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Worship and Sermons
February 14, 2021

“Premature Joy” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, February 14, 2021, Year B / Transfiguration –  2 Kings 2:1-12  •  Psalm 50:1-6  •  2 Corinthians 4:3-6  •  Mark 9:2-9 (Mark 8:31-9:100

The big idea:  The vision of the transfiguration reveals to Peter, James and John the resurrected Jesus as King of God’s Kingdom, but they must listen to his warnings of necessary suffering – for him, and them. 

Application:  To experience the joy of Easter, don’t skimp on the hard work of Lent.


          Are you looking forward to the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer?  I know I sure am.  These are the games that were rescheduled from last summer because of the COVID crisis.  In the last week or so, I’ve heard some reports, however, that these games may have to be cancelled altogether.

Which would be a terrible shame.  There is nothing like the uplifting stories of human drama and achievement that we witness each time the games are held.

Who among us can forget great triumphs of champions like Mark Spitz, Nadia Comaneci, Carl Lewis or Jackie Joyner-Kersee? 

 Then, there is the greatest Olympian of all time:  the American swimmer Michael Phelps.  We can still see him in our mind’s eye as he stood on podiums in Athens, Beijing, London, and Rio De Janeiro receiving one of his 28 Olympic medals, 23 of which were gold. 

It’s a vision that inspires all of us, especially other athletes.  We can all remember how young American swimmers Ryan Murphy and Katy Ledecki went out of their way to have their picture taken with Michael Phelps at the last summer Olympics in Rio.  You could just see them picturing themselves standing on that same podium, medals draped around their necks.  And faces shining like the sun.

That’s the kind of inspiring vision that Jesus gives his inner circle of disciples.  They only know him as their rabbi, their teacher.  Now, Jesus gives them a glimpse of his true identity as the resurrected Christ.  It’s a preview of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is the King, surrounded by Israel’s greatest prophets. 

What a vision!  There was Elijah, whom all Israel believed would return before judgment day.  And there was Moses, Israel’s greatest prophet, who delivered the people from slavery in Egypt and led them through the desert to the Promised Land. 

And there is Jesus.  In gleaming white, transfigured into his heavenly presence, shining bright as the sun.

Peter, to his credit, catches on right away.  What he sees is the vision that every Jew hopes for and prays for at the fall harvest festival:  the coming of the Messiah.  

That festival is called the Festival of Booths, and Peter suggests that they do what everyone does on that festival day:  you build huts.

But it’s too soon to celebrate.  Peter, like the rest of Jesus’ disciples, has not heard what Jesus has been telling them. They don’t understand that Jesus must suffer and die, before being resurrected.

And, if they are to be his followers, then they, too, will have to carry their own crosses on the road of self-sacrifice.

That’s why God’s voice booms out,  “This is my son, the beloved.  Listen to him!”  That is the word of God to Peter, James and John. 

It’s also the word of God to you and to me.  And it comes to us at exactly the right time when we need to hear it most.

On the church calendar, today is Transfiguration Sunday.  It’s a day of transition, a turning point.  The Transfiguration connects the season of Epiphany which has just concluded, to the season of Lent, which begins on Wednesday. 

In Epiphany, God opened our eyes to see who Jesus is and what he calls us to do as his hands and feet in the world.   

In Lent, God reminds us of the hard truth that we are dust.  As we will say on Wednesday evening when we impose ashes on our foreheads, from dust we have come and to dust we shall return.  

Through the Transfiguration, God prepares us to walk the hard road of self-examination and self-sacrifice, knowing that we follow in the footsteps of Christ on the road to Calvary. 

There is beauty and power in the Transfiguration.  It plants in our minds and our hearts the shining vision of Christ as the King of God’s Kingdom.  It shows us how he will appear on that day when he returns to establish the Kingdom on earth.

This vision of Heavenly glory gives us the inspiration and discipline to do the hard things that Lent requires of us.  It prepares us to come to terms with our humble humanity, our mortality, and our utter and complete dependence on God. 

And then it inspires us to change, to make the commitment to do better, to be more faithful so that we, too, will find ourselves in that Kingdom, both when Christ returns and in those moments in this life when it becomes real for us and others.

In effect, we are like all those aspiring Olympic athletes. They’ve been given a vision of glory on the medal podium.  That vision drives them to make the sacrifices Michael Phelps did.

And make no mistake:  he made many.  He swam 5 hours/day, 6 out of every 7 days for a total of 50 miles/week.  He swam on Christmas Day and on his birthday.

His training wasn’t just physical.  It was mental, too.  He learned to set goals and to eliminate even the mere thought that he could not achieve them.  In his mind, he learned to picture himself swimming and winning races. 

Along the way, he had to do some serious spiritual work, as well.  A few years ago, Michael spoke about his struggle with anxiety and depression.  From experience, he knew it was always worse after each Olympic games, no matter how many medals he won.  After the London Olympics in 2012, Michael reached rock bottom.

He spent days at a time in his room.  He didn’t sleep and he didn’t eat.  He seriously considered ending his life.  Finally, when he was arrested for drunk driving in Maryland, he knew it was time to get help.

A friend gave him a copy of Rick Warren’s book, the Purpose Driven Life.  That led Michael to Christ.  He married his long-time sweetheart, became a father and began trying to reconcile with his own father. 

You might say that Michael Phelps had a Lenten journey that lasted years.  And it’s still going. 

I’m sure his life is not perfect, but the obvious joy he feels today is all the more profound because of the physical, mental, and spiritual changes he worked so hard to make. 

And that joy is what lies ahead for you and me, if we take our Lenten journey seriously. 

But we cannot skimp on the hard work of Lent if we are to know the real joy of Easter.

This year, let’s approach Lent the way Michael Phelps approached swimming.  Let’s focus on making changes to our bodies, our minds, and our spirits.

It may sound counter-intuitive, but the easiest and quickest change to make is physical.  This year more than any other I can remember, we have all been tempted to sit on the couch and get lost in TV. 

Let’s get moving.  Let’s find a way to take more walks, even if it’s just around the house or the yard.  Something truly extraordinary happens to our minds and our spirits when we become more physically active.  We think more clearly.  Our senses are more open.  We can appreciate better what God is doing in us and out in the world.

When we’re not outside, let’s turn off the TV.  Let’s read more.  Let’s get lost in scripture. 

In these coming months, we will be spending a lot of time in the gospels of Mark and John.  Pick one of those two.  Read it slowly, start to finish.  If you have kids, read their children’s bible with them or to them. 

Let the words sink in.  Feel the message of faith, hope and love as it begins to permeate your mind and marinate your spirit.

And, while we’re talking about reading, why not pick up a copy of Gilead, the novel we are reading together this Lent.  Join us on Wednesday nights on Zoom to discuss it.  

And let’s start each day by feeding our spirit.  Maybe that’s as simple as reading a page or two in Walter Bruggeman’s Lenten devotional booklet.  And let’s let that lead us into a moment of quiet prayer.  

Friends, even if we’re only able to do some of these things some of the time, I promise you it will begin to have an effect on us.  God will show us what needs to change in us.  And in making those changes, God will change our relationship with him and with others.

One of my favorite quotes about Lent comes from the great Catholic writer and activist, Catherine Doherty.  She said, "Lent is a time of going very deeply into ourselves... What is it that stands between us and God?  Between us and our brothers and sisters?  Between us and life, the life of the Spirit?"

Friends, whatever those things may be, let’s root them out.  And let’s replace them with new habits, habits that lead us down the Lenten road to Easter. 

When we arrive, we will arrive with joy.

May it be so.

Last Published: February 16, 2021 10:45 AM
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