Sunday, August 6, 2006

Sermon -- 6 August 2006

Transfiguration DNJC—6 August 2006
St. Luke’s, Cedar Falls — 9:00
Ex 34:29-35 Ps 99 2Peter 1:13-21 Luke 9:28-36

Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep, but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory. . .

One of the symptoms of increasing age, I notice, is that our eyes no longer work as well as they once did. Mine never did work worth a hoot. I’ve worn glasses since I was seven. Even so, I began to notice many years ago now that my arms were getting shorter and shorter. (Some of you nod your heads, “Yes, yes, we’ve been there too!”) So I went to the eye doctor, and he said, you’re getting presbyopia, which is a nice way of saying Your Eyes Are Going Bad You Old Coot, and the management for presbyopia is bifocals. No, no! I railed. Not bifocals! I can’t do bifocals! (I thought I didn’t have many petty vanities, but apparently this was one of them.) So I didn’t get bifocals that time. But I did get a pair of reading glasses. I didn’t need them for routine stuff, but when I was doing serious reading, typically close-up, they helped a lot. But after a while I began to find myself whipping pairs of glasses on and off more and more frequently. So, after a couple of years, I finally broke down and went for the bifocals. And I really didn’t have too much trouble getting used to them, the dividing line and all that. Except that there was about a six-inch range out there that was too far for the lower half and too close for the top half. And that six-inch range was right where two things normally sat. One, my computer monitor; and two, the service book on the altar. Well, that won’t do at all, I said. So on the next round I bypassed trifocals and went straight for these progressive lenses, the “no line” kind. The neat thing about progressive lenses is that no matter how close or far away something is, it’s in focus if you just look through the right area of the lens. The not-neat thing is that “the right area of the lens” never allows you to hold your head at a normal angle for looking at that thing. Especially the service book on the altar. Or even reading, unless you hold your book clear down here. And you spend an awful lot of time rotating your head trying to sharpen your sight on something. One of these days I may have to go back to reading glasses. The interesting thing about reading glasses (as some of you know) is that they are very good for close-up stuff, but no good at all for far away, even more than three or four feet away. When you try to look away at distant things through reading glasses you want to quick look back at something close. It’s distressing to look at far off things with your reading glasses on. Makes your head spin. Makes your tummy feel funny.

Most of us go through life with our reading glasses on. We’re pretty good about seeing what’s close up, what’s right at-hand. We don’t see far-off stuff very well. We don’t see long-range. And we don’t even want to look. It scrambles our brains, it makes our stomach queasy, we quickly look away. We will not see long range. We refuse to do it. It’s upsetting. So we don’t look.

And yet, if we don’t look long range, we’re not going to have a very good handle on where we’re going. We all remember being told when we learned to drive a car (or else we discovered it for ourselves) that if we watch the road right in front of the car, we’ll wobble back and forth and be constantly correcting the steering. But if we watch down the road fifty yards or so, we automatically put the car in the right track to stay in our lane on the road.

What I’m talking about is vision. Most of us, most of the time, don’t have very much of it. Furthermore, we prefer it that way. It saves us a lot of trouble.

The feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, which we celebrate today, is also about vision. It starts off being about a vision, but what it ends up being about is vision.

Jesus takes Peter and James and John up the mountain with him while he prays, and as Jesus is praying Peter and James and John start dozing off. They’ve been with Jesus for some time now; they know him, they are familiar with his work and teaching, it has become routine to them, and besides, they’re tired. Jesus prays all the time. Nothing extraordinary about that. So they nod off a bit. But they are suddenly snapped fully awake by the brilliance of a vision of Jesus: they see him in a radically new way, they see him as he really is (or more nearly as he really is), they see Jesus in glory.

The reason why God gave them this vision, presumably, was to give them some vision. Vision has to do with being able to see where we’re going. Most of us like to root ourselves comfortably in the familiar past. Occasionally a few of us will dare to live somewhat adventurously in the present. We like to keep our reading glasses on, and to focus on the things that are immediately near-at-hand. But God is always calling us to strike out into the future, to share in building the Kingdom. God summons us to be changed, to be transfigured. God challenges us with a vision.

But to be able to have this kind of vision, to be able to see where we are going, to be able to see what all this is all about, to be able to see what our lives really mean, we have to be willing to see long-range, to put aside our near-vision reading glasses and look to the horizon, to look to the stars. We have to be willing to open ourselves to the possibility of transfiguration. We have to keep fully awake and pay attention, even when we’re drowsy; then we can see the glory.

What Peter and James and John saw in Jesus is actually just a hint of what is in store for us all—the glory of the Reign of God. If Jesus sometimes seems a little different from us, I wonder if maybe it isn’t really that he is so different, as that he is ahead of us, calling us to follow him into God’s future. Where he is, there we shall also be; as he is, thus we shall also be. The Feast of the Transfiguration celebrates the Vision of Christ—a most important vision, for that’s who we shall also be. The great early theologian St. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a human being fully alive”—that’s what we see in the transfigured Christ—“and full human life is the vision of God.”[1] And as St. John puts it, “what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”[2]

[1] Adv. Haer. IV.20.
[2] 1 John 3:2.

© 2006 William S. J. Moorhead

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