Prepare for Departure
Topic: Biblical Verse: Luke 9:28–9:36
The Transfiguration of Our Lord
March 2-3, 2019
“Prepare for Departure”
About ten days ago, my wife, June, and I traveled to Phoenix for the Best Practices in Ministry Conference, hosted by Christ Church-Lutheran (http://www.cclphoenix.org). This was our first experience in attending this, and it was awesome! The weather was not awesome, but the conference really was. The conference coincided with some very chilly and wet weather, which is very unusual for Phoenix. Everyone was saying, “It’s never like this here!” Personally, I think it followed us from here to there. Just to give you an idea of weather conditions: we were there for what was the coldest daytime temperature in Phoenix in over 120 years. Lovely… But the conference more than made up for this. Excellent doesn’t even begin to describe it. Excellent speakers and break-out sessions. We were blown away by the amazing spirit of hospitality on the part of the staff and members of Christ Church-Lutheran. Registration is always free and all meals on site at the church and school are also free. Free shuttle service is provided by the church to and from the airport, hotels, and the church. The conference was first held in 2012 with about 470 participants, and has grown today to more than 2700 participants. All of this comes as an encouragement in ministry to church workers and lay people. That is the primary purpose of Best Practices in Ministry, and that was certainly the case for June and myself. We are now beginning the process of how to bring back to you, the members of St. John’s, what we learned and experienced there. But before we ever got to Phoenix and the conference, we first had to get on a plane and fly there. Most, if not all of us, have flown at some point in life. Some of us may do this a lot for our jobs. I’ve asked a member of St. John’s, Greg Auld, to come and talk to us about flying. We know Greg as our recent Minister of Finance, husband of Elisabeth, our Congregational President, and father of Emma and Michael. After retiring from the Air Force, Greg now works as a pilot for Southwest Airlines. His voice, or one like his, is the one that you hear as Captain of the aircraft.
“Prepare for Departure” is not just something that we hear before the airplane takes off. It’s also what we hear in today’s Gospel lesson as we travel with Peter, James, and John up the mountain and see Jesus’ transfiguration. “Prepare for Departure” is the theme for preaching this day. May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
Matthew (17:1-8), Mark (9:2-8), and Luke all contain the account of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain top, and they all contain the same information: just that inner circle of three disciples who were present; Moses and Elijah, those towering figures of the old covenant, representing the Law and the Prophets, speaking with Jesus; Peter’s hasty words about setting up camp there on the mountain top with three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah; the cloud of majesty that envelops Jesus; and the Father’s voice from the cloud: “This is my Son, my Chosen One [my Beloved]; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35). But Luke includes this addition: Moses and Elijah “who appeared in glory and spoke of [Jesus’] departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31). That word “departure” (έξοδον) – literally, Jesus’ exodus – would soon take place at Jerusalem where he would suffer, die, and rise again to pay the price for our sins. From here on out, Jesus steadily makes his way to Jerusalem where all of this would happen.
The print before us here is one that you have probably passed by many times here at church, and so it has become invisible. We don’t even see it. It hangs on a rather hidden wall near the Library. On the back is a note: “Transfiguration – David J. O’Connell.” Having seen this so many times, but knowing nothing about the artist, I felt compelled to do some digging. This is the work of an Englishman, David O’Connell (1898-1976), “an artist who… served in the trenches in World War I and trained as a commercial artist, but his specialism was religious painting” (http://www.strichardschichester.co.uk/strichards-tour.html). The original painting, I discovered, can be found in the Church of Saints John Fisher and Thomas More in Eltham, England, outside of London. Looking at the print here, it would be easy to think of Jesus’ departure as this glorious mountain top experience: flanked by Moses and Elijah; worshiped by Peter, James, and John; proclaimed as the Father’s chosen and beloved Son. It would have been very easy to take Peter’s advice and just hang out there on the mountain top. But Jesus’ real departure cannot be denied or avoided. Because Jesus is the Father’s chosen and beloved Son, he will follow the Father’s will set out for him. This means that he will come down the Mount of Transfiguration only to climb another, Mount Calvary. Here on Mount Calvary, or Golgotha, on the tree of the cross, no longer flanked by devoted disciples, but by criminals, soldiers, and jeering crowds, Jesus poured out his blood and offered his life as the atoning sacrifice for us and for our salvation. That is Jesus’ departure.
What the Father said of his chosen and beloved Son there on the Mount of Transfiguration, he says to you and me today as well: “Listen to him!” (Luke 9:35). We live in a world where there are many voices calling out to us, vying for our attention, urging us to listen to them. It can be overwhelming and bewildering, as well as misleading and deceiving. The old saying holds true: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. All of these other voices that cry out for us to listen to them promise us everything: that we’ll be good looking, popular, have everything we want, and live a beautiful life. But it rarely works out that way. We didn’t get what we thought we would, and become frustrated, angry, or bitter. There is one voice that calls out to us that is able to deliver the goods. He promises a full and abundant life (John 10:10), not without pain or suffering, but that in him these things are redeemed and transformed. He promises that by listening to his voice even when we die, yet shall we live (John 11:25). This is Jesus. Listen to him.
It is through listening to Jesus, over against all the other voices around us, that when it comes time for our own departure, we know where we’re going. In a very real sense, our gathering here today around God’s gifts of his Word and Sacrament is helping us to prepare for our departure. In traveling, when we’ve boarded the plane, find our seat, settle in and buckle that seat belt, we are then ready for whenever the plane takes off. If we don’t do these things, it is to our own hurt and detriment. In fact, the captain who is flying that plane doesn’t want us to be hurt because we’re not prepared. And the same is true with our Captain, our transfigured Savior Jesus. He does not desire us to be unprepared for our departure from this life to life eternal. None of us knows when this will be, but by listening to Jesus, trusting in his grace, seeking his face, and following him in daily life, then we will be ready and prepared for our departure, whenever that may be.
May our transfigured Lord Jesus Christ, who has fulfilled all of the Law and the Prophets, who willingly laid down his life for our sins and rose in triumph over death and the grave, strengthen and keep us in true faith throughout our life that we may be prepared for our departure. Amen.