us begin this morning with some kind of a common
understanding of the word true. How do we know if
something is true? What are the characteristics of that
concept? (Take answers from the congregation.)
Okay, for many of us it has to
do with evidence. When we can see with our own eyes,
taste something, feel it, hear it. Or perhaps we can
repeat or reproduce the occurrence. Or, maybe we can
through one of our senses observe the results of. Right?
Such as we know it is true that snow is soft as it falls
from the sky when we feel it on our faces, but hail is
hard since we can see the results on the surface of our
cars. We live in an empirically provable age. And our
collection of things that are true keeps increasing as
science continues to delve deeper into the mysteries of
life and so forth. I mean we're long past the age of
being amazed to hear that the world is round. That's a
given. But it wasn't always so.
Now, what about stories that
people tell us. How do we know when a story is true? We
place trust in the story-teller that he or she is not
playing tricks on us. But even that is our evidence
because we have seen for ourselves that the individual
has been truthful in the past.
How about what we hear on the
news? Sometimes we get a bit skeptical, don't we? Cause
we know that evidence can be manipulated (especially in
our high-tech world) to express the opinions of the
newscasters, or the beliefs of the station owners.
Perhaps the government could tell us only what it feels
is in our best interests. While sometimes this is good
for national security, we know only too well thanks to
the history involving Nazi Germany or Communist
countries what abuses can happen.
How about the stories we read in
the Bible? How do we know they are true? Or do you know
they are true? I mean, we make the claim that this book
is the Word of God. One way is to use our rational,
intellectual minds and quickly form a propositional
equation, hmmm. Start with something you do know such
as, I believe in God. I have faith in Jesus Christ. And,
I trust the pastors and Sunday School teachers in my
life. They say that God dictated or inspired various
people to write these stories and histories and poems
and songs and prayers. Therefore, it must be true. Or
you could look at outside evidence - writings from the
non Judeo/Christian world, or archeological findings and
find that the Bible is even factual. For many people,
this is how we "know" the Bible is true. So, if I were
to ask you. Is this story of the transfiguration of
Jesus true? You would say, "Of course. I understand that
God can do anything. So, it must be true." This is an
intellectual exercise that is quite characteristic of
our scientific minds. If you have come to believe the
Bible stories are true by walking this path, then you
have stood outside the Scriptures, analyzed them and
their evidence and come to believe they are true. This
is a very good and necessary piece of your faith
What I next want to ask you
though would be, "Are they true?" You may say, well
aren't you being redundant. But now I am not interested
in knowing if you believe this is a historically
accurate account. Nor do I care if it is possible within
the bounds of our knowledge of our physical realm OR
miraculously. I would say, "Do you live within the
reality of what these stories portray for you? Are they
true for you!
This is the last Sunday of the
season of Epiphany that has declared for us through
Scriptural stories and liturgy and hymnody the divinity
and lordship of this human infant now man. In 3 short
days we will begin our Lenten journey. We will allow
Jesus to walk through our lives in his passion, his
crucifixion, and the resurrection.
We should not discount or
short-change this transfiguration story in the total
narrative of Jesus' life. It is not just a nifty glimpse
of the coming glory of the Kingdom of heaven in later
days. It is not just a clever revelation of Jesus'
connection to the whole of Israel's history by his
conversation with Elijah and Moses.
NO! It is pivotal and crucial
for the story of the disciples in the gospel of Mark.
Throughout, we see again and again the disciples'
inability to grasp the full significance of what was
going on. If we begin in chapter 3 where his family
believes he has gone out of his mind when he was
ministering to such a huge crowd that he could not get a
chance to eat. After the parable of the sower in chapter
4, Jesus exclaimed to the disciples, "Do you not
understand this parable?? And he went on to explain it
and continued with many others. When Jesus rebuked the
storm and the wind, he asked them why they were afraid.
Do you still have no faith? In chapter six, Jesus fed
5,000 and later walked on water, but still they did not
understand. In 8, Jesus spoke to them about the leaven
of the Pharisees and they thought he was talking about
having no bread. "Do you still not perceive or
understand?" "Do you have eyes but fail to see, ears
that you fail to hear?"
And yet, among the accounts of
casting out demons, healing the crowds of sick people,
stilling storms, feedings thousands, and walking on
water, we find the stories of a man who was deaf who
could now hear and speak and those who were blind, could
now see. Finally, Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do
people say that I am?" And then he asked, "Who do you
say that I am?" Peter says, "the Messiah."
