Genesis 15.15.1-12,17-18; Philippians 3.17-4.1; Luke 9.28-36
This flag debate has raised the question of our identity. Who are we? What defines us? What makes us the nation we are? Come to that what makes you the person you are? Where you belong in the world, you role, you sum of attributes and experiences? What matters most about you? Our natural Kiwi reticence makes us want to be just a decent enough person, like anyone else. Neither scum nor prince.
And yet there is more to us, there is a life that’s somewhat remarkable, connections that are frankly heavenly; and so many are hardly aware of the reality into which they have been brought by the grace of God.
Peter, James and John are confronted with this, barely perceiving what’s really going on in this mountaintop experience of theirs. They’ve gone up this hill (think Tutamoe rather than Taranaki), and Jesus’ appearance is dramatically changed right before their eyes. Suddenly glorious, heavenly, shining in beauty. Their walk up the hill has tired them, but sleep is no longer possible now. Not has Jesus changed, but he has unexpected company in the Lawgiver and The Prophet. Apparently talking about the new exodus that will liberate us from eh slavery of sin.
It’s like God is reminding them that this is no ordinary Rabbi they’ve been following, not just some brilliant miracle-worker. In a way the disciples get it and in a another way they don’t. They get that Jesus is heavenly, glorious and stands alongside the great figures of Hebrew faith, and they want to build shrines to commemorate this – somewhere they can bring others to tell them what they saw. They want to institutionalise this experience – hold it at arms length – domesticate it.
Suddenly a cloud descends – a frightening sign of God’s veiled presence and out of it God addresses them and their misunderstanding. “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to Him!” Not an experience to boast about, to build a shrine to, or build an institution around. This is an encounter with the Son of God, the Messiah, the Chosen Deliverer – he’s to be taken very seriously. Though the disciples found no way to talk about this to others for now, it will have filled their minds and hearts with life changing wonder. And maybe the question: what have we to do with heaven, with this heavenly being who looks so ordinary?
Paul tells us that because of the Cross of Christ, we are indeed different, with an almost unimaginable significance. We are citizens of heaven, we belong to the glorious and ascended Jesus, to the realm from which comes our salvation, our hope, our meaning. We are not limited by the things with which we usually identify ourselves: family, culture, history, education and occupation; faults and attributes; quirks and habits; triumphs and disappointments. If that’s our focus we become the sad creatures that Paul reflects on in this letter to the Christians in Philippi whose ultimate end is their destruction, because when offered the resources of heaven they chose to be distracted by the immediate and earth-bound.
However we have an identity that is forever, organically linked to the King of the heavenly realms which means more than just a decent average Kiwi person.
It means God is always with you ands listens to you and notes the things that are important to you and the things are upsetting you. But it also means you have amazing resources with which to help and minister to others – heaven’s life-changing, transformative resources. When you come, in Jesus’s name, to lovingly help or pray with someone you come with His authority and His blessing, you can come with some expectancy that He both hears and responds to your dependance on Him.
Abraham simply believed that God had all that he needed, even when everything looked hopeless, and thus chose to act on what he believed rather than what he feared. He didn’t just believe some promise, he chose to believe the One who made the promise.
All this promise, these limitless resources, this encouragement to believe in a transcendent Lord, calls to the ultimate act of righteousness. That is to act upon what we say we believe, to what we know at heart is possible in the love and grace of God in Christ. The transfigured Christ descended the mountain and lead His disciples onto the world of ordinary people with ordinary needs, but showed them to meet those needs with extraordinary grace and power. What happened on the mountain was to inspire and dare Jesus’ followers in every age to do astonishing things for His sake and the sake of His kingdom.