Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, May 20, 2018

Glory

Luke 9:28-43a

 We could say that the turning point of Jesus’ earthly life happened at Caesarea Philippi.  That was the place where Jesus gathered his disciples and asked, “Who do you say I am?”  And Peter responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  From that moment on, everything was directed toward the cross.  

 But the disciples were not yet ready for the cross, if they ever were.  They still had more to learn.  Their faith still had to grow.  One of the formational experiences that stood between Caesarea Philippi and the cross is the Transfiguration, a confirmation of the divine nature of Jesus and God’s endorsement of his ministry for the benefit of the disciples.  

 We learn that it was only for the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples, Peter, James, and John.  This is reminiscent of Moses’ encounter with God on Mt. Sinai, where he only took a few others with him while most of the nation stayed below.  

 They must have spent some time up there on the mountain because the disciples fall asleep while waiting.  They seemed to be good at sleeping when they should have been praying.  Human nature, I suppose.  They wake up to see Jesus transfigured.  His frail humanity has been stripped away for a moment so his divine glory can be seen.  

 Moses and Elijah are with him.  The Jewish folk belief of the day was that these two would return before Messiah came.  They are also glorious to see.  The true glory of humanity comes when we reflect the glory of our Creator, in whose image we are made.  

 The disciples are just overwhelmed by the experience.  Peter doesn’t want it to end.  He wants to build three shelters for them all to stay there.  But that’s not possible.  God’s work is waiting in the world below.  As one Bible scholar says about this text, “While we cannot live forever on the mountain, we cannot live at all without it.”

 While Peter is speaking, a cloud covers the mountain.  This is the “Shekinah,” the cloud of God’s glory that covered Mt. Sinai and the Tabernacle and the Jerusalem Temple at various times in the Old Testament.  

 God speaks from the cloud, “This is my Son, my anointed one, listen to him.”  God’s words point back to Deuteronomy 18:15, where Moses promised that one day God would send a prophet like him, and that this prophet must be heard and obeyed.

 The experience ends, and the next day the four of them go back down off the mountain.  Below, there is a crowd waiting, including a father with his only son who is afflicted by an evil spirit.  The fact he is an only son means that he is especially valuable in that culture.  He gives security and social status to his parents.  And perhaps this is a little reminder of how difficult it was for the Father to send his only Son to suffer and die for the sins of the world.

 The disciples are unable to help this young man, and Jesus is not pleased with their failure.  He calls them a “stubborn, faithless people.”  They should have been able to call on God’s power, but they lacked the faith.  They are not yet ready to be Jesus’ witnesses to the ends of the earth.  

 Jesus takes the child from his father, drives out the evil spirit, and then gives him back to his father.  In a way, that’s what Jesus does in every situation.  When we have the faith to offer something to him, he takes it, blesses it, and gives it back to us in a transformed condition.  

 And now the whole crowd is in awe, overwhelmed by God’s glory.  

 The key word through the whole episode is glory.  What is glory?  Here’s a definition from a Bible dictionary: “Glory is the weighty importance and shining majesty that accompany God’s presence.”  The Hebrew word for glory is KABOD.  As an adjective, it means “heavy, weighty, important.”  As a verb, it means “to give honor or weight to someone.”  It’s not so much the sense of giving honor, but rather recognizing that the person already has importance as part of their essence.

 In Scripture, glory is especially given to God in two ways.  The first is by praise or worship.  Psalm 22:23 says, “Praise the Lord, all you who fear him.  Honor him, descendants of Jacob.  Show him reverence, descendants of Israel.”  The second way glory is given is by confession.  For example, in the book of Joshua, Joshua identifies Achan as the guilty party in rebelling against God’s command and says to him, “My son, give glory to the Lord by telling the truth.  Make your confession.”  Both worship and confession have this in common:  We acknowledge that God is God, and we are not.

 I believe worshipping God is essential to a full human life.  Worship centers us.  Worship orients our lives toward the object of our worship.  I think all people worship.  All people orient their lives around someone or something.  The question is, “What are we worshipping?  Is it God or something less than God?”

 I don’t think we can have fullness of life if we do not recognize the glory of God.  We can survive, but our lives lack fullness.  Can a person survive without seeing the art of da Vinci or Monet?  Can a person survive without hearing Mozart or Beethoven?  Can a person survive without watching Shakespeare, or reading Tolkein or Melville or Tolstoy?  Yes.  But their life will not be as full as it could be if they did.  Neither can life be full without worshipping God.

 But more and more people in our society are turning away from worshipping God.  We have more and more people in our society describing themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” meaning that they consider themselves to be connected to spiritual things, but they don’t bother with things like church, reading the Bible, participating in worship.  

 Recently, I read about a survey of the religious life of Americans.  What they found is that people who are “religious,” who go to church, read the Bible, pray, etc. are also very spiritual people, very connected to God.  But the people who say they are “spiritual but not religious,” by and large, are neither.  It’s difficult to be connected to God if you don’t worship God.

 Worship matters.  We worship the thing at the center of our being.  And if we are worshipping anything less than God, then we become less.  Why?  Because we become like the thing we worship.  If we build our lives around power or pleasure or possessions then we become less than if we build our lives around God.  Just like Moses and Elijah on the mountain, the real glory of human beings can only come about when they reflect the glory of their Creator.

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