The Road Out from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.
28Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32Now 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. 33Just 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. 34While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36When 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.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
29Moses came down from Mount Sinai. As he came down from the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant in his hand, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. 30When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him. 31But Moses called to them; and Aaron and all the leaders of the congregation returned to him, and Moses spoke with them. 32Afterwards all the Israelites came near, and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33When Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face; 34but whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he would take the veil off, until he came out; and when he came out, and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, 35the Israelites would see the face of Moses, that the skin of his face was shining; and Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
The last Sunday before Lent is always Transfiguration Sunday. It's final feast before our Lenten Fast. Every year, we read from one of the gospels about how Jesus took his inner circle of disciples up to the mountain, and every year we hear about how how suddenly Jesus was standing with Moses and Elijah, and how his face shone, and how a voice boomed out from heaven declaring that Jesus is the son of God.
Each of the Gospels handles the event a little bit differently, but each one follows Jesus's prediction of his death. And in each one the disciples resist that idea. Jesus knows what will still be required of him, but the voices of his closest friends and companions rings in his ears and it makes me wonder.
Was Jesus tempted to let them stop what was coming? Did a part of him, perhaps the part that will weep and sweat in the Garden of Gethsemane, want to let them "protect" him?
I don't know. I do know that Jesus was tempted as we are, yet remained without sin. Maybe we encounter Jesus on the mountaintop this morning looking for a road out of the suffering that is to come. Perhaps he brings his friends along to suggest that a deed of power might be easier than self-sacrifice.
Moses is on the mountain for a different reason.
14 chapters ago, in Exodus 20, God speaks to the entire assembly of Israel. The instruction given to that whole community becomes known later as the 10 commandments. That’s what sets them apart, the whole congregation heard them. They immediately ask Moses to stand between them and God, because they cannot stand to hear God directly. He goes up and receives more of the covenant instruction, then heads down the mountain for the famous golden calf incident. Moses goes back up the mountain to plead with God not to destroy these sinful people who hadn’t even waited to receive the law before they started breaking it. Moses goes back up the mountain because he and the people both need the assurance that God will not abandon them in the wilderness.
When we find Moses on the mountain in chapter 34, he has just finished re-recording the covenant words. Those are the two tablets of the covenant mentioned in verse 29. Moses has spent many days in the presence of the LORD, but “Moses did no know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, the skin of his face was shining, and they were afraid to come near him.”
Jesus, on another mountaintop, in another century, is similarly radiant, and is flanked by the Lawgiver Moses and the great prophet Elijah. “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Jesus is given the support he needs, the support he lacked from his well-meaning friends. He is given the assurance that God will go with him to Jerusalem, and the law and the prophets stand with him all the way through his departure.
Jesus and the disciples hear the voice of God make a powerful statement about who Jesus is, and what we should do in response. “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!’”
And as we listen to Christ, we’ve got to remember not only that he is God’s chosen, but we’ve got to remember what he’s chosen for. Those who followed Jesus may have expected a political revolution where Jesus kicked out the Romans and took his proper seat on the Throne of David, and rebuild a powerful kingdom of Israel.
But Jesus was not chosen to make Jerusalem great again. Jesus was chosen to go to the cross. When Moses and Elijah and Jesus are talking about his departure, they are pointing to the obedience with which Jesus will fulfill his Father’s commandments, even to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The disciples at the top of the mountain see a powerful God, and the hear the command to listen to Christ, who has told them, and will continue to tell them, that the road out is though acts of obedience and vulnerability, not only acts of power.
A god who only acts with power can only stand with the powerful. A god who only acts with power belongs to the "Holy Empires" who enforce their view of god with guns and spears. A god who only acts with power lives in the Temples and large churches that can throw around their political weight to ensure that everyone lives beneath the shadow of their steeple. A god who only acts with power speaks only through preachers with strong, authoritative voices. A god who only acts with power hears only worthy, eloquent prayers. A god who acts only with power only accepts the greatest offerings.
Our God is powerful.
But the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, of Jacob and Leah and Rachael, the God of Moses and Miriam, does not act only with power. Our God also acts with compassion, and vulnerability, and gentleness.
The LORD also stands with the weak, giving them comfort in their loss. The LORD also stands with those whom Empires oppress, promising them that justice will come and they shall be free. The LORD also lives in small churches facing challenges with limited resources, assuring them that their baptism is sufficient for their calling. The LORD also speaks through the testimony of ordinary and unexpected people. The LORD also hears our nervous, stammering prayers. The LORD also accepts small offerings and does great things through them.
After all, Moses spoke with God, and his face shone for it. He passed that word along to all the Israelites. And he had a stutter. The LORD who brought them out of Egypt with acts of power spoke to them through a man who had trouble speaking.
The LORD claims the strong and the weak alike. Our God speaks in a way that makes the face of Moses and Jesus shine, reflecting the light of the divine Word. Our God also speaks through a stammering prophet and sends his chosen one to the cross, so that we know that it is in our weakness that God’s strength is known most fully.
Transfiguration Sunday is always the Sunday before Lent because everything that comes after builds up to Holy Week. The road out leads us to Jerusalem, and to the cross. We will spend our forty days between now and then on that road following Jesus from a shining moment to his betrayal and death. We will do so following the story of the Exodus from Egypt, knowing that just as the Israelites were liberated from bondage to Pharaoh, we have been liberated from bondage to sin and death.
At the end of our lenten journey, our faces will shine with the glory of the resurrection. But we will also remember that once we were slaves in Egypt, but the LORD brought us out with a mighty hand. Here at the beginning, we also remind ourselves that we find God both on mountaintops crowned with glory, and at a humble table. The bread we eat and the cup we drink wake us up to the presence of a powerful God that is with us even when we are weak and need the kind of comfort that can only come from the God who acts in power and compassion, strength and vulnerability, greatness and gentleness.
And in God’s presence, we are all made new. Amen.
And in God’s presence, we are all made new. Amen.