Theme: The Bible is not a science text
Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, you made this world that we live in, you created the natural laws that govern the universe; yet, you spoke at the transfiguration of your son, to give us a commandment and to reinforce your son’s divinity, to turn us from our ways to follow your son, Jesus Christ, through whom we pray. Amen.
The Feast of the Transfiguration coincides this year with a national movement called Evolution Sunday. This is a movement that believes that science and the Bible are not enemies.
Jim Taylor shares this observation with us, “Long, long, ago, when I was young and dinosaurs still roamed the rain forests, we imagined that atoms and molecules were something like Tinkertoys – tiny solid balls of matter glued together in complex patterns, rather like our solar system, only more so.
“Today, I gather, physicists think of those ‘balls’ as something more like clouds of energy. Even a simple electron is a whirling energy field, composed of its own internal energy fields – a magical thing that defies precise location, more like a probability than a solid ball. Bigger atoms consist of energy fields so interwoven that they make a bowl of pasta look organized.
“The simplest molecule is hydrogen – a single electron orbiting a single proton. In the Big Bang – or whatever launched the universe, some 14 billion years ago – hydrogen atoms were the first atoms formed. All other elements are based upon that initial atom. Even the uranium atom, with 92 electrons whirling in multiple shells, evolved from combinations of the hydrogen atom’s basic proton and electron.
“The electronic field in a hydrogen atom spins around its nucleus approximately ten million billion times (22 zeroes) a second, travelling at slightly under 1 per cent of the speed of light. As far as we can tell, that rotation rate has not changed in 14 billion years. . . .
“Half a century ago, we didn’t know enough to ask (the) questions (of atomic structure), let alone hypothesize answers. Twenty centuries ago, such questions would have been beyond imagination. . . .
“So it baffles me that some people continue to treat the Bible as containing ultimate answers to scientific questions. Not so much about sub-atomic particle physics. But whenever astronomy, or geology, or biology conflict with biblical testimony, they insist that the Bible must be right. Those weren’t the questions the Bible was trying to answer.”
People who object to evolution, I think, primarily object to the notion of a very old earth. In other words, their unspoken objection is to geology and probably anthropology. They have no answer to carbon dating and modern rock analysis that contradicts popular dating of the earth from the Bible, so they attack evolution.
This objection to evolution may also be from a notion of an imperial self-importance of being a human being. Some of these people also see some human beings as more human than others. Other humans cannot be put down if we evolved together and especially if our race began in Africa.
Jesus didn’t preach about evolution, as far as we know. But he did preach about an equality of all human beings. The Transfiguration, at first blush, seems to make Jesus as someone far beyond a human being. But the New Testament is adamant that Jesus, though divine, became human so that we can enjoy the same status as Jesus in the heavenly hierarchy. This isn’t for some human beings, it is for all.
We are created creatures, blessed by God, as heirs with Christ. The evidence is that we are products of a divine natural selection. Even medieval theologians wrote about a natural, God given law. The world around us, as far as we can understand it, is a natural God given world. And on occasion, God enters the natural world and does something stupendous.
Jesus takes his inner circle of Peter, James, and John up a mountain to pray. Traditionally, the mountain is Mount Tabor. The rolling hills of the Jezreel Valley have a high mound jut up from the landscape. From the top you can see practically all the west Galilee region. Though the gospel writers don’t tell us what mountain the Transfiguration takes place on, Mount Tabor seems a very logical choice.
Well, it must have been some prayer Jesus says up there, because his face changed in some way and his clothes became whiter and brighter than when Gandalf became Gandalf the White in the Lord of the Rings. (The parallel is probably no accident by Tolkein.)
And then instantly, two men appeared out of the blue. They were Elijah, the great prophet, and Moses, the law giver. They, too, had a glorious appearance. They were talking with Jesus about a different kind of exodus that he would make in Jerusalem. Of course, Moses led the people of Israel in an exodus from Egypt to the Holy Land and Elijah crossed the Jordan River on dry land before being taken by a fiery chariot straight into heaven. The exodus of Jesus creates a new exodus for the people of God.
I guess watching someone pray is pretty boring. Peter, James, and John slept through it. I assume this happened in the middle of the day. There was and is a tradition of taking naps in the Holy Land. Still, it is curious that the big three apostles couldn’t stay awake to be present with Jesus. I find it interesting that they didn’t join Jesus in prayer.
But they did wake up in time to see this amazing occurrence. Maybe the bright light woke them up. Just as Moses and Elijah were leaving, Peter wanted to make shelters for the three holy men. Luke than adds a parenthetical phrase that Peter didn’t know what he was talking about. Peter was a fisherman. Jesus was the carpenter.
Peter may have wanted to preserve the amazing scene. He may have wanted to keep this amazing thing just as it was. But that’s not how our walk with Jesus works. When we experience something holy, something that is spiritually significant, we are not to preserve it. We are not to try to recreate it.
We are to internalize the experience and work to make the experience significant for others and the world. That is why people can only make one Cursillo. It is a one time experience. It cannot be recreated. But having been on a Cursillo weekend, we are to work to spread the kingdom of God in the world.
While Peter was laying out his grand building project, a cloud surrounded them. God spoke, “This is my son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.” This voice reminds us of the words spoken at Jesus’ baptism. No sooner had the last word from God faded, but the cloud was gone, God was gone, Moses was gone and Elijah was gone. Jesus was left standing by himself. It was as if the last train left and Jesus missed it.
It was quite some time before the three apostles told anyone what they saw and what they heard. This story has many parallels with Exodus 24 when Moses goes up Mount Sinai to talk to God. The change of appearance of the face, both have mountains, the clouds, the voice, and the glory. In your insert you have a picture of a mural of the Transfiguration form the monastery on Sinai. There is a similar mural in the church on Mt. Tabor, which you will see at the Forum after Easter.
This all begins with Jesus at prayer. In Luke, nothing significant happens without prayer being the catalyst. What Jesus is about to endure in Jerusalem takes precedence over the law and the prophets. Jesus goes to Jerusalem in power and not as a victim.
We end the season of Epiphany with the epiphany of the Transfiguration. This story alerts us to prepare to walk with Jesus to Jerusalem – to Jesus’ arrest, his crucifixion, and his death and burial. We walk with Jesus aware of our own shortcomings, in grateful thanksgiving for the sacrifice Jesus will soon make. We walk with Jesus so that we may one day see him wonderfully transfigured in our own resurrection.
We now pray: Gracious God and giver of all good gifts, thank you for the gift of our natural world, through which you bestowed the gift of life; may we respect and honor your creation and our part in it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Text: Luke 9:28–43 (NRSV)
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said 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”—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen. 37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, “Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not.” 41 Jesus answered, “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here.” 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God. While everyone was amazed at all that he was doing, he said to his disciples,