Swaddling Clothes vs. Dazzling Clothes – How is God getting your attention?

A Sermon on the Transfiguration of Jesus

Matthew 17:1-9
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Children’s Time: Who can whistle really good? That’s a great way to get someone’s attention. When my mother was dying, God got our attention by helping us to trust she was going to be okay. Here’s a story that helped me with that. When mom was helping to plan her funeral (for after she died). She said, “I want you to sing ‘Go tell it on the mountain!’” Well, that’s fine, we said. It’s a great Christmas carol. Well, the day she died, we were walking out the door of the nursing home where she was staying and what song do you suppose was playing over the radio by the front desk? “Go tell it on the mountain!” We were comforted because we believe God was trying to get our attention. That mom was safely home with Jesus and reunited with those who had died before her (my dad and my grandparents). How is God trying to get your attention? Those are special moments in our faith. Jesus didn’t want the disciples to tell anyone about what they saw on the mountain… until after Easter. But today, this is how we share our faith and teach others about God’s love for us.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

So, how has God gotten your attention over the years? Do you remember? Has it been a spectacular vision? Or maybe something as ordinary as a song playing on the front desk radio?

From the very beginning, Jesus’ followers told their stories of how God had gotten their attention. We read it in our 2nd lesson for today from 2Peter 1:16

“We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord… but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty.” 2Peter 1:16

In other words, “We didn’t make this up!” This is our story.

The transfiguration happened in the presence of Jesus’ disciples – there on the mountain. No one saw it coming – maybe even Jesus was surprised. All the lights and the clouds overshadowed them… and suddenly, Jesus is joined by two juggernauts of the faith: Moses and Elijah (the one who led the Hebrews out of slavery and into the promised land – and the one who raised the dead, brought fire down from the sky, and was taken up in a chariot of fire)… and they’re just talking with Jesus. And then there was this voice from heaven (sounding much like the one that they heard at Jesus’ baptism): “This is my son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him.”

What started out as a typical hike up the mountain, turned into a dazzling display of Jesus’ divine nature. All through his life we encounter great mood swings with Jesus, from being bored stiff to being scared stiff – from thinking nothing’s new under the sun – to standing with the Son, on holy ground! From casting nets in a smelly fishing boat – to walking on water!

This is how God works – through ordinary circumstances – through a lowly son of a carpenter from Nazareth – through the renegade Moses, with a speech impediment – through a woman going to fetch water at the well – through people like you and me… who encounter God in our everyday lives.

We see it most clearly in Jesus – who went from swaddling clothes at birth to dazzling clothes on this holy mountain. In the manger, the poor baby wakes to the smell of manure and itchy straw… but the angels light up the sky with Hallelujas! At his baptism, the Nazarene went down to be baptized with the others, only to find the heavens opened and a dove descending in glory. As he hung on a cross and breathed his last and the temple curtain was torn in two – and three days later he rose in a glorious victory over sin and death.

So, which one is he? The swaddling clothes God or the dazzling clothes God? The manger God or the mountain God? When have you found yourself on holy ground – totally caught off guard – with your jaw open – in awe of God’s presence? When have you been struck with fear and trembling?

Do you prefer the thunderbolt, flash-in-the-pan Jesus. For whom angels sang at his birth? The Jesus who walked on water and healed the sick? The Jesus who knocked Saul off his horse and made him blind until he could see the errors of his ways? The Jesus who rose triumphantly from the grave on Easter morning? This is the Jesus who knows who he is. He is bold and decisive – he is more than we expected – this dazzling clothes Jesus.

Or are you drawn to the Jesus in the swaddling clothes? The Jesus who is in the hay – the one we may not even recognize? The Jesus who goes down the mountain with us back into the daily chores and duties we face. The Jesus who doesn’t say much but is there always, as we sing in the hymn Away in a Manger, “close by me forever and love me I pray.”

Our St. Paul Area Bishop, Peter Rogness preached at our ministers’ gathering last week about the “thunderbolt” God vs. the “permeating” God. And which one would you want on your side? The God of quick fixes is quite alluring and affirming… but is not very healing.

He reminded us of the story of Elizabeth Edwards (ex-wife of former Vice-Presidential Candidate, John Edwards) and her story of perseverance through the death of a son at age 16, her diagnosis of having stage IV breast cancer; along with the infidelity of her husband, who had an affair, causing her to divorce him.

At one point in her journey with cancer, she was reported as saying that she had given up praying for a cure… that she was at peace with whatever the outcome would be. Sadly, the bloggers and conservative talk shows lamented that it was too bad she had lost faith in God. Or was it that she had met the permeating God? The God who promises to be with us always and everywhere? The God who walks with those disciples back down that dusty trail, into the valley of the shadow of death… all the way to the place of the skull where he would be crucified.

Well, one thing I’m taking home from all this is Jesus’ commitment to stay with his disciples. He comes to them in their fear, touches them on the shoulder and says, “Get up. Don’t be afraid. All is well. Oh, and let’s just keep this between us until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”

The messianic secret: It probably wouldn’t have gone over too well if people started hearing that Jesus had been schmoozing with dead prophets from of old (Elijah and Moses!). So Jesus told them to keep it to themselves. Jesus, on several occasions, sternly orders the disciples to tell no one of what they have seen.

Even if they couldn’t tell anyone else… one thing was clear: not only was Jesus transfigured before their eyes… but they, too, would never be the same, as they walked down that trail together back to their everyday lives. Knowing what they now know… it had to affect everything else from then on.

So, where does that leave us today? Knowing what you know about God and Jesus and the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life… what’s your story? Where have you encountered God? How has Jesus been trying to get your attention? Let’s share those stories. Let’s tell them to others, not as cleverly devised myths… or as coping mechanisms for life’s hardships… but as eyewitness accounts of God getting our attention.

If you leave here today and don’t take anything else home with you – take this: your story matters (whether it be on the mountaintop or in an ordinary manger). Embrace it, share it, go tell it. Others are hungry to hear the good news of God’s love through you, his disciples. Amen.

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