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The Last Sunday after the Epiphany
February 7, 2016
The Gospel: Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]
Sermon: "The Face of God"
The Very Reverend Dr. Richard (Rick) Miles
Watch the complete video of this service on our YouTube Channel
About eight days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God, 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.]
Luke 9:28-36, [37-43a]
The Face of God
It amazing just how easy it is to get distracted online! Somehow, a couple of weeks ago, I found myself looking at the results of an internet search for the "10 most recognizable faces in the world." I think someone had sent the link to me through Facebook. It was actually the compilation of several searches that did not agree with each other, so, of course, there were more than 10. The lists included: Michael Jordan, Michael Jackson, Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, Queen Elizabeth II, Madonna, Cindy Crawford, Bill Clinton, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., Pele, Osama bin Laden, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, Elvis, Albert Einstein, Bruce Lee, Steve Irwin, Stephen Hawking, Jackie Chan, Charlie Chaplin and, of course, President Obama.
What’s interesting is how many of these faces and others are iconic; that is, they’re not just the face of a famous person, but they also represent something even larger: campaigns, movements, organizations, or even concepts and ideas. For instance: Einstein is the face of Science. Rosa Parks is the face of Civil Disobedience. MLK is the face of Civil Rights. Queen Elizabeth ... the United Kingdom, or Monarchy itself. Lady Gaga ... Pop Culture. Elvis ... Rock 'n' Roll. Sigmund Freud ... Psychology. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs…communications innovation. Jackie Chan…acting, and martial arts. . Michael Jordan…sports.
All of them are recognizable and truly iconic faces. More important than their recognizability, though, is what they represent. And that brings us to three faces we meet in our lesson from the Gospel According to Luke, this morning. Here, on the Mount of Transfiguration we are encountered by three iconic faces that have transformed the human race more than all the others mentioned put together. They are: Moses, the Face of the Law of God, Elijah, the Face of the Prophets of God, and Jesus, the Face of God.
Consider the face of Moses. Thanks to movies like Exodus: Gods and Kings, DreamWorks' animated The Prince of Egypt, Cecil B. DeMille's The Ten Commandments and even Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part I, most folks have some working knowledge of Moses. One of my favorite scenes in Mel Brook’s movie shows Moses descending Mt. Sinai with three stone tablets of Commandments, instead of the traditionally depicted two. Moses, speaking to the Israelites says, "The Lord, the Lord Jehovah has given unto you these Fifteen Commandments.” Suddenly the third tablet drops and shatters. Moses says, “Oy! Ten! Ten Commandments for all to obey!”
Even if the record gets a little distorted here and there, nearly everyone knows Moses met God in a burning bush, parted the Red Sea, or Reed Sea, and led the people through the wilderness. We, of course easily understand how being the face of the law of God makes sense. He is, after all, the one who received the 15, er ... 10, commandments from God.
Elijah, on the other hand, may require a little more recall. Elijah arrives on the scene when Israel's kings, especially King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, have compromised the faith for political expediency. He speaks tirelessly for God, calling the people away from the worship of the pagan god Baal, and back to worship of the one, true God. Perhaps his most famous story is his contest with the Prophets of Baal, where he calls down fire from Heaven upon the sacrifice to God, after the Baal prophets have utterly failed to get a response from their God. Then there is that other story, found in I Kings 19 that has meant so much to our own personal prayers and faith; when the “Still small voice” of God speaks to Elijah while he is in fear for his life.
No prophet in Israel’s history distinguished that office quite so powerfully as Elijah. As a result, to this day, when Jewish folks look for the coming of God at the Passover meal, they look for Elijah to lead the way. They even pour a cup of wine to offer to him, just in case he actually walks in. No wonder he is the face of the prophets of God.
Moses and Elijah: together, they are the face of the Law and the Prophets. Let’s take a moment and look a little deeper at what these two represent. And let’s start with the Law. When we think of the law, we often think of things that are restrictive, that keep us from doing what we want to do. But that has never been the Jewish view of God’s Law. Consider all the songs in praise of the Law found in the Old Testament. By their understanding, the Law is about freedom and life. Think of it; laws are necessary. They help us relate to one another in a fair way. They help us to be the people God has called us to be.
Anyone who has ever sat through the shut-down of a traffic jam, and prayed for the police to show up, knows how helpful laws can be. Or, whenever we go shopping at one of those after-Thanksgiving, Black Friday sales where people are pushing and shoving for a deal, we long for some law and order. Every government in the history of humankind has had some system of law. Without law, there's anarchy. No society has survived without it.
Just in the normal dealings of life law is required. Even when we're having fun, playing games! Rules! Want to play golf? Rules! Basketball? Rules! Board games? Rules! Every game has rules! Even FUN isn’t possible without having laws! Yes, societies can get carried away in this regard. Even some churches can become so restrictive with rules, regulations, and obligations that 15 commandments would be a relief. But, more like the rules for fun, the laws of God for life are in place for our long-term benefit. The Law shows us how to live together and serve one another.
Now let’s look at the prophets. Contrary to popular thinking, prophets did not necessarily predict the future. Prophets received special revelations from God for the good of the people, and were called to share it. This distinguished them from priests. Prophets were to speak to the people on behalf of God; priests spoke to God on behalf of the people.
Some prophets had distinctive messages, and some had distinctive ministries. Many of the prophets called the people to repentance. Many others also called the people of God to lift up the downtrodden, and to ease the burden of the oppressed. A few also called upon the people of God to return to right worship and rebuild the house of worship. These, then, are the prophets. Elijah represents those who speak God’s will for us.
Now, the Face of the Law and the Face of the Prophets meet with Jesus: the Face of God. In Jesus Christ, the third person on the mountain of the transfiguration, we have a perfect response to the law and the prophets, and that response is called: Good news! Gospel! Grace! Here is why this meeting is so important to you and me.
We've met Moses. That is, we know the law. We know we fail to keep it. We've met Elijah. We've heard the prophet. We know we're called to serve the least and the lowliest; but at our best we’ve only sacrificed to a point. We know were called to holiness, to transformed lives in the image of Christ, but we know we've failed to live righteously as we are called.
But, now, meet Jesus. He kept the law of God -- perfectly. He served beyond sacrifice, and lived that life of holiness -- perfectly. And, here’s the amazing part, God accepts his perfection on our behalf. That means that when God looks at you and me, God sees the perfection of Christ enfolding us before anything else. We don’t have to earn God’s favor. We already have it because of Jesus. What we do for God, then, is not some flailing attempt to earn a hearing with God, or get enough credits to get into Heaven. There’s no stairway to buy, or balance sheet to cover. It’s all already given us. What we do for God, then, is in response to that knowledge; a response that comes in joy and freedom. Like that wonderful Eucharistic hymn we sing, “I come with joy to meet my Lord, forgiven, loved, and free!” Because He has kept the law for us when we could not keep it for ourselves, we are able to follow Jesus and serve God in others, motivated only by love and thanksgiving.
Here’s what the Transfiguration means for us. You see, God means to transfigure your being and mine, change us, into the image of Christ. God’s intent is that you and I become so internally transformed, that others come to see Christ’s face in our faces, and in our lives. You and I are to become iconic faces of Christ, as he is the iconic face of God. In Jesus’ completion of the Law and the Prophets, we are given a whole new identity and purpose; to become, and be, him for a hurting world; to make his presence felt through our own beings.
That's Jesus, the face of the gospel, the face of good news, of Grace, of God. That’s what it means that the law and the prophets are now fulfilled in Christ who calls us to a new life in him. This is the Transfiguration: the face of the law and the face of the prophets have met, and are now complete in the one who is the face of God.