Where Is The Glory?
There once was glory in war. We marched in parades and pinned medals on men of valor. But that was when wars were glorious. That was when there was something worth dying for and there were enemies that had to be stopped at all costs. That was when it was clear what we were spending the lives of young men and young women to win. That was before we learned the truth about war. That was before the instruments of war became as evil as war itself.
And war was not so glorious any more.
There once was glory in competition, in winning, in being the first, or the best, or the fastest, or the strongest, or the smartest. There was the glory of a Joe DiMaggio, a Ted Williams, a Stan Musialsure, smooth, dependable. They let their bats and their gloves do the talking. And they were glorious.
And then the loud mouths came along the big bucks buckaroos--like Cassius Clay, who said on his own behalf, "I am the greatest!" He probably was. But the glory departed and pride of accomplishment--the pride felt by the doer and the pride shared in the grandstands and at the TV set--pride departed with glory. And today a pitcher who could never have carried Sachel Paige's gym bag negotiates a salary several times that of the President of the United States. Oh, well, what kind a year is George Bush having?
And speaking of George Bush, remember when there was glory in holding public office? And then came Ike lying to us about the U-2; and the Bay of Pigs and Watergate and Irangate and the S&L debacle and, and, and…Mario Cuomo has it right. There is more glory in not being President.
William McNamara has written:
My grievance with contemporary society is with its decrepitude. There are few towering pleasures to allure me, almost no beauty to bewitch me, nothing erotic to arouse me, no intellectual circles or positions to challenge or provoke me, no burgeoning philosophies or theologies and no new art to catch my attention or engage my mind, no arousing, political, social or religious movements to stimulate or excite me. There are no free men to lead me. No saints to inspire me. No sinners sinful enough to either impress me or share my plight. No one human enough to validate the "going" lifestyle. It is hard to linger in that dull world without being dulled."1
To paraphrase McNamara, "Where is the glory today?"
Eugene H. Peterson, the author of Run with the Horses, an exciting and engaging commentary on the life of the Prophet Jeremiah, observes:
"The puzzle is why so many people live so badly Not so wickedly, but so inanely. Not so cruelly, but so stupidly There is little to admire and less to imitate in the people who are prominent in our culture . .... People, aimless and bored, amuse themselves with trivia and trash."2
Boredom and aimlessness are not only deadening to the bored and aimless; they can be lethal to others. We are all witnesses to an odd phenomenon:
"...individuals who live trivial lives and then engage in evil acts in order to establish significance for themselves. Assassins and hijackers attempt the gigantic leap from obscurity to fame by killing a prominent person or endangering the lives or an airplane full of passengers. Often they are successful. The mass media report their words and display their actions. Writers vie with one another in analyzing their motives and providing psychological profiles on them. No other culture has been as eager to reward either nonsense or wickedness."3
I hosted a weekly talk show for a television station once. My challenge was to fill 52 hours of air time a year with interesting people. I tried to find good, mature, whole people of significance. I tried to find men and women who counted for something and who made a difference--for better, not for worse. It was much easier to find the sleazy, self-centered, and eccentric. It always is. just where is the glory today?
The Adventure of the Unremarkable and the Ordinary
When Jesus preached, he took along with him a bunch of common, unremarkable, ordinary people. When Jesus went to the mountaintop, he took with him three common, unremarkable, ordinary people. Common, unremarkable, ordinary people--scarcely worth anyone's time and attention. That's what they thought of themselves. But Jesus had a surprise in store for them.
We tend to approach the story of the Transfiguration as though it were a Steven Spielberg movie about UFOs. We focus on all that is strange and wondrous. And, in the process, we push it away from ourselves as exotic and bizarre. After all, we are just common, unremarkable, ordinary people. No special effects, no spirits of the departed, no voices from heaven, no glow-in-the-dark apparel, no radiant faces for us.
Let Jesus have the magic. Let Christ have the glory. Let special, saintly persons bask in the light of God's presence. Let celebrities live life to its fullest. Let our heroes and heroines enjoy excitement, glamor, and adventure. After all, we're just common, unremarkable, ordinary people. There is no glory for us. Peter, James, and John were content to follow Jesus, to be his spiritual groupies, to hang around with him and let his exciting life add something that was lacking from theirs. They were content to turn themselves into spectators and connoisseurs of life while avoiding the call to live as human beings themselves.4
But Jesus wouldn't let them get away with it. They were about to discover that each of them possesses "all the elements of a unique and original adventure.5 Peter could not follow in James' footsteps nor in John's. James could not follow in Peter's or John's; nor could John in theirs. As glamorous and exciting as Jesus was, none of them could be Jesus. But Peter could embark on the unique and original adventure of being Peter, James on the unique and original adventure of being James; John on the unique and original adventure of being John; you on the unique and original adventure of being you!.
