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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
March 3, 2019 at 10:30 AM
Central Passage
Luke 9:28-43a
Transfiguration C

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: March 3, 2019 – Transfiguration C

Exodus 34:29-35; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2; Luke 9:28-43a


The Unveiled God


            On a rainy late spring day after the last day of fourth grade, I went into an optometrist’s office in Columbia, Missouri. Teachers had suspected that I’d needed glasses for several months. The kicker was in music class, where the teacher had written something on the board in blue chalk, and I, squinting, said I couldn’t really see that color of chalk against the green background. She looked perplexed, and asked the rest of the class if they could see it. They could, and she said that I needed to get my vision checked. The latest vision test at the school confirmed it – 20/80 in my right eye, 20/100 in my left. I  needed glasses.


            The moment I put those glasses on, the world changed. There was a lighted green sign for a business across the street. I had assumed that I couldn’t see it well because of the darkened rainy day, but when I put on the glasses, I could see it perfectly. Everyone and everything came into a sharp focus I had scarcely comprehended. Faces were clear. Signs were clear. The whole world was clear.


            When Paul talks about the veil over the heart removed by Christ, the closest analogy I can think of is putting on that first pair of glasses. The world entirely changed. Paul’s world changed in a far more radical way than putting on a pair of glasses. For Paul, the veil over his heart was removed by Christ in a dramatic, violent way. He thought he was doing the Lord’s will by working to destroy an obviously deluded, destructive little apocalyptic sect within Judaism. And then he was knocked flat on the Damascus road. And though that experience darkened his physical eyes for a time, his spiritual eyes were opened to see the resurrected Christ.


            He saw God unveiled in Christ, and his entire understanding of Scripture, God, and the world changed.


            Moses, some fifteen hundred years before Paul, also saw the unveiled God on the Sinai mountaintop; in such proximity to God’s radiant holiness that he himself reflected that holy light when he came down; a holy light that frightened the elders of Israel.


            Peter, John, and James see that same holy radiance in Jesus on the mountain peak, when Moses and Elijah appear and begin talking with him about all that is to happen in Jerusalem.


            Moses, Peter, John, James, and Paul all see the unveiled God – the God whose holiness inspires both love and dread, devotion and terror. And perhaps only Moses can handle the weight of being that close to the unveiled God; at least at the time.


            You see, there is something about God unveiled that usually makes us want to cower in the nearest deep, dark hole. If you’ve ever read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you’ll know that there is a machine called the Total Perspective Vortex, which shows the viewer the infinity of creation along with a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot with the descriptor, “You are here.” The machine was used as a means of punishment; to destroy someone’s mind with the overwhelming experience of total reality. And while the atheist author Douglas Adams might have taken offense, I wonder if that is how these ancient saints experienced God. Experiencing the unveiled God was dangerous. Exposure to the infinite ground and source of our being would be terrifying. We usually think of ourselves as being at the center of our lives, with everyone else in a supporting role. Experiencing God, the ultimate reality and ultimate center, is de-centering. We realize we are not the masters of our own destiny nor are we the centers of our own drama. The terrifying reality of God might be both the reason both for church, and lately, for folks staying far away from the church.


            After all, what is the church for than to experience the eternal, infinite God in a safer, more controlled fashion? We have a set liturgy. We have written prayers. Martin Luther and the early Lutherans were very much concerned with keeping good order within the church – that’s why not everyone preaches or administers the sacraments. As Luther once taught, “If everyone tried to baptize, the poor baby would drown!” Perhaps the church is designed both to bring us into an awareness of the living God and to keep us from having an experience of God that would be too overwhelming.


            And yet, the unveiled God does break through and break out, both in church and in the rest of the world, upending our expectations of God and of how that God relates with us tiny, finite, mortal creatures. That God shows us, over and over, that though we are small in the grand scope of the universe, we are also beloved. That we are people that were worth being born among, living among, teaching and healing among, dying and rising among. That’s an incomprehensible sort of love.


            Notice what Jesus does after his transformation. His conversation with Moses and Elijah is about what’s going to happen next. About what’s going to happen in Jerusalem – his arrest, crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension. He’s not going to stay up on the mountaintop. He will set aside his glory and descend again immediately into the human mess, despite Peter’s desire to build three dwellings or shrines. He will descend to a hurting humanity; a faithless humanity; a lost humanity. And he will break through the dullness of mind and heart of his disciples, the people of his time, and us, who gather to worship him today. He descends among us today, making our world clearer through our experience of his never-ending love for us. He descends among us today, seemingly veiled in a meal of bread and wine, but unveiled in the love shown to us in that meal. The unveiled God in Christ is here with us today – in Word, in Sacrament, and in each other – renewing us for our lives of faith in the world; lives in which we will encounter God in odd and unusual ways.


            God remove our spiritual myopia and help us to see him as though we were putting on our first pair of glasses for the first time.


            Let us pray.


            Jesus, in living among us you showed us God unveiled. Help us to see you among us today, both now in worship and in our world in unexpected ways, that we might know in some small way your incomprehensible love for us. Amen.


© 2019, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.