A Transfiguring Conversation (Sermon)

“A Transfiguring Conversation”

A Readers’ Theater

Exodus 24:12-18 and Matthew 17:1-9

Allen Huff

Jonesborough Presbyterian Church


13 So Moses and his assistant Joshua got up, and Moses went up God’s mountain. 14 Moses had said to the elders, “Wait for us here until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur will be here with you. Whoever has a legal dispute may go to them.”

15 Then Moses went up the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The Lord’s glorious presence settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days. On the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from the cloud. 17 To the Israelites, the Lord’s glorious presence looked like a blazing fire on top of the mountain. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up the mountain. Moses stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:13-18 – NRSV)

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became bright as light. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.

Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will set up three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, the Beloved: with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they raised their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-9 – NRSV)

         When our Sunday school class worked with the story of the Transfiguration, we wondered what Jesus, Moses, and Elijah might have been talking about when Peter, James, and John saw them standing together. While we can’t know what they were discussing, I did think, “Well, it could be fun to imagine that conversation.” The following skit was the result.


Jesus: So, we meet again.

Moses: Again? Weren’t we just together a moment ago?

Jesus: Sort of. But time gets weird when you’re alive in God’s fullness.

Elijah: Man! First you all yank me out of living without dying, and now you yank me out of really living without being born. No disrespect, but can you make up your mind?

Jesus: Your human experience was kind of unique, Elijah.

Elijah: Yeah. It was a whirlwind. No pun intended. Hey, Jesus, those guys cowering over there. Are they with you?

Jesus: Yeah. Those are three of my twelve disciples.

Elijah: Well, they look a little weak-kneed. Can’t you find better followers than that?

Jesus: Oh, they’re not so bad. They can get a little excitable, and a little thick-headed, but they’re good people. And they’ll get better.

Moses: Tell me about it. And Jesus has only twelve half-wits to worry about. I had a whole nation of them! There were times I wanted to grab that bunch whiners and ring…

Jesus: Bless their hearts?

Moses: Yeah. Sure. Bless their hearts.

Elijah: So, Jesus, why’d you bring us here anyway?

Jesus: Honestly, things are about to get rough, and I decided I could use a little company from folks who might understand. It’s going to be bad in ways even you guys didn’t have to experience.

Moses: Why? What’s going on?

Jesus: Well, do you guys remember what happened when you went up on mountain tops?

Moses: Like when God gave me the ten suggestions?

Jesus: We still call them commandments, you know.

Moses: Oh, don’t give me that, Jesus! Just a little while ago you went through a lot of the laws God gave me and said, “You have heard it said” in the law, “but I say to you,” and in one sermon you rewrote what took me a lifetime of hard work to get across to people who just wanted to eat and be comfortable!

Elijah: Yeah! And what’s with this whole love your enemies business? On Mt. Carmel, I thought y’all wanted me to shame those prophets of Baal. That’s why I took a sword to the whole lot of them.

Jesus: Wow. Maybe I should have invited other folks today. Maybe Jonah, or Micah, or Daniel. Folks for whom lessons on humility might have stuck.

Elijah: Sorry, Jesus. Maybe there’s just something about being on the earth, again. Everywhere I look, there’s so much potential in the midst of all this chaos, and I want to do something about it.

Moses: I hear you, Elijah. We’ve seen, felt, and tasted God’s wholeness, and when we’re in that state, we view the world with God’s eyes. We see beneath the trouble to the original goodness and holiness underneath. But as soon as I set foot on this mountain, I, too, felt an urge to try to control things—like I did when I made water come out of that rock. God really didn’t like that.

Elijah: Yeah, I guess I was kind of out of control while seeking to control all those prophets of Baal. Out of that bunch, God could have had a lot of new followers and leaders, but pride consumed me like that fire consumed all that wet wood. What a waste. Again, Jesus, I’m sorry.

Jesus: It really is true for both of you: Once a prophet, always a prophet. And that’s why you’re here. You see what others fail to see. You’ll say what others fear to say. You remember beyond what was to what’s now possible in God’s grace. And you both know that nothing in this life is easy. Nothing at all.


Moses: So, back to you, Jesus. You say life’s about to get hard?

Elijah: Moses, it sounds like death is about to get hard for him.

Jesus: It’s going to be the worst, you know. Really the worst.


Elijah: And how can I help? What do I even know about death?

Moses: Yeah, Elijah, you missed out on one of the most humbling and holy of human experiences. No one wants to die, but a life on earth without death is hardly a life at all.

Jesus: True enough, Moses. And the same is just as true, maybe even more so, for a life without suffering.

