Transfiguration Lecto Divinio
Transfiguration Lecto Divinio
February 23, 2020
Rev. Fritz Nelson
Text: Matthew 17:1-9
Today’s scripture, the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel, has been following me around for the last several weeks. First my friend the Rev. Franci Fisher handed it out at a gathering of pastors serving congregations interested in revitalization. Then my friend the Rev. Jamie Milton handed it out at a gathering for congregational leaders interested in revitalization. Finally, because third time is a charm, I handed it out the other night at the Columbiana session meeting. Each time we engaged in a process called Lecto Divinio – a way of intentionally reading scripture to hear the voice of God through each other. Each time we answered the questions: What word or phrases speak to you; What challenges you; What questions do you have.
I think Franci handed the passage out thinking it would help us pastors get a jump on our sermon preparation for this week – but by the time the Columbiana Session looked at it, a beautiful, amazing tapestry of different ideas, viewpoints and questions had replaced any attempt at a clear, concise sermon. So I thought we’d look at this passage a fourth time, add our voices to those previous voices and see what emerges.
Before we go there, some background:
- The story of the Transfiguration occurs about two thirds of the way through the gospel, shortly before Jesus begins his final trip to Jerusalem where he will be arrested, crucified and then rise from the dead.
- Nobody knows where it took place. Mount Tabor in Northern Israel, halfway between the Sea of Galilee and the Israeli coast, is the traditional location.
- Peter, James and John constitute Jesus’ inner circle of disciples.
- Most interpreters of this passage see Moses as representing the Law and Elijah as representing the prophets. Jesus is their spiritual descendent.
- While in Matthew Moses, Elijah and Jesus just stand around saying nothing, in Luke’s version they converse about Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem.
A copy of the passage is in your bulletin. I encourage you to take it, find a pen or pencil and a hard surface to write on. As I read the passage, circle or underline words or phrases that speak to you. I’m going to read it twice, and then give you a few minutes to think on your own. After you’ve had time to think, I’ll invite you to share.
READ PASSAGE TWICE. GIVE TIME.
To our thoughts we’ll now add additional observations from the three other times I went through this passage with groups.
- The journey to the mountain takes the form of a pilgrimage (pastor gathering)
- The presence of light in the passage. (church gathering)
- Face shines like the sun recalls Moses (Pastor gathering)
- Like the Pope’s robes (Columbiana Session)
- The “dwellings” – churches/temples – places where the gods lived. (Columbiana Session)
- How did the disciples know who was who? (Columbiana Session)
- “This is my son, the beloved…”
- God reaffirms Jesus just before he’s about to undertake the hardest part of his ministry. (Pastor’s)
- Flashback to Jesus’ baptism & the promise of rebirth. (Church gathering)
- Occurs only after they hear God’s voice. God’s voice freaks them out. (Everyone)
- Even though things are weird, before the voice Peter is able to produce a plan. After the voice, just fear. (Pastors)
- Why do Moses & Elijah disappear? (Columbiana Session)
- Why the secrecy? (Columbiana session)
- Matthew calls it a vision
- Did it really happen? What did they actually see? Is it only believable in light of the resurrection? (Church gathering/Pastor’s gathering)
- “After the Son of Man has been raised”
- Jesus tells them exactly what will happen. They forget. (Pastor’s)
- Some overarching trends:
- How God responds to our fear: (Pastors’)
We see God.
We hear God.
We become afraid
Jesus touches us.
We are no longer afraid.
- How does God lead us into the unknown (Graham Standish – Church gathering)
When we’re overcome by fear, God first tells us to get up.
God then absolves us of our fear.
Warning: there will be suffering along the way (death and crucifixion)
At the end we experience resurrection.
So where does this all leave us?
For one, were reminded how rewarding it can be to study scripture in community. Each one of our lives intersect the passage in different ways. While individually we only bring our knowledge and experience to the passage, collectively we bring a vast wealth of knowledge or experience. Where I see or hear little, my sister or brother in Christ may see or hear much – and what they see or hear may be exactly what I need to strengthen my faith or understand.
We’re also reminded to always study scripture with much humility. To say our perspective is the only perspective is to shut our ears to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through a sister or brother in faith.
As for me, as I have lived with this passage for the last three weeks, I keep coming back to the fear. I’m not sure who, in which gathering, first pointed out the fear. It wasn’t me. I’ve preached the Transfiguration many, many times and I’ve never noticed the fear. I’ve never noticed how everything’s just fine until the voice breaks through the clouds and the disciples fall prostrate to the ground, overcome by fear. The unknown, someone said. The voice makes them realize they’re dealing with something way beyond their experience, way outside their understanding, someone else said. So they freak out.
Before they freak out, they are doing business as usual. What do you do when Gods come down to earth? You build temples. Put up an altar. Create a pilgrimage site. Open a gift shop. The disciples are on auto-response until God cuts them off. Hadn’t noticed that either. Its not business as usual. God’s doing a new thing. A new thing they can’t comprehend. They can’t understand. And when auto pilot doesn’t work, they freak out.
How often, when we have an experience we don’t understand, do we try to make it fit what we do understand? And, how often, when making it fit doesn’t work, do we then just become paralyzed by fear? And how often, when we’re afraid, do we go against the will of God? In our fear we turn against our sister or brother in Christ. In our fear we lock our doors, or our hearts, against the stranger. In our fear we seek to dominate or control or deny.
Jesus touches Peter, James and John, invites them to leave their fear behind and resume following him. Jesus’ way is not the easiest of ways. It will involve suffering. It will involve death. But with Jesus we can walk into the unknown. We can endure whatever suffering the unknown will bring. Even death, when we are with Jesus, has no power. We can walk into the unknown, into the new, marvelous, mysterious and scary thing the Holy Spirit is doing, and experience resurrection.