Message: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99 or 99:5-9; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36
It can be argued that the idea of conservatism reaches as far back as the sixteenth century when reformers reacted to the doctrines of the conventional thinking of the Roman Catholic Church proposing a more progressive vision for the church. Conservatism is an ideology based on stable, traditional values. An order of things that preserves status quo, is slow to reform, and resists radical change. As time went along, with the age of Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, philosopher Edmund Burke established that human beings are governed by the interdependence of reason and emotion. Burke’s findings led to what we know today as Modern Conservatism.
It can be said that Conservatives hold an innate desire to cling to what was a thing of the past. Seeing things in retrospect so often makes them so clear; and what is good as very good. As well, in an effort to resist change Conservatives hold tight to what is now because the possibility of the unknown for the future and the change that comes from the future is too much to grasp. Consequently, we may cling to a certain way of life; see life through a certain lens, a prism.
One wise theologian warns us that if we’re not open to change and chance, our prism can become a prison.
Just eight days following Jesus prediction of his death and resurrection, Jesus’ inner sanctum, Peter, James, and John journey high atop Mt. Tabor to pray with Jesus. A radical change is in the air which prompts them to cling to some Conservative thinking. On the mountain top Jesus changes. The King James Version of Luke’s gospel actually says, “the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.” Peter, James and John are filled with emotion and spellbound by the arrival on the scene of Moses and Elijah representing the Law and the Prophets. Clothed in the brightness of glory, Moses, Elijah and Jesus are transfigured. At the same time, Peter, holding fast to logic and reason and clinging to the confines of Conservatism begs to build three structures to enclose God’s Law and Prophets, and God’s most blessed Son, here on the mountain top.
And why not? These three simple fishermen are clinging to what they know and it’s good. In following Jesus, they’ve witnessed the prophesies fulfilled as Jesus feeds the hungry, heals the sick, grants freedom to the demon possessed, and raises the dead to life. Crowds are growing as Jesus journeys along. Of course they want to keep it all just as it is. They’re not ready for the radical change that lies ahead. They’re not ready for the upcoming journey to Jerusalem where Jesus will be betrayed and denied and put on trial, sentenced to death upon the cross, buried in the tomb and miraculously risen to life granting the promise of everlasting life and salvation for all. They do the natural thing: conserve the richness of the past that has come to define who they are now which gives them hope for what is possible.
We don’t want mountaintop experiences to end. While they’re fleeting and brief, their beauty and splendor make all things good and right. Of course we’re going to do everything we can to contain them. We build institutions, structure booths, form boundaries and walls believing that in doing so we’ll keep things ordered and logical and stable. We cling to conserve what we believe is right, so we don’t have to be concerned about change, especially radical change.
The disciples cling tightly to their Conservatism standing frozen in fear as a cloud overshadows them with the voice speaking, “this is my Son, my chosen one. Listen to him.” Speechless, they make their way down the mountain with only Jesus by their side. And, it is Jesus who stays by their side as they go about questioning, wondering what it means to walk with this chosen one, the Son of God who will not be fully revealed until he is risen from the dead. It is Jesus by our side who opens our hearts to the cost of discipleship: to save our lives, we must first lose our lives to Christ, who stands by our side, who gives us the keys to the kingdom, who walks with us, revealing God’s redeeming, grace filled, love abundant world.
Peter, James and John, exhausted by trying to do it all right; overwhelmed by wanting to grasp the brilliance of God in Christ, clinging to that illumination; hoping to conserve it all up in a neat package and keep it contained, they fail to see that through Christ, they too are brightly transfigured. Coming down the mountain, they now are radiant with the life of Christ; prepared to go out, boldly spreading the Good News of God in Christ, living lives made free and transformed in Christ.
After all, why shouldn’t we be transfigured by Christ? Christ has given his life for us; redeemed us from sin and shame; risen to new life, that we may be alive in him, dazzling enlightened with the power of grace too impossible to contain. Not the power of clinging to skeptical limitations we see much too much in our world today. But, rather the power of the brilliance of Christ burning in our hearts, minds and souls, overcoming the darkness, lighting up our world for what is new, what is whole, what is loving and true and sending us out into the world to do the impossible, to change our world to a world transfigured, transformed as God’s in Christ.
One author writes that we should wear crash helmets coming down the mountain, free from our conservative clinging as she asks, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we blithely invoke?…We should all be wearing crash helmets when coming to church… Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares;…”
We all come down the mountain. Some of us choose to break free of that which closes us up and binds us. Released from fear and apprehension, some of us may actually embrace the mystery of God in Christ truly manifest in our lives.
Rather than clinging to those parts of the past and present we wish to conserve to keep us from losing our way, and staying safe. What if, instead, we were to not cling but we were to “cherish” those things of value? To cherish is to hold dear, to prize, to foster, to adore, to nurture. To cling is to clutch, grip, clasp out of desperation. Christ does not adorn us with dazzling love out of desperation. Christ clothes us in the radiance of God as children of God, transfigured to serve God in Christ with dignity, love, and dazzling possibilities. As one faithful monastic writes: down the mountain with Christ, may we be liberal with what we hold dear.
Awaken my friends. Be alive in Christ who shines brilliantly in us, and frees us from the prison of holding too tight. Let go, and be transfigured in Christ.