Sermon August 4, 2019
Do you remember the 1999 movie the Sixth Sense? Bruce Willis played a child psychologist who decided to help a boy played by the actor Haley Joel Osment. The boy tells Willis that he sees dead people. He explains that they don’t know that they are dead and the boy doesn’t know how to deal with them. Willis suggests that the boy try to help the dead people that he encounters. Together they help the family of a dead girl. Later, the boy suggests that Willis talk to his wife while she is sleeping that night. As he talks to his wife, Willis finally realizes that he is one of those dead people, He died from a gunshot wound. He tells his wife how much he loves her and with that closure he is freed from his unstable state and presumably goes to heaven. The movie is considered part of the horror genre but I never felt that it was a typical horror film.
In the movie, Willis sees things that he interprets incorrectly and it is only through the help of the young boy that he finally realizes what happened. Other movies have had a similar theme, how we can be blinded by our own understanding of the world. Two people can have the exact same experience but interpret what happened totally differently. We say that we see something and yet we know that it is not just what we see but how we interpret what we see and how we understand that matters.
We sometimes have different understandings when it come to God as well. Some people have a certain experience and they “see” God in what happened. Other people can have an experience and they believe it is just something that happened. Timing is another reason why we may experience God in a certain way. We are more sensitive to God in times of loss or sadness.
In many gospel stories, we learn that the Apostles did not really understand what was going on. They were unable to see or understand what Jesus was telling them. I use that as encouragement when I fail to see what Jesus is trying to tell us in the world today. This morning, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is actually celebrated on Tuesday, August 6. But we celebrate it today because it is our church name. We are blessed to have the name Transfiguration, an event instead of a person. For us it happens two times a year, once on the last Sunday of Epiphany and once in August. By the way, you are missing a parable of a man who had great wealth and he built many barns to store his goods. But as soon as his barns were finished, he died. That parable teaches us that we should not store up treasures for ourselves but is about the fact that we should be rich towards God.
We have two stories where people seem to be confused by an appearance of God. In the first lesson, we hear about the face of Moses glowing. It is similar to the story we hear about Jesus. For his part, Moses was changed by his encounter with God. When he came down from the mountain, he didn’t even know that his face was shining. He was only concerned with sharing the commandments that God had given him. The people who saw him were afraid. Perhaps they were in awe of the special relationship Moses had with God. Perhaps they didn’t feel as if they were worthy of being in the presence of one so powerful. Perhaps they just didn’t know how to react. Instead of being appreciative of the event, they treated it as if Moses had done something wrong. Moses tried to accommodate their fears by veiling his face. I am not so sure why covering his face took away any of the fears they had. It is as if once they didn’t see Moses’ face shining than all of their fears were put aside. I interpret their reaction as an example of people who don’t understand how God works. They perceive Moses as someone different and they don’t really know how to react in the presence of God. Isn’t it sad that the people were afraid of any sign of God’s presence in their lives.
In the gospel, Jesus takes three apostles up on top of a mountain. His face was changed and his clothes became dazzling white. It doesn’t seem that the apostles clearly understood what was happening. Two said nothing while Peter blurted out the idea that they should build a monument to Jesus and Elijah and Moses up on the mountain. Jesus doesn’t even respond to this suggestion. I wonder if Jesus likes all the monuments that have been built for him. We are told the Peter did not know what he was saying. Despite their uncertainty when Jesus was transfigured, the apostles were changed. They caught a glimpse of the glory of heaven shining through the being of Jesus. Jesus gave them a foretaste of what is to come. They would need that experience and the revelation of Jesus as God to get them through the times of trial that were to come.
Many times in his ministry, the identity of Jesus was questioned. Just before this event in Luke, Jesus actually asked his apostles “Who do people say that I am”? There was confusion until Peter spoke up and said, “You are the Messiah.” Now, up on the top of the mountain, Peter seemed to understand that Jesus and Elijah and Moses were all equals. It wasn’t until the voice of God was heard that they finally understood. God said to them, “This is my Son”.
Two times in Scripture people were uncertain about an encounter with God. The Israelites were afraid to be in God’s presence even when it was someone they knew, Moses who showed them the glory of God in their lives. And in the second, Peter, James and John were so stunned by the transfiguration of Jesus that only Peter could respond and his statement was ignored by Jesus.
When we come to church, we are open to an encounter with God, we are looking to understand and experience God. We learn about God in all things but especially in the opportunity to receive Jesus into our souls when we receive communion. Are there times when we experience God in our lives and we are so surprised, or possibly so preoccupied, that we don’t even realize God is present? Can we allow ourselves to be filled with awe and yet unafraid of the presence of God?
Just as the apostles were changed by the transfiguration, we wish to be changed as well. I say that we seek to be transformed by Jesus. Sometimes that transformation means that we see ourselves changing clearly, we know it is happening immediately. Other times, we may be surprised and even unaware that we are being changed by Jesus.
I remember the time several years ago when we had a confirmation on a Saturday evening. There was a reception in the Parish Hall afterwards. At the end of the evening, I went back into the church to make sure that it was closed. When I went inside, the icon behind the altar was glowing. I couldn’t see any way that the light was hitting the icon to make it glow. I felt Jesus’ presence there. I was surprised by the unexpected visit of Jesus.
My encouragement to you today is that you keep your heart open to a time when Jesus is with you in your life. Imagine the possibility that you are in a place where you are changed forever by the light of Jesus. Jesus is shining his light into your heart. And that light of Jesus can change us in so many ways. We can be transformed spiritually praising God in all we do, being close with God, knowing that we can call upon God at any time. We can be transformed physically, just as Moses was changed. You can see it on your face and people know it by the way you walk. And you can be transformed mentally. You will have the right attitude about your life and God will help you make good decisions about what you should do.
In the Epistle, we hear the words of Peter speaking about the glory of God. He specifically mentions being on the mountain when Jesus was transformed. This passage makes the point that he knew Jesus was God when he heard God speak about his Son. We probably should keep all of our senses open to a visit from Jesus. We never know whether it will be a visual encounter or a spoken encounter when God comes. Whatever happens in your life, I hope that you feel the change that has been given to you by Jesus and that you allow his light to flow over and through you. Amen.
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