In the Light of Glory: the Transfiguration of Our Lord, a Sermon for February 10, 2013
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in South San Francisco
Transfiguration of Our Lord
Exodus 34:29-35 Psalm 99 2 Cor. 3:12-4:2 Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)
In the Light of Glory
Let’s look at the prayer of the day again:
Holy God, mighty and immortal, you are beyond out knowing, yet we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Transform us into the likeness of your Son, who renewed our humanity so that we might share in his divinity, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns, etc.
“God is beyond our knowing,” it says, but through Jesus we get to know God and we get to know ourselves through who Jesus is.
We see the glory of God in the face of Jesus, because in the transfiguration, we see his figure changed from the human form into the form of God.
Then we pray to be changed into copies of Jesus, the Son of God, who renewed our humanity by the new birth we received through the love of God, so that in becoming children of God, we share in the divinity of Jesus Christ. These are the points made in the prayer.
There is a lot in that prayer and saying it is one thing, but it takes a whole life of prayer and serving God to make it real. How many of us go out all alone in the wilderness and spend the night praying? How many of us go up and climb a mountain in order to pray up there? I usually say my prayers in the comfort of my bed just before going to sleep and sometimes I don’t finish them, because I fall asleep. That does not represent much disciplined prayer. Once I took my confirmation class into the White Mountains in New Hampshire and we did a lesson up there, way up on Mt. Chocorua, hiding behind a rock. The wind was blowing so hard we could not hear ourselves talk.
Let’s step back, however, and think about where we are with this Transfiguration Sunday. It is the culmination of the Season of Epiphany, the season of light. It is like a mountain-top experience that strengthens us to get all the way through the valley of Lent. Ash Wednesday already comes this week and our service takes place here at 7:00pm and now the five Sundays in Lent follow and then Palm Sunday and Holy Week.
Thus the transfiguration is about being lifted up and strengthened. The transfiguration strengthens Jesus in order to get him all the way through the passion, his crucifixion, and burial, until God raises him back up in the resurrection. The disciples, Peter, James, and John saw Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah about his departure that he would accomplish in Jerusalem. When Jesus set his face toward Jerusalem, he knew he was going to die there. He was going to the cross to become our sin, to take the sin of the whole world upon himself and get it forgiven by God’s resurrection. He was renewing the whole creation and giving us a new humanity to get dressed up in. That is what he would accomplish in Jerusalem.
To enter our new humanity we have to understand the experience of our baptisms. The voice from the cloud tells Peter, James, and John what the Father said when the heavens opened and Jesus was baptized. When we go to Luther’s Small Catechism, we read:
What does Baptism mean for daily living? It means that our sinful self, with all its evil deeds and desires, should be drowned through daily repentance, and that day after day a new self should arise to live with God in righteousness and purity forever.
We can say that baptism is a process or that it begins a process of daily repentance that washes away our old sinful self and stands us up into a new self, a new being in the form of Christ. In our new humanity we receive the likeness of Jesus Christ in order to also share in his divinity. Jesus is the real epiphany, the manifestation, the revelation of God in human form. St. John, who was also up there on the mount, says, “God is light:” not only light, but the light in which we see light. In his Gospel, he says, “God is spirit and those who worship him must do so in spirit and truth.”
Peter, James, and John were getting a glimpse into heaven up there. Peter does not seem to know what he is saying about building three booths, but he is attempting to make Moses, Jesus, and Elijah stay with us. Moses stands for the law, Jesus stands for the Gospel, and Elijah for the prophets. Peter was unknowingly speaking of things to come: that there would be Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; that there would be Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism. All in threes like Peter, James, and John. From Heaven, things are seen from the perspective of eternity.
Peter, James, and John looking into heaven see Jesus in the light of glory and speaking with Moses and Elijah, who are alive in God. Again, transfiguring means that the human figure of Jesus they saw there changed into the Person of the Son of God, who is up there in the blessed and Holy Trinity. Jesus starts shining in the light of glory. There is a Hindu song, about a god whose face shines like a thousand suns. There are of course stars that are far larger than our sun, so that does not get at it. The light of glory is the light in which we see light. It is what opened up, when God said, “Let there be light!” and it was shining before the sun, moon, and stars were created. It is the source of life, which is the source of thought, which is the source of love and the radiance of love must be the last which is really first as the source of all life. What good would the whole universe be if no sentient conscious being was there to appreciate, perceive, and bask in the wonder of it all! How hurt God must feel, when we fail to praise and glorify him for it?
The light of glory shines through love. The different words used for the transfiguration could give us more insight into it. In the Greek it is metamorphosis: that Jesus’ human form becomes his divine form. In Hebrew, they speak of Shekinah, the majestic manifestation or revelation or presence of God, who descended to dwell among us human beings. Do you remember the three angels that visited Abraham? That was a theophany, the appearance of God, before the fullness of the birth of Jesus. On that mountain top the radiance and glory of God suddenly bursts through the veil of this world and shining on Peter, James, and John, it really also shines on us, because of the peculiar power of words, which have the tendency to gather us together to have that experience with them, so that we too can gaze through the window of heaven into the light of glory.
At Jesus’ baptism, the voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” On the mountain top, the voice from the cloud says it to Peter, James, and John, but also through them to us, adding “Listen to him!” We all become dressed up in Christ, when we listen to him, when we have ears that hear, and we too become children of God, God’s beloved, with whom God is well pleased.
