Feast of The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Part of the problem with being such magnificent and well-seasoned liars is that we are constantly losing track of our own fabrications.
It is bad enough that we can’t tell the simplest story without exaggeration and embellishment, if not flat out falsehood, but what is worse is that half the time we get so caught up in our malarkey that we ourselves believe it.
When we are called on it, we act as though our honor had been sullied, not by the lie, but by the accurate accusation.
We are delusional. Sin makes us stupid. And so we have no right to look down on Lance Armstrong or Hillary Clinton.
What we care about most is our reputations, which is to say, what people think of us.
We care a lot, way more than makes any sense. Almost all of our lies stem from this.
We want to be liked, respected, and admired. Why else would we care about honor?
And so we spend a lot of time lying about it, claiming that we don’t care what people think.
In fact, we not only care, but it is no exaggeration to say that we are actually terrified of what people think.
That is why we lie. We lie because we want people to think better of us than they should or than we deserve. We lie to try to impress them or to hide our shame.
We are an incredibly fearful people. We are afraid of our neighbors, afraid of crime, afraid of genetically-modified wheat.
We are afraid of our spouses, afraid of our parents, and afraid of getting caught in our secret sins. We are afraid of practically everything, but we deny it.
We deny it all. We pretend to be brave, tough, and calm. We hate to admit fear, no matter how much it wracks us, because it makes us look weak.
We are still little kids in the locker room: afraid of being made fun of, beaten up, or, even worse, afraid of looking stupid, failing, or being rejected.
But that which haunts us the most, even though we rarely admit it even to ourselves, is death and judgment.
Lent begins this Wednesday.
And so what is true any day is especially true now: that is time to confess and come clean.
You have been afraid of almost everything except the One to Whom fear is owed.
If that isn’t ringing true, if you really are calm all the time and don’t get excited or afraid, if you don’t have any secrets or things you lie about, then Holy Scripture isn’t written to you or about you.
God’s Word is not addressed to calm, cool people. It is written to cowards.
That’s why every time some poor slob runs into an angel, he has to be told, “Don’t be afraid.” Fear is the natural reaction of sinful human beings in the presence of holiness.
And so Jesus speaks to Peter, James, and John at His transfiguration:
“Don’t be afraid.” Jesus says this to them even though they have every reason to be afraid.
For a minute there, Peter lost his mind. He thought he was on equal footing with Moses and Elijah and maybe even with God Himself. He is a man with a plan, and so he speaks right up: “Let’s stay here.”
But when the Father speaks from heaven, Peter recognizes his frailty and sin. He is not much different than Moses blowing it at Meribah or not circumcising his son.
He is not really any more pious than Elijah was under the broom tree. Peter is afraid for his life. Because if angels are terrifying to sinners, and they are, then the divine presence is deadly.
So Peter falls on his face, afraid.
The gentle, patient, response of Jesus can’t be overstated.
The divine presence of God in the Man of the Messiah is terrifying, but He is no longer deadly to sinners.
In the Man Jesus, come to be a Sacrifice, the divine presence is sanctifying and life-giving.
The mercy that endures forever has flesh – your flesh.
And so the rebuke on the mountain is gentle.
We should probably translate what the Father says with a paraphrase like “Be quiet” or even “Shut up” and then “Listen to My beloved Son.”
It is a serious admonition, but there is no malice in it. It is, in fact, serious encouragement. And so the next words they hear are pure Gospel: “Don’t be afraid. Arise.”
Then, at the word and touch of Jesus, they have eyes only for Jesus. Moses and Elijah might still be there. Nothing is said about whether they have departed or become invisible, but now, for a brief moment of sanity, Peter, James, and John are lifted out of themselves.
They are no longer afraid for their reputations, needing the approval or praise of Moses or one another. Nor are they even afraid to go to Jerusalem and die.
For a moment, they bask in the pure, accepting grace of Jesus Christ and know that He is good and gladly rest in His will.
That same mercy provides even us poor, miserable liars and self-promoters with similar moments of clarity and honesty. Thank God for that!
There are times, by grace, when our duties are light, when it is easy to love God and neighbor. But even when we spurn them and go about our lying lives and boastful ways, the Lord is steadfast.
His face is set toward Jerusalem even as we are trying to figure out a way to stay on the mountain. He is always proceeding for our good.
Heaven is populated with liars like Abraham and Isaac and Peter who have found grace in the Messiah. There is even room for us. Thanks be to God for that!
Who in His mercy, gives us today, in His Blessed Sacrament, eyes only for Jesus and faith to see us through to the end.
The majority of this text was taken from a sermon preached by Rev. David Petersen of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Fort Wayne, IN, and which has been published in the book, God With Us: Advent, Christmas, and epiphany Sermons by David H. Petersen