Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
I am the firstborn children of firstborn child and am the first-born grandchild. Since Wednesday is my birthday, I guess it is appropriate to tell a story about my birth. The story is told that my grandparents were out of town when my mom went into labor. My grandmother told grandfather that if he did not get her home before I was born things were not going to go well for him. The story continues that he infamously said something to the fact that no child was going to change his life.
As I said, I was the first grandchild, and very shortly after being born I was ready to move in to my grandparents’ house. I had changed his life—I’m sure he did things he would never think of doing just to make me happy.
One of the things I find interesting about grandparents is that they all have interesting names. The grandparents I was speaking were nana and Poppop. Though nana has passed away, my kids now get to also spend time with my Poppop.
Some grandparents try to choose their names. But this is a very precarious situation. My Dad’s mom had it in her mind that she wanted to be called “Grandmama.” I guess she thought I was more impressionable than I was stubborn. All I got from “Grandmama” was “Maw.” What kind of name is Maw-but it stuck. So be careful grandparents when you try to pick names for your grandchildren to call you.
The names of our grandparents fascinate me. But we all have names and many of us have nicknames. Since we are celebrating my birth, when I was a child I thought my name was “you.” People would ask me what my name was, and I would say “You.” I imagine that’s kind of like the old Abbott and Costello routine, “Who’s On First.” (1:29-3:23) video
You know, names are important. I have a sense that is one of the reason that Jesus asked his followers what people called him. Matthew, writing about Jesus’ life, records this in ch 16, where Jesus and his closest followers traveling and then they stop and Jesus asks them in verse 15, “Who do you say that I am?"
What a question. These followers have been with Jesus for about 3 years, and now he takes a moment to stop and ask them. “Who do you say that I am?”
To this, Peter, one of his closest followers, said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of living God.”
Jesus is asking this question, What is my name? Who do you think I am? And Peter, in brief moment of brilliance, understands that Jesus is the savior, that Jesus is God. Peter is like the rest of us and is a little dense. Because just a couple moments later Peter messes up and Jesus sternly says to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me.”
Even though Peter named Jesus as the messiah, he still didn’t understand.
As important as names are, they don’t tell you everything about a person. I think about spending time with families who have lost a loved one. They don’t just tell you their mom’s name. They will begin to show you pictures and tell stories of who their mom was. They don’t want you just to know mom by her name. They want you to know mom as she truly was.
As a pastor you come in and you often don’t get to see people in more than one or two seasons of their lives. And often when you officiate a funeral, you have only been that person’s pastor during one season of their life. So it is a wonderful joy to be able to hear the stories that people have to share. To experience the life of another through pictures and stories.
Jesus wanted his followers to really understand who he was, but this whole “what is my name” thing just wasn’t enough. So, that brings us to today. In today’s scripture passage Jesus shows, in a new way, his followers who he is. In religious circles, this is often referred to as the transfiguration. It happens six days after Jesus first asking his followers what his name was.
We read this in Matthew 17:1-9:
17 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain. 2 He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.
You see, Jesus is showing them something. This is much more than him just asking what people call him. Jesus is showing them something more than just a name.
3 Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. 4 Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” 6 Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe.
7 But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” 8 When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Don’t tell anybody about the vision until the Human One[a] is raised from the dead.”
This is one of those things that’s hard believe. That Pater and James and John and Jesus walked up on a mountain. That Jesus was transformed in some way and that Moses and Elijah (two Old Testament prophets) join them. Then from a bright cloud comes the voice of God and affirms who Jesus is.
For us it is easy to focus on the special effects of this scene. It is easy to focus on the technical aspects of this transfiguration or transformation of Jesus. We are ones that demand a high price in special effects in our movies. Movie studios spend an amazing amount of money on special effects to give us movies that are more realistic than real life. I am amazed when you look back at older movies how they were able do special effect without computer-generated imagery (you know CGI).
Here Jesus is, well before Hollywood pays for special effects, and we see this amazing special effect. For us, it’s easy to get focused on that. Scholars may argue if really happened or not. Or if this is just some literary license that Matthew uses to make Jesus look good. But if we focus on that, we end up missing the point. The point of this story is not the lights and camera, but what this says about Jesus.
Jesus is not just some moral human being. Jesus is not some famous teacher that people can learn from. Jesus is not just a prophet as other religion might argue. In this scene, we see that Jesus is the Divine—we see that Jesus is God. He is the source and the purpose of life. In the transfiguration we see that Jesus is not just a man, but Jesus is God.
This Jesus is the reason that Christians gather around the world today to worship. This Jesus is the reason that we will observe Lent. The season of Lent begins on Wednesday, and this Jesus is the reason we pause from our daily routines to remember him and turn toward God.
It’s not about the special effects, it is about that in this event, Jesus is made personally real to Peter, James, and John, and in this even Jesus is made personally real to us because we get to glimpse Jesus for who he really is.
As I mentioned, Lent begins on Wednesday with Ash Wednesday. We will meet at Concord UMC, just about 4 miles from here down Hwy 30. And at this time, we will continue this conversation about who Jesus is. We will continue this conversation about what Jesus says about himself.
Throughout Lent we are going to gather various churches around the county explore more about Jesus. I hope you will join us. We are going to explore the “I Am” statements of Jesus – those times when Jesus stops to tell people “I am …”
I think that this story of the transfiguration is a perfect example of one of things Jesus tells us, but I hope you will come and explore more. Jesus is more than a name, and in this story and those we will discuss through Lent we see a fuller picture of who Jesus is.
When we have a fuller picture, our lives can be changed. Peter, James, and John had their lives changed in this encounter with Jesus, and I think that if you allow yourself to encounter Jesus during this season of lent you too can experience life change.
While we are focusing on who Jesus says he is during our Wednesday Lenten services will also entering a new message series at the church too. During this time we focus on the Journey of our Souls. Each week we will look explore one practical thing you can do to help your soul, to help you grow closer to God. I pray this time is beneficial and a blessing for you.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.