First Reading Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm Psalm 99
Second Reading 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Gospel Luke 9:28-36
“Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God and worship him upon his holy hill; * for the Lord our God is the Holy One.” In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
The last Sunday after the Epiphany offers us an account of Jesus’ Transfiguration. God’s presence and glory are manifest to human witnesses in a most spectacular way. But first, our scriptures start with a reminder of how God has been present and acting among us throughout salvation history. After Moses comes down from Mount Sinai, being in close presence with God, his face is shining. More than simply glowing, the Hebrew suggests rays of light reflecting God’s glory still emanate from him after the encounter. The Israelites are afraid. Perhaps it is just that jarring of a sight. Perhaps they are afraid because it was thought that no one could see the face of God and survive. Perhaps the glory of God is simply more than humanity can take without a special pair of sunglasses. Since Ray Bans had not been invented, the solution is a veil over Moses’ face so the people can stand to look at the brightness of his face. The problem with a veil is that it separates the rest of humanity from God’s glory. Jesus is about to remove the veil.
Jesus goes up a mountain with Peter, James, and John to pray. Jesus often takes time to pray, constantly in relationship with the Father, his natural habitat. Jesus’ time in prayer seems to prepare for or frame revelation. On this occasion, in the midst of prayer, Jesus’ appearance abruptly changes to a dazzling white. In a true epiphany, God’s presence is manifest in glory unveiled. Simeon has already described the infant Jesus as the glory of God’s people Israel. Luke will later report men, perhaps angels, in dazzling white garments at the resurrection and the ascension.
On this occasion, Jesus is joined by Moses and Elijah, all bathed in God’s radiant glory. I wonder how the disciples recognized these representatives of the Law and the Prophets. Both had died generations ago. They had no photo albums, painted portraits, or stained glass images. I don’t imagine they wore name tags. The disciples just knew.
Moses and Elijah were the perfect participants for this holy huddle. Both Moses and Elijah had visions and experiences of God on a mountain. And together with Jesus, they bridge the Old and New Covenants. Both anointed a successor with the Spirit. And here they are meeting with Jesus, a divine commissioning as Jesus turns toward Jerusalem and the ultimate expression of God’s glory.
Though weighed down with sleep, Peter, James, and John manage to stay awake for this glorious spectacle. Peter speaks up, as Peter always seems to do, “Let us make three dwellings” ... not knowing what he said. Peter wants to create dwellings in order to make this mountaintop experience last. More, Peter expresses our desire to control encounters with God, to corral the Spirit. Later in Acts, Stephen will tell us, “The Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands.” Peter’s plan is a foolish one.
God’s glory is unveiled in Jesus’ transfiguration. It shares a glimpse of what is possible, not just for Jesus, but for all of humanity. In echoes of Jesus’ baptism, we are invited to participate. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” The voice from the cloud is both proclamation and instruction. Belonging and selection. Faith and action. We are called to recognize the identity of Jesus in all of God’s glory, focus and follow, against the cultural pressure to listen to other voices.
As abruptly as the experience began, the disciples find themselves alone with Jesus. But you can’t unsee something like this. They tell no one, and do not speak of what they had seen. Perhaps this was an instruction from Jesus. Perhaps they feared no one would believe them. Perhaps they have no idea how to interpret what they have seen with their own eyes, Perhaps they were simply speechless. But they have been given a key, to be used later to unlock holy mysteries. In the transfiguration of Jesus, the disciples themselves were transformed. Our lives can also be transformed.
The world is in need of transformation. God is the sculptor that bids the stone, become what you are. Then the sculptor begins to loving chisel away all that is not God’s image. Humanity is being transformed into God’s glory through Christ. Paul suggests Israel deliberately put a veil between themselves and God. Jesus removes the veil, just as the curtain in the Temple separating humanity from the holiest of holies was ripped in two, top to bottom, at Jesus’ death. In Christ, suffering is transformed, relationships are transformed, life and death are transformed. All of our prayers, sacraments, worship, and works express our faith that our lives can be transfigured by the power of the Spirit. Is it really happening? How can we know? It is seldom apparent to ourselves it is happening, and may at times feel like nothing is happening. But we are not judges of ourselves or others. Rather, we put ourselves in Christ’s hands, forgetting ourselves altogether, and trusting in the Spirit. God loves us where we are, but does not expect us to stay that way. God is still molding and fashioning us, transforming us through cocoons of metamorphosis into the divine image.
What if we embraced God’s transformation of our lives? What if we resisted political polarization, and through all the argument and name calling accepted one another as God’s Beloved? Imagine if we abided each other’s imperfections, and lifted all of humanity up to God’s perfection. Suppose we rejected any notion of human justice, and adopted Martin Luther King’s definition of God’s justice, which he describes as ‘love overcoming all that is not love’. In a world-wide gathering of our Methodist brothers and sisters, the majority vote was cast for exclusion and intolerance, appointing some of God’s children as second class citizens. One delegate quoted Adrian Rodgers, “It is better to be divided by truth than to be united in error.” I cannot find where Jesus ever preached division and exclusion. John Wesley said, “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart though we are not of one opinion?” For all of our Methodist brothers and sisters, pray for transformation.
The Church should reflect the Gospel ... invitation, love, acceptance, inclusion, compassion, mercy, nurture, forgiveness, reconciliation. If we seek to remove all sinners from Church, all that will remain is empty buildings. The world is not perfect, but God is transforming suffering, racism, hate, violence, indifference, politics, and even church division. God is still working on us. We can resist it, or embrace it and be thankful.
We are challenged to embrace God’s transformation of our lives and reflect God’s glory in the world. We know by faith that Christ can and does work in us, and that is enough. Seeking and gazing upon Christ’s glory, we are being transformed into Christ’s likeness, from one degree of glory to another. Amen.