Rocherty UMC February 14th, 2021
“Shining Like the Son” Luke 9:28-36

 
What do you think heaven looks like? Take a minute and think about it. What do the people and creatures look like that inhabit heaven look like? Is your mental picture informed by some Victorian era art? Or perhaps some icons you’ve seen in a church building? It fascinates me that each of us is imagining something different – and yet, I bet there’s a lot that’s the same. We all probably imagine open, bright, warm; and surely a main street of gold leading up to… a throne perhaps? And crowds. Every image of heaven is full of saints and angels, right? Well, all of our images of heaven are influenced by what the Bible says. Either we have read those passages ourselves, or we have seen the art created by others who did the reading and were inspired to share their imaginings with others.
So, how does the Bible describe what angels look like? Well, that one’s a little tougher. Angels are actually described in several ways in the Bible.  Some are grand winged creatures—but not like the angels we see on postcards and greeting cards at Christmas time. No, these fierce winged creatures are called Seraphim, which in the Hebrew literally means “burning ones”—the glow like fire and have six wings and a thunderous voice. And in other places, angels are described much like people, but with glowing clothing. Still at other times, an angel, this time the Angel of the Lord is described as a mighty warrior. He shows up with a sword and commands the armies of the heavenly realm. Balaam got to meet this angel when he mistreated his donkey—but for her, Balaam would be dead.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Now let’s do a contrast; imagine earth. When we think about the world around us, we don’t get the same picture, do we? We look around our world today and we see horrible things like war, like pestilence and diseases, like exploitation and oppression, violence and selfishness. And then we look at our bodies. These bags of flesh we carry around that house our souls—they grow old, they break down, they fail to carry the load we ask them to. Deep down in our souls we long for something better, something right instead of wrong, for life instead of death. We know deep in our being that we were made for so much more than this.
We live relatively short lives, we suffer along the way—sometimes emotionally, sometimes physically, sometimes spiritually, sometimes in all three ways. And after a short and tempestuous life, we die—our bodies stop working, or our heart gives out, or our brain fades, and then, suddenly – one day we are no more. Like a candle flickering in the wind, we throw off this mortal coil and fade away into nothingness. We become just the memories of us that are carried around in those we’ve impacted. Or at least that is what many people believe. People who believe that this world is all there is and when you die, that’s it.
But again, deep in our souls we know that there is more to life than what happens this side of the grave. Our being calls out, deep unto deep, for that life which is beyond this temporary sojourn we now venture upon. If heaven didn’t exist, we’d have to create such a place because we’re literally hard-wired for it. Our bodies aren’t just meant to stop at some pre-determined time. Our minds, hearts, and souls don’t have an expiration point. Our curiosity doesn’t even begin to become satisfied in the few years we’ve been given before we pass on. Surely, there must be more. This can’t be all there is!
And one of the reasons that Jesus became human was to show us that no, indeed, this is not all there is. That beyond this span of seventy, eighty, even a hundred years—people are living longer every generation—that something greater lies beyond. That heaven is ours for the taking. That the life we’ve always been meant to have is there waiting, on the other side of the veil, and its glory will be revealed in due time.
Glory—that’s another word that we use a lot in our Christian songs, in our Bible studies, and in our everyday language. But, like grace, or truth, or salvation, have we sat back and given some extended thought into what exactly this term means? To be truthful, it wasn’t until I was in seminary that I began to explore fully what this loaded term meant.
And to fully understand this term, we need to go way back. Back to the beginning of the world itself. To the sixth day of the creation story. On this day, God created human beings. God created humanity. And not only that, but God created humanity in God’s own image. In God’s likeness God created them—male and female God created them.
So, from this very important passage, we understand that humans and God are in a very special relationship. In some way, human beings and God are alike. That’s what those terms “image” and “likeness” mean. We’ve all heard the phrase about a child that “they’re the spitting image of” this or that person. What we mean when we say that is that they look, or act like that person. And that’s basically what’s going on here in Genesis 1.
God has created human beings to be relational creatures, just like God is. We, as Christians, believe that God exists eternally not as just one isolated disembodied being, but as three co-equal, co-eternal, yet distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They love each other, support each other, yield to each other. We call this doctrine the Doctrine of the Trinity; and it is this central and foundational doctrine that separates all Christians from those, like Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, that claim to follow Jesus but who aren’t Christians in the same sense.
So important was this doctrine that the early church spent years hammering it out, fighting it out, even breaking fellowship with each other over how to understand it. God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit live in a relationship of love, mutuality, respect, peace, and wholeness. Is it mutual, or is it hierarchical? Is it eternal, or did it have a beginning and therefore someday it will have an ending? Is it love, or is it commander-and-servant? These weren’t foolish arguments or jovial pub discussions to the early Christians, the answers actually mattered to them because it meant something about how humans and God and creation are related, and are to relate. Because theology is about God’s original intent for human beings; it is for us to live in that same type of relationship: love, mutuality, peace, and wholeness. Not only with God, in a vertical sense, each individual person and God in relationship. But also, in a horizontal sense: human beings in relationship with one another—living lives of love, peace, mutuality, and wholeness.
And the chief task of human beings is to reflect God’s image into all the world. Human beings were to be angled mirrors as it were. Spreading the glory of God we perceived by being in relationship with God out into the world. Our task was to spread the Garden of Eden from an isolated patch of ground somewhere in the Middle East to the ends of the earth—to tame the chaos, heal the disorder, and literally, spread the love of God, the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.
