Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

The Festival of Transfiguration/ Koodaara Perunnal

And they (finally) kept silent

by Jerry Goebel, One Family Outreach

Gospel: St. Luke 9: 27-36

Luke 9:28-36
[Lk 9:28] Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. [29] And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. [30] And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, [31] who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. [32] Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. [33] And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”-not realizing what he was saying. [34] While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. [35] Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” [36] And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen. (NAS)

Luke 9:28
[Lk 9:28] Some eight days after these sayings, He took along Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. (NAS)

Eight days after these sayings

Luke doesn’t want us to divide what Jesus says from what Jesus does. Jesus had fed five thousand followers with five loaves and two fish followed by Peter’s revelation that Jesus was the Christ. That revelation was the sign Jesus needed that his earthly ministry was drawing to a close. Immediately after Peter’s revelation, Jesus begins preparing his disciples for his death.

Luke 9:22-26
[Lk 9:22] saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”

[23] And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. [24] “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. [25] “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? [26] “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels. (NAS)

Those poor apostles, all of the signs indicated that Christ was the Messiah. This truth had finally been disclosed to Peter, and then suddenly their universe implodes.

Like all Jews of the time, the disciples were longing for the Messiah to return. Yet, their image of the Messiah was of King David arriving to crush Rome (and everyone else who slighted Jewish sensibilities). The talk of crucifixion at the Romans hands, of hardship and more persecution; it just didn’t mesh with how the Apostle’s viewed the Messiah. Jesus’ reality clashed dramatically with theirs.

In what way does my reality clash with Christ’s? Is my interpretation of the Gospel one of judgment and self-righteousness or do I understand the sacrificial love of the cross?

Jesus did not come to rule the righteous but to die for sinners. As I travel towards my own Jerusalem with Jesus, what is it that I am expecting to see? Am I going to expect a throne or carry my cross?

As hard as this was for the disciples to hear, Jesus still presents them with a promise of joy in the midst of despair:

Luke 9:27
[Lk 9:27] “But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.”

Look at this promise carefully; “You are going die, but before you die you will see the kingdom of God.”

The transfiguration was the completion of that promise. Peter, James and John saw Jesus in his true form. Yes, there is a promise of the cross for all Christians, but there is also the promise of seeing [GSN1492 eido] the kingdom. The term is rich with meaning. Much more than just seeing, eido means perceiving: Knowing, being aware, indeed “experiencing.”

If we are willing to march into Jerusalem as Jesus did we are going to experience the kingdom. If we march into Jerusalem expecting to take worldly possession and control, we will be sorely disappointed. We only march into Jerusalem rightly when we pick up our cross, die to ourselves, and seek to bring God’s sacrificial forgiveness to others.

What are you expecting in Jerusalem?

Luke 9:29
[29] And while He was praying, the appearance of His face became different, and His clothing became white and gleaming. (NAS)

While He was praying

Luke helps us see that prayer was a consistent component of Christ’s life. The prayer experiences of Jesus that we are allowed to glimpse offer us insight into a very personal and direct interaction, between Jesus and God. Here at the Transfiguration, we are also allowed to witness our Lord’s communication with other cornerstones of the Jewish faith, Moses and Elijah, as well.

The Transfiguration reveals that prayer is an intimate communion of saints in the presence of God. Those closest to Jesus are allowed to witness prayer as a synthesis of every sense: They see, hear, and feel God.

Even Jesus’ appearance is altered [GSN1096 ginomi] [GSN2087 heteros]; literally meaning that his presence generated or evolved and he was cloaked in radiant light.

Was this merely a glimpse into heavenly intimacy or was this intimacy meant for us too?

In the intimacy of God, Moses’ face shone [HSN7160 qaran] or literally “his presence shot horns of light [Ex 34:29].” Isaiah tells us that the righteous shall see the King in His beauty and see through the obstinate or mocking ways of man [Is 33:11-21]. Stephen’s face became, “like the face of an angel,” when the high priests of Jerusalem sought to silence him.

What each of them reveals is the awesome glory of God reflected in the face of committed followers during the most intense moments of their lives. This is heaven revealed in our being, the Glory of God [Jn 1:14] momentarily exposed. It is an insight into the New Jerusalem that the Lord has in store for all who are cleansed by the Lamb:

Revelation 21:22-27
[Rev 21:22] I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. [23] And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. [24] The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. [25] In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; [26] and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; [27] and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (NAS)

In the transfiguration we are exposed to the authentic state of being, one in unity with God. It is an authenticity that sin has clouded in this world where light comes from without and not within, where peopled are distinguished by shadows, not radiance.