There is a passage in the first letter of John that helps us understand what it means to grow up into the full stature of Christ, and it is worth thinking about again and again. I just noticed the passage before it: God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. (1:5) Beginning chapter 3:
See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called the children of God, and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. (1 John 3:1-3)
And John reminds us to have pure hearts, because the pure in heart will see God.
Baptism is designed to wash out our hearts and make them pure, like deep clear water that you can see yourself in. We can be launched into the God’s mission of saving this world and still have very unclean hearts, filled with filthy rags. Thus Luther tells us that our struggle has to continue on a daily basis: we have to drown our old sinful selves, repenting of all its evil deeds and desires, so that we get up in our fresh new selves, our brand new selves. We die to our old selves in order to live for God. And our prayer has to struggle against sleep.
Jesus was praying up there on the mountain and the disciples were trying not to go to sleep. Because they stayed awake they saw Jesus change into that glorious angelic form with the two men standing and conversing with him.
How can we wake up to the wonder and glory of God that envelopes this whole planet, our whole world, when sleep is like a veil over our eyes, making it impossible to see the shining face of God? Luther talked of nature and even we ourselves being a mask behind which God remains hidden, until it is removed and we behold God in the light of glory.
The culmination of our baptisms is the enlightenment of our lives, our knowing God and who we are meant to be. It’s knowing ourselves, like old Socrates said we should. The old Greek philosopher Diogenes was not fooled by possessions. He gave advice to Alexander, the Great, helping him win a crucial battle. The great conqueror came to him where he lived in a barrel. “Ask of me anything you desire up to half of my kingdom!” Diogenes asked him, “Would you please not stand in my sun?” So Alexander stepped to the side, flummoxed, because this was his request!
Diogenes would run around in the full light of the day with a lantern looking to see if he could find one human being. People all around, but he could not see one, even with a lantern.
What does it take for us to wake up? How do we rise and shine? How do we get out of the closets that we are hiding in? Jesus is the way, the light of the world; we need but listen to him. It takes the daily struggle of dying to our sin and coming alive to God. What it takes is the cross and Jesus did what it takes for us, coming down off that mountain top going all the way down into that valley of his passion and death for us. That’s why we can all sing:
Shine Jesus shine, fill this land with the father’s glory.
Blaze spirit blaze, set our hearts on fire.
Flow river flow, flood the nations with grace and mercy.
Send forth your Word, Lord, and let there be light!
Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In the Bible study this week, I heard a pastor say, “We Lutherans have thrown the Holy Spirit off the cliff!” That is partially right. We have a different understanding of the Holy Spirit from the one that is only enthusiastic and emotional. But with our superior knowledge, do we think we can do without the Holy Spirit?
Coming off that mountain top they immediately confront the depth of human misery and the condition that our human condition is in. A father is trying to get help for his son who seems to be having epileptic seizures. Out of the strength of Jesus’ glory, fresh out of God’s new creation, Jesus restores the boy to health, the only child of a desperate father.
Then there is our church, the ELCA, the “Elca,” as we like to call it. Let’s pray that the transfigured Christ helps us. It has been losing membership and churches every year. The Lutheran magazine on its cover the other month asked what to do about our shrinking churches. It is the 25th Anniversary of the ELCA and it wanted to have 10% of its membership come from the minorities and we have achieved only about 3%. We have lost many churches since taking a stand for gay pastors, but that is a loss for the sake of righteousness, which Jesus will bless. But how will we become more diverse and begin to grow again? How do we get Jesus to turn us around?
We need the Holy Spirit and we need to listen to Jesus. Let me end with a few thoughts about listening. Silence is the mother of sound. There is chatter in ourselves that we listen to and it drowns out what God is saying to us, but also what others are saying to us. We have got to step on the brakes and be able to stop talking so we can listen.
Listening is not passive and speaking active. Listening is active and it is hard work. We do not only speak before we think, (which is one of my troubles), but we often speak before we listen. In the commentary it said, we therefore give a person, who is drowning in deep water a sandwich and we throw a life saver to someone sitting at the table. We send someone who drives people away, but has a gift with numbers to do evangelism, and a natural evangelist becomes a troubled treasurer.
Active listening opens a world to us that is invisible to sight. The ears that hear start to see with the eyes of the heart. That kind of listening leads to some suffering, because it’s a jungle in there, where you see people who don’t know themselves and there you are in there without knowing yourself either. You realize that you don’t have a handle on yourself and nor do they on themselves.
“Father,” Jesus prays, “forgive them they don’t know what they are doing.” We don’t know who we are either. But when we keep on, keeping on, when we persevere, then Jesus can take us through the dark vale into the light.
No longer will we be the blind leading the blind, but seeing Jesus as he is, we will become like him, part of the new creation. We get to this Gospel-land by hearing, that means, listening to Jesus, hearing him, and obediently denying ourselves, picking up our cross, and following him. Through Jesus we get to know God and also get to know ourselves. We ourselves and others stop being cats in a bag. We will be able to see others as they are. Jesus was revealed there on the mountain top and John says that we will be like him, because we will see him as he is. It means dying to live. I love the end of Psalm 17: When I awake, I shall be filled gazing at your likeness – transfigured, beholding the beautiful face of God. Amen.