Sunday, February 19, 2012

Transfiguration 2012 Sermon

This sermon is on 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 and Mark 9: 2-9

Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that the light of the knowledge of the glory of God is in the face of Jesus Christ.  Which is incredibly useful, if you are Peter, or James, or John, and have gone up the mountain with Jesus to see him transfigured, to see him shining bright with the light of God.  I, however, am not one of those disciples.   I did not see Jesus' face two thousand years ago, and so I have to look elsewhere to see the light of God's glory.

I am not alone in this problem, throughout history, both before and after Jesus, people of faith have struggled to see God's glory.  Moses and Elijah, the two prophets who miraculously appear beside Jesus on the mountain during the transfiguration, were both places where many people caught a glimpse that glory.  And it is easy to understand why.  Both Moses and Elijah were men of great power, men who could command the forces of nature, men who caused kings and pharaohs to tremble, men who could strike the ground and cause seas and rivers to part before them.  And in such power many people beheld God's glory.

And many people believed that such power was God's glory.  So that when Moses went up the mountain to get the ten commandments and left his followers for so long that they though Moses had died, they needed some assurance that their power had not left them and so they made an statue of gold and worshipped the glittering gleam of the power of wealth.  And when the end of Elijah's time had come near, his disciple Elisha begged him for a double portion of Elijah's power.  Do you now what Elisha does just a few verses later with his power?  He causes the death of forty-two children because they tease him for his bald head.

How many followers of Christ have similarly sought God in power, thinking that in the power of Constantine's empire, or some king's army and pope's inquisition, God's glory is revealed.   So when Peter sees Jesus, shining forth with heavenly splendor, flanked by the two most powerful men in the history of the Hebrew people, it can only be expected that he wants celebrate the Festival of Booths, an annual holiday remembering the time in the wilderness, a holiday which the prophet Zechariah prophesied would be the day that all nations would pay homage to the power of Jerusalem.  The day all the world would acknowledge the power of God and God's people. Perhaps it would look like the day when the emperors of Rome decided their subjects would know God's glory or their sword, or the day when Europeans decided the indigenous peoples of America would be baptized or eradicated, or the day when plantation owners used the Bible to teach slaves to be subservient to their masters without letting slaves actually read the scriptures.  Perhaps this is the day that Peter imagines inaugurating.

But Jesus doesn't let him.  Moses and Elijah disappear, and with a divine voice compelling them to comply, Jesus commands his disciples not to talk about what they had seen until they understand what it means. And then Jesus takes them down the mountain and you know what he does?  He heals a little boy.

Because while Paul may write that the light of the glory of God is in the face of Jesus Christ, remember that Paul was not one of the three disciples on that mountain with Jesus.  Remember that Paul never even met Jesus while he walked this earth.  Maybe that's why Paul goes on to write, in the verses just after today's readings, that it is in our brokenness and our struggles to proclaim God's grace that the life of Jesus is made visible in our bodies.

Because as Christians we know that God is powerful.  But we also know that our understanding of God is always seen through the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  We have a God whose public revelation was not seated on a chariot, surrounded by armies, hurling thunder and lighting.  No, our God was revealed when Jesus was  executed by an authoritarian government after being condemned by the religious elite for loving the wrong kinds of people. Which means, in the cross, we have a lens through which to identify the glory of God.  When we see Moses through the lens of the cross, we can see that he shone with God's glory not because he was powerful, but because he served to free an enslaved people.  When we see Elijah through the lens of the cross, we can see that he shone with God's glory not because he was powerful, but because he fed widows and healed children, because he stood up to kings who stole the land of innocent men.  The lens of the cross means that for us, while God is present everywhere, and so amid power, Christ face truly shines forth with God's glory when there is love in the midst of brokennesses.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of having lunch with a couple from North Carolina, and they told me a story about seeing the world through just such a lens.  The young woman had worked for a national Christian organization that ministered to adolescents.  This organization had a very clear model about how ministry was to be done, which everyone, everywhere in the country was supposed to follow.  The model was this: they would go into affluent suburbs and scare the well-to-do teenagers with the fear of God so that those teenagers will listen to them.  They used the threat of God's power to establish themselves as powerful.   They were trying to set up tents for Moses, and Elijah, and Jesus on a mountain top where they would shine with power.

But this young woman and her colleagues had a different idea.  They started reaching out to people with grace and love instead of with fear, and they started reaching out, not just to the well-to-do, but to the down and out, to the marginalized.  They started to see the world through the lens of the cross. When the national organization found out what they were doing, this woman and all her colleagues were summarily fired.  The young woman told me that she and her colleagues were at a loss as to what to do.  But by this point, the local community had seen in them something special.  The local community said to them, "you are shining with the light of God's glory, we need you to continue your ministry."  And so the local community raised money for this ministry, this ministry that had been condemned by the religious elites, and within six months they had purchased a building for the young woman and her colleagues to work out of.  And now the young woman helps manage a ministry where at-risk youth have a safe place to drop in and play games, to learn life skills like cooking, where they can connect to tutors and positive role models who will mentor them through music--a ministry where teens and adults with cognitive impairments can gather to have food and fun, and where once a year they organize the Kings and Queens Dance, in which everyone, from the captain of the baseball team to someone with Down's Syndrome dance together as the kings and queens of the dance, and Moses, Elijah, and Jesus dance with them, and each and every face shines with the light of God's glory.  This ministry is called Reality Ministry, and if you are ever in Durham, I invite you to check it out.

But you don't have to go to North Carolina to see Christ's face shining in glory. When you come up today and share communion beside your neighbor, I invite you to look over and see them receive the broken body of Christ,  and behold them revealed, in all their own broken beauty, as the body of Christ, and so too know that you also are revealed to be Christ's body.  And this Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, when you see your brothers and sisters in faith bearing the sign of the cross on their foreheads, the sign of their brokenness and mortality, look for the light of the glory of God shining from the face of Christ, because Christ's face is their face, and so too know that God's glory shines from your face as well.  May we have the grace to see it.  Amen.


Anonymous said...

So beautifully stated-thanks Ben! Miss you! Ellenabsebt witheipm

Anonymous said...

Clearly I am a robot--just ask my kids--and one with bad eyes as well because I can't read the stupid letters to verify and also don't notice when I am typing in the wrong place,, BAH

Ben McKelahan said...

I miss you too, Ellen, even if you are a robot.