Luke 9:28-36
Pastor Drew Williams

When I was young, my favorite toys to play with were Legos. There’s something about getting a new Lego set, opening the box, pulling out all the pieces, and then following the instructions to make the thing that is on the front of the box. And after you’ve completed it, there’s this sense of accomplishment. Look at what I made! It’s so cool!

But the part that I liked even more was when we would add the pieces into our huge of trunk of Lego pieces, expanding the pool to pull from. And my brother and I would dump out all the Legos into the huge pile and we would just spend HOURS combing through it and pulling out pieces and creating something unique, not following any instructions.

We made battle scenes, and pirate ships, and castles, and space rockets. We made theme parks and downtown areas. We made beachside resorts and dense jungles with hidden temples.

And I would spend HOURS creating these scenes, placing the little pieces around our room, or displayed on a desk, and I would position the little people to be in mid-action to seem like they were running or fighting or swimming. I wanted it to look like one of the dioramas on display at the Lego store.

And when I was finished, I would sit back and marvel at my accomplishment. It was so cool. It was complete. It represented my imagination of the different characters and scenes played out in front of me and frozen in time.

Maybe you’ve experienced this type of pride at some point in your life, where you sit back and marvel at what you’ve done. It’s such a sense of accomplishment, you want to memorialize the moment somehow. You want to preserve the record of what you completed so that you can return to this feeling of success whenever you want.

Today’s Jesus story is going to look at this natural instinct that we have to create memorials to our achievements. Is this compatible with a relationship with Jesus? Or is there something more that Jesus invites us into?

Let’s read Luke 9:28-36:

So our passage starts with the phrase, “about eight days after Jesus said this…” which causes us to ask, “after Jesus said WHAT?”

Well, in last week’s passage, Pastor Chris took us through the story where Jesus’ disciples make a connection that Jesus is actually the Messiah. He’s actually the king and savior that Israel has been waiting for! He’s not just a good teacher; he’s not just a healer and miracle worker; he’s not just a prophet; he’s actually the Messiah.

But the problem is, they still have an image in their own minds as to what that means. So Jesus has to continue the process of revealing himself to them. He has to show them that the WAY that he has come to save and lead them is different than their preconceptions of conquering and fighting and winning and leading and ruling.

Jesus’ way is the way of self-giving sacrifice and love, and anyone who wants to follow him and experience the abundant life he’s offering will learn to live in the same downward, self-giving, sacrificial way.

So, about eight days after Jesus said THAT, he takes his three closest friends, Peter, James, and John, and they go away for some private prayer time. One thing we should note is that anytime Luke brings special attention to Jesus going away to pray is an introduction to a new stage in Jesus’ ministry. So this story is a turning point as we follow Jesus through Luke’s gospel. This is the transition moment from Jesus’ time of spreading the good news of God’s inbreaking kingdom, shown in the miracles that restore and reconcile people and communities, and it’s turning now to Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.

So, while Jesus is praying, and while the disciples are apparently pretending to pray but are really falling asleep, there is a transformation that occurs, and Jesus’ appearance changes. That’s where we get the name for this section: the transfiguration. It’s not the nature of Jesus that transforms, but rather it’s his appearance that transforms. His face changes somehow, and his clothes become dazzling white.

We have to remember how uncommon it was in the ancient world to see brilliantly bleached clothing, or anything pure white, for that matter. The only ones who could afford to completely clean away all the dust and dirt from normal everyday life were royalty and the exceedingly rich. And throughout the gospel of Luke, and his next book, Acts, clothes are a signifier of status. So these dazzling clothes are meant to make us realize they are a result of heavenly glory being revealed.

In fact, in the Jewish traditional thought of the Old Testament and the first century, your countenance, or your demeanor, the way you present yourself to others through your appearance and personality, were a MIRROR of your heart. If you dress to be intimidating and always seem to be angry or standoff-ish, then people would assume that is revealing your inward character. On the other hand, if you dress and act seductively or flashy to draw attention, then people would make assumptions about your character based on that.

