“Transfiguration Transformation” – 2 Corinthians 3:18
1. “There is more!”
There is something inside us that believes or at least wants to believe that the world as we know it, as we see it, is not everything there is. Except for atheists, a lot of people have the sense that there is more, that death is not the end, that our planet is not just an enclosed terrarium where, when we take our last breath… well, as Looney Tunes cartoons used to end: “That’s all, folks!” So, somehow, for centuries, and in many different cultures, authors have crafted and repeated stories that hold onto that promise of more, of another world, of a better world. We generally call them fairy tales, and they can be short stories or more involved stories. They propose not only that another world exists, but that that enchanted world is not far away. C.S. Lewis, in his Chronicles of Narnia, featured normal children walking into and through a wardrobe filled with coats, and then into the magical world of Narnia with talking animals and a large and terrifying, but equally magnificent and wise, lion named Aslan. The Brothers Grimm wrote about a lonely princess, Snow White, walking through a forest and stumbling on a cottage with seven dwarfs. J. R. R. Tolkien writes about some fictional creatures called hobbits and a magical ring and a cosmic battle between good and evil in a region called Middle-Earth. In many ways, the people and the principles and the events of these fairy-tale worlds are much closer to real life than we supposed. In fact, Tolkien writes: “It is the mark of the good fairy-story… that however wild its events, however fantastic or terrible the adventures, it can give to the child or the man that hears it, when the “turn” comes, a catch of the breath, a beat and lifting of the heart…”
Then we must also see a deeper meaning – the tales are not just about the transformation of the world around us, they are about the transformation of the central characters. Frogs become princes; ugly ducklings become swans; a wooden marionette becomes a real boy; a sleeping beauty wakes to a new reality without an evil witch, and with her betrothed prince.
b. The Gospel
Many of those fairy tales have features that are also common to the Gospel. But there is one great difference… the Gospel is true! We have heard Jesus say in our Gospel lessons in the past few weeks: “The kingdom of God has come near,” and “Believe in the Gospel.” Jesus is saying, like the fairy tales proclaim, that another world exists and is available to us. This fallen world that we know is not the whole story. There is another realm, another reality, another hope. Those words of Jesus announce the “turn” in the history of the world. The lid is off the terrarium, and we are surprised to hear and experience something refreshing. Many of Jesus’ sayings would bring His listeners a catch of the breath, a beating and lifting of the heart, and sometimes tears. For us, too! The good news of the Gospel, the TRUE Gospel, is that that other world – the Kingdom of God – is closer than you think. It is available to ordinary men and women and children.
c. Jesus’ Transfiguration
Today, we see that in the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. Jesus doesn’t actually say ANYTHING in this account – no red letters in my Bible!! He takes three dwarfs up a mountain – just the four of them. Luke’s account actually tells us that all three of those dwarfs – Peter, James and John – could have been known as “Sleepy.” But while no words were spoken, the actions spoke volumes about the existence of that other world, the one that normal “sleepy” human dwarfs can both witness and experience personally.
When Jesus was transfigured – the Greek word used there is metamorphothe, metamorphosis, and we’ll come back to that – when Jesus was transfigured, it was His appearance that gave evidence that this fallen world is not the entire story, that there is another world, another realm, another reality, and another hope. Jesus didn’t change from a frog to a prince, or from a marionette to a boy. No, there wasn’t a change of His substance. But there was a change of His appearance. For those few moments, He did not appear in His purely human physical appearance. But rather, He shone with the glory of His divine nature, which otherwise had been veiled. Listen to how each of the Gospel writers describe Jesus:
Mark – “His clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them.”
Matthew – “His face shone like the sun and His clothes became white as light.”
Luke – “the appearance of His face was altered, and His clothes became dazzling white.”
