Eyewitnesses to Majestic Glory

2 Peter 1:16-21
Transfiguration of the Lord
Elizabeth M. Deibert

If you and I could only see the Holy Spirit everywhere in all things, we too would be staring in amazement like Peter, James, and John, at the Majestic Glory. We would be eyewitnesses of this same miracle, day after day.

You don’t believe me, do you? You don’t believe you can see Jesus like this? You haven’t seen Moses and Elijah either? Well, I say, it is because you and I have not trained our eyes to read all the God is doing in the world.

Think about it. How are you capable of reading the words on this screen, except that your parents read to you and then some wonderful teacher taught you in 1st grade. Then you continued to practice it day after day, year after year, and by now, you are quite a good reader of the English language.

But are we good readers of the spiritual realm of the Majestic Glory of God? Maybe not. Well, because, even though we heard some of these stories of faith, we have not practiced them nearly so well as we practiced reading English literature, history, math, science, not to mention popular culture, which we frequently read.

And then along the way, we had someone tell us that this Christian story is not what it seems, that is a cleverly devised myth. Can you imagine what might have happened if while you were learning to read, someone kept confusing you about what letters make which sound. Those of you with dyslexia understand that very well because for you d and b and p and q all look similar and it is hard to figure out which is which.

There was a couple who thought it funny to teach their child all the wrong sounds for the animals, so dogs say meow and cats say quack, and so forth. Well, it was not so funny for the kid, who was seriously confused about the animal sounds for a very long time.

I am afraid we have a couple of generations of Christians who are confused about our life with God, the amazing, all powerful, all loving, Holy Triune God, whose glory fills the skies. We have stopped reading the Majestic Glory all around us. We only see a flat world. We are so full of cynicism about God, we cannot see. We have been trained to question everything, to want scientific or historical proof for everything, to think that what science and history and technology can give us is more valuable than the gifts of our Christian faith. Today is a day to embrace the power of our majestic and glorious life with Christ, a mystery which defies explanation.

Before we read Peter’s reflection on his experience of the glory of Christ, let me remind you that this is the last Sunday before we begin Lent on Ash Wednesday in just three days. Lent, the season of reflection on the suffering of Christ, the season when we make sacrifices in our own lives, to remember the sacrifice made by Christ on the cross. Lent, a somber season, which we know ends in death and but invites us into the glory of the resurrection. Transfiguration is anticipates Easter. It is a reminder that we like Christ will live. We will be changed, but we have a role to play in that changing process. It is called sanctification – that’s the big word which means becoming more holy. We read today, not the Transfiguration story from the Gospels, but the reflection on the story from 2 Peter.

NRS 2 Peter 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

This is the only miracle which happens to Jesus himself, you know. Jesus is transfigured before them, but it is not that he changes in a different person, but only that the disciples could see him for who he really was.

To some of you, this will seem like a cleverly devised tale, but I say to you, as Peter said to the early church, this is the real truth of your life – that this story is not just a matter of human interpretation but that the Holy Spirit is speaking through these words to you today to invite you to believe in a power beyond yourself, beyond your imagination, beyond your comprehension, beyond all that the world wants you to believe.

You do not have to see God’s majestic glory all around you, the power of Christ at work in this church, the Holy Spirit filling every sunset and every flower with color. But you can. You can have this prophetic message confirmed by your own eyes in the 21st century.

You do not have to look for the eyes of Christ in every person you meet, but you can, and what a difference it makes in how you treat them. It changes you. It changes them. You want to love and support every person, as if you were doing it for Christ. Why else would sixteen of us go to Tampa to walk in the heat? Why would we care that farmworkers do not get paid fairly? Because we have seen the glory of God in the faces of farmworkers.

You do not have to believe that something happens to you when you come to worship to hear God’s word and to receive the sacrament, when you pray and sing and make offerings of your life to God. You can choose to think that we are just a bunch of kind people, remembering the life of Jesus, reading the stories of faith to be inspired to be good people.

But I believe every week we are here to be truly transformed, to be changed a little more into the likeness of Christ. Every time I participate in worship, especially in the heart of worship -- the Word and the Sacrament, I become a little less sick with sin and a little less blind to all that God is doing in the world. I begin to see clearly. I grow stronger in faith, and build peace with Christ and with others and so do you, every time you are here.

