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Transfiguration by Light
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Sermons -- Audio Version
Trinity X - Transfiguration - 08/08/10
Ex. 34:29-35; Psalm 27; 2 Pet. 1:13-18; Lk. 9:28-36
The Transfiguration is an astonishing event, the deepest meaning of which, I think, we are still waiting to discover. But just on the surface, it is astonishing, that what looks like an ordinary man can be transfigured into a source and focus of light that shines into the world with a transforming effect. You do not stand in the rays of that Light without something happening to you. You are forced to make choices.
We read in John 3:19,
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.
One of the things that might happen to us, if we prefer our evil deeds rather than being exposed and being asked to repent, is that we will run from the Light, that is, run from the presence of God to keep from being exposed. We run from the truth in whatever form threatens us. That is what Adam and Eve did, and that is what demonic spirits do when the light is shined upon them. We too sometimes hide behind lies and rationalizations. Repent! Repent!
Evil-minded persons, that is, persons who are not truth-seekers, who are in rebellion against God and all for which He stands, cannot bear to stay in the light and be exposed. They want to live in a world where they can be in control. And the only successful way to do that is to convince people that they hold the moral high ground. Find ways to make evil look good. Then people will respect them.
Evil-minded persons, Satan and all of his entourage included, are created beings, and very vulnerable because they have separated themselves from those two stabilities which only God can give -- personhood stability and moral stability. We then know who we are, and we know where we are going. Lacking those, the evil-minded must protect themselves from vulnerability, they must deceive enough people so that those people will follow them, worship them, protect them, and thus feed their sense of being a somebody, not a nobody, and a sense of moral rightness -- or at least a credible imitation.
Being created, Satan is not self-sufficient. He must feed either on God or on other persons. God intends that we feed on Him, not on each other, except temporarily as we are being raised by our parents. We feast emotionally and spiritually on the face of our mothers, not only at her breast. We feast with both our eyes on her face and with our ears on her voice.
I watched a small toddler some years ago in a grocery store cart, sitting in the rear, facing his father who was pushing the cart. The child sat with his face transfixed on the face of his father. Three aisles later, the child was still looking steadily and with obvious delight up at his father.
So we do not feed on God at first, we feed on our parents (whom we see as God) and on siblings and friends, those whom we can see in the physical, sensory world. We feed spiritually, or really, sacramentally, on those heroes we worship, those who, we think, have "made it" in the world, those who appear to be "somebodies" rather than "nobodies". Those heroes sometimes deliberately promote that adulation, because they themselves are feeding on the worship of their admirers.
But before we leave our parental nests, we ought to be feeding on the presence of God, no longer on our parents, or even on any other created being. That is the only possible way for us to not feed on each other in that destructive manner. We should, like Jesus, know who our true Father is by about 12 years old.
Bishop Sutton gave a seminar some years ago right here at St. Luke's, in which he described the two primary sacraments in human society. There is the healthy sacrament, in which we feed spiritually on the presence of God in Christ, such as through the bread and wine of Holy Communion. But there is also the very unhealthy and addictive sacrament, sex, which is the sacrament of choice for the fallen world. That is how they "find themselves", as they say. Almost all pagan religion is focused on, or flirts with, some sort of sexual relationship to their divinities. But only under the law and grace of God can sex be a blessing for reality rather than a distraction from reality.
In modern secularism, we do not have divinities, so we are limited to feeding on each other. We end up devouring and destroying one another. It is rampant and epidemic in Western culture today. The powerful feed on the weak because there is no Godly check on their attitudes, goals, or behavior. They try to control the resources -- so as to be able to feed on the rest of us.
We have spiritual eyes which see the Light of the presence of God. But in the fallen world, that Light is very dim. And just as with physical eyes, our pupils widen to capture more light so that we can perhaps see something. But the best we can see is the lights of the many persons who seem to glow a bit with their own personality. Our heroes.
Isaiah 50:11 comments on our vain independence: "Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who set brands alight! Walk by the light of your fire, and by the brands which you have kindled! This shall you have from my hand: you shall lie down in torment." Some people choose to walk by their own light rather than by the Light of God. They end up destroying themselves.
