Year A Transfiguration Matthew 17 2011
A Mountain of Meaning
Matthew 17:1-9

A brilliant magician was performing on an ocean liner. But every time he did a trick, the Captain's parrot would yell, "It's a trick. He's a phony. That's not magic." Then one evening during a storm, the ship sank while the magician was performing. The parrot and the magician ended up in the same lifeboat. For several days they just glared at each other, neither saying a word to the other. Finally the parrot said, "OK, I give up. What did you do with the ship?"

The parrot couldn't explain that last trick! It was too much to comprehend, even for a smart parrot. Peter said to Jesus, "Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." Scholars over the years have tried to explain what in the world Peter meant by this suggestion. But, I think trying to find meaning to these words is pointless. It's simply the way Matthew explains: Peter was frightened and he just said the first thing that came to into his head. He simply could not comprehend what was happening.

In life, moments occur that are incomprehensible. The birth of one's own child is one of those moments. The loss of a loved one is one of those moments. September 11 was one of those moments. There are mountaintop and valley moments throughout life. We are never ready for them. They arrive unannounced changing us in irreversible ways. But there is one thing they all have in common. They demand that we be silent and listen. These moments have something to say to us, to teach us

But too often our response is like that of Peter, babbling absurdities because we cannot understand the significant, the meaningful moment. When Peter does finally quit talking nonsense a cloud appears, envelopes them, and the voice of God gives this instruction to Peter, James, and John: "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!" That's it. Very short. To the point. What Peter said made no sense. What God said had a mountain of meaning. I would like to spend a few moments this morning unpacking the meaning of it:

  1. This Is My Son.
  2. Whom I love.
  3. Listen to Him.

Hear Him
Matthew 17:1-9

The last couple of weeks have brought us a full plate of pictures from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya. Can any of us ever forget the images from Cairo's Tahrir Square? Or the monstrous Muammar al Gaddafi, also known as Colonel Gaddafi, speaking to his people from the back seat of an automobile holding a white umbrella?

But the one that may stick the longest is the human ring of ordinary men and women standing guard around the Cairo Museum, making a barrier of bodies all the way around the perimeter of the building. Word had spread that the night before a small but clumsy gang of looters had broken into the museum, stealing some objects, stupidly destroying others.

The youthful crowds of protestors responded by rushing to protect the building and the priceless items it housed. Why did they do this? It is doubtful there were very many worshipers of Amon Ra or any of the other ancient Egyptian gods and pharaohs that those museum relics celebrate. So why did they protect the museum with their very bodies?

The Egyptian people did not rally simply around religious reliquaries. They were protecting their own history, the stories and symbols of who they were as a people, of where they had been, and what they had done. They were guarding their historic identity. Every item in that museum had its own special "provenance," its own place in the story of their world. That provenance was the treasure they banded together to protect.

Any "Antiques Roadshow" addicts here? Am I the only one? If you've ever seen just one episode, you know that it is the "provenance," the verifiable stories of the persons who interacted with the items brought in, that makes an item valuable or a possession priceless. An antique gold ring is literally "worth its weight in gold." But an antique gold ring given to your great grandmother by Pablo Picasso as a "thank you" for doing such a good job cleaning his studio? That's called "provenance," and with such a "provenance" that gold ring is worth much, much more than it's weight in gold. It is the gold ring's story that adds value and luster to a simple piece of jewelry.

What's your story? What's your provenance? God established Jesus' "provenance" at the Transfiguration. But each of us has our own "faith provenance" that we need to know and share and celebrate.

What is your "provenance story"?
What is the provenance of your life of faith?
What experiences have you had and who have you encountered that made your own faith "priceless."

This week's gospel text is Matthew's version of Jesus' provenance, the pivotal "transfiguration" event that marks the beginning of a new phase in Jesus' mission and ministry... presents Leonard Sweet