Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord - Matthew 17:1-9
It is an amazing thing to look into the face of God. I am not talking about some manifestation of what I think him to be, or what we presume to be his work among us through the face of another. I am talking about the actual face of the Lord. God himself. The holiest of the holy. The perfect of the perfect. The most merciful of anything you could ever imagine. Which is an amazing thing to say since we look around the world and find very little of any of that. Within our faith, or religion (whatever you want to call it), what often is missing in the Western World is this question of transcendence. Of something above and beyond us. The wonder of the Almighty. Of a God that is so beyond us that he is uncontrollable.
The story of the Exodus, specifically that of the mountain, the tablets of the Law, and Moses with the glowing face, is one of my favorite stories. Moses goes up the mountain to receive from God the 10 commandments. He goes because the people of God are too afraid of Yahweh to listen to his voice. They make the covenant, but while Moses is gone, they break the covenant. They want a God they can manage. A god they can craft by hand. A calf. All because if we can make our god, we can kill our god, or close it up in a closet until we need it again. Moses comes down the mountain after being with God, and in anger he breaks the tablets that God had written his Word upon. He makes the people drink water mixed with the ashes of the idol they created, then he goes back up the mountain to get the word of God again, on new tablets and bring it to the people.
While there, Moses asks God the one question he was afraid to ask – “Show me your glory.” And he receives this response – “No one can look upon God and live.” But the Lord obliges. He says to Moses, “I’ll make you a deal. There is a crack in the rock over there. I am going to place you in that crack and cover your face with my hand. Then I will pass myself before you and remove my hand just for a moment that you might see my rear-end just before I leave your sight.” And so, God does all this, while announcing himself - The Lord—the Lord is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving iniquity, rebellion, and sin. Moses gets a glimpse of the Lord and the result is this face we read of today. A face that has glimpsed just a piece of the Lord and shines brighter than the sun so he has to cover it with a veil. Hiding himself. Hiding his experience.
The crazy thing is that what Moses experiences here is what then happens at the Transfiguration. Transfiguration, another word we use in church and never translate. A change in form from average to extraordinary. Jesus takes Peter, James and John to that mountain and there he is manifested in his glory for all to see. Offering up on a silver platter, on that mountain, such a glimpse that the disciples fall to their knees in humiliation in knowing that, whatever it was that had happened to Jesus, was too marvelous for them. Transcendence. Above them. Then the Lord uses a brief word to turn that transcendence onto a person. “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” Hear his words. A Word that comes with the glory of God attached to it. Listening to Christ being the focal point of God’s glory manifest for you. That all we might pursue of who God is, is found in Jesus. Glory based on rescue and forgiveness. Glory wide enough to swallow your sin, repair your soul, remove your past. The faithful and compassionate God existing as Jesus to hand you himself as this God we could spend our lives to try and understand, try and pursue and know nothing more than we do now and not waste our lives.
The struggle for us is to find that in this Jesus is the very face of God. That in Christ every veil is torn. Every obstacle to knowing God is removed. That in Christ you have the face of God. He even says this of himself in John 14 – If you have seen me then you have seen the Father. Knowing Christ is knowing God himself. Being drawn to Christ is bringing us closer to the goodness and life that comes in him. That something of ourselves exists in this Jesus as something more than we could ever imagine. God himself revealed. Finding that all of revelation is comprised in Jesus. All we need to know of God is captured in this God-man who forgives your sin before you ask, who sheds his blood for your salvation. Who fulfills a one-sided contract by doing all that is necessary to bring you to the Lord, while also saying, come and follow me. Christ being full gift to you, and the goal of our lives.
As children of the Father, our holiness and our effect on the world is not brought about by our own definitions or expectations, but by the impact of the truth of Christ shining in our life. The Spirit moving and working in you. The Light of the world rubbing off a little on your life, that all who come into contact with you become those in need of the same message, the same light, the same radiance of the glory of God. Seeing in you as one who is this God-pursuer. One who seeks after the glory of the Almighty.
What I love of this Jesus we have here is that all that is captured in him on that hill top is everything we couldn’t handle back in Exodus. Everything that was too scary or too powerful for the people of God then, is now given to you freely. That we can be in that pursuit of that which is higher, holier, purer than we, and yet God comes to you. The pursuit of a lifetime. Pursuing the very one who comes to you. Not waiting for him to grant himself to you. Still looking, striving, living to grasp even more of this Jesus who takes hold of us. Who, even in your sin, hears you. Even without the perfection of the Law, you are ones who receive mercy. Mercy and compassion, holiness and perfection kept wholly and completely in Christ that he hands it to you as gift. No questions asked. He says it and it is so. No cracks in rocks to hide you. No hiding period. Christ finds you himself. He comes to you as himself. Mercy in Christ handed to you like cheap perfume. You can’t help but have it settle on you. The more we spend on knowing Christ and his life given for you, seeking after this Christ, the more his light rubs off on you. The more light of Jesus at work in us, the more our sin and darkness flee. That in our pursuit, and his simultaneous pursuit of us, the transcendent, holy, precious Lord, takes the time to reveal himself to you as who he is for you. And we continue to become more like him. Thanks be to God. Amen.