In the 1991 movie “Grand Canyon,” a well-to-do white lawyer, played by Kevin Kline, finds himself stranded in a scary part of Los Angeles after his car breaks down on his way home from a Lakers game. He calls for a tow truck, but it’s not long before he finds himself surrounded by a dangerous-looking gang of young men, one of whom is quick to flash the gun tucked in his waistband.
Just as the situation is about to go from bad to worse, the tow truck arrives and backs up to the stranded car. The driver, played by Danny Glover, quickly begins to hook the broken-down car to his truck as the astonished youth try to figure out what’s happening.
An almost philosophical exchange between the tow truck driver and the gang leader ultimately leads to everyone going their separate ways unharmed. During the conversation, the tow truck driver says this:
“Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this. I mean, maybe you don’t know that yet. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without having to ask you if I can. That dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you ripping him off. Everything is supposed to be different than it is.”
“Everything is supposed to be different than it is.” That is about as Christian a sentiment as you will find anywhere. There is a higher standard, a higher order to living. But like the young men on the street, we become so immersed in the immediate rules and demands of our world that we begin to perceive what we see as the only reality available to us.
Understand the problem of seen and unseen realities, and the mysterious story we call the transfiguration, recorded in Matthew, Mark, Luke and 2 Peter, likely will begin to make more sense. It is not the story of someone changed so much as it is the story of a greater truth revealed.
Jesus took his three key leaders, Peter, James and John, up a high mountain, where we are told they saw his clothes transformed to a blinding whiteness as he conversed with Elijah and Moses. They also heard a voice pronounce, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” It was such a powerful vision, Peter wanted to build a camp site and dwell in it. But very quickly, the vision ended, and the disciples’ world snapped back to what they would call normal, leaving them standing alone with Jesus, awestruck.
Had they comprehended in full what they had seen—read the the gospel accounts of the crucifixion, and you’ll see they didn’t begin to comprehend until after the resurrection—they would not have been able to see their world the same way again.
First of all, the simple religious truth “there is something more” would have better sustained them. It is liberating to realize this life is not the totality of reality; in fact, this life is a mere shadow of what is real.
Last week, I talked about how the Bible reveals an unseen evil at work among us. This week, we need to focus on the really good news: There is unseen good among us, and it represents the true reality, the reality that will remain forever.
I know, it’s easier to cling to what we see, the felt experience, the immediate sensation. Recently I was driving along and saw a billboard that reminded me of Jimmy Buffett’s song “Margaritaville.” I started to sing it to myself. I discovered I can sing it all the way through, with all the variations on the chorus asking whether there’s a woman to blame or if it could be my fault.
To get that out of my head (it’s a song that sticks), I tried to sing “Amazing Grace” all the way through. As familiar as that should be, I could not remember the fourth and fifth verses. A preacher ought to remember the holy song, right? And yet, the world is what sticks.
The world ultimately will not be what sticks, however, not in the long run. We’re told it will vanish like mist, to be replaced by what is permanent and holy.
Here’s the reality of this world: It is a place to see glimpses of God’s greater reality, and to incorporate that blinding holiness into our lives as much as possible. Life knocks us off the mountaintop on a regular basis, but there’s nothing wrong with climbing toward that vision. As we see in 2 Corinthians 4:3-6, we do so for the benefit of those who have yet to perceive God’s glory.