Up at the top of a tall mountain, you see the world a little differently. Roads and rivers are mere ribbons in the valley below; speeding cars crawl and churning boats make no progress at all. Vast lakes seem to be mere puddles. The horizon bends so that you can actually see with your eyes the curve of the earth. One can look in any direction and see for miles upon miles upon miles. In a word, it is glorious.
God our creator, the maker of heaven and earth, of the infinitely large and the infinitesimally small, of the lush and vibrant, of the hard and unyielding, of the long ago and the yet to come, God the Lord of life and ruler of death, God the judge over all creation including ourselves, especially ourselves, God is glorious.
Our lessons this morning point to glory. The first lesson testifies, “Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai ; and the cloud covered it for six days.” There is glory here. The second lesson testifies, “For he 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.” There is glory here, majestic glory even. And our gospel lesson testifies, “And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.” There is glory here, is there not? Yes there is.
And so one would be forgiven if she were to think that our gospel lesson today was all about glory. Everything points to glory. The glory shines. But our gospel is not about glory. Glory is only the frame in which a masterpiece is displayed. So what is this masterpiece? What is it that steals all the glory from glory? We shall see in due time.
One of the attributes of glory is that it attracts attention. We want to look at it. Even when it isn't the point, we want to look at it. Even when we are told that it isn't important, we still want to look at it. That certainly is the case with the people around Jesus. Take the disciples, for example. Just prior to coming up the mountain, Jesus was giving them a little blunt talk about what was important. Let me read it, "From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed..." A few verses later Jesus continues, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." These are not words about glory. They are words about dying and suffering. This, Jesus says, is the point.
So then, after getting this blunt and sobering lesson about what is really important, Jesus takes three disciples up on the mountaintop with him where they see him transfigured, bathed in the glory of God. Immediately all that talk about death and suffering, that we just read, goes down the memory hole. It vanishes from their minds altogether and Peter says, "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." Peter sees the glory and he wants to hold onto it. He wants to make it permanent. He's willing to make some buildings if only the glory will stay. You see, the glory is something that he understands and desires. He earnestly desires for God to be at work in his time and place. And since God is glorious, God must work with glory to accomplish his purposes. This experience on the mountaintop is exactly what Peter has been waiting for. All that talk about dying and suffering didn't quite make sense, but seeing a powerful, glorious Jesus? That makes all the sense in the world. So this is a dream come true.
And then the very voice of God comes, booming and impressive, glorious. And God says, "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to him." This is all brilliant. It's just perfect. It's glorious. Peter and the disciples fall to the ground and hide their faces. They are in awe. It couldn't get any more perfect.
And then Jesus begins to speak. "Get up," he says. And so they do. And the glory is gone. Elijah and Moses are gone. The cloud is gone. The light is gone. The booming voice of God is gone. The glory is gone. And they are left to climb down the mountain to the valley below. And as they walk down, Jesus tells them again what is really important. He tells them that he must die. He tells them that he must suffer and die. There is no glory here. What is important does not have a trace of glory in it.
I think that most of us are a bit like Peter. We prefer that God do his work in our lives with glory as opposed to the cross. We don't want people to die while they are still young. We don't want families that tear apart and leave scars. We don't want to fall on hard times. We don’t want bad things to happen. Surely if God is at work in our lives these things won't happen, right? Isn't that how God works? No, it really isn't. God works by the cross not by glory. God does not spare us from hardship, he saves us from it. God leaves his glory behind, and walks down the mountain to be among sinners, to die for them and to save them. God leaves his glory behind be with you. God leaves his glory behind to forgive your sins. God leaves his glory behind to save you. It isn't how we would choose to do things. But it isn't us who has chosen. It is God who has chosen.