"It is Good for us to be Here, but..."
“At the heart of the Christian experience of God there is a mystery, and the only possible response to such mystery is worship…Worship is a response to beauty, love, to human need, to our deepest fears, to our greatest joys.” This quotation is taken from one of the books (Welcome to the Episcopal Church: An Introduction to Its Faith, History, and Worship) that we are using for our Episcopal Church 101 class and seems especially appropriate as we consider the implications of today’s story of Jesus’ transfiguration.
I find this quotation that claims that worship is the only response to the mystery of God appropriate because of all lessons in scripture the story of Jesus’ transfiguration is possibly the most mysterious. As a preacher, I could preach on this text every Sunday for a year and still have plenty of material. Don’t worry, I plan to only preach one sermon today!
The story of Jesus’ transfiguration draws from the tradition of the law and the prophets through Moses and Elijah and points to the death and resurrection of Jesus. The transfiguration is evidence that the same God who tapped Moses to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery into the land of promise appears on the mountain today. And that same God who called to Moses appears with the One who will deliver all from sin and death by his dying and rising to life again. The same God who said Elijah’s appearing again would signal the coming of the messianic era speaks today, through a cloud and says about Jesus, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him!”
All of the things that God has promised through the law and the prophets are revealed in great spectacle on this mountain. But the disciples almost miss the moment. Scripture says they were sleepy. And with their eyes half open they recognize the great mystery of this moment. And with his eyes half open, Peter suggests that they set up camp on this mountain. He said, “it is good for us to be here.”
But as scripture says, Peter didn’t know what he was talking about. Peter’s greatest strength is perhaps his greatest weakness. His enthusiasm often causes him to get ahead of himself. Peter misses the point. While it is good for Peter and his disciples to be here on the mountain, it is not the permanent dwelling place of God. The end of our journey with God is not on a mountain top at least not in this earthly life.
The next day Jesus leads his disciples back down the mountain where they are immediately met by a father who is pleading for the disciples and Jesus to heal his son who is possessed by a demon. After the disciples fail to bring healing, Jesus says some pretty startling words, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.”
This almost sounds like the end of an argument between family members. I can’t believe you haven’t figured out how to work that by now after all these years. You’re doing it all wrong. Just let me do it!
But this statement (how much longer?) also seems to carry the entire weight of the salvation story behind it. The God who parted the Red Sea and remained with Israel in the wilderness and led them to the land of promise, the God who stuck with the people when they insisted on having a divine monarchy, the God who watched his people fail again and again is crying out through the humanity of Jesus and says, “how much longer?!” And then that same God, through Jesus, does what we have failed to do—bring healing not only to this boy but to the world.
The mystery of God’s great love for his people and his creation does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. And the mystery of how God’s love does what we cannot do is summed up in the heart of our worship when we proclaim the mystery of faith, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. God’s long-term project to bring healing to the world is accomplished once and for all through Jesus Christ our Lord.
If we are not willing to live into this mystery, then we are in great danger of missing the point of why God sent Jesus to live among us. If we are not willing to engage in the mystery of the transfiguration, then we will fall into the same trap as Peter and the disciples.
On one hand, we will fall into the trap of believing that God sent Jesus to keep us insulated from the sin and death of the world by calling us to dwell on the holy mountain forever. We will fall into the trap that many Christians have fallen into and believe that we are simply to hideout in our sanctuaries and keep our hands clean from an otherwise dirty world and wait for Jesus to scoop us up to heaven in the rapture.
On the other hand, we will fall into the trap of believing that we can heal the world through our own good efforts, through our own righteousness. While we might be inspired by the good works of Jesus and think we can save the world, we are not God and Jesus is more than a good example for good works.
It is God working through the flesh of Jesus that brings healing to the world because the flesh of Jesus does what we cannot do. The human flesh of Jesus is subject to the same broken world as we are but Jesus’ flesh lives without sin. The human flesh of Jesus can do what we cannot do despite our best efforts and that is act without sin. This is important because the only righteousness that can really be trusted to bring healing in this broken world is the righteousness of God in Christ—the only one who overcame sin and death by his rising again.
I’ll say again the only response to the mystery of God’s salvation in Christ is worship. Our worship of God draws us closer to the heart of Christ and his mission to heal a broken world. Our worship of God gives us a vision of that holy city where there is no sighing or pain but only life everlasting. Our worship tells that a host of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven stand night and day to praise the only one who is able complete the plan of salvation—the Lamb who was slain.
Friends, it is good for us to be here. It is good for us to respond to the mystery of God through worship. But the worship of the God that we know in Christ calls us down the mountain. The God we worship in the beauty of this place, in the beauty of our liturgy and hymnody, in the beauty of holiness calls us out those two front doors to witness to how the living God is healing this broken and sinful world through loving touch of Christ.
Everything that we do from here is about pointing to the One who does what we cannot do. Everything that we do from here is about encountering the father whose son is possessed by a demon and showing them the glory of Jesus. What we do from here is about encountering the many, many people in his world who do not know love and the many, many people who do not know how to love and show them how the loving touch of Christ can transform even the most broken hearted.
God calls us forth from this place where we are illumined by God’s Word and Sacraments to go out into a broken and sinful world and shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory. And it is the radiance of Christ’s glory that will bring healing to the world. It is the radiance of Christ’s glory shining on each of you that will draw people to worship the God of all truth. And by our worship of God Almighty, we will grow in the mystery of faith, we will grow more and more sure that God is reconciling the whole world to himself through the touch of Christ’s unending love. Amen.