Transfiguration of the Lord
Aspiring to Glory
What do you hope for? What do you aspire to? Your answers will depend in large part on your place in the cycle of life. Teenagers hope to pass their driver’s license test, to graduate from high school, and to have a larger measure of freedom and independence. They aspire to get into the college of their choice, to enter the branch of the armed services they find appealing, or to begin to train for a vocation.
Young singles aspire to a satisfying career. They hope to meet Mr. or Miss Right and marry. Young couples aspire to purchase their dream home, to advance in their careers, to raise healthy and well-adjusted children, and to have a large circle of friends.
Middle-aged folks hope for security and stability, good health, independent children, and respect in the community. Senior adults hope for longevity, time to enjoy retirement with their spouse, children, and great grandchildren. They aspire to travel, enjoy recreational activities, and engage in volunteer work.
These are all good hopes and aspirations. However, they all lack one thing: the spiritual dimension of human existence. It is quite easy and comfortable to live on the concrete, tangible level of being. It is easy to be satisfied with what is familiar and accessible to our five senses. But the recurrent testimony of scripture and the sporadic witness of human experience suggest that there is much more for us to become.
If you ask the average church what it hopes for, what it aspires to, you will probably hear such things as more members, a bigger budget, larger buildings, more staff, better programs, greater involvement of the members, a larger footprint in the community with mission work, and maybe even a television ministry. Again, these are all good things, but there is something more to hope for and to aspire to.
St. Francis of Assisi stands out as a person who hoped for something more in life and aspired to something more for the Church. St. Frances was born into wealth and privilege, but following a personal crisis of conscience, Francis renounced his inheritance and became an impoverished monk. Francis’ family was beside itself. The Church of his day was very suspicious of him too. Francis aspired to be utterly free to do the will of God. He desired to heed the voice on the mountain, “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him” (vs. 35).
One might wonder why a comfortable Christian would hope for such a life dedicated to the will of God. Today’s scripture reading suggests an answer. In his transfiguration, Jesus’ divine nature was manifest for the apostles to see. His glory shown like the sun. Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah appeared to Jesus on the mountain. Moses and Elijah had also experienced the glory of God. After spending forty days and forty nights on Mt. Sinai in God’s presence, Moses’ face glowed with the glory of God. The prophet Elijah was translated directly from earth to heaven on a chariot of fire.
Why do these stories suggest an answer? Shining faces, dazzling clothes, and chariots of fire seem to have more to do with Hollywood special effects than with the hopes and aspirations of the Christian life and the local church. But these external, dazzling manifestations reflect a hidden, internal reality of divine glory. They suggest a potential latent in human beings and the Church.
Jesus Christ is in us through the person of the Holy Spirit. Christ is in us through the hope of glory. Our ultimate destination is the glory of God. That is the chief end of man. The Apostle Paul said, “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” (2 Cor. 3:18).
But is it not folly to hope for such lofty things, to aspire to the glory of God? Such aspirations are not foolish. The goal of the Christian life is much more than saving our souls and making it to heaven. The goal of the Church is much more than building tiny empires. Our destiny is to be transformed into the image of God from one degree of glory to another and to draw other people into the glory. That journey begins in this life and is perfected in the life to come.
But how can we begin to move toward the transfiguration of the soul and the transformation of the Church? The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 2:12-13, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you both to will and do his good pleasure.” God works and we work. But it is extremely hard for us to remain focused on our individual and corporate destiny and potential. I think this is particularly true in the difficult days we are enduring. When we are surrounded by sickness, death, and political turmoil, it is natural for us to cleave to the familiar and tangible.
But I am convinced that we can cultivate a sense of God’s glorious presence in us and experience real, albeit gradual, transformation as individual believers and as the body of Christ
Have you ever heard of Frank Laubach? He is best known as the father of modern literacy. He worked tirelessly to develop methods to teach people to read. The Laubach method of reading is named after him. Laubach was also a Christian. He particularly wanted people to be able to read the Bible.
What is less known about Laubach is that he was a man of prayer. He aspired to retain a sense of God’s presence every waking moment of the day. Laubach called his prayer method “The Game with Minutes.” He wrote, “The Game with Minutes is a rather light-hearted name for such a regimen in the realm of the Spirit. It is a new name for something as old as Enoch, who walked with God. It is a way of living which nearly everybody knows and nearly everybody has ignored. […] Select a favorable hour; try to remember God at least once every minute; that is to say, bring God to mind at least one second out of every sixty.” This was Laubach’s method of praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Laubach’s purpose in retaining God in his thoughts was not primarily personal piety or improvement. He believed that by praying without ceasing, by constantly being mindful of God, by regularly remembering that he was destined for glory, he would be better able to fulfill his life’s work of spreading literacy. His personal piety had a very practical application.
And the same was true for Jesus Christ. Luke tells us that Jesus went up a mountain to pray before he was transfigured (vs. 28). When Moses and Elijah appeared to him, they spoke to Jesus about his departure, which he was about to accomplish (vs. 31). The Greek word Luke employs, which is translated as “departure,” is exodon. This is where our English word “exodus” comes from. Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus in the divine glory about the exodus Jesus was about to accomplish. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus would liberate the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve from sin, death, and the evil one. Jesus’ glory was closely bound up with his mission of liberation, his mission to demonstrate and embody the kingdom of God, his mission to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
After his glorification on the mountain, Jesus was immediately propelled into ministry. His first action was to cast out a demon from a child who suffered horribly at the hands of the evil spirit (vs. 37-43). Jesus’ singular focus became his impending passion. He told the disciples, “Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands” (vs. 44). The glory on the mountain prepared Jesus to accomplish his mission. The glory of God hidden in us can empower us as individuals and as a body of believers to listen to the Son, the Chosen.
Let us end where we began. What do you hope for? What do you aspire to? What are your hopes and aspirations for our church? Like Jesus, Moses, Elijah, St. Francis, and Frank Laubach, we can experience the transforming glory of God, if we will but ask for it, seek it, and knock on the portal of God’s mercy. Christ, the hope of glory in us and among us, can propel us to venture great things for God. We are ordinary men and women and children, but Almighty God inhabits this temple made of living stones. Our lives, individually and as a body, can manifest the glory of God hidden in us.
As Paul said, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). We have this treasure in jars of clay, but the glory hidden in us can shine in our words and works for all the world to see.
Let us heed God’s voice on the mountain. “This is my Son, the Chosen; listen to him.” Let us not only listen to him, but also follow him wherever he may go. And may God give us an abundance of grace so that our lives may burn brightly with the glory of Christ as we continue his mission of proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor. Amen.