Monday, March 14, 2005

Year A, Transfiguration

In the name of the God the Creator, Jesus the Liberator, and the Holy Spirit the Sustainer. AMEN.

The Transfiguration must have been an amazing event in the life of Peter and James and John. Imagine following Jesus up on a high mountain and then seeing his face to start shining like the sun. Then to top it off, all of
the sudden they see Moses and Elijah with him. These two are two of the greatest figures in Jewish history and here they are, on the mountain. Peter's immediate response is that he should build a monument. He must build something to honor what he has seen.

I can identify with dear Peter in the Gospel story today. His heart was in the right place. Even though he often seemed to get things wrong. I like to think that God will look on me as he did Peter, with compassion, with love, and hopefully with a large dose of humor.

Like many of us, when Peter was faced with something momentous, something new, he wanted to do something about it. I think many times we all try to do that. We look back at certain events and try to memorialize them. The human race seems almost predisposed to build monuments. Like Peter, it is sometimes easy to miss the point of what has happened though. I appreciate the joining of the story of the Transfiguration in the Gospel with Peter’s later account of it in his second letter. Gone is his impulsive suggestion to build a monument. In retrospect I think he realized the foolishness of his idea at that moment in time. Now he sees it as a joining of the message of the prophets with the message of Jesus. The words are light – just like the light experienced at the transfiguration.

But now, back to our story on the mountain. In the middle of Peter's speech about what he is going to do to memorialize this fantastic event he is rudely interrupted by a voice from the cloud above. I imagine that my
reaction would have been the same as his to this event. Fear and trembling. What is Jesus’ response to all of this? He reaches out and touches them. There is nothing like a touch to calm a troubled soul. So Jesus touches them and then tells them to not be afraid.

And then Jesus does one last thing in this story. He tells them to keep all of this to themselves until after the Son of Man is raised from the dead.

And so at the same time that Jesus reveals his divinity in an undeniable way to his trusted disciples he also reveals his purpose here on earth. And so as we celebrate the Transfiguration, we also begin to prepare in our own ways for the death of Christ. This week we observe Ash Wednesday and the start of our Lenten season. The time in the Christian calendar when we prepare our hearts and minds for first the suffering, and then the triumph of Christ on the cross.

And just like that, glory moves to suffering and pain. I think that many of us suffer from an insufficient diet of glory in our lives. All too often in our seemingly mundane lives we don't have those mountain top experiences of shining light and glory. Instead we often find ourselves spending too much time in the valleys of darkness and fear.

I am afraid that part of the reason is that it is so easy for us to interfere with those moments of glory in our lives or in the lives of others. The Rev. Michael Battle (Dean of Academic Affairs, VTS) points out that "one thing is clear, religious people often get in the way of the
living God. When witnessing the transfiguration, Peter, James and John got in the way by trying to build shrines. St. Paul knew he got in the way when he asked, "'Who are you, Lord?' The Lord answered, 'I am Jesus whom you are
persecuting'" (Acts 26:15)." (

Unfortunately it is all too often those in the Church who seem to have the most difficulty seeing and basking in the glory that so often surround us.

I believe it is one of the reasons that we see so many people in our society today turning to non-Christian religious alternatives in seeking a faith. They want to find a place that will allow them the opportunity to experience faith in a manner with as little interference as possible from the rest of us pesky humans who all so often get it wrong. And the reality is that the Church has a long and perhaps unparalleled reputation for getting things wrong. As a minister I knew many years ago growing up was often fond of saying, "too often Christians major in the minors and minor in the majors."

How do we change this. How do we help people to see the glory in their lives? I think it starts with a rather large does of humility. It starts with a willingness to put off the idea that any of us, myself included, has
been endowed by God with the all the answers to all the questions that face us in our faith journey.

Dr. Battle also cites a story from the desert fathers which I think is excellent:
At one time there came some to the abba Antony, and the abba Joseph was with them. And Antony, wishing to test them, brought up a controversial issue in the Holy Scriptures. And he began to question, beginning with the younger, what this or that word might mean. And each made answer as best they could.
But he said to them, "You have not found it yet."

After they left Antony said to Joseph, "What do you say this word might mean?" Joseph answered, "I do not know." And Antony praised his brother out loud, "Truly, those who say they do not know, alone have found the right road."

It is in our unknowing that God is most apparent. It is in the human touch that we feel most loved. And it is in experiencing glory that we see who and what God is. As we begin to follow once again the path of pain that Jesus did for each of us, let us remember to savor the glory of God revealed to each one of us. A glory that is there for us to experience fresh every day in our relationship in Christ.

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