If you have read The Lord of the Rings, or seen the film, you may recall Gollum who lived deep in mountain caves and tunnels, and who, because of the darkness had developed eyes that were as big a saucers to capture the smallest ray of light that might find its way deep into the darkness.
Plato’s Myth of the Cave describes the ascent of the wise man out of the realm of shadows and darkness into the blinding light of day. I think Plato saw something of the true nature of God.
Just so with us, if the light of God begins to shine directly, we react like the Hebrews at Mount Sinai, pleading for Moses to put a veil over his face so that the light of God will not frighten and blind them. The disciples, or at least, Peter, James, and John, had apparently been long enough with Jesus, the Light of the World, so that their spiritual pupils were adjusted somewhat. But even so, they were stunned.
C. S. Lewis describes that same effect in his book, The Great Divorce. Just the outskirts of heaven were too much reality for those travelers from hell who came up to look around. They were so uncomfortable in heaven that most of them rejected reality and returned to their disintegrating unreality in hell.
Reality is about living in the light of truth. That is why science is a part of the Kingdom of God, a gift from God to us. Anything honestly dedicated to truth is from God.
There is a study called meta-physics, which, as most people study it, is the most abstract and probably most difficult of all studies. It is about "being" in and of itself. You cannot see being, you cannot touch, smell, taste, or hear it. So how does one study it?
The word 'meta-physics' means that which is ‘behind’ or ‘beyond’ the physical world (‘meta’ is Greek for 'behind' or 'beyond'). It is the study of that which is needed to make sense of the physical, phenomenal world. Since you cannot study it empirically, you have to study it by logical analysis. You ask the question: "What is logically necessary in order for the physical world of sense perception to make rational sense?" How do we make sense of this sometimes crazy world?
Yet secular people often reject metaphysics altogether, because, I suppose, it might lead to the spiritual world and God. Well, they are right, it does just that. God is necessary to make sense of the physical world.
But the best metaphysicians in the world are not the well schooled Ph. D'.s and other such lofty folks. The best metaphysicians in the world are... infants. Infants know about metaphysics intuitively. They do not have to know how to reason philosophically or abstractly, they just "see" things as they really are.
So, what do they see as it "really is"? They see mom. Well, you might say, "Of course they see mom! What else are they going to see? Their life is all wrapped up with mom."
The point is that secular behaviorist science cannot understand how they see mom. As a matter of fact, secular science does not really believe that "mom" exists -- not as a person, only as a pre-programmed, stimulus-response machine.
From the secular point of view, infants ought to be seeing a bunch of sensory experiences, various colors and shapes, moving around. They notice that sometimes they feel better than others when these shapes and colors move in particular ways. They coo when they feel good and holler when they feel badly. One wonders how they learn that. And how could they reason from all those "being-taken-care-of" experiences to conclude, "Wow! This must be my mother!"
But, of course, that is not how it happens. In some way, that secular behaviorists cannot understand, the child intuitively knows mother and knows what mothering is. The child "sees" mother, not just physical phenomena. Just about every mother in the world understands all this intuitively. Mothers react by nature with nurturing, feeding, holding, cradling, bouncing, swaying the child. The mother also "sees" a person, a baby, a someone, not just a blob of protoplasm, not a "thing". Mothers, just as infants, see what behaviorist science claims does not exist -- a person.
When mother does those loving things, the infant knows that it is loved. It does not have to "figure it out". It feels connected with another somebody. The child already at some primitive level understands relationship. It understands dependency and being cared for.
This was "discovered" -- that if you do not pick up an infant and love it in that mothering way, the infant is likely to just role over and die. It does not matter that the infant is well-fed, kept clean and warm. It will still give up and die if not loved. It wants to be loved, not just mechanically cared for - and knows the difference. It wants to be mothered. There is a sign in one nursery, "Don’t waste a trip through the nursery -- pick up a child and hold it."
This fact was "discovered" a century or so ago at a German orphanage which was operating on the newly invented scientific, behaviorist principles which treated all persons as machines. You did not need to love that infant, you needed only to "care for" it, meaning feed, cloth, keep it warm and physically healthy.
