The Transfiguration of the Lord – HD (White)
Sunday, August 6th, 2023
DANIEL 7:9-10, 13-14; PSALM 99; 2 PETER 1:16-19; LUKE 9:28-36
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
Patience. I’m going to preach on patience today. And I wish I had some handy anecdote, drawn from my life, about patience.
But I can’t do that with any ease. At least any examples of my own patience. Of my spouse and my family? And you too? Certainly others are patient with me.
But I am in many ways not patient at all. I’m the one, who for the life of me, no matter how great my desire in the moment to savour the flavour of my after-lunch mint—I crunch it right away. And you should see the size of the container of Tums by my bedside table. (If you can tell me of a bigger one, tell me where to find it.) I get horrible indigestion, because I don’t take the time to chew my food properly. Even as I’m eating, I can say to myself, “ok buddy keep chewing,” as I swallow and take another bite.
I don’t think I’m a particularly patient person, and it’s just as well, perhaps, that I can’t tell you a story about just how patient I am, because I’m preaching today on God’s patience, which is already so unlike human patience anyway. God’s patience is not like human patience, but bigger, or better, or longer—God’s patience is with us, and it is a patience that is for the sake of our salvation.
The Second Letter of Peter, the letter from which our second reading is drawn, is very much concerned with divine patience. Peter could look out and see a church crumbling from within, a church with teachers that were teaching things that Peter was sure were morally bankrupt. It was a church that was divided from within, and Peter very much wanted others to repent and return to the Lord, lest they lose their souls.
In this way, that church was like many our families, and sometimes our friendship groups too—we get hurt, we are sure that people are on a bad path, and we are often asked to somehow live in unresolved relational problem and difficulty.
But for Peter, God is patient, and especially patient with those who need to grow in virtue. In Peter’s church, some have fallen away from the Gospel. But nevertheless, God will not bring us soon to the end of days, because God gives the space and time for each of us to grow in virtue, and to leave behind the ways of the world that are contrary to the Gospel.
This is expressed in quite a lovely way in our reading—God gives time, and God is patient with us. But while God is patient, he does not leave us without comfort. The Transfiguration is what acts as a word of comfort for Peter. The Transfiguration—when Jesus goes up the mountain to pray with Peter, James, and John, is when “the appearance of [Jesus’s] face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” as it is recounted in Luke’s Gospel.
And what Peter, James, and John see is not just Jesus transformed in light before them. What they see is Jesus’s future reign, his glory. This is, in a sense, a kindness of God; Jesus is about to set his face to Jerusalem, and start on a road that leads to his crucifixion. To see that the road of suffering—the road that leads to the place of the skull where Jesus is nailed to a tree—is also a road that leads to glory, this would have been a kind thing for Peter, James, and John to see. Part of the message is most certainly that this is not the end; Jesus will reign, and he will reign in glory and in light.
For Peter, in his letter though, the Transfiguration is more than a kindness; it is the future glory of God made present right now in Christ. So it’s not quite as simple as saying “it’s ok, things will be hard, we’ll get there in then end”; nor is it, as Peter’s opponents were thinking of it, that all things will turn out in the end, so let’s sin freely.
For Peter, in his letter, this confirmation of Jesus’ reign, his coming glory, is something to which we should be attentive in the present “as to a lamp shining in a dark place,” as he puts it, “attentive to this [Transfiguration] as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
It’s lovely, isn’t it. Be “attentive to this [Transfiguration] as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.” It’s a way of saying yes, we may not see God’s reign in full effect in our lifetimes; yes, the glory of Jesus’s reign in light will take place in God’s time, in God’s future; it’s a way of saying yes, God is patient with us, and will give us time; and that God is patient too with those who are hurtful and unkind, or missing the point of the Gospel.
But it also tells us that there is a way that the reign of Christ in light does take place in our hearts now, and that this changes us, this leads to our own personal transformations now, it leads to us leading lives under God’s reign now, it leads us to living lives of a different political ethic now.
It would be easy, I imagine, to hear such a message as this, about God’s patience as we grow in virtue, or about the way in which the future glory of Christ should lead to us behaving differently in the present, as a call to buck up, put a little effort in, put your shoulder to the grindstone already, and get on with being a Christian.
But the Transfiguration—the vision of Christ’s future, and of God’s glorious reign—is also about grace. Because it is a vision of the inevitability of Christ’s reign. There’s not much we are going to do that would ever change that reality, that divine future. Sin boldly, I suppose, because you messing up and causing pain to your friend or to your neighbour, or you falling away into a life of licentiousness, none of this will have any bearing on the working out of God’s will.
God may be patient, but he’s not waiting on you to save the world. Or me. Or us. God’s got that part wrapped up in Christ.
But do be attentive to the Spirit—the Spirit of gratitude, the Spirit of hope, the Spirit that leads us into new life—because neither does God leave us abandoned in sin. By the Spirit we are led further into God’s future, right now—and what else can we do, if this is true, but to put away our hatreds, to look to our own healing, to look to the healing of others, to speak the truth, and live lives of Christian virtue—and all this by the grace of the God who gives us the Spirit to do so.