The following sermon was preached at saint benedict’s table on February 14, 2021.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. You can also join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church’s FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.



May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

If you were in a class I was teaching, and I told you that your next assignment was to write an essay describing God, what would you write? What kinds of words would you use to describe God? What sources would you reference? What stories would you tell?

Who do you think God is?

I don’t know what you would write, but I do know that my comments on your paper would most likely reflect two major themes.

  • I am so sorry that your life experiences and the people around you have taught you that God is like that. God is not like that, God is so much more loving and compassionate, and wonderful than that.
  • Your description of God was fairly accurate. God is like that, but God is also so much more than that. God is more powerful, more loving, more merciful, more well… more than what you have written in your essay.

My essay would look the same. Some of the ways I perceive God require healing because people have done some truly awful things to me in God’s name and those experiences negatively shape my image of God.

Some of the ways I understand who God is are more accurate, you can find them in a theology textbook, back them up with scripture and personal experience, but they are also not entirely accurate.

At saint ben’s we regularly refer to God as being able to do more “than we can ask or imagine.” God can do more than we can ask or imagine because God is more than we can imagine.

Which is important to remember.  You can always get to know God better, but you will never fully know God. There will always be more to discover.

Tonight’s gospel reading is the story of the transfiguration. We always get this story on the Sunday before Lent.  Lent begins on Wednesday, and if you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to check out the Feasts and Fasts section of our website. In particular, there are posts about Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday which both happen this week.  I also hope you’ll join us online on Wednesday at 5pm and 7pm respectively for Evening Prayer and our Ash Wednesday service.

I’m going to talk about Lent a little later in this sermon, but not only do we get this story every year on the Sunday before Lent begins, we will also get it again in August when we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration.

Which means that if you are the kind of preacher who preaches every single week, you could wind up preaching on this story twice a year, every single year of your preaching life.

It’s a challenge to not simply repeat yourself, many preachers struggle, but we do it.  We look to this story for something, not necessarily brand new, but for something important or timely to say about God and this story, and we find it.

Everytime you approach the story and think, there can’t possibly be any more that this story has to teach me about God, you find out that there is.

Here’s a quick recap of the story and its context. Our reading begins with the phrase “six days later.”

Six days prior Jesus had shared that he was about to undergo great suffering and rejection. He told his disciples that he was going to be killed and rise again in three days.  (8:31)

Peter didn’t take it well and decided to rebuke Jesus resulting in a counter-rebuke where Jesus says to Peter, “Get behind me Satan!” (33)

Jesus then tells all of them that if they want to continue to follow him they will have to take up a cross, an instrument of torture and execution.  If they want to follow him, they will have to be willing to lose their lives. (34-36)

It’s a lot.

Most friendships don’t come with the promise of torture and death.

Six days is not a very long time, so Jesus and the disciples are likely still actively processing what Jesus has told them, Peter’s response, Jesus’ response, their own responses. The disciples are probably still trying to make sense of what Jesus said, and I imagine Jesus is feeling fairly vulnerable. He’s shared something deeply personal and he’s still not entirely sure of the disciples’ response.

Will they understand? Should he have trusted them with that piece of his story? Maybe he should have just kept it all to himself?

They’re carrying all of that with them while they are hiking up to the top of a high mountain. When they reach the top, Jesus is transfigured, Elijah and Moses appear from out of nowhere, and the voice of God speaks from within a cloud saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!”  And just as suddenly as all these things occur, they stop, and Jesus and the disciples are alone on the mountain top again.

It’s… a lot.

It’s important to note that Jesus was transfigured, not transformed.  Jesus didn’t change, he didn’t transform from one thing into another.  Jesus stayed the same, he just revealed something that had always been true about himself.  He didn’t change, but for the first time he allowed the disciples to see a part of himself he had never shown them before.[1]

Have you ever had a moment where you decided to trust another person enough to reveal something private about yourself to them?   Have you ever trusted someone enough to appear transfigured before them? To say, you may never had noticed this before, but it’s true of me.

Think about how you felt in those moments leading up to deciding to trust this person.  Think about how you felt as you were sharing this truth about yourself. Think about how you felt in that moment of silence after they heard what you had told them but before you knew how they were going to respond.

