February 19 2012 was Transfiguration Sunday. We approached our worship by reading Mark’s account in Mark 9:2-9. We also considered Paul’s words to his friends in Corinth in II Corinthians 4:1-6
The disciples have had their suspicions about Jesus – who he is, what he is about, and where he is heading. They’ve whispered among themselves that maybe he is God’s anointed one – the savior of the world. But any time in the last two years they’ve spoken these thoughts aloud, well, Jesus puts the kibosh on them in a hurry. “Shhhh! Don’t tell anyone!”
The Transfiguration of Christ, Giovanni Bellini, 1487
And then, on the mountaintop, Peter, James and John are able to see clearly that he is the one to whom the law and the prophets point. They KNOW! This is now not a matter of opinion! But for the last time in his life, Jesus looks at them and says, “Don’t say anything about this – not until after it’s all over.”
They had, literally, seen the light! But they were charged not to say anything about it until they knew the whole story… I’m sure it was frustrating to keep it a secret, but it must have been a relief to have such a demonstrable sign of Jesus’ divinity.
A couple of years later, Paul is on his way to the town of Damascus. Maybe you know the story – he, too, saw the light. As he was riding, he was struck by a blinding flash that revealed to him that the same Jesus whom Paul was attacking was in fact the Lord of Life. This Jesus spoke to Paul from the midst of the glare and commissioned Paul for mission, ministry, and service. And Paul spent the rest of his life traipsing across the known world telling anyone who would listen about the ways that Jesus had come to be with and for God’s people.
Conversion of St Paul, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1675
Like the first disciples, Paul knew. And like them, eventually, Paul told what he knew. And like them, his life was rearranged by a blinding flash of light – in an instant, he knew who he was and what he was to do.
But not everyone in Paul’s world was happy with this arrangement. He started a church in the town of Corinth, and as he spoke to and with those folks, he caused a few ripples. People began to push back at his preaching, asking, “Who do you think you are? What makes you think you’re the boss of us? Why should we listen to you?”
Beloved: have you ever been rejected by someone that you are trying to help? How badly does it hurt when you are trying to do something nice for someone and they turn to you with a sneer and say, “What are you doing here, anyway?” I can imagine what Paul was feeling as he heard those accusatory questions from the people he’d come to be with in Corinth.
He wrote them a letter, and much of the beginning of 2 Corinthians is Paul’s defense of his ministry. He reminds them of their shared history, and points to the ways that God has spoken through scripture as well as the grace that has been revealed in Jesus Christ. And then, he reminds the people in Corinth as well as himself that this ministry was not his idea. “God began this in me,” says Paul. “I can only trust that God will finish it.” He goes on to say that if there’s an agenda, it’s not his agenda. He says, “I do not proclaim myself – I proclaim Jesus as Lord.”
That’s an important point. It was not uncommon for citizens of the Roman Empire to greet each other during the first century by saying “Caesar is Lord”, and they were required to show up at shrines annually and burn a pinch of incense while making the same affirmation. So when Paul says, that Jesus is Lord, he’s saying that Caesar is not. And equally important to those who were Jewish, Paul’s statement that Jesus is Lord is his way of saying that Jesus is the Son of God.
And Paul continues – because Jesus is Lord, then I am your slave for his sake. He could have simply said, “Jesus is Lord, and I am Jesus’ slave.” But that’s not what he writes to these people who are questioning his ministry, his motives, and his credentials. He says, “I am your slave for the sake of Jesus.” Instead of claiming his rights as a leader in the church, or pointing to the things that the Corinthians “owed” him, Paul simply refers to himself as their slave, for the sake of Christ.
How can he do that? How can he look at these people who are disregarding and distrusting him and describe himself in that way?
Because he’s seen the light. He can never, ever forget the day that his life was pierced by the light of Christ’s presence.
Think of a time when you were made aware of your own sinfulness. A time when you saw, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that you were not who you wanted to be, or thought you were, or wanted someone else to believe that you were – a time when you were broken by this kind of awareness.
It may be been the day that you realized you were addicted.
Or the day that you took credit for work that was not yours, and were caught in it.
Perhaps it was when you were caught having an affair, or the shame you felt when you raised your hand to your child.
Look, I don’t know exactly when it was for most of you, but I’m betting that I don’t have to convince you that you’ve had days where you realized that you’ve blown it. Do you remember that day? That pain? That shame?
That was the light of Christ shining down in your life. It was illuminating a part of your world that had been dark, revealing the truth that you’d been hiding from others and perhaps yourself for a long time.
Stay in that pain for a moment.
Now, I want you to remember a time when you experienced great grace. A sense of your life being something that you did not deserve – a gift that came to you and you knew it was not the result of your own charm, wittiness, or rakish good looks.
Maybe it was the time he told you he loved you, or the birth of your child.
It could be that time she stuck with you after you both knew you’d screwed up.
Maybe it was the day you heard about that amazing scholarship, or saw that relative who had written you off for dead, or somehow felt accepted in spite of your brokenness.
Can you remember a day like that?
