“The Transfiguration,” Goodbye Sermon to Bethlehem, February 14, 2010
Transfiguration of our Lord February 14th 2010
Exodus 34:29-35 Psalm 99 II Corinthians 3: 12-4:2 Luke 9: 28-36 [37-43]
What a wonderful text to be able to preach from! Today we celebrate the transfiguration of our Lord – although most of us really celebrate St. Valentine’s Day. Let the cherub shoot the arrows – no harm. And let’s go to those we have a crush on and say, “Be my Valentine?” No harm – but let’s set that sentimental little holiday into the background and place the source of truth, love, and life into the foreground, because this Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ causes us to grow and mature in the greatest love this world has ever known.
That love is engendered by faith in the very God who created the heavens and the earth and whose face shines with the light in which we see light. The wonderful God who said, “Let there be light!” and there was light. You notice that Jesus was going up that mountain to pray and taking his inner-circle of disciples with him, Peter, James, and John. They are a sleepy bunch just like they were in the garden of Gethsemane, although here Peter does talk a little in his sleep not knowing what he was saying.
I certainly wish my prayer life were stronger and more disciplined. I wonder if praying is like climbing up a mountain and climbing up a mountain is like praying? Because it was while praying together, the way Bethlehem did the Saturday before last, that Jesus was transfigured. It was as if he had entered heaven and his body already became glorified, making his clothes become a dazzling white, and his face begin to shine. You hear about some transfiguration stories among the Hindus, but here Moses and Elijah suddenly appeared with Jesus and conversed with him about his departure from Jerusalem. (Just as an aside, you remember that Moses died on Mount Nebo and no one ever found his grave and Elijah was taken up into heaven by a fiery chariot and horses. Thus the song, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot!) Now the word used in Greek for “departure” is “exodus.” They spoke of the exodus that Jesus would accomplish in Jerusalem.
Moses took the children of God through the Red Sea on dry land through the wilderness and into the land flowing with milk and honey, the Promised Land. Elijah the prophet reminded kings, who thought they were gods, that it is God who is our real king and the powerful of the earth had better humble themselves before God and obey God’s will and care for God’s people.
Moses represented the law, Elijah, the prophets, and Jesus, the Son of Righteousness, stood for the Gospel between them. Jesus would lead the children of God through the cold waters of death, through the valley of the shadow of death, to dwell in the House of the Lord [in Heaven], where we will live forevermore, so that even here [on earth] goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives.
But Jesus had to bring about our new exodus by means of his dying on the cross for us; yes, dying on the cruel rails of the cross for you and me. Moses had his staff, but Jesus had to get nailed to the cross and by that cross he opened up the gates of heaven for us, the entrance way to life, abundant life, the life that overcomes death, the love that is stronger than death. And for all who believe in Christ and him crucified, God opens up the way to a heavenly new life that even begins here on earth.
I used to think that the three booths that Peter talked about were for the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant churches. But in our churches we still talk in our sleep, because we have to become awakened in the likeness of Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven has to spread over all the earth, not by so-called mighty armies and lying voices of violence – terrorism will fail, but by the love that shone from Jesus, when the face of God shone through him just like the way the sun shines on the earth.
We are blessed in the transfiguration, because the Lord made his face shine on us and was gracious unto us, lifted his countenance upon us, and gave us peace. Not with the force of armies and coercion, but by the almighty power of God’s love – sending us all out on healing campaigns, rescue missions, like the one in Haiti – “We are the world, we are the children!” Bringing food, water, medical help, and shelter to those poor souls brings them the glad tidings that God reigns! Would that armies everywhere were converted and sent out on campaigns of rescue missions! Amen!
Yet and still when the cloud covered the three sleepy heads, they were terrified. We have to approach God through Jesus and obey God’s voice and listen to him, whom God himself elected and called his beloved Son. We cannot approach a pillar of fire nor a dark ominous cloud; but we can in the words of Luther, come to the child, Jesus, at his mother breast; be proud to be a fish that Jesus caught or to be the loving people that Jesus sends out to catch more fish. Or we can turn to the One who keeps on forgiving, heals us of all our diseases, brings fulfillment into our lives, makes us straighten out, glorify God, and live a life full of joy as we go on our way rejoicing!
