Transfiguration • 7 Feb 2016

James 5:13-16
Luke 9:28-36

Rev. Chris Udy

Today our Gospel reading
is about a meeting of mountain-top men:
Moses, and Elijah, and Jesus.
All of them came to moments of revelation
at places where their vision
was enhanced by a high perspective.
For Moses and Elijah it was Mt Sinai,
from which Moses returned with the Law,
and where Elijah discovered God present,
not in earthquake, wind and fire,
but in the still, small voice
of conscience and compassion
that comes to us in silence.

Moses and Elijah on the mountain
were like beacons -
points of orientation and direction -
for people who were trying
to find their way through life.
They provided guidance:
Moses through the Law,
and Elijah through a sense
of prophetic righteousness and justice -
and others who wanted to live
with the purpose and meaning that comes
in a relationship with God
were drawn to their inspiration and example.

Moses was also a beacon
to the first disciples of Jesus.
Moses was well known to all Jewish people,
so when Christians wanted
to explain who Jesus was
they compared him to Moses.
Matthew even describes Jesus
as coming out of Egypt - as Moses did -
and he gathers the teachings of Jesus
into the sermon on the mount.
For Matthew especially,
the teachings of Jesus are the Law perfected -
but where the voice from Mt Sinai
thundered warnings of condemnation,
the sermon on the mount
is about forgiveness and redemption,
and the commandments Jesus gives to his disciples
are all about love.
It’s not the soppily sentimental love
of Valentine’s day chocolates and cards and roses,
but the radically inclusive,
unconditionally compassionate,
sacrificially honest and courageous love
that Jesus lived and died with.

What Jesus asks of his disciples
is not the same as Moses.
Jesus asks us to live,
not with fearful, unthinking obedience,
to the 613 commandments of the Law
but with empathy, and understanding,
and clear-eyed commitment.
Jesus has a different focus and purpose,
so, at some point,
the disciples of Jesus had to make perfectly clear
that while Jesus is like Moses,
they are not the same,
Jesus was not just one more rabbi
adding a few more laws beyond the 613.
So they told the story we read today
to clearly mark the differences between them.
Matthew, Mark and Luke all tell the story
in slightly different ways,
Matthew and Luke adapting the original in Mark.

This is another mountain top experience;
this is another moment of revelation.
All the gospel writers link the story back -
Mark and Matthew say 6 days,
Luke says 8 days earlier -
to when Jesus asked his disciples questions
about who he was.
They told him the crowds thought
he was a prophet, like John the Baptist or Elijah,
and when he asked them what they believed,
Peter replied - “You are the Messiah,
the Chosen One of God.”
That was when Jesus,
for the first time,
told his disciples what it meant
to be the chosen one of God,
and so what it also meant to be his disciple.
“The Son of Man must suffer,
and be rejected and killed,
and on the third day he will then be raised” he said,
“and if any want to become my followers,
they must also deny themselves,
take up their cross daily, and follow me.”

It’s a pretty stark expectation
for anyone wanting to be a disciple of Jesus.
‘If you follow me you’re going to die’
is not what you’d call an inducement to recruitment.
What if the vision Jesus offers is wrong?
What if all he can offer
is suffering and rejection
and the shameful death of a failure on the cross?
Fearful obedience to the Law
might not be much fun,
but at least the way of Moses
is designed to keep you alive!
Maybe this love of Jesus is a just too honest.
Maybe clear-eyed commitment is too hard
and compassion is too costly a way to follow.
Maybe we’d be better off
keeping our heads down
and doing always and only what Law requires.

And so, perhaps with thoughts like that
Peter, James and John
followed Jesus up a mountain.
This mountain never gets a name,
but every mountain is a place
where horizons change.
We get that higher perspective -
we look beyond the boundaries
of our every-day existence
and we see the world
a little more as God sees.

