Persistence and Resistance

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.


References

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/&gt;.

 

 

 

Transfiguration moments

A sermon for Epiphany Last – Transfiguration; Exodus 24:12-18, Psalm 2, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

 

As you may remember, last weekend was The Diocese of Arkansas’ 145th annual Convention. A disadvantage of ending mid afternoon is that it is mid-evening, sometime after 8 pm, when I arrived home. There was no time, and there was no energy, for thoughtful inclusions of the convention’s action in homiletic reflection within the appointed readings. The short sharing of a presentation doesn’t count, no matter enthusiastic it might have been. However, a week to reflect on convention and this week’s Gospel reading of the transfiguration raises such an opportunity.

St. Andrew’s Horseshoe village presented a resolution to close. The bishop had explained the circumstances before the resolution was presented. The resolution included the congregation’s prayerful considerations, thanks to the faithful members, and plans for how they will continue in the body of Christ. St. Andrew’s did close. They did shed themselves of the burden of maintaining things that were consuming too many resources. However, St. Andrew’s did not die. They were transfigured as they became a part of another tradition of the larger continuing body of Christ. It was both a difficult and a glorious action, for the people of St. Andrew’s and for Convention. It was an action that allowed them and convention to let go of what was holding them so they could grasp the future being given them.

St. Stephen’s is in a transfiguration moment. We know what we are, but we sometimes still pretend to be what we were. We know what we are becoming, but we don’t know what that really means. Angie and I are in a similar place, a couple of times.

You know Nugget’s story. That because of sudden illness, he is no longer able to be Angie’s service dog. We know and accept this. And then there are those moments when he is his old self, and we instinctively act like he is until we get to the moment when we realize we can’t, which most often involves getting ready to go somewhere. We know who Nugget is, our pet. But at times, we still act as if he is a service dog.

Last week we acquired Burt, a dog we believe will become Angie’s new service dog. Right now, is he a 120-pound canine toddler. There is name recognition training. There is basic behavior training. There is AKA Good Citizen training. And finally, there is service dog training. We know who Burt is becoming. We know the six-month plan, but we don’t know what that really means.

The other transition place for us is my move to ¼ time about July 1st. There is a general agreement as to what my continuing role with St. Stephen’s will be, but there are lots of details to figure out. There are plans for the other ¾ of my time. But they are not moving as quickly as imagined. There are options, some better than others, all of them have good opportunities, but we really don’t know what that means.

I am sure you have recognized the other ¾ time means there will be changes for St. Stephens. For those things, I’ll no longer be responsible for we must determine what to keep and how, who will be responsible and when. There all sorts of considerations, most every part of our church life is affected. Things like our liturgical life; all the liturgy planning, the scheduling, and the bulletin making. This is important because our worship life informs our mission life. There are ministries like discretionary outreach, our participation in the Ignite backpack and Christmas ministry, our community ministry support; all of these and more will require who, how much, and when decisions. There is also our community life, how are we going to gather, when will we gather, and who will coordinate it. There is the financial aspect of our community life which requires constant thoughtful attention and is both influenced by and influences our liturgy, our mission, and our communal life. And then there all those mundane everyday things like checking the answering machine, checking the mail, checking the email, keeping Facebook up to date, postings to twitter, providing material to our webmaster, and keeping our public google calendar up to date. We know something of what all this will be like, but we don’t know what that really means.

So, in light of St. Andrew’s story and of Matthew’s gospel story of the Transfiguration, I got to wondering, what does the Transfiguration have to teach us about – well – transfiguration – metamorphosis – change?

Let’s begin towards the end. God speaks from the cloud: This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased …. (Matthew 17:5b) God speaks the same words spoken at Jesus’ baptism; only this time everyone hears, well Peter, James, and John hear (Boring). The phrase does end differently as God adds listen to him! Not look at, not admire, not clump together with anything that has come before, but listen to him. ‘Listen’ carries the connotation to obey, to understand or better yet, to live accordingly (Harrelson, Boring). That God tells the disciples, and us, to listen gives us a clue that we are missing something.

