Transfiguration Sunday, February 19, 2012, at Christ Episcopal Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin, Sermon by The Very Rev. Canon Dr. Patrick P. Augustine, Rector


2 Corinthians 4: 3-6, Mark 9: 2-9
There is an ancient myth that lies behind our sermon theme for today. Helen, the wife of Sparta's king Menelaus, was acclaimed the most beautiful woman of Greece. The Greeks fought the Trojan War in order to get her back from Troy. In Christopher Marlowe's Dr. Faustus, the question is asked concerning Helen, "Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burned the topless towers of Ilium?" Today's text speaks of a far greater face, a face that launched a thousand, perhaps ten thousand times ten thousand, lives into an experience that invites our attention. It is, of course, the face of Christ. The epistle reading in 2 Corinthian describes for us:
For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
No face in all history has evoked so much human interest.
Our face is a very important part of our anatomy. It enables us to be identified; it conveys our emotions. Often before a single word is spoken, we gain a fair indication of what is coming just by observing the facial expression. Our faces can reflect anything from sheer joy to abject terror! Faces featured in the Gospel reading today tell us when Moses and Elijah appeared on the mountain top speaking with the Lord his face shines with a radiance that is visible to all.
The Gospel writers have given us several pen portraits of Jesus' face. In the gospel reading for today the portrait shows us Christ bearing a divine countenance. Christ is revealed in all his glory before three important apostles. For those few dazzling moments, God's presence was not only felt, it was seen. What a moment! How we wish we were there! No wonder Peter wanted to remain on the mount.
A little girl, who was afraid to go to sleep in the dark, wanted her mother to stay with her. Her mother told her God would be with her, so she did not need to be afraid. "Yes, I know, Mama," the girl said, "but I want someone with a face." The message of our text, the message of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany is just that. The gift of Christ to us is Emmanuel -- "God with us." Jesus is "God with a face," a face turned toward us in love and good will.1
1 A face that launched a Thousand
John who beheld the glory of the Lord in the face of Christ states in his gospel 1:14 "We have seen his glory." John would also close the New Testament with his prophetic vision known as The Revelation, and in Chapter 1:16 he completes his description of the risen Christ by saying, "his face was like the sun, shining in all its brilliance."
If we are going to focus this morning on the glory of God we see on Mount Tabor as expressed in the face of Christ, we should then, also, focus our attention on Mount Golgotha where we also see the glory of God in the face of the Crucified Christ. There at the foot of the cross a pagan soldier declares, in surprise, that this really was God’s Son. In today’s Gospel we hear God calling Jesus, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”
Jesus’ disciples after experiencing this awesome, unexpected, unbelievable experience fall down in fear and can find no words for the brilliant light they see shining through the humanity of Jesus. Peter suggests to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He is totally forgetting the real challenge is in the valley. Jesus returned with his disciples to continue his ministry in the valley. Now what Peter, James and John saw with the eyes of the body, we the disciples of 21st century are called to see with the eyes of faith -- How, then, we could live a life in a transfigured community of faith.
The challenge for us, as the collect for today says, “Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.” It is daunting, yet it should be the goal of every Christian. Some of us wear Christian symbols; some have stickers on our cars. But if our lives do not reflect Christ, we can look like a contradiction in terms. Our lives should shine with the radiance of Christ, and like Moses our radiance will depend on our closeness to God. Daily prayer, Bible reading, fellowship with other Christians, and whole hearted participation in worship, all contribute to “be changed into His likeness from glory to glory.”
But it does not end there. Moses returned from the mountain to give the Law (God's Word) to the people. Elijah was strengthened for further work for the Lord. Jesus left the mountain to face death on the cross for our sake. If people are going to see Christ reflected in us, we must live out our faith. Christianity is a very practical religion. Long before governments took over, who cared for the welfare of the people? Christians in the early Church through their deacons helped the poor and the widowed and took care of the sick. Mother Teresa and Sisters of Charity helped dying and hungry people in the gutters of Calcutta. Franciscan Sisters offer help through their work of charity in La Crosse, Wisconsin. We are partners with Salvation Army which provides shelter in our community for the homeless. Every Thursday we have community dinning at the Jesus Table in the undercroft of Christ Church for anyone from a CEO to those who are homeless. Discretionary fund of the Rector helps the needy in our own community. The ministry model in the gospel is not left in the four walls of our church, but our mission is down in the valley.
Our face is a very important part of our anatomy. Will our face show that we love and serve the Lord, or do we place a veil over our face as we leave church, perhaps trying to pretend that we have been somewhere else? On Monday morning, at work, at school, or at home, do we put on a veil so that others cannot spot that we are Christian? Are we prepared to take off the veil and allow our face to reflect the glory of Christ? May each one of us strive to become mirrors of Christ, that through us others may come to know and love the Lord.
May the face of our Lord shine upon you and be gracious to you, look upon you with kindness, and give you peace

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