Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” — not knowing what he said.
While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
The transfiguration is the first time that any of the disciples really knew what they had gotten themselves into. At the top of that mountain, they saw Christ in his full glory. Suddenly their teacher, the one they knew as Messiah, became something more than that. Jesus was not just a human being who could bring about miracles – now he was a miracle in himself, shining in the same glory as those who have been in God’s presence show.
Moses is described in the wilderness as meeting God regularly, and after each meeting, he would return to the people. They were never happy to see him, not because he came with more rules, but because he was terrifying. His face shined, not only like it was its own light source, but as something which had been given glory. We do not know what glory looks like, we have never seen what that kind of light looks like. Glory is something which is brighter than the sun, than any light we have ever made or will ever make. Glory comes from God, and nothing but the presence of God allows us to take it on, to be glorified.
The disciples, when they see Jesus in glory on the mountain respond reasonably enough. They are woken from something of a stupor, tired from their long climb, and when they see this glory they want to build tents for these glorious figures to live in. The problem with their offer of hospitality is that they responded to this new revelation by trying to hide it away. They did not do this intentionally, they were earnest in giving honor to the figures before them. Moses built God a tent, so why should they not build tents now?
Much like the way in which a flower dies when it is picked for us to enjoy, glory is diminished the moment we confine it. This does not mean that Jesus, as soon as he entered a tent would become just another guy, but that by hiding the light of glory the light loses its benefit to us. If we believe, as John says, that Jesus is the Word, and the Word was life and that life was the light of all who live – then we must believe that the light exists not simply to shine, but to shine for us! We are gifted in that God did not simply create glory to shine for its own sake, but to give us direction.
If Jesus or any of the others present entered into a tent, then their glory could not be seen by disciples and it could not be transferred to others. Why then would we want to hide the glory away? Not simply because we are hospitable, but because we want more than anything to make sure we do not lose it. In the same way that Moses put a veil on his face so the Israelites would not know that the glory that shone from his face faded, we always try to wrap glory up in a package, something that we can see, confine, control. We take the glory of God, free and shining across creation, and we put it in a tent, behind a veil, and we lock it away from the world – making it so it can never be seen.
How do we do this in our daily life? We withhold goodness from people, we do not care for the needy, we do not serve others. We are cruel or vindictive, we shut the doors of the church to people who do not fit our conceptions of “Christian.” We work actively, and I mean actively, to prevent people from getting their most basic needs met, and in so doing withhold the provision God has given them. We are stewards who steal, we are emancipators that enslave, we are saints who are devils.
In these ways, we hide the glory of God. If you believe that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit, a dwelling place for God until Christ returns in glory, then you believe yourself to be an object of Glory. While we do not shine outwardly from our nearness to God the Spirit, we are able to act in glorifying ways, but shining as a light to all people through our actions.
We are told everywhere that Christ, not just on the Mount of Transfiguration was, “the radiance of the Glory of God, the exact imprint of his nature.” That Jesus, whether shining in heavenly splendor or a human being suffering and serving alongside us is the glory of God should shape how we act in the day to day. We are told to live as a city on a hill, as people who chose not to hide their lamp under a basket but leave it out for all to see. We can only do this through acting like the Christ who set us free.
We should approach the marginalized, we should offer the free grace of God to all we meet. Christian or non-Christian should be the same in our eyes, in the same way, that Jew and Gentile were nothing to Jesus. Sinner and saint, we should love equally, in the same way, that Jesus was content to dine with loyal disciples and Judas – not only his betrayer but a thief who stole from the poor. Perhaps most difficulty, we should rage against any system that works evil in the world.
While the exact way that evil is defined by many differs, there is one definition I can feel most people would agree with – namely that evil produces suffering. Evil kills, evil causes pain, evil is not that which denies “flourishing” but that which actively diminishes. Evil starves while others grow fat, evil denies healthcare, evil denies the humanity of other human beings, and evil works to promotes falsehood wherever it goes.
Someone need only to look at me to see I contribute to evil. While there are many factors that lead to my robust figure, a large part of it is excess. What if I ate less, saved more money on food, gave that money to those in need? What if we love one another when we had nothing to benefit from doing so?? What if we did our research before sharing a post online – preventing the propagation of falsehood, conspiracies, and all other means by which lies enter our hearts and kill.
The work of a Christian is not an easy one if it becomes easy you’re not doing it right. Plainly put, God gives peace but not plenty. We are not made to sit and soak up the gifts of God, we are made to receive them and immediately give them away. Money is nothing, the kingdom is everything. Love is nothing unless it is given to those who we gain nothing by loving. As C.S. Lewis put it, nothing is truly ours until it is given away. The light of Glory is enfleshed in us, but we decide whether we open our hearts enough to let it shine out into the world.
I would be wrong to not discuss the Methodist Church on this Sunday of all Sundays. I do not, as some have said believe that individuals “on all sides” failed to act lovingly at Conference, but I do believe that we saw a fundamental problem with how we do church. The entire theme of the conference was damage control.
Forget that LGBTQ+ people in the church are continuously dehumanized. Forget that the American Methodist church exported our particular understanding of scripture to the global church and then chastised them for doing them as they were told. There are levels to the evils which we have committed, and chief among them should be the dehumanization of people which we not only allow but promote. It is not a matter of biblical inerrancy, it is a matter of believing people unlike me are still worthy of love, of understanding, and above all of acceptance.
If we are to let the glory of God shine out, we cannot become divine gatekeepers. It is not our place to decide who can enter into the kingdom of God. We often hear that the bible is clear about how it views matters of homosexuality, but there would not be so much discussion in the church if this were true. The church does not debate what the scripture says about feeding the poor, it is clear. This is not nearly so cut and dry as we often make it.
While there will be a time to discuss this further, the time for this sermon is drawing to a close. So, let us end where we began, in the presence of God. We are not like Peter, standing on the mount of transfiguration, we do not see God before us shining brighter than the sun. We cannot build a tent to house God, any more than we can trap God in a building. Yet, we are made into dwelling places of God, our skin becomes the walls of a new tabernacle of the Spirit. We look unbounded into the eyes of God, and we take on the glory which was set aside for us before the world began.
We have to seriously consider how we live with one another. Glory can only be shared if we are willing to open our hearts up. This is the responsibility which is laid upon the church, to be the hands and feet of Christ until he returns in glory. What this means is something that we as a church must work out, it is true, but it is also something which we as people must decide for ourselves. Not that we become relativists, not that the scripture becomes just another book, but that the spirit of God leads us to understand what it means to be carriers of God’s glory. Let us commit ourselves to love one another, and to pray for God’s guidance in how we do that. – Amen.