2 Corinthians 3: 112-4:2 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Luke 9: 28-43 February 7, 2016
“They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.”
Prayer: O God of holy light, please make us holy, that we may shine your light for all to see. Amen.
I know which team won the Super Bowl! It’s the Shanghai Warriors! It’s true! Did you know that in China there is the American Football League of China? There is! And the Shanghai Warriors defeated the Shanghai Nighthawks, 37-30, for the AFLC’s Super Bowl championship game on Saturday, January 16th. As the game ended, Owen Yan, a 6’ 3” defensive end and also a 32-year-old pharmaceutical salesman, rushed to the end zone with his teammates. They fell onto their backs and soaked in the victory. After three seasons, the Warriors are league champs. “Best day of my life,” Owen Yan says. “Best day of my life” (https://www.facebook.com/ChineseAmericanFootballAssociation/ and http://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2016/02/03/465387338/american-football-catches-on-in-china?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=morningedition, retrieved February 5, 2016).
I imagine that at the end of tonight’s game, players on one side of the field will soak in the high moment of victory saying “Best day of my life,” and a whole bunch of other players will say something else (that’s probably not repeatable for a sermon!) But, it will be a high moment for one team on this day, America’s most “religious, but not spiritual” holiday.
Our Bible readings for today reference the high and holy moments that are both religious and spiritual in Judeo/Christian history. Moses’ story is referenced by Paul who reminds his listeners that Moses went up Mt. Sinai and was transfigured in God’s presence. (When he came down the mountain, his face glowed from being in God’s presence, which terrified the Israelites. So Moses put a veil over his face and spoke the words of the Lord to the people.
That story from Exodus prefigures the story of Jesus, Peter, James and John going up the mountain. What a tremendous, high and holy moment they experienced! The disciples were soaking in God’s presence. They experienced the divine reality of heaven with Jesus himself being transfigured by the light of God right before their eyes. In this transfigured state, Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah about his upcoming departure.
Of course, we know of Elijah as the giver of the prophetic word of God, and we know of Moses as the Law-Giver of God. But mostly Moses is known as the great Liberator of Israel. He was the one who led the people out of the bondage of Egypt, out of the oppression of slavery in a mass exodus.
Luke wants to make sure that the readers of his gospel know that Jesus is not only a combination of both the fulfillment of the Law and the incorporation of God’s prophetic word, but by using a play on words, he wants us to know that Jesus is the new great Liberator, replacing Moses. Luke tells us that when Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and were speaking with Jesus, they were speaking of his ‘departure.’ The word ‘departure’ in Greek is ‘exoduz’. So, Luke wanted to be absolutely sure that we knew that God’s most memorable, redemptive, liberating act in history, which up to that point was Moses delivering God’s people from slavery of Egypt to the Promised Land, would now be changed forever to Jesus being the One to deliver God’s people, everyone, in a mass exodus, out of the oppression and bondage of sin.
This was the pivotal point of Jesus’ ministry. Everything up to this moment was about teaching of God’s ways, God’s law, God’s truth. Now, the shift occurs—everything will be focused on going toward Jerusalem where Jesus would accomplish the great redemptive act on the cross so that every member of the human race can enter into the life of God.
Oswald Chambers writes “If Jesus had gone back to heaven from the Mount of the Transfiguration… he would have been nothing more to us than a glorious figure. But, he turned his back on the glory and came down from the mount to identify himself with fallen humanity” (Chambers, Oswald, My Utmost for His Highest, May 17, pg. 137).
For the disciples, this was a huge pivotal point in their understanding of God, Jesus, and their own fledgling, but growing faith. But, let’s
real… this had to be the strangest experience of their entire lives, don’t you think? And probably the most terrifying, too. They saw the glory of the Lord! They saw with their own eyes legendary figures from Israel’s past, and all three were lit up, kind of like the way Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and Anakin Skywalker were all lit up at the end of the Star Wars movie “Return of the Jedi!” (Thank you, George Lucas!)
