Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sermon for the Transfiguration of Our Lord (February 15, 2015)

Wordle: Untitled

The Transfiguration of Our Lord – Series B (February 15, 2015)
“Exalted on the Mountain” (Psalm 99)

The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!
The Lord is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
Let them praise your great and awesome name!
Holy is he!
The King in his might loves justice.
You have established equity;
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.
Exalt the Lord our God;
worship at his footstool!
Holy is he!
Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called upon his name.
They called to the Lord, and he answered them.
In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them;
they kept his testimonies
and the statute that he gave them.
O Lord our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
Exalt the Lord our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the Lord our God is holy! [1]

            It was not all that long ago (about seven weeks to be exact) that we once again celebrated the Incarnation of Our Lord.  The Son of God humbled himself and took on human flesh.  Born in a stable in Bethlehem, the place the prophet Micah said was “too little to be among the clans of Judah” (Micah 5:2).  Born to a poor virgin girl from the village of Nazareth, the place of which Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46).  From his hometown, he traveled throughout Galilee, where he preached, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).  In the fishing village of Capernaum, he showed how the kingdom of God was at hand in him.  He taught with divine authority.  He cast out demons, proving his power over the forces of evil.  He healed the sick, proving his power over the brokenness that sin had brought into the world.  And yet looking at him, there was nothing that would have distinguished him from the rest of the people.  Dusty robes.  Calloused hands.  Body odor.  Dirty feet.  He didn’t appear very exalted.  On the contrary, he appeared quite humble.
            For a moment, that all changed.  Jesus led three of his disciples upon a high mountain. There he no longer appeared as a humble man.  Now, he was exalted.  He was transfigured.  Changed.  The dust of the roads of Galilee and Judea that dirtied his garments disappeared in the shining radiance of his divine glory.  Clear evidence of his dual nature as True Man and True God in the same person.
            On the mount of Transfiguration, Jesus is flanked by Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest saints of the Old Testament, now appearing in glory.  Both Moses and Elijah had previously encountered God on another mountain, Mt. Sinai to be exact.  Moses stands as a representative of the Law.  Elijah stands as a representative of the prophets.  Jesus has come to fulfill all that the Law and the Prophets had promised, that God himself would come to save his people from sin, death, and hell and give them an everlasting kingdom.
            “The Lord reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake” the psalmist says.  In the presence of God, you better tremble.  You have every reason to shake in your boots when the holy God shows himself.  You are sinful.  God is not.  “Holy is he.”  Therefore the disciples were “terrified” when they viewed this sight on the mountain.  And this was not the first time they were afraid in the presence of Jesus.  After Jesus calmed the storm, the disciples “were filled with great fear” (Mark 4:40).  During another storm, they saw him walking on the water, and they “were terrified” (Mark 6:50).  And after a miraculous catch of fish arranged by Jesus, Peter recognized his own unholiness and fell at the Lord’s knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:16).
            One of God’s attributes is omnipresence.  He is present everywhere.  Yet in the tabernacle and later in the temple, Yahweh promised that his presence would be located in the Holy of Holies, the place behind the curtain where the Ark of the Covenant would be situated.  There, the Lord God would be “enthroned upon the cherubim,” flanked by the sculpted angels on the mercy seat that sat on top of the ark.  From there, the Lord promised to meet with Moses and speak to him and tell him what to say to the people (Ex. 25:22).  On the Day of Atonement, the high priest would sprinkle sacrificial blood from bulls and goats over the mercy seat, thus covering over the sins of the people (Lev. 16:11-19).
            Peter wanted to build three tabernacles, one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.  But that would not have been appropriate.  Jesus is the tabernacle.  He is the presence of God.  “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,” St. Paul writes (Col. 1:19).  There is no more need for tabernacles and temples.  And here he is, exalted for a moment with his own divine nature shining, not a reflected glory that needed to be veiled as it was for Moses was when he came down the mountain.
            Actually, the glory of Jesus also had to be veiled for a time when he came down the mountain.  He had an appointment with another mountain, not one as high as this one, but one much more important.  This one was not really a mountain, but a raised elevation outside the walls of Jerusalem.  This one looked up to Mt. Zion where the temple stood in its glory, although a fading glory, for with Jesus it ceased to serve its purpose.  On Mt. Calvary, Jesus was not flanked by Moses or Elijah.  On Mt. Calvary, Jesus was not enthroned between two cherubim.  Instead, he was enthroned as the King of the Jews between two accursed criminals.  This was the Holy of Holies.  There, his blood was shed at the mercy seat of the cross.  There, on the cross, Jesus was lifted up above the earth, his footstool.  And from that cross, his blood dripped down upon his footstool to redeem the sins of the whole world.
            “The King in his might loves justice.  You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob,”  the psalmist declares.  “You were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.”  In Jesus, the justice of God over our unholiness has been met.  The wages of sin has been paid in full in the death of the sinless Son of God.  Our wrongdoings were avenged by the terrible price that God himself paid for them … the death of his only Son.  That is God’s equity.  That is the way he displays his righteousness.  He is indeed a just God, but he is also a forgiving God.  “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).       
            This is what we will be further contemplating in the coming season of Lent.  The voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son; listen to him.”  Each Wednesday night we will listen to the seven words or statements of Jesus from the cross.  We will learn from them and have our faith nourished by them.  The Transfiguration of Jesus was a preparation of sorts for Jesus as he faced the cross.  It prepared him for his journey down the mountain and gave the disciples a preview of the resurrection, something they did not fully understand until after the fact … besides which, Jesus told them not to say anything about it until he had risen from the dead.  For us, the Transfiguration is therefore a fitting conclusion to the Epiphany season and a preparation for our Lenten journey to Good Friday, knowing that the joy of Easter is always in view.
            “The Lord is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.”  Zion is the hill on which Jerusalem sat, where the temple was built, the place where God promised to dwell with his people.  With Jesus as our temple, Zion is his Church.  He dwells among us.  The table of the Lord becomes the Holy of Holies where the very body and blood by which he redeemed us is given to us to eat and drink for forgiveness, life, and salvation.  And one day we will be brought into the eternal Zion, the new Jerusalem, where we will sing our eternal Alleluias with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven (Rev. 21:1-4).
            “Exalt the Lord our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he!”
            “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!”
            Kneel down today at his footstool and receive the body and blood of your exalted King.  Worship him in Zion.  Holy is he … and you are made holy through him.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Ps 99:1–9). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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