Sunday, February 10, 2008

Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday (3 February 2008)

One of the most popular themes in reality TV is the “make-over.” A person is transformed from an ordinary looking person with not much style or dress sense into a stunning, sexy, smartly dressed man or woman through the magic of the make-over team. A variation on the theme is plastic surgery shows where a disfigured person undergoes radical changes to their face and/or body through surgical intervention. The highlight of the show is when friends and loved ones all gather and the person is revealed for the first time in all their transformed glory. Tonight sees the return of TV’s The Biggest Loser where people are transformed from being morbidly obese to being, well…not morbidly obese. Viewers will sit through the entire series in order to get to the final episode when the contestants will stand in all their reduced glory – transformed and transfigured by their experience of diet and exercise.

The New Testament word "transfiguration" may be translated by our English word, "metamorphosis." It is used four times in the New Testament and is translated twice as, "transfigured," (Mark 9:2; Matthew 17:2 - the transfiguration of Jesus on the mount) twice as "transformed" (Romans 12:2; 2 Corinthians 3:18 - the transformation of believers into greater degrees of Christlikeness). The linking of these Gospel passages with Paul’s letters is important. It shows that we are to share in some way in the glory of Christ. C.S. Lewis once said that if we could see the creature God will make of our neighbour we would be tempted to bow down and worship him.

The First Sunday of Epiphany the text is always about the baptism of Jesus where the voice is heard from heaven: "This is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased." Today is the last Sunday, and a voice again says, "This is my son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased." Eugene Peterson paraphrases these words: "this is my son, marked by my love, the focus of my delight." This reassurance was needed by Jesus and needed by the disciples as Jesus is about to enter into the final journey to the cross. Wednesday is Ash Wednesday the commencement of the season of Lent, when we are called to fast and to undergo a season of self denial and repentance in preparation for Easter. At such a time we need the revelation that we are given here. Often we are told in sermons that we must change. How often have you heard someone say in a prayer. ”Lord may we leave this place changed people.” I wonder if that is really the answer.

In Cecil B. Demille's final film, The Ten Commandments, Moses emerges from Sinai (an event recalled in today's Old Testament reading) looking very different from when he went into the cloud. It works in its own way I guess but it also looks a little comical. It comes off as a clever makeup job but it’s unintentionally humorous as no reason is given why a previously younger looking Moses has now emerged from his encounter with God donning a full flowing beard and looking about 40 years older! I don’t know how many sermons I’ve given on the transfiguration – a lot. But when I look in the mirror I see the same old me. We too often come away from a sermon on the transfiguration asking ourselves what we need to do to change. It is not what we do that leads to change, it is what we see. What Peter, James and John saw on the mountain that day, certainly changed them as their writings bear witness.

The sad thing about make-over shows is that the people who make such transformations to their exterior self soon revert to their older careless ways and are just as slovenly and overweight as when they began. A make-over is only skin deep. It is not a make-over we need but laser surgery. This Lent as we adopt our Lenten discipline and focus on Christ let the emphasis not be on the discipline but on the focusing. May God grant us to see a new vision of Christ’s glory so that “all of us, with unveiled faces [see] the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, [and are] transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Amen.


Ross McPhee said...

Good sermon. Long time between updates, Glen.

Stuart M said...

"...let the emphasis not be on the discipline but on the focusing" [on Christ]. Insightful.


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