Sermon Seeds: Chosen
Sunday, February 27, 2022
Transfiguration Sunday Year C
(Liturgical Color: White or Green)
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
Grace Emerged (Click here for the series overview.)
By Cheryl Lindsay
There’s something compelling about being chosen. At the same time, anyone who has experienced the agony of being the last one selected to a team on the playground knows the opposite side of that coin. For some, being chosen brings feelings of relief from the possibility of being excluded or being the last one to be considered. Being chosen means being seen, acknowledged, and wanted. Does it mean belonging? It can seem that way on the surface, but circumstances can create a different reality. Chosen can, in some instances, represent a form of tokenism that allows a box to be checked without real community being formed.
This notion of being chosen can represent favoritism at its worst. Favor is withheld from one group in order to disproportionately benefit another. Chosen equates special, privileged, and valued under that framework, and not being chosen devalues, deprives, and depresses. Reconciling this form of chosenness means ignoring the plight of others at best or justifying it at worst.
Fortunately, there is another form and meaning of being chosen for us to consider.
The Bible is full of characters who have been chosen in some way. These folkx have been given an assignment or role to fulfill. The lectionary passage from Exodus centers on a pivotal moment with Moses, the adopted son of Pharaoh who breaks from his inheritance and becomes the primary advocate, leader, and liberator of his people. Moses serves as leader in all spheres of life. He initiates the protest and resistance to the tyranny of Pharaoh. There is a reason Harriet Tubman, who led hundreds of enslaved persons out of bondage, was commonly referred to as “Black Moses.” Her story mimics the early part of Moses’ journey as a leader of a people who had to be extracted from chains and taken on a path to freedom. Moses led them through the red sea and across the desert; he endured the willfulness, rejection, and murmuring of the people. Moses had direct access to God, but he needed help in communicating God’s message to a people weary of a period of extended hardship and sacrifice that had no end in sight. After two full years of life under pandemic, we can enjoy a greater degree of empathy with both Moses and the people who followed him. Constant uncertainty takes its toll on everyone and manifests in responses unimagined in “normal” times.
The gospel passage introduces another familiar character from the ancient narrative. Elijah wore the mantle of prophet. He too spoke truth to power and emerged as a leader among the children of the covenant. The people were chosen for the covenant. Often, that relationship has been described as one with special benefits and favor. But, a covenant is an agreement that reflects some degree of mutuality. A covenant says less about one party and their standing as an independent entity than it does the nature of the relationship between the participants of the agreement. The people were chosen for a particular relationship with the Holy One that involved roles and responsibilities, terms and benefits, expectations and promises.
Being chosen aligns with purpose. The biblical narrative provides the testimony that everyone who is chosen, whether individual, community, or nation, has a given role to play. Their chosenness is coupled with a purpose they are uniquely called, equipped, and empowered to fulfill.
Jesus chooses Peter, John, and James for the experience detailed in the focus scripture. It’s been a few days since he delivered the Sermon on the Plain to a crowd of disciples. His ministry is launching in earnest. He had just called these disciples so they were part of the early launch. The three would become pivotal leaders in this burgeoning movement. Eventually, they will be called to lead it without the daily, physical presence of Jesus. They will have to chart the direction, proclaim the good news, and even identify the next generation of leaders. The mantle of leadership will one day be theirs. That day is to come but it is not yet in view.
This is still an early day in their journey with Jesus. They have not encountered much resistance to the movement. They still don’t quite understand what’s happening, who Jesus fully is, and what will be required of them. If this was a corporate job, this time might be classified as their orientation or review period. They are getting acclimated to this new life that they have left everything behind in order to join. Their work hasn’t begun in earnest yet.
On this day, they get a glimpse. They see Jesus in all his glory. They have been moved from fulfilling their occupational pursuits in fishing boats to meeting people on the plain. Now, they ascend to a higher place in order to receive a private revelation. They were chosen for it.
But, what is the purpose behind it?
Is it just to see Jesus in all his glory? Is it to give them a sense of who they are really companioning with in this new journey? Is it to provide them a memory to sustain them when things turn in the ministry and life of Jesus…or, eventually, their own?
If that were the case, it’s hard to account for the presence of Moses and Elijah. They are not equal to Jesus nor do they necessarily validate his transfigured state by their glorious appearance. Moses does have that moment the Exodus passage chronicles where the glory of the Holy One reflected from his skin and illuminated his presence. Elijah’s glory story revolves around him being taken up to heaven in the presence of his chosen successor and disciple.
