Who Will They See?

On Sunday, February 7, God’s people in Crafton Heights, along with the church throughout the world, considered the majesty and mystery of the Transfiguration of the Lord.  Our scriptures included Mark 9:3-13 and II Corinthians 4:3-6.

 

My hunch is that on most Sundays, you come to church without knowing what scripture will be the focus for our morning worship. I bet that usually when you get up and get dressed, you don’t know what I’m going to preach about.

There are, however, some days in the life of the church when you know what you’re going to hear before you arrive at church. What are some of the days when you know what the Bible Story is going to be? Christmas, Easter, Pentecost – these are all days when you can more or less predict the narrative that will be the center of our worship, right?

Why do we do that? Why do we tell the same stories over and over again? Is there anyone here who does not know about the Baby Jesus born in a barn? Is there anyone here who does not know about the empty tomb? Maybe one or two. But mostly, when our family of faith tells the same story again and again, it’s not so much because we’re wondering how the story turns out, but because the story reminds us who we are in the world.

Today is one of those days…but I bet not everyone was aware of that. This is a festival day in the Christian church – a day called The Transfiguration of the Lord. From ancient times, the church of Jesus Christ has set aside a day on which to celebrate the fact that Jesus is the one who fulfills the Law given by Moses and the one who was dreamed of by prophets such as Elijah. This day, this last Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday, is appropriate because according to the Gospels, it is at this time that Jesus revealed the fact that his earthly journey would not end in earthly triumph, but in death. After the events described in today’s Gospel, Jesus’ attention shifts from his public ministry to preparing for his passion and death.

The Transfiguration, 1594-95 by Lodovico Carracci

The Transfiguration, 1594-95 by Lodovico Carracci

What does the story say? What happens? Well, Jesus has just begun to teach his disciples that he must suffer and die at the hands of the elders and priests and scribes, and in the midst of this, he takes Peter, James, and John on a little retreat. They go up the mountain by themselves, and all of a sudden, Jesus is changed. He’s still himself, all right. They recognize him, they speak to him – but his face and his clothing are changed. They are shining like the sun. And then Moses, the giver of the Law, and Elijah, the most important of the prophets, appear on the scene. Peter attempts a bit of conversation, but then a thunderous voice interrupts him and, reminiscent of Jesus’ baptism, thunders “This is my Son, whom I love.” And then, in a bit of instruction to the disciples that is very different than the baptism, the voice continues: “Listen to him!”

When it’s all said and done, the disciples look up and see no one but Jesus. And on their way home from the retreat, Jesus says, “Look, don’t mention this to anyone until after I’ve been raised from the dead.” And the discussion continues on from there.

It is a somewhat fantastic story, isn’t it? It is totally out of our experience, but Matthew, Mark, and Luke all have it in their gospels. When they got around to telling the story of the Jesus that they knew, all three of these men thought that this was a pivotal event in the life of Jesus as well as the disciples. Why?

Well, there are several reasons, but this morning I’d like to consider two. First, the fact that Jesus appears with Moses and Elijah demonstrates that he is the completeness of the story. Moses was the first great leader of Israel. He represents the Law, the framework for living that was given by God. In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the people that “the Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me” – in other words, a teacher, a leader, one who will stand between the people and God in ways that not even Moses did. The presence of Moses on the mountain with Jesus indicates that Jesus is that prophet and that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. Jesus is the one to whom all of those rules and regulations pointed. Jesus of Nazareth is perfection, and Moses acknowledges him as such.

And Elijah was widely thought of as the chief prophet in Judaism. His presence on the mountain is evidence that Jesus is the one to whom Elijah and all of his colleagues were pointing. There is no need for further prophecy concerning a savior, because here he is!

So to Mark’s readers, the first item of significance is that Jesus is the completion of the Law and the Prophets. The transfiguration – the ways that Jesus’ very bodily appearance was changed, and accompanied by the two historical figures – is a demonstration that this is not a new idea, but rather, the ultimate stage in God’s purposes in saving his people.

The second level of significance can be found in the additional phrase uttered by the heavenly voice. When Jesus was baptized, the voice thundered “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well-pleased.” My usual rule of thumb is that when you hear a voice from heaven, every syllable matters. So when this phrase is essentially repeated at the transfiguration – only directed to the disciples, rather than to Jesus himself, and then followed with “Listen to him!”, well, then, I think that it’s worth noting. Why?

Because the disciples aren’t that different from you and me. It’s easy to get swept away in the pursuit of some mystical experience. When we have some sort of “mountaintop experience”, we want to linger there. We want to stay in the warmth of the moment. This command from heaven demonstrates that although these experiences are valuable and important, they must lead us to obedience. Almost always in scripture the word has priority over the vision. That is, our feelings are important, but what is more important is seeking to understand God’s will. One writer put it this way: “Seeing Jesus transfigured has value only if it leads the disciples to listen obediently to his divinely authorized teaching.”[1]

This is all very interesting, pastor, but why are we reading this story again? Why do we need to hear it time and time again, like the Easter or Christmas or Pentecost stories?

