[This sermon is slightly more inclusive of pop culture references than usual for me. My wife tells me that the reference to The Court Jester didn’t work, but the rest of it was all right. -LL]
Transfiguration2011 (Audio File MP3)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the Gospel just read, the Transfiguration of our Lord from St. Matthew chapter 17.
Undercover Boss is a TV show about rewarding the hardworking employees of a business and watching the bad employees get what’s coming to them. The premise is pretty simple. The CEO or executive of some big company masquerades as a new employee. By losing the trappings of his office, people no longer tell him what he wants to hear. Instead he gets the real story of what it is like to be in the trenches, working day in and day out at his company.
This is really a play on a common theme in literature of what I would call the story of the hidden king. The king or prince conceals his identity in order to gain insight into the workings of his kingdom, to win the princess, or to understand his own business better. His true identity isn’t known to anyone except a few trusted servants. A couple stories that use this basic idea are Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid. Or you could go a little further off the beaten path and think of a classic comedy like Trading Places or The Court Jester to get the idea. Maybe even a better example would be The Lord of the Rings with King Aragorn.
There is something about the idea of a great person hiding himself that is appealing to all of us. The notion that somebody amazing or important or unusual sitting in our midst hits the child in all of us. What will happen when the boss reveals he’s the boss, or when the beast becomes the prince, or the mermaid regains her voice? What will happen when the king reveals himself for who he truly is?
It shouldn’t take a lot of imagination on your part to see where I’m going with this. You can imagine the scene we have before us on Mount Tabor. Peter, James and John go with Jesus up the mountain, away from the crowds and the lookeyloos and the pressures of the day to be with Jesus. They have had glimpses of Jesus’ glory, hints of His true nature up to this point. It’s not really that He is keeping things a secret, so much as they can’t fathom that God would become man and dwell among them. A prophet? Yes. Even a great prophet. But God Himself? That seems a bit of a stretch, don’t you think?
But our Lord is more than a vision, or prophet, or great teacher. He is God in the flesh, very God of very God, as we pray in the Creed. He is no myth, no fairy tale king. Peter, James and John got a little wider look at Jesus glory. They were overshadowed by a bright cloud, the kavod, or glory of God as we saw descend upon the Temple in the Old Testament, and again at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan river. The cloud enveloped them, and they saw Jesus for who He truly is: God’s beloved Son, the One who is come to save the world from their sins.
In their fear they are struck by the wonder of the event. Let’s live up here forever, Peter exclaims! We’ll make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and another for Elijah. We will be your eternal fan club, up here and away from the sorrows and troubles of the world.
But while they are basking in reflected glory, a voice speaks from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him.” Now it’s one thing to see a couple great prophets and shiny clothes. It’s quite another to have the voice of God resounding in your ears. They fall to the ground, terrified.
When you and I are caught in the presence of God, there is a similar feeling. I had someone ask me not long ago why bother to go to confession. The answer to that question is basically this: if you are not in awe and fear at the presence of God in this place, then you probably don’t recognize your own sinfulness. Peter, James and John did. They knew they were not worthy to be in God’s presence. Neither are you or I.
But God, who is rich in mercy and grace, does not blast us away with the holiness of His presence. The cloud departed. The light dimmed back to normal. They saw only Jesus, and He said to them, “Rise, and do not fear.” As amazing as it is, God wants you to be in His presence. He hides Himself and the fulness of HIs glory, so that you may receive Him. He comes as an infant, as a child, a young man, as the prophet, as the Son of God who died on the cross. Our hymn this morning puts it well:
Glimpsed and gone the revelation,
They shall gain and keep its truth,
Not by building on the mountain
Any shrine or sacred booth,
But by following the Savior
Through the valley to the cross
And by testing faith’s resilience
Through betrayal, pain and loss. (LSB 416:2)
God gives you this picture of His glory for a very special purpose. You see, you are baptized in Him. His glory in the cross is your glory. The hidden king now hides in you by Word and Spirit. You are now the prince that is cloaked, giving mercy to the world because of Him. The world around us does not know or understand the wonder and glory of His Word and work for them, but you are now in their midst, shining the light of His glory to people near and far who desperately need to be redeemed from their sins. The author to the book of Hebrews put it like this:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1 ESV)
The cloud surrounds us even now. Angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, here and now in our midst. We look to the cross and death, and shine its message to this dark world. Rise, and don’t be afraid. Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.