Whatever the case, the experience is a good one. They are so blessed by it that Peter makes the suggestion that they remain in this place. He anticipates the letdown of resuming the journey. The mountaintop view is breathtaking, and he laments its end.
When they return to the plain, Luke’s account confronts them with a need that the disciples left behind cannot meet. There’s a stark contrast between the revealed glory and the lived reality. The disciples aren’t ready…not yet. There’s more work to be done. And, they have been chosen to do it.
I have come to believe that the point of the transfiguration was not for the disciples to see Jesus in light of Moses and Elijah. Rather, the purpose of this moment was for the disciples to see themselves, their ministry, and–most importantly–their relationship to Jesus in light of Moses and Elijah. Like those two prophets and leaders before them, they are chosen for purposes. They will be challenged and discouraged. They will have to cultivate and nurture the leadership of others while still leading a movement in the earliest stages. They will make mistakes and endure moments of weakness. Elijah had a panic attack and ran from the purpose of God. Moses forgot the source of his power and assumed glory for himself rather than reflect it back to the One who sent him. Peter will act recklessly and deny his friendship with Jesus. James and John will jockey for position rather than humbly and gratefully take the place set for them. There will be challenges and lows beyond their imagination.
Still, they are chosen for this. They are chosen to companion with Jesus. They are chosen to have this moment. They are chosen not only as disciples but as leaders. But, there is a purpose for their chosenness. If it were all merely for their own benefit, they could stay. If the point was to bless them alone, they could remain outside the tents that Peter wanted to build. It’s tempting to stay by the tent.
Moses’ mentee, Joshua, had a habit while serving in the desert. Whenever Moses would go into the Tent of Meeting to be in the presence of God, Joshua was charged to stand outside the tent as the people stood in the entrances of their own tents. But, Joshua stayed by the tent even when Moses had other assignments. I suppose that fortified him and prepared him for the time that he would assume the mantle of leadership. Elisha, a disciple of Elijah, witnessed that moment when Elijah was taken up in glory. That’s what this moment is for Peter, James, and John with the One they followed. It’s also an invitation to see themselves as the Joshua and Elisha of their time so that they would prepare themselves to pick up the mantle when the time comes.
Preparation doesn’t come on the mountaintop. That experience is one to enjoy, celebrate, and treasure. The work awaits below. The two are tethered together in mutuality. They, and we as followers of Jesus Christ, are chosen for them both.
Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent:
The 33rd General Synod adopted a Resolution to Recognize the United Nations International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024). As part of its implementation, Sermon and Weekly Seeds offers Reflection from Voices of People of African Descent related to the season or overall theme for additional consideration in sermon preparation and for individual and congregational study.
Augustine on the Transfiguration
For further reflection:
“Repentance can become a very, very deep phenomenon in you if you understand the responsibility. Then even a small thing, if it becomes a repentance not just verbal, not just on the surface; if it goes deep to the roots, if you repent from the roots; if your whole being shakes and trembles and cries, and tears come out; not only out of your eyes but out of every cell of your body, then repentance can become a transfiguration.”— Osho
“Most of us have developed a fairly extensive vocabulary for describing pain, as though the journal were a doctor requiring much detail to make the correct diagnosis. The roundness of the spiritual journey cannot be expressed without developing an equally extensive vocabulary for talking to ourselves and others about the nature of wonder, joy, ecstasy, love, transfiguration.” — Christina Baldwin
“The Lord is more constant and far more extravagant than it seems to imply. Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see. Only, who could have the courage to see it?” — Marilynne Robinson
Suggested Congregational Response to the Reflection:
Create space in worship or as a follow-up during the week for the congregation to consider what they are chosen to do and be in this moment–individually or collectively.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a)
29 Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32 Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34 but whenever Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35 the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
1 The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
2 The LORD is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.
Holy is he!
4 Mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Extol the LORD our God;
worship at his footstool.
Holy is he!
6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
They cried to the LORD, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
they kept his decrees,
and the statutes that he gave them.
8 O LORD our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
9 Extol the LORD our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the LORD our God is holy.
2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2
12 Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13 not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14 But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15 Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16 but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
4 Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.
Luke 9:28–36 (37–43)
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.