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For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the powerful coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. . . No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit, and they spoke from God. (2 Peter 1:16,21)
Clever stories – fables and fairy tales and folk tales. The children at Sterling Grade School have been learning about fables, fairy tales and folk tales this semester when they come to the library. I go once or twice a month to read to some of the classes during their story time, and I’m learning right along with them. Did you know that fables have a moral? Fairy tales typically involve kings and queens. I learned that folk tales often have things in sets of three. For instance, we read the story of a boy named Tikki Tikki Tembo. That three-word name is only the beginning of his very long name which is actually four sets of three: “Tikki Tikki Tembo-no Sa Rembo-chari Bari Ruchi-pip Peri Pembo.” As you might imagine, the length of the name is the source of tension in the story.
The story of the transfiguration that we read from Matthew 17 can seem like a made-up story. Peter, James and John went with Jesus up onto a mountain top to pray. They saw Moses and Elijah standing with Jesus. They saw Jesus’ face shining like the sun and his clothes as white as light. Peter was ready to build shelters for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, but then they were overshadowed by a cloud, and they heard the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved son who brings me great joy. Listen to him.”
Peter, James and John were moved. They were so terrified that they fell to the ground. Jesus says, “Don’t be afraid,” and when they get up, everything is back to normal. Elijah and Moses are gone, Jesus isn’t glowing anymore, and the cloud has cleared. As they head back down the mountain, Jesus tells them, “Don’t tell anybody what you’ve seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
It’s an amazing story in which the divinity of Jesus is dramatically revealed in his appearance. Many artists have tried to capture the amazing sight in their art. The picture on the front of our bulletins this morning is by a contemporary American artist named Earl Mott. In his painting, the bright light of Jesus is very much the focal point, and although the background is typical of the side of a mountain, the part where Jesus, Moses, and Elijah are standing is almost other-worldly.
A much older picture of the transfiguration is this 15th century byzantine icon by the Russian artist Theophanes the Greek. In this piece, we see geometric shapes surrounding Jesus, a feature that is found in many pieces of art from this era.
The shape around Jesus is often almond shaped, like the intersection of two circles. That shape in art is called a mandorla. These are said to symbolize that this moment and this person Jesus are the intersection of heaven and earth.
All of this reminds us that Jesus is Emmanuel, God in the flesh. He is himself the one in whom heaven and earth meet. In those moments when we realize the presence of Jesus with us, we also experience the joining of heaven and earth and we are moved. In these moments we are transformed.
Jesus’ holiness becomes vividly clear to Peter, James, and John that day up on the mountain. And in our reading from Peter’s second letter, we get Peter’s eyewitness testimony to that day. He says:
We saw his majestic splendor with our own eyes when he received honor and glory from God the Father. The voice from the majestic glory of God said to him, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (2 Peter 1:16-17) Peter says, “We ourselves heard that voice when we were on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:18)
Not surprisingly, Peter remembers the sight and the sound and the words they heard. The account in Matthew says that the disciples fell to the ground because they were terrified. It was a dramatic and moving experience, and Peter tells us that it confirmed for them the words of the prophets who had spoken about the messiah (2 Peter 1:19) and gave them greater confidence in those words.
Peter knows from this experience what it means to be moved by the Holy Spirit, and so he further testifies that this is how the writers of scripture were inspired, not “by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (2 Peter 1:21)
What does it mean to be moved by the Holy Spirit? The word in verse 21 in Greek, phero, means “to carry” and some of our English translations say “carried along by the Holy Spirit” for this verse. Some say “led” or “guided.” Some say “inspired.” I like the words “moved” and “carried” because they sound more concrete, more physical, and they bring to mind for me the idea of a child being carried.
We talk sometimes about surrendering to God’s will. When a child is being carried, most often the child is being taken wherever it is the adult is going, not always where the child wants to go, but the loving parent knows what’s best for the child.
Sometimes, when I look back at my writing I can see that this carrying inspiration has happened to me because I read what I wrote and am amazed that those words came from me.
