Saturday, February 14, 2015

February 15, Transfiguration, The Mission #11, You Can See It

This is the Transfiguration Window at Durham Cathedral in England.

2 Kings 2:1-12, Psalm 50:1-6, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, Mark 9:2-9

Our gospel lesson starts at chapter 9 verse 2. I don’t know why the editors of the lectionary left out verse 1. It looks to me like verse 1 tells us what the Transfiguration was about, at least in part.

Here’s verse 1: “And Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Kingdom of God having come in power.’ And after six days, Jesus took Peter and James and John and led them up into a high mountain by themselves.” 

And there they saw what Jesus said they would see, they saw it in his body all lit up, they saw the Kingdom of God having come in power. You know the connection between power and light. When the lights come on is how you know the power is on.

Now let’s call Peter “Pete”. Do you remember what Pete Redell said last Sunday? Where you here for it? He told us he could see the Kingdom of God! He said that the reason he does all this volunteering in church is because when he does it he can see the Kingdom of God.

Had Pete been reading our lessons ahead of time? Or was Pete channeling Peter? Or (and now I am serious) was Pete bearing witness that Jesus has done some work on him, that Jesus has done this in his life, that the Lord Jesus has given him eyes to see the Kingdom of God revealed in ordinary places?

Pete said something else last week. He listed four things that make a church go. The first was belief in God, the second was the mission, the third was money, and the fourth was volunteers. Now you might make a different list, but when Pete talked about mission, and you all responded, then I thought, great. You’re making mission a high priority, so I can bring this sermon series to a close. Mission accomplished! So I will be starting a new series for Lent, next Sunday, and calling it The Walk to the Cross. But one last sermon on The Mission.

The mission of God is the kingdom of God. What Pete Redell hath joined together, let no man put asunder. The kingdom of God is the Bible’s most important image for the mission that God is on, and that’s in both Testaments. Jesus kept proclaiming it because the Jewish people wanted it, and they wanted it because the Torah and the Prophets told them to.

The kingdom of God doesn’t show up so much in the epistles of St. Paul, but his equivalent is the phrase, “the power of the resurrection.” Notice that word “power” again. That’s the same power that lights up Our Lord in the Transfiguration, and the power which, in our Epistle reading, gives the light to the glory of Christ. This glory is not a static glory, but dynamic, like sunlight, pouring out energy and giving life, the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, which Peter, James, and John could see there on the mountaintop, they could see the Kingdom of God having come in power.

The Kingdom of God, the Reign of God, the Realm of God, the Dominion of God, the Commonwealth of God, the Sovereignty of God, call it what you want, this is the summation of God’s active mission in the world. God’s sovereignty is a saving sovereignty. God is on a mission to save the world, and heal it and cleanse it from the sin and death that we brought into it. The coming of the kingdom is how the mission is accomplished. And that’s why Our Lord taught us to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We pray, "Accomplish your mission, O God."

God’s kingdom comes not just by God sending it. God brings it, it comes with God, God comes. God came, in that man Jesus of Nazareth, God incarnate, the Incarnation was God’s mission trip into the world to save the world. And as we’ve been seeing in this sermon series, God saves the world not in the gross conglomerate, but as communities of individuals.

God saves you. God makes you a citizen of his kingdom already before his kingdom has fully come. You are not just the object of God’s mission but also a subject in God’s mission, for Christ has made you kings and priests, the power is to empower you. You have freedom in this kingdom, and discretion, and you get some say in it. You get lit up yourself!

I’m guessing that the burning power of God’s kingdom that was in Elijah and Moses in their own day is why they were there on the mountain, but St. Mark doesn’t explain it. Neither does he describe how the Lord Jesus was transfigured, only to offer the metaphor of his clothes getting dazzling white, whiter than any detergent could make them, meaning there was no natural way available to make his clothes so bright. Does this mean that his clothes were lit up from the inside?

The art of glass-making was not yet developed enough for St. Mark to have used glass as his metaphor. But let’s imagine a stained-glass window. The bright-white robe of Jesus is illuminated by the light shining through the window. That’s the light of the glory of God and it lights him up as it shines through him. And his shining illuminates the rooms and the spaces of your lives. Everything is illuminated. You can see the kingdom of God in your life. His light gives you enlightenment. That is the Christian version of enlightenment, to receive in yourself the light that shines through him.

This stained-glass window is meant to be looked at, but more, to be looked through. It’s less an illustration than an icon. The window is way up there, and you look through the window into heaven. You gaze at the figures of Elijah and Moses in the window in order for to see the two of them in heaven. The window is solid, but it’s not a wall. It’s a portal, it’s a star-gate.

So now imagine the Lord Jesus as a door of glass, a door that swings both ways, and God comes through him this way in among us, and you go through him that way to enter his kingdom as it comes.

It’s scary. Simon Peter was afraid to go there. I think he was like me. The more he’s afraid, the more he talks, and he talks when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. He says it was great to be there, but why don’t we take a break now. Why don’t we just gather some branches and leaves and make some sukkoth booths for you three saints and we’ll just hang out with you for a while. Peter was suggesting hospitality because he felt like he needed a safe place, he needed some sanctuary.

I sometimes wonder if our very positive missions of sanctuary and hospitality can be a similar temptation for us at Old First. That we like to hang out in our safe place and stay back from daring missions that might be more challenging. We can be fearful. Which is why it’s great that our 2nd Mission Team is moving ahead on adult education events that deal with issues controversial. Race, justice, sexuality, climate change — these issues are scary and they may raise tensions among us. But let's go there.

While it’s true that the mission of God is certainly for our own healing and peace and comfort, it’s also true that the mission of God goes out into the world to engage the troubling issues of the world. And this is true in your personal life, when the kingdom of God engages your own privacy. The mission of God is scary because Jesus warns us that you may die from it if you give yourself to it. And yet you won’t let it go, because you know it leads to life, and it keeps on calling you.

My friend Josh is the pastor of the Reformed Church in Woodstock, NY, and he said to me this week that the Transfiguration shows us that there is something very personal about the Kingdom of God; it’s not a theory, it’s not an ideology, it’s not a utopia, it’s rather all wrapped up in this person of Jesus.

And that’s the first mission of our church, our mission which takes priority among our other very valid missions, and this is to keep holding up to your view this person of Jesus Christ, this very human being in whom God has come to us, and to listen to him who is God’s Beloved Son.

So we will focus on that for the next few weeks of Lent. We will follow him on his specific mission, his personal version of the mission of God, on his walk to the cross. He has to go through the gory to get to the glory. He has to suffer the crucifixion to win the resurrection. And why will he do this? What is his motivation? He is the Beloved. That’s what God calls him. He is the capital B Beloved. He embodies love. Even the light in him is love.

He shows us the motivation for God’s mission in the world, for God so loves the world. Conglomerate and person, global and one-by-one. And when you see the kingdom of God, you will see that all the power in it is the power of Love, capital L Love. It is the Love of the God who calls you and says, “Come in with me.”

Copyright © 2015 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

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