How did you feel? Scared? Hopeful?  Vulnerable? Most likely you felt vulnerable. At this moment you have entrusted another human being with something precious, a truth about yourself, and you don’t yet know how they are going to handle that gift.

For it is a gift. You are a gift. Being brave and bold enough to share more of yourself with another human being is a gift.

What’s hard – what is so very hard – is that it’s not always treated like a gift.

If a memory of a time when you were vulnerable and shared a part of yourself with another person and they did not treat you and your story like a gift is surfacing for you, be gentle with yourself.

Jesus understands that experience. He lived it over and over. The disciples don’t have a good track record of being able to handle these sorts of situations well. They have a track record of completely missing the point. Jesus is taking a huge risk here.

This time, the disciples do a little bit better. I mean, at least Peter doesn’t try and rebuke the transfigured Jesus.

They do better, but better still isn’t best.

The disciples are terrified and Peter tries to manage his fear by talking. We’re told that, “He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.” (6)

It’s a good idea when you don’t know what to stay to stop for a moment to think about what to say, but that’s not what Peter does, he just starts talking without thinking about what he’s saying. He suggests that they build shelters and stay on the top of the mountain. Spoiler alert: This is not a good idea and it’s not what happens. They will descend the mountain and continue their journey.

Lent is a season that lasts for 40 days. If Advent helps us prepare for Christmas, Lent helps us prepare for Easter. In Lent we are invited to consider fasting from something or taking on something new. The idea is to choose something that can help you engage the season and prepare for Easter, but even more importantly, the purpose of Lent is to see what new truth you can discover about yourself and about God by changing your regular patterns of behavior.

Where are you operating on autopilot, and what might you discover if you changed up the route?

It’s good to choose something, to fast from something or to take something new on, but whatever you chose, it’s also important to be mindful that the point is to choose something that will help you to explore something new about God, about yourself, about your relationship.

The point is not to lose 10 pounds.

If you haven’t already decided how you will be observing Lent this year I encourage you to take some time over the next few days to think about it.  Think about it prayerfully and allow yourself to be surprised by what you choose.

One of the key ways you know that God is at work in your life is if you’re pleasantly surprised. That sense of delight is a good indicator that God is at work both because God is good, and because it suggests that it’s not something you could have come up with on our own.

This year may be the year to give up chocolate, or screen time or to take on a new prayer practice.  There are no limits to what you can choose. I find it helpful to sort out my Lenten practice with the help of my spiritual director.  In doing so, I both have someone who can keep me accountable and a greater sense of confidence that I’m picking the right thing, and not the safe or easy thing.

One year, in consultation with my spiritual director, I gave up being nice. That Lent was a tremendous journey of discovery.

This may also be the year to say, “I’ve given up more than enough this year,” in Lent I will make space to grieve and lament those losses.

Or “I’ve given up more than enough this year, I’m giving up giving up for Lent.”

Lent is a season to be embraced freely and with curiosity, not with guilt or a heavy sense of obligation.

One final note. I have found that when I have chosen to share openly and vulnerably people do not always treat that like the gift it is. It’s incredibly painful when this happens. But I have also noticed, that when people hurt me in this way, God has a way of showing up somewhere else to show me that I am not alone, that I am in fact gift.

In the same week where someone will betray my trust, someone else who has no idea what I’ve been going through will send me a note of encouragement, or I will experience a moment of peace on a walk where I know that the betrayal was not my fault, or I’ll just get this deep sense that I am not alone.

God also does this for Jesus in our passage.  Jesus is moving towards one of the most difficult phases in his ministry, he’s moving towards humiliation, torture, and death.  The people he is surrounded by aren’t fully equipped to understand everything that is happening, let alone adequately support him.

And knowing all this, God appears in a cloud and declares, “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him.”

That’s a message for the disciples to be sure, but it’s also a message for Jesus. A reminder of his identity, a reminder that he is beloved.

May you have a good and holy Lent and however you choose to engage, or not engage with this practice, may you come to realize in new and surprising ways just how much God loves you.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.