Preacher: Nathan Hosler Scripture: 2 Kings 2:1-11, Mark 9:2-9
The prophet Elijah, after a life of ministry, is swooped up in a chariot of fire. Where did he go? What is he doing? Like a movie (Avengers? Back to the Future?) when the person disappears and then is plunked down in the future or past, Elijah is next seen 601 pages later the future chatting up a glowing Jesus. This visitation and experience of the radiant Jesus is called the transfiguration.
The transfiguration is a revelation of the knowledge of God. An affirmation of the ministry and person of Jesus. While this metamorphosis is dramatic—sparkly even—it pales in comparison to the oddity, difficulty, and splendor of the incarnation. The incarnation is God coming to be near to humanity and all of creation in love. The great sustainer, creator, and animating life, participating with.
And not joining us to be served but to serve. Both meeting a need and empowering us to meet the needs of others. Not only is this the embodiment of love but to know God is to love. In 1st John we read, 7 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.” While we may get tangled on the physics of this, we are also swept away in the poetry, the mystery, the life-giving presence of the Giver of life coming near.
When I first started to think of this sermon and the possibility of referencing Valentine’s Day, I thought first thing that came to mind was of a glowing heart (glowing Jesus + Valentine’s heart) and then of a particular candy. Those little multicolored heart shaped candy of questionable quality—the one’s with messages such as “be mine” and “true love” stamped on them. Certainly, this is no match for “the love of God.”
Certain prickly theologians may highlight the shallow or wrongly sentimental nature of this type of celebration. However, is not care and mutuality a God-like characteristic? Even if the holiday may lean— sentimental—even if it is simply a shadow of the Divine Love which breathed and breaths life into all, love is a good. Not only is it good in that it turns us towards others in care, but also because abiding in love gives a glimpse of God. It may not be a complete picture (but then, what is?) and it may be sullied by our selfishness, etcetera, etcetera, but it is a glimpse none-the-less.
The Bible, along with theologians and seekers of the great mystery have long asserted that one can learn something of the Divine by observing the world around us. While this knowledge is incomplete, we can gather parts or a sense of the Divine life. The tug of something below the surface of what is immediately seen around us. This is often call “natural theology” or perhaps “general revelation.”
We learn something through the order and beauty of the trees—the trunk growing so big and branches less big resting at improbable angles but generally not breaking, limiting their size to what can be carried. Intricate patterns in the bark of the white oak (a part of the beech family). Or the way that water cascades and freezes on the evergreen Magnolia trees and the joy of eating said icicle. We learn something of the Divine by the way that ecosystems are resilient and can rebuild (to a point) despite abuse by humans.
In the same way, we can learn something of the Divine life by observing and participating in love. A great mystery that, though it can be damaged and must be nurtured, also shows us a little of the inner life of the Trinity—unity, plurality, mutuality—acting with distinction yet in mysterious oneness.
If love is the purpose of and woven throughout the very nature of this world, then the display of this is a window into the source of this love.
If love is the purpose of and woven throughout the very nature of this world and all reality, then the display of this is a window into the source of this love. This isn’t a sentimental and sappy slogan but a hard-edged—scientific?—observation. When we live in love, we live in relation to God.
Certainly, our knowledge and awareness need perfecting, purifying, and clarifying—but we should not discount the very real display we see in a toddler’s squeal of delight at seeing us at daycare pickup or the deep desire to be home (back when we traveled). Of flying through the night and seeing a sliver of glowing sunset from the plane window over the ocean—a great stillness and tiredness after a pell-mell work trip and the joy/peace/desire/serenity of heading home.
Theologian Kathryn Tanner writes, “All theology is political—it concerns how social relations should be ordered…Christianity is not just a body of beliefs, suitable for abstract intellectual discussion, but a way of living in which beliefs are embedded. Those beliefs help make that way seem meaningful and motivated. Thus, love-filled relationships with others make sense if one believes the world is created by, and destined to show the influence of, a loving God” (Tanner, “Trinity,” Political Theology, 319).
And there were the disciples, on the day Easter and the empty tomb. Walking home and met by a stranger who explained what had taken place. Along the road to Emmaus and then through breaking of bread recognize the risen Christ—did our hearts not glow? “They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?”
I think our ministry team is one of mutuality—at least that is our aim. I don’t think Jessie takes an off-the-cuff comment as a demand. I, almost (perhaps mostly?) joking, said (in an email at 11:01 Monday) when I thought of the Transfiguration Sunday being on Valentine’s Day the first thing that popped into my mind was a glowing heart. A kind of mash up of the transfigured Jesus and Valentine’s Day. At 12:41 the same day with 7 pictures and a video. Though the impulse may have been theologically questionable, the was art not. A glowing heart. A glimpse of the Divine life in the presence of those we love. The Christ transfigured—glowing—in the presence of his friends and followers.
May we turn towards one another. And in that turning in love may we catch a greater glimpse and understanding of the God “that so loved the world.”