A Sermon for The Transfiguration: Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Peter 1:13-21, Luke 9:28-36, Psalm 99
Let’s see I graduated college in 1975, meaning I graduated high school in 1972. No, I didn’t do four years of college in three, I simply got High School credit for college Freshman English. This means I finished the 6th grade in in 1968. So, sometime between 1963 and then one of my sisters, came home from school and told my mother she would get an “A” in health if mom quit smoking. There is nothing quite so persistent as a child on a mission for an “A”; unless it is a newly reformed smoker. By the way, there is nothing more resistant than someone threatened by change. Our mom did quit smoking, but it was many years later, and it had nothing to do with a child’s health grade. The readings from both Exodus and Luke this morning have elements of persistence and resistance.
The story we heard from Exodus is best read with the story of The Golden Calf in the back ground. God established the covenant with Moses; but before they can even get it finished Israel breaks it. Moses convinces God not to obliterate Israel. And they renewed the covenant (Yarchin)
By the time it is all over Moses has spent so much time with God his face is either filled with horns, near eastern iconography often depict divinities with horns, or his face shines with the glory of God’s presence (Gaventa and Petersen). We don’t know because the word ‘shine’ or qā-ran seems clear enough, except that nowhere in scripture does it have either meaning, so we don’t really know what they are trying to say (Fretheim). But whatever it is the Israelites recognize that Moses mediates the restored covenant (Yarchin). It doesn’t matter if Moses’ face is shining, or covered with horns, his face is a reminder that God is close; perhaps too close for comfort. Moses and God are persistent, but Israel is resistant.
56 Books, and a many more centuries later Jesus goes up on the mountain to pray. He takes Peter, James, and John with him. They see his face change and his clothes become brilliant white, and witness Moses and Elijah appear and begin speaking with Jesus. They get a behind-the-curtain glimpse of Jesus’ glory (Gaventa and Petersen).
Peter wants to make dwellings or tents for them. Typically, we have been told Peter is trying to keep Jesus in the box he is comfortable with. We see Peter as being resistant. But that is not necessarily what is happening. It is possible that Peter does understand that something transformative is happening. Remember that just a while ago he proclaims Jesus to be the Messiah (Luke 9:20b). He may only partially grasp the significance of the event. Nonetheless, Peter recognizes this is a turning point, (Lewis). So far, no resistance. What he wants to freeze the moment and commemorate the place (Culpepper). He wants to capture it, to capture the feeling, and hold it forever (Lewis).
A past mentor of mine Fr. Gray Temple wrote Molten Soul. The idea he presents is that to be changed by the Spirit requires that our soul be malleable like molten metal so that, they can be shaped like molten metal. It is a powerful experience, it is invigorating, it is energizing. The experience changes everything, it changes everything about ourselves, it changes everything about how we see the world around us, and where we see God’s presence in the world. It is so strong that often our initial reaction is to try to hold on to that moment, in part so we can pass it on. Just like Peter tries to do. The trouble is that when we do that, we often freeze our souls, and what we try to pass on is much more like a hard metal bar, and in passing it on, it is like hitting folks over the head with it. Have you ever been hit in the head by a metal bar? So maybe Peter and the other disciples show a kind of resistance.
Peter has had a molten soul experience on the mountain top. He wants to freeze it. Temple points out the danger. Alan Culpepper writes:
that the dangers of close encounters of the divine kind are that we fail to learn from them, we reject the experience, or we try to make them the norm and either withdraw,
or as Temple writes assault others with it (Culpepper).
It would appear, from this story, that there is always a temptation to stay on the mountain top, or in glory’s light and to use that sacred space as a hiding place from the problems of the world (Cox). Peter recognizes that if Jesus changes, then Peter will be changed. He knows he can never be the same, and maybe, just maybe he doesn’t want that (Lewis). Once again resistance of some kind. Israel wants to distance themselves from the presence of God; they recognize that if they are too close they can be changed, not exactly like Moses, but changed nonetheless. They are either repelling, or rejecting, or claiming it can wait, or really it isn’t necessary, and you know that this is just not the right time (Lewis). Israel is definitely resisting. We also resist change that comes with divine encounters, or many other kinds of encounter.
The disciples wanted to build booths and stay on the mountaintop. But they could not stop time and live on in the radiance of that moment (Culpepper), Neither could Israel; and neither can we stop time.
We cannot stay on the mountain top, we cannot continuously bask in glory’s light. God needs us to go down from the mountain and away from divine light and go out into the world, taking with us some of God’s transformative love with us to share with others (Cox). Discipleship involves following, and going on. Faithfulness is not achieved by freezing a moment but by following on in confidence that God is leading us and that what lies ahead is even greater than what we have already experienced (Culpepper). Divine persistence.
Temple encourages us to encourage each other to keep our souls molten so we can continue to be shaped by the presence of the Spirit; but also, so we can share the presence of the Kingdom that is, as it always has been, right here, right now.
Cox, Jason. “Be Transfigured, The Feast of the Transfiguration.” 6 8 2017. Sermons that Work.
Culpepper, R. Alan. New Interpreter’s Bible Luke. Vol. 8. Abbington, 2015. 12 vols. Olive Tree App.
Fretheim, Terence E. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary; The Book of Genesis. Ed. I. Vol. XII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. App Olivetree.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Lewis, Karoline. Why We Need the Transfiguration. 8 2 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Temple, Gray. The Molten Soul. Church Publising Inc, 2000.
Yarchin, William. Commentary on Exodus 34:29-35. 6 8 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.