Lenten Glory

First Presbyterian Skaneateles Feb.25, 2024

Two weeks ago, just before the start of Lent, we heard the gospel message of the Transfiguration. We meditated on the call to transform ourselves into a church faithfully following the teachings of Jesus. Our Presbyterian schedule of readings is actually out of sync with many other Christian denominations. Many churches place the Transfiguration readings on this second Sunday of Lent. And they celebrate the Transfiguration again later in the year, during Ordinary time. While there’s always something new to learn or be inspired by when we return to a gospel passage, why this emphasis on the Transfiguration? Especially during Lent? Isn’t this forty days of sacrifice and sorrow for sin?

But at the end of Jesus’ fast in the desert, His Lent, Jesus triumphs over the temptations of the devil. I think it’s worth revisiting the Transfiguration because maybe we’d all do better if - instead of seven weeks of ashes and sackcloth - we put our eyes on the real prize of Easter ahead, the hope of glory Jesus shows us.

Today we read Matthew’s Transfiguration account. The transfiguration of Jesus on the mountaintop is a big deal in human history; it changed our understanding of faith. Jesus’ transfiguration shows us a glimpse of the indescribable glory waiting for us. And the role we’re called to play.

In pre-Transfiguration history, the driving reason to be religious was fear. You wanted to avoid angering a controlling god, a god who had motivations like people, but was infinitely more powerful. Pagans placated their tribal gods with gifts and sacrifices, then ducked and stayed out of the way.

The transfiguration gives us a new picture of faith. Each Christian is invited to take on a new role, to actually become a son or daughter of the Creator of the Universe. To become like Jesus. Really become like him. It’s not easy to wrap our minds around that.

This is a radical change in the purpose of religion. Growing up as a more or less typical Jewish child, I certainly believed if I didn’t do things right, bad things would happen to me and my family. If I did everything right, bad things might not happen. My personal belief centered around being saved from catastrophically bad consequences by following rules.

Oh, how my understanding has changed since becoming a Christian. God became man and chose to live with us; to be with us, only not like us. The idea of God teaching us how to become like him rattled my cage. I learned God doesn’t just want us to be passive, obedient like well-trained domestic pets. God is creating something new and glorious, and we are invited to help. The three disciples on that mountain top got a visual glimpse of that glorious new world.

God is still at work. God rested on the Sabbath. God didn’t quit. The Creator gave creation time to work, for his divine plan to evolve until thinking humans with enough freedom of will to be capable of disobeying him emerged. We had a rough start. Now he is with us to help him complete his creation through faith and love. We are important actors in this drama. And the prize is the Hope of Glory.

I love being alive at this moment of change. Don’t you?

God changed everything at the moment of the Transfiguration. It was literally “The Peak Experience.” If we had been there on the mountain with Jesus and Peter and James and John, I’m sure we would have been as dumbstruck as they were. Jesus glorified, glowing, clothing dazzling white, an unearthly brilliance. And, there’s Moses, and the prophet Elijah, alive, not dead. Alive and talking with a glorified Jesus! Then God Himself appears as a covering cloud, the same cloud that covered Moses and the elders 1500 years earlier. The same cloud that day and night guided the Hebrew slaves on their exodus from Egyptian slavery.

We might have fainted or run. James and John were stunned into absolute silence. Peter, sort of in a slack-jawed stupor asks Jesus if he wouldn’t like a little shelter built - maybe one for Moses and one for Elijah, too? Gotta love Peter. Then the cloud, God, spoke to them. They had no doubt who or what was speaking. “This is my son, my Beloved. Listen to him.”

Israel had been waiting for a Savior. Moses himself told Israel that one greater than he would appear at the right time. People longed for a Savior to, well, save us, save us from bad things. But no one knew what form God would take to save us.

No one expected God would come himself, in human form, as a baby. Even more, no one expected that God would invite us to join him, come live with him in a new way as his beloved children. Be part of God’s family? Shocking! Impossible! Peter, James and John saw and heard a preview on the mount of Transfiguration. And they passed that faith on to us.