Where is the glory? The glory is in the adventure. You see,
"...every time there is a story of faith, it is completely original. God's creative genius is endless. [God] never ... resorts to mass-producing copies. Each life is a fresh canvas on which [God] uses lines and colors, shades and lights, textures and proportions...never used before."6
More than Spectators
Over the years, I have heard and read many sermons on the Transfiguration. Most of them take seriously what the divine voice said to Jesus and to the three apostles. Most of them duly note the appearance and disappearance of Moses, the representative of the Old Covenant, and Elijah, the messenger of God's final judgment. Most of them make much of the exaltation of Jesus. All of them advise us to do what the Voice insisted that the disciples do: Listen to Jesus. In none of these sermons, are Peter, James, and John much more than spectators.
To be sure, the Transfiguration was a confirmation of the mission of Jesus. When Jesus was baptized, the voice from heaven had declared, "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." And now the voice re-affirmed, 'This is my Son, whom I have chosen." Scant days earlier, Jesus had asked his disciples to declare who he was. Impetuous Peter had confessed, "You are God's anointed one!" Already it was clear to Jesus what being chosen by God meant--suffering, rejection, death, and resurrection. The realization was more than he could bear. So he did what he always did at times of personal crisis. He went away from the stress and the struggle so that he could be silent and pray. He needed to know, to be sure, before he went on. The Voice reconfirmed who he was and to what he was called.
The Transfiguration was important to the disciples, because they needed reassurance, too. As central as Jesus is to the Transfiguration, the apostles are not mere bystanders. Jesus was not founding a fan club.
Whatever happened to Jesus on that mountaintop, he needed it for what was to follow. Whatever Peter, James, and John experienced, they needed it to prepare them not only for Gethsemane and Calvary, but for Pentecost and the building of the Christian church. Suffering, persecution, and death lie ahead for every one of them. What the Apostle Paul would later say of himself was true for all who had stood together on that mountaintop, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us" (Romans 8:18). Or as he proclaimed in his second letter to the Corinthians, "And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one
degree of glory to another (3:18 New Revised Standard Version).
The glory that shone through Jesus transformed those who followed him then. It transforms those who follow him today
Mountaintops and Messes
For each of us there is at least one mountaintop. God speaks and we respond. God gives and we receive. We are speechless and breathless and stunned. If we are wise, we let the silence fill up the nooks and crannies of our existence for as long as we can. Some of us will come to the mountain in church, while worshiping on a morning like this one. Others will encounter God by giving and receiving love. Still others will hear God's call in and through careers of service. There is no shortage of mountaintops.
No matter how glorious Jesus' transfiguration may have been for him, no matter how ecstatic it may have been for his disciples, the point is that none of them remained on that mountaintop. They all went back to work.7 No matter how intriguing and stimulating the mountaintop experience may have been, there were still sick people to be healed and lost souls to be led back to God. There still are. There was a world full of brokenness and pain. There still is. Jesus did not wear his dazzling garb in everyday life, but took his place next to the poor and needy. Those who followed him then and follow him now live "not in splendor, but in the hidden love which identifies with the weak and is sustained by the divine power."8 The mountaintop of spiritual ecstasy and psychological self-discovery is a nice place to visit, but God does not want his people to move in permanently!
I opened this sermon with a citation from William McNamara ("My grievance with contemporary society is with its decrepitude. There are few towering pleasures to allure me .... It is hard to linger in that dull world without being dulled.") But that is not all McNamara had to say. He continues: "I stake the future on the few humble and hearty lovers who seek God passionately in the marvelous, messy world of redeemed and related realities that lie in front of our noses."9
Jesus needed a renewed sense of the presence of God. So did his disciples. So do we. With hearts that are courageous and spirits that are joyful, let us follow Jesus where he leads--up to mountaintop of new vision, new encouragement, new motivation, and new assurance,10 and down into that marvelous, messy world that lies right in front of our noses.
Lowell D. Streiker Ladera Community Church
1. The Human Adventure (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, Doubleday, 1976), p. 9; and Mystical Passion (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), p. 3. 2. Run With the Horses (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 12. 3. Ibid. 4. Run With the Horses (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1983), p. 210 note 5. The phrase is Peterson's. 6. Peterson, Run With the Horses, p. 13. 7. Erskine White, "Transfiguration," Biblical Preaching Journal, Winter 1992, pp. 29-30. 8. Walter E. Rast, Proclamation 4: Epiphany, Series C (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988), p. 59. 9. The Human Adventure (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, Doubleday, 1976), p. 9; and Mystical Passion (New York: Paulist Press, 1977), p. 3. 10.John F. Colaianni, Sunday Sermons Masterpiece