Here's today's online worship from the people of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. Here, we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord, the final Sunday in the Epiphany season. Below the video, you can find the complete prepared text of my message for the day. Have a good week!
Throughout this Epiphany Season, of which this is the last Sunday, we’ve considered incidents from Jesus’ earthly ministry that reveal Him to be both the anointed earthly King--the Messiah--God had long promised to His people AND God the Son.
Many, at the beginning of Jesus' ministry, had heard God the Father tell Jesus at the Jordan River: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mark 1:11)
And the evidence for Who Jesus is became so overwhelming for those who followed Him day after day that Simon Peter tells Jesus six days before the incident in today’s gospel lesson, “You are the Messiah.” (Mark 8:29)
But as the Lutheran preacher of the last century, Bo Giertz points out, no one who had witnessed any or all of the epiphanies we’ve considered this Epiphany Season, had yet seen Jesus in all His glory.
The word we translate into English as glory is, in the Greek in which all the New Testament writers composed their works, doxa, which in turn translates a word commonly used in the Hebrew of the Old Testament to describe what God is like, kavod.
The root meaning of kavod is heavy or weighty. God has glory because He is greater and weightier than any or all of us, His thoughts are beyond our comprehension, as are His grace and love and power. In Isaiah 55:8, God tells His people: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”
God’s glory is weighty stuff!
Ultimately, to borrow a phrase from another Lutheran theologian, Paul Tillich, God is “wholly other,” totally different from you and me.
God’s glory is such that, even when He enters the world as a human being in Jesus, He’s not like us: He’s not into Himself; He isn’t obsessed with going along to get along; He’s satisfied with His daily bread; He has a servant’s heart that overflows with love for the very people society hates or marginalizes; His love is more than just words on a Valentine's Day card: He daily lives out His love for us and He dies for it.
Now, up to the point in Jesus’ ministry that today’s gospel lesson, Mark 9:2-9, describes, nobody had seen Jesus, God the Son, in all His glory. They had seen Jesus teach, preach, and perform many signs and miracles. But they hadn’t seen Jesus in the full glory of His deity, the glory of God that 1500 years earlier had caused the people of ancient Israel to tell Moses, “You be the one to look at God face to face for us.”
One verse before today’s gospel lesson, Jesus told His disciples, “Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.” (Mark 9:1)
Then comes Mark’s description of what happened next. “After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.” (Mark 9:2-4)
If you had been Peter, James, and John at that moment, how might you have felt? I think I have some idea how I would have felt.
In my thirties, I experienced severe stomach pain that went on for a few weeks. I finally saw my doctor. He ordered tests. As I awaited the results, I became convinced I had cancer, incurable cancer.
When I went to the doctor’s office to learn the test results, I was literally shaking. In the examination room, waiting for the doctor to show up, I steeled myself by listing all the reasons I could think of for the symptoms I was going through. You see, I was trying to bargain with the death I was certain was imminent.
By the time the doctor walked in the door, I was so terrified that I practically spewed my diagnosis and what treatment he needed to prescribe. I don’t even remember what I said. I was desperate to drown out the words I dreaded. So I went on for some time.
My doctor just laughed and said, “That’s fine. You have an ulcer and here’s what we need to do to treat it.”
For human beings to come into the presence of God in all His glory is a terrifying thing.
To do so is to see the enormous chasm between God’s righteousness, sinlessness, perfection, immortality, and endless power, on the one hand, and our unrighteousness, sinfulness, imperfection, mortality, and weakness, on the other.
That’s what has Peter acting like me in Dr. Flora’s examination room thirty years ago as in our lesson. He babbles and tries to take control of things on the Mount of Transfiguration. Verse 5: “Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.’ (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)” (Mark 9:5-6)
Coming into the presence of God’s glory will remind us, as it did Peter, that we are sinners.
But we can’t bargain or negotiate away that truth.
Building shelters, cathedrals, great reputations, or good works won’t alter the fact that God is “wholly other.”
To get a glimpse of God’s glorious perfection and power is to see that there is nothing we can do and nothing we ever could do to earn a place in His presence for a fraction of a second, let alone eternity.
That’s why what’s next in our gospel lesson is so important.
Verse 7: “Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!’”
My place in the Kingdom of the God we know in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t depend on my religious fervor, my good works, my moral perfection. If it did, I would be damned for all eternity.
My place in God’s everlasting Kingdom depends solely on the Gospel Word--the good news Word--that Jesus Christ speaks to us not only in His preaching, teaching, and miracles, but also in the good news Word He does for us in His death for us on the cross, the place where I bore our sins and punishment, and from the empty tomb, from which He tore open eternity for all who repent and believe in Him.
God the Father says to have life with Him, we need to listen to Jesus, both when He speaks and when He acts.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus tells us (Matthew 11:28).
He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
When we come into the presence of God’s glory, we can’t help but feel terrified!
But, the Father says, listen to the Son.
Listen to the charity I have for sinners.
Listen to the forgiveness and new life I give to those who repent and believe in Jesus.
God saves us from sin and death as we listen to Jesus and the Holy Spirit gives us faith in Jesus.
But even that’s not the most glorious thing about the God we listen to in Jesus.
In our second lesson, the apostle Paul, who knew something of the terror of seeing Jesus in all His glory, tells us: “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Conscious of your own sins and imperfections as you live with Jesus each day, you may not see this happening in your life.
But bank on it, as you turn to Jesus each day and listen to Him with repentance and faith, God is transforming you into the very image of the Savior that Peter, James, and John saw at the Mount of Transfiguration.
God is in the business of turning believers in Jesus into people who look like our Lord for all eternity.
And that’s the most glorious thing I can imagine! Amen