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    Buy Direct from CSS Publishing Company is a free website that provides brief yet probing exegetical commentary for:

  • Pastors who need inspiration and idea starters for their sermons
  • Church musicians who want to coordinate music and hymn selections with scriptural themes
  • Anyone who wants deeper insight into each week’s lectionary passages

These background notes cover every assigned text in the Revised Common Lectionary for each Sunday and major observance throughout the year.

Transfiguration Sunday, Cycle A (Beck)

The unifying theme for this occasion is obviously the Transfiguration of our Lord. The Exodus 24:12-18 and Psalm 2 texts were used in the composition of the Transfiguration accounts within the Synoptic Gospels. The writer of 2 Peter 1:16-21 probably used the Transfiguration account from one or more of the Synoptic Gospels as a literary source. These Series A selections, therefore, are the most fully integrated texts within the three-year series of texts for this occasion.

Psalm 2
In its setting within the Israelite Scriptures, Psalm 2 is a coronation psalm in which it is proclaimed that the Israelite king is the adopted son of the Lord God of Israel, to whom the Lord gives great powers. The Markan tradition, followed by the Matthean and the Lukan, included a short segment of Psalm 2 in the voice from heaven in the accounts of Jesus’ Baptism and of Jesus’ Transfiguration. Our Christian tradition can and may, of course, interpret this portion of Psalm 2 in this way and apply its words to Jesus. It is important, however, that we realize that Psalm 2 was originally intended to apply to a king in ancient Israel and that Jews today retain its original intention.

Exodus 24:12-18
It is obvious that Exodus 24:12-18 is included in this lectionary selection because of the references in Exodus 24 to Moses on a mountain, to six days, to the covering by the cloud, and to the giving of the Torah, or at least to the giving of the Decalogue. Each of these items is used in some way in the Transfiguration accounts in the Synoptic traditions. Each of these items provides an important clue to the intentions of the writers of the Synoptic traditions.

2 Peter 1:16-21
This text is a fascinating example of pseudonymous authorship. The author writes in the name of Peter, making extravagant claims to be Peter himself, present with our Lord Jesus Christ on the holy mountain of Transfiguration. Nevertheless, the basis of the author’s claim is “the prophetic word of Scripture,” which is not simply based on human experience and human interpretation of the significance of events, but is produced when persons moved by the Spirit of God speak from God. There is no better description than 2 Peter 1:16-21 anywhere else in our Scriptures of the nature and substance of the prophetic word. Certainly what we have in the accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus in the Synoptic Gospels are excellent examples of inspired creativity that validate the words of Jesus in each of the Synoptic Gospels themselves.

Therefore, the author of 2 Peter depended on the authority of the prophetic word of Scripture in the Synoptic Transfiguration accounts, and at the same time was being moved by the Spirit of God to speak from God. We who proclaim the prophetic word of Scripture are basically in the same situation as was the pseudonymous author of 2 Peter. We too are moved by the Spirit of God to speak from God, and our own names also are not what is most important in our proclamation….click here for the full installment

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Transfiguration Sunday, Cycle A (Ellingsen)

God in all his glory is too good to miss! Dwelling on the majesty of God revealed in the Transfiguration reminds us of our sin and provides the assurance that evil has no chance to prevail over Christ (Providence, Justification by Grace, and Eschatology).

Psalm 2
A royal Psalm composed for a coronation of a king, about Yahweh giving universal dominion to his king. The Psalm could be interpreted as a messianic prophecy. The psalmist begins by asking why plans are being hatched by nations and their kings plotting against Yahweh and his anointed (Maschiach, a title for the Messiah and also for a Hebrew king) (vv. 1-2). The Lord in heaven is said to laugh at these plans. It is asserted that he will speak in wrath to these plotters, noting that he has set his king on the highest point in Jerusalem (Zion) (vv. 4-6). The psalmist then announces a decree of the Lord that the anointed one is his Son, begotten by God (v. 7). This may be a royal protocol to be proclaimed at the time of the king’s coronation. God further proclaims that the anointed one will have all the nations to the ends of the earth as his possession, for the king will conquer them (vv. 8-9). As a result all the kings should be wise and be warned. The Lord will be served with fear and trembling, or he will be angry and they will perish. His wrath is quickly kindled, but happy are all who take refuge in the Lord (vv. 10-11).

