A Love Unfettered and Light Unleashed

Rev. Sarah Buteux
February 10, 2013
Transfiguration Sunday
Exodus 34:29-35 Luke 9: 28-43

We got rid of our television five years ago, and I swear it wasn’t just so we could tell people we got rid of our television 5 years ago.  We got rid of it because I’d developed a bit of a habit, one might even go so far as to call it an addiction, to all those shows on TV that take an unassuming house or room or person and transform them into something else entirely.  


I couldn’t get enough of Trading Spaces there for awhile. I became the sort of person who would swear to myself, (because you know I only ever watched these things alone) that I was just going to watch one more - just one more episode of What Not to Wear or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy or Extreme Homemaker Makeover International - and then I’d get back to writing my sermon, making dinner, folding the laundry or, you know, like, living my life. It got pretty bad there for awhile. So bad that it took something as life changing as getting pregnant with George, to make me question whether this was really how I wanted to live out my days.


Well, the answer was no, so we pitched the TV and set me free. But I’ve got to tell you, even after all these years I can still remember; still remember the thrill of the reveal, the adrenaline rush, the catharsis, the tears for goodness sakes, that those last 7 minutes of the program inevitably provoked. I loved watching the homeowners and the host all trying to cram into the doorway of their newly renovated half bath or the sassy smile of the over overworked and underappreciated mom as she sashayed out in her brand new dress and cute new haircut.


It was such sweet relief to see a person finally liberated from feathered hair or bad linoleum. And I am not ashamed to admit that watching a team of professionals bring out the absolute best in a person or a place really inspired me, especially since most of the people on these shows end up on them because someone else saw that potential first. They saw it and wrote in and said, “you know who deserves a makeover? My coworker Maude who is so much prettier than she realizes,” or “Bernadette my wife of 30 years who really deserves something special,” or “our neighbors down the street –Tim and Diane - who always did so much for everyone else that they never got around to renovating their kitchen.”


That’s the part I loved most and it kind of makes me wonder what all these networks would have done with Jesus if they’d been around back then. Might someone have seen the potential in him and thought to themselves, you know with the right haircut and some new sandals that guy could go far? Maybe.


And you know, if they had, I can just imagine how the show would play out. We’d spend the first ten minutes getting to know Jesus.  There would be a montage of Jesus walking by the sea of Galilee, multiplying loaves and fishes on a hillside, maybe healing a few folks or playing ball with little kids in the dusty streets of some village. Then we’d get the close up on his face and, as the camera panned back, listen in as the experts talked about the sad state of his hair, the dirt caked on his feet, and how that robe he was wearing was made of decent material but really - for a man of his build - the cut was all wrong.


Now I know it’s hard to imagine that Jesus would ever agree to anything this ridiculous, but if he had I can tell right where, in his story, they would have wanted to end their program. They would have loved, loved, loved, the part of his story we read today. The Transfiguration would have been, for any producer worth his salt, the reveal to end all reveals. 


Seeing Jesus up there with bigwigs like Moses and Elijah, bright and shining in a new white robe, with even his Father on hand to praise him - OH! - I’m telling you if the gospel had been written for TLC it would end right here in chapter 9 with Jesus striking a pose in all his heavenly splendor. We’d cut to commercial thinking: wow, that guy looks amazing.


But the gospel doesn’t end here because strangely enough, at least in Luke’s telling of this odd and wondrous event, the point of the transfiguration is not in the reveal of Jesus in all his power and glory. No. The seminal moment in his transfiguration comes in the conversation he has with Moses and Elijah; a conversation that reveals what he intends to do with all his power and glory.


They have come from beyond to discuss his departure – literally, in Hebrew – his exodus, an exodus he will accomplish not here on this mountain but down in Jerusalem; and not by rising to the heights of power - oh no - but by being lifted up on a cross.


Like Moses before him, Jesus has come to set his people free –free from sin, death, oppression and violence - but unlike Moses and every other leader before him, Jesus has come to do this in a new way. He has not come to get, but to give, not to hurt but to heal. He is not planning to win by conquering but by being conquered.


Rather than use his time on earth to acquire all the wealth and power and control he can muster the better to rise up and bring his adversaries down, Jesus has come to use all the power at his disposal on behalf of everyone else. He has come to lift up, restore, heal and empower everyone he meets - EVERYONE! - be they friend or enemy, clean or unclean, worthy or undeserving. He has not come to free his people from their enemies by force but to liberate them from the idea that they need have any enemies at all, first and foremost by refusing to have any enemies himself.


Here on this mountain, even as we see him in all his power and glory, we come to learn how he intends to subvert his power and pour out his glory.  His plan is to use all the means at his disposal not to achieve peace through violence, but to somehow absorb all the violence people can throw at him and forgive them anyway because they know not what they do.[1]


You see, for Jesus, the only way to free us from the cycle of violence, sin, and death that has held all humanity in its thrall since the beginning, is to embrace a new way, his way, the way of the cross, the way that refuses to hit back, the way that takes all the power and glory and blessing we possess and rather than hold on to it all for our own sakes, pours it back out into the world for the sake of others, no matter what the cost.


