And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Mt. 17:2
For last week’s family vacation, we made our way across the state to visit the Kennedy Space Center. Narek was the most excited to go, but I think it’s fair to say that we all returned excited and inspired about space exploration. How else can you feel when standing under the Saturn V rocket as tall as a 36 story building and weighing 6.2 million pounds, which shot men at over 6,000 mph to the moon and back? On its 50-year anniversary, the moon landings continue to inspire us, because they tap into something deep within the human spirit; a desire to reach for the heavens. A desire to rise above and transcend the natural limits of our world, of human understanding and achievement.
So I have been high on NASA and space exploration for a few weeks now; but eventually I am also come back down earth. Looking further into the space program, it faces a lot of tough questions to justify its worth. The Kennedy Space Center ran dozens of videos outlining the great improvements space exploration technology has made to life on Earth, better solar panels, implantable heart monitors, cordless tools and cell-phone cameras. What they didn’t say was that the most new technologies and most investment in space, by far, has been for the military, which we pray will be used to protect all of God’s children and not inflict harm. The Space Center tour pointed out billionaire Elon Musk’s impressive Space X operation and billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. It did not bring up Billionaire Bill Gates, who instead of building rockets, has spent his billions to stop preventable deaths in the third-world, improve education in poor America, etc. Though I remain impressed and intrigued by space exploration, I do have to ask myself which is more impressive, to use our power to reach the heavens, or to use it to better the world we live in when we come back down? And of course, we all have to ask ourselves which is more important for a Christian?
Well to see what is important for Christians, we will turn to Christ. And it just so happens, that in today’s reading on the Feast of Transfiguration, we-along with two of Jesus’ disciples-witness something like a 1st century space launch. James and John have follow their friend, Jesus-the guy who grew up in the next town over-to the top of a mountain. Suddenly with deafening noise and blinding light, Jesus becomes transfigured before their eyes; his face shining as bright as the sun, and God’s voice thundering from the Heavens that this is his beloved Son. Long dead biblical titans Moses and Elijah appear beside him. More spectacular than a space launch, Jesus didn’t leave earth for the heavens, the heavens actually came down to meet him!
The disciples did what perhaps any of us would have done. Picking themselves off the ground from fear, their first instinct was to capture the spectacular power of this event and let everyone know about it-friend and enemy. Let’s build three holy sites Peter says-one for Moses, one for Elijah and the biggest for you Jesus-so that all will see and respect your Divine power (and by extension ours)! But what did Jesus do instead? Immediately after he entered the heavens and touched back down to Earth-giving his disciples a glimpse of who he truly was-Jesus tells them to keep quiet about it. “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen,” says Jesus, “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Apparently, Jesus has even more important work to do than space travel. And he goes on to give his life to feeding the hungry, giving sight to the blind, providing hope to the desperate and loving even his enemies to the end.
The problem, it seems is not with our desire to reach the heavens. For whatever reasons, in his transfiguration, Jesus showed that he could do the same. Where we stumble, however, is in making our desire to excel and rise to greatness an end in itself, building idols and altars for our accomplishments. Jesus would have nothing of this, because he knew that the greater glory and the greatest story would be accomplished not in the heights of his power, but in his willingness to come down to Earth and use this power in service of the downtrodden, the sick and the poor. And as his followers, we Christians are called to do the same.
Therefore, today, on the feast of the transfiguration of the Lord, and the 50th anniversary of this country’s first moon landing, let us give thanks that we have been gifted to reach such heights of knowledge, power and security. But let us also recall that the mark of a true Christian is not the heights we achieve, but the humble service we exhibit upon coming down to Earth. For what great urgency is there to reach to the heavens, when the maker of heaven and Earth has come down to us, and promises that all who give themselves in love will rise eternally by the power of his glorious cross; now and always, amen.