Transfiguration Sunday – St. Paul’s -2/14/21
Back in Advent, we began year B of the Revised Common Lectionary which means that all of our Gospel readings have come from the Gospel of Mark. Mark’s Gospel began with a straightforward declaration: here is the good news about Jesus Christ who is the Messiah, the Son of God. Since then you may have noticed that we haven’t had any other explicit declarations about the identity or significance of Jesus. Mark is too good of a storyteller to turn aside from his narrative and say, Here is what this episode from the ministry of Jesus really means.
Most of the time when Jesus teaches, preaches, or performs his wonders, nobody ever says, Now it’s obvious to me that you are the Messiah, the son of God. A typical response to the work of Jesus is, Who is this?
That is until we get to this Sunday, the Sunday of the Transfiguration. Jesus takes three of his disciples up a mountain, and, as everybody from Moses on knows, mountains are a good place to get a good view of the divine.
Up on the mountain, Jesus is wondrously transfigured before his amazed disciples. Moses and Elijah—two great figures out of Israel’s history—come back from the dead and converse with Jesus. Get it? Jesus stands in line with the greatest of Israel’s prophets. Moses and Elijah disappear leaving only Jesus. Get it? Jesus is greater even than Moses and Elijah. Then there is a voice from heaven and, unlike the voice from heaven at Jesus’s baptism, which only he heard, everybody on the mountain hears this voice from the cloud, This is my Son, whom I dearly love. Listen to him!
On his way to the cross, Jesus takes his often-confused disciples up a mountain. There they are given a stunning revelation, an explicit statement about who he is. Jesus is the full revelation of God. Ever wondered who God is and what God is up to? Look at Jesus, listen to Jesus, the voice from heaven says.
In the modern world, whenever the subject of God comes up, they usually always somebody around to say, God? Oh God is high and lifted up, mysterious and ethereal, vague and mystical. Can’t say too much for sure about God.This morning’s Gospel says that’s not true. God is the one from Nazareth who has been miraculously, wondrously transfigured before his amazed disciples, the one of whom the voice from heaven has said, This is my son. Listen.
Scripture texts like this Sunday’s Gospel bid us to think about God with an assumption of God’s determination to self-reveal, beginning not with Nineteenth Century doubts but with wonder that we indeed know God here, now. God has self-disclosed. We are not left to our own devices, forced to rummage in our subjectivity, hoping to dig up some hint of the divine from within our own experience.
Rather, we are to relish the surprise that Jesus Christ brings us an experience of God that we would not have had without his determination to love us and reveal to us. We really know God when we are known by this Jew from Nazareth. In the Incarnation, God has lovingly objectified God’s self so that we might know the truth of God’s intentions. The mercy of God is now knowable in the history of Jesus Christ. God entering history as a Jew from Nazareth who lived briefly and died violently is typical of the God who refuses to be confined in heaven and leave us to ourselves down here on earth. Human history—progressing upward, bigger and better in every way—is a myth. What we’ve dismissed as myth—Jesus Christ as God’s decisive revelation—is our history.
God is whoever raised crucified Jesus from the dead and sent out preachers to give the news as Paul wrote about in our Epistle this morning. Time and again in our history, when we have betrayed God’s love with our infidelity, misunderstood, fled into the darkness, stopped up our ears, and hardened our hearts, God has returned to us and has restarted the conversation, given us what we needed not only to believe in God but also to talk to, listen to, and relate to God. Thus, Paul prayed that God might open for us a door for the word (Col. 4:3), acknowledging that this conversation is at God’s initiative. Easter all over again.In that divine-human dialogue, God has proved to be remarkably resourceful, full of stratagems and devices—the incarnation, Word Made Flesh, is the most imaginative of all.
On Sunday mornings our job is not to try to laboriously climb up to God because in Jesus Christ God has climbed down to us. In Jesus, God has self-revealed to us, spoken to us. All we’ve got to do is to listen.
Many times, the modern world acts as if our problem with Jesus Christ is that we just don’t have enough solid evidence for Jesus. Jesus? We are awaiting more data, more information. Interestingly, Jesus was remembered by his first witnesses not for saying too little but rather for saying too much. The longest of the four Gospels ends, But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written (John 21:24). With so lavishly revealing a God, there’s always more to be said. Even though the Spirit told John to write this down (Rev 21:5), John’s Gospel says that all the world’s books couldn’t contain all of Christ’s speaking. With a living, revealing, relating God, there’s more next Sunday.
The Letter to the Hebrews opens with these words that we often read on Christmas: Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is a reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word (Hebrews 1:1–3).
The Letter to the Hebrews says that Christ is the messenger who is the message. Hebrews quotes no explicit words from the teaching ministry of Jesus; Jesus’s death and resurrection say it all. Jesus is more than God’s spokesperson; Christ is all that God is and does. In saying that God has revealed in many and various ways, spokespersons of the past (scripture) are not disparaged, but rather Christ is praised as the grand cadenza of divine revelation. In Christ we know that this God is determined to get through to us.
As the psalmist sang, Thou dost surround me on all sides and lay thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful and too high for me, I cannot attain it, is joined to where shall I flee from thy Spirit, and where shall I flee from thy countenance? (Psalm 139:5-6)
God is so determined to self-reveal, to show up, to engage in conversation, that God is unlimited even to scripture and preaching. God’ll speak through Balaam’s donkey! (You can look it up when you get home: Numbers 22:21-39) 1 Peter 3:1 urges wives to preach to their husbands without words. A burning bush speaks to Moses. A meal Proclaims the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 1:26).
The great missionary doctor and brilliant musician and student of the Bible, Albert Schweitzer wrote one of the most famous last paragraphs of any theological book. He ends The Quest of the Historical Jesus with these beautiful words about Jesus: He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: ‘Follow thou me!’…. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.
Unfortunately, Schweitzer’s failed prophet, the apocalyptic, mysterious Jesus who is somehow revealed in our own experience is an ineffable mystery that can’t offer true fellowship. You can’t be in a relationship with someone who is never physically present with you, who never speaks to you or never listens to anything you have to say. Conversation is always necessary for relationship.
Christians believe that in Jesus Christ God has come forth to meet us. Christianity is a revealed religion, which means that its faith comes to us rather than arises from within us. We have not only been encountered by God: we have seen God, heard God. The name for that revealed presence, word, and deed is Jesus Christ.
In the world, it’s Valentine’s Day, beloved day of florists, candy and greeting card companies. So maybe you’re disappointed that I didn’t preaching on love. I didn’t preach on love because I think sermons ought to arise from scripture, not from the secular celebration of the moment. I didn’t preach on love because I’m not sure we know what we’re talking about when we say love, or even “wuv twu wuv,” like Peter Cook in The Princess Bride.
But maybe this is a sermon about love. It’s a sermon about a God who loves us enough to reveal God’s self to us, to show up, unveil, and speak to us, not to leave us in the dark about how things stand between us and God.
Why does one person send another person a valentine? Because it’s not love until somebody actually says the words, I love you. It’s not love if somebody sends a Valentine’s card and doesn’t sign it. The point of the card is to show your love.
Well, something sort of like that happened on the Mount of Transfiguration. God’s love for us was declared to us, not in a sappy greeting card, but through a suffering, loving Son. God loves us enough not to be hidden to us.
Though it’s not Valentine’s Day in the church, it is yet another Sunday to gather and hear the words, “This is my Son in whom I delight. Listen to him.” That’s love.