We still do that today, don’t we? Our first impressions of who someone is like are all based on their appearance and demeanor. And in the church, we look at things like how people manifest the fruit of the Spirit to make a judgment call on their relationship with God. If someone is constantly impatient and demeaning, we might assume their faith and submission to God is in a different state than someone who is humble and compassionate.

In Jesus’ day, people felt the same way, and so this description of Jesus’ appearance changing is a description from the disciples’ point of view of how Jesus’ inner being was being made even more transparent to Peter, James, and John.

Jesus had just spent a couple years with his disciples, revealing to them what God is like through his actions and teaching, and now he’s fully revealing the character of God through even his countenance.

But before Peter, James, and John can even comprehend what they are seeing, they suddenly see two companions appear with Jesus.

It’s Moses and Elijah, giants of the Jewish faith and pillars of the Old Testament. Together, they represent the “Law and the Prophets” that Jesus has mentioned multiple times that he has come to fulfill and bring to completion.

Moses is traditionally thought of as the author of the first five books of the Jewish scriptures, the Torah: the Law. He’s the one that was rescued from death as a baby, graciously raised in the palace of Pharoah, and has a fall from grace when he murders a man and then runs away. God chooses to restore him and use him as the humble leader to lead his people out of slavery: the Exodus, where Israel is brought out of their state of oppression and brought into a new life and the promised land.

Elijah is one of the most famous prophets, who worked to call God’s people away from Baal worship and back to faithful worship of Yahweh. He’s also one of two men in the Old Testament that didn’t die but was whisked away by God in a chariot of fire, leaving the mantle of carrying on his work with his disciple, Elisha.

These are the two people who appear in “glorious splendor” with Jesus, manifesting the same dazzling appearance and weighty presence that comes with the presence of God. And they are talking with Jesus about his “departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.” Some translations actually say they are speaking with Jesus about his “death,” but the actual Greek word used by Luke is “exodos,” showing us that what Jesus does in his crucifixion and resurrection is actually the moment that he fulfills God’s plan of rescue and recommissioning. Jesus completes the exodus of bringing people from the oppression of sin and death into the new abundant life under the kingship of God. And it’s also the re-commissioning of his people to live a new life, not serving our old ways of self and power, but serving God’s ways of service and sacrifice and compassion and healing.

So Moses and Elijah are standing there with Jesus, discussing the exodus he is about to complete, saving people from death and sending them into new life. Peter, James, and John are now fully awake, amazed at the brightly shining scene in front of them. Even though they’ve spent a few years with Jesus, and they’ve seen him do incredible things, and they’ve joined him on incredible projects… it’s as if they are just seeing him truly for the first time.

But this transfiguration doesn’t discount all that came before. No, it takes all they have seen and learned about Jesus and points forward to what he is still yet to do. It’s as if Jesus is telling them, “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

And just as Jesus’ two companions are about to leave, Peter starts to fumble with his words. Our text tells us that “he didn’t know what he was saying,” or “he didn’t know what else to say.” Peter is the one who can never seem to be at ease with a moment of silence, right?

Do you know anyone like that? Who gets uncomfortable with breaks in the conversation, so they feel compelled to fill it with their own voice, but sometimes they just fill it with something nonsensical?

I don’t know if that’s exactly what was happening with Peter, but he’s responding to the scene he’s witnessing: brilliant, god-like figures gathered together. And in the ancient world, deities were thought to need physical shelters where they manifested. There was something special about this place, so humans were supposed to build a shrine of some sort to memorialize the moment and continue to experience the presence of what happened. Their acts of worship, through building the memorial and showing up regularly, were meant to help them connect with the transcendent thing that had happened there.

So Peter is just operating out of the context that he’s grown up in. Something incredible has happened. Something unexplainable. Something from God. Let’s build a shrine and maybe we can capture a fraction of the glory and power. Maybe that will make God happy with us, to celebrate this thing he did by memorializing it.

This isn’t just Peter’s reaction. This is a human tendency, isn’t it? We have an obsession with memorializing the past. And there is an aspect of that that is good and right. It’s good to remember the past. It’s good to learn from what happened before, so that we can build upon those who came before us, and so that we can learn from the mistakes that have already happened.

