Pictures (Transfiguration of Our Lord)

Sermons on YouTube…

Our Christmas Pageant this past year was very different from anything we’ve ever done before.  Because of Covid, we had a “virtual” pageant, in which we asked people to record readings and music.  And while people were doing the readings, and playing the music, we showed pictures of Christmas pageants past – in fact, Christmas pageants from the previous 20 years!

For better or worse, I ended up being the tech guy who inserted all the pictures into the video (thankfully I didn’t have the job of going through 20 years of photos and selecting them!)  And because I’ve been here for most of those previous 20 years of pageants, it was really amazing to take that trip down memory lane! 

But one of the things that stood out most was how things really have changed, even when I haven’t noticed them.  After all, most change happens slowly, so it’s easy to feel like things now seem pretty much the same as they were just a couple of years ago.

But as I got a glimpse of those pictures, even from just 5 or 6 years ago, I was struck by realities like:

  • Wow!  The kids have really grown…!
  • Oh yeah, that’s what that space looked like for years before we did that upgrade …
  • And, sadly, “Wow!  I really did have more hair back then and a lot less of it was grey!”

Sometimes, life is like that.  You don’t really recognize what’s changed until you see a picture of what is, and what was.  And only then does it become apparent how things really have changed – and maybe even, how your life has changed, too.

Usually, when we read the story of the transfiguration of Jesus, we focus on how Jesus’ appearance changed – perhaps even how Jesus’ changed in that moment.  But in fact, Jesus was always God’s Son.  Jesus always possessed the glory of God.  Jesus was always in divine communication with God.

It’s just that, in that moment, Peter, James and John got to see it more clearly.  It’s as though they saw a picture of who Jesus really was all the time, even if he didn’t usually glow and speak with famous Old Testament figures!

But I think this “picture” is more than that.  In one respect, the picture doesn’t so much show the disciples who Jesus is, as it shows the disciples how much THEIR lives have already changed.

It might have seemed to Peter, James and John that following Jesus had been an exciting adventure, but that their lives were pretty much the same as just a few years ago.  But that really wasn’t true.  Knowing Jesus really had changed their lives.  Following Jesus had made them different.  Being Jesus’ disciples had already begun to “transfigure” their lives. That “picture” on the mountaintop probably made that clear to them.

And the story of the transfiguration is important for us because God is also working in our lives to change and transform us.  Through following Jesus, God is calling us to live differently and to be different than we were before.  But often, God’s work in our lives is gradual and takes time.  Sometimes it takes a picture to show us how much God has already been doing.

Sometimes, the “pictures” that show us how God has been acting to change and transform us can be dramatic, like the mountaintop experience of the disciples. At other times, the pictures God uses may be the actual pictures of just a few years ago.  And maybe more often, the “pictures” that God uses may be the momentary realization that God really has helped me to be more confident in faith, more loving toward my neighbor, or more secure in God’s presence in the midst of adversity.

And so the transfiguration isn’t just a story about how Jesus has been changed.  And it’s not just a story about how the first disciples were being changed. Rather, the transfiguration is a call to each of us to:

  • Watch for the “pictures” of how God is acting, and has already acted, to transform us into the people God calls us to be.  And sometimes that “picture” comes into clearer focus when I ask myself:
    • What have I done lately that I really wouldn’t have one, except for the fact that I think Jesus wants me to do it?
    • Have I been able to handle adversity in my life differently because I feel God’s help and presence in a way that maybe I didn’t feel so strongly before?
    • Do I have a different perspective on life than my friends who aren’t Christians? 
  • Listen for the voice of Jesus, to continue to grow even and especially when it isn’t clear where we’re going.  The disciples were told in the voice to “listen” to Jesus.  But that meant more than just the words Jesus said.  It also meant watching what Jesus did, and how Jesus handled situations. So in our lives, how is it that we “listen” for Jesus?
    • Do we take seriously the notion that God uses everything from the words of the Bible to the words of our fellow Christians to speak to us?
    • Do we look around in our daily lives for signs of how God may be calling us to act and make a positive difference?
    • Do we spend time in prayer listening, and not just telling God what we want?
  • Hope for and expect God to do even greater things with us.  The follow-on to this story is the disciples wondering what this “rising from the dead” stuff could possibly be about.  And in a world that so often asks us to focus on the problems and the tragedies:
    • Do we celebrate signs of hope?
    • Are we willing to be signs of hope, even when we’re feeling like things are a mess?
    • Are we actually expecting God to create an amazing new future, even and especially when we know there’s no way we ourselves can bring it about?

We should always be asking those kinds of questions.  For even when it’s not dramatic, God is always showing us “pictures” of how Jesus has already been changing our lives.  And that’s because, like those first disciples, actually knowing Jesus really does change us.  Following Jesus really does make us different.  And being Jesus’ disciples is intended to “transfigure” our lives as well.