“A Transcendent Breakthrough”

Matthew 17:1-9

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

1

Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, 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.”

 

Prayer.

 

That moment in Introduction to Theology class

Changed my life

And the way I think about God.

Dr. Ty Inbody put the word “Transcendent” on the chalkboard.

He began a discussion about this important adjective.

Finally, I found a word,

A tool I could use to articulate my faith;

Or, more exactly,

A word that could serve as

one piece of a foundation

upon which I could begin to construct a framework for my beliefs.

 

Dr. Inbody spoke about a concept

Where the God of Creation

Made the world and all that is in it.

God set it spinning on its axis

And walked away,

Never to visit us again.

 

Transcendent.

 

A transcendent concept of God

Is one where God stands back,

Is a passive observer,

Wholly independent of the material universe,

Beyond all known physical laws,

An unwilling participant,

An uncaring and unloving heavenly Father.

 

Divine Transcendence is a concept I reject

Because I know better.

My Wesleyan / Methodist DNA has taught me better.

My experience is not that of a God

That stands off and has no concern for His children.

In my opinion,

It is not reasonable

That God would spend eternity creating

And not maintaining what He has built.

My Bible teaches me better.

My interpretation of scripture is not that of a God

Who watches human history without a care, simply going about His business.

 

In terms of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral,

Our uniquely Methodist standard for faithful evaluation

– Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience –

I can confidently reject a Divine Transcendence concept of God

Because it doesn’t square itself

With Experience, Reason, or Scripture.

Transcendency misses on three of the four Wesleyan standards.

 

The God that I’ve come to know and experience in my life

Is a God that not only created all that there is,

All that there was,

And all that ever will be,

Is also a God that relates deeply, personally, and intimately

With each of his created children,

And with communities of faith, as a whole,

Expressing love, grace, and Divine parental affection.

 

When I mourn and cry,

I have experienced the powerful presence of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit,

Crying right there with me.

When I’m desperately trying to avoid temptation,

I experience the reassuring presence and power of God right by my side,

Willing, able, and experienced in fighting off every thrust and parry of the Devil.

When I dance and sing because of blessings and love being showered upon me,

I know from whence it comes:

All goodness comes from God

Because of His love and grace.

 

All goodness comes from God.

 

In my life,

God breaks through,

On regular occasion,

Often, daily, even hourly.

From moment to moment

I experience the presence of God

In my life.

 

The opposite of Transcendent is Imminence.

God is imminent and always prepared to break into my life

At a moment’s notice.

How about you?

 

When I look at the expanse of Scripture,

We are told of numerous times that God makes a breakthrough into Creation.

God can’t hold back any more than a thunder cloud can refuse to rain.

 

Imminence often takes place on a mountain.

 

God comes to Noah,

Whose ark settled on a mountaintop when the floodwaters receded.

– Genesis 8

God comes to Abraham on another mountain, Mt. Moriah,

And intercedes in the unthinkable sacrifice of his son, Isaac.

– Genesis 22

 

When reading the Gospel of Matthew, think Moses.

 

I think of young Moses,

Tending his sheep on Mt. Horeb,

The mountain of God.

God breaks through,

Comes to Moses in a flame of fire,

“he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.”

– Exodus 3:2

God calls Moses to free His people

From Egyptian slavery.

 

I think of Moses leading God’s people home to the Promised Land.

On the top of Mt. Sinai

God breaks through,

Shakes the mountain,

Smoke rose like the smoke of a kiln,

And God answered with thunder!

 

“Leave my people behind,” the Lord commanded,

“and come to the top of the mountain.”

– Exodus 19:9-20:21

There, as we all know,

God’s imminence ripped through the divide between heaven and earth

Delivering the Law to Moses.

 

The Ten Commandments, and its many associated laws are

God’s intention for His people,

– For our people –

To live in peace and love with one another,

And with our God.

 

God breaks through the transcendent divide

To speak with the prophet Elijah on Mt. Horeb.

– 1 Kings 19

 

Time and again,

God intercedes.

