DISCLOSURE – TRANSFIGURATION

When I was completing my training to enter church leadership ministry, I was at a college, Spurgeon’s, where preaching was emphasised. There was a weekly ritual called sermon class. Each student underwent it twice before the whole college, including all the teaching staff arrayed in their academic gowns.  After the service you were told what you should have done. A golden rule was always to deal with the bible text and make sure you brought out its core meaning.  Today I’ll break that golden rule. We’ll look at the text alright, but I want to come at it from a different angle, because our Lent series look at how the events of Jesus’ life is to be a pattern for our own. While the event we call the transfiguration, is often taught as revealing Jesus’ divinity, in our own lives patterned on Jesus, it is about the way we can see the glory of God in ordinary life. Jesus takes us on a journey of disclosing wonder and glory of God

 

We’re told: ‘Jesus led them (the three disciples) up a high mountain.’ Immediately, Jewish followers of Jesus would have heard echoes of Moses taking Aaron, Nadab and Abihu up the mountain when he went to meet with God (Exodus 24:9-11). But whereas they left short of the summit while Moses went on up into the cloud where he talked with God, the disciples were taken into the very glory of God as it emanated from Jesus. What’s this saying to us? Two things.

 

  1. Becoming aware of glory

Much of life is ordinary and mundane. On occasions it can be awful. Things happen to disappoint, disillusion or even appal us. This can be the seedbed of cynicism because the promise of life doesn’t isn’t fulfilled. So the bad squeezes out the true, the good and the beautiful. But human beings function best if we can learn to  rise above mundane and even the plain awful to keep hold of beauty. Psalm 19 tells of the message without words which creation declares. God is always communicating with us but as Dorothee Soelle says: ‘People may see clouds chasing along, feel the wind, and notice the fish playing in the water. Yet they may not see, feel, and notice because they are not amazed by it.’ The Welsh poet, R S Thomas, has a beautiful poem about this called ‘The Bright Field.’

 

I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

 

Jesus taught the crowds to see glory of God’s kingdom in the ordinary and the mundane. He told us, when anxious, to look carefully at birdlife and notice the beauty of wild flowers. He introduced the power and influence of the kingdom in terms of a tiny seed, or some yeast, and made even domestic catastrophes like losing a precious ring, moments of disclosure.  But like any other skill we have to develop our sensitivity to such moments of glory or hints of ‘transcendence’ as philosophers call them. But we have to practice it to develop this skill like any other. So let me encourage you to take something in your life that inspires and motivates you – something about your work, a hobby, the kind of music you love, people you love to be with – and train yourself to do what R S Thomas says of Moses who ‘turned aside’. It was the moment when Moses met God – the Presence of the one who is energy and warmth but doesn’t consume us. Taking disciples up the mountain sets a life-pattern to live in the light of God’s glory that breaks upon us.

  1. Glory is integrated in Jesus

But where do we seek glory? Lord Nelson wrote on one occasion: ‘My greatest happiness is to serve my gracious King and Country and I am envious only of glory; for if it be a sin to covet glory I am the most offending soul alive.’ He was indeed a great naval leader who got his glory and his own column to stand on for posterity. At least he was honest! But if Jesus was right, he was mistaken! He was trapped by the glory that comes from the regard of others, about which Jesus spoke (John 5:44). The disciples were being taught to understand how to live in and seek the right kind of glory. The vision they had was of Moses and Elijah. They were both great prophets. Some commentators think Moses represents Torah – often translated badly ‘Law’ – and Elijah the prophets. In other words the two main means by which God would communicate with Israel. Whatever, Peter was excited and wanted to celebrate the Presence of God that shone on them. He suggested they capture the moment by making three shelters or ‘tabernacles.’ It was his way of saying; ‘God’s in this place, and just like Israel, symbolised it in the Tabernacle to remind them God was with them, let’s do the same for this precious moment.’ It sounded correct. But there’s one final lesson. It’s while Peter is still gabbing on, the other two, Moses and Elijah, are cut out of the picture, and God, repeating the words used at Jesus’ baptism, adds ‘Listen to him!’ The disciples as they reflected came to realise that Jesus’s shining face was how Moses appeared after he had been with God (Exodus 34:30). Matthew is trying to tell his listeners that as Moses was the one who lived before the glory of God, so now,  a greater than Moses is here, and we live before the glory of God in the face of Jesus. And when we are baptised this is what we’re signing up to: ‘I am going to find my glory in Christ.’

 

But what precisely do we mean by this? There is a way of understanding this that is very exclusive. Jesus is the only place where we find glory and so we become solely focused on spiritual things, on Jesus, to develop our relationship exclusively with him. That sounds correct. But in fact I believe it misses what Jesus’ transfiguration is about. If it means – ‘solely focused on Jesus alone and nothing else’ – then all that interests us and captures our hearts, minds and imaginations, competes with Jesus and we think we’re being idolatrous. But we can also have an inclusive understanding of the glory of Christ. This means that anything, in so far as it leads us to appreciate and love God more, is in fact where Christ shines on us.  C S Lewis had a succinct way of expressing this about Christ and Christianity: I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.’  And this is true of Christ himself. Jesus makes greater sense of life than anything or anyone else. His life and glory breaks out to irradiate all experiences that lead us to celebrate and treasure God more. His glory doesn’t lead to religious obsession but the opening of our senses and our hearts to the vibrant glory of life in all things. And this can nurture our spirits and help us grow. ‘Listen to him.’ Are you?

For reflection

  1. Provide everyone with a copy of ‘The Bright Field’. Encourage everyone to spend a few minutes being quiet on their own looking at it putting in ? against anything they didn’t understand; ! against anything they liked or that captured their attention. Share what you discovered after 5 minutes or so.
  2. Share about times when you were struck by something glorious. What did it do for you?
  3. When the three disciples walked up the mountain with Jesus, what do you imagine was going through their minds as they remembered how Moses had done something similar? Exodus 24:9-11
  4. What happens to your spirits when you are surrounded by only dreadful things and bad news? What drags you down?
  5. Talk about how someone who has become cynical about life affects you.
  6. What gets in the way of feeding our spirits with God’s glory? See Psalm 19
  7. Compare what Horatio Nelson said with what Jesus said in John 5:41-44 (the word used here is ‘glory’ & not ‘praise’ as in some translations). Why does where we seek glory from affect us so deeply?
  8. Chat about things you enjoy and give you life and energy. Do you think God is meeting you when you do those things and how?
  9. Is God jealous of our love and enjoyment of other things? How does what C S Lewis said help us? I believe in Christ(ianity) as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.’