But we know something went horribly wrong. Adam and Eve, those representative humans God placed in the Garden—they botched the mission, They failed to follow through on what God desired them to do. Instead of living in relationships of love and mutuality, they decided that they knew better than God. They ate the fruit, and both chose their own will over that of God. They felt they knew what was best for them better than God did.
And so, the grand relationship between human beings and God was tarnished. The image of God in human beings was shattered. And just like a mirror that’s broken into pieces, it can’t shine the light of the glory of God in the same way as it might if it was whole. Instead, we only ever catch glimpses of the glory God created us to have.
And that’s where our Psalm of the morning comes in.  This psalm was written in the middle of Israel’s history. It was a song that celebrates the odd dichotomy we see in us.  We are broken things, yet still, there is something that remains in each of us that points to the greater glory we’re intended for.
Our psalm opens with a hymn of praise to God “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” But God isn’t the only one that is majestic in this psalm. Paradoxically, the psalm elevates humanity to a place just lower than God. It says, “what is a human being that you take note of them, the Son of a human that you care for him, yet you have made the human a little less than God and crowned it with glory and honor.”
You see, it’s not just God that gets glory in the Bible.  Human beings were meant to share in the glory of God. As bearers of the divine image, human beings were to shine like the sun with the radiance and knowledge of God. They were to spread it as the waters cover the sea. Yet, we fail to do so. But even as we fail to shine that glory, we know that we’re supposed to be doing something other than what we’re doing. Our consciences, our very soul cries out in protest when we do wrong, when we fail to show forth the glory of God in all its splendor.
And finally, we come to the passage in Luke’s gospel today. With the background of these two Old Testament passages, maybe we can begin to make sense of what the Transfiguration of Jesus is all about.  In short, the Transfiguration is nothing short of the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But if we stop there, we get it wrong too. Just like the disciples.
Let’s look a little closer at the story. Jesus takes the disciples up to a mountain. And when they go and pray, the disciples get a little sleepy. And as they’re getting drowsy, something strange happens. Jesus is changed. His face changes, and then his clothes change too. And then not only that, two people appear, Moses and Elijah.
And at once, there are several things going on here. And it’s a bit confusing. Because, not only is Jesus changed in appearance, but Moses and Elijah also appear in glory. And that raises a question. Isn’t Jesus supposed to be special? Isn’t Jesus God after all?
Well yes, he is. But if you remember, Jesus’ most favorite title for himself was “the Son of Man”—that’s right, the same title that our psalmist used to describe human beings. Human beings are the Son of Man individually, and Jesus is the pioneer of nothing short of a new human race. He’s a proto-type, our leader: our elder brother, the first-born as the Apostle Paul calls him. And we are called to follow in his footsteps.
With Jesus and the resurrection, we see the beginning of a new Creation.  The new heavens and the new earth have broken into our space and time right now. Heaven has invaded earth. The holy has invaded the common. Glory has come to the tarnished fractured image bearers of God. In the transfiguration of Jesus Christ, we see just a glimpse of the glorious nature that is ours to come. We get a glimpse of heaven right in the pages of our Bible. We know that there will be a qualitative difference between life now and life then.
And lest this just be some academic exercise, the Transfiguration story tells us something about how you and I should live and work in the world. It tells us a little about the value of a human being. It tells us that it just isn’t God that is destined for glory, it is the human race as a whole that will end in glory. When we all get to heaven we will be like Jesus.
And as we live on earth, as we live our lives as Christians, we have Jesus Christ as our role model—as the archetype we are to imitate.  Jesus shows us not just what it looks like when God becomes human, but rather what it means to be truly human—to live and love as God would have us.  When we look in the face  of Jesus we have for us the example we all must follow.
As Jesus cared for the poor, so must we care for the poor. As Jesus cared for those of other nations and races, so too must we care for all people. As Jesus called people to repentance and forgave all their sins, so too must we forgive. And as Jesus loved his enemies even as they mocked and killed him, so too we must love the persons we find most vile, most reprehensible, the most evil and perverted.
Because in heaven there won’t be two teams, “us and them” There will just be one team—God’s team. And on that team will be people of all races, nations, tribes, tongues, and languages. Heaven won’t be a monoculture.  Just like the Bible tells us that not all angels will look or act alike, so too with human beings. In heaven we won’t all do the same thing. We won’t all look or act the same. But we will have many things in common – hearts of love, bodies that knew pain, hands that work and serve, seeking to lift others up, sharing wealth and resources, removing barriers and opening gates, building bridges and making the way straight and easier for those who limp, who crawl, who are burdened.
At the end of time the glory of God will be revealed. Not because God comes shining in the clouds, but because the Kingdom of God is on earth, God’s will is done just as it is in heaven, and everyone is given daily bread and debts are forgiven. The glory of God is revealed as we are led out of temptation and are delivered from evil. The glory of God will be revealed because the power of the kingdom is like light; the darkness cannot overcome it, cannot consume it, cannot understand it. 
The glory of God will be revealed. Not just in the face of Jesus Christ, but in the faces of people just like you and me. You and I will be as close to God as we can be. And while we wait, we work along with the Spirit of God, to grow more and more like Jesus. One day we’ll shine like the Son, share in the glory of God, and live in eternal peace and blessedness. But for now? For now, we work to make that as much of a reality on earth as it can be.
The Transfiguration of Christ matters. Because it shows us what our destiny as human beings is. Because it shows us the potential we have NOW, in this world, to bear the image and glory of God. Because glory and transformation and transfiguring isn’t just for some future heaven – it matters because is says something about how humans and God and creation are related, and we are to relate together. I bear the image of Christ. You bear the image of Christ. Here we go, to shine God’s light in the world.
Amen.