March 2, 2014 - Transfiguration
light blazes, music soars, and one man is chosen to come up into the light and
glory. No, it’s not Moses. It’s not Jesus transfigured on the mountain. It’s
Roy Neary played by Richard Dreyfuss in Steven Spielberg’s classic film, “Close
Encounters of the Third Kind.” Roy discovers what he’s been seeking by piling
up heaps of mashed potatoes on the dining room table and creating a huge
sculpture of a mountain in his living room. He goes to meet aliens at Devil’s
Tower in Wyoming, is welcomed into their ship and soars off into space.
I don’t know about
you, but my ability to imagine and picture both this text from Exodus and the
Transfiguration account in Matthew 1 has been deeply affected by movie
depictions of everything from “close encounters” to the discovery of the
perfect Christmas in Chevy Chase’s “Christmas Vacation.” Music starts playing,
light streams down from the sky, and glory is revealed. That’s how it’s
supposed to go.
Yet as I read and
really think about Moses going up the mountain to meet God, I wonder if it was
very much like Hollywood would film it at all. Verses 15 and 17 suggest the
glory of God may have looked more like the flames and smoke of forest fire,
covering the mountain in a bright cloud.
The fact is we just
don’t know. And I don’t think CGI is going to help us here, anymore than it is
going to help us picture what happened to Jesus hundreds of years later on
another mountain. Take a look at the front of your bulletin. I tried to find an
image that showed Jesus transfigured, but everything I came up with just looked
silly. Imagination fails us a bit when we try to visualize these texts.
What we can be sure
about is that both Moses and Jesus’ disciples understood that they were in the
presence of God. That’s clear here in Exodus even before Moses goes on up. In
verses 9 and 10 Moses and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu and seventy other elders of Israel go part way up and actually see God. And imagination failed them as they tried to
describe what they saw, “Under his feet there was something like a pavement of
sapphire stone, like the sky for clearness.” Note that “something like.” These
people knew they met God, but words to describe the experience failed them.
We hear the same thing
about the Transfiguration. They saw glory in Jesus, but all they can do is
compare it to the light of the sun. And if you turn over to Mark’s Gospel
chapter 9 you get a pretty lame statement that sounds like an detergent
commercial, that His clothes became whiter than any launderer could bleach
The glory of God came
to ordinary human beings and they were left confused and stammering about what
they saw, what they experienced. The glory of God came right into the middle of
everyday human life. Look in verse 14 at what Moses has to tell those seventy
elders as he gets ready to climb the mountain. “Wait here for us, until we come
to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to
them.” He’s getting ready to meet God, but Moses still has to worry about who
is going to settle the petty squabbles which will arise among the people while
You might think Moses
should have worried about daily business a little more. As it turns out, when
we jump over to chapter 32, Aaron is less than able at keeping the people out
of trouble, and before Moses even brings God’s Commandments down the mountain,
His people are breaking the first two in style, worshipping an idol made by
Aaron instead of the God whose glory they can see on the mountain.
Peter on the mountain
with Jesus saw the glory of God in Jesus’ face, but he ends up concerned about
basic needs like shelter. He wants to make tents, little shelters like they use
on the Feast of Tabernacles, for Jesus and Moses and Elijah. He’s ready to
start gathering sticks and branches and making camp.
That’s how God’s glory
comes to us. We’re in the middle of perfectly legitimate, perfectly ordinary
concerns. We are resolving disputes between our children or among employees.
We’re worrying about keeping roofs over our heads and getting enough sleep and
doing everything God expects of us. Then His glory shows up. He shows up. And we
are lost for words and confused about what to do next.
All I want to suggest
this morning is that experiencing God’s glory is worth it. It can be worth
letting things get a little crazy back at home, like the people of Israel went nuts while Moses was up on the mountain. It can be worth ignoring for awhile
some practical questions like where everyone is going to sleep or what are we
going to do if it rains.
A year or two after I
came here twenty years ago we were doing the family shelter here in our sanctuary
in March like we’re going to do in a couple weeks. The Gathering Place hadn’t
been built. The picnic shelter up at the Bible College hadn’t been built. If we
were going to worship, the only place to do it was outside. Good sense would
have just cancelled our worship service for that Sunday.