That’s why it is hard for me to imagine worship as an optional experience. This is life, this is health, this is strength. This is how we grow close to Christ, the One through whom we know who we really are.

We understand how muscles that are not used atrophy and become so weak as to do us no good. In fact, they cause us harm by making us vulnerable to fall. What about your faith muscles? Same thing. Your faith needs a short work-out every single day and a real good one at least once a week, or your faith will be weak. How can you expect to have strong faith, if you do not exercise your faith in worship and service.

You too can be a reader, a viewer, an eyewitness of God’s Holy Presence in the world around you, if you choose to practice that way of living. It will mean setting aside time for prayer, for scripture, and for sacrificial service of God in the manner of Christ. It means making this way of seeing the world your priority. It is not a short distance race. No, this is the marathon called life. Life is short in one sense in that the older we get, the faster it goes, and the more amazed we are at our own age. Could I really be this old, we say to ourselves? Especially after we pass what we assume to be the midpoint and we are moving rapidly toward the finish line.

But our perspective changes, if we assume we are preparing for the eternal glory, if we believe we will be transfigured, that we too are little by little being changed from glory into glory, til in heaven we take our place, as the wonderful hymn, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling” puts it.

I want to read to you what our ancestors in the faith were inclined to say about the glory of God in the 1640’s. This is part of the Westminster Confession of Faith. This might have been our confessional reading for today, except that I really thought we needed the ancient Nicene Creed, which so beautifully proclaims the majesty of Christ, connecting us to Christians of sixteen centuries, not just four. Hear this list of adjectives which the reformers in England and Scotland used to describe God – “infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty; most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will, for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth” (Westminster Confession 6.011) You can hear the awe in their language about a God who transcended all they could describe.

Our understanding God’s transcendence, of God’s majesty, by comparison, is puny. We have turned God into someone we can understand and manage. And that’s why Transfiguration Sunday crashes into us with a kind of confusion. Every year as I come to this Sunday, there’s part of me that rebels. How do I preach on Transfiguration? Our generation is no good at reverence. We do not dwell easily on the majestic glory of God.

But surely somewhere along the way, you’ve had some momentary experience of that glory. When a child was born, when you walked on the beach at sunset, when you stood atop a mountain in autumnal glory, when you returned home after a long, hard time away, when the Christmas candles or lights reminded you of the light of Christ. When N. Carolina beat Duke to clinch the ACC title. (I didn’t really say that!) Seriously, you have had one or more of those moments in life when you were keenly aware of God’s goodness and love. Even our friend, Jim Jones, the Herald reporter picked up on the glory of God as he heard Peace eyewitnesses describe God’s majestic glory in the story of Wells’ baptism.

Peter and James and John had a mountaintop experience with Jesus. They were not sure what had happened but the longer they reflected on it, the more convinced they were that this vision was telling them the truth about the nature of Christ, a truth which could lighten the darkness of everyone. Peter challenges his readers to be attentive to this story as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. The morning star rising in your heart.

So for all of us who sometimes feel that our heart is not so bright, not so warm to God, as it should be, remember that Peter said, pay attention to Christ transfiguration until the day dawns, until your heart warms up to this notion of God’s glory. It’s not the other way around – that when your heart warms, then you pay attention to God.

It’s kind of like first grade. You have to keep looking at the letters, and seeing how certain ones come together to combine sounds. You keep piecing it together, and then one day, after lots of practice, the words begin to flow forth from your mouth, though with some stumbling and pausing. One day, after practicing your Christian faith, practicing seeing the world with Christ’s eyes, practicing viewing the world with the eyes of the Holy Spirit, practicing looking for the glory of God in every flower, every sunset, every person, every wonder, every event – good or bad -- one day the faith begins to dawn, and the morning star rises in your heart and you know the Majestic Glory is there in your midst. And that is what carries you in life, in death, and in life after death.

Glory be to God in the highest heaven. Glory be to you, O Christ. Glory be to the Holy Spirit. Alleluia. Amen.

This sermon grew out of conversations with my dear husband Richard, from whom I learn a great deal about what it means to be faithful.