Love Unfettered, Light Unleashed
December 01, 2013
Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. Afterward all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” —not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father.
And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
We got rid of our television five years ago, and I swear it wasn’t just so we could tell people we got rid of our television five years ago. We got rid of it because I’d developed a bit of a habit (one might even go so far as to call it an addiction) to all those shows on TV that take an unassuming house or room or person and transform them into something else entirely.
I couldn’t get enough of Trading Spaces there for a while. I became the sort of person who would swear to myself (because you know I only ever watched these things alone) that I was going to watch just one more—just one more!—episode of What Not to Wear or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy or Extreme Home Makeover International—and then I’d get back to writing my sermon, making dinner, folding the laundry or, you know, living my life. It got pretty bad there for awhile. It was so bad, in fact, that it took something as life-changing as getting pregnant with my first child, George, to make me question whether this was really how I wanted to live out my days.
Well, the answer was no, so we pitched the TV and set me free.
But I’ve got to tell you, even after all these years, I can still remember—still remember the thrill of the reveal, the adrenaline rush, the catharsis—the tears, for goodness’ sake!—that those last seven minutes of the program inevitably provoked. I loved watching the homeowners and the host all trying to cram into the doorway of their newly renovated half bath, or the sassy smile of the overworked and underappreciated mom as she sashayed out in her brand-new dress and cute new haircut.
It was such sweet relief to see a person finally liberated from feathered hair or bad linoleum. And I am not ashamed to admit that watching a team of professionals bring out the absolute best in a person or a place really inspired me, especially since most of the people on these shows end up on them because someone else saw that potential first. They saw it and wrote in and said, “You know who deserves a makeover? My coworker Maude, who is so much prettier than she realizes,” or “Bernadette, my wife of thirty years, who really deserves something special,” or “Our neighbors down the street, Tim and Diane, who always did so much for everyone else that they never got around to renovating their kitchen.”
That’s the part I loved most, and it kind of makes me wonder what all these networks would have done with Jesus if they’d been around back then. Might someone have seen the potential in him and thought to herself, “You know, with the right haircut and some new sandals, that guy could go far”? Maybe.
And if they had, I can just imagine how the show would play out. We’d spend the first ten minutes getting to know Jesus. There would be a montage of Jesus walking by the sea of Galilee, multiplying loaves and fishes on a hillside, maybe healing a few folks or playing ball with little kids in the dusty streets of some village. Then we’d get the close up on his face and, as the camera panned back, listen in as the experts talked about the sad state of his hair, the dirt caked on his feet, and how that robe he was wearing was made of decent material, but really, for a man of his build, the cut was all wrong.
I know it’s hard to imagine that Jesus would ever agree to anything this ridiculous, but if he had, I can tell right where, in his story, they would have wanted to end their program. They would have loved, loved, loved, the part of his story we read today. The Transfiguration would have been, for any producer worth his salt, the reveal to end all reveals.
Seeing Jesus up there with bigwigs like Moses and Elijah, bright and shining in a new white robe, with even his Father on hand to praise him—I’m telling you, if the gospel had been written for TLC, it would end right here in chapter 9, with Jesus striking a pose in all his heavenly splendor. We’d cut to commercial thinking, “Wow, that guy looks amazing.”
But the gospel doesn’t end here, because strangely enough, at least in Luke’s telling of this odd and wondrous event, the point of the transfiguration is not in the reveal of Jesus in all his power and glory. No. The seminal moment in his transfiguration comes in the conversation he has with Moses and Elijah, a conversation that reveals what he intends to do with all his power and glory.
They have come from beyond to discuss his departure—in Hebrew, his “exodus,” an exodus he will accomplish not here on this mountain but down in Jerusalem, and not by rising to the heights of power but by being lifted up on a cross.
Like Moses before him, Jesus has come to set his people free—free from sin, death, oppression, and violence—but unlike Moses and every other leader before him, Jesus has come to do this in a new way. He has not come to get, but to give, not to hurt but to heal. He is not planning to win by conquering but by being conquered.
Rather than use his time on earth to acquire all the wealth and power and control he can muster, the better to rise up and bring his adversaries down, Jesus has come to use all the power at his disposal on behalf of everyone else. He has come to lift up, restore, heal, and empower everyone he meets—everyone—be they friend or enemy, clean or unclean, worthy or undeserving. He has not come to free his people from their enemies by force but to liberate them from the idea that they need have any enemies at all, first and foremost by refusing to have any enemies himself.
Here on this mountain, even as we see him in all his power and glory, we come to learn how he intends to subvert his power and pour out his glory. His plan is to use all the means at his disposal not to achieve peace through violence, but to somehow absorb all the violence people can throw at him and forgive them anyway because they know not what they do.1
You see, for Jesus, the only way to free us from the cycle of violence, sin, and death that has held all humanity in its thrall since the beginning, is to embrace a new way, his way: the way of the cross, the way that refuses to hit back, the way that takes all the power and glory and blessing we possess and, rather than hold on to it all for our own sakes, pours it back out into the world for the sake of others, no matter what the cost.