But the child "sees" that something which many scientists for the last 200 years has not been able to see. It sees a someone, not a something. It sees mother, not just an array of mechanical procedures -- no matter how helpful the procedures might be. Mom, not a "caring machine".
The infant understands what is behind the physical world better than most of the philosophers and even some theologians have for centuries. Behind all this physical, mechanical world is a Someone, not a Something. The basic reality of all life is personal relationship, not control of a machine-like world. For the child, that reality is mother. If all goes well, the child will discover that the basic reality is God, the real Father and Mother.
That means that the basic meaning of life has to do with those personal relationships, especially with those ultimate personal relationships in which we receive the two fundamentals -- personal and moral stability.
Infants are born metaphysicians -- but we in the modern West manage to train that out of them in our education process because we have come to believe that the cosmos comes from a random chance process of evolution, rather than from a personal and intelligent Designer who planned the cosmos right from the start to be about relationship. But we train them to see the cosmos as a machine, not as fundamentally and essentially as personal relationship.
So what has this to do with the Transfiguration?
The pagan world was, though in a quite different way from modern secularism, an inherently impersonal world. The cosmos was inhabited by semi-personal gods and goddesses, but they were part of the cosmos. They did not stand outside the cosmos as its creator ex nihilo. So they were subject to all the ultimate forces and laws of the cosmos, just like humans, and were vulnerable to those forces. Those forces were run by chance, they were capricious, they were brutally indifferent to any being, often including the divinities. There was no real moral order, and there was no personal or ontological stability. There was only what you could cobble together to survive as long as possible. Then it all ended in death.
It was into that world that God began to impose Himself so as to lead those who would follow Him out into His world of personal relationship, the Kingdom of Heaven. God began by imposing the law of relationship (the Decalogue) in order to establish order in an otherwise chaotic and chancy world. And then He began to teach His people the nature of real relationships -- trust and obey.
The law pointed His people the right way, but it took almost two millennia for the process to come to the point where God could get His people to the real point -- that the whole of creation was about persons being present to each other, about persons opening themselves up to each other, about persons living in the Light with each other. The whole of the created order was about those two Great Commandments -- to love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and to love our neighbors just like we love ourselves. That makes sense only with persons, not machines.
Life is not about living in a machine-like cosmos where the goal of life is to survive by controlling the environment and controlling as many of the people in the environment as one can, with oneself at the top of the pyramid. Life is not about power struggle, it is about an ultimate love relationship, beginning between ourselves and God, and then flowing out to ourselves and one another.
That makes rational sense only if there is a Creator God who calls the cosmos into existence, with love in mind as His ultimate purpose.
The events at the Burning Bush and later at Mount Sinai were beginning steps in that direction. The vision of the people was being introduced to the Light of God in their midst. Many of them ran the other way. But on the Mount of Transfiguration, God took a monumental step forward, opening the eyes of the three disciples to the presence of the Son of God, with more of His glory shining through than probably at any other time on earth.
If we had not been derailing the vision of our children for several centuries, creating in their minds a mechanical cosmos, unfriendly, hostile, and meaningless, if we had instead preserved the vision of a cosmos created by a Person, and for persons-in-relationship, Western history would have gone in a very different direction. We would not be watching today the downfall of Western Civilization, and the rise once again of a tyrannical spirit.
The point of this Transfiguration event in the lives of Jesus and the three disciples is, of course, that we too can come to that experience of the presence of God. It may not be on a mountain top, it may be anywhere in the course of our lives. But we can, and are created to, come into the presence of almighty God.
When Jesus says that He is "the Way, the Truth, and the Life", and that "If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father...," then our spiritual vision can also come to see Jesus as He really is, in all of His glory. We too can grow, mature, be discipled out of our fallen, depersonalized, deadly vision of a closed circle cosmos from which there is no escape. But only with Jesus, only by picking up our crosses daily, and following Him.
And then in His Light, we ourselves become bearers of that Light. The Church. The Body of Christ. The goal of Jesus’ transfiguration is our own transfiguration to shine with holy light in the dark world.
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