Psalm 85:9–14; Deuteronomy 26:1–27:13; Luke 9:28–36

Psalm 85:9–14: The supplication of the first half of this psalm evolves to a bold imagining of what Israel will become when God responds to the psalmist’s prayers. First of all, God speaks and the psalmist listens: “Let me hear what the Lord God would speak/ when He speaks peace to His people and to his faithful.” (a) And that having heard God speak in peace, the people will respond in turn and “that they turn not back to folly.” (9b)

Having heard God speak, there is a new confidence that he will return and rescue: “Yes, His rescue is near for those who fear Him,/ that His glory dwell in our land.” (10) In a display of the psalmist’s literary boldness, he creates one of the more arresting metaphors in the Psalms by personifying the qualities that God brings in his rescue: “Kindness and truth have met,/ justice and peace have kissed.” (11) This is wonderful description of what peace on earth might look like.

Our poet extends this metaphor by imagining heaven and earth meeting: “Truth from the earth will spring up,/ as justice from the heavens looks down.” (12) For me this means that truth is like a plant, springing to life as God’s justice rains don on the earth. The agricultural metaphor continues but the harvest is far greater than mere wheat or grapes: “The Lord indeed will grant bounty/ and our land will grant its yield.” (13) Truth and justice are now regnant in the land as God’s return is actuality and  “Justice before Him goes,/ that He set His footsteps on the way.” (14)

O, Lord, in this era where truth and justice seem so far away and evils stalks the land, we pray with the psalmist for you to again cause justice and peace to kiss. For there cannot be peace without justice.

Deuteronomy 26:1–27:13: After traipsing through the long rhetorical desert of laws and prohibitions, we arrive at an oasis of joyful offering. Moses asks that when Israel arrives in the Promised Land that “you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.” (26:2) This is an offering of gratitude that becomes an occasion of worship.

Moses is asking that in this first fruits worship that Israel remember all that God has done for them since in Egypt in three distinct steps: “we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression.” (26:7) And how along the way, “The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;” (8) And finally, how God “brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” (9) These verses are strikingly parallel to what the psalmist wrote above: that God hears the cries of the oppressed and responds with justice and peace.

Moreover, this first fruits offering has a wonderfully practical purpose by “giving it to the Levites, the aliens, the orphans, and the widows, so that they may eat their fill within your towns,” (12)

At long last we come to Moses’ concluding words in what our authors have presented as a long,—very long—sermon. In an acknowledgement of what these priestly authors have accomplished, we hear Moses’ specific command that it all be written down: “You shall write on them all the words of this law when you have crossed over, to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.” (27:3)

God’s first location in the Promised Land will be atop Mount Ebal, where an altar of unhewn stone is to be built. The stones are to be covered in plaster and “You shall write on the stones all the words of this law very clearly.” (27:8) Just to make sure the people have gotten the message, Moses repeats himself once again: “This very day you have become the people of the Lord your God. Therefore obey the Lord your God, observing his commandments and his statutes that I am commanding you today.” (27:9, 10)

What’s intriguing here is that there is a clear implication that the act of crossing over into what was once Canaan transforms Israel to finally become “become the people of the Lord your God.” To me, this statement suggests that the escape from Egypt and the 40 subsequent years of wandering have represented the gestation of Israel, and it is only now that by actually returning to the Promised Land that they become born into the full-fledged people of God.

Luke 9:28–36: In what I consider one of the more mysterious but revealing events of Jesus’ life, Luke comes to the Transfiguration story. What Peter, John, and James—the same three who later become the titular leaders of the early church—witness is a true theophany. For a moment Jesus seems to strip off his humanity and the three disciples and we see the glory of God as manifested in Jesus Christ: “And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” (29)

Were we writing this story as science fiction, we could say that Jesus and the disciples entered into a different time-space dimension and that they are briefly glimpsing the never-ending conversation that goes on in heaven: “They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.” (31) Luke adds the intriguing detail that even though “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.” (32) I think Luke is reminding us that to witness the glory of God requires us to remain ever alert. This is also a theme Jesus returns to in his disquisition of end times on the Mount of Olives just before he enters Jerusalem for Passover. Being a Christian has a lot to do with staying awake and alert.

Finally, I think the Transfiguration has a lot to tell us about where heaven is located. As NT Wright has asserted, heaven is right here—not up above us in outer space somewhere. But heaven exists in a dimension we cannot ordinarily see in our mortal lives, although thin spaces give us some intriguing clues.


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