The Transfiguration

(Year B, Last Sunday of Epiphany [Transfiguration], February 11, 2018; Epistle reading 2 Peter 1:13-21)

“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” – 2 Peter 1:16-18 (ESV)

Transfiguration of Jesus, Carl Bloch (1834-1890)

This Sunday is the day that the Church commemorates the event which fully revealed to the apostles the true nature of Jesus – that he is not “just” a man nor “only” divine.  The true nature, the true Glory of Jesus Christ, is that truth which orthodox Christians weekly pronounce in the recitation of the Nicene Creed – “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of One being with the Father.”  The Gospel reading today is from Mark’s account of the event, but in reading the lectionary for this Sunday, I felt more pull to focus on Peter’s first-hand account of the Transfiguration, and especially the emphasis he places on having been an eyewitness to this event, which is on par with the miracles of the Incarnation and the Resurrection themselves.

Why is it important that Peter makes a first-hand affirmation of the Transfiguration account in this letter?  In all three of the synoptic Gospel accounts, Peter is named along with James and John as being present at the Transfiguration.  If it had just been a feature of the Gospel narrative, absent any personal confirmation, the critics of the Gospel account could point to this as myth-making, as many false teachers apparently were in the first century, and many skeptical “Christians” continue to do today.  But Peter affirms without equivocation that the Transfiguration happened, that he and the others were physically present on the “holy mountain,” as Peter calls it.

Peter says that he, James, and John were witnesses to Jesus’ “majesty.”  We know from the Gospel accounts, and from other epistles, that Jesus’ everyday visage was not “majestic.”  Precious little is written about his physical appearance, but he is described as meek, lowly of heart, and having no place to lay his head.  His quality of majesty was one that was revealed on the mountain, meaning that it was not evident in the everyday conditions the disciples and apostles would have known Jesus.  From the Gospel accounts, we also know that this quality was hidden again after the Transfiguration, that the permanent appearance of His majesty was held off until after Jesus was raised from the dead (Mark 9:9).

The word “glory” is used in all of the Transfiguration accounts, and Peter uses it in the sense of God giving glory to Jesus.  In preparing this reflection, I did research to see if there are any other places where God gives glory to any human.  The closest I could find is in the Law where God promises that the people of Israel will have the highest fame, honor, and esteem of all the nations that he made (Deuteronomy 26:19).  So, for God to give glory to Jesus is extraordinary – God treated the patriarchs, prophets, and select kings as friends; but of all humanity, only Jesus was given “glory.”  Again, from the Gospel accounts, we know that this was a temporary revelation of an eternal glory, which would be fully and permanently revealed after the Resurrection.

The Transfiguration is chock-full of teachings on the nature of Jesus, the trinity, and the glorified life.  It would take little effort to write pages about any one of these topics.  However, what stands in my mind most while reflecting on the Transfiguration event itself, and Peter’s account of it in particular, is the parallel it has to Moses’ multiple interactions with God Almighty on holy mountains.  First, when the Angel of the Lord appeared out of the burning bush on Mount Horeb; then when Moses went up on Mount Sinai to hear the Law; when he stood on the rock as the Lord’s “glory passed by”; and finally when Moses went up on the mountain so that God could show him the Promised Land, after which time Moses died.  The Transfiguration has that feel to it – a momentous occasion showing the people of God through those chosen to witness to them the plans and promises God has for them.

But what most strikes me is that where Moses was told he could not see God’s glory and live (Exodus 33:20), Peter, James, and John all saw Jesus glorified and lived and bore witness to the event for many years after.  The promise that God would dwell with man, and that we would be able to witness His Glory without fear of death and destruction was given substance on the Holy Mountain when Christ’s visage, for a brief time, was transfigured to show the divine truth of His Being.

As we celebrate the Transfiguration of Our Lord, ask yourself how you approach the accounts of great works and miracles in the Bible.  Do you take them at their word, or do you internally gloss over them and tacitly dismiss them as “myth-making”?  As someone who has at times straddled the fence between the two stances, I encourage you to pray for deeper faith even in things that are hard to believe.  Meditate on what the Transfiguration accounts tell us about the person of Jesus, and the Good News that he sent Peter, James, and John – along with the other Apostles and disciples – out to share with all the world.

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.

“And Such Were Some of You.”

This Reflection was preached as a homily on 14 January 2018.

