Transfiguration Sunday – March 3, 2019

Transfiguration Sunday    March 3, 2019   Psalm 99, Exodus 34:29-35,

2 Corinthians 3:12-18, Luke 9:28-36

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This Wednesday we enter the season of Lent – a season intended for prayerful   un-hurried reflection… on the life and mission and passion of Jesus Christ. A season that’s all about deepening relationship with God.

We need to be creative and persistent to fulfill these lenten goals – since the world has more ways than we can count… of distracting us from prayer…and being fully alive with Jesus…

So just before Lent, by tradition, every year we follow Jesus as he takes us, with a few of his first disciples, up the mountain for prayer – where we see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, prophets of old – transfigured, now, in the bright blazing light of God…

Peter, as so often… says more than he should… without really knowing what he’s saying… (Something I catch myself doing…also…)

And as we glimpse disciples, weighed down with sleep, barely awake – perhaps we’re reminded of how they fall asleep again in the garden of Gethsemane… as Jesus is praying again… on the eve of Good Friday.

Disciples struggle to stay awake even as God’s glory is revealed in front of their eyes… and they glimpse what Jesus brought them up the mountain to witness.

Disciples have a hard time staying awake – even as Moses and Elijah appear, straight-out-of-heaven, talking with Jesus. (How these sleepy disciples recognize Moses and Elijah, we aren’t told. Artists portray Moses with tablets of the Law tucked under an arm, and Elijah with the fiery chariot that took him up into heaven parked in the background. We don’t know how, but somehow disciples do recognize these heavenly visitors.)

But as Peter offers to build cabins for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah… Suddenly the cloud of God’s presence overshadows them all… and they are terrified… And they hear God’s voice speak from the cloud naming Jesus His beloved Chosen Son – saying – “Listen to him!”

Now, finally, disciples… are silent… as they start the long trek back down the mountain….

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This stunning encounter on the mountain must have had Peter, John and James recalling our reading from Exodus – where the face of Moses shines so brightly as he talks with God… that all the people are afraid to look at him…

Disciples are feeling edgy, most likely, going up the mountain… because of that conversation with Jesus, eight days ago, when he told them he must suffer and die, then be raised from the dead…

Quite possibly disciples are fearful also because they’ve been remembering how, when Moses first goes up Mt Sinai to receive the Law (Exodus 19) God tells everyone but Moses and Joshua to stay off the mountain – which is  covered with smoke and fire and cloud… and all the people are terrified…

For sure, disciples remember when Moses came down the mountain and found Israel worshiping the golden calf, and Moses smashes the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them in hot anger.

It takes some difficult conversation, then, for God and Moses to persuade each other… not to give up on Israel… But, thankfully, they don’t give up… and…

Moses goes back up the mountain for a second round of forty days of fasting, praying and receiving the Law. When he comes down again with a new set of tablets the conversation continues – God and Moses speaking together, now, one-on-one in the tent of meeting. Whenever Moses speaks with God his face shines with the light of God’s presence…. Israel was afraid of fire on the mountain  – and is afraid now, even to look on the face of Moses. So Moses covers his face whenever he’s teaching Israel…what God’s been teaching him…

St Paul, the apostle, assumes the church knows all these stories of Moses and God – even though most Corinthian church members aren’t Jewish, and didn’t grow up knowing God and the bible. Paul expects them to be learning always.

It’s not clear how much Paul knows the gospels – which were around in the oral tradition – but not written down till after Paul’s letters were written, and Paul himself had passed to glory. So we never get to hear Paul’s interpretation of the Transfiguration of Jesus. Instead, we hear Paul’s Spirit-inspired re-imagining of Moses as a preview of Jesus; an early witness for Jesus.

Last week we heard St Paul in this same third chapter of 2nd Corinthians tell us we’re invited to join him as (quote) “ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of Spirit – for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” The apostle takes Spirit-filled creative liberty with the apparent plain meanings of biblical texts – (texts he’s known since childhood) – as he re-imagines here the veil on the face of Moses as an invisible veil pulled over the minds of those who hear his teaching, but can’t see Jesus as Son of God, or recognize him as God-incarnate in-human-form…

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I usually try to stick to just one passage of scripture at a time. But here’s Jesus, at the center of a trio, flanked by Moses and Elijah. Here he is also, accompanied by a trio of disciples. And today we have a trio of views of the glory of God – Revealed for us –

–  in the reflection of God’s light in the face of Moses –

– And – revealed for us in the blazing light of God’s glory shining directly in the face of Jesus on the mountain –

– And revealed yet again for us, now, in the church – in the face of the whole church, including us – as we look to Jesus in prayer, and follow him in and through loving service.

The greatest of these three views of God’s glory, of course, is the Transfiguration of Jesus. A unique, one-time-only-flash-forward-sneak-preview of Jesus in glory. And yet, as poet WH Auden has observed: “Christ… demanded that (we) believe in Him – except on one occasion, the Transfiguration. For a brief while, Peter, James, and John were permitted to see Him in His glory. For that brief while they had no need of faith. (But– Auden continues– ) The vision vanished – and the memory of it did not prevent them from all forsaking Him when He was arrested – or Peter from denying that he had ever known Him.”

If we judge the importance of the Transfiguration of Jesus for the church… according to the criteria of short-term success or speedy transformation of disciples, the Transfiguration was an utter failure.

So also – seeing God’s glory on the face of Moses didn’t make Israel more faithful to God… at least not in any kind of a hurry. Israel continued to rebel against God and Moses, forty years in the wilderness… and still, also, in the promised land…

Yet God has never given up…. on Israel, or the church…Scripture assures us… Despite all our many infidelities and failures to follow God’s instructions… God has never given up on us.

And God is counting on us still… To look to Jesus – and continue God’s work of transfiguration. We see Jesus now much like Israel saw God’s glory on the face of Moses – in reflection,  as in a mirror. But God’s glory, even indirectly seen,  reflected in the image of God’s people… is more than strong enough to transform us… into nothing less than the image and likeness of Jesus…

Provided… we don’t stop looking to Jesus…

Jesus honors Israel’s past – as he confers with Moses and Elijah. He teaches reverence for what’s good in our past – and challenges us to avoid looking back to the faded glory of our past. A past never remotely as glorious…as the future God calls us into…

As God calls us to keep looking to the face of Jesus – whose glory shines in us… when our hearts and minds are fixed on him. Keep looking to Jesus… till we see, on mount Calvary…the beginning… of all the world transfigured… in Him…

Keep looking to Jesus always…Because this transformation promised in the word of God… doesn’t come instantly… Doesn’t happen… all in a day.

We’re all of us still works-in-progress. But looking to Jesus…

Believing in Jesus… till all the world is transformed in Him…

is still the holy labor-of-love God has created us to be fully-employed in…

for God and each other… with Jesus and one another… Always.

Thanks be to God. Amen.