The word for Jesus’ transfiguration is metamorphosis. You remember from school this is what happens to a caterpillar when it becomes a butterfly. Change is important, and the past is still important, even if it is not visible as It no longer is in the butterfly (Lewis). I suspect the divine command to listen is a divine nudge to not get all caught up in the incomprehensible grandeur, which for Peter is the presence of Moses and Elijah, and for many of us is Jesus all aglow. Either way along with Peter we are to beware of distractions and listen to, live as Jesus lives.

While there is respect for the past in the story, there is still that warning to beware. When Moses and Elijah appear, Peter immediately wants to build three dwellings. Again, words point the way. The word skēnai means dwelling or tent, also means tabernacle, the home of the Ark. The Shekinah is the fiery cloud that symbolized the continuing presence of God among Israel, and that was over the ark of the covenant (Boring). As we navigate the changes in our individual lives,  family and as St. Stephen’s we should honor the past for what it is; but, we should beware and not misunderstand it and do as Peter wants to and build something because of some reminder of the past. If we pay attention that after the majesty dissipates, all that glowing goes away, Jesus is alone, and that reveals to us that Jesus is the true tabernacle, the skēnē, the reality of God’s abiding presence with us (Boring). It is also the assurance that you, that we are not alone, never have been, and never will be; we are never alone in the journey into a new and different future. The final thought or vision is that Jesus really is God with us, Jesus was with us yesterday, he is right here right now, he will be with us tomorrow.

As we head into Lenten reflection, and the process of our own metamorphosis, our own change, let us envision ourselves rowing a boat – looking at the shore that is opposite of where we are going to find the vision that grounds us in where we were and trust, that even though we cannot see it our future is secure. Let us envision who we might be changing into as Peter, James, and John saw glimpses of the glory to come. We can see glimpses of how God continues to be present to us, we can see glimpses of how God will be present through us, as heirs of Jesus, so that the presence of the Kingdom of God will continue to be proclaimed.


References

Boring, M. Eugene. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Matthew. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Carter, Warren. Commentary on Matthew 17:19. 26 2 2017. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 26 2 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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.

Helmer, Ben. “Transformation, Last Sunday after Epiphany (A).” 26 2 2016. Sermons that Work.

Hoezee, Scott. Last Epiphany A – Matthew 17:1-9. 26 2 2017. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/advent-3c/?type=the_lectionary_gospel&gt;.

Lewis, Karoline. Change Matters. 26 2 2017. <workingpreacher.org>.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

 

 

 

Emmanuel Grace

A Sermon for the Last Sunday in Epiphany: Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2, Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a], Psalm 99

For my last quarter as a senior in college, I went with a group to England. While there, I took a side trip to Stonehenge. At the time, the public could still walk among the stones. You could feel them, not just their tactile sense, but their mystical sense. Stonehenge feels different. Even though I cannot describe it, I will remember it forever. Fast forward to sometime in the future, when Angie and I take a longed for trip to Scotland, and Italy, the lands of our respective heritages. While there we want to see the art. I’d like to see Michelangelo’s Moses with its horns. Look at the next to last page of your orders, and you will find a picture. It’s not bad, you get a sense of the statue’s grandeur; maybe even its size. But I want to be there. I wonder if being in its presence evokes a similar sense of mystery as Stonehenge did. I wonder what those horns evoke.

'Moses'_by_Michelangelo

And no, Michelangelo did not make a mistake. The Hebrew verb ‘shone’ is derived from the noun ‘horn.’ Ancient eastern icons often show gods with horns. Pharaohs of some Egyptian dynasties are regularly shown wearing a ram’s horn on their face. At the same time, the translators are right, ancient eastern gods were believed to have glowing faces (Gavenat and Petersen). Maybe it is just possible to carve a horn and not so much to carve radiance. However, what has my attention this morning is not so much why Moses’ face glows, or Jesus’ for that matter, but the response of those around them.

Moses comes down the mountain for the second time, yep, this is after the whole golden calf debacle, and his face is glowing. The people are afraid, and they work out a deal; when Moses isn’t doing his prophet thing, he will cover his face. It is a little strange because it is possible that Moses’ radiant face just may be the reflection of grace extended by God for Israel’s idolatrous ramp with a calf (Hoezee, Exodus). Then again grace can be scary because it is also a reminder of your sinful and evil behaviors (Hoezee, Luke). Some think that by having Moses veil his face the Israelites are trying to prevent another profane act. I wonder if they are trying to keep it from being too close. We all know that Emmanuel, God is with us, is fine, but just not too close.

