Exodus 34. 29-35, 2 Cor 3. 12- 4.2, Luke 9. 28b-43.
The transfiguration. Three stories of transfiguration in our three passages, because the magnitude of what we hear about today isn’t limited to Jesus. The transfiguration was the point in life where Jesus was affirmed as God’s son and his appearance changed and his clothes become dazzling white. I wonder how many of you have seen someone’s face shine and pondered about why or how? Perhaps it is to do with our own transfigurations? The point where one knows something deep in one’s heart – that he or she is a child of God and nothing or no-one can ever take that away.
But how we get to that point from where we are? Well, there’s a clue in the story from Luke’s Gospel:
“Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
There was no agreement from heaven to do something, i.e. build three shelters. Instead, a voice issued forth that God’s Son, Jesus, should be listened to.
In true Jewish tradition there are three aspects of the event of the Transfiguration as recorded in the Bible. In the present (on that mountain), there was the acknowledgement of what had happened in the past. And there was the expectation of a prophetic future.
The appearance of Moses on the mountain – whose face shone when he had spoken with God, all those years before. Moses represented the Hebrew Scriptures – the law which had been written on stone tablets and revered as God’s word. Jesus came as a fulfilment of that law. He did the things the law could not. Where the law pointed to a problem, Jesus gave the solution. Then he became the ultimate solution for all of us.
John 1:17: For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Why was the third person on the mountain Elijah? What was his significance? He was a great prophet. I wonder if you remember the story of the prophets of Baal? How they were to call fire on to their sacrifice and none came? And then Elijah poured water onto his sacrifice and asked God to come and consume it. Fire came and even the water that had been poured on to the sacrifice could not quench the flames. It takes guts to stand up to people who would lead God’s people astray, yet Elijah did so. His appearance on that mountain testified that Jesus fulfilled what the Hebraic prophets had pointed to. Jesus was also a great prophet. One who was stepping into the unknown, the future.
The voice of God points to the future. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” What does that mean for us? Let us look at what Paul had to say. I’m going to read from the passage, but actually include a little that precedes our passage today because I think it puts it in a better context:
“you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
“Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the glory. But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and 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.”
Okay. Paul’s words seem to be pretty self-explanatory. But how do we get to that point from where we are now? Do we seek God in here? In this building? Do we seek him in what we do? Do we seek him out beyond the confines of our comfort zones? How do we seek him? Is he in our busyness? If we buy extra tinned food for the foodbanks, is that all we need to do? Is that our acknowledgement, our off-the cuff ‘nod’ that says we did our bit for God? Have we patted ourselves on the back in some sort of justification for what we do? I’m including myself in this, because I realised in my writing that I’m preaching to myself too.
Did we find God in any of that? Did we feel a transformation? Did our faces shine as we realised who we are in God? Did you discover deep down that you’re a child of God through what you just did? I’m not passing judgement here, I am simply asking if you found God in what you did last week?
I’m going to put it to you that what we’re doing is but a small part of what God is actually asking of us. Our danger is that we tend to make it a much larger part of who we think we arein God than we should. God didn’t envelop them all in a cloud on that mountain and say “You must run yourself ragged running round after everyone else with all their expectations and needs and wants.” He simply said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
How many of us do that? Listen? How many of us take time out to actually listen to God? How do we respond to the grace of God that meets us where we are? “Just as I am, before my God” to paraphrase a line from a hymn. Do we have a vision of where we are and where we would like to move to? To travel, not just as a community but as individuals? Because when we all acknowledged, somewhere, at some juncture of our lives that we needed God, we entered onto a journey. Not some static point on a travellator that allows the world to pass us by, or for us to travel through the world without any effort on our part. But a journey that involves all of our being – our head and our heart as well as our hands and our feet.
What does it mean to listen to God? How do we do that? Sunday attendance isn’t actually a sign of spiritual growth. Bums on pews means absolutely nothing when there’s no commitment to wanting to find out who God is. Who He is to each of us. How he can speak to us and why that is so important. Some of you may be feeling spiritually bereft, dry, and just putting one foot in front of the other in some semi-automated way, doing, doing, doing because what else is there?
Come to the Lent course. Starting on Wednesday in Wick after the Ash Wednesday service and Thursday at the Community Cafe in Thurso. Come and discover why Chris and I were so keen for you to learn more about the Christian saints. Come and discover different Christian pathways in finding out more of who God is and why he loves you so much. Come and read the Bible with others, and be encouraged. Come and be transformed by your experience and participation with others in community and allow that inward transfiguration to take place.