Sermon for August 8, 2021
A preacher named Mark Hostetter told the story of a boy who came home from Sunday School. The Bible story for the day was about Moses parting the Red Sea. His mother asked the boy what he had learned. The boy told this incredible story of how fighter planes swooped down from the sky, dropped inflatable pontoons into the sea and the Israelites were able to escape the Egyptian soldiers as they floated over the water. The mother asked the boy if that was what he really heard. And the boy responded, “No . . . but if I told you the story that the teacher told us today, there is no way you would ever believe me.”
The stories of God’s work for God’s people are truly amazing and often a little mysterious. We read from the book of Exodus this morning. Moses went up to the top of the mountain to learn God’s will for God’s people. When he came down his face was shining from being in the presence of God. We understand the shining face of Moses to be caused by the glory of God. His face shone so brightly that people were afraid to look at him. God was so powerful that just being in God’s presence would change anyone. This shining face was a sign to the people that the words of Moses came from God.
I have seen people’s faces to shine in my own time. Today, I am thinking of some of the Olympic competitors. Occasionally they are so happy that they have completed their dreams and won a medal that their faces shine. I have seen the faces of my grandchildren shine when something special happens in their lives. This week, my older granddaughter, Evelyn, had a big smile and a shiny face as she started her first day of kindergarten. And sometimes, we see people’s faces shine from the love of God.
Today, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration. The Feast Day is actually scheduled for August 6. We are allowed to move it to the nearest Sunday because our church is named after this event. Our church has two different reminders of the Transfiguration. The first is the icon which hangs on the cross behind the altar. That icon was written by our own Bill Robinson. The second remembrance of the Transfiguration is found in the stained glass windows at the back of the church. There are individual windows for the three apostles, Peter, James and John. There are windows for Moses and Elijah and there is a window for Jesus. We live the Transfiguration every Sunday. I think it is a wonderful blessing to be reminded every Sunday of the glory of God and the marvelous saving work of Jesus.
The Transfiguration in Luke’s gospel gives us a picture that would have felt like an out of body experience. The face of Jesus was changed, his clothes became a dazzling white. Moses and Elijah suddenly appeared. A voice came out of the cloud and spoke. The voice sounded a lot like the voice that spoke when Jesus was baptized. In both cases, Jesus is described as the Son of God. This passage gives us theological insights into the relationship between Jesus and the other members of the Trinity. It all begins with the realization that this is about the glory of God. We celebrate the majesty of God. We come together to proclaim the glory of God and give thanks for God’s marvelous works.
The glory of God as displayed in Jesus can challenge our understanding. How is it possible that we view the glory of Jesus on the mountain and then later experience his suffering and death on the cross? I think all things are possible through God’s saving acts. Rather than worry about whether they happened exactly as described, I choose to reflect on what this passage means to us. I want to share with you a perspective about the Transfiguration that may be a little different. A Hispanic theologian named Cláudio Carvalhaes sees all three persons of the Trinity in the Transfiguration and a way that the Transfiguration can encourage us in community. He wrote that the Transfiguration was a “glory that is shared, that illuminates each other, that strengthens each other’s lives, and gives meaning to the past and future events”. He said that “the glory of God is only possible if lived together, in community. Nobody, not even Jesus, could shine alone! The work of the trinity shows that only when we are together can God’s radiance light each other’s lives.” It is a glory that we look forward to when we go to heaven. Let us bask in the glory that comes from God and let us give glory to God in all we do.
The Transfiguration is also about the connection of past and present. Moses represents the law and Elijah represents the prophets. We believe that Jesus brought together both the law and the prophets. Jesus freed us from sin, helped us to understand God’s work in the world, and filled our hearts with love.
This lesson speaks very directly to the theology of Jesus as God. Jesus was physically changed. Even today we use a Greek word to describe this, metamorphoses. In our vernacular, we say that Jesus morphed from one thing into another. It was a radical change. It certainly changed the lives of Peter, James and John, the three apostles who were with Jesus on that mountain. Peter even suggested that they build three dwellings to commemorate the event. How might you have responded if you had been there? Would you have wanted to create some memorial to what happened? Would you have thought to yourself, “how will others ever understand what happened here”?
Afterward, the disciples chose not to speak about the Transfiguration. In Mark’s gospel, it is Jesus who instructed them to tell no one what happened. I might have had difficulty keeping this information from the other apostles. It might have been hard for the apostles to understand why Jesus had to go through the agony of the crucifixion knowing that Jesus was God. But it might have helped them to better understand the resurrection that followed.
So, we wish for that transformational experience. We want to go to the top of the mountain and see God in all of God’s splendor. We want to be transformed, to be certain that we are headed in the right direction and to better understand God’s will for us. Being transformed may help us to know what to do.
Jesus and the apostles came down from the mountain and found that the lives of others had not changed. Jesus didn’t need everyone to see his transformation. He went right back to his work of healing, teaching, and bringing God’s kingdom to earth. Jesus didn’t live in the glory that happened up on the mountain. He lived as a Savior of the people. When we are changed by the love of Jesus we also must confront a world that may not see it as we do. The Transfiguration gave direction and certainty to the lives of the apostles but it didn’t make their lives easy. In the case of the apostles, they knew that they were called to bring the good news of Jesus to the rest of the world. Many times that calling meant rejection, imprisonment and death. But it also was rewarding in the sense that they were certain that their lives had been forever changed and they knew that Jesus was with them on their journey. They would have remembered that Jesus had been rejected in the same way.
Our path will not be like that of the apostles. We live in a time and a place where the word of Jesus does not put our lives at risk. But the number of people who regularly attend church services is down dramatically. Many do not believe. So, we live in two different worlds. One foot is in the kingdom of God, a place where we have experienced the joy of believing. One foot lives in the kingdom of the world, where people may not follow the teaching that they are to love one another. May the power of Jesus and the beauty of the Transfiguration help us to live in these two worlds.
Desmond Tutu, the famous South African Anglican bishop, believed that the Transfiguration was more specifically about action we are to take in this world. He thought we are called to transform the world. He once wrote, “God places us in the world as his fellow workers-agents of transfiguration. We work with God so that injustice is transfigured into justice, so there will be more compassion and caring, that there will be more laughter and joy, that there will be more togetherness in God's world”.
The Transfiguration of Jesus helps us to see God in a special way. However we choose to respond may be up to how we are called by God. I ask you to remember that the glory of God shone the brightest in the community of the Trinity. Let us find our light together. Let us together experience the the glory of God in Jesus and allow Jesus to transform us. Amen.
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