The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - February 26, 2017
Scripture Reading: Matthew 17:1-9
Sermon Title: Transfiguration 

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     Transfiguration Sunday is a hard Sunday for us to understand.  Even if you accept the stories of Jesus’ healing, changing water into wine, and any other miracles, this one is hard to accept or understand.  Jesus goes up to the mountain, changed into something dazzling, Moses and Elijah appear, then a voice from heaven, and then everything is back to normal.  In a way this passage bookends the season of Epiphany.  Epiphany is the season where we realize that Jesus is Lord.  We started the season with the Baptism of Jesus, where we hear the voice of God saying “This is my son with whom I am well pleased” and then we end with this verse where we again her God saying again “This is my son with whom I am well pleased” and adds “listen to him.” 

     And I will be honest, I don’t fully understand it either.  But there are two things that I find interesting about this story. 

     When I was growing up my mother was part of a quilting group.  Now I am not sure how much quilting they got done, but about once a month she would go off for the evening.  When I was younger I never really paid attention.  If they came to our house I never realized it.  Some night she went to church meetings, and other nights she would go to quilting.  When I got into Middle School I finally started to realize that about once every year or two these quilters would come to our house. 

     This was a huge deal.  Now I do know that some of these women had quite nice houses.  One of them had a beautiful house with an indoor pool on a hill overlooking the town.  One of them lived in the historic district, in a house built in the 1800’s, all restored of course.  Our house was fine.  A 1970’s ranch, with some very 1970’s features.  The indoor BBQ grill inside the brick in the kitchen, and avocado colored appliances, very much like the Brady Bunch kitchen.  A fair amount of linoleum, some slate in the entry way, even wall to wall green shag carpet for many years.  So to perhaps compensate for our ordinary house, my mother did her best to really clean before the quilting group, and put out a really special desert.  Of course, I was a boy, I played in the mud, I did things outside, and I tracked all sorts of stuff into the house.  I think some of it was cleaning and some was nervous energy. 

     And this is not unusual.  I will let you in on a secret of mine.  I absolutely hate it when people say “We need to talk tomorrow” or “Give me a call later today.”  I don’t really know why but those things raise my stress level right up to max.  I start searching in my memory, did I do something wrong, did I forget to do something…  And it does not matter who does it to me, same reaction. 

     Besides searching my brain for something I may have forgotten to do, not gotten around to yet, I also get busy.  It is time to clean the garage, it is time to vacuum the car, time to wash the windows, wash the curtains.  If I get a “give me a call early next week” my house is cleaned from top to bottom.  I honestly don’t know why I do it, but probably it is like my mother cleaning and cooking and making sure the pillows on the sofa are arranged right, it is nervous energy. 

     I think that is what Peter was thinking.  OK, here is the guy we have been following around, and now suddenly there is Moses and Elijah, I don’t quite know how Peter would know who those others were, certainly he never met them, and there were no pictures of them.  But Peter gets nervous, what should I do?  I will take care of them, I will build them a place to stay.  Which I think was nervous energy, but also was a feeling that I don’t want it to end. 

     When I was growing up every year I went to church camp and Boy Scout camp.  Boy Scout camp was fine, we went swimming, we went boating, we played games, we earned merit badges.  And at the end of the week, when I was time to go home, I was a little sad I would not be able to do those fun things next week, but was also ready to go home, sleep inside a building, use a toilet that flushes, that kind of thing.  But leaving church camp was totally different.  The accommodations were not much better.  At boy Scout camp we had tents and at church camp there were 8 boys stuffed into a little cabin with holes in the screens and doors that didn’t shut tight enough keep the bugs out.  We did have flush toilets at church camp but they were a longer walk then the latrine was at Boy Scout camp.  I was only 12 or 13 when I was going to go to those camps, so I guess they both had showers, but I didn’t think showering was that important at that age. 

