+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: Mark 9:2-9
Theme: On the Mountain
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
Today is the Sunday of the Transfiguration of our Lord. It is the last in the season of Epiphany. The gospel reading presents the account of Christ’s dramatic appearance before three disciples. It provides a rare window into the confluence of the earthly and heavenly dimensions. These disciples witness Jesus conversing with Moses and Elijah- not in a dream or vision- but there before them on the mountain. They speak of the pending events at Jerusalem- Jesus’ crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.
To witness past believers (in this case Moses having been departed from the earth for nearly 1500 years) was hardly a common occurrence even for the disciples. In fact, this event is a singular occasion. Never during their apostolic ministry do the apostles have such an encounter with figures from the past. But they are now participating in the events that would define history. They are, after all, companions of the Messiah. They are soon to be eye-witnesses of His resurrection.
Dear friends, the disciples trembled before the transfigured Christ much like the demons who cowered in His presence. The difference is the evil spirits understood who He was. The disciples not yet! And people today often long for a more dramatic (more certain and tangible in their mind) experience of God. God uncovered! God unveiled! But the demons knew what this meant. You are not yet ready to experience God except as He is clothed in swaddling garments and unveiled with a crown of thorns. The devil knows this and He plays on our misguided desires for proof.
Satan is often subtle with his temptations. The sinful nature quickly obliges him. You see Satan need not delineate convincing condemnations of God’s way of doing things or prove to us His absence or apathy. He need only persuade one that God must play second fiddle to the individual’s will. Satan is happy even to paint a picture of God as well-meaning as long as He appears sufficiently inept. God may be consulted, but can never be in control. But you see, as soon as Christ is no longer needed as Saviour God becomes an enemy. The person who believes he or she can get on well enough without rescue from sin makes light of Christ’s work. Self-righteousness, even in its most civil form invites the wrath of God. To presume that God overlooks our indiscretions is to turn God’s divine compassion into tolerance of minor sins. This happens frequently in our own construction of reality but never in actuality. God tolerates no sin of yours. He pardons only the sin that becomes Christ’s sin. The repentant person cannot engage in a classification of sins in which some are excused. Doing so relieves Christ of His role as Redeemer. That is the highest blasphemy.
To lose this is to lose the heart of the faith. The church has no other mission than to bring people into contact with Him who is the Lord of life and death. Only He was crucified for sins. Only He conquered death under His own power. The Christians’ life consists of nothing more than coming to terms with a holy God who is essentially a compassionate God. It has implications for our vocations, our relationships, and the hope of eternity which we carry. St. Paul says, “We do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as servants for Jesus’ sake. For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”1
The vocation of the baptized is to live this truth. Soren Kierkegaard once made this statement, “God creates out of nothing. Wonderful, you say. Yes, to be sure, but He does what is still more wonderful: He makes saints out of sinners.” Many doubt that God created the universe. How could they ever believe (or care) that God atones for the sins of humanity? On the other hand if one believes he is forgiven, made right with God on the basis of Christ’s death and made a new creation through the Spirit’s work, how could he not then believe God is powerful enough to call all structures and systems into existence? These are the inconsistencies of human nature. We pray that God through His wisdom and Spirit would cleanse us from all such incongruities and unify our belief in alignment with His revealed truth. “We must always go back to the promise. This must sustain us in our weakness, and we must firmly believe that we are accounted righteous on account of Christ, ‘who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” 2
Peter, James, and John were given a privilege that will remain unsurpassed this side of heaven. They glimpsed the unveiled divinity of Christ. Later Peter would comment on the experience, “We were eyewitnesses of His majesty. For He received honour and glory from the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well-pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.”3 Yet it was hardly what we would call a glorious experience for them at the time. They stumbled through it in a state of fear and stupor. Idealized reconstructions of these disciples consciously basking in the brilliance of Christ’s presence on the mountain should not be taken too far. They were too overcome to properly enjoy or assess the event. Nevertheless, the deity of Christ was made unmistakably clear to them. They suffered His raw power.
So what can we learn from this event in regards to God’s glory. It is the apex of the season of Epiphany. But is it little more than an irrelevant historical event? Is it merely an interesting footnote in history? Is it an inspiration to pursue a spiritual mountaintop experience? How do we experience the glory of God? Can we achieve it in rousing, emotional worship? Is it found in our triumph in resisting temptation? Is God’s glory realized in our public commitment to follow His Name and work in His kingdom? All these things rely on human initiation. But they are fruits- little privileges allowed by God- they are never the cause. We cannot generate an experience of God’s glory.
The baptized are taught to run in faith to where God’s glory is present. Where His forgiveness is offered; there is His glory. Where His pardon is pronounced; there is His splendor. Where His grace is extended; there He is in His magnificence. The splendor of God is realized in His reception of sinners. If you want to participate in the ‘glory’ of Christ now you receive the Sacrament. We receive the glory of Christ through the fruits of His incarnation and crucifixion. That is, in partaking of the body and blood that was sacrificed for sinners we participate in His glory. This is the pinnacle of human contact with the divine. It is our access to the holiness of God. There is no other activity we engage in that compares. In Holy Communion the soul is fed with the deity of Jesus. The Holy Spirit nurses our faith like a mother nurses a child. Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
Transfiguration of our Lord
19 February 2012
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 2 Corinthians 4:5-6
2 Tappert AP IV 129
3 2 Peter 1:16-18