February 27, 2022
Our second reading on this Transfiguration Sunday is the story as told in Luke’s gospel. Continue listening for God’s voice speaking to you.
Let’s focus immediately on this picture of Moses and Elijah appearing in glory. Jesus also shines in glory. And then God comes and says what I think today are three very important words… “Listen to him.” Listen to this Jesus… this Son… this Chosen One… listen to him because he is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
And immediately… to many ears… those words… that last sentence… sounds like a preacher stock theological statement that is often and easily said but rarely explained. Like some Jeopardy answer and question… I’ll take things ministers say for $100... and the answer is “He is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.” “Who is Jesus?” But today especially… that understanding of Jesus as fulfillment is very important for us to hear. God’s glory was and is in the Law. God’s glory was and is in the prophets. But… the scriptural witness and our own experiences tell us that we human beings have… still have… the sinful capacity to obscure that glory.
The Law was meant to shape the people… to be written on their hearts… to instruct them in the ways and the will of God… to mold them into the very people of God. The Law was given as a means to bring light into the darkness of the world. But the darkness… saints… is not easily overcome. The darkness is able to adapt and to parse words and to split hairs and to find technicalities to circumvent God’s Law. The darkness took the Law and instead of having the light shine from the faces of all who would encounter God through the Law… not just the face of Moses alone… the darkness turned the Law and reshaped and replaced intentions. The Law became less about freedom to love and to serve… and was turned into a tool of oppression. Judgment divided and condemned instead of guiding and upbuilding. The Law was turned into a tool for gaining and maintaining power. The glory of God which shone through the Law… the Law that could easily be summed up as love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength and your neighbor as yourself… the Law alone could not stand when someone would come along and ask, “And who is my neighbor?” Don’t think for a minute that that question asked Jesus was somehow original. That no one had ever asked it before. It was a question from the beginning… a well-used dodge to sidestep the obligations of the Law… then… now… tomorrow, no doubt. Law alone was unable to transform the people… because the sin of the people transformed the Law.
So… the prophets came speaking from the same glory that resided in the Law. The prophets directly challenged the powerful and those who would use the Law to their own advantage. The prophets called out the religious who replaced transformation with empty ritual and spiritual commerce. The prophets came and spoke boldly about the consequences of turning away from God’s ways and God’s will. But the prophets could be ignored… like the Law had been… or be dismissed as lunatics who were not in touch with the real world. The prophets could be thrown in prison or pushed to the edge… their voices diminished. The prophets could be countered with other prophets who spoke more to the liking of the people of the day… and to the powerful. Money could buy you the prophetic witness you sought then just as easily as it does now. The prophets alone could not overcome the darkness we seem to embrace time and again… the darkness that is used to conquer and subjugate… to dominate and control.
However, I find it interesting how in the prophetic witness that is contained in our scriptures… there are those prophets we go back to time and again… to hear again… to be corrected again by their words… to aspire to the light they bring… and then there are those prophets we never hear a word from anymore. The prophets who speak revenge and God’s coming wrath on certain countries and peoples around them… prophets which I’m sure made for good reading in their day and helped to give fire to the hopes of violence and destruction to their enemies… those prophets sit silent today as their words can’t find fulfilment in the Christ who is.
But even before then… the story of Jonah… the story of a prophet who could not bring God’s word to the enemy because he knew God was a gracious God and merciful… and grace and mercy was the last thing that Jonah wanted for his enemies. So, Jonah just stewed in his own anger… anger at God for not destroying the enemy… anger at himself for not being the instrument of that destruction… anger that the glory of God did not validate his darkness. Jonah tried his best to hide the light that was given to him… but to no avail.
Back up on that mountain top, the Law and the Prophets are shining bright… talking to Jesus about his departure… about his death… which Jesus had just begun to describe to his disciples… what was going to happen when they reached Jerusalem… “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Jesus tells them clearly what lies ahead and then adds… “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Lent is the season in which we take that journey to the cross… Christ’s cross… and to the cross we are to take up daily. This cross, though, is a transformed cross… changed by God’s glory shining forth. Here we have as the principal symbol of our faith what was an instrument of darkness… an instrument of death. A brutal instrument designed to bring agony… exposed to the elements, the lungs slowly filling with fluid, the pain of hanging by outstretched arms as one’s strength faded, the dead often left to rot away. A brutal instrument designed for spectacle and the twisted pleasure for some… and horrifyingly continuous trauma for others. A terrifying symbol of our inhumanity… the kind of power embraced again and again by those who are servants of the darkness. The cross… as it was originally conceived… is the perfect example of our being the furthest from the light of God’s glory. You can pour into that cross all our senseless warring… all those who are left unfed to die of starvation… all those on whose corpses have been built systems of power and consumption.
Yet… the light of God’s glory will not be overcome. Just as we have tried to blot out the glory of God in both Law and prophets… God turns and brings a light so bright to our deepest darkness that the darkness will never be able to overcome the light again. The judgment of the light of God’s glory upon the cross… transforms this sole instrument of death with the power of the resurrection. Take away death and the fear it brings… and what excuse is left for us to hide behind… what is left of the darkness for us to embrace and confuse with our own delusions of grandeur? Do not return evil for evil and what happens to evil’s power? Overcome greed with generosity and greed has nothing left to desire. Return truth for lies and the foolishness is made abundantly clear.
Take up the transformed cross daily and the unclean spirit that seeks to possess the faithless and perverse will be rebuked… blindness will no longer cover our eyes and the greatness and glory of God will be our vision… and our ears will be opened… to listen… to listen to the Christ who stands before us speaking the truth of the Law and the prophets… being the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets… our redeemer… our savior… the Lord of life. Amen.