At the Core of Our Being, February 23

At the Core of Our Being

Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99;1 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler

Catskill United Methodist Church; February 23, 2020


Today is Transfiguration Sunday; Lent begins only three days from now on Ash Wednesday.  We get this story of the Transfiguration each year on this Sunday, because in each of the three synoptic gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, this strange story of Jesus going up a mountain with Peter, James, and John, marks the beginning of Jesus’s journey to Jerusalem, a journey which ends at the cross.  So the church year puts this mountain-top adventure before us as we begin our own annual journey to the cross, our walk through Lent toward the suffering of Good Friday and the joy of Easter.  A glimpse of glory, and then a somber walk with Jesus to the fulfillment of his coming. 


The experience on the mountain is all about identity.  Who is Jesus?  The gospel reading begins with the phrase, “Six days later.”  Looking back six days, we read of the conversation Jesus has with his disciples about who he is.  As Matthew tells his story, Jesus spends the bulk of his time in ministry walking through the villages of Galilee, teaching, healing, arguing with the local preachers and teachers, and telling good stories to all who will listen.  He travels with his core of disciples, at least twelve of whom are named.   And six days before today’s hike, Jesus speaks to his disciples, away from the crowds.  What’s the word on the street?  Who do people say that I am? 


They’ve been listening.  They’ve heard the comments. They respond, “Some say you’re Elijah; others think you’re John the Baptist. Still others think you’re Jeremiah, or another of the prophets.”


And you, Jesus asks, who do you say that I am?  I imagine that they are silent for a moment, then Peter speaks up.  “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.” 


“Yes!  Blessed are you, Peter! You get it!”  Jesus is thrilled.  “You are the Rock, Petrus, and on this rock I will build my church!”


Then Jesus goes on.  “OK, friends, now that you know who I am, here’s what’s happening next:  We’re headed to Jerusalem, and I will suffer at the hands of those same preachers and teachers I’ve been arguing with.  I will be killed, and three days later I will return.”  But that was too much for the disciples.  They didn’t want to hear about suffering and pain.  So Peter spoke up again.  “Jesus, no! No!  That can’t happen to you!”


Jesus’ response?  “Get behind me, Satan.  Your words are not from God, but only from a human perspective.”  Which is to say, I thought you got it, but you don’t get it.


That’s the backdrop for today’s hike.  The disciples are trying to figure out exactly who Jesus is, what category he fits into, and what that actually means.  And Jesus invites Peter, James and John up the mountain with him.  At the top of the mountain, they see.  They see Jesus with Moses and Elijah, the personifications of the Law and the Prophets, and they see Jesus, dazzling, bathed in light, shining.  No veil, no façade, nothing but the essence and the depth of all that Jesus is.  Light shines from him.  And a voice from heaven names him.  This is my son, my beloved, Listen to him!


Peter, James, and John were sincere and thoughtful men.  They knew the sacred texts, the Law and the Prophets .  They knew these words from the second chapter of Isaiah:

5O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord


And these words from the sixtieth chapter:

The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you by night; but the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory.  Isaiah 60:19


They knew Psalm 27, which begins, The Lord is my light and my salvation. 


And the 36th Psalm

With you, O Lord, is the fountain of life.  In your light do we see light.


A man who dazzles and literally shines has God written all over him.  Light signifies the presence of God.  If there’s that much dazzling light, God is here!  They heard the words from the cloud.  That was impressive.  But what they saw, they’d never seen before.  Jesus shone with an inner light, with God’s light.  The light of the Lord was in him.   They saw what was at the core of his being, and it was the light of God.  He was the son of the living God, as they’d thought, even though this Messiah was not what they’d expected.


Then it was over, and they headed back down the mountain, back into the world that would try to extinguish that light they’d seen so vividly.  But they’d seen it; they couldn’t unsee it. So as Jesus lived out his truth, truth that did indeed lead to suffering and death, as he had predicted, they began to grasp all that he was.


This Jesus whom they followed, whom we also follow, lived his life with utter integrity, out of the light and truth that was at the core of his being.  Following Jesus means living that same life. 


We ask ourselves the same questions Jesus asked.  Who does the world think we are?  And who do we know ourselves to be?  It’s the question at the heart of every self-help book, every magazine quiz, every chart of identity that is published on Facebook regularly.


Maybe you’ve seen the word find puzzle that tells you that the first three words you find will define your life in 2020.  I saw a new one yesterday asking you to choose which perspective of a rainbow speaks to you, so that the answer key could tell you, you are strong, or wise, or courageous.  And it wasn’t even a choice; the different rainbows were assigned to your birth month, not allowing for much self-differentiation. 


Those who have followed Jesus over the generations also have wisdom and insight about our core identity, who we are and who we might be.  We are not Jesus, dazzling with light on the mountaintop.  We are not God.  But we are children of God, made in God’s image.  That identity is at the core of our being.  We are made in the image of God and are called to let that image shine. We are not called to hide our essence or to bury our truth.  Like Jesus, we are called to live our lives with integrity, that our core being is made manifest in all that we do.   We’ve heard much of Jesus’ teaching from the Sermon on the Mount over the past few weeks.  You are the light of the world; you are the salt of the earth; blessed are you who are willing to be vulnerable, to weep and to mourn and to hunger for justice, yours is the kingdom.  A life that shines forth justice and light, or peace, or hope, or deep love is the life that we have been created for, a life of wholeness and truth.  Brian Doyle writes of the Christian life. This is one of his short pieces, titled God: A Note.  (from Eight Whopping Lies and Other Stories of Bruised Grace. Brian Doyle.  Franciscan Media, 2017)


[I don’t have copyright permission to include the words from Brian Doyle on the website.  But it’s a wonderful piece.  I recommend it.]


Exodus 24:12-18

12The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” 13So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.” 15Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. 17Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. 18Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.


Psalm 99  (UMH 819)

1The Lord is king; let the peoples tremble!

He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!

2The Lord is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples.

3Let them praise your great and awesome name. Holy is the Lord!

4Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity;

you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.

5Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool. Holy is the Lord!

6Moses and Aaron were among his priests,

     Samuel also was among those who called on his name.

They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.

7He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;

they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.

8O Lord our God, you answered them;

you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings.

9Extol the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain;

     for the Lord our God is holy.


1 Peter 1:16-21

16for it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” 17If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile. 18You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold, 19but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without defect or blemish.20He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake. 21Through him you have come to trust in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are set on God.


Matthew 17:1-9

17Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”


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