Biblical examples of God becoming Imminent and Present on mountaintops

Are too numerous to mention them all.

 

So let me fast forward

To our fading season of Epiphany,

Low these past 7 weeks,

The presentation of the Lord,

When our ancestors in Israel see and experience the launch

Of Jesus and his ministry.

 

Out of his baptismal waters,

We heard the voice of God

Identifying Jesus:

“Behold this is my Son,”

The Messiah.

Clearly, this is

God stepping through the divide

And becoming fully human as well as fully Divine.

 

You want God on a mountain?

The last three Sundays,

We’ve heard the Gospel proclaimed

Directly from the lips of Jesus,

To the crowds

In His Sermon on the Mount.

 

Have you heard God speaking?

He’s been tweeting!

 

God has been speaking blessings;

teaching his people

Who he favors and blesses.

 

He teaches us

To be the salt and light of the world.

Reject the bland and

let the light of Jesus overcome the darkness of sin and evil!

 

Jesus goes directly to his people

To teach about anger management,

Adultery and divorce,

About retaliation and turning the other cheek,

And to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you.

 

That all in the first chapter.

The Sermon on the Mount goes for another two.

 

Today, the opposing bookend to the Season After the Epiphany,

The final Sunday before the onset of Lent,

We experience God’s imminence and presence

On yet another mountain,

The Mountain of Transfiguration.

 

Jesus takes Peter and James and John

“Up a high mountain, by themselves.”

– Matthew 17

Here, Moses and Elijah appear.

Jesus’s face shone like the sun,

And he was transfigured, or changed,

Right before their very eyes.

Again, from a cloud,

The voice of God repeat,

“This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him.”

– Matthew 17:5

 

Salvation history takes a turn in the road.

 

The people expected Jesus to keep on trucking.

Instead, he veers right.

The people expected Jesus

To keep on teaching and healing and conducting miracles

Up north in Galilee.

Instead, he veers right, and heads towards Jerusalem.

 

The people expected Jesus to return to the Mount of the Beatitudes

Instead, Jesus heads to the Mount of Olives,

And, of course,

To another mountain:

Golgotha.

Calvary.

 

The people expected Jesus

To win

In a final, all-consuming battle with Rome,

Instead, Jesus redefines the word “win.”

Winning for Jesus

Is being cleansed, regenerated, and brought back through the divide

Between heaven and earth,

Into God’s eternal kingdom.

 

Winning for Jesus

Is becoming intimately touched

by the imminence of God.

 

Perhaps the Transfiguration is a glimpse of what eternity looks like?

(As many have suggested)

Clouds.

Light.

Presence.

Glory.

 

This is the time to ask deeper questions.

The Transfiguration of Jesus compels us to dive deeper.

 

Why are you here?

What is it that you are looking for?

What do you need

To get from Sunday worship

That will help get you through the week to next Sunday?

 

God’s presence is here,

But is often not named or identified.

Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us,

And we are his Body,

But the presence of God,

Let alone His might voice,

Are only occasionally discernable.

What gives?

 

These are the questions I’m asking.

What does communication with God look like? Sound like?

What does it mean to encounter God

And how can we trust those moments?

 

If you are like me

We long for those breakthrough moments,

When transcendence is shattered,

When God breaks through the thin divide between heaven and earth

and transfigures us

Just as He transfigured Jesus.

 

In your experience,

Do these moments happen during the week?

Do these moments happen every Sunday?

Only at Holy Communion?

Only when we approach with broken hearts?

Only when we are prepared to repent of our former ways

And are prepared to begin life anew?

Does God break into your life

When you took that first step,

Being born again,

Regenerated and living in the Spirit?

 

If it hasn’t happened this Sunday,

If it doesn’t happen every Sunday,

Keep coming back.

Keep coming back.

You’re safe here.

You’re in good company.

Let’s figure this out together.

Let’s experience the presence and grace of God together.

 

Let us live together in ever growing faith

Even as we begin the upcoming journey of Lent

That will lead us to yet, another mountain

Where God is certain to break through.

Amen.

 

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