©Wendell Griffen, 2015
A Sermon delivered at New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR
February 15, 2015 (Transfiguration Sunday)
2Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.
9As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.
We are all familiar with the experience of being in a room of chatting people when someone is trying to make a point about something important, but can’t get people to stop talking with each other. Sooner or later, the person who has an important message to convey is forced to do something that will interrupt the chatter and cause people to refocus. When I was in the Army, someone would shout out “At ease!” or “Listen up!” At that command, people would stop chatting and turn their attention toward the person who issued that call.
The Transfiguration of Jesus can be understood that way. Six days earlier Jesus fed about 4000 people with seven loaves of bread and a few fish. There were seven full baskets of leftovers afterwards. Despite that feat, his critics challenged Jesus to give them a sign of his divine authority.
Then Jesus cured a blind man at Bethsaida (Mark 8:22-26), and traveled with his disciples to Caesarea Philippi. There Peter declared that Jesus was the long promised Messiah from God.
But when Jesus began telling the disciples he would be seized by the religious authorities, killed, and rise again after three days, Peter rebuked Jesus (Mark 8:32-33). Peter believed Jesus was the Messiah, but Peter didn’t want to hear Jesus talking about being put to death. Jesus had to scold Peter and teach his followers about the cost of discipleship (Mark 8:34-36).
The Transfiguration happened six days later. Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to a mountain. While they were there the clothes Jesus was wearing became dazzling white and Jesus was joined by Moses and Elijah. Peter then suggested that three shrines be erected, one each for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. That was when a cloud overshadowed the mountain and a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Recent history provides clear evidence that we tend to resemble Peter.
After a federal court ruled that Alabama’s ban on marriage between persons of the same sex is unlawful the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore, directed that Alabama probate judges not issue marriage licenses to persons of the same sex.
Last week the Arkansas legislature enacted a law that will prohibit cities and counties from enacting measures to protect people from discrimination that might be otherwise permitted under Arkansas law. Persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender are the obvious targets of that law. Governor Asa Hutchinson intends to allow the measure to become law without his signature.
Port Arthur, Texas pastor Randy Vaughn of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc., the oldest and largest body of black Baptists, recently circulated a message objecting to the appearance of Bishop Yvette Flunder of San Francisco as a speaker at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee because Bishop Flunder is married to a woman.
Self-proclaimed “evangelical Christians” have complained about President Obama’s remarks during the recent National Prayer Breakfast criticizing how religion has been used to justify violence because Mr. Obama mentioned how the Bible was misapplied by Christians to justify the Crusades, enslaving Africans, and discriminating against women.
These examples show that we, like Peter, disregard what God has revealed in Jesus about love, truth, and righteousness and how to save the world. Like Peter, we are easily tempted to tell God what we want to do while disregarding what God has revealed for us in Jesus Christ.
But there is something quite wrong about saying that we are honoring God while we disregard the presence and authority of Jesus. There is something wrong about claiming to follow Jesus while we base our actions on something besides his ministry of grace and truth. It is wrong to claim to be a follower of Jesus while one violates the commandment he taught that we love our neighbors—including our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender neighbors—as ourselves.
Let me speak plainly. Bigotry and discrimination against people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender is morally wrong. It does not honor God because it violates the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. People who claim to honor God while seeking to discriminate against others are not following the gospel of Jesus. They are disobeying the gospel of Jesus. This is not living according to the gospel. It is “anti-gospel” and “un-Christian.” Bigotry and discrimination have nothing to do with the “good news” of God’s love and truth because oppression based on ethnicity, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, income, nationality, or any other social status violates “the love your neighbor as yourself” mandate found in Scripture and commanded by Jesus.
The good news is that God speaks! A cloud overshadowed the mountain and a voice declared, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
The voice was not speaking about listening to Moses! We need to remember that when people cite the Holiness Code in Leviticus as grounds for bigotry toward people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender they are not basing their views and behavior on Jesus.
The voice was not speaking about listening to Elijah! You recall that Elijah superintended the slaughter of 450 priests of Baal at Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18:1-40). That was like ISIS, the Crusades, and lynching of people of color by the Ku Klux Klan, not the love of God revealed by Jesus!
Noting in the teachings of Jesus justifies bigotry and discrimination against people for any reason, including based on sexual orientation or gender identity. When religious people object to same sex marriage they don’t cite anything Jesus taught about sexual orientation or marriage. They misconstrue passages from the books of Moses or the writings of Paul? Instead, of using Jesus to understand God’s will about equality and marriage, they run to Moses and Paul. That’s just like Peter’s desire to erect shrines on the mountain for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus less than a week after announcing that Jesus—not Moses or Elijah—was God’s Messiah!
But God has plainly and best revealed what love, righteousness, and truth mean most clearly in Jesus! Not Moses! Not Elijah! Not Paul! Not Peter! Not me or anyone else! Jesus! The voice from the cloud that Peter heard commands us, as it commanded Peter, to listen to Jesus!
Listen to the one who said “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). Jesus!
Listen to the one who declared that God’s righteousness requires that we “do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) Jesus!
Listen to the one who socialized with people considered untouchable such as Simon the leper (Matthew 26:6). Jesus!
Listen to the one who accepted women and refused to abide by traditions of male superiority and historical bigotry as shown by how Jesus interacted with a Samaritan woman (John 4:1-39). Jesus!
Listen to the one who showed us by the miracles of feeding thousands with very little that sharing what we have rather than hoarding is the way to improve the lot of those in need (Mark 8:1-21). Jesus!
When we listen to Jesus, we will stand with people who are downtrodden. When we listen to Jesus, we will speak up for people who have no voice.
When we listen to Jesus, we will protect people who are vulnerable. When we listen to Jesus, we will set people free who are held captive by oppressive powers of greed that profit from human need and suffering.
When we listen to Jesus, we will help those who are blind about God’s love and truth recover their sight. When we listen to Jesus, we will proclaim God’s will that those all who are held captive by oppressive powers must be set free.
The voice on the Mount of Transfiguration challenged Peter to listen to Jesus because God has shown us how to live in Jesus. If we profess to love God let us listen to Jesus. Then let us live as Jesus has taught and shown.