2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9; Exodus 24:12-18
When I was growing up, memorizing Bible verses was the normal thing to do for anyone who was going to parochial school. One verse that has always stuck with me is from I Peter 1:21. However, the way that I memorized this verse was a little different than the way that you heard it read this morning. I was taught that holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. According to this translation, only men were capable of being moved by the Holy Spirit to speak or write down anything that would be considered the sacred word of God. The verse that accompanies this basic understanding about the origin of the word of God is from 2 Timothy 3:16 where the Apostle Paul writes that all scripture is given by the inspiration of God. Of course, the scripture to which Paul is referring is the Hebrew scripture because that is the only scripture that he knew as he was growing up.
Based upon these 2 verses, I was taught as a child that men actually would take a writing instrument in their hand, place it on a piece of papyrus, and wait for the Holy Spirit to move their hand so that whatever words ended up being written down would be considered coming directly from God. Human beings only served as the functional instrument by which the Holy Spirit would reveal the will of God. That way, the words that ended up on the papyrus couldn’t be tainted by human reasoning, human prejudice, human will, and, God forbid, human emotions.
Well, I have to tell you that several times this past week, I put my pen to paper in order to write this sermon, and nothing happened, not because the Holy Spirit was failing me, but rather because I didn’t know what else to say about the transfiguration of Jesus than what I have already said over the course of the past 17 years. Not feeling very inspired, I actually thought about recycling one of my sermons from a previous year—something that I’ve done only once or twice in my lifetime. However, after several failed attempts of trying to write about Jesus’ transfiguration, I realized that I needed to escape the pressure of preaching about this story, and look for something else that would speak to me and to you.
Finally, early Saturday morning as I was driving to the ROOTS Shelter to prepare breakfast, the verse that kept coming back to me was this verse from I Peter. “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” Of course, I no longer think that all that a person has to do is put pen to paper and let the pen move on its own in order to write down words directly from God. I have spent too much time in the Bible and with the Word of God to think that every jot and tittle in this book is the infallible and inerrant Word of God. However, at the very least, these words have been inspired by the Holy Spirit, and have been given to those who put their trust in God and who have the desire to convey a certain truth, or instruction, or spiritual encounter, or even an opinion to their communities of faith about who God is and what God desires of their people. Paul summarizes this purpose of scripture when he writes in his letter to Timothy, “All scripture is given by the inspiration of God, and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient and equipped for every good deed.”
If we would listen to Jesus, as the voice from the clouds instructed Jesus’ disciples to do, we also would be able to hear from Jesus the word of God that is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in right relationships. Following their descent from the mountain, the disciples had plenty of time to listen to Jesus before his death on the cross. During this time, Jesus would teach his disciples about the importance of humility, forgiveness, and servanthood within the realm of God. He would reprove the rich young man for his love of money, and the mother of James and John for her desire to have her two boys be given positions of greatness in Jesus’ realm. Most memorable within the Gospel of Matthew is Jesus’ denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees for their oppression, corruption, and violence against their own people.
The disciples obviously had a lot of misperceptions about who Jesus was and what his mission was. Therefore, Jesus constantly was correcting their misperceptions and telling his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem where he would be handed over to the chief priests and scribes, be condemned to death, and be crucified, only to be raised by God on the third day. Most significantly, Jesus always focused on training people for right relationships as he did when he responded to the Pharisees inquiry about the greatest commandment and tells them that they are to love God with their entire being and love their neighbors as they themselves have been loved by God.
It’s one thing to listen to all of these inspiring words of Jesus; it’s quite another actually to hear them—meaning to understand them fully and take them to heart and make them our own. I think that the disciples of Jesus had the same issue. Up until the moment that Jesus took his last breath on the cross, Jesus’ disciples never fully understood what Jesus was trying to teach them or explain to the rest of the people about this realm of God that he had come to reveal. It wasn’t until Jesus had been raised from the dead that the disciples finally started to see and hear the truth about Jesus’ mission in this world. That’s why Jesus instructed his disciples to tell no one about this vision on the mountain until after he had been raised from the dead. Only then would they understand what this vision on the mountain was all about and be able to speak about it accurately in the hope that those who would hear their description would be inspired and equipped for every good deed within the realm of God.
