Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
February 23, 2020 ● Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
Mother Hymes’ sermon on Transfiguration Sunday (Gospel Matthew 17:1-9), “The Obliterated Embargo.”
Posted by Wesley Chapel Episcopal Church on Sunday, February 23, 2020
Lord, take our minds and think through them. Take our mouths and speak through them. Take our hearts, and set them on fire. Amen.
For 15 years I worked as a public relations and marketing executive. When my clients had big news that could affect the life of their business, for good or for ill, my team and I knew about it. The public’s understanding of a new product launch or their perception of a product recall, would be heavily influenced by the carefully-calculated release of information. Our press releases stamped with the word, “EMBARGO,” accompanied by the expiration date, were shared with our inner circle—the media. We revealed “hot” news to the media with the admonition, “Tell no one until this date.”
In our gospel passage today, Jesus’ inner-circle disciples, Peter, James and John, just witnessed what would be considered in our time really “hot” news. The fully-human, fully-divine Jesus’ outer appearance changed before their very eyes. The emphasis on Jesus’ clothes becoming a dazzling white, underscored Jesus’ unchangeable, divine nature.
Now, in the midst of this dazzling transfiguration, Jesus was seen talking with the prophets Moses and Elijah. Moses was representative of the old covenant and God’s promise with the Israelites, which would be fulfilled in Jesus’ death. Elijah represented the arrival of the fulfillment of “all things.” The presence of Moses and Elijah pointed to the kingdom of God that had already come in the person of Jesus, and the not-yet fully realized kingdom when Jesus returns to judge all of creation. Then God spoke to the disciples and declared, “This is my Son, the Beloved…listen to him!” (v.5). The setting then changed suddenly. Moses and Elijah were gone; only Jesus remained.
This passage in Matthew is called “The Transfiguration” of Jesus, not “The Transformation” of Jesus. This is important to distinguish because the transfiguration of something means that the outward expression of something is visibly different. The disciples witnessed Jesus’ human manifestation visibly change, as the light emanated from his being.
In contrast, transformation implies that while visible changes may be noticeable, the internal characteristics, such as the nature, substance and character of something or someone is changing. But Jesus’ dual nature—truly human and truly divine—did not change. His divinity was always a reality; this was God’s way of revealing the true nature of Jesus, and therefore, God himself, to Peter, John and James.
When God acted upon Jesus, Jesus was transfigured and the three disciples, witnesses to the event, were forever changed and transformed, and were entrusted with a preview of God’s kingdom with Christ revealed as the King!
But—before they made their way off of the mountain, Jesus issued to his disciples an embargo with an expiration date, on the sharing of that news to the three, “…Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (v.9). After the Resurrection, they would be free to share what they had seen and heard, but not a moment before. Leaking the “news” of Jesus’ true nature before God’s designated timing would have jeopardized the ability for others to receive the message that God’s saving power over humankind takes place only through Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross, and God’s Resurrection of Jesus. The disciples were clearly expected to communicate the news, but at the time of God’s choosing.
Hearing the voice of God, coming from a cloud, declaring Jesus’ true identity and commanding the disciples to listen to Jesus, not to mention seeing the prophets Moses and Elijah, could be difficult to communicate to those who were not there.
Have you ever tried to explain something almost incomprehensible to someone while using your words, voice inflection, hand gestures, illustrations—anything you can do to help the person to comprehend the awesomeness of what you experienced? Many of us have gone through such an exercise, and quickly find that language has its limits, and the “awesomeness” just doesn’t translate. Frustrated, we might finally give up and say, “Well, you just had to be there to believe it.”
While that may be true for a lot of things in this life, “You just had to be there” does not apply to people of faith. None of us were there when Christ lived amongst humankind and went about his public ministry. And, none of us were there to witness his crucifixion or his Resurrection, and yet we believe. It is by faith that we believe what we read in the Scriptures. By faith we believe the testimony of those who were with Jesus, entrusted by God to tell the good news of God in Christ at the right time. The transfigured vision of Jesus standing with Moses and Elijah was shown to those chosen disciples, and was meant for their eyes and their ears.
I am reminded of a pearl of wisdom imparted to me by a very wise priest and mentor of mine, many years ago. She said that God intimately reveals to his servants His will for their lives and how they are to serve in the world. Before the world can even perceive what God is doing in someone’s life, He chooses to give glimpses to his faithful.
Often those glimpses only make sense to that person—no amount of words or gesturing can make a message intended for a chosen person comprehensible to another. My mentor would say to me, “It doesn’t matter if they don’t get it; that vision that God gave you wasn’t meant for them; it was meant for you.” This was a particularly valuable lesson as I wrestled with whether or not to say “Yes” to God’s call on my life to the priesthood.
Perhaps you, too, have experienced a clarity of God’s holy communication that makes sense to you, but when you try to share it with others, it’s as if you are speaking a language that cannot be understood by anyone. It doesn’t matter if they don’t get it; that God-given vision wasn’t meant for them; it was meant for you. The experience of walking faithfully in a God-given vision necessarily transforms who we are in this life as we are formed to the full stature of Christ in preparation for the life to come with Him. And, at the time of God’s choosing, we, like the disciples, are to freely share our testimony with others.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we experience life on the other side of the cross. On this side of the cross, the risen Christ has obliterated the embargo on the sharing of the Gospel. We have been entrusted with previews of God’s coming kingdom, and are expected to proclaim the good news of God in Christ with urgency, and without the restriction of an embargo date!
With each divine preview, may our eyes see the dazzling glory of the coming of the Lord. Amen.