name to someone in despair. He wants to do that every time you invite someone to be part of your church family.

The Transfiguration is the last Sunday in Epiphany. “Epiphany” means that something or someone has been revealed. We see Jesus for a moment as he really is. We are invited to follow him on his journey into the world.

When the Big World crashes into our little worlds, we have two choices. We can retreat in fear. We can make our little world (and our little god) even smaller. We can stop the journey and pitch a tent. That is Peter’s choice on the mountain.

Or we can let the world (and our God) get bigger. We can allow Jesus to enlarge our empathy. We can engage in compassion practice. We can go down the hill and back into the world.

Will we satisfied with things as they are now?  Perhaps we want God to just shut up and be satisfied. Will we just pitch our tents on the Mountain of Mediocrity? Or will we go back down the hill? Will we pull in and close the flap? Or will we push out and dare to be great?

The tent is a slow and sleepy end, but it is death nonetheless. The adventure passes through a cross, but on the other side is the New Creation. Will we choose the tents or the trials? Will we choose rest or risk?

In his transfiguration, Jesus draws back the curtain. And he wants the light to shine through us.

Some years ago we hosted a visitor from Tanzania in our home for a weekend. Frederick Shoo was an assistant bishop in one of the smaller dioceses in the Lutheran church in Tanzania. He preached at worship and spoke at our adult forum.

We spent the following Monday afternoon hunting souvenirs for his family. He was headed back on Tuesday, and his shopping was far from finished. Frederick had specific orders from his wife, Janet, and his teen-aged daughters, to return with some nice American shoes. My spouse was working that day, so we were on our own.

Off we went to the Kohl’s in south Lincoln. Frederick pulled out a pair of purple pumps and said, “What do you think?” What I thought was, “You’re asking me? You can’t be serious!” What I did was call my spouse to seek expert fashion advice. After a few additional phone calls, we sent Frederick home with fashionable footwear for the family.

This is my clearest memory of my friend, Frederick Shoo—two bumbling males, lost in the wilderness of feminine footwear. Now let me tell you who Frederick really is. The Reverend Doctor Shoo is the presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania, with a membership of over six and a half million.

In his transfiguration, Jesus draws back the curtain. It’s important to see the whole picture.

With the disciples we watch as Jesus is revealed for who and what he truly is—Messiah of Israel, Redeemer of the Universe and Lord of all Creation. We hear an echo of the words spoken at his baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved.

God says, “Pay attention. Look deeper. See the whole picture.” This is who and what Jesus truly is.

The Transfiguration is a renewal of Jesus’ baptismal vocation. But wait–there’s more! Now the words are directed to his disciples (and anyone else who might be in earshot. “Listen to him.”

Soon we’ll all head back down the mountain into the murky mundane. On Wednesday we begin our Lenten journey together. It’s good to get renewed, re-called. It’s good to get a peek at the peak!

Now we come down the mountain for the deep and reflective journey of Lent. I look forward to that time of reflection and prayer with you. And I am grateful for this peek at the peak that launches us into the journey.

In his transfiguration, Jesus draws back the curtain. It’s important to see the whole picture.

Let’s pray.

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