[The broken world we live in]
So, it was no words of Jesus that pointed to another world. But His appearance pointed to His own true reality, and foreshadowed our own future reality as we trust in Him, as we go up and down the mountains of life. That’s our present reality, isn’t it… going up and down the mountains of life. There are days when we could be known by one of a number of those dwarf nicknames: Sleepy, Grumpy, Dopey. It’s like that t-shirt my wife still hasn’t bought for herself. It reads, “Sometimes I wake up grumpy, other times I let him sleep.” That’s the truth for all of us. There are days when we are grumpy, hornery, hard to please, and just plain unapproachable. We’ve had lots of those grumpy days in the last year, haven’t we? We can’t see anybody, we can’t do anything, we can’t go anywhere. That makes the best of us kind of grumpy, and we take it out even on those we love the dearest – our kids, our spouses… yeah, even on Valentine’s Day. Grumpy in our words, grumpy in our facial expressions, grumpy in our love withheld, grumpy in our silent treatment, grumpy in our actions that speak louder than words.
There are days that we could be known as Sleepy or Dopey – again, maybe lots of those days in the last year. You just don’t have any enthusiasm or motivation to do much of anything, for anybody, any time, anywhere. Maybe, like Peter in the story, fear paralyzes you and you just don’t know what to say. It’s not that you’re Grumpy… you’re just not Happy, you’re not serving, helping, spreading joy and love. Or maybe you’re not living out who God has called you to be.
In those things, with those dwarf nicknames, we give evidence by our appearance, by our actions, and by our words that we live in that old broken world, that world still regrettably influenced by sin. And that makes the contrast between our appearance and Jesus’ appearance noticeably distinct. In His divinity, He is bright and shining white. In our humanity, we are dull, dirty, soiled by sin. In His divinity, He originates from heaven and is headed there, too, after His crucifixion and resurrection. In our humanity, we deserve to go to hell rather than that better world that fairy tales (and the Gospel) hint of. But wait…
d. The Father’s voice
There is something else that points to that better world. There is the cloud that surrounded them, and the voice of the Father that spoke from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love; listen to Him.” Yes, there is a voice from that other world, so we know it is not just a fairy-tale, or a figment of our imagination, or a figment of someone’s else’s imagination that we have been dopey enough to have believed, duped enough to have believed.
“My Son, whom I love!” That’s appropriate today! Oh, I know, Valentine’s Day is generally about boys and girls, husbands and wives, and romantic love in that kind of setting. But if we consider Valentine’s Day to be about love in general, pure love… then that’s where it starts… with God! God loved Jesus. Actually, God loved YOU enough to send Jesus. God loved YOU enough to send Jesus to reveal to us the depth of His love and the truth of that other realm, the real realm. And that’s where the second word in the sermon title comes in – Transfiguration TRANSFORMATION!!
a. The Father’s love
It’s when we listen to Jesus, it’s when we see Him in action that we truly learn how to love, and that we are changed. First, we run up against God’s grace, and Jesus’ forgiveness for our grumpy, dopey sins when we see Jesus hanging on the cross, in our place, as our substitute. It’s there that His love really shines, for just as the moral for Sleeping Beauty may be summarized as “True love conquers all,” so Jesus’ true and pure love conquers all for His beloved. It’s there on the cross that His divinity really shines, for it’s there that He proves victorious over our three enemies of sin, death and the devil. He rose from the dead – NO FAIRY TALE – to demonstrate that victory triumphantly. By God’s grace, through faith in Jesus we are changed, transformed. No longer a frog, but a prince. No longer an ugly duckling but a swan. No longer a marionette but a real boy. No longer a sleeping beauty, but an awake and living one.
It was almost 30 years ago already that Mighty Morphin Power Rangers were a big hit on TV for six and seven year olds. Actually, it wasn’t just TV, it was also the toys, action figures and other merchandise that captured the attention of those kids. The key to the show’s appeal and the toys’ appeal was the characters’ ability to “morph.” And yes, the developers of the series and the toys were smart because they used that Greek word meaning “change” or “transform.” When things looked bleak for the heroes, they would cry out, “It’s morphing time!” and they would be transformed with the ability to do extraordinary things.
Of course, it’s not just six-year-olds who want to morph. The desire for transformation and positive change lies deep in every human heart. That’s why people make New Year’s Resolutions, and get into recovery groups, and read self-help books, and attend motivational seminars. They want to change, from the inside out.
