“That Transfigures You and Me”    Sermon delivered  by Joyce Carpenter-Henderson February 19, 2023

“That Transfigures You and Me”

Sermon delivered  by Joyce Carpenter-Henderson

February 19, 2023


Thank you for this opportunity to preach the word of God to the people of God.

This is probably the only time I will get the opportunity to preach about the Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior, even Jesus Christ.  I am going to seize the chance.


By the way, I went outside the box and decided to preach about the gospel of Luke version of the Transfiguration story.  The actual appointed gospel reading  from the lectionary is the gospel of Matthew.  So, why did I choose to break the rules?


In the gospel of Luke, Jesus is praying with his disciples Peter, James and John on Mount Tabor.. That does not happen in either Matthew or Mark gospel stories. Another reason I selected the gospel of Luke was because Jesus had a conversation with Moses  and Elijah.   These famous prophets counseled him about his upcoming Passion story from the garden of Gethsemane, the cross on Calvary and the Resurrection. Again, that conversation among Moses, Jesus and Elijah is not captured in the other two gospels.


Last week Leah asked, What is Epiphany?  Well, the liturgical season of Epiphany is sandwiched between the season of Christmas and the season of Lent on the church calendar.  During the first Sunday of Epiphany, we recognize the importance  of of our Lord and Savior,  Jesus Christ’s Baptism and God’s voice from heaven that says to  him  “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am  well pleased.”  Today, the last Sunday of Epiphany  we celebrate the Transfiguration of our Lord and Savior, even Jesus Christ as his appearance is altered and his  white robe radiates from high above the mountaintop God’s voice from the cloud “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  His three disciples Peter, James and John are astounded and awestruck.


By the way, how many of you saw the Superbowl last Sunday night; let’s have a show of hands!

Well, I saw the Superbowl out of the corner of my eye while I choreographed the liturgy.   Everything in today’s service from Call to Worship to Benediction –all the prayers, and hymns in between focus on the theme of Transfiguration.


Prior to the Superbowl I heard an interview of Doug Williams, who like baseball’s Jackie Robinson, broke the color barrier. Doug Williams  was the first black quarterback to win the Superbowl. As he hoisted the Lombardi trophy above the field of Superbowl #22, he felt he was on the top of a mountain. He deafened the voices of critics who told him he couldn’t think straight because he was black  and ignored the critics who told him he couldn’t strategize a football game because he was black.  He said tears welled up in his eyes when he learned that two black quarterbacks would compete in Superbowl #57. When asked why it took 35 years before this competition, he said that blacks were denied the opportunity.


Interestingly enough, there were two other firsts in this Superbowl.  Women pilots did the flyer over prior to the game.  Also, for the very first time, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” the black national anthem, designated by the NAACP in 1917, was sung by  actress and singer Sheryl Lee Ralph. But, she left out the second verse that speaks  about the human rights struggle for dignity and freedom.


“Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,

felt in the days when hope unborn had died;

Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,

come to the place for which our people sighed?


We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,

We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,

Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last 

where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.”


When a prism is held up to white light,–that bright star an inclusive rainbow of colors appears;

no doubt evident in  the radiance of Christ’s white robe at the Transfiguration


Now, parallels may be drawn between Moses leading the people of God through the wilderness with God’s pillar of cloud by day  and God’s  pillar of fire by night. Blacks experienced the exploitation of plantation slave owners and the  raging mob violence of lynching.   The people of God led by the prophet Moses  barely escaped being worked to death by Egyptian taskmasters. Yet, there is a current parallel  to be drawn, it is  Ukraine has been invaded and assaulted by the Russian military. We pray the Ukrainians aided by the international community will be able to sustain a viable counter offensive against the Russian forces.



Sermon Prayer


O God, in the transfiguration of your Son

you confirmed the mysteries of the faith

by the witness of Moses and Elijah,

and in the voice from the bright cloud

declaring Jesus your beloved Son,

you foreshadowed our adoption as your children.

Make us heirs with Christ of your glory,

and bring us to enjoy its fullness,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.   




Let us return to the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration.  According to scripture, Moses stayed on Mt. Sinai 40 days and 40 nights while he received God’s instructions to lead the Israelites in a wilderness journey beyond the oppression of Egypt toward the Promised Land.  According to scripture, Elijah was outnumbered by Jezebel’s prophets 450 to 1.  Yet,  at Mount Carmel he beat the odds.  The pagan prophets worked their magic and various rituals.  The wood pile did not become a bonfire. Instead, God’s prophet Elijah laughed at their failure. Elijah poured water all over the wood, in fact, drowned the pile of wood with water, God sent down fire from heaven and lit up the wood.  Thunder could be heard rumbling in the background and soon torrents of rain came to end the drought.


Another story in the Elijah cycle is his escape to a cave on Mount Horeb. He was terribly afraid of Queen Jezebel’s vicious persecution of him.  Once again, God intervened, and Elijah witnessed the fire, the earthquake and wind.  When Elijah heard the still, small voice within he mustered up the courage to carry forth his prophetic ministry on behalf of God.


At Mount Tabor, these two great prophets, Moses and Elijah had a conversation with Jesus about his departure.   The Greek word for departure is exodus.  The great prophets are counseling Jesus about an exit seeking journey fraught with the agony of the crucifixion and the ecstasy of the resurrection.


You remember that Jesus sweated drops of blood in Mount Olives garden of Gethsemane.

The same three disciples, Peter, James and John,  were present in this garden of Gethsemane

They  witnessed Jesus prayer asking for the cup to be removed and yet surrendering, not my will but God’s will be done.


In Jesus’ story of Transfiguration, the inner circle of disciples hear God’s voice from the cloud,

“This is my son, my Chosen, listen to him.” According to the New Testament reading  which Audrey read, Peter clearly says “these are not cleverly devised myths” In other words, the apostles did  not fabricate the truth. This was not a figment of their imagination.  Peter, James and John were there on the mountain when the trio, Moses, Jesus and Elijah talked to Jesus about his wilderness of the soul.


I asked myself what hymn talked about transfiguration.  Julia Ward Howe’s hymn, The Battle Hymn of the Republic came to mind.   She wrote “Mine Eyes Have Seen” as a quest to end the United States Civil War.  Here’s the verse often sung by a men’s chorus:


“In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,

with a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me;

as he died to make us holy, let us die to make all free, 

while God is marching on.”


So, I reread Julia Ward Howe’s storyShe raised six children, while earning money as a gifted poet, author and playwright. She spoke seven languages, was a literary giant  and was highly involved in the abolitionist movement and the suffragette movement.  She wholeheartedly supported  the 15th amendment empowering women to vote and blacks as well.


Julia Ward Howe weathered a difficult marriage to a man who controlled her income

and squandered her family estate. Yet, she got around the obstacles to her success and was admitted into the Academy of Arts and Letters at age 88.  Years earlier, she was included into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.


How are you and I transfigured despite the ups and downs of life’s struggles? Well, transfigure does not necessarily mean we have to do a 360 change, maybe, a slight shift may allow us to minister to the needs of our church family and reach out to the greater community at large.


For instance, when we give white socks to Worcester Fellowship, we may help a homeless person, down on their luck.  Maybe, that person may wash their socks out in a Dunkin Donuts bathroom sink and then hang the damp socks over the steering wheel of the car in which they live.