Saturday, February 17, 2007

The Transfiguration - Matthew 17

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Can you imagine not casting a shadow? You probably don’t pay much attention to your shadow. I don’t pay all that much attention to mine. But at the same time, I know for a fact that you have never once lived a moment when you didn’t cast a shadow. Even when you’re not paying attention, even when you’re not trying, your shadow is always there.

Go ahead. Hold up your hand. Now…without turning it over, look at the underside. Crazy. A shadow. Now imagine for a moment what it would be like to not have that shadow there. No, wait. Go one better: Imagine being able to not just not cast a shadow. Imagine being able to cast more light.

Of course you can’t do that. You can probably barely imagine doing that. But one day two thousand years ago, on a mountain in northern Palestine, a man named Jesus did that. For a time, he not only stopped casting a shadow but he started casting light instead. He not only stopped blocking the light. He started creating it. And so great and wonderful was that light, which made his face shine like the sun, that even the other things he touched, like his clothes, became changed as well, not casting shadows themselves, but casting more light, not cloaking him with darkness, but glowing from him with glorious illumination.

This moment in time, witnessed by the Apostles Peter, James and John, must have been amazing. Here in a way more unique than even angels in the sky proclaiming the birth of a king, or storms being calmed at a word, the eternal glory of the Son of God in human flesh was revealed. From his Epiphany and his Baptism in the Jordan, through his miracles and profound teachings, the man named Jesus had been showing again and again who he was – God in flesh – and what that meant – he had the power to save – but here on a private mountain he gave his closest friends even more: a glimmering foretaste of the world to come.

For, get this, St. John writes his Apocalypse that the final perfect world known as Zion will be a whole lot more of that day in northern Palestine. The city we will live in will have no need of sun or moon to shine, for the Christ will be the source of light. Now a city with only one source of light doesn’t make all that much sense until you remember that Jesus’ light isn’t stopped by shadow, but even turns things that cast shadow into light casters. So there not merely clothes but walls and trees and rivers and you and me and all things will shine, transfigured, brought into the glory of Son of God.

With that kind of heavenly experience in mind, you really can’t blame Peter for not wanting it to end. You may not know this, but Peter had a bit of a knack for preferring heavenly experiences to regular ones. He was very much like you in that regard. In general, he preferred glory to suffering. In fact, it was less than 10 verses before today’s lesson that Peter not merely confesses Jesus is the Christ, but then also proceeds to explain to Jesus how Jesus has no idea what it means to be the Christ, and thus needs to change his plans – because Jesus was insisting that being the Christ meant death on a cross, and Peter wanted more glory than that. He wanted Jesus to dream bigger, to set higher goals, to vision-cast with a little more optimism.

On the other hand, Jesus knew that true glory is about a whole lot more than a light show. Pleasure-seeking as an end in itself is the highest end of complete childishness, and, self-gratification is a religion of hate – because it’s first and foremost all about you. It is Satan who is the lord of all “spiritualities” that have as their chief aim feeling good, being happy and finding success.

Yet, the reality is that you, like Peter, don’t want the religion Jesus has to offer; you want the religion Satan has to offer. You want a religion that lets you define what life ought to be like. You want a religion that sees your own good-feelings and pleasure as the chief end of all things. You want the religion that the lying god offers when he says, “If you will only bow down to me, then I will give you moment after moment of dynamic ecstasy, good food in abundance, and the power to do whatever you please.” You want to seek a “Kingdom of God” where you call the shots, where you aren’t shown a Transifgured Christ on the way to the cross, but a Transfigured you on the way to a paradise where you shine as the source of joy and light, and where everything that you touch prospers and turns to gold, and where you are the hero worshiped by men and angels alike.

But it’s just here, where you, like Peter, say to Jesus, “Jesus, you are so great… now, let me take over…” – it is just here where you are seeking first your own Kingdom, that God says to you, like Peter, “Shut up, and listen to Jesus.” And what does Jesus say? Jesus says, “Get your mind off the things of man. Look! I carry a cross. Follow me, and lose your life. That is what is means to save it.”

What does that mean? That means that it’s not about your experience now. It’s not about your best life now. It’s not about your purposes now. It’s not about your mission now. Because it’s not about you at all.

It’s about Jesus. And just like Peter, after the Father’s wrath put him down, you too must learn to look up in quietness, obedient to the command, and see nothing, no one and not a bit more than Jesus – human, untransfigured Jesus, saying, “I must suffer many things.” Saying, “I must be killed.” Saying, “Follow me to my glory – the cross. There, I give you my peace. There you have my promise.” Not flashy sights. Not dynamic sounds. Not constant, happy ecstasy. Jesus only.

The disciples looked up that day and they saw Jesus only because Jesus only is what Christianity is all about. Jesus only is what Christianity has. Coming to Jesus only will give you perfection, but not out there. You are given perfection in Jesus only. Coming to Jesus only will give you transfiguration, but not out there. You are transfigured in Jesus only. Yes, you have perfection and you have transfiguration – look there! They are there, in Jesus on the cross, dying for your sins.

And there, in Jesus, these gifts from God don’t just sit like some coins buried in the ground. Even as the light flowing from him could not help but transform his clothes, so as that light brings you face to face with the constant glory of the cross, as you lose your life, as you have less confidence in yourself, as you cease to trust the world, as you are forced to come back again and again to Jesus only, you will find, even as Peter finally did, that Jesus only is more than enough.

For his is the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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