Message Delivered on February 7, 2016
Luke 9:28-36; 37-43a “Super Sized Faith Demo”
We all know its Super-Sunday, the granddaddy of all gargantuan sporting events–super-sized, America’s high holy day of the year–at least, in the sports’ world. Super Sunday is complete with celebrities, glamour, at least 10,000+ calories per serving of nachos, million dollar television commercials, and–of course–football!
The Super Bowl (we are having “Souper” Bowl to benefit the hungry) and all of the hoopla that leads up to it for weeks, is nearly a national holiday.
This year’s extravaganza will feature the stylistic contrast in quarterbacks Payton Manning and Cam Newton, with a side-order of Beyonce, Bruno Mars, and Coldplay at halftime. Behold, it is also the game’s golden anniversary, hosted by San Francisco’s “Golden” Gate hospitality. Two teams are vying for the coveted Lombardi trophy, but in many ways, it is much more than a game.
Super Bowl coincides with a biblical dazzling spectacle, that of Jesus’ mountaintop transfiguration. The transfiguration demands our attention in a way that surpasses the best football game. This year the NFL may have Manning and Beyonce, but they are no match for the celebrity posse that Jesus summons on the mountain. It is no costume change, no wardrobe malfunction, when Jesus is illumined as if a lightening bolt has struck him. Even Moses and Elijah have cameo appearances.
News flash: The 2015 Super Bowl had 114 million television viewers tune in to see Tom Brady and the New England Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in a down-to-the-wire finish. It was a spectacle packed with food offerings, music and eye-popping pyrotechnics. It is a good thing kick-off is in the afternoon or people would be busy looking at their watches, praying the sermon will not be long. Super Bowl is an over-hyped combination of sports, celebrities and money. Super Bowl week is a seven day circus celebrating excess, tolerating stupidity and drawing all kinds of people into the mix. What is overlooked is the true cost of this event. Football players suffer brain and other injuries. Yet for all of the consequences and glory–football is just a game–even when the players lives are at stake.
Like God’s declaration at Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:21-22, the transfiguration account discloses Jesus’ identity as God’s Son. Any doubts are put to rest. Luke reminds us that Jesus conducted his own poll among the disciples (Luke 9:18-20), but he was equally stern in admonishing them to avoid disclosing his identity. He prepared the disciples for their own transformation by reminding them of the true costs associated with being a disciple.
After sharing all of this, Jesus took Peter, James and John up the mountain. It was a game-changer, an invitation to spend time alone in prayer with Jesus. It was a prayer beyond all expectations as Jesus’ clothes became dazzling white. The brilliance of his appearance was the confirmation of his divine stature. The show continued as Moses and Elijah appeared out of nowhere. There was no celebrity emcee introducing the Old Testament heroes. The disciples seemed to understand that their appearance affirmed the important continuity of Jesus’ mission with the narrative of Israel’s faithful history.
Peter was not like many church leaders. He sprang into action to propose a building project. Habitat for Humanity would love to have people with his enthusiasm. He wanted to capture the glorious moment. God’s voice thundered, “This is my Son, my Chosen.” declared God. “Listen to him!”
Peter is invited to pay attention to what is truly transformative. It is much more than a ground-shaking religious experience. Pay heed to what happens next. The disciples go down the mountain and encounter a man who begs Jesus to heal his epileptic son. It is this healing that discloses God’s glory. All are amazed, astounded, and led to greater belief, not only because of the spectacle on the mountain, but because they have responded to God’s invitation. Listening to Jesus, they begin to let his words sink into their ears.
Like Peter, we may understand the excitement generated by “mountaintop” moments of pure, undiluted spiritual energy. There is more to this than a fireworks or special effects display. God invites the disciples to not just “do something” but to stand there and listen. It is through moments of prayer that faithfulness and courage are revealed. Paul Galbreath notes, “While faith does include defining and transformational moments…Luke connects prayer to the sense of identity and a clearer understanding of God’s call. What is essential to this particular moment is the way prayer reveals a call to a deeper understanding of discipleship.”
For Luke, it all takes place the next day when the disciples are astounded by God’s glory. The journey away from the mountain could actually be as transforming as what they envisioned when atop the mountain. The pace was different on the way home: “On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain,” was when ministry began to happen. Prayer on the mountaintop led Jesus to the encounter of a boy who needed healing. This is what it means to “Listen to him.”
It is easy to remember a touchdown at the very last seconds of the game, but what happens the next day may be more significant. It was at that moment, Luke reminds us, that the disciples were astounded by the greatness of God. It is in the work of coming down from the mountaintop and facing the pressing reality of human misery that the greatness of God shines–in Jesus, of course, but also in the faith and action of his disciples. Are you going to score any touchdowns for Jesus?