In the story, who, or what, was transfigured? Jesus, right? Specifically, his Body. It changed. It was different. Jesus and the boys went up the mountain and right there in front of their eyes, Jesus’ body was transfigured. His everyday, walking to the temple, teaching the crowds, having lunch, playing tag with the kids, soon-to-be-hung-on-a-Roman-cross body – it was transfigured. It was re-defined by the power of God. The disciples saw that body change.

Where is Jesus’ body now? That’s right. It’s here. You’re looking at it. The church – we are called time and time again the body of Christ. We are the ones who behold Christ at work in the world. We portray him. We indicate his activity. We are his hands and his feet, right?

That’s what Paul was trying to help his friends in Corinth grasp – that God calls to the faithful and says, “I have changed you! I have called you! You are a light to the world.” Who is the light – Jesus? Yes, of course. The church? Yes – for we are the Body of Christ – we are the light of the Lord.

I came across a story some years ago that was simply incredible. It seems as though there was a group of Christians who felt the Lord calling them to go into the heart of some distant country and proclaim the forgiving love of Jesus. They stumbled into a remote village, where they asked if anyone had ever heard of the man called Jesus. “No” was the quick answer. So the Christians began to tell stories from the gospel – stories about a man who walked with the poor and who preached good news to them. They told of healings and of the time that Jesus fed the multitude. And as these Christians told their story, smiles of recognition flashed across the faces of their hearers. Finally, one of the villagers interrupted. “We know the man, we know the man!”, he said. “He’s been here!”

The travelers looked at one another, and their leader said, “That’s impossible. Jesus lived and died a long time ago.” But the villagers persisted: “No! He was here! We’ve met him! And we love him!” And they went on to describe a missionary doctor who had visited that area many years before. He was loving, patient, and kind. He gave of his food to those who had none. He had instruments of healing. And he had told them of God’s love.

You know what happened, don’t you? This particular village was not “unreached”. It had been reached by a man many years ago. But the residents of that village didn’t see a missionary doctor. They saw no one but Jesus.

Beloved, who do people see when you walk into the room? Who do people see when you stand up to give a report, or when you pack lunches for your children in the morning, or when you kiss your wife goodnight? Who do people see when they ask you for assistance, or when they don’t ask you for the assistance that you know they need?

You are the body of Christ. The reason that we tell and re-tell the story of the day that Jesus’ body was transfigured on the mountain is not that once upon a time Jesus took a temporary vacation from reality. No – it’s to remind us that we, too, are called to be transformed every day. Just as the glory of God shone through the face of Jesus, so too can the power of God shine through your life and mine.

Come Wednesday, we’ll begin the season of Lent. Please, please, please – join me in a season of prayer and reflection – and one of action – in which we will discover what it means to fully live as Jesus would have us live. Take advantage of the opportunities for growth that are offered to you this season. Fall in love with Jesus. Re-arrange your lives so that you have time for prayer and study and fasting and feasting. Learn what it means to be the body of Christ in this place and at this time.

The reason we listen to this story is because we are bold enough to hope that one day, people will look at us, and at the things we do, and they won’t see Pastor Dave or Kati or Bill or Lauren. If we get it right, they’ll look at us, but they won’t see anyone but Jesus. May it be so, Lord, may it be so. Amen.

[1] Douglas Hare, Interpretation Commentary on Matthew, p. 200.

Not Who You Thought?

On the day of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, the saints at Crafton Heights considered the account of Jesus on the mountain as recorded in Mark 9:2-9.  Our other reading came from 2 Corinthians 4:3-6.

Sometimes I start the sermon with a joke, or a funny picture. Today, I have a serious theological question that I’d like you to think about. You don’t need to answer this one out loud, but give it some thought: Does Jesus ever change?

Absolute_ImmutabilityThe theological concept here is called “immutability”, and it refers to the notion that if God is truly God, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, forever and ever and ever, then God cannot change. And if Jesus is God, then Jesus cannot change either. So one scholar recently answered my question this way:

According to a broad consensus among the Reformed divines, the second person of the Godhead remains immutable by adding a nature that, while personally united with His own divine nature, does not alter it: the incarnation is to be regarded such that ‘the human mode of being was added to the eternal mode of the Logos by the assumption of the human nature into its personality without altering the latter.’… To suggest that the divine nature could change was to fail to uphold its own distinctive properties, confusing it with the human…[1]

In 1560, the leaders of the Church in Scotland that was to become the Presbyterian Church put it this way:

We acknowledge and confess that this wonderful union between the Godhead and the humanity of Christ Jesus did arise from the eternal and immutable decree of God from which all our salvation springs and depends.[2]

These great theologians were simply trying to get at some of the truth that is found in Scripture:

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8, NIV)

God is no mere human! He doesn’t tell lies or change his mind. (Numbers 23:19, CEV)

 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17, NIV)

So, if you’re taking an examination at seminary or before the Presbytery, the right answer is this: Jesus does not change.