And memorials keep us rooted in big moments, reminding us that our whole life experience isn’t just dictated by however our emotional state is on any certain day. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries to be reminded of the gift of the people and relationships we have. People celebrate milestones to be reminded of how far they have come since first arriving at a company, or since beating an addiction.

We memorialize things in our society’s past so that we don’t fall into the arrogance of thinking that our personal experience of life is the only one or even the most important one. We remember generations who have come before to help us be grateful for the sacrifices and steps they made to make our life possible. We celebrate our ancestors who moved to a new country, or who broke a generational trend of debt or addiction. We celebrate the people who laid the foundations of our church, or who helped establish our family’s connection to an area.

But the shadow side that comes with this memorializing is that it places us in the position of control and postures us looking to the past. We like to memorialize things because it gives us a sense of accomplishment. Look at what we’ve DONE.

It gives us a sense of completion, and that can make us feel like we don’t have to keep pressing forward. Look at how far we’ve come; life is good here. Let’s remember that big moment that happen and give it our attention and thanks, but only on the few occasions that we gather back at this memorial. The rest of the time is ours. We can live our life the way we want.

Building shrines help us keep God in a box. Isn’t God so great! Look at all the amazing things he has done and how he’s impacted my life! And then we close our “time of worship” and go back to the rest of our life, leaving God behind in his safe, little shelter we created for him. That way, we know where he is when we need him.

Our life is good enough most of the time, and whenever it isn’t, we know where to find God.

But Jesus came to declare and reveal the Kingdom of God, not the “kingdom of good enough”! And Peter’s reaction to try and build a shrine, to build a memorial, means he doesn’t fully get it yet. Even though in the last passage, they all realized and confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, Peter still calls him “Master” in our passage. He doesn’t understand what’s going on. He doesn’t understand Jesus, so he reverts to the categories and boxes that he knew before so that he can have some semblance of knowing what’s going on.

That’s why we love to think of Jesus as a Savior. Because we understand that image. All of us have needed saving before, whether it was when we were very young and we got stuck in a tree, or couldn’t tie our shoes yet, or whether we were stranded on the side of the road waiting for the tow truck.

A Savior is the person we look for when we are in need. When we are in trouble. When we are hurt or lost. And once that savior has come and saved us, then we are able to get back on the path of our life that we had set out on before the trouble showed up.

We thank our savior, and then step forward, leaving them in our past. Sometimes we even remember them fondly, memorializing them in the stories we tell to our friends and family.

And we treat Jesus the same way! We want a memorial to celebrate, but Jesus gives us a MISSION to join him on! He looks at us and says, “you think being saved was good? You ain’t seen nothing yet!”

And that’s the moment that we find Peter in as he’s blabbering away about building shelters for Jesus and Moses and Elijah. It’s my favorite moment in this passage. Peter is talking about his plan to build something that they can gather people at, and then the full glory and presence of God appears as a cloud envelopes them. And they were “afraid” as they entered the cloud.

Peter is blabbering away and God just shuts him up and says, “This is my Son, the chosen one. Listen to him.”

And then all of sudden, Jesus is the only one standing there, making it very clear to the disciples who exactly this voice was referring to. Jesus is the Son, the chosen one. And the one thing that the voice of God has commanded them to do is NOT to build a memorial, not to create an event to worship Jesus, but to LISTEN to him.

When I first read this passage, one thing that stuck out to me was how quickly Peter wanted to respond to the incredible scene he witnessed. And that’s good, right? There’s Jesus, shining brighter than anything we’ve ever seen; there’s Moses, the great patriarch; there’s Elijah, the great prophet. Let’s build them three shelters, one for each of them.

Peter’s desire to respond was right on, but the way he was responding showed that he didn’t fully understand who Jesus was. He was putting Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah, men used by God.

But Jesus is more than we think. And following him involves MORE than we can give.

