Bound by Glory

Let 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 journey.

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 God!

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 next!

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.

Read other sermons by Pastor Joan