Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There is an art to speaking and an art to keeping silent. A rich, old man had serious hearing problems, so he went to a specialist who was able to fit him with a set of exceptional hearing aids which allowed him to hear nearly perfectly. A month later the old man returned to his own doctor, who said, “Your hearing is great. Your family must be really pleased that you can hear again.” The old man sighed, “Oh, I haven’t told them yet. I just sit around and listen to their conversations. I’ve already changed my will three times!” Yes, there’s an art to speaking and to keeping silent.
At the end of the story of the Jesus’ transfiguration, we read that the disciples Peter, James and John “kept silent, and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.” Certainly, they must have wondered what had truly happened on that mountaintop. They must have wondered if it had all been a dream, and if they spoke about it that no one would believe them. Whatever the reason, they kept silent. Of course, they are not alone. Many of us cannot speak of our most personal and profound religious experiences, but that doesn’t mean that we are unchanged by what we have seen.
We all know need encouragement to speak during for the challenges of life. Sometimes it may be a pat on the back, a gentle nod, or an affirming hug. Perhaps we need words. As the English poet George Herbert, once said. “Good words are worth much, and cost little.” To give encouragement to someone who is feeling down is not only kind and gracious, but it is also Christ like. In the purest sense, I believe that Jesus’ transfiguration may have been a gesture of encouragement. And that is what I would like to share with you today.
The story of the Jesus’ transfiguration is one of the most puzzling stories in the Bible. We are told that about eight days after Jesus spoke to his disciples about his impending death and resurrection, he went with Peter, James and John and James up the mountain to pray. While he was praying, and while the three disciples were struggling to stay awake-, suddenly Jesus had company. Moses and Elijah were there with him, and the whole appearance of Jesus changed into dazzling brilliance. As the disciples looked on in amazement, Jesus, Moses and Elijah discussed together what was about to unfold in Jerusalem, the very events that Jesus had foretold just a week earlier. Peter wanted desperately to hang on to this holy moment, and so he spoke and boldly suggested that small dwellings could be built to their honor them. But, instead, a thick cloud engulfed the mountain and the voice of God spoke out of the cloud, with a near rebuke, “This is my son, my chosen; listen to him!” When the cloud lifted, Jesus and Peter and James and John were the only ones left. They descended the mountain in silence. But the three disciples remembered, for one fleeting moment, that Jesus was dazzling.
Now, that moment seems especially brilliant and bright when set between two crucial, dark scenes on either side of the story of the transfiguration. Eight days earlier, Jesus had challenged his disciple with these honest and sobering words, “If you want to be my disciple, you must deny yourself, pick up your cross, and follow me. Whoever loses their life for my sake will save it.” And then just a few verses after the transfiguration occurred, we hear that Jesus resolutely determined that he was going to Jerusalem where he would die upon the cross. So the glory and radiance of the transfiguration took place in the midst of Jesus’ invitation for us to follow him to the place of self denial and self giving, and his own willingness to make his way to Jerusalem. Death was already hunting Jesus down, and he knew it. He was predicting his own crucifixion, and death was on the horizon. It was precisely then that Jesus was radiant before the disciples’ faces. Everything about Jesus, from his clothing to his face, was transfigured by something. They couldn’t speak about it or describe it, but they would remember it.
These were the same three disciples, Peter, James and John, who would see him sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane; they would see him arrested, and beaten and left to die. Yes, they would see the worst happen to him, but in the moment of his transfiguration, Jesus was giving them a glimpse of the very best. He was offering them a glimpse of what the resurrection would look like. He was offering them a glimpse of what eternal life would look alike, and what God’s glory looked like- and not even his impending death could rob him of that dignity and nobility.
The transfiguration, you see, is one way that God promises us that there is always hope. On that mountaintop, God gave us a glimpse of how the terrible tragedy of Jesus’ death was going to be transformed and transfigured into something glorious on Easter morning. And if God the Father can do that for his Son, God can do that for all of his beloved sons and daughters.
That is good news, my friends. God does not want you to lose sight of this dazzling, wonder either- regardless of what the future brings. And so he encourages you from the cloud, to be of good courage, “This is my Son, my chosen, listen to him.”
But there is also a warning. Beware of discouragement of this world. The Devil once announced a “Going Out of Business.” He laid out all the tools of his trade with price tags for anyone to purchase. There was hatred, jealousy, envy, greed, and more, all for a price. Some of the tools were pretty complicated items with buttons, spinners, ratchets, and gears. But, one was surprisingly simple. It was just a simple wedge that looked a lot like this doorstop. It was very worn, scratched, and scuffed – and it was far more expensive than any of the other high-tech tools. Someone asked, “What’s this one?” To which the Devil replied, “That’s discouragement.” The potential buyer asked, “Why’s it so expensive?” The Devil answered, “Because it is more useful to me than any of the others. Most people can see the other tools coming and stop me. But, with discouragement, I sneak up on them, a little at a time, slowly pry them open, and get inside where I can use my other tools. When someone gets discouraged, they make excuses – and I get ’em. Or, they cheat – and I get ’em. Or, they get jealous of others success – and I get ’em. Or, they just completely quit – and I get ’em. That’s why it is so worn, you see. I use it with nearly everybody, because few people know that it belongs to me.”
The disciples, Peter, James and John would encounter the devil’s discouragement again and again, but they did not remain silent about the encouragement of Jesus’s transfiguration. Peter spoke of Jesus’ transfiguration in his 2nd epistle, he penned shortly before his death. Peter’s martyrdom in Rome is traditionally dated during the persecution of the Christians that followed Nero’s fire in the summer of A.D. 64. The blame for that fire was shifted onto the Christians of the city, along with their obvious leader, Peter, the chief of the apostles. Peter was arrested and evidently wrote this letter while waiting to die. He was greatly discouraged, but he did not lose hope in preparing for his own departure, and so he dared to write, “We ourselves heard this voice come heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” In the darkest hours of life, Peter wrote. Jesus’ transfiguration was a dazzling light of promise of life to come.
That is the encouragement the transfiguration offers. It is the foreshadowing of the resurrection yet to come. God sent his only Son Jesus to die and to rise for us. That risen Jesus is walking beside us even now. And because of that, God is saying to you that no matter what suffering is yours, no matter what sacrifice you’re called to make, and no matter what cross you carry, your loving Father has a plan for you, and that same God will transfigure your dying into a glorious rising. If God can do that for his beloved Son, he God can do that for those he calls his beloved children. Which means that there is no one on earth that God is willing to give up on. If God is not giving up on those he loves, how can you can and I give up on them? And suddenly, if we pay attention, we may discover that transfigurations are happening all around us.
That’s why we’re here in church this morning. We gather week after week, to listen to Jesus, to hear his words of hope, so that we will never be discouraged. We gather together in prayer and at his holy table, so that we can be of good courage, follow him and share his promises with others. It’s risky business. To listen and follow Jesus is to run the risk of being changed and transfigured- until one day we share the likeness of Christ. And what a glorious transfiguration that will be. This is what we ultimately learn by listening to him. And it all becomes real, by practicing the art of keeping silent. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.