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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Transfiguration 02/10/2013

Moses went up Mt. Sinai and received the two stone tablets of the covenant, the covenant that included the Ten Commandments.  As he returned the skin of his face shined because he had been talking to God; the glory of the Lord was still with him.  In what seems to be a reinterpretation of this event, Jesus goes up the mountain of Transfiguration to pray and as he does his face and his clothes become dazzling white, another reflection of the glory of God.  What happened to Moses now happens to Jesus, a prophet like Moses but at the same time, greater than Moses.   

They are both dramatic stories that create vivid images, but still they are the kind of stories that are best proclaimed rather than explained other than to say that these mountain top experiences represent pivotal events in understanding who Moses and Jesus are, particularly in understanding the presence of God in their lives.  In both stories holiness touches humanity which is awe inspiring but which also can’t help but be a little mystifying.

Transfiguration Sunday is always the last Sunday in the season of Epiphany, the overall theme of the season being to begin to reveal the identity of Jesus.  As mysterious as this Transfiguration story is, it does fit into Epiphany; it is about Jesus’ identity as it is quite clearly meant to show that he was more than a teacher, more than a healer, more than a prophet; Jesus was connected to God the Father in ways that no one before him had been, no one, including Moses; it is about Jesus’ identity.  But is that it?  The question before us on this Sunday every year is, are these stories just about Moses and Jesus, just about the two of them and their identity or do these stories also have something to do with us?

We may be familiar with the idea of a mountain top experience, some  moment that goes beyond what is ordinary, that in fact make the ordinary things and events of life and the world look better and brighter, moments that you ride as long as you can.  Think about the whole Ishpeming football story this fall and how it lifted the spirits of the whole community when the team won the state championship, even people who might only have been marginally interested before that were drawn into it.  That’s a mountain top that a lot of us experienced at least for awhile; for the players and coaches most directly involved it may be a mountaintop that they’re still on, perhaps having built those dwellings that Peter suggested to Jesus.

We do know something about mountain top experiences; some might even have had some kind of religious mountain top experience, a time or at least a moment when God’s presence was realer than real.  It does happen, usually in unexpected ways at a time when you’re not looking for it.  But then, for a lot of people, it doesn’t happen.  They may be good and faithful people, but the mountain top doesn’t happen, at least not in a religious sense.  Their journey feels more like it’s at the foot of the mountain, in the flat places and valleys of life.   Should those people, which is probably most of us, feel like there’s something wrong, that something is missing? 

That’s where the second lesson comes in.  It’s another part of Paul’s Corinthian correspondence.  I’m in the middle of teaching the Lay School class on New Testament Epistles for the second time and I have to say that I’m finally coming to terms with Paul, I’m feeling better about him.  I confess that I’ve had issues with Paul, I never liked him very much I guess thinking that maybe he distorted Jesus a little bit in his interpretation; but the deeper I get into what he wrote, he’s OK.  He’s a little wordy and hard to follow sometimes, also a little grouchy, kind of a pain sometimes but then so am I.

I think in approaching Paul, the metaphor of mining can be helpful;  people around here are familiar with that, with how you have to extract the iron ore or copper or nickel or whatever it is from the surrounding rock.  That’s kind of what you have to do with Paul sometimes.  There can be lots of rocky material, but then hidden in the rock you find those nuggets of ore.

Today’s reading from Corinthians is sometimes seen as Paul’s midrash as it’s called, or commentary on the Moses story from Exodus.  That’s what rabbis would do; they’d take a story everyone knew and then retell it or reinterpret it in light of what was going on.  That’s how Paul uses this story of Moses being transformed by the glory of the Lord.  Some of what he says is a little rocky, but in talking about how Moses was changed Paul does makes a connection to the people of Corinth and to the rest of us who, he says, are also being transformed.  “All of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”

“Are being transformed;” for me that’s the nugget, the nugget for the rest of us who may not have had that mountain top experience, actually even for those who have had such an experience.  Paul himself had his own mountain top on the road to Damascus when he experienced the living and risen Christ.  But even with that he sees faith as an ongoing process of being transformed.  Maybe it includes a dramatic moment, maybe it doesn’t, but either way it’s a process of transformation.

What Paul imagines is that our life as Christians involves living close enough to God and attentive enough to God that this divine presence, over time truly changes us, truly transforms us, making us more Christ like.  For Paul, this isn’t as much about climbing a mountain, as it is about God steadily at work in us and on us.  “This comes from the Lord, the Spirit,” Paul says.

To me, this says a couple of things.  It tells us first of all that comparing religious experiences and thinking one is better than another is a waste of time because…God is not done with us.  In Christ we are always becoming, we are always becoming who and what God would have us be.  We’re not there yet; we’re not where we want to be, but we’re on the way and it’s important to know that.  This also tells us that we’re not alone.  This process of being transformed isn’t a self-help, 12 steps to religious well-being program.  We are being transformed in the image of Christ not by our own power but by the power of the Holy Spirit, sometimes despite ourselves, because God will not leave us or quit on us, no matter what. 

In this process of transformation we don’t become who Christ is, we become what he is.  That’s important, we don’t become who Christ is, we become what his is.  As we share in the divine attributes of love and compassion, forgiveness, humility, kindness and hospitality we reflect what he is, being Christ to the other, to the neighbor. 

Is that what we really want though?  Being in church we know we’re supposed to say yes to that, but saying yes to transformation in the image of Jesus means saying no to many of the things that are most valued by our world, things like power and wealth, ambition and security.  Finding those kinds of things attractive, and to some extent pretty much all of us do, we resist transformation.  Even as we resist though, God is still at work in us and on us.

I believe that, and I take comfort from that, that my being transformed isn’t just about my efforts, because if that were the case I wouldn’t have much hope.  But still it’s not sufficient to say that it’s just up to God.  At some level we do have to cooperate with the process.  We are justified or made acceptable to God strictly as a gift of grace; that’s true.  We can’t earn our way, we can’t make ourselves acceptable, it is only what has been done for us in Jesus Christ that does that; that’s where we start.

In the process of transformation though, by which we become not who Christ is but what Christ is, we play a role.  For most people that seems self evident.  We make choices about what we do.  For one thing we make a choice whether or not to participate in the life and sacraments of the church, to open ourselves to the word as preached and proclaimed, to be part of the body of believers which is the church.  It seems obvious.  The church is not the only place the Spirit is active and available, but it’s a place that we know the Spirit is active and available; that’s the purpose of the church.  So our choices do play a role in our transformation.

Regardless of our choices though, even when we make bad choices we are being transformed.  God is at work in us.  None of us is going to be transfigured in the manner of Moses or Jesus, but we are being transformed.  As we begin the season of Lent on Wednesday it’s a time to think about choices though.  The purpose of Lent is to think about what we do that draws us closer to God and what we do that draws us away from God or using the words we’re using today, what are we doing that hinders the process of transformation.  We’re not in control of that process; as Paul said it does come from the Lord, the Spirit.  But still, we are part of it.

Basking in the reflected glory of the transfigured Lord, with Peter, James and John we come down from the mountain and there, there are choices to be made.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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