January 23, 2002
Text: Matthew 17:1-13
Introduction: An Austin Seminary student and his two boys visit the ranch and meet the horses, experiencing a radical transformation upon meeting a very large horse by the name of "Faust." They move from the familiar swagger borne of virtual reality to the shock of the immense size of "real" horses and to the retreat of a safe distance and protection and then to the welcoming approach of gracious gentleness: "don't fear me." (Like the "Shrek" figure?).
I. Theophany texts like this one and the reception they get from contemporary readers in the church remind me of the swagger of familiarity borne of a type of virtual reality association that numbs our reader-senses. "Oh ya, God speaks up and says...(this or that...)...ya, whatever!" Ho hum; this is another one of your standard biblical texts about God appearing and such...! Rather than "inspiring" glib comments it is a wonder that we don't read such things and shudder and become silent!
II. Maybe Peter has been into his own version of "virtual reality" too. "Tent-making" is something he maybe should have left to Paul. Seriously, tent-making, tabernacle-ing, was a way of marking touch-down places of revelation in former times and those times were memorialized in the etiological legends of the Old Testament. In God's new creation it is God's choice not to "touch down" here and there but "to tent" permanently with people and to wipe away their tears (cf. Revelation 21:3ff). It is a reversal: people don't make a tent for God; God makes a tent of his own with people...forever.
III. The mystery of the text resides in the "sighting thing" about which the disciples are instructed to say nothing until "the Son of Man" is raised from the dead. It is only from the post-resurrection perspective of Matthew's compositional angle of vision that it becomes clear just who this "son of man" was/is. The origins of this riddle/mystery reach back into the pre-Matthaean source, namely, the Gospel of Mark...who is this Jesus anyway?! The "metamorphosis" of Jesus is the frightening image of the holiness of the resurrected One, no less "slaying" than the opening pictures of Jesus the resurrected One in the Book of Revelation...along with the sun-like brilliance of his countenance and clothes that gleam like bright light there is a tongue that is like a sword, a voice like the sound of rushing waters, and he bears a name known only to him. This is the One who throws sin and death along with the evil one himself into the sulphuric fires of the sea of eternal damnation. How do we talk about such things today?
Conclusion: Maybe a good place to begin is to say nothing and rather to let blinding brilliance of this theophany have its way with you and me. Forego the temptation to raise yourself up and to dispel your own fear - modern versions of the swagger - and await the "gentle giant's" hand to raise you up...in the resurrection to new life, the hour of "metamorphosis" for people of faith.