|Pastors Kumm, Collver, Wilken at Trinity, Millstadt|
On Transfiguration Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching at Trinity Lutheran in Millstadt, IL. Pastor Michael Kumm, who also serves on the Synod's Board of Directors, is the senior pastor at Trinity. Pastor Todd Wilken of Issues, Etc. fame, also serves at Trinity in Millstadt. It was a great pleasure to be with the people of Trinity, a great congregation. The sermon is given below for those interested.
Transfiguration, 6 March 2011
2 Peter 1:16 – 21
“I will never forget when I saw…” What is the most amazing or terrifying event you have ever witnessed with your own eyes? One time I was in a football stadium with my father… it happened to be the last home game for the University of Tennessee. The Vanderbilt quarterback, who was about to get tackled, threw a long pass 50 or more yards to the wrong side of the field… there were no players nearby. Suddenly, the ball was caught and intercepted by a University of Tennessee player, who ran it for a touchdown. It was an incredible interception, an impossible play, yet it happened. You see, he wasn’t supposed to be on the field; there were too many players. He cheated. After the fireworks went off and the entire crowd of University of Tennessee fans finished cheering this incredible interception, the ref blew his whistle and threw a flag on the play… the touchdown was invalid. While I am not a regular fan of football, it was incredible to have been an eyewitness to that event. I don’t remember anything else about that game. There are certainly much more serious and important events to be an eyewitness to.
To see with your own eyes… is unlike any other experience. To have been standing in the crowd when John F. Kennedy was shot is unlike watching it on television or hearing about it in history. Watching an event on television is not quite the same as being there in person and witnessing it with your own eyes. To feel the excitement in the air or the fear… As amazing, terrifying, or memorable any event is that we have been eyewitnesses to, nothing matches what Peter, James, and John saw on the mountaintop.
In the Epistle reading, Saint Peter reflects upon the Transfiguration of Jesus perhaps some thirty years after the event. Within a generation of Jesus’ Transfiguration, death, and Resurrection, people began to compare the events of Jesus’ life to various myths. In fact, people were beginning to invent myths about Jesus, some of which you may have read about or seen on a History Channel special about Christmas or Easter. In this Epistle, as Saint Peter knows he is about to “put off his body” (2 Peter 1:14), he gives eyewitness testimony to the Transfiguration of Jesus so that after he departs we may be able to recall these things.
So thirty years after the Transfiguration, what does Saint Peter want his hearers to recall about it? Notice that Peter does not dwell or describe in detail the events on the mountaintop. He does not focus on the appearance of Elijah or Moses, as amazing and important as that is for our understanding and knowledge about the resurrection of the dead. Peter does not focus on the extraordinary things that one might suspect. Notice that he bears witness to the Word of God, specifically, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Peter emphasizes, “We ourselves heard this very voice from heaven.” (2 Peter 1:18). He even calls this a “prophetic Word.” You see, the reason that mountain was holy is because it was the place where the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The cloud that covered the mountain; the appearance of Elijah and Moses were all due to Jesus, the beloved Son, with whom the Father was well pleased. Here Saint Peter provides the key to unlock and interpret all of the Holy Scriptures, that Jesus is the Son of God with whom the Father is well pleased because He will save His people from their sins.
Now at first glance, it might seem strange that Saint Peter as he is approaching the “putting off of his body,” that is, his death, recalls not the miracles of Jesus, or the incredible things that he saw with his own eyes, but he recalls the voice of God saying, “You are my beloved Son.” The tradition of the church holds that Saint Peter was a martyr, that he bore witness to Jesus by giving his life testifying about Him. The tradition of the church holds that the Romans executed him; perhaps, he already was imprisoned when he wrote 2 Peter. In any case, his death was approaching and the thought on his mind was Jesus’ transfiguration and the words, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” We can learn much from this.