Application: A sermon on this text (understood as a prophecy of Jesus Christ, for in a way he was enthroned at the Transfiguration no less than the Hebraic king for whom the song was written) has an opportunity to proclaim the eternality of God’s plans, so that the events of Jesus’ life (including the Transfiguration) are not accidents of history. For in referring to the Transfiguration long before his incarnation, the Psalm testifies that the events of Jesus’ life were intended by God from the beginning; his power and glory are then clearly revealed in this Psalm (Providence). Another possible direction is to proclaim the futility of our sin and selfish schemes, for ultimately God will prevail over them. This also can provide an occasion to offer comfort to the flock in the midst of despair.


Psalm 99
This is a Hymn of Praise for God’s holy and righteous rule, sometimes called an Enthronement Psalm, which was used on festivals like the Festival of Booths (Leviticus 23:33ff). The Psalm begins with the proclamation that Yahweh is king, and the people may tremble (v. 1a). He is said to sit upon the cherubim [kerubim, spiritual beings, known in other religions of the ancient Near East who serve God] (v. 1b). The Lord is then said to be great in Zion (the oldest and highest part of Jerusalem), exalted over the people (v. 2). All are to praise his awesome name, his holiness (vv. 3, 9). He is said to be a mighty king, a lover of justice, who executes justice and righteousness (v. 4). Directives are given to extol Yahweh and worship him, for he is holy (v. 5). He is praised for answering the petitions of Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, who kept his decrees (vv. 6-8a; cf. Exodus 32:11-14; Deuteronomy 9:26-29; Numbers 6:22-26; 1 Samuel 7:9). He is proclaimed as a forgiving God, always faithful to his people, but also an avenger of wrongdoing (v. 8).

Application: The alternate Psalm also provides an occasion to proclaim God’s providence — his control of the events of world history and thankfully to praise and celebrate this. It is also an opportunity to remember that this omnipotent God never gives up on his people and is always ready to listen to our prayers and forgive our indiscretions (Sin, Justification by Grace, and Prayer/Sanctification).

Exodus 24:12-18
Like all of the first five books of the Old Testament, Exodus is the product of several distinct literary strands, all originating between the tenth and sixth centuries BC. The book is so named for the Greek term referring to the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Its Hebrew name (meaning “these are the names”) refers to the first words of the text’s prologue.

In this text we have a second tradition of Moses receiving the tablets of stone on which the Decalogue was written. (This version is probably the work of a tenth/ninth-century BC strand called J, because it refers to the Lord as Yahweh.) The first version appears in verses 3-8. In this account Yahweh summons Moses to receive the tablets on the mountain (v. 12). But note that in verse 9 Moses and the elders are reported to have already climbed Mount Sinai. This may indicate that we deal here with a literary or oral tradition distinct from verses 3-8. Moses sets out with Joshua and went onto the mountain of God, instructing the elders to wait until he and Joshua returned. If disputes emerged the people were to go to High Priest Aaron and Hur, a notable leader of the tribe of Judah who functioned to resolve legal challenges (vv. 13-14). At the top of the mountain, covered with a cloud, the glory of Yahweh settled there. For six days the cloud covered it, until on the seventh day he called Moses out of the cloud (vv. 15-16). The glory of Yahweh is reported to be like a devouring fire, an image for God used elsewhere in Exodus (v. 17; 13:21; cf. Isaiah 30:30; Ezekiel 1:4). Moses entered the cloud, went up on the mountain, and remained there forty days and nights (v. 18). Of course the number forty is a stereotypical number used in the biblical era to indicate a full period (16:35; 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9-11, 18, 25; Matthew 4:2). This encounter with God introduces priestly material in chapters 25-31 regarding things like how the tabernacle is to be built, priestly vestments, and the like, which may have replaced the early tradition about Moses making the Ark of the Covenant (see Deuteronomy 10:1-5).

