Monday, February 19, 2007

Transfiguration Sunday Sermon--Living the Transfiguration

2 Cor. 3:12=4:2
Luke 9: 28-43

I don’t know about you, but when I read this scripture, I am intrigued by Peter’s idea of setting up three tents. What is the meaning behind this seemingly ridiculous act? Mark was evidently as confused about Peter’s actions as his modern day readers—he comments on Peter’s idea by saying, “he did not know what to say, because he was terrified.” Luke shortens Mark’s comment simply to “not knowing what he had said.” Matthew seems to be the only gospel writer to think Peter is up to something worthwhile, because he leaves out commentary entirely. So, in the spirit of Matthew, I assumed that Peter wasn’t a complete fool, and looked for his meaning.
I believe that these tents in some ways symbolize our impulsive response to the divine. When the divine becomes apparent, we try to build it shelter. Instead of basking in the light of the transfiguration, we want to put it under canvas. Sure, we think this is best for the divine. God is in need of our protection!
We want to protect God under the tents of our dogmas, our customs, and our explanations. Douglas John Hall writes in a book I have been reading, The Cross in Our Context….“One suspects that our Western concepts of God are the answers that we give to depth experiences that are too basically unsettling to remain undefined, unnamed. Better name it straightaway—otherwise what control can we claim?”
The tents that we build as a response to the divine experience are our attempts to define and name the divine. Our human tendency is to feel uncomfortable with the divine. We can’t just stand with our mouths agape. Though ignorance breeds fear, the inverse is true as well: We are afraid of our ignorance—or at least I am anyway. I don’t like to think that “I don’t know.”
A friend of mine named Belden Lane is a teacher and author on the Spirituality of Landscape. IN a book titled The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, he writes about visiting Mt. Tabor—the traditional location of Christ’s transfiguration—and soaks up his surroundings. Lane is also perplexed by Peter’s idea. He writes:
“The disciples had been asking Jesus to reveal his glory as coming Messiah. They chafe under his resistance to declare openly before others that hidden truth. Peter rebukes him for predicting instead the suffering and death he must endure (Mark 8: 27-33). IN what seems to be a sudden reversal of Jesus’ reticence to display his grandeur, he takes a handful of disciples up the mountain and shows them a vision of his messianic glory to come. Everything they had longed for appears in dazzling splendor before them. The mountain is flooded with light.
Lane goes on to say……But their response is no better than those who built the golden calf after Moses’ theophany. Peter’s impulse, like theirs, is to reach for the knowable and speakable, wanting to preserve the experience artificially in a monument, building a cluster of shrines to commemorate a lost memory. He longs to sustain this display of mind boggling power that will forever demand the respect of others. Lost on him entirely is the deeper unspeakable significance of what happened on Tabor.
Finally, Lane says….This is the hardest truth for the disciples to bear. Their vision has no permanence. It can not be preserved in stone. Its ultimate fulfillment lies only on the far side of suffering, a suffering which inescapably awaits their Lord—and themselves. The way to glory is unavoidably the way of the cross, the path toward emptiness.”
This is why we celebrate the Transfiguration the Sunday before we begin our observation of Lent. Glory and striving are tied together in our expression of faith.
Christ isn’t waiting for us to put a box around him so that we can define him and control him: the Christ of the Transfiguration grabs our hearts and wrings them out. Sometimes Christ approaches us with arms open—other times Christ overturns our tables. Christ doesn’t ask us “Who do you say that I am?” so that we can define him for the world—he asks us so that we might profess him to the world.
When the disciples respond to the Transfiguration as we might, God appears in a cloud. Throughout the scriptures, and especially in the Exodus story, God is portrayed appearing in a cloud—and that is one reason we have this image in the Transfiguration. But Perhaps it is best for us to picture this cloud as a visual ignorance. A veil of missed comprehension. Christ stands before us transfigured, and all we can do (through Peter) is to suggest our tent-building. God doesn’t seem to be too interested in our tents. God seemingly interrupts Peter without justifying his idea with a response. Instead, God is bubbling over with adoration. “This is my son, IN whom I am well pleased.” Should we make a tent for him then God? No---“Listen to Him.” Listening to him entails us confronting our fears. Are we afraid to live our lives the way that he perceives is possible in us? IN other words: He asks us “Do you mind if I always love you?” Most of us know that being loved by someone means yielding ourselves to them and allowing them inside our lives. We talk a lot about “loving Jesus.” Perhaps the real difficult thing to do is being loved by Jesus.
