Heritage Presbyterian Church https://heritagepresbyterian.org

February 23, 2020
Transformation of the Lord
Scripture readings – Exodus 24: 12-18 and Matthew 17: 1-9

After World War II was over, the Soviet Union immediately began trying to gain control of all of Germany. The Western powers actively opposed this move. To ramp up the pressure on the Western allies to abandon Germany, Josef Stalin, the dictator of the Soviet Union, cut off all travel in and out of West Berlin, which was occupied by America, Great Britain, and France. Stalin’s theory was that the West Berliners would face a cold German winter without any coal or heating oil and would starve quickly without food deliveries.

The Western allies began the Berlin airlift bringing in tons of supplies on daily flights in and out of Berlin, and they saved those isolated former enemies who lived in West Berlin. It was one of the most amazing acts of standing up to an occupying power in human history.

One of the pilots who flew those daily airlift deliveries was a man named Lt. Gail “Hal” Halvorsen. Hal met a group of German children who would stand at the gate of the airbase and watch the airlift planes land, unload, and take off all day long. Hal realized that none of those German kids had any candy for a very long time. He promised that he would bring candy for them on his next flight, and he would “waggle” the wings of his plane to signal them when he was returning.

Hal did this many, many times over, and the German children began calling him “The Chocolate Pilot.”

When this news reached the western public, thousands of tons of candy was donated for the West Berlin children by American candy companies. Hundreds of women created little parachutes out of handkerchiefs and attached them to the

candy. The packages were dropped out of Hal’s plane as he flew over the gate of the airbase. Those German children grew up remembering the kindness of that American pilot and how the Western powers, who had defeated the Nazis, had then saved their city from the brutal occupation of the Soviet Union.

[from the Korean War podcast “Berlin Airlift,” Season 4, Episode 14 by Paul Kendrick, copyright 2015]

Now…I want everyone to stop and picture something in your mind: picture the faces of those West Berlin children who looked up as the parachutes of candy floated down to them.

Picture their faces each time the wings of their hero’s plane “waggled” at them.

Picture their faces years later when they remembered the candy delivered by an American pilot who cared about them.

Sometimes when we encounter the Lord’s work, it shows on our faces – and it can be as plain as the daily sunshine.

But let’s consider a few Biblical references in which the Lord encountered his people and what happened to their faces:

· When the Lord spoke to Noah and told him to build the ark to save a portion of creation from the impending flood, Noah obeyed without question. But imagine Noah’s face…

· When the Lord first spoke with Abraham, he told him to leave his home, take his family and travel to another land, Abraham did as he was told. But imagine his face…

and the faces of his family when they were told the plan.

· After the Lord spoke with Moses, something about Moses’ face caused him to wear a veil so as not to frighten the Israelites.

· When Samuel first heard the Lord calling his name in the night, he thought it was Eli. But imagine Eli’s face when he figured out that the Lord was calling Samuel. Imagine Samuel’s face when the Lord called him one more time, and this time Samuel sat still and answered. Later on, picture Samuel’s much older face when the Lord indicated that all the good-looking sons of Jesse were NOT the next king of Israel, but rather the Lord chose the youngest one – David the shepherd.

· Consider the story of Sampson. He was a powerful man who was brought

low by his tolerance and interactions with the idol-worshippers. The Philistines captured him, gouged out his eyes, and tied him to a couple of huge, stone pillars in their castle while they celebrated his defeat. Picture that mutilated face of poor Sampson when he felt his strength slowly returning after praying to the Lord and begging for one more chance…then Sampson pulled down the two pillars, sacrificing himself and killing every Philistine in that building.

· When the first few Apostles heard Jesus say to them, “Follow me,” they did so without question. But why? Was it something in his simple words? Something in his eyes that spoke to their hearts? Something on the face of Jesus that compelled them to do it? And what did their own faces reveal later when they told their families?

· Mary and Martha, the sisters of Lazarus…think about their faces, especially when they had confronted Jesus with Lazarus’ death. Then picture the astonishment when Jesus raised Lazarus from the tomb. Now picture their faces later on when they once again saw Jesus.

· Think of the faces of those women on Easter morning.

· Remember the Apostles, who were hiding after the resurrection of Jesus? The door was locked, but Jesus came and appeared to them. Think of their faces. Now consider how hard Thomas must have had to work NOT to believe them when they told him the Lord was alive…and picture Thomas’ face when the Lord appeared to him.

· Think of poor Paul, who thought he was serving the Lord High God so very well by rounding up those troublesome “followers of the Way” who were blaspheming the Lord he served! Then Paul heard the voice of that same Lord on the road to Damascus and knew he had been very wrong. Think of Paul’s face…think of Paul’s face for the rest of his life whenever he told that story.

Now let’s focus on the transfiguration of the Lord, the event in the church calendar that we celebrate today.

First, think of the face of Jesus when he was transfigured somehow into something very different on that mountain. He stood with Moses and Elijah, who represented the Law and the Prophets. In that scene, the plain and ordinary-looking Jesus became someone who could stand with Moses and Elijah, the two greatest figures of the Old Testament. Jesus’ face must have been amazing

because Peter, James, and John hid their own faces on the ground. They were amazed, or terrified, or astonished, or whatever.

Next, imagine their faces and what they revealed. Later, they must have encountered the other Apostles; what do you think they said? How did they describe what they had experienced?

And when did they say it? Later, Jesus told them not to discuss what they had seen until he had risen from the dead. So now they had several unsettling thoughts going through their minds:

1. They had seen Jesus himself transfigured into something out of the ordinary rabbi they all knew and loved.

2. They had seen Moses and Elijah – and they were standing with Jesus.

3. They saw Jesus return to normal.

4. They were told not to tell anyone what they had seen until after Jesus had risen from the dead…which they didn’t understand just yet.

5. How on earth were they going to keep the other Apostles from knowing something happened? How would they hide their emotions from their faces? How would any of us manage this accomplishment?

In each case, and in countless more, we know that the faces of those who encountered the Lord and his majesty were changed forever. It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture those whose faces were affected by that.

Today’s Gospel reading in which Jesus was transfigured, the reading from Exodus when Moses encountered the Lord on the mountain…these are just two amazing examples of direct encounters with the Lord. In our own world today, perhaps we don’t get to experience the same direct, face-changing encounters. Perhaps those are only for biblical times.

But perhaps…just perhaps…we get to encounter the same Lord in our daily lives.

Perhaps we get to experience and feel the amazing emotions that come with an encounter with the Lord and his work as His will continues to be done all throughout His creation by those who still believe in Him.

Perhaps we get to witness the Lord’s work as we see how others experience His

love. It’s usually all over their faces.

Perhaps those who are open to being led by the Spirit get more opportunities to have these experiences.

Perhaps those of us who are brought low by life and its sometimes difficult circumstances can still witness the faces of other believers whose faith and excitement and wonder at the common, everyday work of the Lord is an obvious experience.

Perhaps, dear Christians…just perhaps it all starts with our faces.