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Sermon for Transfiguration Sunday – February 27, 2022

Luke 9:28-36, 2 Corinthians 3:12—4:2

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Recently I was walking in the church parking lot and hadn’t yet put on my mask. There was a little girl, one of our preschoolers, who was walking with her mother. She looked at me, and then did a double take, and then I heard her say to her mom: “That is NOT Pastor Jeff, because Pastor Jeff does NOT have a beard.” It occurred to me that although I have been with this little girl at chapel every Wednesday since September, she had never seen my face. I laughed at first, but the more I thought about it, the more my heart ached for these four year-olds who have spent half of their lives now never or only rarely seeing the full faces of so many of the people in their lives. I don’t mean to stir controversy over masks, but I can’t help but admit I am looking forward to the day when they don’t need to be worn anymore. (On the other hand, I have a different little preschool girl who tells me every Wednesday that I’m handsome, and I’m not looking forward ruining that by taking off my mask. I’m sure that will be the end of that!)

Our faces are the windows into our identity. They convey the truth about who we really are. There’s a reason criminals wear ski masks when they commit crime. There’s a reason faces are blotted out on TV when someone’s identity needs to be obscured. There’s a reason they put a picture of your face on your driver’s license or passport rather than picture of your elbow or your foot. Our faces, more than anything else, tell the truth about who we are.

Today we hear about Peter, James, and John going up to the top of a mountain with Jesus. These three had spent a significant amount of time with Jesus, but up to this point they hadn’t really seen him. Of course, they had seen his human face – and yet, parts of him had been hidden from them. A significant part of his identity had remained veiled – until now. On the top of the mountain, Jesus’ face changed. It was now, St. Luke tells us, that Peter, James, and John saw his glory. Jesus was radiating with the glory of God! His divinity was shining through! His face was completely unveiled, shining with the light of his true identity as the Son of God.

And as his true identity was being revealed, so was his true mission. Moses and Elijah were there, representing the law and the prophets. They were talking to Jesus about his “departure.” The actual Greek word here is much more telling. It says they were talking about his exodus. They were talking about how Jesus would deliver people out of their captivity to sin and death and bring them into the promised land of eternal life with God. Jesus would fulfill what the law and the prophets had pointed to and foreshadowed but could never accomplish. By his “departure,” that is, by his crucifixion and his death and his resurrection, Jesus would bring forgiveness and life and salvation.

Jesus’ unveiled face, shining as it was with the glory of God, showed that he was not merely a teacher or a moralizer or a community organizer or an activist. Jesus was the divine savior who had come to die for the sins of the world and be raised again. His “departure” would bring about our salvation. The glory revealed to Peter, James, and John in Jesus’ shining face was but a glimpse of this greater glory yet to come.

In our epistle reading, St. Paul writes about the veils we ourselves wear. He uses the veil Moses wore over his face as an analogy for the veils that lie over our minds which obscure the glory of God, the masks we put on which prevent us from both seeing and reflecting this glory. These veils include the foolish arrogance of fashioning and bending God into something that reflects our desires, as the Israelites had just done with the golden calf. These veils include the self-righteousness and pride of trusting in our own goodness or strength. They also include the veils of guilt and shame that have us covering up parts of ourselves from God, thinking he won’t be able to see. These are all masks we put on to obscure the truth about ourselves, and they prevent us from both seeing and reflecting the glory of God.

But, St. Paul says, when one turns to the Lord, those veils are removed. Because you see, Paul goes on, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom! When you turn to Christ, seeing him as he truly is, recognizing him as the divine savior sent to deliver you, you can take those masks off! You don’t have to hide anything! You don’t have to lie about how good or strong you are. You don’t need to obscure the things that make you ashamed! “All of us,” Paul writes, “with unveiled faces,” will both see the glory of God and be transformed by it in such a way that we start to reflect it!

After today, we have only three more Sundays where mask wearing in worship will be required. Beginning Sunday, March 27, masks will be optional. But spiritually speaking, whenever we turn to the Lord, those veils can be removed. We can drop the pretense. We can stop pretending. We can stop hiding. There isn’t anything that God can’t see anyway! God can already see your weakness, your need, your sin. God already knows our past shames and your present struggles. So even now, spiritually speaking, we can take of our masks and show your faces to God, telling the truth about who we really are.

We can do this because our Lord Jesus has unveiled himself to us. As we hear about his Transfiguration today, we catch the same glimpse of his glory that Peter and James and John saw. Throughout this Epiphany season we have see the light of his glory shining through his gracious words and deeds. Most especially, through his “departure,” his exodus, his journey from the cross to the tomb to the resurrection, our Lord Jesus has revealed himself to us as the divine savior who delivers us out of our bondage to sin and death and leads us into the promised land, where there is forgiveness, life, and salvation.

The same glory that shined on Peter and James and John shines on you today as Jesus, our beautiful savior, makes his face to shine upon you. He comes to you through his word and through his supper so that you would see his glory today, and then go out into the world to reflect the glory of his mercy and love to others.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church