St. Paul used that ‘metamorphosis’ word in Romans 12 to state that such a change is not only possible but realistic. He spent a lot of the first 11 chapters of his letter to uncover the undeserved mercies of God in Jesus Christ. Then, as he starts the practical part of his letter, He writes, “Having seen the mercies of God, knowing the sacrifice of Jesus for you, offer your bodies as living sacrifices back to God. Be transformed – metamorphosis – by the renewing of your mind.” When we meet Jesus, “It’s morphing time!” When that transformation begins to take place, we don’t just do the things Jesus would have done; we find ourselves WANTING to do them, and WANTING to be like Jesus. Those things are good and right and proper. They appeal to us. They make sense. We become a Jesus-person. We look to Jesus. We listen to Jesus. We live like Jesus. We love like Jesus, and we become like Him.
b. Listen to Jesus
So, if you want to live out the pure love of Valentine’s Day, it’s not at all about changing the other person to be the way you would like him or her to be. It’s about being changed yourself so that you can love the other person in a way that he / she knows, deep down in their heart, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he / she is truly and deeply and purely loved. For true love always seeks the good of the beloved.
So, if you want to love purely, listen to Jesus, as that voice from the other realm said on that day of Transfiguration, and you will be transformed.
Jesus said, “Forgive your brother / your sister seventy times seven times.” That is deep love.
Jesus said, “Do not judge. Don’t point out the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye.” That is humble love.
Jesus said, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.” That is authentic love.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies.” That is unfathomable love.
Jesus said, “Love a neighbour in need. Bless the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.” That is practical love.
Jesus said, “Let your good deeds shine before others.” That is true love.
Yes, listen to Jesus, for Jesus’ words transform us and teach us how to love others. That’s what Paul said in our Epistle reading today – “we are being transformed” – there’s that ‘metamorphosis’ word again – transformed from one degree of glory to another, until we look more and more like Jesus, and until His light shines brightly, and truly, and purely in our hearts and out of our hearts to others.
3. Fairy-tale transformation
I want to close with two fairy-tale illustrations today – one about us being transformed to be like Jesus, to look like Jesus, and the second about that other world that we so believe in and long for deep in our hearts.
a. “The Great Stone Face” (Hawthorne)
Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote the first illustration – a short story more than a fairy tale. It’s the story of a boy named Ernest who lived in the shadow of a mountain on which there was a natural phenomenon called “The Great Stone Face.” A legend foretold that one day a child born in the village would become the noblest person of his time, and in manhood his face would bear an exact resemblance to the Great Stone Face.
Every spare moment, Ernest would turn his face upwards and look at those facial features on the mountain. On three occasions, rumours spread that the long-awaited figure was about to appear, but the candidates were disappointments. Ernest kept looking at the face, hoping to meet the one who would resemble it. Ernest grew old, with white hair and wrinkled forehead. People actually came from far and wide to seek his counsel.
One day a poet came to the village, and Ernest thought that this must surely be the noble figure. But as he talked with the poet, he learned of his disenchantment with human nature, and Ernest concluded that he was not the noble man either.
While the poet was still in town, Ernest spoke to the local residents at sunset as was his custom. Looking at Ernest and at the Great Stone Face behind him, the poet recognized a striking resemblance between the two, and concluded that Ernest was himself the likeness of the Great Stone Face. The people agreed. The legend was fulfilled. Like Ernest, we too, will reflect the very character and characteristics of the Great Face of God in Jesus Christ as we look to Him unhurriedly each day.
b. The “happily ever after” (Lewis)
The second illustration is from the last of C. S. Lewis’ books in the Chronicles of Narnia series. The current characters in the story were all returning home after the summer vacation. Something strange happened, and they found themselves surprisingly in Narnia again. As they went farther and farther in, they saw Aslan – the lion, the Christ-figure. He said to them,
“You do not yet look so happy as I mean you to be.”
Lucy said, “We’re so afraid of being sent away, Aslan. And you have sent us back into our own world so often.”
“No fear of that,” said Aslan. “Have you not guessed?”
Their hearts leaped and a wild hope rose within them.
“There was a real railway accident,” said Aslan softly. “Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”
And as he spoke he no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them. And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.
Jesus was transfigured and shone in heavenly brightness. We are transformed to be like Him in this world, and for the next world. There is a “happily ever after.” The fairy-tales tell us that, and the Gospel assures us of it. Thanks be to God! Amen.