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This Week's Sermon !

February 7, 2016 - Transfiguration Sunday

Exodus 34: 29-35
Psalm 99
Transfiguration C Luke 9: 28-36

Unmasked at Last!

I just can’t resist a good joke. George Bush, a former president of the United States, died and went to heaven. Because of who he was, St Peter gave him the executive tour. He met and was greeted by many notable figures of history. Then he saw a man in a long white robe, with a long white beard, carrying two tablets of stone. Bush recognized him from his long ago Sunday school story books. However the bearded man did not acknowledge the former leader of the free world so Mr Bush went over to him and asked him: “Are you Moses?”

There was no reply.

“Sir, are you Moses,” he said, raising his voice. .

Again, no reply.

The former president, unaccustomed to being ignored, ran after the man and said, “Let me say, if you are Moses you have bad manners and you certainly aren’t very friendly”.

The bearded man turned and finally spoke, “Stop pestering me. Yes, I am Moses but the last time I talked to a bush I ended up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.”


Today’s passage from the book of Exodus is said to have taken place during those many years of wilderness wandering. The short version of a much more complicated story is that Moses went up the mountain to talk with God and on this day he came back with the law inscribed on stone tablets and his face was glowing. I’m sure you have seen paintings by artists who have tried to capture this on canvas.

At the end of his life all that we are told is that Moses died in the wilderness and “no one knows where his grave is”.

We didn’t have a story about Elijah’s life read today but we might remember one of the more dramatic ones. As his ministry was ending and as he was literally preparing to pass the “mantle” to Elisha, his disciple, this great prophet was carried into he sky by a whirlwind, accompanied by a chariot of fire. The only witness to this event was Elisha, his disciple.

One, a great lawgiver, indeed most would say, the greatest.

One, a prophet, indeed, most would say, the greatest.

On the day in question in the Gospel of Luke, both reappear and have a conversation with Jesus who has gone up a mountain to get away and to pray.

Just by looking at Jesus the disciples could see a change, a transfiguration; something was certainly different about him. Transfiguration is not a word we use very often. Author J.K. Rowling made use of it though in the Harry Potter series of books. If you have seen the movie you will remember the scene in which a large but seemingly normal tabby cat jumps off the desk at the front of a classroom but before landing on the floor the feline becomes Professor Minerva McGonagall, the teacher of transfiguration.

Long before the development of the Periodic Table, the wall art of chemistry classrooms everywhere, alchemists tried but failed to change base metals such as lead into much more valuable gold. I’m told that in the 21st century its possible to do this but it takes a particle accelerator, costing millions of dollars, and massive amounts of energy. (My advice is that if you want something made of gold you would be better off going to Herbin Jewellers, in business since 1885!)

Now, when I was a kid I would have asked how the disciples knew who the men were who were talking with Jesus. There were no photographs or even paintings, as far as I know. I also might have asked what exactly had changed about Jesus. We are nit told and must be content to leave these questions unanswered.

There are some things about this story that we can, at least, explore. As the three were discussing Jesus’ departure; a cloud enveloped them all and a heavenly voice affirmed Jesus’ identity and the necessity of listening to him. It sounds like a repeat of Jesus’ baptism, only with a different location and supporting cast.

Somewhere in the midst if it all the disciples, not knowing what to say, offered to build shelters so that they could all stay there.

The passage begins with the words, “after these sayings”. Without going into a lot of detail Jesus had been talking about the counter cultural nature of the gospel. This heaenly voice not only told them wh Jesus was but to LISTEN to him. He had something to say that was worth hearing.

Unfortunately, many centuries ago the church started to equate being a good Christian with being a good citizen. In terms of our democratic context, to be a good Christian you had to go to church and be law abiding. It’s also important to work hard, pay your taxes, volunteer, vote and help seniors and small children cross the street if they need help. Its about more than being a “good person”.

But notice that Jesus often rocked the boat and, as some have said, “comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable”. To use just ONE example - Jesus did not believe, as some in his time did, that those who were experiencing misfortune had brought it upon themselves or that there was no obligation to help because they had caused their own trouble.

As I read the gospels that was an attitude Jesus worked against. The early church was especially concerned for two groups often marginalized and forgotten: widows and orphans.

But, why are we reading this story now? Well, Lent is around the corner, literally. Since Jesus’ birth at Christmas the stories we have been reading have tried to show us who this Jesus was. We have our definitive answer. Teacher. Healer. Prophet. The one who brings the age in which all will have enough and none are exploited, Son of God. This is capped off by today’s story of his being given the approval of the primary prophet and lawgiver from their long Hebrew tradition BUT


Now that we know what we know about Jesus we will have to realize that following Jesus is not a way to win friends and influence people. It has a cost.

I don’t believe in the prosperity gospel, Follow Jesus and be rich. Some people preach that but you wont hear it here and I don’t think its true to Jesus ministry.

Being a Christian is not about prospering and getting ahead of everyone else: its about being part of a group of folks who believe in the community who lives by grace, not our own efforts, and where we try to make sure that all people have enough.

Being a Christian is also a life-long journey - there is no “point of arrival” where we can relax and say we have “arrived”.

We also can’t stay on the mountain of joy, transformation and perfect faith: we have to get our hands dirty and take risks. We have to live where the people are and live out our faith in he complex world of shades of gray and making choices that align with our faith

That’s where Lent comes in. We know who Jesus is. We are told to listen to him. We are told to take him seriously.

The question for each of us is this: How is following Jesus going to change or inform my life here in this area of Nova Scotia in 2016? How will I live out my call to be Christian in my life this year -

That’s what we will turn to in our next weeks and for that we will need bread for the journey.

Come to the supper

it is a feast prepared for us.

It’s a feast with bread and drink to sustain us in the days ahead.


1995- 2016 The Rev. Beth W. Johnston.

For some good stuff go to:
journeywithjesus.net-a weekly webzine for the global church

The United Church has a great online bookstore and here is the link. If you live in Canada they will even send you a book display for your event and people who dont get to see that many books at once can have a ball!

Links to My Other Pages at this Site

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  • An Anniversary/Memorial Service Sermon
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  • Sermon on Teenage Suicide
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