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On the Transfiguration at Bethlehem February 26, 2017

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Transfiguration of our Lord – 26th of February, 2017 at Bethlehem

Exodus 24:12-18 / Psalm 2 / 2 Peter 1:16-21 / Matthew 17:1-9

The Transfiguration

You may have heard about the far-away solar system that one of our telescopes out in space determined had seven planets revolving around their sun, which is so far away that it looks like a star to us. That sun is more dim than our sun and smaller. If our sun was the size of a basketball, it would be the size of a golf ball.[1] But the planets, called exoplanets, because they are not planets in our solar system, are about the size of our earth and astronomers are testing to see if water is on their surface – and if so, there could be life out there. But the star, called Trappist-1, is almost 40 light years away and that means trillions of miles away, so let us try to stay on earth and talk about earthly stars – and one of those stars is Jesus Christ our Lord, indeed, the sun “involving” our faith.

Yes, his face up there on Transfiguration mountain shone like the sun and his clothes dazzled the disciples with their brilliance. St. Paul says that we can ascend from glory to glory, from splendor to splendor. Apply that to stars, we speak about their magnitudes. Stars at the sixth magnitude are visible to the naked eye, if you have good eye-sight. In the little dipper, there are second and third magnitude stars and in the big dipper there are even stars of the first magnitude, very bright stars.

But Paul is referring to people filled with the grace of God. some of us hardly shine and some of us by increasing in faith, by trusting more and more in the promises of God, grow brighter from one glory to the next, from splendor to splendor. (As scripture says, the friends of God are like the sun when it rises in all its splendor [2] – Judges 5:31.) In this ascent, we can receive more and more angel-power, as I like to call it.

Peter, James, and John climbing up that mountain with Jesus, suddenly saw the heavenly Jesus. They saw God shining through the Christ who walked with them and with him, they saw Moses and Elijah conversing with him. Moses and Elijah were speaking with Jesus about the coming valley of Lent, his Passion, and the cruel suffering on the cross that he was now about to undergo. But the Transfiguration, the real Epiphany of this whole season of Light, strengthened him in order to bear the cross and through it, get to the glorious resurrection from the dead. God repeated his baptism affirmation: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

Moses appearing beside Christ stood for the law and Elijah for the prophets, while Jesus as the whole Word of God, glowed, radiated the light of the Gospel. We thank God for our Bibles, but the living Word of God, the shining Son of God, radiating all of God’s promises, shone up there on that mountain for Jesus’ inner circle Peter, James, and John.

The Old Testament, the law and the prophets are a testament, a testimony to Jesus and the whole New Testament was written only in order to be a testimony to him, Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Behold, the human being! – created by God, but in his divinity, begotten of the Father, God’s very Son. Just think, if Jesus had not been born, the New Testament would not even have been written!

One of my commentaries talked about how the tyrant, King Herod wanted to appear as a god and be worshipped. He had a shimmering silver gown made for him, assembled all in an arena for a sunrise and when the sun arose, the light hit his silver gown, bursting into brilliant streams of light and he wanted to be worshipped by those present as a god. The story goes that worms then ate him up and he died a miserable death.[3] That was a phony transfiguration. The enlightenment of Buddha under a Bodhi tree was authentic. He was really trying to provide a way to deal with human suffering. But imagine trying to insist that your glorious clothes made you mature in that kind of a glory? I know that the movie stars on their red carpet can deceive us in this way.

You know that I studied Martin Luther of old. In his pamphlet, “The Freedom of a Christian,” (1520) he talks of angels ascending and descending upon those who have Christ within them. He taught that we grow by the tension of opposites. Thus he opposed faith and love. Because of faith we are completely free and sovereign, subject to no one, not a president, not a pope, nor a boss. We are subject to no one. That’s how high God lifts us up through faith, making us God’s children. That also goes for the government in a democracy. The president is not over us, because we are all citizens. The president serves citizens.

But we fall in love. Love makes us descend and makes us slaves, so that we even have to stoop down to serve and help children, the homeless, and the very least in our society.