     But when the end of the week at church camp came around I cried when I left.  I had made new friends, I had learned new things about myself and about God, I had had fun.  There were lots of hugs and even many of the staff knew my name, in a good way.  And I was not ready to leave, I wanted this feeling to last forever.  “Tell you what, Mom, you just leave me here, maybe bring me some clean clothes, but I am good to go for several more weeks or longer.”  I think it was worse after my first summer on staff.  I had spent 8 weeks with these people.  The last night of camp, I think we stayed one night after all the kids had gone home, we got our cry talk.  I later learned how to give it, but that was the first year I had heard it.  “This group, that is together tonight will never all be together again.  The memories that you have created over the past 8 weeks will never be done the same way again.  Oh you will do some of the same things you did during this time, but it will not be with the same people.  Some will more on, some will change, this is the last night you will all ever have together in this way.”

     Oh, man, say it is not true.  We will all come back next, pinky promise.  And while many of us did come back the next summer, it was not the same.  Oh, it was just as good, maybe even better in some ways, but not the same.  So at the end of the next summer, and every summer after that I didn’t want it to end.  Peter was, I believe, experiencing the same thing.  Wow, here I am with Jesus, who I now see differently, along with Elijah and Moses, two strong leaders in our history.  I don’t want this to end, I will build houses, we can stay up on this mountain forever. 

     And then we see what I find is the second interesting thing that happens in this story.  They fall on their knees, Jesus comes over to them, taps them on the shoulder and says “Come on, let’s go.”  Jesus is back to normal, just the way he has always been.  And they walk back down the mountain together. 

     After the quilting group left, out house went back to normal.  Oh, my mother was good at housekeeping, so never dirty, but if I left some toys around, or tracked in some mud it was not the end of the world.  Green shag does hide dirt well.  

     And all those times someone has told me that we need to talk later, well most of those have turned out to be nothing, and sometimes even something positive. 

     And when I got home from church camp I tried to stay in touch with those I was close to, but life mostly returned to normal.  After the summer, I went back to school.  Started in with my classes, got busy studying and working at some job.  After this amazing experience where I felt so close to God, Jesus taps me on the shoulder and says “Ok, come on, let’s go.” 

     I think that is how life is.  Most of us can point to some experience we have had, that was really positive.  Maybe you didn’t label it as being close to God, but maybe just close to others, making a difference, doing good work.  But we cannot always stay there, in fact rarely can we be there long. 

     I imagine that it was a lot of work to follow Jesus, when Jesus was with us.  The gospels often portray the disciples as not the sharpest tools in the shed.  And they don’t quite seem to understand what this whole transfiguration is.  It was something magical, it was amazing to see, it brought together this history of Israel into Jesus’ time.   Jesus once again is affirmed as God’s son, and the disciples are told to listen to him.  But they were smart enough to eventually tell others about it, after the crucifixion, to remember it so we could hear about it. 

     I hope and pray that this is a space in which you feel safe, and feel the presence of God.  When we moved up to New Hampshire Glenn was a kindergarten student, and Collin was just starting to pull himself up to walk.  Often on Sunday’s we would go to church, the kids may stay with us for the first part of the service, and then Collin would go down to the nursery, Glenn would go to a Sunday School class, and Keri and I would just look at each other.  For the next 30 to 45 minutes our kids are being taken care of.  We know where they are, we know they are probably having some fun.  We know that if there really is a problem they will come up and get us.  In one way I felt a little guilty, but I realized this was a short time for me and God.  After that 30-45 minutes I was pulling Glenn away from the snack table at coffee hour, telling him that he could not have 4 pieces of cake, he had not had lunch yet.  Collin was getting hungry for lunch so we were pulled from that special quiet time with God back into the rest of our world.

     And soon we leave this place and go back into the world.  Jesus doesn’t leave us, Jesus comes with us.  Life is not a full-time mountain top experience, life is following Jesus.  Not always special, not always amazing, often ordinary.  But just as Peter, James and John were given the experience they didn’t understand, they knew it was something special, we also have those amazing experiences in our own life, and when we come back down the mountain we continue to follow Jesus.