A Southern Pastor: When Heaven Meets Earth

There are some portions of the Bible that strike us as so incredible that we don’t know what to do with them. The Transfiguration of Jesus is such a story, and scholars have argued about its meaning for centuries.

It was August of 2009, and my then husband had decided to switch careers. We knew that his new job would force us to move, and we had spent the summer applying and visiting several possibilities. Like a good teacher and historian, every time he applied for a different job, I created a folder on my computer with the name of that town and filled it with information on neighborhoods, schools, how to switch my teaching certificate to that state, local Methodist churches, musical opportunities for Lucas, and jobs I would and did apply for. By August it was obvious that we were going either to Missouri or Iowa. The problem was that out of all the places he had applied, Iowa was the one place I had been unable to find any leads on a job. As I sat in front of my computer a few days before we were set to visit Iowa, I was almost in tears from not knowing how I would find work if we ended up there.

And then I heard a voice say, “check the church.” I turned around to look behind me because I assumed Johnny had walked into the room, but there was no one there. I tried to shake off the weird feeling and went to the education webpage to job search again. “Check the church.” It was so clear, yet there wasn’t anyone in the room with me. And the idea was silly anyway. I had already looked at the church website many times to determine if we would attend church there. But out of human curiosity, and almost in defiance of what I considered to be a ridiculous and frankly weird feeling I was having, I pulled up the church website, and scrolling across the top of the page was a flashing banner that had not been there before: “Searching for a youth minister. Click here to apply.”

I slammed the computer shut and backed away from the table. And I swear I could hear God laughing from the other room. That moment transformed me. In a matter of an hour, I had applied for, and been offered an interview for the job, even though I had never considered a career in the church, and felt I was COMPLETELY unqualified. The church council called a meeting for that Saturday so they could interview me while I was in town. They didn’t have a youth program and wanted to start one, and all my curriculum and leadership training in public education was exactly what they were looking for. They called and offered me the job as I was driving back to Arkansas, saying they knew the moment I walked into the room that God had sent me to them.

My husband ended up taking the job in Missouri, and I was devastated. But that moment in the kitchen, when either physically or internally I heard the voice of God, my life was changed forever. Even though I didn’t end up becoming a youth minister for that church, from that moment on I knew that God was calling me to devote my life to service. I still had some discerning to do; answering a call to give your life completely to service is never easy. But in that moment, my life was transfigured; I would never be the same again. No going back. A turn in the road.

Faith can be like that. We have all had experiences like that. Sometimes the experience we have is so unbelievable or overwhelming that we have trouble explaining it. It happened. It was necessary. We can’t explain it. But it got us ready for the next step.

The Transfiguration of Christ, which this scripture tells, is not primarily the celebration of an event in the life of Jesus. Instead, it calls us to keep listening to the teaching of Christ, who has now been revealed in his full glory. What the disciples witnessed then was no special effects spectacle, but rather a powerful symbolic affirmation of all that was at stake, both in Jesus himself and in their (and our) continuing obedience to him. It wasn’t razzle-dazzle and special effects to prove that Jesus was the Messiah; they were to have accepted that already. It was the act, physical and symbolic, of Heaven meeting Earth, God and Jesus coming together, to prepare for the days ahead. It was preparation, not performance.

We are the body of Christ. His transfiguration points to our own transformation. We live moment to moment, experience to experience, growing through each moment toward what we are meant to be. The huge, incredible transforming moments happen from time to time, and they empower us to endure the mundane moments, and even the painful ones.

It is the spiritual energy we receive from those incredible moments, not the flashy circumstance of them, that is important.

We are coming to the end of our annual period of Lent, a season when we sacrifice and focus our attentions on building a stronger relationship with Christ. This is a season in which we have actively sought transformation in our hearts and lives as we prepare for celebrating the resurrection at Easter.

Someone asked me what I gave up for Lent. I don’t think what I “gave up” is important. What is important is whether I used the period of Lent to seek deeper spiritual devotion. Did I spend time serving the poor in the hours I gained by giving up TV? What I gained is the point, not what I lost.

That’s what the transfiguration of Jesus prepares us for, and the reason we try to do the same through our own sacrifice during Lent: seeking to have heaven touch earth, in us.

The transfiguration on the mountain prepared Jesus for the days ahead. Many times in the last five years I have found myself on a mountain peering down into the valley below, wondering how I will face the decisions and trials to come. It is in those moments that I remember the glorious presence of God beside me as he called me into service, so real that I could feel God there in that room.

And that empowers me to go forward in faith, being in service to others, and waiting to be transformed again by God.

Matthew 17:1-8

17 Six days later Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and brought them to the top of a very high mountain. He was transformed in front of them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.

Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Jesus. Peter reacted to all of this by saying to Jesus, “Lord, it’s good that we’re here. If you want, I’ll make three shrines: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, look, a bright cloud overshadowed them. A voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son whom I dearly love. I am very pleased with him. Listen to him!” Hearing this, the disciples fell on their faces, filled with awe.

But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.”When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.


Melanie Tubbs is a professor, pastor, mother, Mimi, and true Arkansas woman. She lives with nine cats and one dog on a quiet hill in a rural county where she pastors a church and teaches history at the local university. Her slightly addictive personality comes out in shameful Netflix binges and a massive collection of books. Vegetarian cooking, reading mountains of books for her seminary classes, and crocheting for the churches prayer shawl ministry take up most of her free time, and sharing the love of Christ forms the direction of her life. May the Peace of Christ be with You.