We also know Jesus’ transfiguration is connected to Moses shining face. Jesus, Peter, James and John go up the mountain. Jesus is praying, his face changes, his clothes glow and suddenly he is talking with Moses and Elijah about his departure. We all know ever impetuous Peter wants to build a three booths, for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. It sounds like a fine idea; it is a great way to honor all three. However, eight days ago, Peter acknowledged Jesus is God’s Messiah. Eight days ago, Jesus shared with his disciples about his future: suffering, betrayal, and death. And as Scott Hoezee points out, since then nothing! Not one word (Hoezee, Luke). I kind of get the feeling this whole messiah thing is not what Peter or any of the disciples was thinking. Jesus speaking about his future carries a pall of sin and evil; it is dark. I think that the whole booths thing, while impetuous, is a pretty clever way of getting Emmanuel back in the box. We all know that Emmanuel, God is with us, is fine, but suffering, betrayal, and death is not exactly what anyone expects, or what they want.

A common theme to these stories is Emmanuel, which means “God is with us.” In Exodus, the people want to cover it up. In Luke, the disciples want to box it in. I got to wondering. When we come across Emmanuel, are we as welcoming, as we are to everyone else? Or are we more like our biblical forbearers and try to find a way to be welcoming, at a safe distance?

But here is the thing about Emmanuel and grace, they are not safe. They always remind us of our complicity in sin and evil. Because, only then, can they always remind us that we, and everyone else, are forgiven and that all creation is being healed.

It has been my experience that Emmanuel grace is generally not so much in your face (Hoezee, Luke). You know you’ve encountered Emmanuel grace by NSP, non-sensory perception; you feel it, you see it, not in a tactile or sensory way; you just know it’s presence. And, in faith, as we risk a closer encounter, we begin to glean how as each of us is made in the image of God, each of us reflects Emmanuel grace to the other, and in doing so, each strengthens the other. And the more we share, the more we trust that we can venture into the shadows of the world; because we all know, each of us have our own shadows, that are forgiven in the light of Christ (Carvalhaes).

Emmanuel grace, the grace of God, who is with us, is very much the Kingdom of God. Right here, right now, is where ever, whenever any of us happen to be. From highest mountain top to broadest plain, Emmanuel grace is ours to share anywhere anytime; from highest mountain top to broadest plain Emmanuel grace is ours to receive anywhere anytime. May we all be strengthened from glory to glory.

 


 

References

Carvalhaes, Cláudio. Commentary on Luke 9:28-36, (37-43). 7 2 2016. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 2 2016. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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.

Hoezee, Scott. Exodus 34:29-35. 7 2 2016.

—. The Lectionary Gospel Luke 9:28-36. 7 2 2016.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Yarchin, William. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: Exodus 34:2935.” 7 2 2016. Working Preacher.

 

The next big thing

A sermon for Epiphany Last

2 Kings 2:112, Psalm 50:16, 2 Corinthians 4:36, Mark 9:29

Friday morning, as is my daily custom, I was reading the New York Times, the Technology section. An article about Google’s future caught my attention. The author posits, that like Digital Equipment and Wang of years past; and like Hewlett Packard and Microsoft today Google’s dominance is fading. Googles current finances are fine, $14 billion in profits, up 19 percent over last year, are enviable. However, a look behind the numbers reveals concerns. Farhad Manjoo builds an articulate case that Google’s future is less clear than its present; however, that is another discussion for another context. What caught my attention is that like Digital Equipment, Wang, Hewett Packard and Microsoft, Google’s “dominance precludes it from dominating the next thing.”  (Manjoo)

I immediately wondered how the theorem that current dominance precludes dominating the big thing might explain:  the muddle:  in the Middle East for the US; or in the Ukraine for the US and Europe; or the financial commotion for the Euro; or Russia’s behavior in general.

