A Glimpse of Glory
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; March 3, 2019
Transfiguration of the Lord
Exodus 34:29-35, 2 Corinthians 3:12-18, Luke 9:28-36
It seems like Moses is always trekking up or down a mountain! Our reading from Exodus puts us in the midst of a fascinating story. Earlier, when Moses is up on the mountain getting the tablets of the covenant, God sees the Israelites doing the most astounding thing down below and God is furious. Moses hightails it down the mountain with the two tablets in his hands—the word of God for God’s people—and when he reaches the camp and finds the people dancing around the golden calf that his brother Aaron has made, Moses is so mad, he throws the tablets and breaks them.
When Moses cools down, he does what he so often does—intercedes to God on behalf of this stiff-neck people. Afterward, God and Moses spend time together, talking of weighty issues. But then, Moses asks an extraordinary thing of God—he wants to see God’s glory. Surprisingly, God has Moses stand in the cleft of the rock, so that Moses can see God passing by. Later, God tells Moses to make two new tablets and come up the mountain again. Moses does as instructed—goes up the mountain—but he returns with more than the new covenant. He returns with his face glowing so brightly, it frightens the people. Turns out, these mountain top experiences changes Moses. Seeking God’s face, talking and listening to God—gives Moses the wisdom and strength to do the task set before him—to lead God’s people forth.
Elijah has quite a different mountain top experience. He appears in the Bible during the reign of Ahab. He’s the one whom God commands the ravens to feed with bread and meat in the morning and the evening. A great drought comes upon the land; in fact, it is Elijah who announces that it will last for a long time. (It doesn’t make him too popular, but then when have prophets ever been popular?) At this time in Israel’s history, they have taken up with Baal, the Canaanite god for storm and rain—but Yahweh will show them just who controls the rain.
In the end, God demonstrates power in mighty ways and God uses Elijah to kill all the prophets of Baal. As a result, Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, is furious. She sends a message to Elijah that he is about to die! So how does this mighty prophet of God respond? He takes off running into the wilderness. But God leads him to a mountain and tells Elijah to go out and stand on the mountain because God is about to pass by. There is a great wind—but God is not in the wind. There is an earthquake—but God is not in the earthquake. There is a fire—but God is not in the fire. Then comes the sound of sheer silence—and out of the silence comes the voice of God.
And this brings us to another mountain top experience—this time for Jesus and his inner circle—Peter, James, and John. Jesus leaves the noise and distraction of the world behind and goes up on the mountain to pray. While in prayer, his face changes and his clothes become dazzling white. Suddenly, Moses and Elijah appear, and they begin talking about the glory of Jesus and his departure, which is to happen in Jerusalem.
Exhausted and befuddled, when faced with the glory of God’s son, Peter, James, and John are nearly overcome. And Peter does what Peter does best—he opens his mouth. He offers to build three shelters (a reference to the Feast of Tabernacles—one of the three biblically mandated feasts for the Hebrew people). Although Peter has good intentions, he has most assuredly not been listening because Moses, Elijah, and Jesus have been talking about Jesus’ departure. If Jesus is leaving, a place to dwell is a non-issue. Could it be that even though Peter has seen Jesus break down barriers time and time again, he still wants to put Jesus in a box?
Notice what happens next. With Peter still talking, a cloud overshadows them and God interrupts Peter, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!” Listen to him—God says. Maybe learning to listen will be Peter’s first step toward spiritual maturity.
While poor Peter makes an easy target, is it really any different for us? Are we any better at listening? Does God have to interrupt us while we chatter away endlessly, even in our prayers? Do our prayers sound like a laundry list of requests rather than a holy time of communing with God?
In Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer, Richard Foster writes about our wandering minds—how we are so wired into noise, media and technology—but all this is really a symptom of a deeper problem—distraction. Foster notes,
Distraction is the primary spiritual problem in our day…The fact that our schedules are piled high and we are constantly bombarded by multiple stimuli only betrays that we have succumbed to the modern mania that keeps us perpetually distracted. The moment we seek to enter the creative silences of meditative prayer, every demand screams for our attention. We have noisy hearts.
Furthermore, Foster recognizes that even our Christian worship services have become productions that distract rather than draw us into the presence of God. What are we to do?
Over the past couple of years, here at First Presbyterian Church we have incorporated moments of silences in worship—the First Friday Contemplative services, for sure, but also in morning worship. We have a moment of silence after our Music for Preparation and after the sermon. Silence is incorporated into our morning prayer. In addition, silence is key to Centering Prayer—a meditative practice that is offered each Wednesday. Silence allows our hearts and minds to settle down so we can truly be present and listen to God instead of rushing in and chattering away. Maybe if we are able to silence our religious chatter, we, too, may come away blinking from a glimpse of God’s glory.
The movie, “August Rush,” tells the story of an 11-year-old boy who is tragically separated from his mother at birth. Both his parents are gifted musicians—but they are unaware that a son, who has inherited their gift of music, is even alive. Even though August grows up in an orphanage where he is bullied, he refuses to deny his passionate belief—that his real parents want him and will find him with the help of music. Driven by the sounds of the music, he runs away from the orphanage in search of a new life with his family. At one point in the movie August says, “Sometimes the world tries to knock it out of you…but I believe in music the way some people believe in fairy tales…music is in the wind and sky…can you hear it? Open your heart and listen; you’ll believe too.”
As a Minister, I see another layer of meaning in the movie for my passionate belief, my faith, is in the power of God to change lives—but sometimes the world will try to knock that faith out of us. Still, God is all around, and if we listen, truly listen, we just might believe and be changed.
While praying to his Abba Father, Jesus’ face is changed. Sometimes prayer changes circumstances. Sometimes prayer changes us. In our spiritual journey, a trek up a mountain may not be necessary—but we still must make an effort to come away from the noise of the world—to sit in silence and listen. Otherwise, how can we truly know our Lord?
To capture the miraculous event of the Transfiguration, poet and novelist, Madeleine L’Engle has written these words:
Suddenly they saw him the way he was,
the way he really was all the time,
although they had never seen it before,
the glory that blinds the everyday eye
and so becomes invisible. This is how
he was, radiant, brilliant, carrying joy
like a flaming sun in his hands.
This is the way he was—is—from the beginning,
And we cannot bear it. So he manned himself,
came manifest to us; and there on the mountain
they saw him, really saw him, saw his light.
We all know that if we really see him we die.
But isn’t that what is required of us?
Then, perhaps, we will see each other, too.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
*Cover Art: “The Transfiguration” by Carl Heinrich Bloch via Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain