Feb. 19, 2023

Prayer of the Day

O God, in the transfiguration of your Son you confirmed the mysteries of the faith by the witness of Moses and Elijah, and in the voice from the bright cloud declaring Jesus your beloved Son, you foreshadowed our adoption as your children. Make us heirs with Christ of your glory, and bring us to enjoy its fullness, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.


Exodus 24:12-18

12The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”
15Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.

Psalm 2

1Why are the nations | in an uproar?
  Why do the peoples mutter | empty threats?
2Why do the kings of the earth rise up in revolt, and the princes | plot together,
  against the Lord and against the | Lord’s anointed?
3“Let us break their | yoke,” they say;
  “let us cast off their | bonds from us.”
4God whose throne is in heav- | en is laughing;
  the Lord holds them | in derision. 
5Then in wrath God | speaks to them,
  and in rage fills | them with terror.
6“As for me, I have anoint- | ed my king
  upon Zion, my | holy mountain.”
7Let me announce the decree | of the Lord,
  who said to me, “You are my son; this day have I be- | gotten you.
8Ask of me, and I will give you the nations for | your inheritance
  and the ends of the earth for | your possession. 
9You shall crush them with an | iron rod
  and shatter them like a | piece of pottery.”
10And now, you | kings, be wise;
  be warned, you rulers | of the earth.
11Submit to the | Lord with fear,
  and with trembling | bow in worship;
12lest the Lord be angry, and you perish in a sudden | blaze of wrath.
  Happy are all who take ref- | uge in God!

2 Peter 1:16-21

16For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
19So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Matthew 17:1-9

1Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

Transfiguration  —  Duccio, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

For weeks we’ve been up on a mountain with crowds of Jesus’ new followers. We listened in as Jesus spoke about what it means to follow him. This morning we skip ahead in the story and go up a very different mountain with the inner group. There is no long sermon or speech. It has the form of a historical narrative, but its content is so otherworldly that it is hard for us to accept its historical authenticity. 

No matter how we read it, the story points us to mystery, a mystery beyond the reach of historical reconstruction or scientific verification. Scholars can talk about Jesus the historical figure. But none of it tells us anything about the mystery of Jesus’ as it was experienced by the community that grew up around him. The story of the transfiguration attempts to draw us into that mystery.  

The Gospel writer Matthew refers to what occurred on the mountain as a vision.  He does not mean an inner psychological experience. He does mean that the “seeing’ is not a natural function of ordinary eyes but is God-given. God grants the disciples the power to see what otherwise would have been invisible to mortal perception.

The inside troika, Peter, James, and John are asked to see before listening, to see past it all–Jesus’ words, his ministry, his teaching, his healing, his preaching, his friendships, his prayer, his wisdom. Jesus invites them now to see through and beyond all that. He invites them to see something that can be apprehended most accurately not by ear or eye, but by the heart and soul: his true identity. “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”

The transfiguration comes at a critical point in Jesus’ life, a point of major transition. Here he shifts from his active ministry among the people and toward Jerusalem, the place of his death and resurrection, the place where human and divine will intersect. And knowing how hard it would be for his disciples to understand and witness this, Jesus takes his closest disciples and heads up a mountain.  

There they come into the presence of God in a new way. Their hearts and souls are opened to see what their eyes can barely believe. Their friend and teacher, the very human Jesus, is transfigured before them. The appearance of his face changes.  His clothes become dazzling white. They sense the presence of Moses and Elijah. And God perceives their fear and responds by speaking to them. God wants them to begin to understand how this Jesus, fully human, is also fully divine.  

The story of the transfiguration of Christ functions, according to one writer [Henri Nouwen], as something of an icon. The transfiguration offers access through the gate of the visible to the mystery of the invisible. There, high on the mountain, the familiar face of their beloved friend and teacher is revealed in a new light, and in that light their hearts can hear the voice of God saying: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!”  

Icons have long been important to the Orthodox churches of the Christian family.  Painted in egg tempura on wood, these tools for prayer and liturgy most often depict scenes of Christ, Mary and the saints. Created according to rules handed down from generation to generation, icons are venerated as representations of the divine, windows through which the soul can see the realities of the kingdom of heaven. Their purpose is to pull one into the image in order to see through it and beyond it to the heart of God, to the reality of the great Mystery.

The story of the transfiguration becomes a luminous narrative icon, a painting in words that points beyond the text to the true reality of Christ, the light of the world.  Its aim is to help us see beyond Jesus of Nazareth, the Galilean, to see him radically transformed into the Son of God, the fulfillment of the law and the prophets. Only then will we begin to take in the foreshadowing of his resurrection and future glory.  

This moment on the mountain will sustain the disciples in the weeks ahead. We might assume it grounded Jesus once again in his identity and gave him what he needed has his ministry changed. Transfiguration Sunday is always celebrated the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. No matter where we are in the three-year cycle of assigned readings, we stop reading about Jesus’ teaching and healing and head up the mount of Transfiguration before beginning the Lenten journey. The vision of Jesus’ glory is meant to sustain us for the forty days.

