Last Epiphany A’23 (Transfiguration)
19 February 2023
Matthew 17.1-9
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
North Little Rock, Arkansas
The Rev. Carey Stone <+>

Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God and worship him upon his holy hill; for the Lord our God is the Holy One. Amen. – Psalm 99.9

It was the summer of 1954 when St. Luke’s was established as a church, and when a young and green Johnny Cash first heard Elvis Presley’s recording of “That’s All Right.” The next day Johnny contacted Sam Phillips at Sun Records in Memphis to see about recording there. Phillips repeatedly brushed off the lanky Cash who hailed from Kingsland, Arkansas.

But Johnny wouldn’t give up. He sold appliances in Memphis during the day, and practiced into the night with his band the Tennessee Two. Finally, due to his persistence, Phillips decided to give him a listen.

Johnny came in with his band, set up, and Phillips sitting at the console began recording what was an unimpressive, pathetic sounding cover of a shop-worn gospel song.  Phillips felt that he had been right all along that Cash was wasting his time. He yelled through the microphone for them to stop playing. He comes out of the sound booth and confronts Cash, “Is that all you got? A twangy lifeless gospel song that I’ve heard a thousand times. You should go home and sin, then come back with a song I can sell!” Johnny said that he did have a couple of original songs he could try out on Phillips. Reluctantly, Phillips went back to the recording booth and started rolling the tape. The guitar and bass started with a more energetic intro with some catchy licks, then Cash came in with an energized baritone as he sang,

“I keep a close watch on this heart of mine

 I keep my eyes wide open all the time

I keep the ends out for the tie that binds,

Because you’re mine, I walk the line…”

Right on the spot, the lanky Arkansan and the Tennessee Two transformed from a pathetic trio, into a hit making band!

[There was more to Johnny and his band than met the eye.]

Jesus had certainly impressed his followers and close associates. They knew he was an above average Rabbi, that could teach the law, a preach his way around the prophets. They must have thought, “I’ll bet he’ll make it to the staff of a big synagogue someday!”

[But there was more to the itinerant rabbi, than met the eye.]

One day Jesus invited his three closest disciples, Peter, James, and John, to go up on a high mountain, ‘I guess were going to pray’ they may have thought to themselves, but Jesus had something totally different in mind.

Mountains have always been good places for spiritual experiences, from Mount Sinai, to the Mount of Olives, to our modern day and Mount Petit Jean. This day on the mountain with Jesus was to prove to be the ultimate “Mountain-top experience.” Jesus is suddenly “transfigured,” now that’s probably not a word you’ve used lately, but the Greek word for this word you probably do still use, “metamorphosis.”  Jesus the rabbi dressed in the drab flax robe of the day, suddenly transforms and he and his robe turn a dazzling white and suddenly Moses and the Prophet Elijah appear and begin talking with Jesus about God’s ultimate strategy for the salvation of the world. A very average and unimpressive human figure suddenly glows with the energy of Divinity.  

The disciples stand frozen in place as they are awed by this amazing moment. About the same time Moses and Elijah appear with Moses on Jesus’ left, and Elijah on Jesus’ right. Moses the great receiver of the law who had a mountaintop experience of his own years before stood with Jesus representing God’s early work of redemption through the law. Then appeared Elijah the greatest Hebrew prophet representing God’s clarion call to turn from living a life independence from God to a life of faithful trust in Yahweh. Jesus standing in between them brought the third prong of attack on unrighteousness and death by a love like no other the world had seen before or since. This love was not a love because of, or a love if, but a love period. Love is who God is.  

[There was more to Jesus, than met the eye.]

Is the story of transfiguration true, did it actually happen? We may not be able to prove that it did, but like much of the Bible, there is a story here that points to a deeper reality. All three gospels include this story that has come to be called “The Transfiguration” with all three agreeing on all the details. Whether it actually happened doesn’t alter the truth of the phenomenon of the manifestation of God’s glory in the face of Jesus.

Third century bishop and one of the first Christian theologians, Bishop Irenaeus of Lyon declared that, “the glory of God is the human being fully alive.”  Jesus was fully alive that day on the mountain and the glory of God shown all around him. This showing of his divinity was a preview of coming attractions – the rabbi would ultimately fulfill his mission on the cross and triumph over death by his glorious resurrection.

Our calling, like Jesus, is to bring glory to God by the way each of us live our lives. So, the question is how can we bring glory to God? Bishop Irenaeus would ask more specifically, how can we live in such a way that we are fully alive, firing on all cylinders, with all of the parts of ourselves in sync with God and fulfilling our fullest destiny and purpose?

You see my friends, the end of Epiphany doesn’t stop with a fuller revelation of Jesus, it also opens the door for us to manifest Christ ourselves, as a one-of-a-kind, unique creation of God, as an incarnation of Christ so that we can reveal Christ to others. 

Johnny Cash’s destiny was to manifest Christ as “the man in black” writing, and performing songs that brought him fully to life.

[There was more to Johnny than met the eye, there was more to Jesus than met the eye, and there is more to each one of us than meets the eye.]

May we surrender to God’s will and our deepest desires, and allow the Holy Spirit to bring us all – fully alive! Amen!