I Corinthians 13:12
[1Co 13:12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. (NAS)

Prayer is the path to being fully known and to fuller knowledge. It is seeing the world through God’s eyes and having God’s radiance reflected through our eyes. As prayer becomes a way of life the world is transfigured because we are transfigured. The love of God becomes the context of our vision and it changes our very being. We become radiant and resplendent, clothed in the raiment of our Creator. Transfiguration is God’s love shining through us.

Luke 9:30-31
[30] And behold, two men were talking with Him; and they were Moses and Elijah, [31] who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. (NAS)

Moses and Elijah

Eyewitnesses, the Apostles, testify to Luke that they saw two religious figureheads appear and have an intimate conversation with our Lord. If we are to accept the bible without excuses trusting in the resurrection and the miraculous power of Jesus, then we must accept two things:

1. The saints of the past were living guides for our Lord while he walked the earth;

2. We are not alone in our trials today, for what was available to Jesus he, through his death, made available to us!

Through Jesus we have available to us the living power of the heavens. This is not just the written word and the prophesies of the past, Jesus actually conversed with the writer of the Hebrew word, Moses, and the greatest prophet of the Old Testament, Elijah. They consulted with him, supported him, they spoke of; “His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.”

This means that we need never fear about embarking alone upon our commission. We are comforted and encouraged by all the saints and heavenly beings; we join with them in our heavenly endeavor. That is indeed the very power of the Holy Spirit who unifies us, who is the bond between the heavens and us.

It would have been cruel and an anathema for Jesus to allow his apostles to glimpse a power to which we would have no access. Instead, it was the very heart of Jesus to model the life attainable to his followers. This was no show of power and privilege by Jesus; this was a model of what was immediately acceptable to every believer setting out upon a holy course!

Luke 9:32-33
[32] Now Peter and his companions had been overcome with sleep; but when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men standing with Him. [33] And as these were leaving Him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles: one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”-not realizing what he was saying. (NAS)

Not realizing what he was saying

A woman was on a private tour of a museum in Europe when the guide showed them a piano upon which Mozart had composed many of his works. Seating herself at the piano the woman began to plunk out a sour version of Chopsticks.

The guide mentioned how the great composer and pianist, Paderewski, had himself been in the very same room the week before.

“Oh,” the woman responded, “He must have made beautiful music on these keys.”

“No, Ma’am,” the guide masterfully replied, “He felt himself unworthy to touch them.”

How many keys have I touched that were really laid aside for only a master’s hands? How many times have I felt myself worthy of tinkling out chopsticks on keys destined for the greatest strains of music to which human hands have offered? In what ways have I proceeded like Peter to blurt out my opinion and prove my ignorance when silence was truly the test of wisdom? I blithely stomp through fields of flowers the likes of which my hands could never create. I clean my windshield of the broken remains of butterfly wings whose fragility caused Leonardo Da Vinci to pause in awe. I open my mouth with trite witticisms and expect to explain the wisdom of ages. And I, like Peter, speak in the presence of saints as if my ideas could add clarity to their gathering.

What are my thoughts or works in relationship to the communion of prophets and the cloud of God’s presence? What worth is mine except in the invitation of Christ to attend a gathering in the glory of God?

It’s not only that Peter and I don’t realize what we are saying; we don’t even realize when we shouldn’t be saying anything! Too often, my stance before God is not, “Speak Lord, your servant is listening,” but instead, “Listen Lord, your servant is speaking!”

What must I do to prepare myself to become a listening servant of God? I must accustom my heart to silence; the medium God uses to communicate. This means no phones, no TV, no interruptions. It is a time to fast from the noise of this world that I might hear the silence of God. I must read scripture for what it says to me and not for how I can use it to impress others. When I set aside a habitual time to study God’s word; I need to ask the Holy Spirit to show me what I need to learn.

