Sunday, March 02, 2014

Transfiguration Sunday

Exodus 24
12 The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain and stay here, and I will give you the tablets of stone with the law and commandments I have written for their instruction.”
13 Then Moses set out with Joshua his aide, and Moses went up on the mountain of God. 14 He said to the elders, “Wait here for us until we come back to you. Aaron and Hur are with you, and anyone involved in a dispute can go to them.”
15 When Moses went up on the mountain, the cloud covered it, 16 and the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai. For six days the cloud covered the mountain, and on the seventh day the Lord called to Moses from within the cloud. 17 To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. 18 Then Moses entered the cloud as he went on up the mountain. And he stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights.

You will recall that I have a number of actionable items that relate to my parents, potential lawsuits based on my dangerous childhood in the 60’s and 70’s.

So I ask, why stop at sunscreen, bike helmets and learning to walk in the back of a moving station wagon? Perhaps it is time to look at the wider context of my childhood, and the things I was denied when we moved to the woods near Mount Albert.

Taking just one obvious and painful example, my alarming lack of access to Sesame Street. First appearing on PBS in 1970, Sesame Street could have played a vital role in my educational development.

Is my ability to do math compromised without early exposure to Count von Count? Do I have a diminished sense of wonder without an eight-foot-two bird in my early life? The true value of friendship without Ernie and Bert? Can I properly compare and contrast without the hit song “One of the things is not like the others?”

Now, my parents will argue that without PBS I was actually forced to play outside, in the woods, and this means I had an enhanced set of learning opportunities that television could not provide. Clever defense, I will give them that.

My little friends with cable did, however, teach me the song “One of the things is not like the others” and it seems this simple song may be the key to understanding the reading that Joyce shared this morning.

But first, just in case you also grew up in Mount Albert without cable TV, here are the lyrics to the song:

One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn't belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?

In the sketch, there are typically four items, three being the same or similar, and one being quite different. Think hammer, screwdriver, handsaw and running shoe. Or Moses, Joshua, Aaron and Hur. “One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn't belong.”

In this first example, Moses, Joshua, Aaron and Hur, we see the great lawgiver, the great warrior, the great priest and some guy we’ve never heard of. One of these get the picture. Or the usual Transfiguration Sunday reading, with Jesus, Moses, Elijah and three of the disciples on the mountaintop. Great prophet, great prophet, great prophet, and three guys who are at a loss for words.

We could do this all day: Forty days and nights Moses spent on the mountain, forty days and nights of rain to cover the earth, forty days and nights Jesus is tempted in the wilderness, and forty years the Israelites wander in the desert. Or six days the cloud covered the mountain, six days to create the heavens and earth, six days of labour before you rest, and three days to rebuild the temple which is Jesus’ body.

I think you see where I’m going with this. One of my professors, Dr. Carol Miles, introduced us to the idea of intertextuality, your five-dollar-word for today. Put simply, intertextuality is the interconnections and suggestions that come to mind when you read your Bible or any piece of literature. When one thing suggests another, and you are inclined to ponder the connection between them, you are investigating an intertextual link.

What does the dove of Noah’s Ark and the dove that descends at Jesus’ baptism have in common? Maybe nothing, or maybe everything, but as soon as the Spirit prompts your mind to make a connection, you are involved in a creative way to understand your Bible. And there are no right and wrong answers, only the prompting of the Holy Spirit and your imagination.

So back to Exodus 24: on the surface it’s simply the backstory to retrieving the tablets that contain the ten commandments. God instructs Moses to go up the mountain, where the transfer will take place; Aaron and others are designated to stand in for Moses in the meantime; Moses makes the journey as ‘the glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai;’ and Moses enters the cloud that will be his home for the next forty days and nights.

Of course, we know that when Moses returns from the mountain his face was radiant (34.29) and the others were overwhelmed by it and didn’t know what to make of it. Likewise, in the Transfiguration story:

Six days later, (there is another six-day reference) 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.

So clearly Jesus is the new Moses: up the mountain to meet God, facing shining with a divine glow, six days and then forty days (next week Jesus will be tempted for forty days) and then there are the others who meet the situation with a mixture of confusion and fear, with a measure of awe as well.

But what does this mean, if Jesus is the new Moses? If we are being invited to see them side-by-side, how do we draw them together?

The first and most obvious way involves the law. Moses brings the law (or gathers the law) and Jesus fulfills the law (Mat 5.17). Jesus insists that not one ‘jot or tittle’ will disappear from the law until all is accomplished. He completes the law, best demonstrated in his summary, the Great Commandment:

Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Mat 22.36-40)

And we could leave it there, with the law summarized and repackaged in such a way that if this was the only thing you knew about Jesus’ teaching, it would be more than enough. These words alone contain the theological and ethical program of Jesus, and represent a summation of the believer’s task.

But there is more. Moses is the great liberator, or rather the prophet of the liberation that God provides to the children of Israel. God heard their suffering, the words as they cried out in bondage, and God freed them with an outstretched arm and great wonders, and Moses led them to the promised land. Along the way, it was Moses who negotiated with God for the sake of the people, who—in spite of great hardship—landed safely on Canaan’s side.

Moses is the great liberator, but he mostly saved the people from themselves. The complaining, the disobedience, everything we call human nature: all this nearly led to a desert version of the great flood, but Moses saved the people from themselves by intervening on their behalf.

And this is the clearest way Jesus is the new Moses, saving us from ourselves. Like the Israelites in the desert, we have human nature in abundance. Just a week ago we marked the end of the Olympics with a church school parade of nations. A week later, we seem to be on the brink of a new war in Europe. Human nature makes us warlike, and we can’t seem to help ourselves.

But Jesus says ‘love God and serve others.’ And overcome all that turns the heart to aggression and discord, because God loves you wants you to be happy. But we don’t buy it.

But then he goes a step further, and is willing to die for us, in a last-ditch effort to save us from ourselves. Jesus even forgives us from the cross—because we don’t know what we’re doing—and liberates us from the sin and sorrow that we create for ourselves each day.

Moses, Jesus, the way of the cross and the way of the world: one of these things is not like the others: thank God the first three save us from the last. Amen.


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