By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline
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The story of the transfiguration is one of my favorite genres of Gospel story: the incompetent disciples. Those goobers who just keep screwing up and getting everything wrong. These people who were the closest people in the world to Jesus, and they just couldn’t manage to keep it together in front of him.
The transfiguration story is kind of a strange one, so I’m going to include the entire passage right here:
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
But I think Peter’s folly is seen most clearly in the transfiguration as told in Luke 9:33:
"Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, 'Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah'—not knowing what he said."
When I first read it, I didn’t know what was wrong with what Peter said either. So he wants to build a little home for the three of them. Who cares? It’s like a nice vacation home for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah.
But Jesus didn’t want the summer home, he wanted to get off that mountain and get back to work. The Transfiguration was a miraculous occurrence that gave the disciples a glimpse of who Jesus was, and demonstrated what it was that they were dealing with. Of course they’d want to find a way to commemorate that revelation. But that’s the human thinking of the disciples, and the kind of thinking that ignored the teachings of Jesus. For them to say “let’s stay up here a while” is to ignore the essential part of Jesus ministry – going out and spreading the good news to all people. It’s kind of hard to do that when you’re stuck up on a mountain.
What have we kept up on a mountain?
How do we keep Jesus up on the mountain? When we spend our Sundays enjoying the message of Good News, but refuse to show it to our neighbors, we’re leaving Jesus on the mountain. One of the positive things that has come out of the pandemic is that we’re more fully exploring what it means when the church stops being a dwelling place, and starts being a lived experience. We can see the church come alive when it leaves the dwelling place of the building and scatters. But we still have work to do. We need to let the transfiguration transfigure our own lives. We need to let the work of Jesus transform us to become agents of holy change in the world.
It’s only once we get down from the mountain and let ourselves be transformed that we can truly live into Jesus call for discipleship.