In his letter, Peter tells us about this movement of the Spirit in the writing of scripture so that we will know that these words are not simply fables or fairy tales, but God speaking to our hearts. He says: You must pay close attention to what they wrote, for their words are like a lamp shining in a dark place—until the Day dawns, and Christ the Morning Star shines in your hearts. (2 Peter 1:19)
This is the expectation we should have as we read the Bible, asking God that we will be inspired and moved by the Holy Spirit through the words of scripture.
Be moved by the words of the Bible.
- Sometimes this will happen as we meditate on a particular verse or concept.
- Sometimes this will happen as we ask God about something we don’t understand.
- Sometimes this will happen as we keep reading until something jumps out at us.
The Bible is the word of God, the revelation of God. God wants to be known. That’s why we have Jesus, and why Paul says in our memory verse for this week:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6
The words of the Bible are more than just words to be known, and they are our inspiration and we are moved by them. And they are to be more than that. They are to be a part of our lives out in the world. The interaction of those words and their truths with our experiences in life are a part of how heaven and earth intersect, and this helps us grow in our faith as we put those words into practice.
Be moved by the Holy Spirit in life.
Jesus told us he is always with us, but we aren’t always paying attention. In a sermon from almost a year ago we talked about the Ignatian spiritual practice of the daily examen that gives us a framework for prayerfully reflecting on the events of the day to discern God’s presence and direction. The third step in this process is to pay attention to our emotions and consider what God might be showing us through those emotions. In other words, how were we moved?
Sometimes it is the emotions of other people that show us the presence of God. One time after a meeting with a group of people who were making a particularly difficult decision, I was asking God this question: “Where were you in that meeting?” I had been troubled by the anger of some of the people. It didn’t seem like God was in that anger to me, although I cannot say that for certain. There were those in the meeting who were quite stoic and straight-faced. I don’t know whether they weren’t feeling anything or were just doing well at hiding it. I don’t know whether God might have been giving them the strength to be stoic. At the end of the meeting, the person who said the closing prayer almost couldn’t finish praying because he was moved to tears. When I was praying, asking God afterwards where he was in that meeting, I felt like he pointed me to that man’s tears. And so I said thank you to God for that man’s tears.
Be moved to give thanks.
Seeing that God was in those tears was important for me, but just seeing them was not enough. To simply see them would be to leave them in the realm of the academic. Being moved by the Holy Spirit is more than something that happens in theory, and God’s purposes are about more than affecting our emotions. It is through those movements of the Spirit that we are changed, and those changes affect our responses and our actions.
The producers of the TV shows The Voice, American Idol, America’s Got Talent know how to move us. Before we hear someone sing or dance or do whatever they came to do on one of these shows, they tell us some of that contestant’s story – where they live, what challenges they have faced – so that by the time we see them perform, we know more about who they are and have developed an emotional connection to them. Then we’re more interested in seeing what they can do and more likely to be moved by their performance.
Take, for example, a young singer named Kodi Lee. Kodi was the winner of America’s Got Talent last season. Kodi’s musical performance was passionate and beautiful all by itself, but even more remarkable because of Kodi’s story. He’s blind and autistic. His speech is odd. His gestures are unusual. Watching him perform can be odd because we see those gestures. But because we knew the challenges Kodi was overcoming, we could see past the oddness and be moved by his performance. Kodi might have won based on his musical talent alone, but his popularity was even greater because the producers helped us see more than just the performance or his affectations. We saw the person, and we voted for him because we wanted to help him win.
Be moved to help people.
God’s presence transfigures life. God’s presence transfigures us.
- To be moved is to be changed to be more and more like Jesus.
- To be moved is to be strengthened by the presence of God to do the will of God.
- To be moved is to let the Holy Spirit carry us closer and closer to the heart of God, who loves us all so much.
- To be moved is to love.
We can help people in a lot of ways, both big and small, and for a lot of reasons. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that we can give everything we have to help people, but if we do it without love, we’ve accomplished nothing. (1 Cor. 13:3)
As we begin the season of Lent, may this be a season of listening and watching for God in preparation for celebrating Easter, the central event and most defining moment of our faith, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Let us be moved, and may that movement of the Spirit in us help us bring the light of the love of Christ to the world.