It has been a bit strange really to remember where we were three years ago when we were reading these same verses, about to enter into the strangest and hardest Lent of my time as a pastor. And yet I am so grateful for all the glimpses of God’s glory that I and we collectively experienced before we closed the church. All sorts of icon moments and glimpses of God’s glory sustained our community. As we are about to embark on another Lent, I invite you to ponder for a few moments what glimpses of glory have sustained and will sustain you in faith: it might be a verse or story from scripture, a sacred song, relationships, or something in the natural world. Close your eyes if you’re comfortable and let something surface. Pause.

Give thanks for whatever came to the surface. Put it somewhere accessible in your heart or mind. The transfiguration is about God’s presence. God repeats the words spoken at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased,” and then God adds, “Listen to him!” We hear of the intimacy that marks Jesus’ relationship with God.  

The transfiguration is a means of grace, an event in which God is present. It is sacramental. How does this event shape Jesus’ first disciples? Peter offers to make three dwellings, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. He wants to make the event permanent. But the transfiguration, like whatever you came up with in your mind’s eye, cannot be made permanent. It is mystery. It is a glimpse. Peter is interrupted by the voice from the cloud. After God speaks, the disciples fall to the ground and are overcome with fear. Jesus touches them, they are healed. Jesus tells them, “Do not be afraid.”  

These are hard times in which to see clearly.  A murky human-made smog of dreams deferred, of violence, confusion and fear stings our eyes and blurs even what is closest to us. Where God would bring light, we linger in the darkness of ignorance and fear. Our reading from 2nd Peter this morning is speaking directly to us: “You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

God’s gift is in the transfiguration icon, the intense light that allows vision and insight. God permits us from time to time to see through to the heart of the matter.  God permits us to see purpose and future, hope and possibilities for meaningful action and participation. And God’s gift is that God is there, waiting to be seen.  God is the reality behind the icon. The challenge to us is to be committed enough and bold enough to keep our eyes open. Will we dare to look, to pass through the gate of the visible to the mystery of the invisible, and then to accept responsibility for everything we see. 

The truth is that every time we gather around the table for the Lord’s Supper, we enter into a bit of a mystery. I have studied scripture, church history, and numerous theologians, and still I am overwhelmed with the mysteries of both sacraments: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. How can water and a few words bestow such great gifts as forgiveness of sins and abundant life? How can these great gifts be given so freely through words and ordinary bread? Because Christ promised it would be so. God chooses to bestow God’s grace through these mysterious and marvelous sacraments. Baptism and Communion are means of grace. All of this is true, and I can explain it to some extent but when I try to expand on it I usually end up pausing and proclaiming—it’s a marvelous mystery. 

Like the Transfiguration, this meal is a glimpse and then it is over. Never was I so mindful of this as when on internship with campus ministry at Eastern Washington University. Every Saturday evening after worship I was responsible for disposing of the remaining elements. I dutifully went out the back door and poured the wine on the ground and broke up the bread for birds and other critters. Sometimes our gatherings were so wonderful that, like Peter, I wanted to create a marker, but disposing of the bread and wine was a reminder that we were meant to go back down the mountain and keep welcoming the reign of God. So it is for us in this place. After Communion we give thanks for the healing that springs forth abundantly from this table and ask God to renew our strength to do justice, love kindness, and journey humbly with you. 

Prayers of Intercession

Called together to follow Jesus, we pray for the church, the world, and all in need.

A brief silence.

Embolden your church as it witnesses to the majesty and mercy of your Son. Equip lay preachers, deacons, and pastors. Move us to share our stories of your faithfulness and forgiveness; may our lives proclaim your greatness. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Dwell with your whole creation, from the tallest mountain peak to the deepest valley. Bless the work of conservation organizations and protect vital habitats (locally threatened waters or lands may be named). Support the work of disaster relief agencies around the world. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Guide and give wisdom to all in authority: our mayor (name) and local leaders, our governor (name) and state legislators, our president (name) and national legislators. Bring freedom and justice to all nations. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Give shelter to those lacking safe homes. Spur communities to work for fair housing for all. Protect our neighbors whose dwellings do not keep out dangerous cold or heat; accompany with your touch those who are homebound, sick, or isolated (especially). Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Make us eager to receive your Word in scripture. Help us recognize Jesus’ voice in the needs of our neighbors; make us confident to follow the way of the cross. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.

Receive our thanksgiving for the holy ones who have guided us in faithfulness and gathered even the unlikely as your people. With our forebears in faith and all who have hoped in you, teach us to wait with courage until the promised day dawns. Merciful God,

receive our prayer.

We bring to you our needs and hopes, O God, trusting your wisdom and power revealed in Christ crucified.


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