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Morphin’ Time

Thomas J Parlette

“Morphin Time”

Luke 9: 28-43

2/7/16, Transfiguration

I live in a house with a 9 year old boy. Which means I know far more about nerf guns, video games and transformers than I really should. It also means I am sometimes forced to watch cartoons I might not otherwise choose to watch. Pokemon, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Gravity Falls are among the current favorites. Perhaps you remember the classic Mighty Morphin Power Rangers – they’re still around, believe it or not. For those uninitiated, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers is a live action series, originally filmed in Japan that is just one step above what you might film in your own backyard. It follows the adventures of a group of teenagers who have the ability to transform into superhero ninja warriors at the drop of a hat. The scripts are terrible, the special effects even worse – but the show is a hit anyway. Their appeal is that, while ordinary teenagers by day, when called upon, they can transform themselves into powerful martial arts experts for justice. All this happens when they come together and shout “It’s morphin time.”

We might be tempted to cry out the same thing this morning, because today we journey up the mountain for Jesus’ Transfiguration.

Whenever we go up a mountain in the Bible, you know something important is about to happen. God reveals himself on mountains. God met Moses on Mount Sinai and gave him the ten commandments – and Moses face glowed from his encounter with God. On Mount Horeb, Elijah did battle with the prophets of Ba’al, and the Lord brought down fire on a drenched pile of wood. And of course Jesus delivered his most famous sermon on a mountain as well. So when we hear that Jesus took his three closest friends up a mountain – we know something big is coming.

And sure enough, we are not disappointed. All of a sudden, the appearance of Jesus face changed and his clothes became dazzling white. He was transformed. The word “transform” in Greek is metamorphoo. It means to change into another form. It comes from “meta” meaning change, and “morpho” meaning form. These are the words, of course, from which we get the word “metamorphosis.”

This word is actually not used in the New Testament very often. It’s used here in this story and again in 2nd Corinthians 3, where Paul describes the transformation of believers into the image of Christ. Morpho refers to the outward change the disciples saw in Jesus there on the mountaintop, and also to an inner change that is lasting and permanent that happens to anyone who truly sees Christ for what he is – the Son of God.

The disciples are still standing there with there mouths open, staring at Jesus, when all of sudden Moses and Elijah join Jesus. The two most important figures in the history of Israel – the Giver of the Law and the Prince of the Prophets, all things come together there on the mountain with Jesus. Luke is the only Gospel writer that gives us a taste of what they talked about. Luke tells us that they were speaking about Jesus departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.

The word used here, translated as departure is actually “exodus” – the same word used for the escape from Egypt when Moses led the Hebrews out of slavery and into the promised land. So here on the mountain, Moses and Elijah are talking to Jesus about a new exodus, the final exodus, in which Jesus will lead all of us out of slavery to sin and death and into the promised land of eternal life. Of course, the disciples don’t know about that part yet. They won’t put that together until later. For now, they stand amazed on the mountaintop, hoping that they could stay in that moment of glory.

The transfiguration story appears at a moment when everyone needs a bit of reassurance. Jesus knows what’s coming and perhaps he is grappling with the reality of what will happen in Jerusalem. Moses and Elijah are there to offer reassurance and encouragement for the difficult task that lies ahead. The disciples too, need some reassurance. After hearing Jesus’ predictions about his rejection and eventual death, they are experiencing a sense of doom and gloom, distraught over the whole situation, perhaps questioning whether they should have signed up as Jesus’ followers.

But then this story takes place on the mountain. It is a preview of coming attractions, a foretaste of glory divine. What happens in this story is that we flip to the last page of the novel and discover it will be a happy ending – everything will turn out alright.

This story reminds me of the scene towards the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 – when Harry is about to go to the forest to meet Voldemort. As he prepares himself to die, the spirits of all his friends and family appear to him to offer reassurance. He asks them what dying is like, will it hurt and they tell him it’s as quick as falling asleep. They assure him that they will be with him the whole way. This gives Harry the strength to face down death and overcome the Dark Lord Voldemort. I wonder if something similar was happening on the mountaintop between Jesus and Moses and Elijah. Were there words of reassurance as Jesus prepared to face down death once and for all?

The disciples certainly receive encouragement from this experience. They are so lifted up by the experience that they don’t want to leave. They wanted to build some dwellings for everyone and stay in this moment for ever. But the text is clear that this is not possible, that Peter is merely swept up in the moment, noting that Peter didn’t know what he was saying. This wasn’t a place to stay forever, it was a momentary glimpse of glory to confirm who Jesus was and everything would turn out alright. The voice from heaven makes it clear, “This is my Son, my Chosen – Listen to him!”

And then the moment is over. Jesus was found alone. The disciples didn’t know what to make of this mysterious experience – so they said nothing.

The next day, it was back to business as usual. A man meets them at the foot of the mountain with his son who is possessed by an evil spirit. Apparently the disciples who had remained behind were not able, or not willing to help the boy, so his father goes right to Jesus himself. In a very puzzling exchange, Jesus seems to lose his temper a bit here – “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”

I always wonder – who is Jesus talking to? Is it the crowd? Is it the Father with the sick son? Or is it the disciples that he is annoyed with? I can understand that Jesus would have a bit of a short fuse after the mountaintop experience and talking about his final journey to Jerusalem – but it seems out of character to take it out on this poor man looking for someone to help his son. After all, in other stories, Jesus praises people who show absolute confidence in his ability to heal. So I don’t think Jesus is addressing his comments to the man or the crowd. I think its more plausible that he is losing patience with his disciples, the ones who stayed behind at the foot of the mountain. They never seem to get it. They never seem to understand. Jesus’ frustration here is with his disciples, who could have taken care of this man’s son – but were either unable or perhaps unwilling to intervene.

But when someone comes to Jesus asking for a blessing – Jesus does not disappoint. And everyone was amazed at the greatness of God.

It’s no accident that this story comes up every year right before Lent. This is a time of year when we all look for some transformation. This is the time of year on our Christian calendar when we look for some “morphin” to happen. We look to spend some time with God and be transfigured.

Rev. Gene Brooks once wrote that, “When we are spending time in the presence of God regularly, our face changes. It changes from angry, upset, irritated and critical to an expression of contentment despite the circumstances, of joy despite our sorrows, a new perspective with better priorities informed by Scripture.”(1)

Lent is a good time to look in the mirror and examine our faces. What does your face say about how much time you are spending in the presence of God.

This is a season of morphin, as we prepare to leave the mountain top and follow Jesus on the new exodus. It’s morphin time as we gather around table and nourish ourselves for the journey. It’s time to spend time with God and let the Holy Spirit transfigure us into what God calls us to be.

May it be so – for you and for me.

May God be praised. Amen.


1. Dynamic Preaching, Vol. XXXII, No 1, p. 33.