Seeing Glory

+ A sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord (Year C) at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on February 27, 2022 +

Text: 2 Corinthians 3:12-13, 17-4:2; Luke 9:28-43a


I have spent most of my life near the mountains.
It’s one of the things I love most about growing up in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest and one of the things I missed most during my time in the Midwest.
And whether I’m surrounded by them like in my hometown of Eagle River, or hiking in them at Holden Village, or catching Mt. Rainier or the Olympics with the perfect sunset alpenglow, the majesty of the mountains never fails to take my breath away.
It’s often in the mountains where I feel closest to God.

So, it’s no wonder to me that for many religions around the world, mountains have long been seen as a place to commune with the divine.
Mt. Olympus was the home of the Ancient Greek pantheon.
Mt. Everest and the Himalayas are sacred to the Sherpa people.
Moses talked with God and received the law on Mt. Sinai.
And in today’s gospel reading, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John with him as he goes up a mountain to pray.

But while Jesus is praying, something happens.
Something we hear every year as we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday.
Something that we grapple with, never really fully able to explain.
As he is praying, Jesus is transfigured.
His face transforms and his clothes become dazzling.
And suddenly, Moses and Elijah, the two greatest figures in the Hebrew Bible, appear and speak to Jesus about what will happen in Jerusalem, about his death, his resurrection, and his ascension.
And poor Peter, James, and John can just watch in wonder and terror.
They don’t know what to do, and I can’t blame them!
Nothing like this has ever happened on any one of my hikes in the mountains.

During the past couple months, we have glimpsed many and various ways by which Jesus has revealed himself.
The Son of God born among us.
The eternal Word of God made flesh.
The one who stands with us in the waters of promise.
Our God who delights in our joy.
The announcer and enactor of divine liberation and justice.
Our teacher who will show us how to live in God’s commonwealth.
But on that mountaintop, we encounter the fullness of God revealed through Christ’s glory, in dazzling light beyond compare.
We hear the voice from the heavens proclaiming, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
But even with this spectacular display, those three disciples don’t know what to do.
They don’t know how to react.
It gives me some comfort, honestly, as we once again celebrate this annual festival that I don’t really know what to do with.
Because as wonderful as it is to marvel in God’s glory, I’m just not sure how that really impacts me, how it effects my life.

That’s why I appreciate Luke’s telling of this puzzling event.
While Matthew and Mark follow their versions of the transfiguration with a theological discourse between Jesus and his disciples, Luke moves immediately into action.
When they come down from the mountain, Jesus finds a man whose child was being tormented by a demon.
He confronts the demon, casts it out, and the child is healed.
And that is when Luke tells us that “all were astounded at the greatness of God.”
Not on the mountaintop, not in a burst of dazzling light, not even when the great figures of the faith miraculously appear, rather it’s when Jesus heals an afflicted child that the disciples marvel at his glory.
It’s when Jesus confronts suffering to bring healing and wholeness that the people can see the greatness of God.

On this Transfiguration Sunday, perhaps you are like me and struggle along with the disciples to grasp the importance of this vision of grandeur.
Maybe we struggle to know what to make of it all.
But I wonder how we will perceive the greatness of God.
I wonder what demons Jesus would find as he comes down from the mountaintop with us to bring divine healing.
Where we see God’s children still suffering all around us.

I think we can easily name some of those demons, right?
Those forces of evil which we know all too well.
Those powers that cause pain and destress in our world and oppress God’s children, whether young or grown.
The demon of greed and apathy which afflicts our siblings living on the streets, which forces children to go to bed hungry.
The demons of racism and sexism which are actively and systematically dehumanizing our whole society as we devalue our fellow siblings.

But the past week has revived even more demons that have been lurking among us.
The demon of hatred and discrimination forcing trans kids in Texas and queer kids in Florida to hide who they are; that tells them that the world hates them because they are broken.
The demon of imperialism and violence that will bomb cities, starve peoples, destroy peace, and end lives to appease the egos of the rich and powerful.
Neither of these demons are new; they have plagued us for far too long.
But when governments declare that supporting trans kids is tantamount to child abuse or it’s too dangerous to even address topics of sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools, we can see all too well how God’s children are and will continue to be harmed.
When the world watches in horror as Russia invades Ukraine and hundreds are killed while hundreds of thousands more innocent people are displaced, we can see the demon wreaking havoc on our TV screens.

I think the danger of this festival day when we celebrate Our Lord’s Transfiguration is that we may assume that it is only on those mountaintops, only in dazzling spectacles, that we can see the glory and greatness of God.
But the disciples don’t understand this glory until they see Jesus come down from the mountain, denounce the demonic forces, and heal that suffering child.
And with that heavenly voice echoing in our ears, we too are commanded to listen to God’s chosen one.
Listen as he casts out these evil forces.
Listen as he calls us to turn away from the ways of this world and follow him.
Listen as he teaches us how to build up God’s commonwealth which is abounding in steadfast love.

St. Paul tells us that we are being transformed into the same image of Christ’s glory through the working of the Holy Spirit; that we are becoming the bearers of Christ’s transfigured self, revealing to the whole world the greatness and power of God.
I am very mindful and so very grateful for how I have seen this transfiguration within this congregation.
How we have publicly declared that we stand with and embrace the LGBTQ+ community and reject homophobia and transphobia as antithetical to the gospel.
How we are even now helping welcome war refugees who fled another country mired in violence as they seek a new and more peaceful start.
How we are literally transforming this land on which we have been planted so we can better serve our community and provide shelter for our vulnerable neighbors, bravely following where our Lord is leading us.

But we also can see how much more work there is to do.
We can see how the demons are still afflicting our siblings, our children.
And I hope we can see Christ standing among us, still confronting those malevolent forces, just as clearly as we could ever see him on the mountaintop.
I hope we can see how he is siding, not with the oppressive dehumanizing powers that surround us, but surrounding that vulnerable, innocent child with the powerful protection of wholeness and liberation.
I hope we can see how he is still encouraging us to listen and to join in his work until the whole world is instilled with abundance, love, and peace.
How will we respond?
How will we, Christ’s disciples, embody this love, not only in the glorious highs of life, but when we are confronted with the demons and needs that surround us?
How will we continue to be transformed to bear Christ’s glory into the world?

Just a few verses after today’s gospel text, Jesus sets his face on Jerusalem, Luke tells us.
He begins the journey upon which we will embark with him again on Wednesday as we enter the season of Lent.
A journey toward another mountaintop where Christ’s glory will again be revealed for all the world to see.
Glory revealed not in a dazzling light, but in the gloominess of that day when the sun itself refused to shine.
Glory revealed not in the clouds, but upon a brutal cross.
Glory revealed not in the hushed awe of his disciples, but in Jesus’ halting, dying breath.

But even when all the demonic forces are convinced that they have won, we know the journey is not yet done.
Because at the end of our annual pilgrimage, we will again marvel at Christ’s glorious resurrection.
We will boldly proclaim Christ’s triumph over all the forces of imperialism, of hatred, of even death itself.
Even as we enter our Lenten journey this week, we are emboldened by our resurrected Lord who has shown that all those evil forces are powerless against the glory of God.
We are empowered by the Holy Spirit who, is transforming us and all creation, to reflect that perfect reign of peace.
We are called by God to listen to Christ and become agents of that new world shaped by the light of the resurrection.

May that be the glory that we bear into our world this day and every day.

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