Following is the manuscript Rev. KJ Norris wrote for Sunday, March 3, 2019. It is not an exact transcription of the audio file, but the intent and preacher are the same. All images are used with permission as found on Pixabay. These images were also used in worship and are referenced in the audio file.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. I was taking a little informal poll before church started today. I went around asking: have you ever heard of Transfiguration Sunday? What do you think of when I say: Transfiguration?
It’s not a big holiday of the church like Easter. It’s not even as well known as some of the other things coming up like Palm Sunday or Ash Wednesday. A few people said: yeah, I’ve heard of that. Isn’t that when Jesus glowed or something?
Yep. That’s right. This is the day that we celebrate Jesus glowed.
Now, when we say it like that: there is a special Sunday dedicated to Jesus glowing, it sounds kind of bizarre. Why would we want to celebrate Jesus glowing? And more to the point, why was Jesus glowing?
It’s one of those days where we need a little help to understand what on earth the Bible is talking about before we can even begin to understand how Jesus might be speaking to us and inviting us in to know him more this day.
So, we read a lot of other Scriptures today, too. Thank you to our Scripture readers.
A regular attender started by reading from Exodus. This is the first time in the Bible where we see someone glowing.
Perhaps you remember that Moses, after he lead the people out of bondage, he brought them to the foot of Mt. Sinai where he had first encountered God (the burning bush). And Moses climbed back up the mountain and met with God again. And God gave him a beautiful gift: the 10 Commandments.
And then Moses came back down the mountain. But by the time he got back down, something was different. His face was shining!
Honestly, when I first heard this story as a kid, I thought: that’s so weird. He was glowing?
But now that I’m older, I don’t think it’s so odd anymore. I too have experienced people glowing, well sort of. In fact, we as a culture notice that sometimes people glow. Women, when they are growing life inside of them, when they are pregnant and so excited to be expecting a new life into this world, we can often see their excitement. We say: wow, you are glowing!
Or parents and grandparents (and nannies): when little ones whom we love are in a special show. Let’s say there is a five year old who gets dressed in her little tutu and walks out on stage to raise her arms with all the other little boys and girls learning to dance. We watch her with so much pride that others can see it on our faces. We saying: wow, you are beaming with pride.
Or a third one, when we meet someone, someone really special. Someone who we think might just change our lives forever. And we get that feeling inside of us where we think we might just burst into song. And we go to work the next day after that first date and people say to us, “Wow. You look happy. What happened to you: you are positively glowing.”
Right? So we have seen this before. We know that it is possible for people to glow.
People glow when they experience life in an abundant way. People glow when they are filled with joy from being in the presence of another whom they are thankful for. People glow when they know they are loved and are in love.
So, how about Moses. Did Moses experience life in an abundant way? Yes, he encountered the one whom created all life and who is continuously recreating us!
Did Moses experience the joy of seeing another whom he loved? Yes, he was in the very presence of God! That’s way better than a dance recital.
Did Moses know he was loved and did he love in return. There is no greater love than the love of God. When we experience God’s love, we are completely at peace. We we experience God, we cannot help but love God in return for God is truly great, truly awesome, truly full. There is nothing like God. There are no words which can express God’s Majesty. But we know that feeling that comes to us from being in God’s presence.
So Moses glowed.
And if we can see the radiance coming from people on earth who have experienced the beauty of this life, can you imagine how much Moses must have glowed when he saw the presence of God? It must have been 10Xs maybe even 100Xs greater than any glow we have ever seen on another person.
Christian have tried to make art to show the overwhelming experience of seeing Moses with this glow. Most of the art is like this (up on the screen). It has Moses with lightning bolts coming out of his head. This is some intense glow—he walked around as if lightening was coming out of his head. Or this one with a halo. Moses glowed so much he looked like he had a ring of light above him.
Or sometime Moses in art looks like this: (horns on his head). Yeah, so, as you know, the Old Testament wasn’t written in English, it was written in Hebrew and for a while people really had no idea what the Bible was saying when it said Moses glowed. It’s weird, right. So, the translators did the best they could to put this oddity into language. And what they said was Moses had horns. We now know it’s a translation error when Hebrew was turned into Latin. Instead of saying Moses’ face glowed, the translators thought it said something like: and Moses had horns. So in a lot of old art you will see Moses with horns on his head.
Yeah, I’m thankful that didn’t actually happen.
Of course, our art can’t really show us what it was like, but the Bible says to us, it was really extreme, so extreme that Moses felt a need to cover his face from the people. So he hid his face from them with a veil. Moses didn’t want anyone to see how his life, how his very being had been transformed by being in the presence of God. So, instead he hid from them.
Paul talks about this later in 2 Corinthians. Moses hid himself from the people. He pulled this veil over his face & the people never really knew how God transforms us. They didn’t want to really know.