Jesus’ exodus on the cross in defiance of the ways of the world opens the door for our exodus from the ways of the world as well. His way of self-giving, self-emptying, and self-sacrifice shows us the way, a new way, the only way to heal the world.
I know that’s a lot to take in, but that’s the blueprint for our salvation that was laid out on top of that mountain, and that is the peculiar glory Jesus wanted his disciples to see. That was what he hoped to reveal to them: not that he was all-glorious and all-powerful, but that heaven’s true purpose is beyond power and glory.
And it’s a hard truth to take in. It was back then, and it is today. Amassing power and glory, influence and prestige, making it to the top and then figuring out how to stay there—that’s what most of us seek after, whether we realize it or not. That’s why makeover shows are so compelling: because they make us believe that if we just had the right people on our side, better abs, or nicer floors, we’d be living on top of the world too.
It’s really easy, even for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, to get sucked into the idea that life is all about us, about what we can get and what we can achieve. The disciples didn’t get Jesus’ alternative offer right away—and, truth be told, even two thousand years later, we’re still struggling to come to terms with it.
Think about it. Peter, James, and John saw all this with their own eyes. They heard all this with their own ears. Jesus has told them repeatedly that he has come to serve rather than be served, to love rather than be loved, to give rather than take, release rather than control, to heal rather than harm.
They have seen him now, in all his glory, a glory that should be enough to convince them that as counterintuitive as Jesus’ plan might be, it still comes to them straight from heaven. And yet they still don’t get it. They still, somehow, think it’s all about them.
If you continue along in the chapter, you find that they go down the mountain and fail to heal the very first person they encounter. Then they get into an argument about who is the greatest. Then they get upset because they catch some random guy who isn’t one of them healing other people in Jesus’ name—as if Jesus wouldn’t like that.
The disciples have seen and heard and been given so much, and yet, at least at first, it’s like all the blessing of being close to Jesus, and learning from Jesus, and being loved by Jesus, is all stopped up inside of them. It takes time for them to figure out that they have been blessed in order to be a blessing. Like us, they get confused and distracted. Along the way, they do a whole lot of selfish, stupid, sinful things. It takes practice and an awful lot of bumbling before they are able to translate their experience of Jesus into a life lived like Jesus, before they are ready to follow his way rather than their own.
But you know what? Jesus sticks with them anyhow, even unto and after death. He resurrects and comes back to them and gradually, eventually, they do start to get it. And then they start to live it. And by the end of their stories they are freeing others from the ways of the world as well, freeing them from their selfish desires, freeing them from their fears and their anger, freeing them to live like Jesus. It’s all in here, in the Acts of the Apostles, and it is beautiful to behold.
Not to be too grandiose or anything, but that’s my hope for us here. I’m not saying we’ve been to the mountain top, but like the disciples, we have been witness to the power and glory of God in this place, in our time together, in our shared testimony and all the many ways we see the Holy Spirit at work in this community. Last weekend was amazing. There is no other word for it. This week has been amazing as well.
Through emails and phone calls and visits, I am hearing your stories: stories of healing and hope, the stories of God at work in your lives, stories of all the many ways God is opening you up to new ideas, new possibilities, new hopes and dreams for this church and the world.
I hear talk of a putting the church float back together so we can march in the Pride parade, plans for turning the front of the church into an edible landscape and moving coffee hour out there once the weather gets warmer. Jane has made a sign to put out on Route 9 inviting people in for coffee and worship, a knitting group in this church is welcoming people into its fellowship who don’t even worship here, and plans are afoot to take a team down to Kentucky this summer to work with the Red Bird mission.
Seriously, you’d have to be blind not to see what God is doing here in our community. Our challenge and our calling is to keep coming up with ways to take all this blessing out into the world. Remember the words Paul Nickerson spoke to us from Eugene Peterson’s The Message? From Matthew chapter 5: “You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill…”
Friends, if there is a vision for this church to embrace, let it be this one. Let us go public with all we have received here.
It may take us a while to figure out how to do it, but that is why the Spirit has come to us the way that it has. God, in all his power and glory, has not given up on the world, and we are part of the team he has assembled to reveal the potential hidden out there beneath all the grime of fear and doubt, sin and selfishness, hurt and pain. We’ve been called to help people see themselves the way God sees them; called to set them free from all the lies that seize and maim, and throw them to the ground; called to reveal to the world, through our own self-emptying, self-giving, and self-sacrifice, nothing less than the kingdom of God.
May it be so. Amen.
1. Rob Bell and Dan Golden, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, p. 88. Return to reference.
Rev. Sarah Buteux