The Times They Are a Changin'

Matthew 17:1-9

Preached on Feb. 26, 2017

 

Benjamin Franklin once said: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”  I propose adding a third thing that is certain:  CHANGE.

In life, there is constant change—nothing stays the same. 

Prices go up; Children grow up; technology speeds up, as we get older, we slow down.

We know that change is a part of life, and yet, by our human nature, we resist it.

We resist change because we fear change because we don’t know what is coming.  Fear of the unknown is one of human’s top fears because the mind tells us that in order to move forward, we must know what is waiting for us, because, if we don’t know, then we are not in control. 

Therefore we often find ourselves caught in between knowing that things have to change yet wanting everything to stay the same.

 

Peter knew this place well. 

He understood that Jesus was the Messiah, but when Jesus said he must go to Jerusalem and be killed, and then be raised from the dead, Peter said, “God forbid it, Lord!  This must never happen to you.”  Jesus showed no sympathy, but said to Peter, “You are a stumbling block; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

Jesus was right—Peter was human and he feared change.  And his fear was standing in the way of Jesus’ ministry; it was a stumbling block. 

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” 

 

In essence, Jesus was saying what singer/songwriter and recent recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature Bob Dylan sings, “you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a changin’”…

 

Today’s Gospel reading begins, “Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain.”  There Jesus is transfigured—he is changed in appearance and filled with God’s glory so much so that he glowed; his clothes were dazzling white.  It was mysterious.  And yet Peter knew exactly what it meant…it meant that Jesus would shine in resurrection glory, but first he would have to die; it meant that they all would have to leave this heavenly mountain and go through the valley of the shadow of death below; It meant CHANGE.  And Peter was afraid and so he said, “it is good for us to be here”…I imagine he was thinking, “it is good for us to be right here, where it is familiar and known and safe and filled with light and love and where Jesus is with us, where grace is visible and faith is easy.  Don’t make me go into the valley, where it is unfamiliar and unknown, and scary and dark, where love is in short supply, where it is hard to see grace, find Jesus and have faith.  It is good for us to be here, and so I will build tents, so we can stay right here.”

 

Today is Transfiguration Sunday—every year we mark Transfiguration with the reading of this story. 

Transfiguration is from the greek word metamorphóō, which is the root of the English term "metamorphosis", a change in form or appearance, a transformation.

This kind of change—real transformation—takes time.  It is a process. 

 

Transfiguration Sunday marks the change between the season of Christmas and Epiphany (when we celebrate Jesus’ birth and his epiphany light that shines through us) and the season of Lent, which starts on Wed. (when we begin the journey with Jesus to the cross to mark his death). We know we will end up at Easter on April 16 and celebrate his resurrection.  But to get there, we have to go through Lent. 

We can’t go around Lent; we can’t go over or under the cross; we have to go through the crucifixion and death and the valley of the shadow of death.  We have to walk with Jesus through Lent.  That means, we have to admit that something in our lives might need to die in order for something new to be born.  We have to admit that something in our lives may need to end, in order for something new to begin.  We have to allow ourselves to be changed.  We have to go through Lent.  Lent is 40 days long.   Transformation is a process.  Change takes time. 

Change, by definition, is holding onto what you know and looking toward what you don’t know.  And that’s why it is so difficult.  Change puts you in a place you don’t want to be—a place of the unknown, unresolved, and uncontrollable.  Change creates a sense of grief—because you know what you are leaving, but you don’t yet know what you are gaining yet.  

Often change rocks our world.  Change demands we do different or think different, but sometimes that happens before we are ready or understand why change is necessary.   (Karoline Lewis, Working Preacher)

Like Peter, we find ourselves caught in between knowing that things have to change yet wanting everything to stay the same.  We know “the times they are a changin’,” and while we are afraid to sink like a stone, we are not ready to start swimming. 

 

Transfiguration marks the beginning of a new season, a new chapter in our faith story.

The Transfiguration insists that change is difficult, but needed. 

The Transfiguration is that threshold moment between what was and what is to come,

That moment when you know change has to happen but you are not quite ready.

That moment when you are desperate to hold on, yet you know you have to let go.   

As Laga Gaga says, “That moment when you have a hundred million reasons to walk away but you just need one good one to stay.”

 

That moment when your 16-year old son wants to take the car for a date with his girlfriend, and you want him to stay home with you and play legos.

That moment when your parents move you into your college dorm, and you wave goodbye with a smile on your face, but with fear in your heart.

That moment when you know your marriage is over, but you are afraid to leave.

That moment when you retire with excitement of what will come and anxiety about what you are leaving behind.  

That moment when you know you can no longer take care of your beloved spouse by yourself. 

 

The Transfiguration marks that threshold moment between what was and what is to come.

And we wonder if we are ready, if we are prepared, if we can handle it. 

And like Peter, we are afraid, and so we say, “It is good for us to be here….it is good for us to be right here, where it is familiar and known and safe and filled with light and love and where Jesus is with us, where grace is visible and faith is easy.  Don’t make me go into the valley, where it is unfamiliar and unknown, and scary and dark, where love is in short supply, where it is hard to see grace, find Jesus and have faith.  It is good for us to be here….even though we know it really isn’t. 

 

On the mountain that day, from the cloud comes the voice of God who interrupts Peter’s plea, saying “This is my Son, listen to him.”

The disciples were overcome by fear.  But Jesus touched them and said—“Get up and do not be afraid.”    Jesus promises that whether on high mountaintops or in low dark valleys, he will be with them.  Always.    

 

That’s the story of the Transfiguration.  We celebrate it every year. Why is it so important to our faith journey?  Because we are afraid of change.  We know that change is necessary—good even—but still it is hard to accept.  And so we resist change and the blessings that can come from it. 

God knows that about us. 

And so God speaks a powerful truth to us:  “This is my Son.  Listen to him.”

And Jesus says to us, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

Get up.  Get going.  Embrace change.  Step out in faith.  Be transformed. 

And remember: 

The times may be a changin’, but my promise to be with you stays the same.  Always.  Always.  Always. 

 

Thanks be to God!  Amen.