(Note: I preached this sermon at Messiah Lutheran Church on Transfiguration Sunday, February 15, 2015)
Sisters and brothers, grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I finally admitted to myself last week that I need new glasses. The four-year-old wire-rimmed warriors are finally done. I bought them after two young people who will remain nameless mangled my last pair beyond use, so I decided to splurge on the scratch-resistant lenses.
But those, too, have gone the way of all flesh. Four years of daily wear in a house with two or more children have left these lenses badly scratched and chipped and speckled. If you look at them up close you’d think they’d been run over by a truck or something.
The thing is, it took a long time to notice that they were so badly damaged. I guess I just assumed that the world around me was more…fuzzy, more haloed with glare.
Because that’s the thing with our eyes—and the glasses we wear to “correct” them—they don’t exist to give us a perfect picture of the world around us. They exist to create a useful and necessary slice of that world. Our eyes evolved to give us this great depth of field vision so we can catch rabbits and stuff. Rabbits’ eyes evolved to see a wider field of vision and run away. We don’t see everything.
And most people, historically speaking, have believed this. They assumed that there is more to the world than what we can see. We modern Western people might be the first people who ever thought that we could see everything that is real.
I’m guilty of this. Totally guilty of it. I am so captivated by the reality that is before my eyes that I don’t give a whole lot of thought, most of the time, to what my eyes may be leaving out. People in some cultures have taken dreams and visions very seriously. And I think dreams and visions are good but the real action is what I can see. Or, at least, what we can see together.
But if what we see is only part of the real world, our story today might make a lot more sense. Today we hear the story of Jesus being transfigured on the mountain, in the sight of Peter, James, and John. They see his clothes turn brilliant white, and the great heroes of Israel’s history along with him, Moses who led the people from slavery to freedom, and Elijah who preserved the worship of Yahweh from strange gods and cruel kings. And they hear the voice from heaven, saying that Jesus is the beloved Son of God.
It’s an awesome moment—literally a moment that inspires awe. In this moment the world that our eyes compose for us is interrupted. Our world—that is the world we know how to see—is broken into, invaded by the world that our eyes are not designed to see. And the favored disciples who are there on the mountain see something else: they see that reality in which the dead are not gone, in which God can be heard with our mortal ears, and in which Jesus shines through the dusty garments of the Palestinian countryside with the brilliance of heaven.
It’s a brief moment, and a mysterious one. But it dramatically changes what the disciples have seen from Jesus so far. This is not only a wonder-worker and healer of uncommon power. This is not simply a teacher with authority and a Godly man who does battle with demons. This is not someone who will lead the people like Moses out of bondage to the great empire of Rome. It is not someone who will thwart the designs of the cruel king Herod like Elijah. This is someone more, someone who shares God’s life in a new and special way.
This is a lesson for me to learn, too. I have to learn it over and over again. I get very comfortable with the Jesus who heals the sick and teaches about God and feeds the multitude. I get very comfortable with those things I can imagine seeing. I am comfortable with a spotty, scuffed, dirty Jesus who dives deep into the world’s troubles.
But the Transfiguration is a moment when all of us are invited to imagine more, to imagine Jesus as the Son of God and as God the Son. We are invited to imagine Jesus as the one who became human, who shared our nature, so that we could share his nature and become divine. We are invited to see Jesus as the one who took our sin and gave us his righteousness, as the one who took our mortal bodies and gave us his immortality, as the one who took our endless separation from God and gave us his own inheritance as God’s child. We are invited to imagine Jesus not as the one who came to lead us to God but as the one who came to give us God.
Jesus dives all the way to the bottom of the world’s troubles, Jesus wraps his arms completely around the scratchy, spotty, colorful, beautiful, limited world we can see. And in doing that he opens the door to the world beyond.