Exodus 34:29-35, Luke 9:28-36
February 14, 2010
I know today is Valentines’ Day. And I hope that’s a great celebration for you. Not that every day isn’t a good day to remember our love for one another. But this is a special day! So use it well! In our little book called “Life’s Little Instruction Book,” number 347 says, “Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them.” I think maybe that should have been number one!
Today is also an important liturgical day called “The Transfiguration.” It’s one of the most important parts of Jesus’ ministry (to the disciples, anyway) and one of the least celebrated. And I hope it’s important to us, though I suspect it isn’t.
Think about it. The disciples were uncertain. Again, we can’t imagine what all this was like for them, because we know the story! We know about Good Friday and Easter. We know about the Council of Nicea. We know about the Protestant Reformation! We know about William Tennent and the Great Awakening! (Thanks to me!) They knew none of that!
What they did know was their own history! They probably knew it way better than we know our religious history!! Their history was deeply ingrained into their every day lives! They knew the stories, the people, the events. But this Jesus was totally new! They didn’t know what to expect next. And frankly, they weren’t all that sure about the immediate future. One of them, Judas, had a hard time with all of this! And eventually he turned Jesus in, probably as a means of controlling what seemed to be “out of control!” Or at least as a way of “reining Jesus in,” and making all of this more “manageable!”
Then, of course, we can’t forget about Rome. Rome was the overall “landscape” of this world we read about in the New Testament. First Century Christianity was part of the Greco-roman culture. And it was part of the Pax Romano – the Roman Peace. Do you remember that from your history class? It meant that you could live a peaceful life – as long as you remembered who was in charge!! And rebels – rebels like this Jesus – were dealt with swiftly and harshly!
So, the more I think about all that, the more I am hit with that age old question that seems to get more powerful the older I get. “What would we have done – what would I have done – had I been there?” Would I have dared to anger these Romans? Or would I have just “embraced” the Pax Romano? And would I have dared to follow this new controversial Rabbi, Jesus?
The other thing I find myself wondering about more and more is how far have we gotten away from the “historical Jesus?” Can we even imagine what he was like? That’s a question we’re going to explore during Lent this year. But let me warn you now. It won’t be easy! It’s going to challenge your thinking – as well as mine!
Think about the Pharisees for a moment. Sometimes we think they just hated this guy when he first came on the scene. But that wasn’t true. They tried their best to associate with Jesus. They “had him over to dinner” a number of times. There are more stories about that kind of thing than we might realize. But they “expected” for him to be part of their world on their terms. And they became more and more uncomfortable, because he did not conform to their conventions.
That must have been hard for these disciples. Remember, they were steeped in their Jewish culture as much as anyone. And we revere them because they came down on the side of Jesus. But I have to think that when those Pharisees started having problems with this Jesus, that was a tough thing for these men! That opposition must have been tough for the disciples to take. They needed this vision we read about today! And that’s what this story is about! The disciples needed to have a vision to know that indeed they had backed the right horse! And I’m sure in the back of their minds was the nagging question, what if those Pharisees were right.
That makes me wonder about us. “Have we become like those Pharisees?” Is Jesus sometimes outside of our conventions? Has our image of him become so institutionalized over the centuries, that we have no clue what he was really like? I wonder if we’d be comfortable with the historical Jesus! Do we think about that? Or do we simply “go our merry way” worshipping the Jesus as we’ve come to know him? Maybe God would like to shock us into understanding things better! He certainly has done that in the past! And maybe this story is one of those times!
Now, please don’t understand me here! Maybe you’re thinking I’m talking to those who would rather not think about the historical Jesus because he doesn’t fit their image of the world. Or maybe you’re thinking I mean those who are only concerned with the orthodoxy of the faith and “getting things right.” Well, I’m thinking about both. When we think that Jesus only conforms to our view of things (“of course he would agree with our side!”) we’re missing it. And if we think only of orthodoxy and correctness, we might be shocked by the historical Jesus, too! Remember, the Pharisees were interested in nothing else but orthodoxy!!!
You’ve heard me say over and over again that when we think we understand God the most, that’s when we are probably farthest from truly understanding him. Because God is beyond us! He is outside our thinking! And that scares me as much as it does you – probably more! Because I ought to know better! And if anyone fits the “Pharisaic role” the quickest, it’s me as a clergyman!!!
We need a vision of Glory, like these disciples. And notice what happens in this story. These men see Jesus in a glorified state. They see with him Moses and Elijah. There couldn’t be any greater men to appear along side of him. And what do these disciples do? They offer to build a shrine!!! That’s what this “booth” jazz is about. And neither Jesus – nor God – even acknowledge their reaction!! In fact, the next voice in the text is God’s! And he says, “No!” That word isn’t there, but I believe it’s implied. I believe this is God’s answer to their desire to build a shrine. “No! This is my beloved son!” “Listen to him.” “Don’t build a shrine! Listen to him.” Don’t be concerned with religion or orthodoxy or theology. You can get caught up in that to the exclusion of all else. Listen to Jesus.
As we know, they had a hard time doing that. I love Luke’s words a little later. In the latter part of this chapter, Jesus tried to tell the disciples – again – what was going to happen to him, and he says, “Let these words sink into your ears!” That was the first century version of “Read my lips!”
Sometimes it’s hard for things to get through to us. Sometimes we need a vision of Glory – a vision of God that is unclouded by our preconceived notions of religion and doctrine. We need that from time to time! We need to see Jesus, in his glory. We need to try to understand him without the shrines and the religious trappings we’ve come to expect! And maybe that’s a little scary!
As I’ve thought about all of this, I keep hearing over and over the hymn we sang last week, “The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord.” And the last lines of the 4th verse keep going over and over in my head. “Mid toil and tribulation and tumult of her war, she waits the consummation of peace for ever more. Till with a vision glorious, our longing eyes are blessed. And the great Church victorious will be the Church at rest!”
Will we have that vision? Will we share this vision today with the disciples? It won’t be easy! I guarantee it will leave us with more questions than answers! Because it is God who gives us that vision! He will have the answers, and they will be beyond us! Will we rest in that? Will we be the Church as that song concludes? “Yet she on earth hath union with God the Three in One. And mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won. O happy ones and holy, Lord give us grace that we, like them the meek and lowly on high may dwell with thee.”
Eternal God, we thank you for revealing yourself to us. Forgive us when we think we know everything about you. It must sometimes look pretty foolish. But help us to listen. Help us to see. Help us that your words might sink into our ears, and we may follow Jesus. We pray in his name, Amen.