Sunday, March 3, 2019

The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2
Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

They were all astonished at the majesty of God.

As an artist, I appreciate the work that goes into any creative piece. Unfortunately, many people do not realize how much time and energy goes into the work. Take, for instance, a quilt. Quilters spend hours measuring, cutting, piecing, sewing, trimming and finishing a piece. This does not even take into account the money that goes into the fabric, threat and batting materials. People look at the price of a quilt and wonder how the quilter could charge so much, but the reality is that they are never paid the true value of what has been created.

I have been watching several series on Netflix that revolve around baking. One, ďNailed it,Ē takes unskilled people who like to bake and gives them challenges that they could never accomplish if they had days to do so. They have to finish the challenge in a very short period of time, shorter than even professionals usually use for similar projects. In the end, most of the cakes are little more than messes. The show was created based on a reality that we find on the Internet: many people post their own failures to recreate amazing work they see in Pinterest or posted on Facebook. The professionals make everything look so easy, but it takes talent to create these works of art. It is funny for the viewer and in the end one of the three contestants takes home a lot of money.

I watched another show called ďSugar Rush.Ē In this show, four teams of professional bakers are given three hours to create a cupcake and a confection based on the theme of the day. Every minute they save of those three hours are added to the second three hours they will use to make a cake. Despite knowing the tricks of the trade these teams often run into trouble and find that the time is still not enough to do everything they want to do. One team is eliminated after the cupcakes and a second team after the confections, leaving just two teams for the cake round. After three or more exhausting hours of work, they present their masterpieces to the judges who consider the design, technique and overall appearance. Then the contestants have to cut into their work to give the judges a sample to taste.

For me, thatís the hardest part. The glory of the piece is ruined immediately because the point of a cake is to eat it. For me, it would be heartbreaking to have to destroy something that I worked so hard to do. For a brief moment the cakes, and their creators, shined. That is especially true of the winner, who received the prize. However, the glory was short lived. The next day the cakes were gone and they had nothing left to show for their work except pictures and a television show.

We do a lot of things for the glory. We compete in competitions, everything from sports, to the arts, to academics. We work hard at our jobs for that raise or promotion. We plan weddings that cost a fortune and last a few hours. We spend hours gardening to have a pretty home for a season. We purchase the current trends in fashion, technology or other material possessions to be the envy of our neighbors. But that glory fades. Like those cakes, the things that bring us glory today are gone tomorrow.

In todayís Old Testament lesson, Moses returned to his people after having an incredible experience in the presence of the Lord. This encounter left Moses transformed. His face glowed with the glory of God. He had not been made into a god, though perhaps some of the people who saw him return might have thought that to be the case. Instead, Moses was like a mirror, reflecting the light of God which he had experienced on the mountain. This other worldly light was frightening to the people, but it also gave Moses credibility. There was something very special about him, something that made it imperative that the people listen to his voice. God was with him.

The light did not last. It was a fleeting vision, so Moses covered his face with a veil. We might think that he did so because he did not want to frighten the people. However, Paul tells us that Moses covered up his face because the glory faded. The mountain top experiences of our lives are fleeting and we have to return to the real world. This does not mean that God has abandoned us or that His power is no longer with us. We must not misinterpret the difference in the face. The glory did not make Moses better than the others and the fading glory did not make him worse. The glory was simply a reflection of God, reminding His people to listen and understand what He had to say.

Moses reflected the glory of God each time he met with the Lord in the Tent of Meeting. When he came out of the tent, the people could barely even look at him because the glory was so bright. Yet, that glory - a glory based on the Old Covenant - soon faded. Just as the sacrifices only worked for a time, and the priests had to return year after year to offer more, the righteousness that came from obedience to the law did not last. Today we might do everything right, but tomorrow we can fall to the temptations of the world. The glory of our earned righteousness fades.

We all know the story of Cinderella. Cinderella is a girl who finds herself in horrible circumstances, unloved and abused by the people who should care for her the most. With the help of some friends, Cinderella overcomes all the hurdles and finds her prince charming. At the end of the story we see Cinderella living happily ever after. She is on top of the mountain, reveling in the glory of her new and transformed life.

Disney made a sequel to their version of this age old story called, ďDreams Come True.Ē In this story, Cinderella finds out what it is like to live in the everyday moments of running a castle. She has to be a hostess to all the visitors, acting royal as was expected by the people in her new world. She had difficulty living up to everyoneís expectations. She could not be herself; she had to act like something different. By the end of the movie, Cinderella discovers that she must be herself to succeed.

In the Gospel lesson Jesus took some of the disciples to the top of the mountain where He was transfigured before their eyes. Shortly before this event, about eight days according to Lukeís account, Jesus told the disciples for the first time that He would have to suffer and die at the hands of all who would reject Him. These words must have been disturbing and disheartening for the disciples. On this day, however, Peter, James and John went up on the mountain with Jesus and witnessed His glorification. Surely if God would do something so miraculous, then Jesus must be more than even He thought He would be! God would not allow His Chosen One to die, right?

It is no wonder that Peter would want to build a permanent structure in which Jesus, as well as Moses and Elijah, could dwell. There on the mountaintop, in the presence of the Holy, no one could harm Jesus. However, this was not the way it was to be. Jesus had a moment of glory, but the real glory would come in a much different way. They needed to return to the real world, to the world which needed Godís mercy and grace. They needed to go back to the crowds, to the dis-ease, to the oppression and Jesus had to go back to the hatred and rejection that would send Him to the cross.

