Sermon for the Transfiguration of our Lord, preached Sunday, February 14, 2010.
The truth we hate to admit is that God is hidden. The theologian calls this Deus absconditus – the God who is not where we expect Him to be, who must make Himself known to us before we know Him. Today is the Sunday we call Transfiguration – the Sunday when Jesus displayed His glory to His disciples when Moses and Elijah pointed to Him as the One who fulfills the promise of the prophets and demands of the Law. The disciples who were with Jesus saw this as the moment of ultimate revelation of God and did not want to leave. But Jesus insists that they cannot stay, He must go down the mountain and make His way to the cross. Of all the places where we might look to find the hidden glory of God, Luther says the last place we would think to find it is the gallows, where death cast its shadow in the shape of a cross. But there He is.
St. Paul tells us that Christ is the image of the invisible God. In other words, the only God that we can ever know, is the God who chooses to make Himself known to us. This God is pleased to dwell in His Son, Jesus Christ, who shows to us the face of the Father and in whom the fullness of God’s glory dwells. Until Jesus, the glory of God was a reflective glory. Moses reflected God’s glory on his way down Sinai with the tablets of stone in his hands. Elijah reflected the glory of God that was hidden not in a storm, an earthquake, and fire but the still small voice. Jesus is no mere reflector of God’s glory: He is its source. In Him, hidden in human flesh and blood, we see the very face of God and all the fullness of His glory.
Christ is the image of the invisible. Where is God? Show Him to us! Asks Philip of Jesus. If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father. Responds Jesus. It was not the answer Philip expected. He thought Jesus would point him somewhere, not to Himself. We come with the same question. Where is God? In our moments of pain and sorrow, struggle and suffering, doubt and fear, sin and guilt, despair and death. Where is He? Where is His glory?
The answer is the same. God is in His Son. All paths to God lead to and through His Son. No one can see God apart from Him and there is no God except the God who is Jesus Christ. To all those in search of spirituality or religion, we have only one direction. Your journey will be endless until it ends in Christ.
God is in Christ, but where is His glory. Is it the shining of a face long hidden and suddenly glowing? Is it the mountain top experience of a mountain peak? No, Christ points us to another dlogy. The glory of God is Christ and Christ's glory is the cross. There is no glory of God apart from Jesus and the glory that belongs to Jesus is revealed in the cross and its suffering and death. The last place you would ever think to look for the glory of God is the place of suffering and death... but there it is.
Moses and Elijah met Jesus on that mountain not to point to His glory but to make sure that the disciples understood Jesus was the One. There was no God except the One who is Jesus and no glory except the glory Jesus reveals. It is not a shining face that they were there to see but the prophet of prophets who points to Jesus to say “He is the One of whom we spoke” and the patriarch of Israel who holds up the commandments which Jesus alone has kept. The glory for a whole world to see was not there on the mountain top but in the valley below.
Moses and Elijah point to Jesus and what do they talk about? Heaven? The weather? The wife and kids? No. They talk about Jesus departure, His death, the death waiting for Him on a cross in Jerusalem. This is the glory the world was waiting to see, the glory they foretold. They point to Jesus as Him who shows forth the hidden God and Christ points us to the glory of the cross revealed for the sake of the world.
God is hidden. You cannot find Him. Only He can reveal Himself to you. He is not where you think Him to be. He is hidden in the last possible place you would search for Him. God’s glory is His Son and His glory where His Son meets humanity in the long, dark shadows of death. There God reveals who He is and there He reveals who we are. Not in a flight beyond the clouds but in the blood of a cross and the dust of a grave, God shows Himself to us.
The glory of God which Peter, James, and John glimpsed was not a higher glory than they would see in the cross, it was the confirmation of the glory that was to come, they would behold there on Calvary. Jesus was confirmed by the Law and the Prophets and His mission confirmed as the central message of Scripture. They could not stay on the mountain top because their limited vision of glory revealed them would be replaced by the full vision of the glory of the cross.
The glory of God is in Him who comes to suffer for our sin and die our death – the innocent for the guilty, the Lord of life for the creatures marked for death. The power of God is not in some dreamy vision but in the God who so loved the world that He sacrifices Himself to redeem us lost and condemned creatures. His glory is not something other worldly but there in the brutal suffering and painful death of this life and this world. His glory is shown not by avoiding the suffering this plan of salvation requires but in enduring it. His glory shines in us and through us when by faith we look at the cross and say by the Spirit: “He died for me.”
So it stands to reason then that as God’s glory shines in us not on the mountain top but in the suffering of the cross, so His glory shines in us not when everything is going well for us but in the valleys of our lives when test, trouble, trial, and temptation surround us. God’s glory shines upon us not to escape suffering and pain but as we endure this suffering and pain, standing firm in Christ, holding on to the cross and confessing it boldly. This is the glory of God.
You have come to me many times wondering where is God, where is His glory... When troubles surrounded you, when your heart was broken, when doubt and fear were your unwelcome companions, when you stood in the cemetery to bury those you love, when you sat in the office with tears at all that has gone wrong... You came to me wondering where is God, where is His glory. Well, it is not in heaven but in Christ who brings His glory to our world of sin and death. Elijah and Moses point to Jesus; Jesus points to the cross. This is where I point you on this day when we sing our last Alleluia before Ash Wednesday and Lent begins. This is where I point you when all the props of life fall away and you are left exposed and vulnerable.
Only at the foot of the cross can true human identity be discovered. Because only at the foot of the cross do we meet God in His power and glory. The God who is forever hidden until He reveals Himself has revealed Himself in His Son and His Son, who displays that glory supremely on the cross. That is why Jesus calls us to take up His cross and follow Him. That is where the glory is, where salvation is to be found, where hope is manifest, and life redeemed, restored, and reborn... in the cross.
The disciples did not understand this. They wanted to set up camp on the mountain top, forgetting the folks who were not there, the family members left beyond, and the responsibilities they had in the valley. They wanted to stay but Jesus could not. Jesus sent them back down the mountain and led them to the cross. We are like the disciples of old. We want to find God in the wow of other worldly experience. We want to stay on the mountaintops. We easily forget those not with us and the responsibilities we have in life only to stay in our little moment of glory. But we must go down the mountain as well. We must make our way down to where we live our lives in the valley of the shadow of death, living in but not of the world. The great temptation is to believe that we left Christ up there. The great truth of the Gospel is that He has come down with us.
He lives among us, revealing grace in the midst of our sin, life in the midst of our death, light in the midst of our darkness, and love in the midst of our loss. Where is God? He is in His Son. Where is His glory? Where His Son reveals it to us and to a whole world – in arms outstretched in suffering to embrace us and every sin and hurt and pain and death we wear. Faith clings to the crucified Christ. Where is God? You might expect the right answer to point to heaven, to the place of glory... but God is not hidden there... no, He is hidden in the last place we would expect to find Him... in the wood of a cross, the pain of suffering, and the cold darkness of death. Where Jesus is, there is God and there is the glory of the cross to redeem us. Amen