Listen to Him!
Based on Exodus 34:29-35, 2Cor 3:12 – 4:2, Luke 9:28-43
To say that it has not been an easy time in The United Methodist Church over the last seven years would be an understatement. The most recent skirmish over biblical interpretation at the called General Conference in St. Louis, has left this branch of Zion contentious, bruised and confused. What will happen for the capital “C” church is not yet known, but our Bishop will be live-streaming a dialogue tomorrow morning to answer what we know now and provide leadership into our shared future. What will happen here in Madison County will quite likely not change a great deal – and that’s good because in listening to Jesus, I hear that we have a lot to do.
My Systematic Theology professor framed our year long discussion about how God is at work in the world (i.e., our study of Theology) through the light of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. The “systematic” portion of the study of Theology is the arrangement of theological concepts into categories (e.g., Paterology, Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology) which allows for all aspects of this huge topic to be covered in an organized fashion. Thus, Christology (the study of the Christ) was the foundational component of how I learned to interpret the whole of the biblical canon. I came to understand that Jesus as the Christ (the Messiah) was the culmination of the biblical witness from before God spoke and all came into being to the end of time. This is what Jesus meant when He stated that he came to fulfill all the laws and the prophets.
Our scripture readings for today have us focused in on the glory of interacting with God and on the transformative nature of those interactions. We hear about the glow of Moses’ face and the dazzling white of the Transfiguration of Jesus. We also see the fulfillment of Jesus as the Christ as he stands conversing with Moses (who represents the Law/Torah) and Elijah (who represents all the Prophetic literature). When we understand Jesus as the culmination of all of God’s work in the world, then we can better understand God’s admonishment to us to “listen to Him!” rather than to anything or anyone else. Before we go any farther, in a moment of silence let’s listen together for God’s voice…
In our reading from Exodus, Moses has just finished making two replacement tablets to hold the Ten Commandments. Moses has conferred with God on the holy mountain and has descended to the people with the skin of his face shining. The glorious glow was such that all people who looked on Moses were in awe of him and of the way that his direct dialogue with God had transformed him. It was so overwhelming for the people to look upon Moses’ face that he took to wearing a veil at all times except when he talked with God. The veil allowed the people to focus on his words and to listen to what Moses told them about what God expected from them, rather than being distracted by the reflection of the glory of the LORD.
The scripture leading up to our Epistle reading today is contrasting the writings on the tablets of Moses to the writings of Christ which are, “…written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts….” He goes on to talk about how the gospel of Jesus Christ supersedes the older laws with a new covenant (a “New Testament”, if you will). As ministers of this new covenant we are able to look to Jesus without veiling our faces and thus be transformed into the image of the Christ/God through the activity of the Holy Spirit and our ability to listen and follow what we are told.
The aforementioned scriptures have been a preface to the Gospel reading today. This is an important story for us as we move along in our spiritual understanding of Jesus as both fully human and fully divine. Even more, it shows us that as Jesus is transfigured, both Moses and Elijah show up to emphasize that the Christ is the culmination of all of the teachings of the Law and Prophets. Peter interpreted the situation to be one that should be memorialized on that mountain. Knowing this, God intervenes and reminds the Disciples (and us) that the Christ is a living manifestation of God – one that must be active in the world. The voice of God states a similar line to what was spoken at Jesus’ Baptism, “…This is my Son, the Chosen (or Beloved),”; but then adds the emphatic command, “…listen to him!…” Jesus comes off the mountain as the Messiah and immediately performs an act of healing and community building.
In the Bible, most of the time that God or God’s messengers intercede in human affairs (which is known as a theophany) humans respond with abject fear and hiding one’s face. Think about Moses’ initial encounter with God at the burning bush, prophetic encounters of Elijah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc. How about Mary’s encounter with the angel Gabriel when she learns she is to bear the child of God or Luke’s rendition of the calling of Peter? The awesome and other-worldly nature; the holiness of God, immobilizes humans and reduces them to quivering lumps of unworthiness. Why is this so – if we believe that we serve a loving and redeeming God? It might be that the dominant narrative of gods in the ancient world was that they were capricious, oppressive, domineering, retributional and not in search of a right relationship with humans; they used humans for their own needs and then retreated to high places to feast until the next human was needed for their god-games.
The God of the Bible chose to be different and to live a different narrative with the world. God created all that is out of God’s great love (aka grace) and created humans so that they might learn to love God in return. Those humans that spend time listening to God become transformed by that relationship into persons of great holiness and wisdom. In our scriptures for today, the faces of Moses and Jesus change and radiate the glory of God. Jesus’ clothing begins to glow as well as he is transfigured – transformed into the Messiah in front of Peter, James and John. It would be reasonable to believe that both Moses and Jesus would want to stay in this close contact with God and continue to receive the blessings of such an encounter. Yet both knew that they had work to do in the world and that staying on the mountain top was not an option.
The relationship that both developed with God is available to us. This is what the Apostle Paul is telling the believers in Corinth. Later in the fourth chapter Paul writes, “…For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies….”
God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are absolutely awesome, transcendent and holy, but they are also immanent and available to us through our devotion to prayer, biblical study, worship, sharing in Holy Communion, and by actively engaging with what we hear. In response to Peter’s plan, God told Peter to listen to Jesus – and that’s what God is saying to our plans as well! God didn’t intend for Jesus to be made into an idol on a mountain top in ancient Palestine. God said emphatically to Peter and to all of us that the reason God became human in Jesus was to be in relationship with us, so that we might finally listen to what God had been trying to say throughout the Bible. That message is that God wants us to experience the glory of living in the kingdom of God while we are alive. We can do that by listening to Jesus and living our lives such that “the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies”. I am convinced that if we listen to the Christ and follow what we hear, we will all glow with the glory of God. That transformation will result in us putting away our irrelevant squabbles about biblical interpretation and taking on working toward the glory of the kingdom of God here on earth. Brothers and sisters in Christ…we have a lot of work to do. Amen!!