Mark 9:2-9, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Today is Transfiguration Sunday. We have this very odd story about Jesus, Peter, James and John on a mountaintop. Suddenly, Jesus was transfigured. Moses and Elijah appeared. Then a voice identified Jesus as the Beloved Son. Moses and Elijah disappeared, leaving the disciples with Jesus alone. This transfiguration story appears in approximately the middle of Matthew, Mark and Luke. In a sense, the veil is pulled back and the disciples get to see Jesus more clearly.
The Christ’s presence is often veiled in this world. That was Paul’s message to the church in Corinth. “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” Shawnthea Monroe-Mueller suggests that Christ’s light disappears because of the excess of light. She wrote of taking inner city kids on a canoe trip in northern Minnesota. On the first night, one young woman looked at the starry sky and asked, “Where did those come from?” Monroe-Mueller explained that the stars were always there; the problem was that city lights masked them.
She suggested that there are different “lights” in our world that mask the light of Christ. One of those is human reason. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for reason. But, it often becomes an idol that displaces God. For years I’ve thought that the modern insistence that the Bible is scientifically true means that we have made “reason” and “science” the judge of all things. We forget its limitations. The very people who rail against science, proclaiming concepts such as intelligent design, are those who have given it an idol’s power. Monroe-Mueller says that faith needs to transcend our reason.
There are other bright lights that prevent us from seeing the light of Christ – that veil his presence. We might think of the entertainment industry or economic success as a goal.
I’m going to come back to the stars and think a little about astronomy. Nicolaus Copernius was an astronomer during the 15th century. He is remembered because of his assertion that the planets revolved around the sun rather than the sun and other planets revolving around the earth. His heliocentric focus started a renewed interest in science that is often called the Copernican Revolution. Now, you may have heard, as I did, that the church rejected his teaching, preferring the ancient Ptolemic assertion that the earth was the center of the solar system or universe. Initially, however, the Roman Catholic Church was receptive to his discovery. However, the Protestant Reformation challenged his views, and, in response, the Roman Catholic Church rejected them as well. Protestants eventually accepted his theory when other scientists backed it. The Roman Catholic Church lifted the ban on Copernicus’ teachings in 1822.
Ptolemy was a Greco-Roman mathematician, astronomer, geographer, astrologer and poet. He died in 170 AD. Although, he was not a Christian, his understanding of the way the universe (or solar system) was organized became the accepted view – in society and the church. Theologically, there was something appealing in the Ptolemic view that the earth was the “stationary center of the universe, with the planets moving in epicyclic orbits.” It seems to echo the Pslamist who wrote: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.”
“A little lower than angels!” If earth is perceived to be the crowning jewel of God’s creation, wouldn’t one expect that everything would revolve around it?
We’re people of the 21st century! We don’t hold to such outdated notions! We know the truth. We know that the earth revolves around the sun – as do the other planets – and one Tesla with Space Man in it!
Mark Spence was saying the other night that there are Christians who refuse to believe that God could or would have created life on other planets – in galaxies far, far away! No, no, no, no! We are the crown of God’s creation! We were created a little lower than angels!
We may have accepted the Copernican understanding of the universe’s structure, but we still have a human centric view of creation. This earth is God’s crowning achievement. In fact, oftentimes, our view is even more limited – it is a self-centric understanding of creation.
If you go into a bookstore, you can find an entire section of self-help books. Self-actualization is a term that gets used, somewhat frequently. The goal of life is to be the best self you can be, to find success and happiness. Monroe-Mueller says that “apparently, the road to contentment is paved with the right diet, the perfect mate, and a well-organized closet.” That message finds its way into the Christian faith. I heard an advertisement for the Joel Osteen channel, and out of curiosity, I tuned it in. The entire message that I heard was how God will help you find success in your life. A colleague, years ago, said that he had changed the way he preached. “People want to hear about how they should handle finances or home life,” he said. “So, my message is how you can live a better life.” The gospel becomes another “self-help” message whose focus is on human beings. Again, Monroe-Mueller says, “Even popular religious writers have come to the conclusion that we (not God) are at the center of all things, and once we understand that, we can have our best life now.”
It’s a popular message. You can see that in Joel Osteen’s success. I could see that my colleague had many members who loved his message. He gave the people what they wanted. The focus was on them.
Monroe-Mueller says, “Unfortunately, it is hard to see the glory of God when you are standing in the spotlight.” She goes on to say, “Despite what some modern evangelists proclaim, God is not some cosmic butler, some omniscient Jeeves sent to cater to our every need.”
We need that Copernican Revolution that allows us to step out of the spotlight and look for the glory of God in our midst. Church is not the ultimate self-help center where God will serve our every need. This is where we come to seek the God who created all things and the God who came to dwell among us in Jesus, the Christ.
Paul said to the Corinthians, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.’”
That calls us to what Ronald Allen called a “holy discomfort” with the world today. If Christ is the center, we must see the ways in which the world and we, ourselves, are out of step with the ways of Christ, the ways of God. Paul always reminded those to whom he wrote that Christ’s followers are to “be discontent with brokenness, injustice, scarcity, exploitation, violence, and death, and to believe that God seeks to increase community, wholeness, justice, abundance, peace, love and life.”
Now, the personal message we do need to hear is that we are God’s beloved, each of us, all of us. That love does not make us the center of the universe – either our own or God’s. It does invite us into the fullness of God’s presence and into God’s redeeming, transforming work. Our best is not some worldly definition of personal success. Our best is living into the knowledge that God’s love for us is from everlasting to everlasting – and that love has called us and empowered us to be participants in God’s work. The church, God’s people, must guard against seeking a god who serves us. No. We seek to put Christ at the center – and live as those who have heard the good news.