Up there on the mountain
Jesus was changed.
Not just his face, like Moses,
but also his body and his clothes
began to radiate light,
and Peter, James and John saw two other men,
Moses and Elijah,
appear in front of them, talking to Jesus.
Luke says they were speaking of his departure -
and the word Luke uses is ‘exodus’:
another link with Moses -
his departure … which would take place in Jerusalem,
so the conversation
between Jesus, Moses and Elijah
was also about the way of the cross.
Peter was overwhelmed by this marvellous vision,
and he began to babble
“Master, it’s so good for us to be here.
Let’s set up three tents,
(like those the people of God made
for shelter during their exodus from Egypt);
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah ...”
But while Peter was speaking
a cloud descended,
just like the cloud that enveloped Mt Sinai,
and a voice came from the cloud:
“This is my Son, my Chosen;
listen to him!”

The message is absolutely clear.
Jesus is like Moses.
He will lead the people of God
from slavery to freedom,
and the way we follow
will lead us through death to new life.
But Jesus is also more than Moses.
Jesus doesn’t simply deliver
another edition of the Law -
another set of commandments to obey;
Jesus is the Law.
His life, his example, his way
is God’s template - God’s pattern - for human life.
Jesus is not just God’s mouthpiece;
he is the child of God -
God born and living with us -
the one God claimed as his own
when he was baptised
using almost identical words:
“You are my Son, my Beloved;
with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus is going to lead us on an exodus.
We will leave behind our slavery
to the pressures and inducements
that the broken world employs to keep things as they are:
threats of violence and punishment
and condemnation and fear will lose their power,
and Jesus will lead us
into a greater promise of justice and peace.
The only way to that promise
is the way of the cross -
challenging the powers that enslave us,
taking up whatever cross we carry every day
and losing our lives on the way to resurrection.

The way of the cross can’t be defined
by a set of rules or laws.
The cross you carry isn’t the same as mine;
the powers you have to confront
may very well be yours alone,
and the people you’re called
to walk with and to serve will be your own.
We can offer each other company,
and insights and inspiration,
but ultimately, just like Jesus,
we have to trust that we are beloved of God,
and, in the courage and confidence
the love of God will give,
follow our way of the cross
to wherever it ends.

Today we celebrate with John
as he takes up his way of the cross again
and follows God’s call to ministry
among those he will walk with and serve
at the Royal North Shore Hospital.
Today we reaffirm that John
is a much-loved child of God,
called and chosen
to be God’s presence
and to speak God’s word of grace.
He will represent – he will ‘make present’ -
the Body of Christ – all of us and many more beyond –
as he walks the wards
and makes himself available
to any who might seek God’s love and comfort -
and we will encourage him
as we, all together, move towards
the vision of God’s healing and fulfilment.

Jesus on the mountain top is our beacon.
On the mountain everything comes together.
He looks back to where
the way of the cross began -
God’s declaration of love at his baptism – our baptism;
and he looks forward to where it will end -
his exodus - his death and resurrection – our resurrection.
Both those points, and everything in between,
are expressions of one theme:
radically inclusive,
unconditionally compassionate,
sacrificially honest and courageous love.
Jesus is our beacon -
our point of orientation and direction -
and he can never be reduced to words and laws
or captured on tablets of stone
or trapped in the words of a book.
He is alive: in John, and in all of us,
as we take his life as the pattern for our own:
as we take up our cross daily and follow him
on that exodus journey
dying to our fears, our pride,
our shame and our regret,
on the way to resurrection freedom.

** Incidentally, it was Jesus’ example of love
that inspired the original Valentine -
who was a priest,
executed for celebrating marriages
after they’d been banned
by the Roman Emperor Claudius in 269 AD.
The emperor thought that keeping young men single
would make them more willing
to join the army and fight.
Valentine continued performing marriage celebrations
so was killed because, like Jesus,
he believed that love is the only way to live
and is always worth dying for
so he defied oppressive power
and broke an unjust law.