Now Peter’s three booths for me seem to be Moses, standing for Judaism, Elijah for Islam (think of Elijah Mohammed), and Jesus for Christianity; but in the Gospel of Jesus Christ our cups overflow with love for Jews and Moslems. One day I believe that every knee shall bow to the name that is above every other name, Jesus Christ our Lord, because his overwhelming love will convince them that he is the truth. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, “they will fall on their knees with the overwhelming conviction they had nowhere else to go.”
Where Luke describes the transfiguration of Jesus, St. Paul relates the transfiguration to us. It is called “metamorphosis” in the Greek, like the metamorphosis of a larva asleep in a cocoon changing into a marvelous butterfly. God’s face shines on us and when we turn to our Lord, the Spirit, the veil that separates us falls away, and we see our real reflections in the transfigured Christ, become a miraculous mirror. No longer does St. Paul here speak of looking through a mirror darkly, we will begin to be with God and walk with God and talk with God in prayer face to face. We will begin to know ourselves, the way old Socrates bid us do; but more than that, we will begin to be filled with the source of life and love and faith and hope just like Christ.
Hmmm, “What’s the pastor been smoking?” You might ask. For some of us a whole lot of other things are more important than being a Christian. Like somebody said to me, “I’ll see you in church unless anything else comes up.” That was a dead-give-a-way. Church was the last thing on his list. And that is all right, if you want to be short changed. But when Christ climbs up that mountain in your heart and starts making your little light shine, then you start seeing what life is really all about.
You don’t have to come to Christ, of course. You might enjoy being a 20 watt light bulb. That’s not much better than walking in the dark. But St. Paul speaks about becoming one of the stars lighting up the way to the salvation of the world. We use the word “magnitude” of stars where Paul uses the word “glory.” Some stars are first magnitude, some second. The sixth magnitude stars are the dimmest that you can see with the naked eye. The little dipper has some sixth magnitude stars and the big dipper has a couple of first magnitude stars. Ah, those kind almost light up the whole sky! And our transfigured Lord can light us up and change us from one glory to the next, just like those stars, until the face of God shines through us, like the Son of God shining in our hearts and making life, love, faith, and hope grow all over the world. As St. Peter says, “Be attentive to Christ as a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (II Peter 1:19). Ah, the sun in the sky can make plants and other vegetation grow, but the Son of God makes the life that overcomes death grow, makes forgiveness and reconciliation grow, overturns evil and frees up the good, opens up the Jim Crow prisons and lets the oppressed go free, increases our hunger for justice and fairness. Invites all the nations of the earth into the Promised land.
The Son of God brings real climate change. Our hearts become strangely warmed with fresh new life and love and compassion, and in the gratitude for our change we freely forgive those who did us wrong.
Imagine the metamorphosis, when Jesus healing campaign opens up the hearts of congress and everyone gets health insurance and our medical industry becomes reformed, decreasing the cost, and fewer people get sick and die in hospitals instituted to heal us and make us get well. Schools stopped spreading ignorance and prejudice and started really enlightening us. The government stopped being against us and became a government of the people by the people and for the people.
And churches, what can I say about churches? Scriptures say, that judgment begins with the House of the Lord (I Peter 4:17). We should not become a burden on society, but bring renewal to society. We should not spread bad news, but good news, because of the marvelous things that God does through us. Churches should not turn off their lights, but become the lights that enlighten our society and showing all manner of persons in our society the way that they should go.
The street lights don’t light up Oakland. Our churches should be the lamps that light up our city. Our faith, the face of God shining through our churches has to light up our streets, fill our city with gentleness, love, and justice. Climbing the mountain of our prayers, the Light of the World can make Oakland be our shining city on the hill.
Now this mountain-top experience is given us by God to strengthen us as we go down into the valley of Lent and head for Holy Week, the Passion of Christ, and the cross. This mountain top experience makes us rejoice even in our suffering and we know that God will help us through it.
Our lesson this time did not leave Jesus up on that Mountain of glory. We could see he was back down there driving an evil spirit out of a boy that was demon possessed. The disciples failed to be of help. They even later tried to stop someone who was curing people successfully. They must have had an attitude, because Jesus reproached them because they lacked the faith to be helpful.
But when we think of facing the realities of the future and the valley of departure and separation, remember that prayer is like climbing up a mountain, and God gives us more than enough light, more than enough heart, and more than enough strength. God remains the life of our lives, continuing His unconditional love for us. Just keep on praying and God will increase your angel-power to get through any valley, no matter how dark, no matter how deep. Amen.
Communion Blessing: Jesus shines brighter, Jesus is fairer than all the angels in the sky! (Adapted from “Beautiful Savior”)