Then I got to thinking about Israel, who was not a big thing in the first century, if ever. And then that within Judaism’s messianic movement, nothing short of a Davidic successor could possibly be the next big thing. It seems the theorem holds on the large stage.

And then I got to thinking about Jesus’ transformation; which, to be honest, makes little sense in the midst of Mark’s messianic secrete. But here it is. So how can the theorem of dominance and next big thing help us to glean what is going on.

You know the story, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain, where Jesus is transformed. Elijah and Moses appear with him. Peter interrupts their casual conversation, he wants to make three dwelling, or tents, or booths, for them, because the whole thing ~ well it’s just inconceivable and he is trying to put it within the dominate vision’s boundaries. It doesn’t fit. We know this because suddenly the whole mountain top is enshrouded in a cloud, from which God’s voice proclaims: “This is my Son, the Beloved: listen to him!”

Observations of the scene from the theorem’s perspective. 1. Moses, manifesting the law, is a dominate thing. 2. Elijah, manifesting the prophets, is a dominate thing. Peter, in spite of his recent confession that Jesus is the Messiah (Mark 8:29) can only see Jesus in the dominate vision of Law and Prophets, and the attendant understanding of the messiah. At this point God shows up, and we have a theophany, think and Cecil B DeMille or Ridley Scott. The first theophany, Mark records, is Jesus’ baptism. It was an intimate private affair in the midst of a very public gathering around John the Baptist. Here, we have a public affair, at least its public to Peter, James and John, in the midst of a reasonably private gathering, after all they are on a mountain top. This contrast clues us in that something different is happening. This time, when God speaks the intended audience is: Peter, James and John. They now know, directly from God, Jesus is God’s beloved son. They also now know they are to listen to him. Two more observations: 1.being God’s son is tantamount to being God’s messiah; and 2.the dictate to “listen to him.” is not about authority, rather it firmly establishes Jesus identity.

What our theorem suggests is that this story is not about establishing dominance. The transfiguration established Jesus identity. The messianic secrete creates time in which the fullness of Jesus as the next messiah, the next big thing, can grow to its surprising fullness. It’s only as something different than the dominate Romanesque Davidic Imperial messiah that Jesus can bring salvation to all creation.

History teaches us the Jesus movement, Christianity, became a dominate force in the Mediterranean basin. After the church split in to Western Church, centered in Rome, and Eastern Orthodox Church and became dominate from the British Isles to Italian – Greek border, and from the Italian – Greek border to Persia, and at least powerfully present from Persia to China. We also know Western Christianity after the Reformation became dominate throughout the colonialized new world. Centuries have past. Christianity is not dominate in Europe, and less dominate in the US, and barely hanging on in the more eastern realms. We also know Christianity is on the ascendancy in Africa and Asia.

So, here we go:

  • Judaism, Christianity and Islam, all derivatives of the God of Abraham, all have a part in whatever new thing God is bringing to life.
  • Jesus was never about Christianity, a close reading of Gospels reveals that Jesus was always bringing people to God’s presence; Jesus always was, and is all about God.
  • The dominate position of Islam in the Middle east and its growth in Europe, and Christianity ascendency in Africa and Asia is not a predictor, one way or another, about what new thing God is bringing to life.
  • According to our theorem Christianity’s fall from dominance in Europe and rapidly falling dominance in the US will create space for whatever new thing God is bringing to life to be seeded, root, sprout and grow; and I cannot imagine who, what, how, when or where, beyond my sound belief, and absolute trust that God continues to be actively present here and now albeit in a wholly new way.

My prayer for this last Sunday of Epiphany, the season of light, is that we allow the brilliance of Jesus’ transfiguration to envelop us, envelope our imaginations, and allow our vision to be swaddled by the enshrouding cloud; so all we see is the new light of Christ, which is actually, according to John’s Gospel, the original cosmic light, illumine the next big thing illumine our path to the next big thing.


References

Manjoo, Farhad. “Google, Might Now, ut Not Forever.” New York Times 11 2 2015. web. <http://nyti.ms/1uFqOI9&gt;.

Seddon, Rev. Matt. “6 Pentecost, Proper 11 (A) – 2014; Groaning: The soundtrack of creation.” 20 7 2014. Sermons that Work.