As the story continues, we see something far more real than the glory on the mountain. Godís power is not found in transfigured images or miraculous moments. It is found in the everyday opportunities we have to share Godís love and mercy with others. I am sure that the demon possessed boy must have been dirty and ugly with wounds. It must have been horrific to witness a body out of control, hurting and throwing itself on the ground. Yet, the real glory appeared when Godís grace touched the needy and brought healing and peace to a life of suffering. Just as Cinderella found real success in being herself, Jesus was most glorious when He was sharing the kingdom of God with those in need.

Paul tells us that we have a different kind of hope than the world. Our hope is not based on our ability to win or accomplish something for God. Our hope rests on the Lord Himself, who is our righteousness. We do not have to wear veils over our faces because the glory that reflects in our lives is not one that will ever fade. It will never fade because it is Jesusí glory, not our own. We are being transformed daily to become that which Christ is calling us to be. Instead of fading, the glory is ever-increasing because we are growing deeper and deeper in Spirit with each day and each new epiphany.

I read a lot. My bookshelves are covered with hundreds of books, from childrenís stories to novels to reference materials. I have books about Christmas, faith, health, history and language. I canít count the number of books about prayer or the books I havenít even read yet. I have a huge pile of books I intend to read soon. I try, but the pile just keeps getting bigger. Imagine trying to read all the books in a library! Imagine trying to gain all the knowledge in all those books. I have a general idea of what is available in my library. If someone asked to borrow a book about grace, I know which one would be good for them to read. If Iím looking for a poem or a certain personís perspective, I can usually find it. However, I canít imagine ever knowing everything that is available in all those books. Magnify it and imagine trying to learn everything in a city or university library.

It is even worse when you consider knowledge of God. A.W. Tozer, in his book ďThe Knowledge of the HolyĒ wrote, ďNeither the writer nor the reader of these words is qualified to appreciate the holiness of God. Quite literally a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in. We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of. Godís holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear Godís power and admire his wisdom, but his holiness he cannot even imagine.Ē

No one can know everything in every book ever written. It would be impossible for anyone to even read every book, let alone remember all the details. A librarian would have more knowledge than most people. At least she or would know where to find a book on the subject. They might even be able to suggest the right book. It is that way with the holiness of God. We can study God, know the history of His people, learn and follow His law. We can try to live according to His wisdom and His love. However, there is no way we can possibly even imagine the holiness of God. I think the thing that is most important to remember is that God, His ways, His thoughts, and His purposes are higher than human flesh can attain.

Moses witnessed God glorified in a way few people ever experience. He reflected that glory and the people of Israel were afraid. Moses had a different fear; as the glory faded, he was afraid that the people would no longer respect him as Godís worker. Peter, James and John thought they should stay on top of the mountain because there they saw the glory of God shining in a way that human beings rarely experience. They didnít want to go back down to the foot of the mountain because there was nothing but trouble in the world.

Jesus refused to stay on the mountain and in the glory because He knew the greater glory was to come. Instead of savoring that mountaintop, Jesus herded His disciples back down the mountain into the path of the real work of the kingdom. There at the foot of the mountain Jesus faced the doubt, uncertainty and fear of the people, including His disciples. He was no longer dazzling white, but was probably covered with the dirt of the road, with dusty feet and sweaty body. While Jesus was on the mountain a desperate man went to His disciples in search of a healing touch, yet they were unable to do anything without Him. They could not cast out the demon. It is a strange thing to happen since earlier in the chapter they had set out to do the very same work and they were successful. Thatís why the people went to them. They were capable. They were unable to accomplish it with this poor boy because they lost sight of the source of the glory by basking in their own.

The scriptures this week are not so much about transfiguration and glory as they are about doing the work of the kingdom. The passage is bookended by the truth of Jesusí mission among us. He came to die. On the mountain God spoke to the three disciples and said, ďThis is my beloved Son. Listen to him!Ē Jesus did not say what they wanted Him to say. He did not tell them that He was going to be King over Israel. He did not lead them into battle against their oppressors. He did not speak of Israel as a great nation. Instead, Jesus told them that He would have to die. The glory would not be found on a mountain or in a palace, but on a cross. For the work of God to be complete He, and they, would have to get down and dirty.

In Christ, we all shine His light, though perhaps there is not a physical glow about our bodies. I doubt that any of us have experienced any kind of transfiguration as was seen by Peter, James and John that day on the mountain. We have not seen a man shine like Moses did when he returned with the tablets. Yet there is something that happens when we know Jesus, something that can be seen in the way we live our lives of faith through which God shares His love with the world.

I wonder what it would have been like to be with Peter, James and John that day. Iíd like to believe that I could understand what was happening, that Jesus was giving us a preview of what was to come. The transfiguration was a brief moment in time when God showed the disciples the end of the story, that Christ was the King, the Messiah, the One who would save the world. It was all so overwhelming for those three men, though. There they stood with Elijah and Moses, while Jesus was glorified before their eyes. What did it mean? They could only think in human terms. They did not want this moment to end, because they never wanted the glory to fade.

Yet, we know now that though the Light stopped shining for a brief moment when Jesus died on the cross, the glory never faded. As a matter of fact, as we begin Lent in the coming week, we will walk toward the true moment of glory for our Lord Jesus Christ - not the Resurrection, but the Cross. It is there that Jesus did what He had been sent to do, to save men from sin and death.

We see the cross as a horrible and ugly thing, something to be passed over so that we can celebrate Easter. We are indeed Easter people, shining the light of Jesus Christ for the world to see, but Jesus was glorified when He took upon Himself the sin of the world so that we could be set free from sin and death. The beauty is in the cross, the most foolish and hardest to believe aspect of Christian faith. There could be no resurrection without death, no New Covenant unless the old one passed away. The fading glory of the Law is a joyous thing because it paves the way for the greater glory: the glory of grace in Christ Jesus. As we live in this Light and follow our Lord, the world will be blessed as Godís glory is reflected in our lives; they will be astonished at the majesty of God.

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