Transfiguration of Our Lord – February 11, 2024

Posted on February 13, 2024, Pastor: Pastor Lara Forbes

Sermons are preached within the context of a particular worship service, and are most meaningful when experienced in that way. We encourage you to view or listen to the entire worship service. 

February 11, 2024

Transfiguration of Our Lord

Mark 8:27–9:8
Psalm 27:1-4

Worship Service Video Sermon Video Sermon  Audio

Sermon Text:

Grace to you and peace from God, our Creator, and from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

One of the benefits of the Narrative Lectionary is that the gospel readings go in order from week to week. They don’t skip around. We don’t get the whole gospel, but the parts we do read on Sundays chronologically follow Jesus’ life and ministry.

And that’s helpful, particularly as we close out the season of Epiphany and enter into Lent this week.

The events in today’s reading happened early in Jesus’ ministry – about the year 30 or 31. Jesus and the disciples were in Caesarea Philippi which, at that time, was the center of worship of the Roman emperor and also of the Greek god, Pan. So, it wasn’t a place that was friendly to the God of Israel.

But it was in that place that Jesus asked, “Who are people saying that I am?” and “Who are you saying that I am?” Dangerous questions to ask about leadership and status if it potentially went against Rome. So, it was risky for Peter to answer, “You are the Messiah – the Promised One.”

In Mark’s gospel, this conversation marks a turning point in Jesus’ ministry. Before this, Jesus’ ministry was preaching, teaching, healing, and proclaiming the realm of God on earth as it is in heaven. But after Peter’s declaration, Jesus’ message turned toward the cross. And Jesus said as much when he described what would happen to him.

And then, all of the sudden, Jesus being the Messiah wasn’t such a great thing for Peter. And it’s likely because, whatever he and the other disciples had imagined, the Messiah wasn’t a Savior who openly talked about his own suffering and death.

And that following Jesus wasn’t about giving up everything and potentially risking their lives.

But what Jesus does in this conversation is identify the Messiah as a different kind of leader – or king. Jesus describes a different kind of power, a different way of living. And he invites a different kind of allegiance.

I mentioned a minute ago that the events in today’s reading happened in about the year 30-31. Mark wrote it all down in about the year 70, which was the time of the Jewish revolt against Rome. And the Roman government still frequently used crosses as a method of execution.

So, it was harsh for people to hear Jesus say, “take up your cross” even after his death and resurrection. But what he was getting at was that committing to follow him, to live according to his teachings, would put his followers at odds with the powers-that-be. And potentially put their lives in danger.

It was as real as it gets.

Over the centuries, the symbol of the cross has changed. Today, we recognize that it was used as a method of execution, but for us it’s a symbol of life. It has a prominent place in our places of worship. We wear it as jewelry. And some people, including me, collect crosses to hang on their walls as art.

Reframing the cross as something that represents life is great. Truly. But the risk of that is softening what that life means.

When we talk today about what it means to take up one’s cross, we often talk about it in terms of bearing an unpleasant burden in life – like having to work at a crummy job or getting your feelings hurt. In reality, though, as people who follow Jesus, taking up your cross is the life we commit to when we commit to live out the values of God’s kingdom in our world.

That isn’t to say that following Jesus’ way of life is about seeking out a cross or becoming a martyr, but taking on the cross that Jesus’ way of life places on us. And recognizing the power of God that’s revealed in the suffering and death of Jesus.

This power that Jesus teaches about in the first part of this reading, and reveals in the second, is the power of life. Not a life that’s distant and removed from humanity, but one that’s directly involved in it.

[1]As theologian Walter Brueggemann says, “the God of the Bible is the God of the fray. Not a God that floats above things, but a God who is down in the midst of things.”

[2]As the Messiah, Jesus was among human beings and dealing with the power struggles and dynamics – the systems – that lead toward death. He had to be. Because when you proclaim a gospel of love, reconciliation, and neighborliness, the systems that humanity has created will push back. Because the gospel of Jesus isn’t interested in preserving those power structures.

And in this teaching, as his followers, Jesus calls us to be with people, to recognize the suffering that’s in the world and to embody the life that can overcome it. In essence, that’s the whole Christian gospel – to embody the life of Jesus with real people in real places.

And that’s what scared Peter when Jesus talked about it. Because it’s a life that isn’t always safe. It challenges the people who live it and takes them places they never thought they would go, because it’s the way of the cross. But it’s the way that has real and lasting power.

The power that Jesus revealed in his Transfiguration is the power of life. Peter and James and John got a glimpse of it. It’s the power that overcomes humanity’s cruelty and brutality. It’s the power that forgives humanity’s sin. It’s the power that brings forgiveness and grace and healing in the midst of brokenness.

It’s the power of God that never gives up on us. And it’s the power that reveals that God’s will for the world is life.

The life we commit to as Jesus’ followers isn’t easy. He never promised that it would be. But it’s the way of the cross, the way of living that leads to life with God – the life God wants for us – not just in some far-off future, but in and for the world here and now. Thanks be to God! Amen.