But, Peter, after he gets his wits back, starts thinking, and talking, and making suggestions: “Master, I’m so glad we’re all here! I know! James and John and I will erect three buildings for you...then dwellings,” he says, “one for you, Moses, and Elijah!”
At least that’s what we might think to do… Mark the spot. Enshrine the moment. Freeze it in time. Put up a monument to memorialize this great, marvelous thing that happened. That way we can see it whenever we go up the mountain and remember the great thing that had happened.
But, God’s voice and presence overshadowed them as he was talking, and rendered them speechless again. Because only seeing with our eyes is not what this faith thing is all about. The disciples were looking and marveling, but God says, “Listen!” The disciples were fixated upon Jesus’ appearance and what they were seeing, but God’s voice is saying, “OK. You see his face. But, listen to what he is saying.” The pivotal point comes when they must realize that God is drawing them away from Jesus’ transfigured appearance to his message of reaching others with God’s love and preparing them for the over-arching redemptive act, a spiritual exodus, about to be done in Jerusalem.
And that over-arching, redemptive act I think takes us to a pivotal point on our faith journeys. Instead of narrowly thinking that Jesus’ high and holy moment when he was transfigured was just for the disciples to experience, perhaps the pivotal point for us metaphorically is illustrated by Jesus coming down the mountain. Being on the mountain is fine and great; it’s the going into the valley that is critical, however. The valleys of life are where the healing begins. It’s where ministry is really needed . It’s where people need love and forgiveness, healing and grace.
We love the mountaintop experience on our faith journeys, don’t we? But, life doesn’t stop moving, and we must come down the mountain. We love it when worship flows well, we’re moved to tears by one of our choirs, or inspired by the message we hear, or entertained when our children sing, or when the Children’s Moment has us in stitches.
We love seeing and experiencing the wonder and mystery and the amazement of God’s incredible, hospitable, extravagant welcome, and we feel God right here. We want more of it. We love it. But, shortly after worship, our attention must return to life as usual, the bills to be paid, the vacuuming to be done, the hors d’oeuvres to be made for today’s game, the details for the week. But we're changed.
Fred and I attended an excellent and inspirational learning event in Hershey this week (for which we are both grateful), but as soon as we got back into the office, people needed to be tended to, meetings needed to be coordinated, phone calls needed to be made, a sermon needed to be written. But, I could hardly contain my excitement for the dazzling new possibilities of what we can do in ministry here at Christ Church.
Homestretch! I want you to see the powerful, metaphorical truth of the gospel’s good news. Remember that Moses’ encounter with God made his face shine, and that prefigured Jesus’ encounter with God, which also made his face shine. Jesus was fully God in that moment, with the exception of one other moment when Jesus was most fully God in the flesh. In fact, Jesus’ transfiguration up on the mountain and his subsequent descent into the valley bringing healing pre-figured him being up on the cross, descending into the grave, so that healing, and ministry, and extravagant love, and unveiled hearts, would reflect the same holiness and glory of God in our every day lives so much so that our faces shine.
You see, encountering God’s holiness is what makes us holy. The sacred is always more powerful than the profane. I encourage our encounter with the holy be a pivotal point, a moment when we may glorify God, and our faces shine so that others may see the glory of God in dazzling light in the messiness of life.
It’s like the story about a young woman who needed a disfiguring surgery after a car accident in order to save her life. The young woman would never be able to smile on one side of her face again. The surgeon watched with a heavy heart as her husband saw her for the first time, a line drawing her mouth down on one side. But, with love in his heart he said to her, “I think it’s kind of cute, your crooked little smile.” The doctor said that he had to look away from these two young people, as if the
light were too bright for him to bear (http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel_sermon_seeds_february_7_2016, retrieved February l5, 2015).
So, with glowing faces, radiant with God’s transfiguring love, we open our hearts to the lives and needs of others. And each day becomes the best day of our life. Amen.