Skinner, Matt. Commentary on Mark 9:2-9. 15 2 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2344&gt;.

Listen

 A sermon for Epiphany Last

 Exodus 24:12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9, Psalm 2 or, Psalm 99

 In a story filled with powerful visual images: “ high mountain, shone like the sun”,” dazzling white”, “bright cloud,” it is quite possible that the key phrase is listen to him. But to get there we should understand all the visual clues.

Jesus and core crew go up on a high mountain; knowledgeable Jews catch the implications to God & Moses on Mt. Sinai, and Elijah’s divine encounter on a high mountain. [i] Matthew’s audience knows

[a] high mountain symbolizes the border zone between earth and heaven, between the material and the spiritual. [ii]

Jesus is suddenly all lit up; knowledgeable Jews know that glowing with glory is a characteristic of heavenly beings;  [iii] and any one hearing Matthew’s Gospel read, as was the custom of the day, would recall that just a chapter ago, in explaining the parable of weeds in the wheat Jesus concludes saying:

the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father [iv]  [v]

The appearance of Moses and Elijah certainly get a Jew’s attention; as Matthew places Jesus in continuity with God’s continuing
work [vi] revealed in what we call the Old Testament Eugene Boring writes

Matthew pairs Moses and Elijah … because they were both prophets who were initially rejected by the people but vindicated by God, both were advocates of the covenant and the Torah, both worked miracles, and both were considered by first-century Judaism to be transcendent figures who did not die but were taken directly to heaven. [vii]

Perhaps the least understood image is the three dwellings. Skēnē (skay-nay’) [viii] is interpreted as dwellings, or tents, (NSRV) tabernacles, (KJV) booths, (YLT) or memorial. (MSG) Many of you have heard of the connection to the festival of the Booths. What we are unlikely to hear is the verbal similarity to ‘Shekinah’ the fiery presence that symbolizes the continuing presence of God among the people. [ix] Perhaps Peter wants to prolong the heavenly presence of Moses and Elijah with Jesus. [x] It would be a very Jewish action.

 The final image is a bright cloud that overshadows them. I always associate shadows, and certainly overshadowing, with dark clouds. You’ve noticed that when it suddenly gets darker; you look up and see a dark cloud, not a bright cloud. It must be me, because no one mentions it, and to be honest, I’ve never noticed it before. Oh well.

So Peter, James and John are on a high mountain top, the boundary between heaven and earth between spiritual and the worldly; they see Jesus lit up with righteousness like a heavenly being; they see him speaking with Moses and Elijah in continuity of God’s redeeming work; then Peter, for better or worse, connects it all with the fiery presence in the Temple And then they/we hear God’s voice:

This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!

We all know listening is more than hearing; how often has your child answered I hear you!  and you know they haven’t a clue what you said. It gets more complicated. In the Old Testament to ‘hear’ carries the connotation to ‘obey.’ [xi] Douglas Hare notes that ‘word’ or hearing has priority over vision. [xii] He also writes listen to him! emphasizes Jesus’ role as teacher who is revealing God’s will, [xiii] which I believe implies emphasis on moral and ethical lessons. Hare concludes:

Seeing Jesus transfigured has value only if it leads the disciples to listen obediently to his divinely authorized teaching.

We live in a time and place where it is hard to see the divine presence; it is hard to see miracles, hard to see the glory of God, hard to see God’s presence. Many take the lack of visions as evidence that God is absent, or that God doesn’t exist. This logic equivocates God with the Ivory-billed woodpecker. And if today’s gospel teaches us anything, it’s that we don’t come to understand scripture through the usual and customary methods of historical criticism and/or the scientific method. [xiv] But have you ever noticed that people who listen to the Word, see God’s Glory; that when we listen to Jesus, the Spirit, we see Glory we otherwise miss? A couple of weeks ago David Lose encouraged preachers to ask their congregations to ask each other when they saw God this week. Today I’d be tempted to ask you: When you listened to the Divine this week?

[pause]

Nervous?