But I was new here,
didn’t really understand the weather and it had been warm and sunny for a few
days. So I said, “Let’s go ahead.” We set up on a cloudy Sunday morning with
very little planning. We put our worship team under the doorway and spread
chairs out on the patio, cold metal folding chairs. People bundled up and a
gentle Oregon drizzle started coming down. In a lot of ways it was just
miserable and uncomfortable. Yet God met us. Someone walking by decided to join
us. We sang and prayed and listened to the Word, and God was there. People
talked about it afterward.
I can’t imagine Moses
was truly comfortable up there on the mountain for forty days. Peter obviously
wanted to get everyone in out of the elements on that mount of Transfiguration.
Yet there was where God showed up, when God was present.
Moses was up there
forty days and then he and all the people spent forty years traveling with God
before they finally arrived in the promised land. Peter, James and John were
only up on that mountain with Jesus maybe a day and a night, but they still had
another year or so of journeying with Him before they came to the Cross.
You and I have
different amounts of time to go before we each come finally and completely into
the presence of God, before we look into the shining face of Jesus our Savior.
What these texts ask us is if we will look for and see our Lord’s glory coming
to us in the meantime. Are we willing to leave some daily cares behind for at
least a little while, and wait to see if He shows up?
The forty days we are
about to enter in the church year remembers Moses’ forty days there on the
mountain with God. It recalls Israel’s forty years there in the desert, in the
wilderness around Mount Sinai. And it remembers Jesus’ own forty days in the
wilderness fasting and praying and waiting on God the Father and the Holy
Spirit. We mark out forty days, not counting Sundays, between Ash Wednesday and
Easter, for you and I to leave something behind, go to some place different or
do something new, and to wait for the glory of God.
Fasting is one way
Christians have traditionally left ordinary cares behind for a little while.
Jesus fasted. We can pretty much assume that Moses was fasting during those
forty days up on the mountain with God. As we will read Wednesday night, Jesus
took it for granted His followers would fast. Yesterday morning our new
conference superintendent suggested we as Covenant people recapture the
spiritual discipline of fasting as we seek to meet God and hear what He has to
say to us.
So in consultation
with the ten of you who gathered to talk about it last week, we’re going to
invite all of us to join together in a fast each week at the same time, on
Fridays, the day our Lord died for us, at noon. If you can do it without
medical concerns or other issues, then let’s refrain from Friday lunch and let
us all, wherever we are at that time, join together in prayer, in seeking God,
in waiting to see His glory around us.
Now you may be
thinking, because I know I sometimes do it, that you usually skip that noon
meal anyway. You just work right through lunch. So you may imagine that you are
already golden on this one, that you are fasting already. But if that’s what
you are doing, then you need a different sort of fast to join us on Friday. You
need to fast from work for a little while, to be like Moses leaving behind his
work of arbitration and mediation for people’s disputes so he could go up on
the mountain. The point is for us together to spend at least a few minutes listening,
looking for God, whether it’s a meal or work or a computer game you need to set
aside for a bit to do that.
Beth and I drove up
Thursday to Washington in the rain and went to bed under gloomy skies in a
hotel room so I could help with ministerial license interviews and then give a
talk at the Leadership Matrix. Like most hotel rooms it had dim lights and
thick drapes to block light from outside. We woke in that dark room and left
the drapes closed for awhile, but once we were dressed we pulled them back and
found brilliant sun shining in on us. God’s glory is like that. If we’ll just
take a moment to pull back whatever is in the way, it will shine in upon us.
I hope that all of us
who can will join in this Friday experience, and that many of us will come on
Wednesday evenings to sit and pray together. And if you just can’t do either of
those things, then please find some other way, some other time to pull back the
drapes of everyday worries and issues, and look for the Lord’s glory to shine
Last October in a
castle being restored in Milan, workers peeled several coats of whitewash off a
wall to find underneath a mural by Leonardo da Vinci. Another work of the
master was there, just waiting to be discovered, to shine forth in all its
artistry and glory. So it is with God for you and me.
And the best place to
look, to listen for the glory and voice of God is this. It’s where Moses met
God for the second time on a mountain, as we read in Matthew 17. God told Peter and James and John, “This is my beloved Son… listen to him!” Let
you and I seek God’s glory in that same place, in that same face, in Jesus
Christ, taking the time to peel away everything else and just listen to Him.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2014 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj