Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | February 3, 2008

2008.02.03 “Is God Showing Through You?”* Transfiguration Sunday

Central United Methodist Church

 “Is God Showing Through You?”*

Transfiguration Sunday

Matthew 17:  1 – 9

February 3rd, 2008

“Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.  Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.  But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”  And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”  (Matthew 17: 1 – 9, NRSV)    

      Not long ago, my family learned something. 

      The occasion was that Becca was doing a report on Albert Einstein.  If you’ve ever attempted to explain Einstein — especially Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, you’ll know why learning is always involved. 

       So, we were happy to learn of the fortuitous timing of a Nova episode on WTTW, entitled “Einstein’s Big Idea.”  One Sunday afternoon, we hurried home from church to watch it. It was excellent, building up to Einstein by describing the discoveries that had to happen for Einstein to come up with his “big idea.”

      For example, the work of English scientist Michael Faraday (1791–1867), and his discovery of the electromagnetic field surrounding an electric current running through a wire. For the first time in history, humanity learned that energy — in some inexplicable way — surrounds matter. It would eventually fall to Einstein to explain the relationship between the two.  And if you think I’m going to explain it to you . . . OK, I will:  E = mc2

      Since Einstein, we know even more. See this: it’s a paper clip.  Based upon Einstein’s equation, if you could harness the power in this paper clip — that is, turn every one of its atoms into pure energy — this paper clip would yield about 18 kilotons of TNT, roughly the size of the first atomic bomb.

      What lies beneath the surface of things is more than most of us can comprehend or imagine.

      But did you know that before this was a scientific concept, it was a religious concept?  The idea that beneath the surface — of the universe, of matter, of human beings — lies more than we can comprehend or imagine?

      In ancient Hindu writings there is this notion that what we see is only an appearance, and that which is most real is that which lies underneath.  For example, in one of the most famous Hindu Scriptures, the Bhagavah-Gita, there is the amazing story of how Lord Krishna, disguised as Arjuna’s chariot driver, unveils himself as he really is:

      “Having spoken thus, the Supreme Lord of all mystic power, the Personality of Godhead, displayed His universal form to Arjuna. Arjuna saw in that universal form unlimited mouths, unlimited eyes, unlimited wonderful visions . . . All was wondrous, brilliant, unlimited, all-expanding. If hundreds of thousands of suns were to rise at once into the sky, their radiance might resemble the “effulgence of the Supreme Person in that universal form.”

      Would you be surprised to hear that many of those early nuclear scientists loved the Hindu Scriptures, with Robert Oppenheimer, the supervising scientist of the Manhattan project, quoting them upon the explosion of the first atomic bomb:  “Now I am become Shiva, the destroyer of worlds.”  Albert Einstein once said of the Bhagavad-Gita, “When I read the Bhagavad-Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems so superfluous.”

      Yes, what lies beneath the surface of things is more than most of us can comprehend or imagine.

      I’ve told you this as context for this strange story in today’s Gospels, the transfiguration of Jesus before three of his disciples, Peter, James, and John. 

      Jesus takes three disciples “up” to a mountain, where he is “transfigured” (Gr. “metamorphosed”) before them. Without actually quoting the Old Testament, the story is resplendent with Old Testament imagery.  Like Moses, Jesus goes up a mountain.  Like Moses, the divine glory, like a cloud, overshadowed them. Like Moses knew not that his face glowed, so “Jesus” became dazzling before them. To make it clear, Moses and Elijah, representing the Law and the Prophets, appeared in a vision.  And then, in a Voice, the same voice heard at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” Clearly Matthew is trying to communicate, in language we barely understand, that, in Jesus, God showed through.

That has been the theme of these Sundays after Epiphany. Of how God showed through at Jesus’ birth, when he was visited by Wise Men. Of how God showed through at his baptism in the River Jordan. Of how God showed through in the calling of his first disciples.  And now, of how God showed through at his transfiguration upon the mountain. Ever since, Christians have claimed that in Jesus of Nazareth, God was showing through in a unique and special way. Even if — as at the transfiguration — it leaves us perplexed and confused, at a loss for words to adequately explain it.

