Sermon: “A Glimpse of the Glory of God” (February 15, 2015)

Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“A Glimpse of the Glory of God” (Mark 9:2-8)
February 15, 2015
Dave Johnson

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Last summer on my way home from dropping off my daughter Becky at college in North Carolina I visited King’s Mountain National Military Park in Blacksburg, South Carolina. Over the years I have dragged my family to many national military parks but decided to let them off the hook this time and went alone ☺.

On October 7, 1780 a critical battle in the Revolutionary War was fought at King’s Mountain. Under the leadership of Colonel William Campbell the scrappy Americans defeated the British Regulars in this battle, which was instrumental in turning the tide in favor of the Americans in the southern colonies, which culminated of course with Lord Charles Cornwallis’ surrender to General George Washington at Yorktown, Virginia about a year later.

At this park there is a path that winds its way up the mountain, with placards at various points describing different events of the battle. At the summit of this mountain is an obelisk monument erected to the glory of those who died in the Battle of King’s Mountain—it is quite moving.

Every year the gospel lesson for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany is an account of the transfiguration of Jesus, when, as we prayed in the collect for today, Jesus “revealed his glory upon the holy mountain” (The Book of Common Prayer 217).

Mark tells us “Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain, apart, by themselves.” And then Peter, James, and John saw something they never expected: “(Jesus) was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” Mark continues, “And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.”

On the mountain that day Peter, James and John were given a great gift—a glimpse of the glory of God.

Throughout the Old Testament the glory of God often appeared on a mountain. In fact, both Moses and Elijah, who appeared in this episode talking to Jesus, encountered themselves the glory of God on a mountain.

Moses encountered the glory of God on Mt. Sinai multiple times. On one occasion Moses made a bold request of God, “Show me your glory, I pray.” God responded, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy” (Exodus 33:18-19). And that is exactly what happened.

Many years later Elijah encountered the glory of God on Mt. Horeb. God commanded Elijah, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Elijah did so—and then listen to what happened:

“Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave” (1 Kings 19:11-13a).

On the mount of transfiguration this same Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus. How did Peter, James, and John respond? Probably the same way you and I would—Mark bluntly tells us, “They were terrified.” But Mark continues, “Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’”

A few decades later in his final letter Peter recalled this incident:

“(Jesus) received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain” (2 Peter 1:16-18).

Likewise, John went on to write, “We have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).

The Anglican priest and poet Malcolm Guite beautifully articulates all of this in his sonnet, Transfiguration:

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,
On that one mountain where all moments meet,
The daily veil that covers the sublime
In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.
There were no angels full of eyes and wings
Just living glory full of truth and grace.
The Love that dances at the heart of things
Shone out upon us from a human face
And to that light the light in us leaped up,
We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,
A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope
Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.
Nor can this this blackened sky, this darkened scar
Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

Last fall an episode of ESPN’s fascinating documentary series 30 for 30 aired that focused on the life and career of Brian Bosworth, aka “The Boz,” a superstar college linebacker who played for the Oklahoma Sooners in the 1980’s (“Brian and the Boz”—Season 2, episode 23).

In high school although externally Brian came across as an arrogant standout football player, internally this was not the case:

“When I was in high school, people think that I must have been cocky, had this way about me and it’s quite the contrary. I was dressed the wrong way, my hair was messed up, I had too many pimples on my face, so I had some serious doubt issues as to my ability as a football player and I played scared.”

Watching this documentary reveals why Brian Bosworth “played scared”—for the predominant theme of this documentary was something that completely caught me off guard. It was neither his crazy haircut nor massive ego, neither his polarizing celebrity status nor his use of steroids, neither his amazing play as a college linebacker nor his NFL career cut short by injuries—the predominant theme of this documentary was the lack of approval Brian received from his father.

At the beginning of the episode Brian is in a storage unit in Austin, Texas with his son, going through items his dead father had left in the attic. They come across scrapbooks his father kept that rated Brian’s performance in minute detail—every tackle, every carry, every touchdown, every fumble, every mistake, all of it. Brian goes on to say:

“When it came to sports it was never good enough, I didn’t play well enough…There was always something wrong with something I did and I know what (dad) was doing, I know he was just trying to push me to a place that he wanted me to go.”

Brian’s sister concurred, “He’d get done with a practice or get done with a game and there was just a harpooning at the end of that as to everything that could have/should have been done differently.”

Former columnist for Sports Illustrated, Rick Reilly insightfully added this:

“Whatever (Brian) did, his dad wanted more. He could never get just a big hug, ‘Great game!’ (rather, it was) ‘How’d you miss him on that sweep? How’d you get fooled on that bootleg?’ His dad would make him run laps after practice…(Brian) was just a kid who was not sure what was driving him…What was driving him was much darker than I think he wanted to let on.”

Toward the end of the documentary Brian and his son are back in the storage unit, flipping through a scrapbook again, and Brian says, “There’s more to life than paper clippings and accolades and rewards.” then as he closes it, he concludes, “let’s put this stuff away.”

Let me ask you a question today… what is driving you? Perhaps, like Brian Bosworth, some of you are playing scared. Regardless of what is driving you, even if it is darker than you want to let on, Scripture is clear about what was (and is) always driving Jesus…love.

As you know, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment of the entire Old Testament was, he replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he added, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).

The phrase “all the law and the prophets” refers to the entire Old Testament, personified on the Mount of Transfiguration by Moses, representing the law, and Elijah, representing the prophets, with the culmination of both, love, personified in the Beloved, Jesus Christ, who never doubted the approval of his Heavenly Father.

Shortly after descending the Mount of Transfiguration with Peter, James, and John, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the final time, where he was betrayed and given into the hands of sinners, who pushed him to a place they wanted him to go, a path that wound its way up a different mountain, Calvary, where Jesus again revealed his glory, where Jesus fought and won a cosmic Battle of King’s Mountain.

At the summit of this mountain something else was erected—a cross. In his hands and feet Jesus was harpooned for all the things that could have/should have been done differently in all of human history…and in your life. On the cross hung Jesus, the King of Love, upon whom in turn hung “all the law and the prophets.” On the cross Jesus gave not just Peter, James, and John, but the whole world, a glimpse of the glory of God.

And on the cross Jesus revealed all the goodness and grace and mercy of God—and in the sheer silence that followed his death…Jesus revealed all the glory of God, “whose glory is always to have mercy” (from the collect for the Second Sunday on Lent, BCP 218).

One day, just as he said he would, this same Jesus will return “with great power and glory” (Mark 13:26). In the meantime, may the Holy Spirit give each of you a glimpse of the glory of the God “whose glory is always to have mercy,” a glimpse of “how things really are”—that God has closed the scrapbook that records all your sins and put that stuff away, that in Jesus Christ you have the approval and love of your Heavenly Father—which means you do not have to play scared anymore.

Amen.