Perhaps we should be; no we really should be. We know that listening to God will make us uncomfortable, will challenge us to go where no one has gone before, and it frightens us. No one likes to get out of our comfort zones; but that is where Peter, James, John, and the rest of the disciples go, it is where we are called to go. [xv]

But, as a colleague of mine experienced this week, Jesus will not leave us alone. After he really stretched himself to speak from a highly technical rules point; as he sat down, a good friend gently laid a hand on his shoulder, until my colleague calmed. His friend brought him back, not to comfort, but to where he was no longer afraid.

I have laid out for us goals of:  Welcome Home, Friday Families, Brewing Faith and Stephens’s House.  They are anywhere from simple to complex, from no-big-deal to audacious. No matter what, they will take us out of our comfort zone. However, as we listen to Jesus, we will see not only his presence, but the path opening for us to follow. We will know the calming touch of friend. And who knows, perhaps we will be transformed into a people who, by our very existence, proclaim God’s Kingdom on earth.

Epiphany, the season we dedicate to divine light is drawing to its close. It’s time to listen for the voice of God. It may be in a bright cloud, it may be in dark cloud, it may come from unexpected places, no matter it will lead you to glory beyond imagination.

By the way, when did you listen to Jesus this week?

 


[i] Judith Jones, Workingpreacher.org , Commentary on Matthew 17:1-9, 2/26/2014
[ii] Douglas Hare, Interpretation, Matthew A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching
[iii] M Eugene Boring, New Interpreter’s Bible, Matthew, Introduction, Commentary and Reflections
[iv] Matthew 16:43
[v] Hare, ibid
[vi] Boring, ibid
[vii] ibid
[viii] Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary
[ix] Boring, ibid
x] Hare, ibid
[xi] Boring, ibid
[xii] Hare, ibid
[xiii] ibid
[xiv] ibid
[xv] Paul Daniels, episcopaldigitalnetwork.com, http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2014/02/07/last-sunday-after-epiphany-world-mission-sunday-a-2014/, Last Sunday After Epiphany / World Mission Sunday (A) – 2014

Transfigured and transformed

A colleague of a colleague asked Why the Transfiguration? Colleague #2 does a wonderful etymological exploration of ‘transfigure’. But he brings to point home by concluding

Something deeply profound happened on top of that mountain, something that didn’t need Peter, James, John, Elijah, Moses, or the cloud to happen.  Jesus was transfigured, changed, shown to be the Son of God. [i]

There is no doubt he is correct. Nonetheless, and it may be my contrarian nature sticking its head out, but I’ve begun to wonder if in focusing so closely on Jesus we are missing something else. Six day ago, maybe more it’s hard to tell, Peter confesses Jesus to be the messiah, the Son of the living God. It is a linchpin moment for Jesus’ ministry, the disciples, at least Peter, understands. On top of the mountain, Peter’s impulse to build three σκηνή, or skēnē [ii] tabernacles (KJV), dwellings (NSRV) or memorials (MSG) reveals that he doesn’t get it yet, he just beginning to understand.

A brief aside, all three translations are nouns. I found it interesting the roots of Vine’s Words: Habitation, and Tabernacle [iii] are verbs implying to stay. Staying put, maintaining the status quo is about as far from Jesus’ intentions as one can get. Peter really is just beginning his journey to understanding.

The second event on the mountain top is the theophany in a cloud, and God’s voice naming Jesus, and instructing the three disciples to listen to him. Jesus’ instructions to them to say nothing is another revelation they don’t yet fully understand, and that their arduous journey to understanding has just begun. Peter, James and John are beginning their own transfiguration, a transformation to being disciples.

A couple of weeks ago David Lose [iv] of Workingpreacher.org invited us to invite our congregations to share with each other when they had seen God in the last week. So I’m wondering when was our first moment of transfiguration, when was our last moment of transfiguration, how far along our journey to understanding, to true discipleship, we might be. On this last Sunday of light, it’s worth pondering.

 


[i] http://wordpress.com/read/post/id/27985378/4318/
[ii] Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary
[iii] ibid
[iv] David Lose, Workingpreacher.org, ttp://www.workingpreacher.org/profile/default.aspx?uid=b7cc0fec827096b2504c5164ecc9831028ee1cfc87caab27e817dcd7c6ba6255