Transfiguration of Our Lord Mark 9:2-9 Feb. 14, 2021

How Good, Lord, To Be Here

I am humbled to be with you today as a lay preacher of the NC Synod of the ELCA. Today is the first time I have preached outside of my home community and I pray that the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts will be acceptable to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

How Good, Lord, To Be Here. I have been involved in the ministry of my home church since I could walk and talk, and I have talked quite a lot in my life. My wife, Jennifer, believes without a doubt that I could talk a stop sign into submission and what I do most days involves a lot talking. That may be the main reason I am a 28+ year educator and went through the lay preacher process last year. So today I come to you as a servant of the one and only, most high, eternal Savior, Jesus Christ. How Good, Lord, To Be Here.

Today in our Lectionary of readings we heard about the passing of power and authority from the prophet Elijah to Elisha, we heard that the spotlight of Christian ministry is not on the people who carry out ministry, like all of us assembled, but on the Lord Jesus Christ. Both readings we have heard also lead us to the Transfiguration of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark which we celebrate today.

Whether foretelling the story of Jesus on the mountaintop in the Gospel Reading; or reflecting on that story years later, as the author of 2nd Corinthians says in verse 6: For it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. We are taught that our focus should be placed on Jesus Christ. The Transfiguration was not a spotlight on Jesus, but was the Light that shines through Jesus Christ onto us. Jesus is our Center, our reason for living.

Not being the center of attention is a tough thing for us. We like to pat ourselves on the back and toot our own horn. We are a competitive lot sometimes. If anything the pandemic created by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 has humbled us a bit. We’ve seen and read about family, friends, celebrities, and people we don’t know that have contracted the virus. We have happy/relief stories about those recovering from it, and unfortunately we have stories of grief for those who have died.

Life has definitely not been how we would have liked it to be the past year. Surely we are not in a celebratory mood because we have to wear masks, socially distance, forego family gatherings, and even miss out on seeing our children and grandchildren. So why is it that I say How Good, Lord, To Be Here? Attribute it to the Transfiguration and Peter’s response to Jesus at the mountaintop. The words of the hymn are found in the ELW as Hymn 315. Follow along if you like in the hymnal.

How good, Lord, to be here!
Your glory fills the night;
Your face and garments, like the sun,
Shine with unborrowed light.

How good, Lord, to be here,
Your beauty to behold
Where Moses and Elijah stand,
Your messengers of old.

Fulfiller of the past
And hope of things to be,
We hail your body glorified
And our redemption see.

How good, Lord, to be here!
Yet we may not remain;
But since you bid us leave the mount,
Come with us to the plain.

What wonderful verses to share from a beautiful hymn. In that hymn we recognize the Transfiguration of Jesus. Transfiguration can be a difficult word to translate, especially in religious terms. We could use the Latin Transformation or the Greek Metamorphosis. Whichever word we use, it’s about one thing being changed into another; or, to put it another way, something being revealed for what it really is – in this case, the true nature of Jesus.

Over time the Christian faith has portrayed through paintings, mosaics, statues, and other relics the life of Jesus. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, which split from the Roman Catholic Church, icons are vital to the well-bring of the Church, and the Icon of the Transfiguration, of which we have seen on our bulletins and other artwork in years past, is thought of as a foundational icon of them all. Jesus Christ with light not shining on Him, but light shining through and from Him.

This is the Light at the end of the Book of Revelation, the Light which does not need the Sun or Moon to make it shine the light in which we will all bask in after the end of time, the light which will carry us all up into the love of God at the end of all things, the light revealed by Jesus on the mountaintop, and seen by Peter and James and John. The Light shines through Jesus Christ outward to us.

A few years ago I was part of a group that presented the Living Last Supper. I was James and had a speaking role that told of the Transfiguration.

“I am James, the brother of John and we have often been referred to as the ‘sons of thunder.’ We were fishermen with our father, Zebedee, and we were honored when Jesus wanted us as his disciples. I was present in Peter’s home when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law of her fever. Later, I watched as He raised Jairus’ daughter from the dead. But the most astonishing event occurred on the Mount of Transfiguration when we saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. His face shone like the sun and I was in awe being in his presence ….” The monologue continues to list the next days of Jesus’ ministry and his journey to Jerusalem and His death on the cross, which I am sure James, like the others, really didn’t fully comprehend as the path of Jesus’ life.

