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The Feast of the Transfiguration, 03/02/2014

Sermon on Exodus 24:12-18, by Samuel D. Zumwalt


12 The Lord said to Moses, "Come up to me on the mountain and wait there, that I may give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction." 13 So Moses rose with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. 14 And he said to the elders, "Wait here for us until we return to you. And behold, Aaron and Hur are with you. Whoever has a dispute, let him go to them." 15 Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. 16 The glory of the Lord dwelt on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it six days. And on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud. 17 Now 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. 18 Moses entered the cloud and went up on the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (*)



Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The connection between today's Old Testament lesson and the Gospel for the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord is obvious. Here a mountain (Sinai), there a mountain (of Transfiguration). Here a mediator (Moses), there the Mediator (Jesus). Contextually, for us Lutherans who celebrate Transfiguration this Sunday as "an epiphany event" instead of in August with most of the Church (meaning Rome), the last sentence in v. 18 anticipates the beginning of the forty days of Lent on Ash Wednesday (Frank Senn, Introduction to Christian Liturgy, 123).

How did we get here to Mount Sinai? Let's take a walk down memory lane. First, God graciously chose Abram and Sarai to be the first parents of God's chosen people (Genesis 12:1-3). Secondly, God graciously did what He promised by making of them a great nation and by blessing all the nations of the earth through them (Genesis 12:4 to the end of the book). Third, God graciously heard the cries of His people from their slavery in Egypt and called Moses to be His proxy in the Holy War against the gods of Egypt and their proxy Pharaoh. Fourth, God graciously delivered His people from the angel of death by the blood of the Passover Lamb spread over their doorposts. Fifth, God graciously delivered them from bondage and brought them safely through the sea and destroyed Pharaoh's army. Finally, beginning at Exodus 19, God graciously made covenant with His people gathered at the base of Sinai.

Now because God has graciously done all this for His people, therefore He calls on them to keep covenant with Him and graciously gives them the Law as a way to reflect this unique covenant relationship. St. Paul, in Galatians, will later call the Law a babysitter or guardian until God's Son Jesus comes as the ultimate fulfillment of the promise to Abram and Sarai. And, again, the common link between Exodus' and Matthew's mountain-top events? In both, God speaks to a mediator amidst all that theophany stuff (lightning, cloud, fire, etc.), which is scary because God is a Holy God. The difference between the two events is obvious. Unlike Moses, Jesus is transfigured in Matt. 17, because He is the Son of God, the ultimate Mediator, to whom the inner circle of disciples (and you and me as privy to the Transfiguration event) are to listen.

Moses has been accompanied part of the way by his megachurch ministry team (70 or so guys) whom you may remember his father-in-law suggested he needed to ask for help. When these guys start to get anxious about Moses going up into that cloud and devouring fire, he tells them not to worry because they can call upon Aaron and Hur as interim go-to guys. Those two may have once held up the prophet's arms, but, in the long run, they sure didn't hold up their end of the deal. I'm getting ahead of myself, but we do have to remember Aaron got tired of listening to all the griping (warning, take note, heed this, been there and done that!) and gave into the peoples' bad demands (felt needs). Is it too much to say the herd mentality (while Moses was with God) led to the golden calf and to miserable death? But that never happens today. Right?



A sixth-grade confirmation student complained recently that worship was boring, boring, boring, boring, boring. He attends an evangelical parochial school where I suspect the music and the message are more entertaining. I asked the boy how worship could be boring when you are in the presence of the Living God and actually receiving Him in the Blessed Sacrament. I suggested that the problem lay with his expectation that worship was supposed to be all about him (Now I wonder where he got that idea?). Of course, this is just that latest cultural adaptation by the old Adam and Eve, sadly with the blessing of well-meaning Christian pastors and lay leaders.

A good commentary on the mountain-top experiences of Moses (and the near mountain-top experience of the rest of the people) and Peter, James, and John, can be found in Hebrews 10:31, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." Remember how Luther explains the first commandment? We are to fear, love, and trust God above all else!

Now contrast that with the average American Lutheran parish where most of the people are dressed casually, enter the nave talkatively, don't prime the pump by reading the lessons beforehand or by quiet prayer, and aren't even quiet when the prelude begins. The pastor enters casually and maybe begins with some warming-up-the-crowd banter. The acolytes enter if not awkwardly then often embarrassed to be on duty (at least some are afraid of messing up). And some worshipers are so important that not even God can interrupt their phone calls or texting. I'm not even going to talk about what happens in megachurches with light shows, rock music, and cool preachers in polo shirts and jeans.

In our parish, we keep working on this as we train both acolytes and worship assistants: what we do with our body and how we act in God's house demonstrates our attitude towards God! Most African American parishes could teach the rest of us a lot about putting on our best clothes and looking our best for God. Why is it that many of us can do that for work, for school, for a date, for a big social event, but, then, we act like it's some kind of hypocritical sin to give God our best by dressing up for worship? People say, "Church isn't supposed to be a fashion show" as some kind of excuse for not giving God their best. What we do and how we act says it all!

Moses had to wait for six days before the Lord God called Moses into the cloud and into the devouring fire on the mountain. Once he was separate from the others, Moses still had to prepare himself for six days before God called to Moses on the seventh. And once Moses entered the cloud, he was with God forty days and forty nights! It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! Just how long was Moses gone before the people forgot that?

So, then, how might our Lent and Holy Week be informed by these seven verses from Exodus 24 and the first nine verses of Matthew 17? How might the forty days and forty nights of Lent shake us out of the notions of "God my Buddy" who is just too cool to criticize me about anything? How might the forty days and forty nights of Lent move us to awe, holy fear, and indeed sorrow for how indifferent we have been towards God? How might walking with Jesus into the wilderness where He fasted for forty days and forty nights look in our lives this Lent?

What is it about the phrase "He will come again to judge the living and the dead" we don't get?



My old Adam and your old Adam or Eve needs to be drowned in the waters of Holy Baptism day after day. If our confession on Ash Wednesday doesn't make that clear, the cross of ashes and those dread-full words on our forehead will: "Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return." Before we know it, and when we least expect it, it will be our time to fall into the hands of the Living God where we will give Him an account of what we have and have not done with what He has placed in our hands to manage.

Without Christ, the Beloved Son of God, it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God. But baptized into the Lord Jesus' death and resurrection, we have His promise of forgiveness of sins because of the holy and precious blood of the Lamb spread over the doorposts of our lives and because His innocent suffering and death ransoms us from sin, death, and Satan. When the Beloved Son speaks to you and me today at the altar, it is vital to "Listen to Him," as He promises: "This is my body and this is my blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins."

My dear sisters and brothers, do not absent yourself from God's house this Ash Wednesday. Rather come with holy fear like Moses preparing to enter the cloud. And enter the forty days and nights of Lent knowing that we will consider the classic seven deadly sins with their other gods that beckon to us no less than the golden calf did to the children of Israel. The goal, dear ones, is not to grovel before the LORD but rather to call upon His name and be drawn more deeply into His eternal life and love through Christ the Mediator who alone saves and redeems us lost, condemned creatures!

In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


The Rev. Dr. Samuel D. Zumwalt
Wilmington, North Carolina, USA
E-Mail: szumwalt@bellsouth.net

Exodus 24:12-18 © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]