Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
Transfiguration Sunday – Communion Service
Text: Matthew 17:9
Old Testament Lesson: Exodus 24:12-18
New Testament Lesson: Matthew 17:1-9
Have you ever had an epiphany? I’m talking about a moment in which you suddenly understand something that’s tremendously important to you? My preaching professor at Princeton Seminary used to call it, “The Aha Moment!” Dr. MacLeod described it as the moment you suddenly understand how the Bible passage you’re studying applies to life.
This is the challenge of preaching every week. Get to the “Aha Moment.” Preachers read Bible passages and then try to understand what they mean for the present. I will tell you after 37 years of writing sermons, “The Aha Moment” is an elusive experience. You can go an entire week and suddenly realize after you struggled with a message that the verse from which you’re preaching means something totally different. And the congregation is expecting you to preach in the next half hour!
Then, you watch the congregation react to the sermon and realize what you thought was the verse’s meaning didn’t seem to reach your Christian friends in front of you. Other times, “the Aha Moment” seems to reach certain listeners who discover God’s Word touching their hearts.
For the most part, “Aha Moments,” or what we call “epiphanies” are intense religious experiences. They lead to a breakthrough in your understanding of God. From new illumination of your mind, your relationship with God changes for the better. You see a better, brighter future ahead of you.
I’m here in front of you because of an “Aha Moment” I had 58 years ago in my grandmother’s garden. My Grandmother Lippert lived in a three story Victorian home in the little village of North Fairfield, Ohio. It had been a stop on the Underground Railroad for escaped slaves during the Civil War.
My Grandmother was a very kind, gentle lady who evoked Christian spirituality in the sweetness of her love. Ironically, she died of an enlarged heart. In hindsight, 50 years later, I can now understand. The greatness of her love for Jesus freed her from the bonds of humanity for the glory of His Eternal Kingdom. At the time, though, I didn’t understand at all. I had lost a precious gift from God.
Grandma Lippert would invite me to sleep over from time to time. One morning, she sent me outside to play in her great yard. Behind her home was a quarter acre garden filled with corn and vegetables. A cherry tree, peach tree, and apple tree sat at the periphery of the she tended. Between the house and the garden was a grape arbor that extended up and over the pathway from the house to the garden. Beside the grape arbor were honey suckle, intertwined among the grapevines. From this cornucopia, her canned vegetables, jams, jellies, sauces, and pies graced her dining room table.
That morning I walked from the house towards her garden. Suddenly the leaves on the grape arbor shone a brighter green. They shimmered in the summer light, effervescent. Flowers along the path shimmered and shined. I was aware I wasn’t alone. I called to my grandmother, thinking she was near. She wasn’t. But someone was. A warm breeze blew through the leaves. I was surrounded by the sense of love. A deep, abiding love.
It was incredible. Amazing! What we would call awesome today.
I sensed I was in God’s presence – Almighty God.
At first I felt afraid. Then I was overwhelmed by peace. Security. He was there to protect me. He was real. I was six and knew God was real. He had come for a purpose. He had a purpose for my future – a plan.
At first, I was inquisitive about His plan. I began to think about His purpose. I talked with my closest friend from church about God. We walked across the fields outside of North Fairfield discussing His plan for us, and the world.
High school came and I gave up on His plan. I became distracted from His plan. Ignored His plan. College came and I denied His plan. Created my own plan. Wandered aimlessly to live my plan. Blasphemed His plan. Failed His plan. Totally, completely, utterly. I am unworthy of His plan.
Yet I’m here before you preaching. He would not let me go.
What I had seen and experienced in my grandmother’s garden remained, His plan was still there, despite everything I had done to disown it. I learned His plan wasn’t just for me. It was for others. It wasn’t a plan for my own benefit. It is the plan for His glory that He showed us in Jesus Christ. I struggled to understand – still resisted, relied on myself. And to a large extent, still do.
But the plan was the plan. The plan is still the plan. The plan will be the plan long after I’m gone. It’s the plan for others to see the glory of God.
