Based on Ex. 34:29-35; 2 Cor. 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-43a
The funny thing about Christianity–and by “funny” I do not first mean comical–is that even from its inception in texts like all of today “transfiguration stories” the veil over human minds means that every Christian gets it both right and wrong. We hear the Good News of God’s wonderful grace that sets us free from all self-concern so better to care for the wellbeing of our neighbors and we Christians even do it for a time. Then, maybe the next week day our itchy ears and need for control lead us to give even loyalty for a time to people whose words could not be further from the gospel. It is as if we have that mystical mountaintop high which we want to hold for ever and then at the foot of that very same mountain we can’t understand why we can’t fix the world’s problems. Sometimes it seems as if the whole human race has gone epileptic.
Except for me, of course, because, you know, like yours, my mind is totally clear and unveiled. Not! Look. Not even Paul got it right on this one! Paul said Moses had to veil his face so his people would not be overwhelmed by his spiritual sunburn. But the Exodus text is clear. Moses uncovered his face when talking with God and Moses uncovered his face when talking to his people. Moses spoke with a clear and bright face to God and to his people. What does this mean?
When the message is about God and God’s people the medium is and should be fully transparent. It is probably more the case that we get Paul’s awkward Greek phrasing wrong on this than that Paul gets it wrong. Paul said that Moses put the veil on so that the people would not see and focus on the fading of the glory. Now that’s an insight! People are inclined to pay more attention to the passing of good things, so we try to hold on to it with their own constructions rather than pay attention in the moment of transparency!
Just as three disciples wanted more to capture their mystical experience in amber than to be in it and driven by it, so also Paul warns that we are more inclined to hold onto the past than live anew in the Spirit of Christ. We’ve rather replace the present energy of the Spirit with our memory of the past. We’d rather live with God as an object than to live as God’s subjects. We’d rather talk about God in propositions and doctrines of our making (as if God is not in the room!) than to live from the present and liberating and healing life of God with us. Paul means that in every Christian assembly–and this is true, I add, for every faith community–that minds are veiled; they’re veiled when one’s own righteousness-obsessed ways of thinking are preferred over the present and oft threatening liberated life in and from God.
I identify myself as a conserving Christian in the sense that there are basic premises about being Christian to which I will and must adhere. But I am perplexed by the toxic conservatism that is much more activated by the Old Testament and the Ten Commandments than the New Testament and the Beatitudes. I identify myself as a liberal Christian, too, in the sense that I believe the Beatitudes definitively interpret the Commandments and that Christ’s law of love is the lens by which to understand all Scripture. But I am also perplexed by the ultra-liberal Christian who insistently lives by a legalism of love rather than by the presence of Christ in one’s life.
Perplexed by both unfaithful extremes, finally, I must confess as a Christian that I am not immune to either disposition. I sometimes live, to my regret, as if God is distant, and thankfully, sometimes from the fact that Christ is within. So I depend on Paul when he says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” I believe I am on the way to being a more faithful follower of Jesus, but I am not there yet. And by that I do not mean the obvious that I am not dead yet. So also with us all; we are on the way, but, of course, we are “not there yet.” Just as Jesus’ disciples even after the mountain top were not there yet.
How they and we test Jesus patience! Remember, when Jesus and the three came down from the mountaintop, when they left glory for the point of it all, they met a man from the crowd with his son, whose evident epilepsy could not be healed. The point of all Jesus had taught and done up to and including this inspiration of the Transfiguration was to bring the glory of healing to people and nations. And here was this possessed boy not healed. Jesus’ response was not gentle. They could not counter yet the principalities and powers against their spiritual freedom. The powers and principalities that work against the Spirit of Christ always show their stuff when we humans, even within our faith communities, with veiled minds think and dictate that it is our way or no way.
So tragically, we saw this again this last week happen with our full communion sisters and brothers in the United Methodist Church. In its global conference in St. Louis, one faction prevailed literally on the resolution that there could be no room even for talking about inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the Wesleyan movement. This unfaithful and perverse resolution is not, ironically, aligned with the very principles of Wesleyan Methodism. It presumes to purge LGBTQ+ people and their allies, including us, from the scope of God’s grace. And it ends as if the whole church is the struggling child on the ground at the feet of Jesus would-be followers unwilling and unable to bring healing both to the child and to themselves. We grieve with the excluded. We grieve for all veiled minds on all angles of discernment. We grieve for ourselves.
We grieve, too, because this opens wounds of sisters and brothers right here with us—straight and queer and whatever “other” alike—who have suffered the pretensions of people who define love by doctrines first rather than construe their doctrines first by Christ’s law of love. And Christ’s law of love cannot be lived originally and finally without prayer-full relationship with the Lord of love. And this is God’s incontrovertible shining promise: The Lord of Love by his love will exorcise our demons, will teach us better how to do the job ourselves, will transfigure us and all Christ’s church the more into A Healing Place.
Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom. God’s Spirit means to set us loose for transfiguration; in ourselves, our neighborhood, in society. Freedom in God because of God with us means for big things to happen, starting with the details right at hand. How can we do better at that? How about where Jesus routinely started? Like on the mountain in prayer, where, unlike Moses whose brilliance was mere reflection of God’s amazing light, but with such intimacy with God that the brilliance came from the inside out? How about disciples, rather than thinking God at a distance, trusting in Christ within, God with us, Christ in us , beside us, above and below, Christ all around?
This Lent we will focus again on Christ’s intimacy with us. We’ll do so by attending more to the point and practice of prayer, to be in Christ as Christ is in and around us and thus to live from Christ for each other. A favorite older slogan of mine is that the problem with a lot of people who complain of being burnt out is that they forget that one must be on fire before one can burn out. The Transfigured Christ today desires to light us up from the inside out.
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church Houston, TX March 3, 2019