Transfiguration, Titan (c. 1560)

Transfiguration, Titan (c. 1560)

Except, well, right there in Mark 9, Jesus sure seems to change. He was “transfigured” in front of his disciples. His appearance – his visage, clothing, bearing, and stature – they all change. We know this because it scared the heck out of the disciples, and Matthew, Mark, and Luke all wrote it down so that we’d know about it.

And there are other places where it sure looks to us like Jesus is changing. In Mark 8, for instance – and in a lot of other places, to be honest – the disciples, or somebody, comes to Jesus and say, “Hey! You’re the Messiah! You’re from God!” And Jesus’ response is “Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.” But in Mark 5, a man comes to him and says, “I know who you are – let me come with you!” And this time Jesus says, “No, you can’t come with me. Go to your home village and tell everyone what’s happened!”

One time, Jesus tells a man to sell everything he has and give the money to the poor, and another time he allows a woman to pour all kinds of expensive oil on his feet, even while some of his followers are saying, “Wait! Aren’t we supposed to be giving this stuff to the poor?”

And even beyond all that, how can we say that Jesus never changed? I mean, seriously, he was human and divine, right? Which means, presumably, that at one point he was three feet tall and later he was five feet tall. He needed haircuts. He got older. Jesus changed.

You’re not surprised to learn that the theologians have considered all of those cases, and they turn to look at me with patience and sympathy and say, “Well, of course, Dave, those changes were real. But they were changes in Jesus’ method of communication, or changes in his physical expression. It’s not the same thing. When we talk about immutability, we mean that in Jesus Christ, the unchanging purposes of the unchanging God were clearly visible: the grace, mercy, love, compassion, forgiveness, justice, and holiness of God were made known in Jesus of Nazareth. Those things never change. The person and work of Jesus Christ is fully consistent with the eternal, changeless, omnipotent being.” And then, just because some theologians can be sort of snooty, at least one of them would do a facepalm and say, “For crying out loud, Carver, don’t come and talk to me about Jesus and haircuts. Seriously.”

And I would say, “Fair enough. I accept the immutability of Jesus, and will agree that God’s purposes are eternal and unchanging.”

But that leads me to another question: What if Jesus isn’t who you think he is?

Years ago, I was introduced to a man who was to become a friend to me: Bart Campolo. But because this was the early 1980’s and neither of us had any money and we lived on opposite coasts, we communicated – can you believe this – through the U.S. Mail. Every now and then we would talk on the phone, but mostly we sent letters. Yeah. I’m a dinosaur.

So one fall day in 1988 we were both going to be at a conference in Chicago. Michelle Salinetro was there, and she saw me walk into the room wearing my big old “Dave Carver, Pittsburgh PA” nametag, and extend my hand to “Bart Campolo, Oakland CA” and say, “Hey, Bart, man, it’s good to finally shake your hand.” And Bart Campolo looked at my face, and then at my nametag, and then at my face, and then at my nametag, and he finally said, “You’re Dave Carver? From Pittsburgh? Dude…I always thought you were black…” Ummmmmmm… Not sure what to say to that.

But what if we do that to Jesus? What if when we get a closer look at him – he’s not what we expect him to be?

Jean Vanier lived a life with which many of us can identify. He was born into a very comfortable family and was taught at an early age to strive and to achieve. He served in both the Canadian and British navies and rose through the ranks. When he finished in the navy, he received a doctorate and taught philosophy in Toronto. And then, through an odd twist, he was asked to leave the world of academia and live with people with profound mental and physical disabilities. He said,

I had to change, and change quite radically. When you have been taught from an early age to be first, to win, and then suddenly you sense that you are being called by Jesus to go down the ladder and to share your life with those who have little culture, who are poor and marginalized, a real struggle breaks out within oneself… When someone has lived most of his or her life in the last place and then discovers that Jesus is there in the last place as well, it is truly good news. However, when someone has always been looking for the first place and learns that Jesus is in the last place, it is confusing![3]

Can you imagine how disconcerting that would be – to go through most of your life thinking that Jesus was this way and then to discover that, no, Jesus is that way?

But that’s what happened to the disciples on the day of Transfiguration. The Jesus that they thought they knew ended up to be someone else. And that leads me to a couple of observations that might be helpful for 21st-century followers of Jesus.

