preached on Transfiguration Sunday 2018 at Holy Cross Anglican Church in Baton Rouge
Please pray with me.
May my heart’s affection, my mind’s attention, and my soul’s submission be to you, oh Lord, my Savior and my Redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
God is light. He has never grown dim; he will never fade away. In him, around him, and from him there is no darkness. Scriptures tell us he “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16). He not only dwells in unapproachable light, he is light inexhaustible, light unimpeded. For with him is the fountain of life, and in his light do we see light. (Psalm 36:9) Where he is so there is light. His light is both penetrating and concealing; it is revealing and mysterious. “And the light dwells with him.” (Daniel 2:22) “For in him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4) Man, by contrast, is a creature of darkness, hiding and concealing in the shadows of his sin, indeed enslaved by the two-fold darkness into which we were all born: sin and ignorance. And if we were to go on making the world in our image, it would indeed be covered with greater and greater darkness. Then, by God’s infinite and unmerited mercy, our lips are unsealed to proclaim Jesus Christ: “God of God, Light from Light, true God from true God.” So, what are you afraid of? Or to ask it like David from Psalm 27, “Whom shall you fear?”
Please turn in your Bible with me to Mark 9:2-12 (give them time to turn there). I would like to read again for us today’s passage, Mark 9 (read it).
Today marks the final Sunday of Epiphany. Epiphany, as we know, is a season of celebration, of rejoicing that Christ has not only dwelt among us, as we anticipate in Advent and celebrate at Christmas. It is a celebration that Christ summons both Jew and Gentile, that we are made a light unto the nations. The season of Epiphany is an emphasis on lighting the world with the Great Commission and every verse which states that we are to proclaim in every human way the Gospel to every tongue, tribe, and nation, that the most important and lasting division is not whether a person is rich and poor, black and white, college graduate or high school dropout, employed or unemployed, male or female, but whether a person is in Christ or outside of Christ.
There are two themes which thread through our lectionary readings today: light and fear. These are universal themes, not bound to time, space, or peoples. These themes are indeed accessible to every person on this planet, and so we see Sacred Scripture through various forms of literature composed by various authors offer us great insight into both light and fear. Our Gospel reading today is the reading which ties all the others together, because our Gospel reading is about our Triune God.
Consider our reading from the Old Testament. Elijah has fled for his life, first under a broom tree in the preceding verses and now into a cave. He dwelt in fear until God summoned him out and to the mouth of the cave, to the light.
Consider our reading from Psalm 27. David proclaims in the first verse, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” He continues on about his enemies, armies of them.
Consider our reading from the New Testament. Peter, with much greater confidence than we see in the Gospel scene, refers back to the Transfiguration as eyewitness evidence, and directly following he goes into false prophets and teachers. He also explicitly references light when he states, “And 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, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts…” (2 Peter 1:19)
Consider then the Gospel reading and its surrounding parts. In the section before our reading, Jesus speaks of his enemies, of his death and resurrection. In a few sections before that we see the Pharisees demanding a sign. In the other accounts of the Mount of Transfiguration, when the disciples heard the voice from the cloud they fell on their faces and were terrified.
Fear, then is one theme in and around our verses today. It is likewise one theme of American life in the 21st century. Not only have recent studies shown the immense rise of anxiety and fear among American children and adults, it takes but a few flicks of the channel or clicks through news sites to see that fear is perhaps the most operative word in our current emotional climate. Fear of a government shutdown. Fear of racism. Fear of another world war. Fear of mass shootings. Fear of flooding. Fear of an energy crisis. Fear of irresponsible political leaders. Fear of stock market collapse. Fear of another housing bubble. Fear of cancer. Fear of failure. Our Scripture readings today are no different. As a people, when it comes to fear we are as ancient as we are modern.
But then we hear David, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” If God is light inescapable, then there is no shadow under his wings. There is only covering and light. This means, ironically, that to be under the shadow of God’s wings is to be closest to the light, to be in the greatest light. Fear reigns when we come from underneath “his shelter,” when we roam from “under the cover of his tent,” when we are unwilling to be lifted high upon that rock to see the inescapable light who is Christ. A life further from Christ is a life lived in greater darkness and therefore shrouded in fear. If we are to overcome the darkness, we may do so only by keeping our eyes on the light, who is Christ, the chief cornerstone and keystone to today’s reading. He dispels all fear, is confirmed by the Father, and is that beauty upon which David longed to gaze. Jesus is the new Adam. He is the new Elijah, the new David, the new Moses.
Today marks the final Sunday of Epiphany. Next week we move into Lent. Lent, like Advent, is a time of waiting, of consideration, silence, and anticipation. As evangelicals, we have a hard time with these seasons, because we think they somehow minimize the Gospel. But this is not so. When done properly, the penitential seasons of our Church Calendar will do what Jesus says in our Gospel reading: they will further root the Gospel in our hearts and minds. Lent, therefore, is a time not of proclamation but of examination, deliberation, and speculation. It emphasizes our consideration of the question, “What is man? Who are we and what has God come to do to and with us?” Hear again those words from our Gospel reading today:
“And as they were coming down the mountain, he charged them to tell no one what they had seen, until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead might mean.” (Mark 9:9)
Questioning, it says. Considering. Discussing. In this Lenten season I encourage you to the same. As Biblical Theologian John Frame states, “…the theophanies through Scripture anticipate our heavenly fellowship with God.” We, therefore, come to this table in a moment in examination, deliberation, and speculation; we come with the same expectation, hoping for, imagining, and anticipating our eternal banquet with Christ, which we call heaven, that everlasting theophany. And we approach this table hearing the words which God spoke to Elijah in the verses which preceded our lectionary reading today. Elijah had fled his enemies and bedded down. Scripture continues, “And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’ And he looked, and behold, there was at his head a cake baked on hot stones and a jar of water. And he ate and drank and lay down again. And the angel of the Lord came again and a second time and touched him and said, ‘Arise and eat, for the journey is too great for you.’ And he arose and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food…” (1 Kings 19:5-8) So I say to you, Christian: arise and eat, and go in the strength of this food.
Now hear, as we close our time, a poem by George Herbert.
“Lent” by George Herbert
Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is composed of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
To ev'ry Corporation.
The humble soul composed of love and fear
Begins at home, and lays the burden there,
When doctrines disagree.
He says, in things which use hath justly got,
I am a scandal to the Church, and not
The Church is so to me.
True Christians should be glad of an occasion
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,
When good is seasonable;
Unless Authority, which should increase
The obligation in us, make it less,
And Power itself disable.
Besides the cleanness of sweet abstinence,
Quick thoughts and motions at a small expense,
A face not fearing light:
Whereas in fulness there are sluttish (1) fumes,
Sour exhalations, and dishonest rheums, (2)
Revenging the delight.
Then those same pendant profits, which the spring
And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing,
And goodness of the deed.
Neither ought other men’s abuse of Lent
Spoil the good use; lest by that argument
We forfeit all our Creed.
It's true, we cannot reach Christ's fortieth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Savior's purity;
Yet are bid, Be holy ev'n as he.
In both let's do our best.
Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
That travelleth by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn, and take me by the hand, and more
May strengthen my decays.
Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast
As may our faults control:
That ev'ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlor; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1 sluttish. Unclean; dirty; grimy; untidy. (Oxford English Dictionary)
2 rheumes. watery matter from eyes, nose, ears, etc.; said to cause disease. (Oxford English Dictionary)