A Matter of Degrees

March 3, 2019 | Luke 9:22, 28-43; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18

“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.” 

What do you see when you look in the mirror every morning?  Does the face looking back at you look like the face of someone who is undergoing a transformation?   Do you see someone who more and more reflects the image, the person of Jesus; someone who is being changed from one degree of glory to another?  I know I look a lot better to myself when I don’t put my glasses on and my wrinkles and the bags under my eyes are nicely blurred.  And I know that Paul isn’t talking about a kind of change that is necessarily going to show on our faces, although it can and sometimes does.  It’s a transformation of our hearts and our minds, a shift in our being that shines out in our living.

For Paul, it seems like this transformation happened pretty instantly.  One minute he was a real S.O.B., persecuting the followers of Jesus, and the next, he saw a blinding light, heard Jesus ask him what the heck he was doing, then boarded the Jesus glory train and never looked back.  But, even with his great life-changing epiphany, Paul openly admitted his life-long struggle to more fully reflect the image, the beauty, the love, the glory of Jesus.  He wrote:  “the good that I would do, I don’t do; and the evil that I wouldn’t do, I do!”  We are all being transformed into the image of Jesus, from one degree of glory to another.  The Spirit is doing this, and, it takes a minute.  It happens by degrees.

The story of Jesus’ with the disciples up on the mountain confirms that it takes a minute.  The journey with Jesus is a roller coaster ride for them.  They are trying to figure out who Jesus is and what it means to follow him.  Peter, who is always the first to speak up, had just confessed that Jesus was God’s Messiah, then Jesus lays on them the news that he must suffer, and be rejected by the religious leaders, and be killed.  It is likely that they completely missed the end of that sentence—that he would be raised on the third day.   They’re stuck on the first part of what he said. Fear and confusion knot their stomachs.  None of it makes any sense.  It messes with their expectations.  They have been moving at break-neck speed, surrounded by mobs of people trying to get their hands on Jesus so they can be healed, listening to his words about loving enemies, and giving without expecting anything in return.  We’re been listening to these words too for a couple of weeks.  They push at us.  Ask us to examine ourselves.  Richard went to Florida to get a break from having to hear his wife preach about this stuff!

The disciples are worn out, and Jesus too.  So he asks three of them to climb up the mountain with him so they can rest, pray, and center themselves in God.  Climbing a mountain doesn’t sound very restful.  They’re thinking, “couldn’t we just go to somebody’s house, lock the door and pray there?”  But they go, on weary legs to the mountaintop, and it doesn’t look like they’re praying up there.  Mostly they need a good long nap, but they manage to stay awake, so they see it.   The presence, the glory of God setting Jesus’ face and clothes ablaze while he talks to the long-departed prophets Moses and Elijah.  Now this roller coaster ride with Jesus has taken a turn for the good, and Peter wants to make this shining moment last for a while.  He wants to stay and soak up the glory.  No point in rushing back down.  The words are barely out of Peter’s mouth when the world goes dark, their vision is shrouded, the glory is hidden, and fear takes hold of the disciples.  A voice speaks, as it did at Jesus’ baptism:  “This is my Son, My Chosen, listen to him.”

In silence they go back down the mountain where nothing has changed.  People are still sick, poor, oppressed, tormented by powers like those wringing the life out of a little boy. Despite the heavy dose of God’s presence and glory on the mountaintop, the disciples cannot heal the boy, and Jesus is out of patience.  And honestly, it doesn’t feel fair to me that Jesus goes off on them.  They are doing their best.  They are at sixes and sevens.  Confused about what they’ve just experienced. Afraid for Jesus.  Afraid for themselves.  How does Jesus think this thing works?  That because these three have had this unmistakable experience of God they will suddenly share some effective degree of divine power and glory?  Apparently Jesus wants it to be so.  But, I’m with Paul.  It takes a minute.  Days, months, years for us to undergo  our transformation from one degree of glory to another.  Slowly we grow into the image, the person of Jesus.

And slowly we comprehend what this glory we are growing into is all about.  Jesus’ face shines on the mountaintop, but it doesn’t shine on the cross.  His face is bloodied and twisted in anguish.  The world goes dark on Good Friday, but God’s glory hasn’t departed.  It is still there, hidden in the suffering and death of Jesus.  It is hidden there in the face of this one who says, “love your enemies, and forgive those who persecute you,” and then does what he says.  It is hidden in this person who perfectly reveals God’s self because he trusts God completely with his life, loves all people unreservedly, and invests not a single ounce of energy in trying to get glory for himself, or protect his own reputation, or fight for his life.  Jesus gives up his life to show the world another way to live.  And when God restores his life, Jesus is the firstborn of a new humanity—the firstborn a new human race made up of people who will receive and live from his Spirit.

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord—on the mountaintop, back down on the level where he touches and heals, on the cross where he dies—all of us, as though reflected in a mirror, have seen Jesus’ glory and are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  We don’t transform ourselves.  The Spirit of Jesus Christ is doing this in us.  And it takes a minute.  And we have to participate in our own transformation.  We have to co-operate with the Spirit.  We have to get with the program.

As I said at the beginning of worship, in three days it will be Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.   And the Worship Committee is inviting you starting this Wednesday to four weeks of actively participating with the Spirit and each another in the transformation that we are undergoing.  Four weeks of eating together and sharing the Lord’s Supper and engaging in four other practices that open us more fully to God’s presence and glory—keeping sabbath and resting in God; being healed and healing others; forgiving ourselves and those who have hurt us; and facing our mortality with confidence that in life and in death, we belong to God whose life in us and love for us, never ever end.   These are life-long practices, habits of being and living that change us over time.   They help us to let go of things that leave us exhausted and anxious, stuck in our pain and isolation.   And in the letting go there is a fuller coming to life in the life of God.  A slow growing into the glory of God for which we are created, and for which Jesus the Christ frees.  So that when we look in the mirror every morning we can see and celebrate the eternal Light of the World in us—the beautiful Light that shines in the darkness and will never, ever go out.

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