I need to put my agenda aside and listen for God to prompt my heart. God speaks to us throughout the day but we often fail to hear Him because our agenda is too high. He says, “Stop by that rest home,” or, “Stop in at that juvenile center and ask to be a mentor,” but we talk ourselves out of it. We say; “I need to do that someday when I’m not busy,” and what a fallacy that is. Next time, let’s listen to that voice and see how it radically changes our lives.

I need to put my agenda aside and listen to the lives of others. God often speaks in the voices of others, especially through whom I might least expect to hear Him. He speaks through children, the aged, the infirmed and the incarcerated. He speaks through the weak, the poor, the dying and the mentally handicapped. Our problem is that these people are out of the mainstream of our lives. They are not written on the pages of our consumer-based day planners. We don’t pen in a visit with the sick, or to feed the hungry and raise the dead even though Christ made this a priority in the lives of his disciples.

As a result, we miss hearing God in His most raw form. We don’t hear Him say; “I am hungry, feed me. I am thirsty, give me water. I am naked, clothe me. I am the stranger, exposed and imprisoned in your jail; spend a moment with me.”

As a result I don’t hear God’s voice; as a result, I miss heaven by a heartbeat.

I must go in humble service to where I am most vulnerable and most dependent on God. It is when I am off of my home turf that I am most on God’s holy ground. It is in the cloud that God guides me, the desert that He sustains me and in the darkness that He leads me. His power is perfected in my weakness [2 Cor 12:9], but do I realize that means that the more I choose to become weak the more powerful He becomes to me?

Who could I choose to be weak for today? Where can I go to become vulnerable? Where could I offer availability that is far beyond my ability?

To know when to “not play Mozart’s keys,” to be silent in the face of the sunrise, to stop advising God, to “fear” my awesome Creator; that is the beginning of wisdom.

Proverbs 1:7
[7] The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (NAS)

Luke 9:34-36
[34] While he was saying this, a cloud formed and began to overshadow them; and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. [35] Then a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” [36] And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent, and reported to no one in those days any of the things which they had seen. (NAS)

A cloud formed and began to overshadow them

The form in which God most often chooses to display Himself to His followers is a thick cloud [HSN5645 àb] [HSN6051 ànan].

Exodus 19:9
[9] And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I shall come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe in you forever.” Then Moses told the words of the people to the LORD. (NAS)

Exodus 13:21
[21] And the LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, that they might travel by day and by night. (NAS)

Exodus 20:21
[21] So the people stood at a distance, while Moses approached the thick cloud where God {was.} (NAS)

Exodus 40:34
[34] Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. (NAS)

I Kings 8:10-12
[10] And it came about when the priests came from the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the LORD, [11] so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD. [12] Then Solomon said, “The LORD has said that He would dwell in the thick cloud.” (NAS)

The Àb Ànan is impenetrable, the priests and the people were terrified of it and fled from its presence. Only those who were called into it would find solace there. Moses was called into the fog, Jesus ascended into it, in Revelation the saints also ascend into it [Rev 11:12], and Jesus rides on it in the final battle of salvation [Rev 14:14-15].

The Àb Ànan terrified [GSN5399 phobeo] Peter in his brazenness; it put him in his place. This was an irrational, uncontrollable fear, an immobilizing fear. Matthew tells us, “they fell on their faces [Mt 17:2],” which is akin to saying they “dug like animals burrowing to hide in the dirt.”

Are we perhaps a bit too comfortable with God? That is what we see here in Peter’s outspoken behavior. He presumes to advise God on perfection! Do I?

All too often!

How often does God have to descend upon me like an impenetrable cloud to silence my belligerence? The cloud of God crashes down upon my poor listening habits, my judgments, my self-righteous anger, my lack of availability to Him. Àb Ànan intentionally confounds and confuses me that I might give to the Creator my very next step. Not just my plans for the year, goals for the month, tasks for the day; but when God comes crashing down, I have to give Him my very next breath.

When will my prayers become, “Crash down upon me oh Àb Ànan of my Lord! Blind me like Saul of Tarsus that my passion and direction not be wasted. Do what you must to make my ends yours.” At that point, I will be ready for God to be my next breath. I will be His servant.

Then I will finally keep silent! Then I will listen to the Chosen One. Then God will finally be able to use me and speak through me.

But until then, I am just another pompous jackass advising God on how to paint the sunset. Playing keys on a piano that belongs to a master.

See Also:

Sermons and Bible Commentaries for the Feast of Transfiguration

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