9 min read

Turning Point

Pack up your tents, my friends — because we can’t stay here. Love is on the move.
Turning Point
Photo by Ahmed Sobah / Unsplash

Sermon Delivered at The Local Church
February 27, 2022 • Transfiguration Sunday
Scripture: Luke 9:28–36

I remember like it was yesterday our first official Sunday morning here at House of Hops. I stood here on this same platform that our dear friend Jim Boyce made and looked out over a music stand that was doubling as a podium — only a few months before Jimmy Garzoni surprised me with this beautiful pulpit he made with his dad.

I remember many of the dear friends who took part in that service — many of whom have moved away or whose journeys have taken them elsewhere — like Eddie and Alli and others. I remember how the screen behind me showed that Sweet Baby Jesus was on tap.

I remember the 150 faces staring back at me — which just seems ridiculous and makes me anxious even thinking about it right now — everyone all crammed together shoulder-to-shoulder, many folks spilling out onto the patio, all here to celebrate the beginning of something new that God was up to in our corner of creation.

I remember standing in that moment thinking, “Holy you-know-what, it’s actually happening. This thing is real. Thanks be to God.”

And then I began to preach. Our scripture that morning was the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, and we talked about community — about how God’s deepest desire for us is a joining, a belonging, a connection, to be found in God and in one another — and that God rejoices with us when that happens. That’s part of what made last night — our Happy Hour of Gratitude — so sweet.

If you remember, it was the first week in a brand new sermon series that we called, “This Is Fine: A Series on Hope for a World on Fire.” We made use of that amazing “This Is Fine” meme with the dog and the coffee and the house around him in flames, and our objective was to spend a few weeks talking not only about the ordinary God-given gifts that sustain us and fill us with hope but also about the things that mark us as a faith community — the things we think are really important.

That Sunday, when we kicked off our This Is Fine series about hope for a world on fire, the world was literally on fire. The Amazon was actually burning. But oh man, that Sunday, just months before we’d hear the word “Covid” for the first time, we had no idea how much we’d need that hope in the days, weeks, and months ahead. We had no idea how prescient that sermon series would come to be. So young. So naïve we were.

And as I stand here on our final Sunday at House of Hops, I think about all that has happened since. I was talking with Keith last night about one of those early services when we couldn’t find the offering baskets, and so he grabbed a beer pitcher, and we passed that instead (which was just perfect). I think about the baptisms that have happened here including that of Eliza and Taylor Neal’s, too. I think about the four students who were confirmed in their faith last summer. I think about the Beer and Carols we’ve shared here around Christmastime. The care packages we’ve assembled outside for our unhoused friends and encouragement packs for teachers. I think of the noises of the littlest locals whose voices started in the corner but came to carry throughout this space. I think of our return to in-person worship on the patio last June and how absolutely scorching it was in that sun. About the beautiful connections that happen each Sunday morning as we set up — and the sacrifices made to do so. I think of how this space has been so welcoming to so many of you who aren’t too sure about church but hey, if it can be in a bar, how bad it could it be — and that’s how you ended up here.

I wonder if you have a memory you’d like to share. For real. What has this space meant to you?

It’s been so good — so good, in fact, that perhaps you can relate to Peter in the story that Annabelle read. Maybe you can see where he’s coming from. More on that in a minute.

But first, today is commonly called Transfiguration Sunday, and it marks a sort of turning point in the liturgical calendar. Because not only is today our final Sunday here at House of Hops, but it’s also the final Sunday of the season of Epiphany — the season of light in which we lean in and consider the ways that Jesus is revealed, made known, made manifest in our very midst. We’ve been moving through Epiphany since early January. And today, Transfiguration Sunday, which falls on the final Sunday of Epiphany each year, is essentially a hinge between Epiphany and the next season in our cyclical church year — the season of Lent. Lent begins this Wednesday on Ash Wednesday, and Lent is a forty-day season of introspection, penitence, and pilgrimage that culminates in the heartbreak and hope of Holy Week and Easter. I like to think of Lent as a sort of spring cleaning for our souls, but we’ll share more on that this Wednesday and next Sunday.

But the thing is that Transfiguration Sunday marks a turning point because this story — the story of Jesus’ transfiguration — marks a turning point, in particular, for Jesus. Prior to this moment, Jesus has been doing the thing — traveling from place to place practicing the work of ministry. He’s taught in the synagogue and proclaimed a liberating inaugural sermon. He’s called his disciples and healed a paralytic. He’s told stories and invited the marginalized into belonging and calmed a storm. Right before the story that Annabelle read for us, Jesus fed the five thousand. He’s been getting it done. But the Transfiguration marks a turning point.

And settle in, y’all, because this story is bananas. This account is from Luke’s gospel — Luke’s narrative retelling of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus takes three of his disciples — Peter, James, and John — up the mountain to pray. And while it might sound like quite an honor to be picked, think about it. They’ve been traveling with Jesus for a whole lot of his ministry, moving from place to place. The other disciples finally get to rest, but now Jesus points to a summit and says, “Peter, James, John, come on. Let’s go. We’re going to pray up there.”

And so chances are good their already tired feet get even more tired. Probably blistered, too. Their already heavy legs get even heavier. And the higher and higher they climb, the more exhausted they become. Luke even says as much when he points out that they were “weighed down with sleep” once they’d finally reached the top. In other words, they were exhausted. They were doing that thing where you’re fighting to stay awake — putting all your energy into keeping your eyes open.

