Love is a temple…
February 14, 2010
Exodus 34:29-33; 2 Corinthians 3:12-14; 17-18; Luke 9:28-45
What is glory…? (Saints…Olympics…Captain Sully…Sistine Chapel…Snow…)
Glory can be fleeting… Bruce Springstein helps name this in the song Glory Days.
I had a friend was a big baseball player
back in high school
He could throw that speedball by you
Make you look like a fool boy
Saw him the other night at this roadside bar
I was walking in, he was walking out
We went back inside sat down had a few drinks
but all he kept talking about was
Glory days well they’ll pass you by
Glory days in the wink of a young girl’s eye
Glory days, glory days
Well there’s a girl that lives up the block
back in school she could turn all the boy’s heads
Sometimes on a Friday I’ll stop by
and have a few drinks after she put her kids to bed
Her and her husband Bobby well they split up
I guess it’s two years gone by now
We just sit around talking about the old times,
she says when she feels like crying
she starts laughing thinking about
Now I think I’m going down to the well tonight
and I’m going to drink till I get my fill
And I hope when I get old I don’t sit around thinking about it
but I probably will
Yeah, just sitting back trying to recapture
a little of the glory of, well time slips away
and leaves you with nothing mister but
boring stories of glory days
What does the glory of Jesus look like?
We could spend a lot of time asking and trying to answer the question of “what really happened on the mountain?” Was this a historical event that could have been captured on video and put on You Tube? Were the details of the story as recounted in the Gospel traditions simply literary attempts to put into words an indescribable shared experience? Was it a vision only for the eyes of the four on the mountain, a perspective seemingly supported by Matthew who (alone) refers to the experience as a vision (17:9)? These questions are real…particularly for post-Enlightenment, scientifically minded readers of this text.
I invite us to hold those questions with an open hand…to live with them…even as we contemplate the story they emerge out of. I invite us to contemplate the glory of Jesus—both on the mountain and in the descent.
Theophany is the theological word meaning “the appearance of God.” Peter, James, and John got much more than a brief taste of the manifestation of God. We have been focusing on this theme during the season of Epiphany—being particularly attuned to the ways and the times God is manifested in our lives and in the life of the world. Now, on the edge of Lent, we ascend with Jesus and the disciples on another mountain before descending toward Jerusalem and Calvary.
In Luke’s gospel, it is eight days after Peter has confessed that Jesus is the Messiah of God at Caesaria Philippi. (Matthew and Mark have it six days later.) It is eight days after Jesus has sternly ordered the twelve disciples not to tell anyone. It is eight days after he has begun to deconstruct their notions of what Messiah comes to do… “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”
Not the kind of glory they signed up for!
But here’s the kicker…Jesus teaches that the road he is about to walk is one that anyone who wants to become his follower, must walk. A road of self-denial, of daily cross-bearing, of belief that translates into action. It was difficult to see the glory in what Jesus was beginning to teach about suffering and death…about self-denial and taking up crosses. So Jesus takes Peter, James and John up to the mountain to pray.
Now here on the mountain, the glory of God is revealed, in the body of Jesus. The language and symbols describing the experience are those of the Hebrew Scriptures. Of Moses on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments. Now, just as at his baptism, the identity and ministry of Jesus is confirmed by the voice from heaven. Moses and Elijah are there. Luke confirms that Jesus fulfills both the law (Moses) and the prophets (Elijah). The entire witness to God throughout Israel’s history from Sinai onward is present to discuss Jesus’ path of suffering and death—the New Exodus (“departure”).
So here is sleepy Peter…slow to get it Peter…eyes wide open to the glory of God in Jesus and the covenant community he is being called into. I wonder where we are in this picture?
- Do we see that Jesus is in continuity with the history of Israel—God’s covenant community?
- Do we grasp what it means to be in covenant community? To be in communion with this communion of saints and sinners—through our baptism into Christ Jesus?
So as we see the glory of Jesus at the top of the mountain, we see that it is not just Jesus and me (the church becomes incidental…even a pitiful institution which we somehow are better than). It is not just Jesus, Menno and us (our tribal exclusivity). It’s not just Jesus, Joyce Meyer, me and all others who listen to Joyce Meyer. Covenant community around Jesus is about an organic, relational reality that we cannot fully grasp. This communal reality is a mystery we participate in every Sunday as we gather for worship.
3. Do we, like Peter, try to formulize our amazing…terrifying experiences with God—to hold on to it somehow? Do we also talk, talk, talk about what we think we have experienced. Do we also try to talk our way into understanding…to build something that will help us pin down holy mystery?
Building a shrine was not what Jesus had in mind. There is a journey to continue that involves descent…another kind of glory.
Alan Culpepper observes: “Faithfulness is not achieved by freezing a moment but by following on in confidence that God is leading and that what lies ahead is even greater than what we have already experienced”
When the disciples and Jesus come down from their mountain top glory experience, they immediately encounter a crowd and a boy with the unclean spirit. There is shrieking. There is foaming at the mouth. Convulsions. Chaos.
There is always a crowd if we are willing to come down from the mountain. Missio dei—following Jesus—calls us down from the idol of self-centered religious experience, into the messiness of the crowds where there are all kinds of unclean spirits. Our experience of God, rather than being about our own private pursuit and comfort, is linked to our response to the suffering of the world.
N.T. Wright puts it this way: “The more open we are to God, and to the different dimensions of God’s glory, the more we seem to be open to the pain of the world.”
What about us? What are we invited into both in the glory of Jesus revealed at the top of the mountain and in the descent to the crowds, the identification with suffering in ourselves and in the world?
It’s Valentine’s Day. Perhaps that offers just one context where we think about the implications of embracing both kinds of glory. It is easy to seek out the mountain top versions of love…without being willing to descend so that we might be battered into the shape of the vision—into a love that reflects God.
So the first guy that brings you flowers, invites you to the prom, the first girl that smiles at you…tells you she loves you…must also be willing to walk the road of self-denial. Honoring sexual purity before marriage. Willing to honor your parents. If it is enduring love it will also involve a covenant relationship…marriage where there will be many opportunities for descent…self-denial…cross-bearing: Washing the dishes…changing diapers…playing with the kids…not just hanging out with the guys kind of love. This too will be an ongoing process of transformation–from glory to glory.
This Wednesday we will once again gather as a community to acknowledge our own sinfulness, to confess our brokenness…the we have unclean lips and that we are from a people of unclean lips. We will face our mortality—that we are from dust and that we will return to dust. This is a discipline through which we come down from the mountain where we think that somehow we are different than the crowds all around us. The imposition of ashes is a way of expressing that no one is righteous, not one. It is an expression of solidarity with the suffering of the world.
The journey of Lent is a descent from delusional glory—glory without healing and transformation. It is descent from the illusion that somehow God protects us from pain. Walter Brueggemann, the great biblical scholar, offers a prayer to help us make this descent:
“You, majestic sovereign…move off the page! Move off the page to the world, move off the page to the trouble, move out of your paged leisure to the turmoil of your creatures. Move to the peace negotiations, and cancer diagnoses, and burning churches, and lynched blacks, and abused children. Listen to the groans and moans, and see and hear and know and remember, and come down!” (Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann).
As we again journey through Lent toward the cross and Easter, may we see Jesus revealed not just in the mountain top glory, but in the descent into suffering—our own and the worlds. May we see the glory of the God revealed in this journey…