Jesus exodus on the cross in defiance of the ways of the world opens the door for our exodus from the ways of the world as well. His way of self-giving, self-emptying, self-sacrifice shows us the way, a new way, the only way to heal the world.


And I know that’s a lot to take in, but that’s the blueprint for our salvation that was laid out on top of that mountain and that is the peculiar glory Jesus wanted his disciples to see. That was what he hoped to reveal to them: not that he was all glorious and all-powerful, but what heaven’s true purpose is for all power and glory.  


And it’s a hard truth to take in. It was back then and it is today. Amassing power and glory, influence and prestige, making it to the top and then figuring out how to stay there, that’s what most of us seek after whether we realize it or not. That’s why makeover shows are so compelling, because they make us believe that if we just had the right people on our side, better abs or nicer floors, that we’d be living on top of the world too.


It’s really easy, even for those of us who claim to follow Jesus, to get sucked into the idea that life is all about us, what we can get and what we can achieve.  The disciples didn’t get Jesus’ alternative offer right away and truth be told, even two thousand years later, we’re still struggling to come to terms with it.


I mean, think about it. Peter, James, and John saw all this with their own eyes.  They heard all this with their own ears.  Jesus has told them repeatedly that he has come to serve rather than be served, to love rather than be loved, to give rather than take, release rather than control, heal rather than harm.


They have seen him now, in all his glory, a glory that should be enough to convince them that as counterintuitive as Jesus’ plan might be, it still comes to them straight from heaven. And yet they still don’t get it. They still, somehow, think it’s all about them.  


If you continue along in the chapter you find that they go down the mountain and fail to heal the very first person they encounter. Then they get into an argument about who is the greatest. Then they get upset because they catch some random guy who is not one of them healing other people in Jesus’ name, as if Jesus wouldn’t like that.


The disciples have seen and heard and been given so much, and yet, at least at first, it’s like all the blessing of being close to Jesus, and learning from Jesus, and being loved by Jesus, is all stopped up inside of them.  It takes time for time for them to figure out that they have been blessed in order to be a blessing. Like us, they get confused and distracted.  Along the way they do a whole lot of selfish, stupid, sinful things. It takes practice and an awful lot of bumbling before they are able to translate their experience of Jesus into a life lived like Jesus, before they are ready to follow his way rather than their own.


But you know what?  Jesus sticks with them anyhow, even unto and after death. He resurrects and comes back to them and gradually, eventually, they do start to get it. And then they start to live it. And by the end of their stories they are freeing others from the ways of the world as well, freeing them from their selfish desires, freeing them from their fears and their anger, freeing them to live like Jesus. It’s all in here, in the Acts of the Apostles, and it is beautiful to behold.  


Well not to be too grandiose or anything, but that’s my hope for us here. I’m not saying we’ve been to the mountain top, but like the disciples, we have been witness to the power and glory of God in this place, in our time together, in our shared testimony and all the many ways we see the Holy Spirit at work in this community. Last weekend was amazing. There is no other word for it. This week has been amazing as well.  


Through e-mails and phone calls and visits I am hearing your stories: stories of healing and hope, the stories of God at work in your lives, stories of all the many ways God is opening you up to new ideas, new possibilities, new hopes and dreams for this church and the world.  


I hear talk of a putting the church float back together so we can march in the Pride parade, plans for turning the front of the church into an edible landscape and moving coffee hour out there once the weather gets warmer. Jane has made a sign to put out on Route 9 inviting people in for coffee and worship, a knitting group in this church that is welcoming people into its fellowship who don’t even worship here, and plans afoot to take a team down to Kentucky this summer to work with the red bird mission.  


Seriously, you’d have to be blind not to see what God is doing here in our community. Our challenge and our calling is to keep coming up with ways to take all this blessing out into the world. Remember the words Paul Nickerson spoke to us from Eugene Peterson’s the message? From Matthew chapter 5:  


You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill…  


Friends, if there is a vision for this church to embrace let it be this one. Let us go public with all we have received here.  


It may take us awhile to figure out how to do it, but that is why the Spirit has come to us the way that it has. God, in all his power and glory, has not given up on the world and we are part of the team he has assembled to reveal the potential that is hidden out there beneath all the grime of fear and doubt, sin and selfishness, hurt and pain. We’ve been called to help people see themselves the way God sees them, called to set them free from all the lies that seize and maim, and throw them to the ground, called to reveal to the world through our own self-emptying, self-giving, and self-sacrifice, nothing less than the kingdom of God.


May it be so. Let us pray.  


O Lord, we are your people, and imperfect, slightly confused, easily distracted people, but your people none the less, and so we ask, O Lord, that you would stand by us and be patient with us and keep speaking the good word of your truth to us that we might more and more live our lives for you and for others. Forgive us when we falter, lift us up when we fail, and help us to encourage one another along the way as we strive in all we say and in all we do to follow in your way, a new way, the way of the Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.  


[1] “Jesus Wants to Save Christians,” Rob Bell and Dan Golden p 88