Sermon for Transfiguration -
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer. -
This morning, I would like to suggest to you that all of our lives are made up of times of brightness and times of shadows, times of brightness and times of shadows. Our lives can sometimes seem like a roller coaster ride – very good times that are sometimes followed by some very bad times.
As I have shared with you numerous times during my nearly two years as your senior pastor, I have been blessed in this life to experience many times of brightness. I have had the opportunity to meet Presidents, Popes and Patriarchs, to travel to see the ministries of our church across the USA and around the world, to teach in Madagascar, South Africa and across the USA and the Caribbean. I have previously shared with you one particular time of brightness that was both among the highpoints of my life and among the simplest of life’s pleasures – singing camp songs with fellow relief volunteers at the end of the along day of home building high in the mountains of Honduras.
During my recent trip to Jerusalem and the West Bank, I remembered again the time some years ago when Kris and I were privileged to share in the consecration of the Rev. Munib Younan as Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Bishop Younan’s consecration was long and majestic and wonderful. Half way through the service, I turned to Kris and said something like, “Isn’t this amazing, we are at a bishop’s installation, in Jerusalem!” Certainly a time of great brightness in our lives and a highpoint in Bishop Younan’s life.
However, like all of those times in our lives and yours, that time soon ended. In the case of Bishop Younan, his consecration, certainly a highpoint, probably the highpoint of his life until that time, was quickly followed by a very low point – within days of Bishop Younan’s installation, while I was traveling with him, an Israeli border guard tried to strip search him when we crossed from the West Bank into Jordan. Here we were, following the Bishop’s amazing installation and on our way for an official visit with the King of Jordan and this man of God, a bishop, was about to be strip-searched!
That very powerful moment is an example, I believe, for all of our lives. While most of us will neither experience the highpoint of becoming a bishop in Jerusalem or the low point of being subjected to a strip search, our lives are not really all that different from Bishop Younan’s in the sense that the highpoints in our own lives are fleeting and are often quickly followed by low points. It sometimes seems as if there are only so many of glorious moments we can stand. Then, no matter how hard we try to hang onto them, they slip away.
Today’s Gospel lesson records one of those momentary bright spots for Jesus and three of his disciples, Peter, James and John. Here we find the disciples on top of a mountain with the Savior of the world. They see the person of Jesus shining as if He were the sun itself, because God has bestowed God’s glory on Jesus. Both Moses and Elijah are there also. Moses, Elijah and Jesus – for these Jewish men, there could be no greater religious moment! There was even the voice of God from heaven, proclaiming Jesus as God’s Son, God’s Chosen, someone they should listen to!
It is no wonder then that Peter wanted to build something which might contain that glory for a while, something to keep the brightness of that moment from becoming a shadow. He wanted to grasp that glory and hold it close. However, before Peter and James and John knew it, the moment was over. The text tells us that they “told no one any of the things they had seen.” The brightest moment of their lives was over, and quickly, and they “kept silent” about it.
Today, I want to suggest to you that we, too, lead lives similar to those three disciples: In our lives here on this earth, it sometimes seems that the bright moments hardly last at all. And, often, very soon after the brightest of moments, can come the lowest. The brightness of this world can pass quickly, sometimes even without a chance to share these bright moments with others.
Can you recall such moments in your own lives? How about a last good conversation or a departing kiss with a beloved relative? Or that party or family gathering that was so good – a special time when people ate and drank and had a wonderful time? How about the feeling that many have about Christmas here at Mt. Olive, singing “Silent Night” together and holding our candles high. Why can’t these moments last? Why can’t we hold onto them forever?
Instead, for many of us, much of our lives seem to fall into times of shadows: A couple find their marriage is falling apart; once wonderful hands and knees now ache with arthritis; a job loss changes lives forever; an accident snuffs out young lives. The bright moments do not seem to last. Instead, we find many moments of shadows.
In those shadow times, those low points in our lives, we desperately need the overpowering love of God. We need God’s love as the brightness and goodness of life slips away even as we try to hold onto those good times just a little while longer.
What are we to do with this sort of life, a life in which the good times seem fleeting and are often followed by bad times?
In the verses from St. Luke’s Gospel which follow today’s lesson, we can see what Jesus does in a similar situation. As Jesus comes down from His mountaintop experience, he encounters a man whose son has epilepsy and has suffered greatly. The man had asked Jesus’ disciples to heal his son but they could not. What does Jesus do? Jesus heals the boy on the spot.
Jesus came down from his moment of glory on the mountaintop and healed a sick boy. Jesus found a way to share the glory of that moment with someone who had not had the chance to share in his glory. Jesus found a way for the presence of God to shine through his life into a life of a sick boy, a life seemingly untouched by any brightness, untouched until Jesus touched it with the grace of God, healing the boy of epilepsy.
I believe Jesus’ actions give us a clue as to what we are to do as Christians – we are to let those bright moments of our lives, however fleeting they may be, shine through us in actions of love toward others, to share our moments of brightness, especially with those who may never have experienced much brightness in their lives: Bringing tenderness to family and friends in times of trouble; taking those feelings from Christmas Eve here at Mt. Olive out to others who seem preoccupied with the shadows in their lives; sharing our gifts of time, talents, and finances with others less fortunate, others who may be stuck in their own times of shadows, near and far.
That, I believe, is one lesson for us from the Transfiguration story, that we are to let God’s love shine through us to others, especially to others in their times of shadows.
And, here is the best news, we believe that God will finally make all things new and bright for us. Our moments of brightness will become eternal. Even the brokenness of death, a time of shadows, will be turned into the resurrection of life by our Lord. We will be made new to shine always with the glory of God.
For now, our moments of brightness may be all too brief. They never seem to last long enough. Yet, God still finds ways to bring those moments, however brief, into our lives. God shares such moments with a world full of conflict and brokenness, full of shadows and asks us to do the same.
Fortunately, just as our times of brightness are momentary, our times of shadows are usually momentary also. And, momentary or not, we can let God’s glory shine through our tears, through our own times of shadows. If we do that, our lives will shine in the everlasting glow which God sends through Jesus Christ, God’s Son and our Lord.
Yes, there will be times of brightness and times of shadows in our lives. Our Lord experienced both is his brief life on earth also. And, Jesus brings the promise that he will be there with us to share in the joy of our times of brightness and, perhaps more importantly, to support us in our times of shadows. Jesus transcends these moments and shines through them all. As God’s children and confident of God’s love, we can do the same.
The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
The Brightness and the Shadows
Sermon for Transfiguration
Written by Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer.
February 6 & 7, 2016
Mt. Olive Lutheran, Santa Monica, California