And maybe it was the altitude or maybe it was exhaustion, but there on the top of the mountain, something wild happens. While Jesus is praying, his face changes. His clothes become dazzling white. And if that’s not enough, next thing they know, Moses and Elijah are there talking with Jesus. Moses and Elijah — the mighty prophets, giants of the faith, those who, according to Jewish tradition, were still alive in the presence of God. And they’re just there with this transfigured Jesus having a conversation as if it was nothing — as if it wasn’t everything.

The story goes that they’re talking about Jesus’ “departure.” The word translated “departure” is the same word for that we might translate “Exodus,” which should bring to mind images of deliverance and liberation — especially with Moses there. And so in this context, departure is about the liberation and deliverance for all of creation that his departure — his death and resurrection —will bring. To speak about departure is to speak about this turning point and what lies ahead for him.

So hold on to that conversation topic, departure, because that little detail is important. But I also want to point out one thing that I’ve always wondered about this story: How did Peter, James, and John know it was Moses and Elijah? Like, did Jesus introduce them? “Hey guys, I want you to meet my friends.” Were they wearing name tags? I think of that question every time I read this story. Maybe I need a hobby.

But anyway, so they’re talking about “departure,” when Peter has this brilliant idea. I love Peter. We have some similar tendencies — wearing our hearts on our sleeves, super passionate, probably really handsome, not always thinking before we speak.

So Peter has this great idea. He says, “It’s good for us to be here. Let’s stay here for a while. I’ll make some dwellings, pop some tents — three of them — one for you, Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah, and we can just all hang out a little while longer. What do you say?”

And no sooner are these words out of his mouth that all of a sudden, there’s a cloud that comes and overshadows them. And, well, this is weird — add it to the list. Luke says that they’re terrified. And as if that’s not terrifying enough, from the cloud comes a voice that says, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

And just as quickly as it all happened, they looked again, did a double-take, and the cloud was gone and Moses and Elijah were, too. It was just Jesus and Peter, James, and John.

The disciples are left in stunned silence. I would be, too. And that’s how they remain as they journey back down the mountain.

It’s wild, right? It’s one of those stories that you really just can’t make sense of. Like we talked about last week with resurrection and Holy Communion, the Transfiguration is not something to be understood but to be experienced.

And what an experience it is. But I want us to linger for a minute on that voice from the cloud. Do you remember what the voice says? “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”

It’s a statement of identity. It’s a proclamation of who Jesus is. That he is the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who has come into the world to be God with us, to show us what it means to love, to embody peace. He’s come to deliver and liberate and to set the oppressed free — to reconcile all of creation to himself. This is who he is.

But we should note that this is not the first time we’ve heard a voice from heaven in Luke’s gospel. In the same way that Leah reprised “Behold Him” right after the scripture reading and before the sermon this morning, this voice and these words, “This is my Son, my Chosen…” is meant to be a reprise — an echo, a callback — to that same voice that broke through at Jesus’ baptism declaring, “You are my Son, the Beloved…”

And we’ve got to remember that for Jesus, his baptism marked the beginning of his earthly ministry. The Spirit’s activity in that moment propelled him into ministry — and his first stop was the wilderness. It was an orienting moment. A turning point that sent him into ministry with a promise — and this is key — that he wouldn’t go alone.

In the same way, these words on this mountain mark a turning point. Because Jesus is about to be sent again — this time toward Jerusalem. While his journey up the mountain was through stories of healing and teaching, his descent down the other side marks the beginning of his journey toward death and resurrection.

That’s what he’s talking about with Moses and Elijah, remember: Departure. We held onto that word. Departure.

Which makes it all the more interesting, doesn’t it, that Peter would say, “Can’t we just stay here a little while longer?” I mean, think about it: That’s quite a juxtaposition.

But the answer is no. Because there’s still work to be done.

So maybe we relate to Peter a little bit. I know I do. My mom will tell you that I’ve never been a big fan of change. Any big transition, any big move, I want to dig my heels in. I get all in my feels. I’ve been there all weekend to be honest — thinking about this place that has been so good to us: a House of Hops that, by God’s grace, has become a house of worship for an hour or so each week. And like Peter, perhaps we’re tempted to build our own tents in safety, with familiarity, and say, “Gosh, can’t we just stay here a little while longer?”

But here’s the thing. There is still work to be done for us, too.

You haven’t needed to look far this week to know that. I saw it in the eyes of a six-year-old girl hunkering in a subway station that doubled as a makeshift bomb shelter. In the Ukrainian father hugging his children praying that he’ll see them again. In the woman facing down a Russian soldier and offering him sunflower seeds so that something beautiful might come in the event he comes to lay there in that land forever.

There is work to be done.

The work of peace. The work of blessing. The work of solidarity and justice. The work of liberation — of death and resurrection.

It’s the work of Jesus.

And so for us, too, this morning marks a turning point. In so many ways and by God’s grace, we have been transfigured here — through the songs we’ve sung, the prayers we’ve prayed, the meal we’ve shared around this table each week.

And here’s the thing: The really, really good news is that the same voice that broke through the cloud on that mountaintop is still speaking over us now — promising that, like Jesus, we won’t go alone either — that God is not only with us in every moment but has already gone ahead of us and can’t wait to show us what’s next.

So pack up your tents, my friends — because we can’t stay here. Love is on the move.

Thanks be to God. Amen.