“A Transcendent Breakthrough”
26 February 2017
Transfiguration of the Lord
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
That moment in Introduction to Theology class in Seminary
Changed my life
And the way to thought about God.
Dr. Ty Inbody put the word “Transcendent” on the chalkboard
And began the discussion about this important adjective.
Finally, I found a word,
A tool I could use to describe my belief,
Or, more exactly,
A word that could serve as one piece of a foundation
Upon which I could build a framework for my beliefs.
Dr. Inbody spoke about a concept
Where the God of Creation
Made the world and all that is in it.
God set it spinning on it’s axis
And walked away,
Never to visit again.
A transcendent concept of God
Is one where God stands back,
Is a passive observer,
An unwilling participant,
An uncaring and unloving heavenly Father.
Divine Transcendence is a concept I reject
Because I know better.
My Wesleyan / Methodist DNA has taught me better.
My experience is not that of a God
That stands off and has no concern for His children.
In my opinion,
It is not reasonable
That God would spend eternity creating
And not maintaining what He has built.
My Bible teaches me better.
My interpretation of scripture is not that of a God
Who watches human history without a care, simply going about His business.
In terms of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral,
Our standard for faithful evaluation
- Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience –
I can confidently reject a Divine Transcendence concept of God
Because it doesn’t square itself
With Experience, Reason, or Scripture.
Transcendency misses on three of the four Wesleyan standards.
The God that I’ve come to know and experience in my life
Is a God that not only created all that there is,
All that there was,
And all that ever will be,
Is also a God that relates deeply, personally, and intimately
With each of his children individually,
And with communities of faith, as a whole,
Expressing love, grace, and Divine parental affection.
When I mourn and cry,
I have experienced the powerful presence of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit,
Crying right there with me.
When I’m desperately trying to avoid temptation,
I experience the reassuring presence and power of God right by my side,
Willing, able, and experienced in fighting off every thrust and parry of the Devil.
When I dance and sing because of blessings and love being showered upon me,
I know from whence it comes:
All goodness comes from God
Because of His love and grace.
In my life,
God breaks through,
On regular occasion,
Often, daily, even hourly.
From moment to moment
I experience the presence of God
In my life.
The opposite of Transcendent is Imminence.
God is imminent and always prepared to break into my life
At a moment’s notice.
How about you?
When I look at the expanse of Scripture,
We are told of numerous times that God makes a breakthrough into Creation.
God just can’t hold back.
Often times it is on a mountain.
God comes to Noah,
Who’s ark settled on a mountaintop when the floodwaters receded.
- Genesis 8
God comes to Abraham on another mountain, Mt. Moriah,
And intercedes in the unthinkable sacrifice of his son, Isaac.
- Genesis 22
I think of the shepherd boy, Moses,
Tending his sheep on Horeb,
The mountain of God.
God breaks through,
Comes to Moses in a flame of fire,
“he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.”
- Exodus 3:2
God calls Moses to free His people,
Chosen people, as promised to Abraham.
I think of Moses leading God’s people home to the Promised Land.
On the top of Mt. Sinai
God breaks through,
Shakes the mountain,
Smoke rose like the smoke of a kiln,
And God answered with thunder!
“Leave my people behind,” the Lord commanded,
“and come to the top of the mountain.”
- Exodus 19:9-20:21
There, as we all know,
God ripped through the divide between heaven and earth
And delivered to Moses the Law,
The Ten Commandments,
God’s intention for His people,
For our people,
To live in peace and love with one another,
And with our God.
God breaks through the transcendent divide
To speak with the prophet Elijah on Mt. Horeb.
- 1 Kings 19
Time and again,
Biblical examples of God becoming Imminent and Present on mountaintops
Are too numerous to mention them all.
So let me fast forward
To our fading season of Epiphany,
Low these past 7 weeks,
The presentation of the Lord,
When our ancestors in Israel see and experience the launch
Of Jesus and his ministry.
Out of his baptismal waters,
We hear the voice of God
Identifying Jesus as
“Behold this is my Son,”
Clearly, this is
God stepping through the divide
And becoming fully human as well as Divine.
You want God on a mountain?
The past four Sundays,
We’ve heard the Gospel proclaimed
By God himself,
Directly from the lips of Jesus,
To the crowds
In His Sermon on the Mount.
Have you heard God speaking?
God has been speaking blessings.
Our Lord has been breaking though
To TWEET directly to the people!
Jesus has been teaching his people
To be the salt and light of the world.
Reject the bland and let the light of Jesus shine!
Jesus goes directly to his people
To teach about anger management,
Adultery and divorce,
About retaliation and turning the other cheek,
And to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you.
Indeed, we’ve only just begun with Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount.
We still have Matthew chapters six and seven to go!
Today, the opposing bookend to the Season After the Epiphany,
The final Sunday before the onset of Lent,
We experience God’s imminence and presence
On yet another mountain,
The Mountain of Transfiguration.
Jesus takes Peter and James and John
“Up a high mountain, by themselves.”
- Matthew 17
Here, Moses and Elijah appear.
Jesus’s face shone like the sun,
And he was transfigured, or changed,
Right before their very eyes.
Again, from a cloud,
The voice of God speaks,
“This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him.”
- Matthew 17:5
Salvation history takes a turn in the road.
The people expected Jesus to veer left,
Instead, he veers right.
The people expected Jesus
To keep on teaching and healing and conducting miracles
On his traveling salvation show.
Instead, he veers right, and heads towards Jerusalem.
The people expected Jesus to return to the Mount of the Beatitudes
Instead, Jesus heads to the Mount of Olives,
And, of course,
To another mountain:
The people expected Jesus
In a final, all-consuming battle with Rome,
Instead, Jesus redefines the word “win.”
Winning for Jesus
Is being cleansed, regenerated, and brought back through the divide
Between heaven and earth,
Into God’s eternal kingdom.
Perhaps the Transfiguration is a glimpse of what eternity looks like?
(As many have suggested)
This is the time to ask some deeper questions.
The Transfiguration of Jesus compels us to dive deeper.
Why are you here?
What is it that you are looking for?
What do you need
To get from Sunday worship
That will help get you through the week to next Sunday?
God’s presence is here,
But is often not named or identified.
Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us,
And we are his Body,
But the presence of God,
Let alone His might voice,
Are only occasionally discernable.
These are the questions I long to explore with you!
What does communication with God look like? Sound like?
What does it mean to encounter God
And how can we trust those moments?
If you are like me
We long for those transcendent breakthrough moments,
When God breaks through and transfigures us
Just as He transfigures Jesus.
In your experience,
Do these moments happen during the week?
Do these moments happen every Sunday?
Only at Holy Communion?
Only when we approach with broken hearts?
Only when we are prepared to repent of our former ways
And are prepared to begin life anew?
Does God break into your life
When you took that first step,
Being born again,
Regenerated and living in the Spirit?
If it hasn’t happened this Sunday,
If it doesn’t happen every Sunday,
Keep coming back.
Keep coming back.
You’re safe here.
You’re in good company.
Let’s figure this out together.
Let’s experience the presence and grace of God together.
Let us live together in ever growing faith
Even as we begin the upcoming journey of Lent
That will lead us to yet, another mountain
Where God is certain to break through.