And Paul says, it wasn’t just Moses that was hidden from the people. Moses had come down the mountain to bring God’s Law, God’s very good and perfect word to the people so that they would learn to know God’s ways and walk in God’s truth and most importantly, learn to love God and to love their neighbors because God is the very nature of love.
But this, too, was hidden from the people. They never really came to fully understand the ways of God, the person of God.
That is, until Jesus came.
And that brings us to Luke 9 to the story of the Transfiguration.
So, Jesus takes the disciples on a hike. Not all of the disciples, actually, but a few: Peter, James, and John. All follow Jesus up the mountain. Now, this should remind us of someone, who else went up the mountain. Moses. Right. And this often happens. If we don’t understand something in the New Testament Scriptures, we should often go back and read the Old Testament. It will help us to understand the New.
So they start on this journey. And who are they going to meet? God. (Just like Moses).
So they climb up, and let me tell you, it’s a workout. This is not an easy climb. It’s hard. My sister Kimberly has recently gotten into hiking. If you have time after the service today, talk to her about it; this is her new hobby and she loves it! She’s been dragging me on some of these hikes. I actually love hiking. I love being in the woods. But Kimberly has found this hobby in the middle of winter. I am not a winter person. I’m telling you, climbing the mountain is a labor of love.
If Jesus hadn’t pulled them along, I don’t think they would have gone.
So, the disciples get to the top, and they are really tired. The gospel says in verse 32, they were weighed down with sleep. But Jesus has important business to do. He talks with Moses and Elijah about—did you catch it—verse 31—about his “departure.” Jesus is preparing for Lent (we are doing that in our own way today).
But anyway, while they are up there, some amazing things happen. Jesus changes somehow. He is transfigured. In Matthew’s gospel it says Jesus metamorfwqh—metamorphotha–like a butterfly (Matthew 17:2).
Something happens to Jesus. And it’s related to this idea of glowing, but it’s not the same. He’s how the Greek Orthodox Church pictured it. Jesus isn’t just glowing like Moses. He doesn’t just have one of those halos. No, he is completely transformed—he is transfigured—hence, Transfiguration Sunday. This is what we are celebrating today.
They go up to meet God, and they do indeed meet God, but who is God—Jesus. Jesus allows them to see his full glory.
Actually, I love the butterfly metaphor because caterpillars are always butterflies in a sense. When caterpillars hatch they have everything in themselves already to be butterflies, but we cannot see it until they go through metamorphosis, this word the Bible uses for Jesus. Until they change we cannot see what is already inside them.
The same is true with Jesus, in a sense. Jesus is always fully human and fully God, but in the transfiguration, in this moment up on the mountain top, Jesus pulls off the veil, so to speak. He allows the disciples to see a little bit more of himself. Jesus let’s us see the radiance of God within Himself.
Jesus isn’t just glowing like Moses, beaming from being in the presence of God, Jesus is actually radiating the very light of God. It’s like this love, this light, this power is shining forth from him as he discusses going to cross for our salvation.
Jesus loves us so much, he plans to go to the cross. Jesus intends to go to Jerusalem to give up his life for our sake, and before he does, he makes sure that his disciples have seen his glory. He makes sure they know. If the miracles haven’t convinced them; if the way he forgives people—something only God can do hasn’t convinced them; if his love for all people hasn’t convinced them, now the disciples cannot deny, Jesus is God. Jesus radiates like God in the burning bush. They have actually seen the glory of God in Jesus. Hallelujah.
That’s what we celebrate on Transfiguration Sunday. Jesus is God. Jesus has revealed the glory of God within him.
Encourage you to do three things today:
1) Climb the mountain.
Doing this will look different for every person. Perhaps you actually do want to climb a physical mountain like Kimberly. Maybe you want to spend time in God’s good creation and create space to hear God’s voice. For most of us, though, I think this might be a metaphorical mountain. Perhaps you will give something up for Lent; you will begin a practice of fasting. Perhaps it will be to take time in prayer or Scripture reading. Perhaps you will commit yourself to service.
Whatever mountain you chose to climb is beautiful. Let us al encourage one another to climb something though, to press forward so that we might see God more clearly, just as the disciples did.
2) Be in God’s loving presence.
Moses’s face glowed because he had encountered the One True God. He met God and experienced the deepest love one could ever know. God loves you. God created you and has a plan and a purpose for you. Let us spend time this Lent simply being in God’s presence, knowing we are loved. Wake up every morning knowing that God’s mercy is new every morning and you are loved.
3) Let your light shine.
And lastly, I encourage you to let your light shine. Moses didn’t do this. Moses chose to hide his face away from others, not fully showing them that he had been transformed completely by an encounter with the Lord. Let us not make that same mistake. Let us show others how God has transformed our lives. Let us tell them about the deep love of God. Let us use this season of Lent to let Christ’s light shine through us.
Let us pray.