Last Epiphany (Transfiguration) 2021

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As I read today’s passage out of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, I had to read it twice, because the first time I totally misconstrued what he was saying, and it made me realize some of the difficulties individuals who have been participating in our C S Lewis study are having with the Screwtape Letters.

For those of you who have not been reading this with us, it is a satirical piece that is written from the perspective of an older demon trying to coach his nephew in the art of turning people away from Christ.  The language is upside down because of the perspective.  When I read Paul saying “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ,” I missed the “of this world” part of Paul’s statement which turns everything upside down.  What he is saying is that Satan has blinded the minds of the unbelievers.

Talking about Satan may seem like an unlikely place to begin a sermon on the Transfiguration, but I think considering the last two weeks we have read stories of Jesus casting out demons; if we remember it was after his profession of faith, but just before the Transfiguration that Jesus told Peter, “get behind me Satan,” and in consideration of our Lenten study, I think it is a good place to start.

The word Satan comes from Hebrew and it should draw to mind a court of law, not a man in red tights with horns, a tail, and a pitchfork.  The Satan is the adversary or the accuser.  He is the attorney for the prosecution whose intent is to prove us guilty, and is not above trickery, fast talking and manipulation to accomplish his purpose.  My apologies to any attorneys out there, but this is the image the Bible gives of Satan. 

It is Satan that suggests to God in the book of Job that his servant Job is not faithful because he loves and is loyal to God, but because God has never given him any reason not to be grateful to God.  It is Satan that meets Jesus in the Wilderness and suggests that he should take the easy way out. Why fast when you have the power to make bread? Why suffer when you can demonstrate who you are by your command of the heavenly realm? Why win hearts the hard way, but preaching, healing, feeding, casting out demons and raising the dead, when I (Satan) will give them to you if you worship me?

Mark 8: 31-33 states “Then he [Jesus] began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priest, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said this all quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.  But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me Satan!” for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Peter, in rebuking Jesus for saying he will suffer and die, is doing just like Satan did, suggesting Jesus take the easy way out, that he skip the hard part, the suffering and death.   The Corinthians, to whom Paul is speaking had at first accepted the Gospel that Paul had preached.  They understood why Jesus had to suffer and die and that he had been resurrected reconciling them to God, but some “super-apostles” had come behind Paul and told them that suffering was not necessary. They had told them that they could reach God through heavenly ecstatic experiences and skip all that suffering.  Paul tells them that Satan has blinded them to the truth.

 It is with Jesus’ words of preparation for the disciples, revealing that he is about to face suffering and death before his resurrection and his public rebuke of Peter for suggesting he need not go through that pain that we approach the Transfiguration.

Six days have past, and Jesus invites Peter, James and John to go for a walk with him.  I have often wondered if they worried that they were getting a pink slip. That Jesus had had enough and was sending them back to their fishing boats.  These are the three that seem to get in trouble. Jesus leads them far away from the others upon the top of a high mountain.  Mark does not mess around telling a story and he immediately gets to the good part, Jesus is “transfigured” before them.  Jesus starts to glow.  They have been hiking up a mountain and I suspect they are all dirty and smelly, but Jesus looks like an advertisement for Clorox.  His clothes are dazzling, whiter than humanly possible, like lightening when it lights up the sky and he strikes up a conversation with Moses (the giver of the Law) and Elijah (the greatest of the prophets), long dead heroes of the Jewish faith.  What Jesus has offered Peter, James and John – not his troublemakers, but his executive committee, is a model of Resurrection. He is giving them hope.  He is giving them a glimpse of the future.  Peter recognizes the holiness of this moment and suggests they erect of three tabernacles much like the tabernacle that sheltered the Ark of the Covenant during Moses’ time. But Peter still has not really grasped what he has witnessed.

A cloud overshadows them and a voice calls out “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Peter did not get fired, but in a sense, he did get taken to the principles office and was told, quit running your mouth and listen to your teacher.  We do that, don’t we.  We get so wrapped up in our own ideas that we miss the miracles happening before our very eyes. 

In the Screwtape letters, Lewis talks at length about how our own self-centeredness gets in the way of our relationship with God and with our neighbors.  He very astutely points out that sometimes our insistence in being righteous according to our own rules– a “lust for delicacy” he calls it, can be the very stumbling block we put between ourselves and God, as well as making our family and neighbors miserable in the process.

As we approach Lent, let us use this time to examine the ways that we look for the easy way out. It is one of the great temptations.  Jesus never said the Christian life was easy. In fact, he said it will kill you, but I will resurrect you. Let us look for the ways, like Peter, we run our mouths and act like we know better than everyone else and instead, look for the humanity and the godly in our neighbor, and perhaps we will see God.  And finally, let us not miss the transfigurations of life before us by getting so caught-up in the ordinary that we miss them, even when they are right before our eyes.  

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