Peter wanted to place Jesus ALONGSIDE the others, and we do the same thing, don’t we? We love Jesus, we honor Jesus, and we worship Jesus, but we place him alongside the other important things in our life. We put him in his own special booth next to the booths for our family, and our financial goals. He’s right there in a special shrine next to the shrine we have for our political ideals and our philosophical values and our pursuit for influence and security. We give him his very own box on our to-do list, showing how much we prioritize him, right next to the boxes we have for the other things we focus on in our life.

And when we treat Jesus as one of the PARTS of our life, it downgrades the depth of our discipleship to him. When we view Jesus as a great teacher to learn from, or a savior to worship, it’s easy to make our faith a PART of our life, and keep it relegated to Sunday morning.

That’s why we love to build a memorial to Jesus, because we subconsciously think God is THERE, so we can decide when to go to him, and when to leave him behind in his little box.

And here’s the big difference between the law and the gospel. When our faith is based on Law, we make our faith about how well WE are following Jesus. How well are WE showing up on a weekly basis? How well are we doing the WORKS we’re “supposed” to do?

And no wonder we go through seasons of feeling super disconnected to God! No wonder we have seasons where we don’t know “where” God is, because we can’t feel him anymore. Because when our faith is about the thing we built, but then the building isn’t as full as it used to be, it doesn’t seem as real or powerful anymore. When our faith is about the times we were “doing stuff for Jesus” and felt super pumped up, then it rises and falls based on how we feel.

Making Jesus one part of our life puts the control back in our hands, but it also puts the pressure back on us as well to keep our faith going. That’s called Law. And it actually keeps us separated from the restoration life that Jesus offers in the Kingdom of God.

But here’s the Gospel; here’s the good news: Jesus is more than we think. And following him involves more than WE can give.

The good news is that Jesus looks at what we’ve built, the ways we’ve followed him, and he says, “you ain’t seen nothing yet!”

You think you KNOW Jesus? You ain’t seen nothing yet! His grace is bigger than you can imagine because you’re not done needing it! And he’s going to keep giving it!

You think Jesus is a good teacher? You ain’t seen nothing yet! He’s actually KING, and his influence has the power to FREE you from bondage, not just “teach” you how to live better.

You think he’s a savior? You ain’t seen nothing yet! His rescue is actually HEALING and restoration. He doesn’t just pull us out of danger; he TRANSFORMS darkness and brokenness into beauty and light.

You think he’s done great things in your life and in our church? You ain’t seen nothing yet! His plans are still going! He’s still inviting us to join him in mission every single day to take part in his work of restoration and reconciliation.

We don’t just gather to remember what he HAS done and then go back to our lives with a new burden of how to try and live better. That’s Law. The gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, is his grace. And just when we think we’ve received his grace, Jesus says You ain’t seen nothing yet! and offers us grace again and again, showing us the life of forgiveness and gratitude that we GET to experience and share with others.

Isn’t that good news? To me, it feels like such better news than the idea of making my faith about whether or not I’ve gotten a good attendance record this past year. But I also don’t want us to get pumped up and respond like Peter and try and DO something super quickly just because we heard an encouraging message. Let’s not miss the important command that God gives as the response to the revelation of who Jesus is.

He says, “This is my Son. LISTEN to him.”

Grace is a gift to be received, and when we receive it, it takes root in our heart and begins to grow and produce fruit in our lives. But Grace isn’t a thing that is given to us through our attendance at church services. The word of God that grows into the kingdom life that Jesus offers isn’t just something we get once a week.

We can’t have our experience with God mediated through sermons, Bible studies, and other things that we normally think of when we think of “church.” Here’s why, it’s too easy to sit back from the sermon or the Bible study and critique it at arm’s length. And we decide it’s merits based on whether or not it “speaks to us.” And then we’re back at the spot where our faith, and our experience of God, is based on how we FEEL on any given day.

But if Jesus is truly God, and if he is truly offering a way of life that brings wholeness and beauty to the whole of creation, then our discipleship to him can’t just be in a box that we encounter when we feel like it. That will never allow us to accept his invitation of daily stepping into the wonder of his restoration life.