Application: The text makes clear that we need God and Christ (his illumination) in order to make sense of the Ten Commandments. One direction might be to note that until we see the commandments illuminated by the devouring fire who is God and also revealed in all his glory in the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:2, 6), we may think we are capable of keeping these commandments. We can no longer hold such self-righteousness about ourselves in light of the glory of God. Such an awareness of sin prepares us to hear the gospel of God’s unconditional grace and forgiveness. Another possibility is to focus on the Hebraic understanding of the law [torah]. Recall that it is not intended to connote judgmental, condemnatory decrees. Rather for the Jewish heritage the law is instruction or guide for life (Leo Trepp, Judaism: Development and Life, p. 2). But here we can remember Matthew’s Jesus claims that he came not to abolish the law but fulfill it (5:17). And so a sermon might develop the theme that in Christ, but only in him, the law may be kept or fulfilled (Sanctification and Christology)….click here for the full installment

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  • Charged with Grandeur:Sermons and Practices for Delighting in God's Creation by Christopher Keating
    Chris Keating
    Cloud Theology

    Exodus 24:12-18; Matthew 17:1-9
    Imagine Transfiguration Sunday a few decades from now. The congregation -- half of whom are robots -- gather for worship. Two ushers quip about finding signs of intelligent life.
         A liturgist reads the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, while worshipers adjust virtual reality devices which place them on the summit with the disciples. Light floods their eyes, and they are overcome by the fear that also fills Peter, James, and John.
         There on the mountain they see Elijah, Moses, and maybe even Watson, IBM’s supercomputer. Meanwhile, Pastor ART -- a cutting-edge cyborg who just graduated from Princeton -- begins the sermon. He’s a bit soft-spoken for some, but ART (short for Artificial Reformed Theologian) is programmed to produce quality sermons guaranteed to challenge but not offend, enthrall but never bore.
         Far-fetched? Maybe not as much as you think.
         As AI develops, the world will face economic, moral, and even theological questions never considered. Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly reflects on what he calls the “serious spiritual question” we may be overlooking: “If you create other things that think for themselves, a serious theological disruption will occur.”
         It’s possible to consider God as the prototypical cloud server whose glory emerges in unimagined and dazzling ways. On the Mount of Transfiguration, the cloud envelopes the disciples and changes Jesus, preparing him for the passion that awaits. God draws nearer to human beings, calling them to deeper faithfulness....more
    On Turning On The Lights In The Church Building

    Whenever I read from the book of Exodus, especially a text which includes a visit by Moses to the mountaintop to be in the presence of God, I get an image in my mind of Charlton Heston in the movie version of The Ten Commandments. I'll bet you have that problem too, don't you? It doesn't matter if you were born a decade or two since that movie was first released. It gets a lot of play on television, especially during "holy seasons" of the year like Easter.
         The movie, which I must confess I actually enjoy, takes a few liberties with the biblical text. I guess Moses and the other biblical authors would not make very good screen writers. One of the problems with the image of Charlton Heston in that role is that it takes away the mystery of the encounter that Moses has with God....more
    Mark Ellingsen
    Revealing the divinity of Christ
    Transfiguration is a celebration of God’s glory and how that glory is revealed in Christ when he was transfigured. The festival was observed as early as the sixth century in Eastern Christianity, but did not become a festival in the Catholic Church and its Protestant heirs until just 70 years prior to the Reformation. Sermons in line with this festival will aim to focus the flock on coming to appreciate a bigger, more majestic picture of God and Christ than what they brought to church. Assurance will be provided that this majestic God overcomes all evil. All the lessons considered collectively also link Christ and the gospel to the Law (the ten commandments)....more
    Peter Andrew Smith
    Down from the Mountain
    Matthew 17:1-9

    Jessica took the tray of dishes from in front of Martha and put them on the cart.
         “Thank you,” Martha said.
         “You’re very welcome. How was everything today?”
         “It was lovely. Please tell Keith that I appreciated his homemade jam on the bread. It made the lunch extra special today.”
         “I’ll let him know.” Jessica paused. “If I see some of the jam left over would you like me to put it to one side for you?”...more
    Janice Scott
    For many people, testimonies in which someone relates the story of how they came to Christianity, still seem to be one of the most powerful means of hearing the Christian message. There's something about the sincerity of the person who stands to speak, which usually shines through their words. And to hear the words of someone who has had a profound religious experience can be very moving....more
    Mary Kay Eichelman
    A Peep Hole
    Object: A picture covered with another piece of paper that has a small square cut out of it. (a "peak hole")
    I have something to show you today BUT... you only get to see a little bit of my picture -- a peep hole.  (Show picture covered over with piece of paper with a small square cut out.)  Does it make you wonder what the whole picture might look like?...more

Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen