Monday, January 30, 2012

Transfiguration, 2012

Matthew 17:1-9 (ESV)
And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. [2] And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. [3] And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. [4] And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." [5] He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." [6] When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. [7] But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and have no fear." [8] And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
[9] And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, "Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead."

Jesus only. All three of the synoptic gospels, that is Mathew Mark and Luke, called synoptic because of their similarities in telling the gospel, the story of Jesus, record the transfiguration. 2 of them say they saw Jesus only, Jesus monon. Luke says they found Jesus alone, Jesus monos. This event, which marks a turning point in the gospels, ends with Jesus only. And this is more than might first meet the eye. Jesus ascends the mountain with three of his closer disciples, for prayer, to speak with the Father, to discuss his future with Moses and Elijah, because when this is done he will start making his way toward Jerusalem. Transfiguration in a way marks the beginning of Lent, except that Easter moves and the Transfiguration doesn’t, at least not historically. It does with the three year lectionary, the three year lectionary has made the transfiguration a moveable feast, which apart from being a Hemingway Novel, is a feast dependent on Easter. (There was a day when cultural icons were apt at making references to the Christian faith and practice. Today you get art professors debating whether or not Leonardo De Vinci was a cross dresser, because they are so bereft of knowledge concerning the Christian faith, the cornerstone of Western Civ., that they can’t understand his subject matter.) In the one year lectionary they just use a couple filler weeks, Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, which basically are a countdown to Easter, seven weeks to Easter, six weeks to Easter, five weeks to Easter. And I suppose that can be a bit confusing, but a lot more fun. But in any case, Transfiguration ends with Jesus Only.
Jesus Only. The story begins with Moses, Elijah and Jesus speaking. A cloud covers them, A voice from the cloud, that is the Father, says, This is my Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him. And the when the cloud is lifted, Moses and Elijah are gone, Jesus only remains. Jesus only. The phrase jars with dissonance. It isn’t the way we speak. We would say, only Jesus. But the dissonance emphasizes Jesus only. Why Jesus only? Because he fulfills the law and the prophets. Because he alone is our savior. Because in him alone, Jesus only, Solus Christus, do we have salvation.
Oh, Solus Christus, Christ alone, Jesus only, is as controversial a statement as it ever was. Everyone wants to hedge their bets with works, and the law. It Just doesn’t seem wise to put it all on red and spin the wheel as it were. It’s counter-intuitive, especially to our old adam that does not want to give to God all the glory concerning our salvation. Jesus only, Solus Christus. It was one of the five onlys, the five solas as they are called of the reformation, Christ alone, Grace alone, faith alone, Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. Christ Grace and Faith alone, that is these three apart from works, go together, Scripture alone emphasizes that there is but one place, one authority with which to judge doctrine, and this is scripture alone, which teaches salvation by grace alone, through faith alone on account of Christ alone, to the glory of God alone. To the Glory of God alone, because it was his love that kicked our salvation into action, and our works and good behavior have nothing to do with it. Jesus only. Yes it is controversial.
I’ll be a little forthright now. I lifted this theme for Transfiguration Sunday from Bo Giertz, who lifted it from Schartau. He uses it in one of my favorite books “The Hammer of God.” He revisits it often in his other works. Yesterday I found a little more information concerning why it was so important for him. I spent the day reading his biography, made it half way through. But I think his life illustrates a common dilemma. Bo Giertz was not brought up a Christian. His father, a doctor was an Atheist, his mom and agnostic. In Sweden one had to go to confirmation, it was your duty as a good citizen. He did, and spent the time reading Atheist propaganda, and the works of Darwin and Haeckel, arguing with his instructor. He was given the general impression that in order to be a pastor one had to be extremely na├»ve, or dishonest. But he was brought up with a moral code, borrowed capital from a Christian past, which he found had been discarded by his atheist friends in Med. School. It was there he converted, though he would say his conversion was more or less an intellectual one, when a very unorthodox layman convinced him of Jesus, and his death and resurrection. And though Bo Giertz went on through to become ordained, and preached as a youth pastor for many years, before becoming a parish pastor, he tortured himself with this question: “What right do I have to call myself a Christian?” Why? Because he knew that he did not live up to the law, he did not live a Christ like life. He knew he was a sinner. It wasn’t until he spent time on a self imposed vicarage with a pastor from the west coast of Sweden, where they have a strange sort of pietism the rest of the world might call confessional Lutheranism, that he came to understand, that being a Christian wasn’t about what he did, but what Christ did for him. It was a theme brought home by Schartau’s sermon for Transfiguration, Jesus only, that drove the point home for him. He learned that he hadn’t been preaching badly, but preaching falsely. A critique he said cut very badly for him. It’s Jesus only. This is what makes us Christian, not our work, but his work. When the Father exhorts us to listen to him, his beloved son, he means Jesus only, because only Jesus says, your sins are forgiven.
Yes, there is a point to the disciples seeing Jesus only, the disciples that is. Jesus stands alone as our savior, he alone fulfills the law and the prophets. He is the one concerning whom Moses warned saying he will raise up from among you one like me. He alone is the one we are to see. For he alone, lifted up like the bronze serpent, can cure us of the serpents bite that is sin. Jesus only. Therefore he is the only one to be preached, the only one that matters. In him we have all, in him we have God, in him we have the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets, in him and him only we have salvation, the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

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