A Sermon for 3 March 2019 – Transfiguration of the Lord
A reading from the gospel of Luke 9:28-43. Listen for God’s word to us.
“Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
You’ve heard it said that beautiful brides radiate. And once their bellies get big and round, everyone agrees that pregnant women have that glow. Anyone excitedly welcoming a newborn talks about them being a bundle of warmth – as if the sweetness of God reflects right through them. When parents are as proud as can be, they beam at their children. And of course, two people in love look at each other and their eyes light up an entire room.
Thomas Merton, one of the 20th Century’s most well-known monks, is famous for his epiphany in downtown Louisville on March 18, 1958. He said: “In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers.” He said, “It is a glorious destiny to be a member of the human race . . . there is no way of telling people they are all walking around shining like the sun.” . . . He went on to explain that on that day he “suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes.” Merton wrote, “If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all of the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed” (Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, New York: Doubleday, 1996 – http://merton.org/TMSQ.aspx).
Buried in the book of Daniel, the prophet exclaims that “Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness (shall twinkle) like the stars forever and ever” (Daniel 12:3).
The Exodus reading assigned by the lectionary for Transfiguration Sunday – and referred to in 2 Corinthians, which often is read on Transfiguration Sunday as well. The Exodus reading names Moses coming down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the Law. He was up on the mountaintop – in the presence or Shekinah of God. What he didn’t know as he descended from that amazing experience of being with God was that his face shone brightly – the light of God’s presence was reflecting on Moses’ skin. (Exodus 34:29-35).
Jesus himself has some sort of experience. It may not have been exactly the same. But we hear of the way Jesus was transfigured on the mountain. He’s up there praying – just eight days after he told his disciples what lie ahead. Peter, John, and James are with him. While he’s deep in prayer, they look up to see “the appearance of Jesus’ face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Luke 9:29). He’s transformed before their eyes. That radiance. That glow. That beaming shine like the bright summer sun. The presence of God glows right through his skin. It’s as if on that mountain, all with eyes to see finally behold the core of Christ’s reality. Who he really is: the one in whom God in-full dwells. A voice even confirms it saying: “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)
Now, it may seem like quite a leap, but we can think about worship just like that. In Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster, worship is defined as: “when (upper case S) Spirit touches (lower case s) spirit” (Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster, 1998, p. 159). When the Holy Spirit of God connects with the spirit of God alive in us. Worship is when we get plugged in. Re-charged. Spirit unites with spirit, which we know can happen anywhere in this God-breathed creation. So that sometimes it just happens. Walking along an autumn path, the rays of the sunshine just so that it seems the world is transfixed into heaven-like streets of gold. Or any number of such unexpected, take-your-breath-away life moments that leave us speechless in awe. The times we’re not ready for God’s Spirit to wake up the one slumbering in us. And the times we actually get ourselves ready: prime the pump, it’s often called. When we go to a particular place – like here – where it seems a thin place between common and extraordinary. Holy and mundane. We attune ourselves to connect with that which is Beyond. Spirit touches spirit: worship!
It’s what the Apostle Paul is referring to when he writes that “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord – as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image (of the Lord) from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18). Worship is about that connection. Seeing the glory of God. Celebrating the glory of God. Being in the glorious presence of God and never finding ourselves the same thereafter. . . . Like those disciples. Think about them. Most probably they weren’t up on that mountain to worship. I’m guessing they only went because Jesus’ asked them to. Kinda like a president’s bodyguards who have to follow around where ever the president goes. They either felt it their responsibility as Jesus’ trustworthy friends to make that trek up. Or maybe they curiously were trying to develop a prayer habit of their own. . . . According to the story, they make the climb and sit nearby as if casual observers. They planned to just sit around to watch as their dear friend Jesus prays. But what’s about to take place on that mountain isn’t something they’re able casually to observe. In the Presence of God, they’re pulled in. They hear God’s voice. And they are called to heed. Though they are silent upon the descent, eventually their sealed lips will be broken and they will be charged to go into all the world filled in the same way — with the power of the same Spirit — to witness in word and deed to the ends of the earth. . . . Worship is about that – that encounter which transforms. Our spirits unite with God’s Spirit in that glorious high that requires us then to go forth changed. Transformed to reflect God’s glory. You might even say transfigured ourselves to heed the call of Christ. Which is why there should be a sign at the sanctuary entrance that we’re all required to read on our way in: Warning – enter at your own risk, because you cannot leave here the same!
I once read a story about a preacher who tells what he saw as a young boy in the face of another man. Supposedly as a child, this would-be preacher encountered a missionary just home on furlough who was on fire for God. When first the boy saw him, he ran to get the neighborhood priest to ask who this man was. The boy was so impressed by the joy that exuded from that missionary. He never had seen someone all aglow like that. He claimed in his memoirs, which he wrote near the end of his life; that he went on to commit his life to serving God in professional ministry – largely because of the moment he encountered that missionary. He confessed that he never could get away from the influence of the light he saw radiating from that man. A shining face – glowing with the love, with the joy of Christ. The experience changed that boy’s life entirely. . . . Which just goes to show that time spent with God – Spirit connecting with spirit – true worship has power we never can underestimate. . . . Shining like the Son, may we go forth to light up the world!
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