You and I, we are in a unique position, because we are a post-resurrection people—meaning that we do not have to wait until Jesus has been raised from the dead before we can tell others about the love of God and the way that our lives have been transformed by this love of God that has been revealed to us in Jesus, our Christ. Of course, as the voice of God instructed Jesus’ disciples to listen, so also we are instructed to listen in order to be certain that we are accurately hearing what Jesus has revealed to us about being his disciples. We also listen to Jesus so that we may be inspired by what he is telling us and by what he is saying to the world about what God expects of us as daughters and sons of God with whom God hopefully is well pleased.
So, where do we go to listen to and hear this Word of God that is supposed to equip us for every good deed? Obviously, we have the Bible as our Holy Scripture that is a primary source of God’s Word in our lives. However, how often do we actually go to this word in order to hear what God is saying to us or what Jesus is teaching us or how the Holy Spirit is guiding us? This book is full of faithful peoples’ testimonies and witness to a God in whom they put their trust and in a Jesus whom they came to know as their messiah and chose to follow as their Savior.
Nevertheless, this Bible is not the only source of God’s Word in our lives. Every time that we go to the mountains, to the sea, or to the desert, all that we have to do is observe the grandeur of this planet and know that there is a God behind and present in every element of this universe. Our son, Gabe, had this revelation this past week as he writes in his latest newsletter about his immersion experience on the U.S.-Mexican border. “The desert was for me one of the greatest sources of contemplation during the week. On the last night of our trip we drove to a desert park outside of Tucson for a reflection. Among the hundreds of saguaro cacti, the plateaus and ridges, the desert deer walking home for the night, and before the stars came out above us, we were graced to the west with a sunset only the Southwest can give, and to the east with a towering full moon rising. I thought, “My God! Is this place beautiful”, and then I thought about how much of an absolute privilege it was to have this thought. When we talk about the difference in privilege between ourselves and so many other people around the world, I usually think about what that means in terms of material goods and opportunities, but I have never thought about the privilege of being able to find utter awe and beauty in a place like the desert. Where for us it can be such an incredible source of mental and spiritual rejuvenation, for so many people like the people we heard stories about and met all week, the desert only serves as a source of suffering, sorrow, and death.”
The streets of our own city are another place where we see God appearing to us and hear God speaking to us, if only we would open our eyes and our ears and pay attention. All of the stories that people have to tell about how they ended up on the streets or in shelters is sometimes beyond belief, especially when it comes to the increasing number of children who are living in tents or in their cars and find their only hope in going to school so that they can be in a warm classroom and get a decent meal. Here is where the living Word of God, as Martin Luther calls it, comes to life. Similarly, the Word of God speaks to me every day that I read through the newspaper. No matter how biased or slanted a person may think the newspaper is, there is enough content in it to know that people in this world and right here close to home are hurting and suffering and are in need of God’s love more than anything else in their lives.
Finally, here is where the living Word of God also dwells—right here in our very being—if only we would listen. Even in the face of our human reasoning, our human prejudice, our human will, and, God forbid, our human emotions, God still speaks to us every moment of our lives. As followers of Jesus Christ, this inspired Word of God is always filtered through the lens of Jesus because Jesus has put a face to God that no one else has ever done, at least not as fully and completely as he did—none more significant than when he prayed on the cross, “God, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus not only was transfigured on the mountain, he also came to transform our lives as well as to transform this world with a love of God that is meant to save us from our human fear and give us the courage to hear Jesus’ call to follow him down the mountain and into a world where we can be a reflection of all that we have been created by God to be. As we immerse ourselves in this journey, may the peace of God that goes beyond all of our human understanding, keep our hearts and our minds ever faithful unto Jesus, our Savior. Amen.