First, don’t limit Jesus. I don’t know about you, but in recent weeks, the Carvers have finally taken down the last of the Christmas decorations. My wife’s growing collection of nativity scenes has been packed away, and all the little baby Jesus figurines are safe in tissue paper and plastic bins in the basement. Those items have been carefully protected, and I am here to tell you that nothing is going to happen to baby Jesus in my basement in 2015. He’s safe and sound.

The problem with that, of course, is that as long as I keep Jesus safe and sound and hermetically sealed in a Tupperware in the basement, he’s not going to challenge me or change me.

You see, a lot of times, the disciples, the Pharisees, the crowds – they thought that they had Jesus all figured out. They’d seen him at work, they knew his stuff. And so they began to wrap him up and put him in a little box where they thought he belonged. They began to respond, not to the living Lord, but to their image of who or what they thought he was. Jesus was not pleased when this happened…

Don’t limit Jesus, or try to pack him into a little box. He won’t fit. And my second observation is the mirror of that: don’t limit yourself.

You, unlike the one eternal and immutable God, are destined for growth and change. There is nothing about your body that is exactly the same today as it was a week ago.

A few years back, I returned from a trip with the youth group. Sharon took the camera and asked to see some of the photos. Since members of the youth group had taken most of the photos, I was eager to see them, too. We sat on my sofa and we got to one shot that I just couldn’t place. I recognized the playground where the image was taken, and I knew several of the people in the photo. But there in the middle of the scene was an older guy looking away from the camera. All I could see was the top of his head and his shoulders. Before I could say anything, Sharon said, “What are you doing there?” And I said, “I’m not sure. I don’t know who this is.” My bride said, “It’s you!” I said, “It can’t be me. The guy in this photo has a bald spot.” And she said, “Honey, it’s you.” I said, “Seriously? I have a bald spot? And nobody told me?” I had no idea why my head had been so cold. I had changed – but not known it.

You and I change physically. We grow mentally and intellectually. Depending on where we are in our lives, we either accept those things or celebrate them.

What about spiritually? Where are you growing, and how are you changing spiritually?

The person and work and hope of Jesus Christ is eternal and unchanging. I get that. But how is your perspective of that work, and your relationship with that person growing? We ought to be constantly developing as spiritual creatures. If your understanding of God in Christ and the role he plays in your life is the same now as it was when you were four, then you are in trouble.

I accept the scriptures fully – that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That he is the alpha and omega, the beginning and the end. Jesus does not change.

But our ideas about Jesus probably will change, because faith is alive and active and engaging and growing. If we are not able to hear Jesus calling us to some new places every now and then, I fear we are not listening.

This coming week we will observe Ash Wednesday here at Church. The season of Lent begins, and this forty day period, as much as any other season of church life, presents us with an opportunity to engage Jesus and develop our spiritual lives.

I am begging you to do this in the next six or seven weeks. Invite the unchanging Jesus into all of your life. Ask that Christ to show you where he is at work in the world.

I know that for many people, Lent is thought of as a season in which we “give up” something. We deny ourselves some pleasure or treat in the hopes that we might identify more completely with the suffering of Jesus.

And, to tell you the truth, if going without meat or television or Facebook is going to help you learn more about Christ’s suffering, then by all means, go for it.

But let me ask you to do this thing, too. If you are going to “give up” something this Lent, then please “take up” something as well. Read. Pray. Sing. Serve. Write. Walk. Share.

For instance, what if, instead of giving up sweets for Lent, you decided that you were going to bake cookies or bread or pie once a week and share that with your neighbors? What if you made time in your life to be a blessing in a simple, unexpected way?

What if, instead of giving up coffee and making everyone in your workplace or home miserable until Easter, you took fifteen minutes a day to visit with someone – either by phone, in person, or through the mail? What if you adopted a practice that would immerse you more deeply in the lives of people that Jesus loves?

The word “Lent” comes from Old English and Germanic words that mean “lengthening daylight”. Between now and Easter, the days will get longer, the sun will get higher. You may start your garden seeds indoors. In some parts of the State, the trout season will open. Lent is a time of year that is full of newness and growth and life and depth.

It would be an absolute shame if all of that newness and growth and life and depth was found in the natural world, and not in our hearts, spirits, and lives. Jesus doesn’t change. But I will. And by God’s grace, my ability to know, understand, and follow Jesus will, too. Thanks be to God! Amen.

[1] Sumner, Darren, Karl Barth and the Incarnation: Christology and the Humility of God (Bloomsbury, 2014), p. 45.

[2] The Scots Confession 3.07

[3] Vanier, Jean. From Brokenness to Community (Paulist Press 1994, pp. 18, 23).

Lime Wash, Refracted Lenses, Water…and Me

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.

Can you?

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.


[1] The Transfiguration of Christ, Giovanni Bellini, 1487.

[2] Conversion of St Paul, Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1675