Sermon by The Rev. Christopher Hogin, March 3, 2019
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The Gospel: Luke 9:28-43
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”–not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. And all were astounded at the greatness of God.
The Reverend Christopher HoginRemoving The VeilExodus 34:29-35; Luke 9:28-36, 37-43aThe Episcopal Church of the AscensionMarch 3, 2019
This week, I’ve struggled with who Moses was. What did he look like? He was well past eighty when he went into the desert. I like to think of Moses as a sort of the 90 year old version of Clint Eastwood. A man with a weather-worn chiseled face, seasoned by age, but bold, tough, driven, and focused. Moses encounters God. The interaction leaves him with a holy residue. His skin glows. It shines. The glory of God radiates from his face! He calls for Aaron and the other leaders, but they are afraid. It’s too much for them. They don’t understand.
The act of ascending a mountain and entering the presence of the divine is repeated in Luke’s Gospel, only this time it’s with Jesus, and Jesus brings along three disciples: Peter, James, and John. Like Moses, Jesus transfigures. His clothes become a dazzling white.
When I read that passage a memory flashed in my mind. I was three year old playing in a neighbor’s backyard. A single white sheet hung on a clothesline flapping in the wind. The sun shone on that sheet making it glow. That’s what I imagine Jesus’ clothes looked like. There was a glory and a glow around the face of Jesus as he speaks with Moses and Elijah regarding what will soon happen in Jerusalem.
Peter doesn’t know what to make of this. He’s stunned, and doesn’t understand. He feebly suggests they honor Jesus, Moses, and Elijah by constructing three dwellings. A well-intentioned idea, but pathetic. It’s like a child waving a tooth-pick sized American flag during a Fourth of July celebration of fireworks bursting in the night sky. God’s voice booms from a cloud revealing Jesus as the chosen one, and commanding them to listen to him. Like the Israelites, the disciples are terrified by this change.
We call this last Sunday of Epiphany Transfiguration Sunday. Transfiguration means to change or transform an appearance. Let me suggest that Moses and Jesus did not change. Instead, they simply appeared to be who they really were while in the presence of God. That shinning glow coming from Moses was a powerful reflection of the divine. Jesus, revealed who he was to the disciples. He didn’t change, he just gave them a glimpse of his glory. There was no transfiguration. Rather, it was human understanding that became transfigured.
All of us come from God. God is the source of our being. Each of us has a spark of the divine given by the creator. Yet when we enter into this world, a world of pain and disappointment, a world of violence and brokenness, we develop hardened shells. Like the disciples and Israelites, we too are unable to see the divine because of the masks we wear.
During my third year of law school, I took classes taught by full-time lawyers. One attorney gave disturbing advice. He said that to succeed in the practice of law, do two things: Play golf and drive a high-end car preferably a Mercedes or a BMW. This was well-meaning advice grounded in practicality, but it bothered me. I wasn’t a golfer, and I drove a Saturn. It was another example of how the world encourages us to wear masks, to hide who we really are.
Perhaps a parable might better explain this. Imagine a man walking along a clear fast moving stream. The stream is full of brilliantly colored gem stones. Each one is distinct and brilliant in their configuration. The man scoops up a vibrant green one. He holds it in the air as the sun shines on it. The man holds it tight. Gives it a light kiss, and then flings it up into the sky. A strong wind carries the gem off to a distant place and lands in a harsh country. In this country there is chaos. Volcanoes explode spewing lava. The lava covers the gemstone. Over time, the lava hardens, encasing the gem in a hardened outer shell. Then rains come flooding the land. The gemstone, now a rock, gets swept into the sea. There it remains at the bottom of the ocean collecting barnacles, it’s outer shell becoming ever tougher.
One day the rock gets washed up on the shore along a beach. The sun dries the rock once more. There it sits for thousands of years as the sands of time whittles it down making it brittle. Soon another gust of wind emerges, tornado-like. The rock is lifted again and soars through the air until it lands once again in a place of peace, a place of calm.
The man returns. The same man who picked up the stone long ago, and admired its brilliance. He sees the rock. He holds it in the air, and chisels away the debris: the barnacles, the hardened outer shell. Years of time and pressure chip away with each blow. Eventually the deep green colored gem returns. Only now it’s more brilliant than before, it’s color an even deeper effervescent green. It’s surface smoother than before fashioned from years in the land of chaos.
All of us were created by God. All of us can reflect God’s brilliance and glory in our life and in our relationships. We too can be transfigured without changing into something different. Rather, it’s returning to what we were created to be all along—people of light. People of brilliance. People who delight in God’s glory communion with God and one another.
We have challenges here on this earth. One of those challenges is that in the midst of this painful, sorrowful life full of brokenness, we are meant to find our way back home to God, to be the kind of people God created us to be. At our core we are brilliant, but somewhere along the way we forget who we are, and where we came from because of the veiled masks we wear.
This Lent, may we recognize the masks we wear. May we recognize how those masks block us from the divine. And may we have the courage to take off those veiled masks so that God can transfigure us back into the people we were always meant to be.