The Chair and the Desk, 10/21/15

From the chair:

28 Now about eight days after these sayings he took with him Peter and John and James and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And as he was praying, the appearance of his face was altered, and his clothing became dazzling white. 30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah, 31 who appeared in glory and spoke of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 And as the men were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah”—not knowing what he said. 34 As he was saying these things, a cloud came and overshadowed them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 And a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” 36 And when the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and told no one in those days anything of what they had seen.

-Luke 9:28-36

“Bilbo Baggins! Do not take me for some conjuror of cheap tricks! I am not here to rob you…I am trying to help you.” There are certainly differences between Jesus’ transfiguration in Luke and Gandalf’s transfiguration in The Fellowship of the Ring. Nevertheless, I remember the shiver that went through me as the hobbit hole darkened and the grey man grew before me in the AMC Loews 8 Factoria, at 12 years old–there was more to this character than met the eye; his power, understanding, and beneficence, revealed in this one, early moment, became a central source of hope for the next 8 hours of film. Tolkien said that the Lord of the Rings is not an allegory (characters and events aren’t meant to match another set of characters and events), but I don’t know that he could have written this scene without having read the Gospel accounts.

More importantly, whether Middle Earth can point us down this road or not, the transfiguration does give the three apostles (and now all disciples) a glimpse of Jesus’ power, understanding, and beneficence. There is certainly more to this man, Jesus, than meets the eye. He seems to see beyond our past and future horizons. Yet, he’s patient with Peter’s most ridiculous plan. Though the scene invokes fear, it also invites us to trust this Son of the unseen, thundering God.

From the desk:

“There is a deep theological danger in measuring preaching by its capacity to generate religious experience. Theologian Hendrikus Berkhof has reminded us that, in the Old Testament, one of the reasons why Israel was continually abandoning Yahweh for Baal was that Baal was always more available, more visible, providing blessings that were more predictable. Once could always count on Baal for a religious experience, but not so Yahweh. Yahweh tended, on many occasions, to have a hidden face, to be absent in those times when the people yearned for a more readily available God. In sum, God does not always move us when we desire to be moved, and everything that moves us deeply is not God.” 

-Thomas Long, The Witness of Preaching, 1989 ed., 40-41

One could read this and feel that we’re left with a bleak picture of God, but I read it and find it a bit of a relief–in my life, this is a realistic picture of God! In my preaching, this is a realistic picture of God! There’s a reason the fruit of the Spirit includes patience, faithfulness, and self-control. Some of the things we’re called to do take more than one afternoon. Some of the things we’re called to become (see: fruit of the Spirit, above) take more than one year. Some would ask us–and sometimes we would ask ourselves–where is your God? It’s hard to say where God is, but we can believe this: Who God is has not changed, nor have his promises.

“The chair” is the one Annie aptly chose for the corner of our living room, and it’s where I am committed to daily hearing from God’s Word–the Word I above all else hope to speak to others. “The desk” is the one by my coffee grounds and spare charger (if I get to the library early enough); it’s where I have the privilege of reading and thinking all day, where I intend to learn for others’ sake.

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