Sunday, February 10, 2019

The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord

Matthew 17:1-9; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Exodus 34:29-35

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Moses once asked to see God’s glory. The LORD told him matter-of-factly, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” Nevertheless, the LORD did permit Moses to see His backside. After that, the LORD once again gave His Commandments on two tablets of stone to replace those Moses had smashed on the ground in anger at Israel’s rebellious idolatry in making the golden calf. When Moses came down the mountain after talking with the LORD, his face was glowing from even this mediated encounter with God’s glory, but he did not know it, and the people were afraid because Moses’ face was glowing. Therefore, whenever Moses came down the mountain after talking with the LORD, he put a veil over his face, for the people could not bear even this mediated encounter with the holiness, righteousness, and glory of the LORD God of Sabbaoth.
On the Mount of Jesus’ Transfiguration, there stood Moses, and Elijah, no longer veiled or viewing the LORD’s glory from the backside, but basking in it shining through and located in the person of Jesus. This time it was Jesus’ disciples, His friends, Peter, James, and John, who were terrified and fell on their faces as though dead. For, they too wanted to see the glory of God, but they didn’t realize that they had been in the presence of God’s glory all along, in the flesh and blood body of their Master, their Teacher, and their friend Jesus.
The Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus is the culmination of the Church’s observance of Epiphanytide. Since the arrival of the Wise Men and the presentation of their priestly and kingly gifts, little by little through the Word of the Gospel Jesus has been manifested and shown forth to be the Son of God and the express icon of His glory in human flesh. At His baptism in the Jordan by John, heaven was opened and the Father proclaimed, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased.” Today you have heard the Father’s proclamation yet again, this time with this command, “Listen to Him.” Listen to Jesus, because He is the new and greater Elijah, indeed, the Great Prophet and fulfillment of all the prophets. Listen to Jesus, because He is the new and greater Moses who leads His people out of slavery, captivity, and bondage to sin, death, and the devil, through death into the true Promised Land in the presence of God in His glory, the New Jerusalem, Holy Zion in heaven. Listen to Jesus, because He is the Word of God incarnate and the only Way to God the Father, God’s Truth, and God’s Life.
But, take heed today of what God’s glory truly is, what it means, and where it is located. Do not be like Peter before Jesus’ resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Awed by the glory of Moses and Elijah and Jesus’ shining face and clothing, Peter wanted to preserve that mountaintop experience here on earth by erecting tents to house the holy trio. No doubt Peter envisioned a glorious temple upon the holy mountain to which the faithful would stream from all of Jerusalem, Samaria, and the ends of the earth. No doubt he envisioned a packed hall full of worldly wealth and all the things men count as glorious, a restored nation of Israel, a powerful and shining light upon a hill. However, that is what men count as glorious, not what God counts as glorious. When God spoke on the Mount of Transfiguration, God revealed His glory in the flesh and blood body of Jesus, the carpenter’s son and lowly itinerant rabbi from backwater Nazareth. God’s glory is not in a temple made by human hands but in a man, the Man, the New Adam, the Son of God, Jesus, and when Jesus reached out and touched His disciples saying, “Rise, and have no fear,” they lifted up their eyes and saw no one, but Jesus only. And, Jesus told them to “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.”
That’s not very glorious, they must have thought. Truly, God’s ways are not our ways, and the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. Jesus led them down from the mountain of glory to go to Jerusalem. Along the way a demon-possessed man met them, and Jesus taught them about His impending betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, death, and resurrection. Again, not very glorious, they must have thought. Then the disciples began to argue about who would be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus placed a little child before them saying, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Not – very – glorious.
Truly, the way of Jesus’ disciples, the way of God’s adopted children, the way of the Holy Christian Church, is not the way of mountaintop experiences and worldly glory, but it is, as Jesus taught, the way of humility, selflessness, sacrifice, and suffering, the way of the cross. When God spoke to Moses on Sinai, the people below were terrified. Yet still, how quickly did they turn aside and create a god of their own to worship. The Word of God seemed weak and foolish, compared to a shining graven image of gold. When the Word of God became flesh and made His dwelling amongst us in Jesus, people rejected Him because of His lowliness and humility. Still today, men scorn the Word of God and His Sacraments, believing them to be weak, foolish, and not – very – glorious. They desire the mountaintop experience and not the cross of Jesus Christ.
Whereas Peter and the disciples once were attracted to worldly glory, riches, and power, after Jesus’ resurrection, and particularly after Pentecost, they changed their tune. Indeed, in today’s Epistle Peter recounts his mountaintop experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, the honor and the glory of God shining forth from Jesus and the voice of the Father spoken concerning Him. However, instead of desiring to enshrine that glorious moment on the mountaintop, Peter now can say, “We have something more sure, the prophetic Word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place.” God help us by His Holy Spirit to pay attention to, preserve, and keep the sure and certain Word of God no matter what pressures and temptations we suffer from men and the world’s culture and pursuit of worldly glory. For, Peter continued with this warning, “False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, Epiphanytide now draws to a close and we descend the mountain of glory with Jesus down into the valley where we are given to live our lives. In this valley, the shadow of death surrounds us. Here there is the temptation to make idols of created things. Here there are deceitful voices that speak contrary to God’s Word and tempt us to call evil good and good evil. And, here there is our Good Shepherd, Jesus, who is present in this place with His Words and Wounds to comfort, heal, and forgive us anew, to feed, nourish, and strengthen us, and to equip and send us bearing His life and His love, His mercy and Peace with God in this world for the sake of those for whom He died. The LORD has given us a foretaste of His glory that will be revealed when Jesus returns that we might have faith and persevere until He comes. And the LORD has also given us His Body and Blood, a foretaste of the Marriage Feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end, that we might be preserved in faith until He comes. Jesus is God’s beloved Son with whom He is well pleased. And, you are His adopted children in Holy Baptism. Together we listen to Him and are saved.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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