A sermon on Luke 9: 28-43 & 2 Corinthians 3:12 - 4:2 by Nathan Nettleton, 14 February 2010
In a moment of transfiguration we glimpse the weightiness of Jesus and his mission, and we are ourselves transfigured, becoming people of greater substance.
I wonder what Jesus would post on Facebook or Twitter if he was a regular computer user. Twitter asks “what’s happening?” and allows you 140 characters to “tweet” the answer to the world. Perhaps Jesus would tweet, “Coffee and chat with Moses and Elijah on mountain top. Lot of glare up there. Everyone needed sunglasses. Must find better coffee next time.” That’s 140 characters, exactly.
I haven’t got into Twitter, but I have been on Facebook for a few months. Facebook allows you more space and asks “What’s on your mind?” For the most part, discovering what’s on the minds of my friends has been a bit of a let down. With one or two exceptions it seems that the more they write, the less they have to say. I didn’t realise just how vacuous some of my friends were until I started seeing regular updates about what was on their minds! Now I know that’s not really true. Many of these people I know well enough to know that they are anything but vacuous. In another context they are fascinating, witty and thoughtful. But there is something about the culture of the Facebook medium that seems to encourage people to share their most inane thoughts without any discrimination, and if Facebook was your only window into their lives, you might well wonder about them. The impression created is that there is very little there of any substance, of any weight.
I reckon that if Jesus had left us a report of what was on his mind that day on the mountain of transfiguration, we’d have got something a little weightier than a weather report and a coffee review. Interestingly, the version of the story we heard tonight, the version from Luke’s account of the gospel, is the only version that gives us any report of what Jesus was talking about with moses and Elijah. Mark and Matthew just report that they were talking, but Luke says they “were speaking of his exodus, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” Most of our English versions translate the word exodus, and so say something like they “were speaking of his departure”, but when we hear it translated like that, we miss a whole world of biblical allusions and background. They “were speaking of his exodus, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” He was speaking with Moses, about his exodus. Surely Luke could not have put the words “Moses” and “exodus” in the same sentence by accident. He’s not adding “No pun intended” at the end of the line. It has got to be a deliberate allusion, doesn’t it?
What they are talking about is Jesus’ exodus, his pioneering of a way out of slavery, fear and oppression, through the wilderness of sin and corruption, down into the blood red sea of death, and across to rise on the other side in the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey in the wide open spaces of God’s love and mercy. And like Moses before him, Jesus walks this exodus road so that we may follow him on the way and find freedom. This is our passover, from death to life. This is our exodus, from slavery, through the impassable ocean of death, and on into the place for which our heart yearns and our spirit thirsts. This is our baptism, the death we must die and the life we must rise to, for in his baptism in water and in blood, he has gathered us to himself and the exodus is begun. Can you hear the echo of the baptism story in this transfiguration story? Where did we last hear the voice from heaven announcing “my Son, my chosen, my beloved one, the one in whom I am well pleased”? Listen to him, indeed!
I don’t know if Jesus can sum up the exodus in 140 characters, but I’m pretty sure I can’t and I’m not going to try. But there is certainly something of substance there. Something worth reporting and sharing with the world. I don’t reckon Peter, James or John could have got it into 140 characters either, but they didn’t have to because Jesus told them not to tweet about it until after the resurrection.
But what they saw on the mountain that day was probably more than their minds could begin to handle. Any attempt to answer “what’s on your mind?” and they might have short circuited the wiring completely. Luke says “they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him.” They saw his glory. What does that mean, “they saw his glory”? We sing the word “glory” quite a lot: “Glory to God in the highest”, and “Glory be to you, O God”, but what does it mean? They saw his glory.
The Hebrew word that carries this concept is “kabod” in Hebrew, and it comes from a word that means “heavy, weighty, or to be of great substance.” Away from the boxing ring and the dieting scene, to describe a man as a heavyweight is to say something very positive about his character and his contribution. If we describe someone as a “woman of substance” we are not commenting on her physical dimensions, but on what she has to offer the world. So when “they saw his glory”, they were seeing what Jesus was made of. They were seeing his true substance; what he was worth. They were seeing the very opposite of the vacuousness that I mostly seem to see on Facebook. They were seeing weightiness; great substance. They were seeing the kind of heavyweight who really could begin the exodus of the whole world. They were seeing what really mattered, and alongside it everything else looked as silly and lightweight as lighting a candle to see if the sun has come up.
And look what the Apostle Paul has to say about this in the reading we heard from his second email to the Corinthians: “And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.” “Seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror”, and remember, this was written before the invention of clear glass. He’s not saying we see everything perfectly is crystal clarity. As he says elsewhere, we see as in a glass darkly. First century mirrors didn’t give you the full picture. But Peter, James and John couldn’t see the full glory of Jesus in crystal clarity all the time either. They caught a glimpse — was it a few minutes or maybe an hour? — and then it was gone almost as soon as they tried to grab onto it and build a shelter and make it last. But that glimpse was enough to change them. “All of us, partially glimpsing the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”
How are we being transformed? From one degree of glory to another. From one degree of weightiness to another. From one degree of substance to another. “All of us,” says Paul, and being transformed into people of substance as we catch glimpses of the glory of Jesus. You might start out being truly as lightweight as Facebook manages to make many people appear, but God has plans for you. Jesus is leading us out of our enslavement to the meaningless and vacuous culture that reduces the sum of your worth to 140 characters. The exodus has begun, and we are all being transfigured, transformed, into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.
That’s why we gather regularly around this book and this table. The transfigured one, the risen one is here, in all his weightiness, in all his glory. And here we catch glimpses, albeit as through a glass darkly, as through sleepy eyes and a thick bright cloud. Here we catch glimpses of the glory of the risen one, and with each glimpse, with each taste, with each transfiguring word, we are being transformed from one degree of glory to another until every vacuous tweet has passed away and we can stand tall in the very banqueting room of heaven as the people of substance God created us and destined us to be.