Sermon: "My, How You've Changed!" Matthew 17.1-9
Our Lord, ruler of all, let us see you in your majesty, but let us see you through your grace and mercy, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
There's a movement within Christianity that raises its ugly head once in a while. You've probably heard of it occasionally. It's been around at least since the second century. And I have heard it asserted by genuine believers even within the past year. This movement will say that the Old Testament is the place where we see God in his consuming power but the New Testament is where we see the God of love. Sometimes people will go so far as to say that God is different at different times, that there's no grace in the Old Testament and that there's nothing but grace in the New Testament.
When we consider today's readings from Exodus, Psalms, 2 Peter, and Matthew, we have to realize there's something wrong with that picture. Here we see the God of glory revealed in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. At the same time, in the very same passages, we see that God mercifully reveals himself to his people, showing them his will which is for their good. Our Lord gathers his people to him and has them dine in his presence. Our Lord gives all authority to his Son and tells us to believe in him. Our Lord reveals his glory in the Son and tells people how to speak of God in faithfulness. Our Lord shows himself in his brilliance to his disciples, telling them to rise and have no fear. We read today's passages and we confess with the author of Hebrews, (ESV) "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13.8).
Yet we look to our Lord anew today. We are at the end of the Epiphany season. This is now the ninth Sunday after Epiphany. We won't have that many Sundays in Epiphany again for 27 years. We've had lots of time to look at our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, and see what he's like. We've seen him revealing himself through his interactions with the disciples. We've seen him revealing himself by doing miracles. We've seen his grace, his mercy, his everlasting kindness to those who believe on him. We started with him as a young child back in January. Now he's been an adult for several weeks, walking with his disciples, showing them what he's like. We think we know him pretty well.
Yes, maybe we thought we knew Jesus pretty well. Maybe the apostles thought that also. They had been with him for a few years, day after day, week after week. But he's been saying things and doing things to make the apostles uncomfortable. Peter, James, and John, the sort of "inner circle" of Jesus' apostles, have been watching him closely. He's started talking about his death. He's started giving them signs that something is going to happen and that he won't be with them. They don't quite understand this new agenda. But like the good friends they are, they trust Jesus. They will go along with him. He seems troubled. So they will stick closer than usual.
When Jesus takes his disciples up onto a mountain to pray it seems like a pretty normal trip. I don't know why we do this, but we seem to think going uphill is a good way to approach God in prayer. So the four men go up the hill to pray. What happens? Jesus appears changed before the disciples. He is revealed to Peter, James and John in his glory. He shows them a taste of what he will be like when they see him in the resurrection. His clothes can't contain the light. His discussion with Moses and Elijah shows that he is the very God who has talked with them many times before. He is the God of the living, not of the dead. But Moses died and was buried, though Elijah was taken up alive. Jesus therefore shows that he is the God of the resurrection, that even if we die, we will live again.
What do we say? What do we do? When we are overwhelmed by God's presence? Jesus! You've changed! I thought I knew you, but you sure never looked and acted like this before! Maybe we can do something. Yes, that's it. We're completely overwhelmed so I guess we ought to do something. That's it. We'll build a monument to you and to this occasion.
It isn't unusual for a person who is very excited to start babbling uncontrollably. And we all know that it's nearly impossible to do anything useful with someone who is babbling. So what does God do? He surprises Peter, James and John by speaking to them. That's enough to quiet them down.
What does Jesus then do with these disciples who have been reduced to piles of terrified trembling pudding? He touches them. He tells them to get up. He tells them not to fear. He tells them that he will rise from the dead and that after that happens they can tell what they saw. Jesus takes his disciples who have been shocked by his presence. He raises them up so they can carry on with the vocation he is going to give them.
Likewise, we look to Jesus as we come to the end of Epiphany. We thought we knew him pretty well. But he shows that there's more to him than meets the eye. We say, "My, how you've changed!" And he looks at us. He touches us. He raises us up. He tells us, "I haven't changed. You just see me better."
As we walk with our Lord through the season of Lent, starting this week with Ash Wednesday, we'll see him better and better. We'll see Jesus, the just one, giving himself into the hands of unjust men. We'll see him going to the cross on our behalf. We'll see him dying to bear our sins. We'll see all his disciples fleeing from him. And we'll see that we are like those disciples. We'll see that we are sinful indeed. We'll see that, just like those who denied Jesus, we do not deserve the riches of his grace. And we'll see that the grace of God in Jesus Christ is there for us, just as it was for his disciples. We'll see that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Has Jesus changed? No. We just see him better. And as we see him better, we are moved to repentance. As Peter, James and John were moved to repentance in the presence of God, may we also be moved to repentance, realizing that we are unworthy to be partakers of Jesus' presence, but that he has promised his presence with us always.
We receive the sacrament of Holy Communion today. Do we realize that Jesus is present, really present, in his body and blood given and shed for us? Has he changed? No. We just see him more clearly.
Let us pray.
Our Lord, you have given yourself for us, revealing yourself in your glory, revealing your humility, coming to us. Humble us in your presence. Grant us your grace, your mercy, your forgiveness. Raise us up and give us the fearless spirit which you gave to Peter, James and John in the time of your resurrection. This we pray in the name of ┼ the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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