Old Testament: Exodus (24:12-18)
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
The Response: Psalm 99
1 The Lord is King;
let the people tremble; *
he is enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth shake.
2 The Lord is great in Zion; *
he is high above all peoples.
3 Let them confess his Name,
which is great and awesome; *
he is the Holy One.
4 “O mighty King, lover of justice,
you have established equity; *
you have executed justice
and righteousness in Jacob.”
5 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and fall down before his footstool; *
he is the Holy One.
6 Moses and Aaron among his priests,
and Samuel among those who call upon his Name, *
they called upon the Lord, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them out of the pillar of cloud; *
they kept his testimonies and
the decree that he gave them.
8 “O Lord our God, you answered them indeed; *
you were a God who forgave them,
yet punished them for their evil deeds.”
9 Proclaim the greatness of the Lord our God
and worship him upon his holy hill; *
for the Lord our God is the Holy One.
The Epistle: 2 Peter (1: 16-21)
We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
The Gospel: Matthew (17:1-9)
Six days after Peter had acknowledged Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1) – So began our first reading seven weeks ago, when we started this season of the Epiphany. Epiphany is a season of light: of light shining in the darkness. It calls us to draw upon that light in order to see in new ways and to walk in new ways. That is essentially what these weeks have been about.
Today we come to the end of the Epiphany season. But before we enter into Lent, our liturgy presents us once again with a call to draw upon that light in order to see and live in new ways. Both our first reading and our gospel reading present us with a portrait of people seeing what was there all along, what they and everybody else could have seen, but seeing it in a new way and being transformed by it.
In our first reading, Moses makes his way to the top of Mt. Sinai. There he encounters what might have been some sort of natural phenomenon: a storm perhaps or some sort of volcanic activity. But in that display, inspiring awe and wonder, he recognizes and enters into the presence of the God of Israel. He sees in a new way; and in seeing, he comes to live in a new way. And the people whom he leads begin to be changed into a new way of seeing and of living as well: a way formed by a covenant with the God of all creation.
In the gospel reading that we just heard, and for which our second reading serves as a retrospective, Jesus’ three closest companions likewise have an experience on a mountain: one that will lead them to see and to live in new ways. It is the same Jesus that the other disciples and the crowds saw, teaching and healing all around Galilee; but they now come to recognize in him something that they had not seen before. Six days earlier, at Caesarea Philippi, Peter had identified him (16:16) as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Now, Peter, James, and John see him as the fulfillment of all that God had promised in the Law and the Prophets and as God’s beloved Son, with whom God was well pleased.
But they saw in him something else as well. They saw in him also their own final destiny and the final destiny of all those who live their lives in the kingdom of God. Earlier in Jesus’ teaching (13:43) he had promised that, at the coming of the Son of Man, “The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Now, they were enabled, at least for a brief time, to see that “His face shone like the sun” (17:2). It was as if they were looking at their own future along with his. They had looked at the one who had become their familiar, daily companion, but had now seen him in a new way; and their lives were changed by that new way of seeing.
All through this Epiphany season, our scripture readings have been calling us to see in new ways: to look at the people that we encounter, and the situations that we face, and at ourselves, and to see them all in new ways. We saw Jesus going out to ordinary workers, in this case fishermen, and seeing in them leaders for a movement that would transform the world. We heard him summoning his audience to look at the poor, at those who mourn, at those who hunger and thirst, at the peacemakers, and at those persecuted for righteousness sake, and to see in them people who would inherit the kingdom of heaven. We listened as he cited the teachings of the scriptures that summon us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love the alien, the foreigner, as ourselves; but he then went on even beyond that to challenge us to love even those whom we consider to be our enemies.
All of those visions, visions of the reign of God as Jesus saw it, challenge us to see and to live in very different ways from the ways that the rest of the world sees and lives.
They are beautiful images, inspiring images; but accepting them and living into them necessarily comes with a price: a great price. There is no “cheap grace” here, but only the costly grace of the cross. On that mountain somewhere in Galilee, after the voice from the bright cloud had ceased to speak, after the cloud itself had dissipated, after Moses and Elijah had disappeared, and after Jesus’ face had ceased to shine, they were left with him alone. And they were left with his parting words from that extraordinary experience: “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” And the very next time that Matthew’s gospel portrays those three – Peter, James, and John – together with Jesus will be in the Garden of Gethsemane, as he prepares for his suffering and death.
Seeing in new ways often transforms us in ways that we had not anticipated; and transformation is hard. Over 400 years ago, Richard Hooker, possibly the greatest theologian in Anglicanism noted, “Change is not made without inconvenience, even from worse to better.” But change, seeing and living in new ways, is what the gospel is all about.
In what way is God challenging us to see our world, the people in that world, and ourselves in new ways: in ways that will cause us to change the way that we think and live? Is God, for example, calling us to look at the young children struggling in our city schools, at a teenage girl who is trying to come to terms with her sexual orientation, or at a teenage boy who finds himself addicted to pain killers, and to see them as God’s children and as our children for whom we have a responsibility? Is God calling us to look at the low-income elderly in our community and to see in them members of God’s family and of our own family, who need our attention and our care and our support? Is God calling us to look at the immigrants, the disabled, and the mentally challenged in our area and to see in them our sisters and brothers and to treat them as such?
It is hard to allow ourselves to see in new ways; and the hardest part is usually taking the first step in that direction. That is why God calls us to live by faith. Martin Luther King once noted that “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Often in life, we don’t see the whole staircase. Sometimes we can’t even see the second step on the staircase; sometimes it’s hidden in the dark.
But faith allows us to see in the dark, because seeing by faith depends not on so-called natural or artificial light. Instead it depends on the light described by Isaiah in the verse with which we began: “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60:1) It is in the light of God’s Word-made-flesh that God calls us to walk and to see and to live in ever new and life-giving ways.