But also ever since, the followers of Jesus have been asking a corollary question:  If God showed through Jesus, and I follow Jesus, “Is God now showing through Me?”

There is an old story about a little girl coming from the church and questioning her mom about the sermon. “Did the preacher really say God is bigger than we are?”

“Yes,” her mother replied.

“Did the preacher really say Jesus lives in us?”

“Yes,” her mother stated once again.

“Well, then, if God is bigger than we are and God lives in us, why doesn’t God show through?”

Does God show through? 

It’s there, throughout the Bible, in various ways.  The idea that each of us is made in the image of God, and that the breath of God animates us. That “the Son of God”, as St. Athanasius put it, “became human so that we might become God.”  That the Holy Spirit dwells in us; that we are sons and daughters of God.  Divine filiation, they call it.

But for God to show through, sometimes we have to peel away the protective layers that prevent it. To paraphrase the great classical psychologist, Shrek: “Human beings (not unlike ogres) are like onions: “They have layers.”  Our genetics – our upbringing – our personality — our beliefs and behaviors – layers and layers.  Are you prepared to peel away a few of these layers?   Will you risk exposing your inner self so that others may see the light of God’s glory — the light of Christ — reflected through you?

For God to show through, it may take awhile.  The journey of Jesus did not begin on the Mountaintop.  It took thirty years of patiently waiting, spiritually preparing, before he was ready to let God shine through.  For some of us, it may take a little longer. 

It may take time in the wilderness, facing temptation, to strip away some of the layers, before God can shine through.  It may take some time in the valley of struggle, in the valley of the shadow, before God can shine through.  It may take some time on the mountaintop, before God can shine through.

Nelson Mandela, in his inaugural speech in 1994, said:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It’s our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

“Actually, who are you not to be?

“You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. You are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.  It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

“And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others the permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” (—Nelson Mandela, 1994 inaugural speech, as reprinted in The African American Pulpit.)

Meister Eckhart (1260–1329), arguably the greatest medieval Christian mystic, put it even more concisely:  “God expects but one thing of you, and that is that you should come out of yourself . . . and let God be God in you.”

      C. S. Lewis, the acclaimed English author and Christian apologist, wrote a book called “The Weight of Glory”, which he originally preached as a sermon in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942.  Even though I first read it some 37 or so years ago, I have never forgotten something he said:

      “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours.” (C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)

      Yes, what lies beneath the surface — either in science or religion — is more than most of us can comprehend or imagine.

        It was a fleeting glimpse they had that day on the mountain.  They wanted to preserve it, to hold on to it, but that was not to be.  Even as they went down the mountain, Jesus swore them to secrecy.  Perhaps he knew that was an image of God in glory is too confusing, too overpowering, to mere mortals.  What we need is an image of God among us, who walks with us, who loves us and heals us and teaches us of freedom and forgiveness; who died with us and rises from death to show us the power of love over evil, and life over death.

We may not have a halo, but does God show? Does God show as we choose faith instead of fear, as we practice love in the face of evil, as we show hope in the face of death? Does God show through our words and deeds, the twinkle in our eyes and the smile on our faces, the touch of our hands in caring and our footsteps along the way of service? 

Remember the words of one of God’s most colorful saints, Teresa of Avila (1515–1582):

“Christ has no body now on earth but yours

no hands but yours, no feet but yours,

Yours are the eyes through which is to look out

Christ’ compassion to the world;

Yours are the feet with which

he is to go about doing good;

Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.”

Will you let God show through?

      [I want to acknowledge my indebtedness for some of the ideas in this sermon from a sermon by Len Sweet in Preaching Plus, “Is God Showing Through You?”, February 10, 2002.]

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