Sermon Glimpse of the Holy Maynard Pittendreigh
Look at where most at where most people sit during a worship service.
The back row of the church is the most popular seat in the sanctuary.
The person who sits close to the front is either very brave – or is the wife of the Senior Pastor.
I like to go to sporting events, and I don’t ever remember going to any event and then telling people the next day – “Hey, you won’t believe how great our seats were – we were on the back row!!!”
No – you will pay extra money to sit closer to the action.
Political events, musical concerts, sporting events – we want to be up close.
Come to church? We want the back row. Maybe the middle row. Only a few come close.
Why is the back row of a church so popular?
Is it because you want to be close to the exits in case the candles fall off the Lord’s Table and catch the church on fire?
Or maybe you like the back row because you are afraid that I might go nuts one morning?
Is it because you want to write notes to each other like you did back in study hall when you were kids?
Years ago a Psychologist asked the question about why people sit where they do in theaters, sporting events, and in many other places. His conclusion about why people like the back row in churches was that there is within many of us the fear of the holy.
The fear of the holy is natural.
In Genesis, Jacob falls asleep and has a vision. He encounters God. He sees a stairway resting on the earth with the top reaching to heaven. He sees angels coming and going and then he sees God. When he wakes up, he is terrified, because he has gotten too close to the holy.[i]
Moses encountered God in the form of a bush that was on fire, but was not consumed to ashes. He hears the voice of God. When Stephen tells the story of Moses in the Book of Acts, he says, “Moses trembled with fear and did not dare to look.”[ii]
Luke’s Gospel says that when Jesus was born “there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.[iii]
And now in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus is transfigured. His body is changed. It shines like the sun in the sky. His clothing is radiant.
And Peter and James and John – so far so good -- they take all of this in and they remain in control.
Then Moses shows up. And Elijah. Two long gone prophets.
And Peter and James and John – well, so far, so good. Peter begins to babble a bit about how it is good for them to be here and how they can build three shelters – one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. That doesn’t make much sense, but how rational do you expect people to be when people from the past start showing up and having conversation with your boss?
Then the voice of God is heard.
“This is my son, listen to him.”
And then Peter and James and John lose it.
They fall face down into the ground. And they are terrified.
They have believed in God. But now they are so close to God. And they experience a fear of the holiness of God.
Why would they be afraid of God?
God loves them.
Why be afraid of God?
God made them.
Why be afraid of God?
God has sent them His Son.
Why be afraid of God? Why be afraid to get too close to the holy?
In the Old Testament book of Isaiah, there is this wonderful moment when the prophet Isaiah encounters God. He records it in his book this way: “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory."
“At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am done for! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.’
We are afraid of being too close to the holiness of God because deep down inside we know what Isaiah knew, and what Moses and Paul and the shepherds knew.
We are sinful people.
We are unworthy to stand in the presence of God.
But what is it that Peter and James and John hear God saying to them?
“This is my son, listen to him.”
And what is it that Jesus says?
He spoke of forgiveness.
He spoke of mercy.
On the night in which he was betrayed, while Jesus was with his disciples, the Gospel of Matthew says that “while they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, gives it to everyone and tells them to eat. And then it says this…
“Then Jesus took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”[iv]
The transfiguration changed not only Christ’s body for a moment, but it changes our relationship with God forever.
We hear the voice of God, and we hear Him telling us to listen to his son. And so we are invited to come into a relationship with God, and we are invited to come close – to come as forgiven people – to gather as close as we can. And to do so, without fear.
And now unto God the Father,
God the Son,
And God the Holy Spirit be ascribed all might, power, dominion and glory, today and forever, Amen.
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
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Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.