The transfiguration of Jesus gives us a glimpse of where we are headed. We’re not just saved, we are raised, and raised into something new. We are not just saved from bad things; we will be transformed, transfigured into beings that eye has not seen nor mind able to imagine. Elijah was carried into heaven in a whirlwind and a chariot of fire. But here he is talking with the living Jesus. Moses died full of years on the other side of the river. But here is Moses, alive and now in the promised land, talking with Elijah and with Jesus.

God wants to show us the un-showable, teach us the unteachable, explain to us the inexplicable. But we humans are practical people, level-headed and rational. We find a way to dismiss things that don’t fit our world view. We often need a shock to wake us up. Jesus gave Peter and James and John the shock of a real peak experience on the mountaintop.

Salvation is transformative. Huge. First, Jesus showed himself in the glorified body we too will be in after death. Jesus, Elijah and Moses displayed the glory to come when we ourselves are transfigured. We too are promised life, a glorified life after we leave this passing earth-bound life.

But wait there’s more: We are saved in this life - starting right now, this minute. Salvation is not what many think. The word salvation comes from the Latin salus, which means healing. We are healed. We are healed of our fears, healed from anxiety, from purposelessness, of our worry, healed to love and bear the real suffering that comes with life. We are healed from suffering the cycles of anger and revenge of our old animal natures. And yes, we are also saved. Saved from the gnashing and grinding of teeth that comes from knowing we missed our calling to be co-creators with God.

I know it’s not good form to include personal experience in a sermon, but as you know, I’m not really a preacher. I’m just a first-generation Christian still excited by Jesus. I’ve had glimpses of this reality in dreams, dreams where I knew I was dreaming. As a child, I was shown the hope of glory in the mud of our farm.

Our cow barn in Stoneham, Mass. had a window close by the dirt road out back. That window was cracked, the glass was mud-splashed, dusty and dirty, the wood frame was peeling paint. Asleep one night I dreamt of dazzling colors, living and moving, unearthly colors radiating from that window. Over the roof of the barn there were people, people floating in the air, glowing, with youthful faces, beautiful, serene, full of life. I recognized family, some living, some long dead. In my dream was a glimpse of glory. A childhood transfiguration dream.

Some people have experiences like that, some do not. I think children are more open to those experiences before “real life” trains them that it’s “just a dream.”

Our scriptures should break through that adult resistance. The New Testament tells us news about what we are becoming, what it really means to be born again. Good news. We should hear that with a real jolt. It should hit us like a shock. The Bible tells us over and over that we will see what great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God! That what we will be, has not yet been made known. But when Christ appears, we shall be like him, we shall see him as he is. And the Transfiguration story gives us a glimpse of that glory.

In Paul’s letter to the church at Rome he’s excited. Seriously excited. He practically yells out that those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. That the Holy Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. And as children, we are heirs —heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ. We have a role to play in His story and we have a share in Jesus’ glory.

Paul grabs me by my mental lapels when he tells me our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. And it’s not just us. He tells us the whole creation waits in eager expectation for us. We can love and radiate love. We are co-creators with God.

Folks, this is realer than elections, realer than wars, outlasting earthly death. This glimpse of Glory is new news. We hear Jesus’ teaching week after week, hopefully day after day. It’s hard to fully take in. God knows that. We have the Transfiguration story, to give us a strengthening glimpse of the glory to come. As Paul said, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” It’s here now. I can’t feel sad during Lent, for me it’s the path to the Resurrection.

Jesus showed us the way to get the double blessings of healing today and glory to come. Feel and act with kindness, with forgiveness and love to your enemies, your friends, yourself too; love and forgive those you don’t know yet, and love all of your family, especially those you feel estranged from. Because they are you and you are them.

Act as if what you are matters. Because you do. You contain the entire world within you. In a mysterious way, each of us individually affects the entire Creation. God planned it that way.

Hope in the Glory to come and experience the Glory available to you right now. It’s a big deal. It’s the real deal, it’s both here at hand now, and it is coming soon.

And all the people said, Amen.