Jesus is thinking, yes, Peter,
yes, this is true, but that is not all that I am. But it
is all you can grasp for now.
We often feel a sense of
frustration at the disciples who did not seem to get it.
After all that they had experienced, all the longs days
and nights together on the road. We shake our heads at
Peter's attempt at hospitality on that mountain top,
wanting to build shelter for their honored guests. But
how else could he react? It isn't everyday that you meet
someone that lives in heaven, let alone three of them?
You see, every human does a
normal, unconscious thing as we grow up. We take what we
know and experience of the world and build a mental
structure that takes into account cause and effect.
Then, everything that occurs finds its place within that
structure, fortifying observations. Now, my structure is
going to be different from a veiled woman's that lives
in Afghanistan, or a starving child in Africa. Not
completely - we all want to live and we all want to be
loved, but with significant differences. But when an
event happens that does not fit my normal mode of
processing, my foundation takes a hit and I scramble to
make sense of the event. Until I can adapt, I react as
best I can using my normal responses.
What happened for the disciples
was an unexpected realization of who Jesus was. An
earthly manifestation of God's glory. An epiphany. Now,
for the last couple years, Jesus had definitely
transcended their understanding of reality raising the
dead and walking on water and such things like that. But
now the glowing clothes, again the voice from heaven
declaring Jesus the beloved son, could only be the glory
of God right in front of their eyes. And there with
Jesus were two people long ago gathered to the Father.
Yet, the scriptures tell us these two had also been
witnesses to God's glory. In Exodus 33, Moses went up to
the mountain for the second time. He prayed to God to
allow him to see God's glory. Moses needed and wanted to
know God in the depths of his being. The journey ahead
was to be a long and arduous one. And God amazingly said
yes, Moses. "I will make my goodness pass before you and
will proclaim before you the name, the Lord. and While
my glory passes by I will cover you with my hand until I
have passed by. Then I will take away my hand and you
shall see my back."
Then there was Elijah who while
fleeing the wrath of Jezebel heard the word of the Lord
telling him to go up to a place on the mountain for the
Lord was about to pass by. While there the mountains
around him split open, rocks broke, there was a great
wind, earthquake and fire all preceded total silence.
And it was in the silence that God told Elijah what he
was to do.
So now, the disciples Peter,
James and John were among those who had experienced
God's glory. They had had a revelation of the fullness
of Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ, God. Did they
understand now? No, of course not. Who can understand
But that didn't matter. They
continued to live within the reality of what had been
revealed to them. WE believe the transfiguration is true
historically, but we know it was true in the lives of
the disciples. They were bound by God's glory. God would
not let them go. God had allowed them to see the
heavenly glory of Jesus. Why? I don't know. But I do
know it sustained them as they entered a most difficult
period of their relationship with him - his arrest, his
trial, his crucifixion. Jesus came again to them after
the resurrection. And from then on their stories are
powerful witnesses to the truth of Jesus.
So, again let me ask you if it
is true for you? Is Jesus transformed from an historical
person in the Bible to God in your life? Is Jesus' story
the one around which everything in your life revolves?
Are you bound by God's revealed glory in Jesus? I ask
you because you don't tell me enough. But rarely do I
hear the name Jesus as the operative word in your news.
Maybe it's because we don't spend enough time together
in Bible study, I dunno.
But, I'm going to quickly tell
you a story of me. And, I will leave it up to you to
decide if it is true, or if it is true. Okay? Ten years
ago. I guess I had been Lutheran for about a year. It
was in the season of advent and I was sitting with the
choir in the back of the sanctuary. And, the pastor -
who had no assistant - was preparing for communion. I
saw a man who I had never seen before wearing an alb
looking at me. He opened wide his arms and walked down
through the pews and through the people and I heard in
my mind the words, "These are my people, love them." And
disappeared. Now, the only rational explanation I have
is that I nodded off during the sermon - oh you who sit
in the back pews Stay awake!! God may be calling you
But it doesn't matter, because
that dream has never left me. It haunted me for a year
before I finally talked to the pastor about career
ministry and the long discernment process. That image
clarified a long love of the church and reoriented my
life. Would you say it is historically a true event? I
don't know. But it certainly is true in my life. I came
to know and understand God very differently after that.
I do not know where I shall be in ministry when I leave
Feagaville. But that story travels with me and I
continue to feel strongly that I am called.