Sermon: Astounding Glory

This past week I re-watched the movie, “Come Sunday.” I am not sure how many of you have seen the movie, but it follows the real-life journey of Carlton Pearson, a minister, who has an awakening. He faces a real struggle of faith and friendship. He is the pastor of a rather sizable multi-race church in the Black Pentecostal movement and has risen to the position of Bishop. As successful as he is, he begins to doubt. He shares his doubts with his congregation one Sunday morning, and they start to turn on him and over a period of several weeks he starts to lose people from the church. His trusted friends and his mentor abandon him in a story-line that sounds very much like what happened to Jesus the night of his Crucifixion. Now I am not going to tell you how it ends, or what his struggle was, but I would recommend the movie to you.

I have a confession to make this morning. There was a time when I was not as open to other ideas as I am now, there was a time in ministry when I was a Pharisee and believed that those who did not see things the way I did were not going to be with me in God’s presence. There was a time when I thought I had all the answers and yes, there was a time when I persecuted those, even those I loved, for not seeing things the way I did. I wish I could tell you that my transformation was as dramatic as Paul’s was when he was thrown from his horse, but in a way I was knocked off my high horse and realized that I was wrong, not entirely wrong, but wrong and I had to be willing to accept that, and what was to come because of my transfiguration.

What followed was a season of my life that was not pleasant and one that I would not wish on anyone, but it is part of my story, it is part of who I am, but it cost me, and it wounded me for a long time.

This morning we heard the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top. This is the last Sunday before Lent begins, and the story of the Transfiguration is a pivotal story in the life of Jesus. The transfiguration marks a turning point where Jesus fixes his gaze on Jerusalem and beings the walk toward his death on the cross.

He takes Peter, James, and John with him up the mountain and asks them to wait for him while he goes on a little further. He begins to pray and is joined by Moses and Elisha the great prophets and, Scripture tells us, his face changed, and his clothing became a dazing white. The same happened to Moses when he climbed the mountain when he received the 10 Commandments. You see, a change takes place when you are in the presence of God, a transformation, a transfiguration takes places maybe not in the physical sense as with Jesus and Moses but certainly in a spiritual sense.

Jesus went up the mountain to pray, as he usually did after a trying time in ministry. But this was not a usual time of prayer for him because he was going to ask permission from God, his father, to begin the last phase of his ministry if you will.  Commentators on this passage suggest that Jesus knew his time was drawing near and he went up that mountain, the mountain top is where we come into the presence of God, to ask God’s permission to head toward Jerusalem and his end.

But he is joined by Moses and Elijah who represent the old law and the prophets. It’s sort of like that scene at the end of Return of Jedi when Obi-Wan, Yoda, and Anacin Skywalker appear at the end together is the shadow. They represent the old and Luke Skywalker represents the new. I am not sure the learned men and women who write the commentaries will agree but they are not here today, and I am.

Anyway, this Transfiguration takes place; Jesus is transformed physically, as Scripture tells us, but there is also a transformation from the old to the new that takes place here.

Jesus tells us that he is the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets. That is not to say that the story ends with him and his apostles; in fact, it is only the beginning of the story. Jesus is not the last of the prophets but the beginning of a new age of prophet that continues to this day.

Now there are some in the church, and I am using the broad definition of church here, that believe that all the matter of theology were decided years ago, especially the ideas around who can love whom and still be considered a Christian, but they obviously feel that the book is still open on other subjects. But I digress, along with our welcoming attitude here in the United Church of Christ we believe that God is Still Speaking, in fact, that was the motto if you will of the UCC until a few years ago, God is still speaking. In other words, the story is not over yet.

Until very recently, the symbol of the UCC was the comma, you may have seen people wearing a pin with a comma or a brochure with the comma symbol on it. The comma represents an unfinished idea a sentence that is not complete. In the English language, when an idea is complete, a period is used at the end of the sentence. But, if the idea is incomplete a comma is used, and the idea continues, that is why the UCC adopted this symbol because the story of our salvation is not complete and God is still speaking, our job is to listen.

Revelation or the unfolding of the salvation story did end on the Cross, and it certainly did not end with the writing of a creed or a statement of faith. The story of salvation continues to be revealed each and every day. Back in my seminary days, a student asked when Jesus did not merely reveal everything to the Apostles? Why did he speak in riddles and parables and not directly reveal it all to them in one sitting and be done with it? The professor paused, and I believe he had a slight smirk on his face as if he had been waiting for someone to ask this question all year. But the answer was simple; they could not have handled it or understood it all.

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. A journey of a million miles begins with one step. The study of scripture and history are at a point where it has never been before. Scholars know more today about the life and times of the people that make up these stories as well as the language they spoke. Today, scholars have a better understanding of what society was like and those of us who stand here week after week have the job of looking at scripture not only with a rearview mirror but interpreting Scripture in light of what is going on in the present day and listening to God’ still speaking voice.

God’s story is not finished yet, our story is not finished yet, your story is not finished yet, and it is up to all of us to keep telling the story.

We are about to enter the season of Lent. Lent has sort of fallen away over the last years, but it seems to be making a slight comeback. Lent is a time of transfiguration and of change, but that change comes at a cost. Lent is a time of confession, repentance, and reconciliation but we have to be willing to transform our lives, which is the end result.

Bishop Pearson believed he heard that voice of God and it set him on a course that was much different than the one he had been on and that made some folk angry. They did not believe that it was God’s voice because it was leading him in a different direction. I believe that I had heard God’s voice and that voice was asking me to look at things differently and to have an openness of mind and of spirit and when I did I realized that God is not done yet and I thank God every day for revealing that to me.

Our spiritual journey is just that, a journey.  We do not journey by standing still sometimes we run, and sometimes we walk and sometimes, we pause for a rest, but we continue, and the journey continues. Our spiritual life is about being open to new ideas and new ways of looking at things because God is continuously revealing himself and creation to us each and every day and our job is to say yes, to be open, to not be afraid, to take that first step and let God direct us along the path even if we are standing alone.