Christ’s love is a transformative love. I can’t open myself to Christ’s love without being transfigured myself. The transfiguration burns our worldly eyes. IN a later experience of the transfigured Christ, Paul experienced this transformation as so reformative that it blinded him. After seeing a bright light and being questioned by the Risen Christ, Saul “could see nothing, and had to be led by the hand to Damascus, where he was healed by Ananias and scales fell from his eyes. Our eyes are burned by this vision as well. The love of Christ transcends our worldly vision.
. Are you afraid to live your life the way that I perceive? That’s how Jesus enters our hearts: that introspection that causes us to see what Christ perceives is possible in our lives. “Do you applaud fear?” Christ challenges us to do all that he has done. He perceives greatness in us when we perceive weakness. Christ is the fulfillment and potential for all humanity. Paul writes about the transfiguration in 2nd Corinthians “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” Christ perceives Christ in our hearts, and that’s how Christ enters. The law is written on our hearts. Christ taking hold of our hearts is not an act of filling an empty space, it is an unveiling of what is already there.
Belden Lane has this unveiling experience of being included in the transfiguration when he visited Mt. Tabor. He writes,
I wandered into the ruins of a Benedictine monastery. There I opened my Bible to Matthew. A harsh, cold wind rustled the pages, making them hard to hold. Dark clouds were gathering. But the words of the gospel went right through me as I stumbled over the passage. I heard them spoken by God not only to Jesus, but also, it seemed, to me. “You are my son,” the voice was saying, “the one I love.
I’m pleased with you; I take pleasure in who you are. Listen (and attend carefully)…to my glory within you.” There were no lights flashing at the time, no extraordinary vision. God knows, I was half freezing to death. But I couldn’t get away from the embarrassed, almost heretical feeling that in all my ordinariness—a foreigner with cold feet and anxiousness about the weather—I was somehow in that moment included in the transfiguring light once revealed in that place. A father was saying words I’d been longing to hear all my life.
Lane continues….While such a reading of the text may seem presumptuous to Western ears, I’d learn later that it follows exactly the Greek fathers’ understanding of the transfiguration event. The disciples’ vision of Jesus’ deified human flesh on Mount Tabor revealed to them not only the glory of God, but also what it means most fully to be human. Part of their amazement at the transfiguration was that, in seeing Jesus, they also saw themselves anew. Summarizing John of Damascus and Gregory Palamas, John A. McGuckin says, “When the disciple comes before the mystery of the Transfiguration he sees an image of his true face that he has known but long since forgotten.”
Jesus shows the disciples the glorious nature of the Christ. Even though we are disciples of Christ, we can never quite wrap our minds around the simple light and beauty of the transfiguration. It is out of the ordinary. Right when we think we have the right answers to the question “Who do you say that I am?” the reality of the Christ melts our minds and envelops us like a cloud.
We try to build appropriate shrines, and we don’t even begin to get it. The cloud forces our knees to buckle. What is this grand vision? This awe inspiring light? Is it a taste of some transcendent deity? No—it is pure humanity. It is fearless, unbounded love. Christ never lets us disciples off the hook—He asks us if we would like to join him on Golgotha. He tells us that we will do all he has done and more. Christ’s radiant face is the potential for all creation.
Now I’m going to play a song by Thievery Corporation. This is secular music, but I agree with Madeline L’Engle that “nothing is so secular that it can’t be sacred.” Imagine the words of the singer coming from the mouth of Jesus on the ascent of the mountain of transfiguration. Can you see the transfiguration in the mirror, as Paul asks us in 2nd Corinthians? If not, what are the things that are holding you back? Where do you see Christ’s face changing into something unexpected? What metamorphosis must you undergo to be the face of Christ in this world for others? What have you built in an attempt to shelter God? If you wish, you may come and light a candle as a sign of reverence and prayer. As the chancel begins to be filled with candlelight, perhaps we might see our own purpose as God’s children to be reflections of that magnificent light which give us hope. How can we be lights to this community. Come and light a candle in hopes that we may be transfigured to this purpose.


  1. Powerful! What was the song you played by Theivery Corporation?

  2. The song played was "Heaven's Gonna Burn Your Eyes" from the album The Richest Man in Babylon