Sermon: Last Epiphany Sunday, February 27, 2022

Painting by Christian Weber

Have you heard the story about the little boy who was riding his tricycle down a sidewalk? Suddenly, one of the little wheels on the back fell off. The little boy jumped off his trike and said, “I’ll be damned!” At that very moment a priest happened to be walking by, and he said to the boy, “You really should not use words like that! That’s a bad word. When something happens good or bad, just say, ‘Praise the Lord,’ and everything will be ok.”

Well, the little boy grumbled, but he said nothing else as he put the wheel back on and rode off down the sidewalk. He had only gone a few yards when the wheel fell off again. The little boy said, “Praise the Lord!” and lo and behold the wheel jumped up off the ground and put itself right back on the tricycle. The priest, who witnessed the whole thing, exclaimed, “I’ll be damned!”

I’m not sure where I heard this story, but I thought of it as I was reading our gospel reading for today about the Transfiguration of Jesus. Just before this episode on the mountaintop that we hear about this morning, Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ the Son of God, the Messiah. Presumably this means that Peter, if not all the twelve closest to Jesus, understood who Jesus was. They have been with Jesus for a while now. He has taught them a great deal and they have witnessed many miracles performed by him.

Jesus has also told them of his impending suffering, death, and resurrection. It would be a safe bet to think that the twelve “got” Jesus by now. It would be a safe bet to think that their lives had be changed and transformed by him. But we discover in this passage, and in the stories told in the rest of chapter nine of Luke, that the disciples don’t quite get Jesus yet.

There they are, Peter, John and James, standing with Jesus on the top of a mountain.

They are very tired, but something tells them that they must stay awake, and are they glad they did, for they witness a miraculous occurrence. Before them stands Moses and Elijah and they are speaking with Jesus about Jesus’ departure from this world. And not only do they see the impossible, these two from the past appearing in the present, but Jesus himself is transformed. His face is changed, and his clothes are a dazzling white. But this shouldn’t surprise them, should it? After all they have seen Jesus in many other impossible and miraculous moments.

Just a few days before, they were present when Jesus fed a multitude with only a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. They have seen Jesus heal the sick. They know that Jesus is the Messiah. This event shouldn’t throw them, but it seems that it does. For immediately Peter says the wrong thing, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. And apparently, he spoke so wrongly that Jesus doesn’t respond, but God responds. A cloud envelops them, and a voice says, “This is my Son, my chosen; listen to him!” And they leave the mountain in a stunned silence.

When they return to the plain from the top of the mountain, we discover that what they have witnessed has not taught them any more about who Jesus is than what they knew before. The day after witnessing this miraculous transfiguration of Jesus we find Jesus chastising his disciples for being unable to heal a boy suffering from convulsions. Next we find the disciples arguing about who among them is the greatest. Then we see them worried because someone outside of their circle is casting out demons in Jesus’ name. And last but not least we see them being rebuked by Jesus for asking him to send fire down from heaven on the Samaritans to consume them. Clearly, they can proclaim who Jesus is by name, but they do not understand who Jesus is in their hearts. Their lives have not yet been transformed by Jesus’ presence in their midst.

Isn’t that the same mistake that the priest made in the story I told at the beginning of this sermon? He spoke the right words. “Don’t say ‘damn it’, say ‘praise the Lord’.” But he didn’t understand what this really meant. Aren’t we guilty of the same mistake? Following Jesus is meant to transform our lives. Through our baptisms we are meant to die to our old way of living and take on a new life in Christ. But this is easier said than done. Or to put it another way, it is much easier to proclaim Christianity on our lips than to know it in our hearts and to live it in our lives.

Do we really know Jesus? Has Jesus transformed our lives? I am not looking for a personal conversion experience here. I’m not asking if you have said that Jesus is your personal Lord and Savior. For this can be empty words too, though not always. What I’m asking is this, “Is your life different because you follow Jesus?” “Has your Christianity changed the way you live your life?” “What difference does it make to you and to the world that you are a follower of Jesus?”

Does being a follower of Jesus change how you spend your money? How you use your time? How you treat those you love? How you care for those on the fringes of society–the poor, the hungry, the mentally ill, the homeless, those who are discriminated against?

How often you spend time in prayer? How you treat the earth? How you raise your children? How you love? How you see the world?

God, incarnate in the human, Jesus, walked this earth to show us who God really is and how much God loves us. God, incarnate in the human, Jesus, walked this earth, to show us how to be really and truly human in the fullest and greatest sense. God, incarnate in the human, Jesus, walked this earth to transform our lives and all of creation. But God has never taken away our free will. How open are we to this transformation? How open are we to the presence of Jesus in our lives?

Jesus came into the world not just to give us eternal life in some mysterious way after we die. Jesus came into this world and lived and died amongst us that our lives might be transformed right here and right now so that we might be the people God created us to be.

For it is only in being fully human, fully the people God created us to be that we know true peace, happiness, and joy.

Have you heard the story of the priest who saw the wheel of a little boy’s tricycle put itself back on after it had fallen off? The little boy said “Praise the Lord,” and the wheel just popped back on all by itself. The priest who witnessed the event said “Amen, amen!” and continued on his way singing praises to God and strengthened to continue the work that God had given him to do.