That, too is light – coming from outside of you and revealing truth by illuminating the reality of your life. You have seen the light – no less than the apostles did on the mount of transfiguration. I know you have.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday – the day when the church remembers the time when Jesus’ face was set ablaze by the presence of the holy on top of the mountain. It reminds us of how Moses’ face was radiant following his conversations with the Lord.
On the day of Transfiguration, the disciples were enveloped by the light that came from heaven and shone forth from Jesus. When Paul was converted, he was thrust to the ground by the force of that truth-revealing light in his own world.
None of those men produced that light. They did not invent it or manufacture it or manipulate it. They simply stayed in it. They allowed it to change them. The light shone on them, and they stood in the light.
If I’m right about your best day and your worst day, you know something about standing in the light, too. So let me ask you, what happens when you stand in the light? Do you soak it in? Or block it? Or reflect it? What happens when that truth of God shines into your life?
Those questions bring me to the title for today’s message: Lime Wash, Refractured Lenses, Water, and Me.
Lime wash is one of those things that everyone has seen, but that few people would recognize. Back in Tom Sawyer’s day we called it “whitewash”. It’s a wall covering, or paint, that’s made from slaked limestone and chalk. It’s been used for thousands of years, and I saw many examples of it when I traveled through Greece and Turkey. The limestone crystals have a way of intensifying the light and reflecting it back into the surrounding environment, which results in an appearance that can be shimmering and breathtaking. It is a brilliant use of simple technology to radically affect the outside surface of a building. Of course, such treatment of the outside of a building may have little or no relationship to what is going on inside. You will recall that Jesus reserved some harsh words for the professional religious people of his day, saying that they were like “whitewashed tombs”: they glimmered on the outside while they rotted on the inside.
It’s possible for people to realize something of the love of God and accept it on the outside, but not allow it to get through to the core of their being. I bet that most of the people in this room know someone who is totally convinced of the fact that God has loved them…but is not in the least bit interested in allowing God to change any part of their lives. They soak up God’s love, but do not allow it to really affect their day to day lives.
On the other hand, you have all seen commercials for Lasik eye surgery. They are based on the reality that your eye, like all lenses, works by bending light – by refracting it – in such a way so that it produces clear images. The light passes through the lens and is reflected inward so that your optic nerve can use the data to produce the image that tells you that yes, indeed, that really is a beautiful woman standing over there.
I am way out of my league when I talk about the science of refraction, but my point is simply this: that just as there are people who realize that God is love, grace, and forgiveness but don’t allow it to penetrate their own hearts, so there are those who are so enraptured by the Holy that they assume that the sole function of all the light in the universe is to penetrate their own hearts and lives. They soak up all the light and grace and joy that they can…and yet have a hard time reflecting into the world around them.
Sunrise over Raystown Lake
But water! Well, water is an amazing thing. Because like Lime Wash, water is an excellent reflector. Some of the most amazing photographs you have ever seen exist because water allows the light to bounce right off it. Depending on the angle of the light and the viewer, water can be very clear, and yet you cannot see into it at all because of the ways that the light is reflected.
Yet you have also seen some incredibly beautiful images that are made possible because water permits light to enter it and illumine the world within. Biologists will tell you that life is possible on our planet because the relationship between light and water allows organisms to take in energy from the sun in an environment that will support their existence.
Did you know that your body is about 60% water?
What if somehow, you were able to allow the light of God’s presence and love to both reflect from you and enter deep within you?
A few moments ago I suggested that the times when you were most profoundly aware of your own sin as well as the times when you were most profoundly aware of God’s blessing on your life were both instances of God’s light shining on you. What I really want to know is this: what if you were able to live in the deep awareness of the light of God penetrating your life – both your deepest sin and greatest brokenness and your ultimate joy and amazement at the undeserved grace that God has put in your life? What if you walked around every day convinced that you were terribly flawed, a great sinner in need of a great saving while every day being absolutely sure that you were receiving some unmerited favor, some great gift that you did not deserve but clearly enjoy?
What if you had the self-awareness every day to say, and to believe, that “I am a great sinner whose life has been marked by grave misjudgments and boneheaded mistakes. And I am also a child of God whose life is filled with blessing that does not originate in me, and whose sin and mistakes cannot define.”
If you or I had the presence of mind to live like that, well, we’d be living like Paul. We’d be walking in the transfiguration every blessed day.
Listen: if you are sure that you’ve been broken by sin, then how in the world will you judge your neighbor?
And if you are convinced that God’s grace has been brought into your life, and that you are aware of the power of God’s life, light, and peace – how will you hold that in, and think it only applies to you?
Oh, that the church might be full of those who, like Paul are so grateful for what they’ve received that they are sold out for others! That we might join him in saying that we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for his sake!
My prayer for this day of Transfiguration is that God will reveal to each of us who we are, and where we are. That we will claim that identity and dwell in it. And that the love of God might flow freely in and through us in ways that allow our neighbors to see the grace and forgiveness of Christ, whom we love and serve by loving and serving those amongst whom he has placed us. Amen.
 The Transfiguration of Christ, Giovanni Bellini, 1487.
 Conversion of St Paul, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1675