Thus, we are slaves by love and completely free by faith. Up there by faith we are strengthened for the love required down here. Yes, we are slaves by love and completely free by faith; we are sinners and saints and this tension makes us grow. Luther calls this growing and maturing rapture.[4] So in Christ we get high, but by maturing and growing.

First Luther says, no matter our birth order (I’m the eleventh in my family) we become first-born for Christ, and Christ promises us the inheritance. Then we grow up further receiving the nobility of the spirit and the nobility of the blood can’t hold a candle to the nobility of the spirit. So square your shoulders, stand up straight and lift up your self-esteem, because you are royalty, kings and queens before God. Here we would have to say, presidents, senators, and governors. Now some people cannot even take care of themselves, but when God promotes you to a higher level by a strong share of divine grace, you can take care of a family, a city, a state, a country. But what is higher than that, Luther says, is becoming a priest, because a priest prays for others and intercedes before God for them, and what’s more, God listens to them. Above that we are raised up by the grace of God to become Christs for others and from Christs we are raised up into God.

That is where Christ arose in the transfiguration, but only to receive the strength from the mountain-top of faith to become more than victorious in the valley of his suffering and dying on the cross because of his love for us.

Let me witness about my own life: once I remember being in an anti-racism training back in the nineteen sixties. It was awful. The trainers wanted White people to feel what it was like to be discriminated against, rejected and abused. It felt like being put through a meat grinder and in the worship service that was to end the long event, a cloud of depression came over all the participants. Suddenly I couldn’t help it. I started singing “We Shall Overcome” disrupting the whole service. The people next to me tried to stop me and keep me quiet, but they couldn’t. I couldn’t stop myself. I was somehow singing and it was not my voice, but the voice of the Holy Spirit. Then everybody joined in, everybody held hands around the church and they danced out of the church, turning depression into celebration.

Afterward, the synod, angry because we protested the firing of our first Black professor, decertified me so that I could not become ordained. My seminary failed me in my  examinations, also for political reasons. The president of the seminary told me I should go to Germany until people cooled down. It took me four years after seminary to become ordained and that by the German Bishop of Berlin-Brandenburg, (by Bp. Kurt Scharf in 1975) but through all that time I knew that I had been affirmed by the Holy Spirit by what happened back on that day. It gave me the strength to get through those four years. I had problems. I was immature. But where they claimed I was a building in ruins coming down, the Holy Spirit assured me that I was a new construction going up.

     Now I will not go into the booths or tents or dwellings that Peter talked about in this story. This is Jesus’ mountain-top experience, but we too; it goes for us too. You can’t hold onto a mountain-top experience like that. You just know that you have had a glimpse of the person you will become in Christ, and then you just put the cross between your shoulder-blades and soldier on, because your faith becomes active in love and love seeks justice, the merciful kind.

     So you are the stars St. Paul talks about. It is for you to increase in faith and in the angel-power of love. Riding on grace, you will shine brighter from one glory to the next, from one splendor to the next. Hollywood stars are phony for the most part. In Universal Studios in LA, the first thing they do to you is throw a brick at you. You duck. Then you realize that it is a foam-rubber brick. Hollywood stars can be deceptive like that. They seem to know all about love, and then you find that they were married six times.

     You are the real stars. When your little light starts shining, when you pray – and sometimes we prayed all Saturday night until beginning the Sunday morning service here in Bethlehem – you will increase in faith from glory to glory. So steep yourselves into the Word of God. Pray without ceasing, and let God’s Epiphany light, the light of the Gospel get brighter and brighter shining in this place. Amen.


[1] Kenneth Chang, “Seven Earth Sized Planets Orbit Dwarf Star, NASA and Astronomers Say,” NYT, February 22, 2017.

[2]  Judges 5:31.

[3] This comes from Flavius Josephus, (Antiquities 19.8.2) but it is also referred to in Acts 12:19-23. Frederick Houk Borsch, Proclamation 4: Aids for interpreting the lessons of the Church Year: Epiphany Series A (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), page 61.  Historical Evidence for Herod Agrippa

[4] I like to call it the existential rapture.


Written by peterkrey

February 26, 2017 at 11:07 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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