(Year B, Second Sunday of Epiphany, January 14, 2018; Epistle Reading 1 Corinthians 6:9-20)

“Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
– 1 Corinthians 6:9b-11 (ESV)

Paul of Tarsus

A litany of the things that will keep you out of the Kingdom may seem like a lectionary reading more suited to either Advent or Lent:  in Advent to highlight the nature and character of the final judgement, in Lent to highlight the penitential heart we must have as we approach the Great Feast of Easter.  Why is it here in our lectionary for the Second Sunday of Epiphany?  Why am I preaching on it instead of either Samuel or Nathanael being called to God’s service, or instead of the revelations in store for those that choose to follow Jesus?  Why am I focusing today on Paul’s rebuke of misbehaving churchmen and women in Corinth?

The season after Epiphany is characterized in the lectionary by stories of, chiefly, the apostles “getting it” about who Jesus is – from Nathanael proclaiming Jesus as Son of God, to Peter’s Confession of Jesus as the Christ (remembered in the Church Calendar this coming Thursday), the nature of the season is that of having a “lightbulb” moment.  So again, why am I focusing on a litany of sins, and one that explicitly includes an item which makes the world hiss and spit and rage at us for our “intolerance”?

Like many of you probably do, I have friends and acquaintances that deal with same-sex attraction, and have chosen to either let it define their lives and identities or have chosen to let God do that instead and despite what their flesh desires.  I have friends that feel that Paul is saying here that God doesn’t love them because he enumerates their sin in these verses.  And I confess that when my primary concern was a misguided stab at flawed apologetics, I found all manner of ways to try and soften what Paul says here to be more appealing to these friends.  None of the arguments held up, and I am thankful to say now that the truth of the Scriptural witness is firm in my heart.

Here is our Epiphany moment – “And such were some of you.”  While verses 9-10 list all the people that will not be able to enter the Kingdom, verse 11 reveals to us that it is only by the grace of Jesus and the work of Sanctification continuing in His people that there are any who are able to enter, if we who profess His Name truly repent and rely solely on the mercy of Our Lord.

This list also helps to forge kinship with all believers of every sinful heritage, as well as call us to have greater empathy for those who have not yet found their adoption away from the lineage of struggle.  I have never struggled with homosexual desire, but in my past, I have been a drunkard.  I have never committed adultery, but I have been greedy.  In listing out these sins, Paul does not identify some hidden hatefulness in God, rather he presents us with a means of diagnosing our diseased personalities – the disease is unrighteousness, and these are its symptoms.

It is easy for us who sit in church day to day and week to week to become detached and shocked at the depravity of the world around us, and to find some special affront in a particular deviancy of the day, which surely must disqualify such and such a person from ever receiving mercy, no matter how many confessions they make or how sorry they profess to be.  But the world has been depraved since Adam and Eve first set foot out of the garden.  Sin and unrighteousness have never been new in the post-Fall world.  The depravities of Sodom and Corinth were not alien to each other, and neither are the depravities of Corinth and your hometown.  There is no depravity in the human heart that is so bad that the heart cannot be saved – there are only hearts that are so full of depravity that they have no room for the Spirit that would save them.

Paul in this passage of his letter to the Corinthian church also reminds us that not only were these depravities not alien to the world, they were also endemic in the churchmen and women of that city, before they heard and accepted the Gospel, having their sins washed away in the waters of baptism.  Similarly, sin and unrighteousness have not been alien to us – but like the Corinthian churchgoers, we who have faithfully repented and cast our hope on the Name of Jesus Christ have been washed, sanctified, and justified in that same Name and the Spirit of Our God.

You have heard it said that “Love Wins,” and the saying is true enough.  But it is not the romantic or erotic love that wins, it is the agape love that sent Christ to earth to be born of the Virgin Mary, to teach the gospel of repentance from sins, to willingly be arrested, mocked, beaten and shamed, and finally to be hung from a tree and cursed for our sake.  It is the agape love that on the third day restored him not only to bodily life but also to divine glory.  It is the agape love that continually calls us to repentance and obedience.  It is the agape love that gently reminds us in our moments of pride that we, too, have been guilty of sin and unrighteousness and that apart from this agape love we will likewise be barred from entry into the blessed Kingdom.

This week, I encourage you to love one another.  Love those outside the Church.  Praise God for being made clean, for being set free from the bondage of sin, and pray for those still in chains.  Witness the gospel by your love of one another as well as outsiders.  As the season of Lent approaches, I additionally encourage you to examine your hearts.  If you have never confessed your sins, this is a practice that – while seemingly daunting – provides comfort and freedom to the Christian soul.

Grace and Peace to all in the Name of Jesus Christ.