The world today is full of cleverly devised myths about how to live the good life, about how to conquer death, about different paths to God, even about Jesus himself. When we are confronted by uncertainty, fear, trials, suffering, evening facing death, our natural tendency is not to cling to the Word of God. We usually first try our own hand at the problem, to see what our works or skill can accomplish. Do you pray before or after you have exhausted all of your own resources? I have to confess unfortunately that until my best efforts fail, I often forget to pray. I suspect that is true for you also. Or you might be inclined to think because of the efforts of your prayer or of your other good works, the Lord will look on you with favor. This is what Martin Luther thought the point of this Epistle was – a treatise that you ought not trust in your good works. I suspect apart from today, you do not give much thought to the Transfiguration of Jesus. Maybe some of you did not even know today was the celebration of the Transfiguration until you arrived at church. The simple fact that we do not recognize the importance of the Transfiguration when we face trails, suffering, and problems in our lives shows that we do not study, ponder, and reflect on the Holy Scriptures as we ought. Isn’t it amazing that as Saint Peter approaches his death, he meditates on the Transfiguration, particularly, the Word of the Lord that proclaimed, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
You see, as Saint Peter approaches his death, he focuses on the key that unlocks all of the Scriptures; he focuses on Jesus, the beloved Son of God. After the Transfiguration, Jesus turned His face toward Jerusalem. He turns His face to the cross. The Father was well pleased with his Son for taking upon Himself the sins of the world. The Father was well pleased with His Son because His glory was made manifest not primarily on the holy mountain where the Transfiguration occurred, but on another holy mountain where Jesus was crucified, suffered and died for you and for me. The beloved Son of God was cursed. In fact, the beloved Son of God bore the wrath, punishment, and hatred that the Father had for sin.
In the shame and suffering of the cross, the glory of God’s salvation was revealed for all the world to see. The clouds that covered the Transfiguration mountain foreshadowed the darkness that would come on Golgotha when even the light of the sun was hidden. Instead of Elijah and Moses, soldiers and frightened women and disciples stood under the cross. Instead of the Father’s approving voice was the cry of Jesus, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me.” Because Jesus was forsaken, you and I never have to face the terror of being abandoned by God. Jesus was forsaken in our place.
Maybe now it comes clear why Saint Peter focused on the Transfiguration of Jesus as his death approached. You see, by external appearances, it seemed that this faithful disciple of Jesus, Peter, the rock of the church – at lest his Confession that Jesus is the Son of God – was to be abandoned and discarded in death. According to the tradition of the church, Peter was to be taken and shamefully crucified for bearing witness to Jesus. What an ignoble way for a faithful servant of God to go – so the world says! No, death would not come for Peter peacefully in his sleep. He would suffer. In the face of his impending suffering, Peter took comfort in the Transfiguration of Jesus. He took comfort because he knew that he would not be abandoned or forsaken by God. In fact, he took comfort in the prophetic word, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” In Christ Jesus, Peter heard the word of the Transfiguration for himself. Because Jesus had suffered, died and rose from the grave, Peter as he faced his own death heard the words of the Father applied to him, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Peter was God’s beloved son with whom the Lord was pleased, not because of anything Peter did but because of Jesus.
Dear friends in Christ, the same is true for you and me. When you were baptized, you put on Christ. All of His righteousness, the fact that the Father loved him and was well pleased with Him became yours. You are beloved by the Father. The Father is well pleased with you because of Jesus. You will not be forsaken. No matter what you face in your life, remember the Transfiguration of Jesus, hear the voice of the Father, and know that the Lord is pleased with you and will deliver you.
The Lord will deliver you just as He did Jesus and Saint Peter, through the cross. As Jesus turned his face to the cross for the salvation of the world, you too will face crosses in your life. The sufferings and trials in your life is not punishment – these things come as the result of sin, death, and the devil in the world. Remember that through the cross, the glory of God is revealed. On the mountain of Transfiguration, Elijah and Moses discussed with Jesus how he would redeem the world. There on the mountain we see a foretaste of the resurrection of the dead and the life to come. Elijah and Moses had glorified bodies. Like them, you too will rise with a glorified body. Like them, you too will converse with Jesus and hear the voice of the Father. As Peter reflected upon his impending death, he focused on the glory that was to be revealed, a glimpse of what he saw on the mountain of Transfiguration. As an eyewitness, he bore witness to the hope that he had. As an eyewitness, he wanted you to have the same hope he had – the hope in Jesus.
Remember the Transfiguration. In the midst of problems, suffering, grief, and death recall the Transfiguration. Hear the Word of the Father spoken to you on account of Jesus, “You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” The Lord is pleased with you and will never forsake you.
Go in peace.