Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 2; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
Last Sunday after Epiphany
Today is the Last Sunday after Epiphany, eight weeks after Epiphany, and nine weeks since Christmas. We are trying to get a better understanding of who God is and what this means for us. We can try to understand who God is from nature and the world around us through Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Philosophy, English Literature and Medicine. We live in a complex world with no simple answers, where everything is dependent on the other and all is held together in a delicate balance.
We try to get to know God as revealed through Scripture, hearing the stories of God’s people and their interactions with God and their understanding of who God is. We learn about God through the prophets and the messages they proclaim from God. In the Christmas and Epiphany seasons we seek to know God as revealed through his only begotten Son Jesus Christ, the Word incarnate, the Word embodied in flesh. In the personality and actions of Jesus we can come to understand the personality and actions of God.
The author of the Gospel of Matthew goes to great lengths to compare Jesus to Moses. Moses was under threat of death by the pharaoh as an infant until he was taken under the protection of the pharaoh’s daughter. Jesus was also under threat of death from Herod but was whisked away to safety when an angel told Joseph to take his family and flee to Egypt, Egypt where Moses was born and where Moses, at the prodding of God and the help of God, negotiated the release of God’s people from slavery to the Egyptian pharaoh. Jesus, working on behalf of God, works for the freedom of God’s people from slavery to sin.
In this morning’s readings both Moses and Jesus are having a mountain top experience. In ancient times a mountain was where you could encounter God. The mountain reaches up, up into the sky through the clouds into the heavens, where God can be found. The Hebrew people were led through the desert by a cloud and a pillar of fire. When Moses ascends the mountain with Joshua the mountain top is surrounded by a cloud. When Jesus, Peter, James and John ascend the mountain they too are surrounded by a cloud and the presence of God. Moses’ face shines after his encounter with God and he wears a veil to hide the glow from the Hebrew people so that they are not afraid. When Jesus encounters God we are told God’s glory shines through Jesus whole body, even through his clothes. Moses reflects God’s glory, but God’s glory shines forth from within Jesus.
On the mountain top Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus. Jesus is not doing away with the law and the prophets, but Jesus has come to fulfill the law and the prophets. In Moses encounter with God on the mountain top, God gives Moses the law which we call the Ten Commandments or the Decalogue. God tells Moses what he expects of his people, that they are to love God and to love their neighbor as themselves.
Over the past few weeks we have been hearing different parts of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Jesus is explaining to his disciples and to the people what it means to live God’s commandments. Just because you haven’t killed anyone or you haven’t slept with your neighbor’s wife does not mean that you have done what God commanded. God expects so much more. It is about our attitude towards God and towards other people. Yes we are not to worship idols or anything other than God or to recognize any god but the one true God. We are to honor the Sabbath and we are not to use God’s name inappropriately, but God wants us to actually care about Him, to love him, to want to spend time with him not as a duty or obligation, but as something we really want to do.
God commands that we respect our parents, that we do not murder or commit adultery or steal or lie or desire what is not ours, but not because we fear a lightning bolt from heaven or the Albion Public Safety officers coming and arresting us or because we fear the morality squad or because I say so. We don’t do these things because we genuinely care for each other, we genuinely don’t want to hurt anyone physically, emotionally or spiritually. It is not about following a set of rules and anything not specifically ruled against is permissible, it is about doing the right thing. It is about treating each other with kindness. It is about wanting the basic necessities of life for others as if they were our own children. God wants us to have life and not just life, but life in abundance where we are happy, in good health, have good food and water, are warm and dry and feel safe and secure. God wants that for everyone and wants us to want that for everyone too. There is more than enough for everyone. It is not a competition to see who can get the most Easter eggs. It is not a competition to see who dies with the most toys. God’s Kingdom is a place where we truly care about the wellbeing of our neighbor, where we care for the sick, stranger and elderly, where we feel successful when our neighbor is successful, where we love our neighbor, where we love ourselves and where we love God.
Jesus is not just a first century Moses, but Jesus is more. Moses brought the people God’s laws. Jesus brings the people what it means to actually live morally and ethically as God’s people. The Hebrew people did not want to hear God’s voice or listen to what God had to say. They asked Moses to go up the mountain to talk to God and then come back and tell them what God said. Moses returned from the mountain with the Ten Commandments and a glowing face that the people were afraid to see so Moses hid his face with a veil until the glow faded away.
God’s people in the first century did not want to hear God’s voice either. The people wanted a warrior prince who would defeat the Romans and restore their status as a respected people, but this was not God’s will. When Jesus, Peter, James and John went up the mountain, God spoke to them saying, “This is my beloved Son, and I am fully pleased with him. Listen to him.” This is very similar to what happened at Jesus’ baptism when a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Peter, James and John heard the voice of God and were terrified, but Jesus told them not to be afraid. God tells us that Jesus speaks for God and that we are to listen to Jesus.
Moses wore a veil to hide God’s glory from the people. At Jesus crucifixion the veil in the temple separating the Holy of Holies from the people was torn in two from top to bottom. God does not want to be separated from his people. God does not want to be hidden from his people. God does not want to live far away from his people in some distant heaven. God wants to be with his people, to walk with his people and to live with his people. As we move from the season of Epiphany into the season of Lent, let us give up seeking gain for ourselves but rather seek gain for our neighbor and let us contemplate what it means to love a God who loves us, to follow Jesus and a God who wants to walk with us, and to trust and believe in a God who is willing to trust his very life with us. Amen.