God showed me Christ’s glory that morning. My grandmother’s garden was transfigured to show me the glory of Jesus Christ. “The Aha Moment.” The Epiphany came a long time ago. But it remains for the future.
The Transfiguration was “The Aha Moment” for three of Jesus’ disciples. It revealed Jesus’ glory as God’s Son to Peter, James, and John. They had an epiphany of Jesus’ future. His face shone like the sun. His clothes became dazzling white. They saw it. They were dazzled by it. They were amazed!
But they didn’t totally grasp what they had seen.
There were Moses and Elijah beside Jesus. Moses, whose face was radiant after being in God’s presence on Mt. Sinai when he received the Tablets of the Law. Elijah, who prayed God would bring back from the dead the son of the woman from Zarephath, and God did. Elijah, who invoked God’s glory at the altar on Mt. Carmal that destroyed the sinful worship by God’s people.
Peter, James, and John believed they were seeing the joy of God’s people in the final feast given by God to Israel – Sukkot. The great festival of Sukkot is a moment when Jews build tabernacles of reeds and palm leaves to remember how God’s glory saved them in the Wilderness during the Exodus. They offered to build tabernacles over Moses, Elijah, and Jesus to remember God’s saving acts from before. Except God wasn’t looking backward. He was looking to the future!
What He had done to save Israel in the past through Moses and Elijah was in the past. He wanted Peter, James, and John to see He was leading them into the future through the glory of Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament, the glory of God is known as the “shekinah.” The shekinah is the illumination, the light of God. God’s glory is described through the Book of Revelation in the white robes of the saints around God’s throne.
Jesus is seen by Peter, James, and John in His glory before He had been resurrected from the dead. They saw. They were amazed. He had been transformed before their eyes so they could see Him for who He was! The Transfiguration was their epiphany – their “Aha Moment.”
Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the glorious Son of God!
They heard God’s voice from a bright cloud. “This is my Son, the Beloved, with Him I am well pleased; Listen to Him!” They realized God was calling them to listen to Jesus now, not the voice of Moses during the Exodus or the voice of the Prophet Elijah who invoked God’s power to bring a boy back from the dead. They were to now listen to Jesus Christ as God’s own Son – God’s own glory!
Friends, epiphany moments can’t be constructed by us. They happen to us.
Epiphany moments give us a deep realization that God is calling us into the purpose of His future. That future is filled with His glory!
Peter, James, and John were nowhere to be seen when Jesus was on the Cross. They didn’t see glory in the path Jesus took to the Cross. It was the beginning of his glory. But they strayed from the epiphany God gave them in the Transfiguration. Whatever they thought they understood or realized on that mountain top they abandoned until after Easter Day.
They had seen the glory of Easter but didn’t grasp what it meant for them.
Friends, what are we to learn from the Transfiguration? First, God has acted in the past to save us in times we’ve wandered in our Wilderness. But don’t stay back there in the Wilderness. The Wilderness and what God did to save us then aren’t what it’s about today with Jesus Christ’s glory.
Jesus Christ is about showing us the glory of God’s future for us. We have to stay focused on the future and see that God isn’t done doing His glorious work for us. God isn’t a God who’s trapped in your past. God is leading you into His future – a glorious future!
The hardest thing any of us have is to forget a past that was tumultuous and painful. The past is a place we regret because it was so awful and it haunts us. But God helped us through it so that we can experience the future. Or the past is a place so wonderful we never want to leave it. God was so evident back then that we wish we could recreate it, now!
The message of the Transfiguration is that whatever you think God has done in your past that saved you pales in comparison for what He will do for you tomorrow! Jesus Christ’s glory will lead you to a place beyond your past – a future you cannot see yet or understand!
Preparing for God’s future means seeing Jesus’ glory today, pointing you to where God is taking you – into His glory. Wake up each day with the glory of God lighting up your heart and your mind for the future He has set before you!
Resist the tentacles from the past that try to drag you back into a faith that can’t see Jesus’ glory with you today. See His glory! Look for His future! Be thankful and amazed. Be transformed by His light today for you to live tomorrow with a joy beyond your imagination!