So what should we DO? Well, let’s follow the voice of God that told Peter, “Listen to him.”

I think we need to develop a DESIRE to meet with God daily. We need to develop our ear to hear from him.

So I want to challenge you to commit to listening prayer every day this week. And then write down what you hear.

Now, our Grace family is full of lots of good Lutherans, which means that we might not really know what I mean by “listening prayer.” Things that are experiential or subjective are sometimes not taught to us, and therefore they can sometimes seem untrustworthy.

But we don’t need to be intimidated by this. Listening prayer is just that: talking with God in prayer, but then stopping to listen, rather than just filling all the space with our own voice. This is a practice that I have struggled with for a long time, so I have done a lot of research and practice with it. That doesn’t mean that I’m any further along on this journey, but I say that just to mention that I have gathered a couple different resources that have been very helpful to me, and I’d be happy to share them with you if you’d like. Just let me know and I can give them to you.

But here’s one simple example that might help you get started: It’s called interactive gratitude. The process is simple, all you do is think of a few things that you’re grateful for, maybe no more than three. And write them down. Maybe it’s helpful for you to write it like a letter, “Dear God, I’m grateful for…whatever it is that comes to your mind.”

Or maybe fully writing out a letter isn’t how your brain works, and you’d rather write them in a bullet list. That’s fine too!

The important step comes next, where you ask God how he wants to respond to your gratitude. Read your list, and then write down how God would answer you. Maybe you said, “God, I’m grateful for the beautiful weather today.” And then as you consider how God might answer you, you write down, “Dear child, I’m glad you slowed down enough to enjoy the weather today. It’s one of the small gifts I was happy to give you today.”

Or maybe your bullet point list has the word “lunch” on it, because you had a good lunch with friends, and you’re grateful for that. And as you consider how God might respond to your gratitude, you write down “relationships are a gift” and “food creates memories” as you reflect on the fact that God uses simple things like meals to strengthen the bonds between people.

And it can be as simple as that. Listening to God in prayer, asking him to respond to your thoughts. Writing down the impressions you get. And at the end of the week, I wonder if your desire to connect with God has grown. I wonder if your ability to hear his voice in your everyday has strengthened.

But there’s one big red flag that some of you might have noticed. How do I know I’m hearing God and not just making it all up?!

Great question! And a very real consideration. But there’s one step from our text that I haven’t looked at yet, because the English translation doesn’t make it clear to us. When the voice of God speaks from the cloud saying, “Listen to him,” the verb for “listen” is a second-person plural verb. It could also be translated, “Y’all listen to him.”

Listening to God, following Jesus, has never been meant to be a personal activity that we do in private. We are meant to follow Jesus in community, and we are commanded to listen to him in community as well.

So that means that we GET to share what we hear from God! Not only is this a good way to encourage others, but it’s a great way to practice humble submission to our community to help us discern when God is speaking to us. When we invite others into the process, it helps us say, “I’m not sure if this was God or my overactive imagination, but I’m leaning on the family of God to help me discern.”

Megan and I do this with each other from time to time. I might write down some things I’m grateful for, and then prayerfully consider how God would respond to that if he was sitting across from me and speaking, and I’ll write that down. And then I’ll share it with Megan, or someone else I trust. No big expectations, I’m not trying to write down my own Gospel to add to the Bible. I’m just listening in prayer and writing down what God would say as my loving father and compassionate king.

And that usually leads to a moment of reflection and gratitude that Megan and I get to share together. “You’re right, that lunch with those friends WAS a gift from God. Wow, he’s a good father!”

It increases our faith, increases our gratitude, and makes it easier to spot him at work in the future. And it increases my desire to learn from him more and listen to him more and more.

So that’s why I want to encourage you to try that this week. Commit to listening prayer every day this week. Pick a time that works for you. And then write down what you learn.

Because Jesus is MORE than we think. The life he offers is more than we have experienced. The grace he gives is bigger than we know. The plans he has for us are still in process, and we haven’t seen nothing yet! And that’s good news.