Elijah: Why is that true, Jesus?

Jesus: That’s everyone’s question, isn’t it? If there is a God, and if God is good, why do people suffer?

Elijah: Well look, pretend I’m one of those three guys over there. What would you say to them?

Jesus: Ok. Let’s try something. In about two thousand years, someone is going to write this: “The capacity to endure and suffer­—generously, without bitterness, without revenge, without fail—[is] absolutely essential.”1 He’ll say that “The way of love, then, is the way of annoyance, frustration…need, conflict…and exhaustion.”2 Finally, he’ll say, “This difficult way, this way of love and suffering, this way of Christ is unavoidably the way of the cross.”3

Elijah: The way of the what?!

Moses: You mean…you’re going to…THEY’RE going to…What?!

Jesus: Now you sound like my disciple Peter. Listen, very soon, the people are going to have, from now on, an image in their minds—an image for their minds—of God’s own heart, broken open in love for them and for all things.

Moses: How can something as unfair as that be “absolutely essential”?!

Jesus: Think about it, Moses. Who would you have been without Pharaoh? Elijah, who would you have been without Jezebel? Think of all you accomplished in the face of opposition, and through your own suffering. People still remember the stories of your faithfulness. And they keep finding strength and hope in them. Look, there will always be people who cause suffering, because there will always be people who think they shouldn’t haveto suffer, so they try to avoid it. And that’s not possible. In fact, the only way that makes it feel like someone can avoid suffering is by causing suffering for others. Still, there will always be people like you. People who endure and overcome. People who trust that, even in suffering, God is present, and that on the other side of suffering lie unity, wholeness, and hope.

Elijah: Jesus, those guys over there—who, by the way, are beginning to look at us—how are they going to understand all this?

Jesus: They’re not. At least not yet. I’m going to tell them to keep quiet about all this. They’re not going to understand until—and here’s the kicker—until God plucks me from death like God plucked you, Elijah, from your own life. And that can’t happen until the people think that they ended my life on their terms. Believe me, I wish it could happen another way. And I’m not through asking about that. But it looks like the world will have to have some kind of example of true suffering. Not suffering endured while creating suffering—like when people go to war. The point of war is to make as much suffering for everyone as possible until one side suffers so much it can’t cause suffering for the other side anymore. And that’s not a matter of winners and losers. Everyone loses. And I can’t stand that. The point of holy suffering is to expose the futility of violence, of vengeance, of hate. And the point my suffering is to reaffirm the holiness of life…all life.


Moses: But Jesus? A cross? Really?

Jesus: Yeah. A cross.

Moses: And I thought I had it rough. Forty years in the desert leading a bunch of whiners.

Elijah: You sure you can’t just get God to whisk you up in blazing chariot? Stage that in Jerusalem in front of the temple and people will talk about it forever, won’t they?

Jesus: I was sorely tempted to try that. But that avoids the whole suffering thing, doesn’t it? Everyone is always thinking that God is angry and wants revenge against human sin. But this will not be about changing God’s mind or God’s heart about the people. It’ll be about changing the people’s minds and hearts about God.4

Moses: Well, Jesus, I think maybe you’re making peace with this. You’re positively glowing right now. Kind of like I did when I was with God on Mt. Sinai.

Elijah: Yeah. I’m seeing that, too. And I think your guys over there see it, as well. They look a little scared, though.

Moses: Jesus, were we supposed to do this kind of thing, too? Did we let you down by not dying on a cross or something?

Jesus: No, no. Not at all. You were still under the old system of sacrifice. That was all the people could handle at the time. But after what the Creator, the Sustainer and I do, people will see that altars and sacrifices are things of the past—at least I hope and pray they do. Micah saw this coming when he said, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” That’s what I’m trying to do. And that’s what I want my followers to do—forever.

Elijah: Is that even realistic? Will anyone get it? Will anyone do it?

Jesus: Some will. And over time, some will become many. And many will become even more.

Moses: You seem to feel pretty confident about this, Jesus.

Jesus: Well, it’s all about love, isn’t it? And love is like candlelight. Share the flame, and there’s more for everyone. More light, more warmth, more hope.

Elijah: I guess this means we’ll see you again soon enough.

Jesus: You will, yes. And if people really become my disciples, loving as I love them, there will be even more of me than there is now.

Moses: May it be so.

Elijah: May it be so.

Jesus: Amen.

1Brian McLaren, The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian. Convergent, New York, 2016. p 183.

2Ibid., p 185.

3Ibid., p 185

4Ibid., p 187 (Here McLaren is paraphrasing Fr. Richard Rohr.)

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