Then there is Peter. Peter, the Rock, the one who declared to Jesus that “You are the messiah” just prior to today’s scripture, and the one who seems to react rashly without thought sometimes. What was Peter’s response when Jesus is transfigured, and Moses and Elijah appear with him? In the words of the Transfiguration hymn we sometimes use: How Good, Lord, To Be Here!

How good, Lord, to be here!
Your glory fills the night;
Your face and garments, like the sun,
Shine with unborrowed light.

It may have been something like this with Peter: “It’s great to be here with You, Lord, and with Moses and Elijah! I have an idea, why don’t we build three dwellings for you guys, so that we can stay here and share in Your glory?”

How can we relate to that this morning: How good, Lord, to be here. It is good to worship and witness together, to be together in this beautiful and prayerful building, and to be stronger together than we would be apart. Many churches don’t have that opportunity right now, so we are fortunate to be here and for my home church today and that, at the very least, a small group around ten are able to attend and take part. We bring something to the table, so to speak.

Milton Jones, comedian and author, describes in one of his 10 Second Sermons: “Church should be like everyone arriving with one piece of the jigsaw puzzle” [Milton Jones, 10 Second Sermons … and even quicker illustrations, p. 20].

      But it’s not only when we are gathered that the Church is important; It’s also when we are scattered. I envision the Transfiguration of Jesus with His light streaming to all corners of our world, reaching into valleys, deserts, across oceans and up to the mountaintops. A beaming Light that reaches every nook and cranny.

How good, Lord, to be here,
Your beauty to behold
Where Moses and Elijah stand,
Your messengers of old.

What would we have felt after experiencing Jesus speaking to Moses and Elijah? Speechless is probably an understatement of epic proportions. Imagine you are there and understand what Jesus is saying to you about His death. Imagine He has told you to say nothing about this incredible sight. Imagine you are perplexed and confused, hearing that Jesus will not be with you much longer. Do you ask Him to avoid Jerusalem? Do you ask Him to stay with you instead? What would your journey be like?

Milton Jones put it like this about our path: “If we’re on a journey: in the same way that the services are not the motorway, a Church is not the Services” It is what we do to share the light that shines through Jesus Christ into our world, troubled and flawed as it may be, that matters.

Our time together on a Sunday morning is an effort to prepare us for our what should be a Christian life lived the rest of the week, in all the different places where we find ourselves, even if that is at home and through social media. Being a true disciple of Jesus Christ.

Gary Philbrick says that “here, the Church, is our Service Station, so to speak, where we are re-fueled and refreshed, re-awakened to God’s Word, and his presence in Word and Sacrament, and re-charge to go out from here to serve Him in all that we do, and with all that we have.” We ought to be challenged and guided by the Holy Spirit to share, to speak out, to teach, to support, to clothe, to feed, to shelter, and to love one another, that are in need of our talents and gifts from God.

The question passed to us now is will we share that light with others. The ELCA created and continues to use the saying: God’s Work, Our Hands. The church is much more than what we say and do on Wednesdays and Sundays in a building.

How good, Lord, to be here, but, Lord, when we go, Come with us to the plain, be with us in the day-to-day realities of our life, in our relationships with others, in our family or health problems, in all the joy and sadness of everyday life.

Another quote from Milton Jones says that “Church is a bit like being a member of a gym. Some people like the idea of going, but don’t. Others go but aren’t really training for anything. And some actually use it to help them train for a race or other competition.”

What are we training for? You could probably say we are training for mountain climbing! We’re training to be up there on the mountaintop with Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, Peter, James and John. We are training for our transformation or metamorphosis. I am not sure we will experience the same kind of transfiguration from our scripture today, but I do know that our training here on earth serves a purpose so that we may join in God’s work here with our hands, and eventually be with him in heaven, where we’ll live in the Light of Jesus Christ, on the mountaintop. Let us pray: How Good, Lord, To Be Here. Send us out, we pray, to shine with your light, to forgive with your generosity, to love with your kindness in the world where you send us, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Sermon by Joe Davis, Lay Preacher of the NC Synod of the ELCA for the Congregation of Saint Michael Lutheran Church, High Point, NC.