(Almost a Sermon)

 

(This is the sermon written for today. The sermon preached had a lot more LOVE in it, thanks to the Holy Spirit and a wonderful Saturday.)

Exodus 24:12-18 | Psalm 99 | 2 Peter 1:16-21 | Matthew 17:1-9


As guilty as I am of it, I’m still amazed of how often these days more and more people are busy looking at their phones instead of at each other or looking through their phones to take pictures to capture the moment so it can be shared broadly through the social media venues. Again, I’m guilty, too, because I benefit by seeing the experiences of others, seeing what brings you joy, knowing when you are hurting (if you post it), and generally having a sense of what is going on. Unless we bump into each other at the grocery store or call each other on the phone (yes, phones are still good for phone calls), online is the way many people connect these days.

If he’d had a phone, don’t you know that Peter already had photos taken, had tagged Jesus, James, and John and had marked the location complete with new hashtags for Moses, Elijah, and the three new booths he was going to set up when he was saying, “Jesus, this is going to be so good!”

Only, it wasn’t.

Really, how many times are you able to capture a picture of the amazing sunrise or sunset, one that gets all the shades of purple, blue, pink, and orange spread all across the horizon? How many full moons and moonlit landscapes have you photographed and felt that the lunar beauty was adequately portrayed?

Peter thought he caught was what going on and was ready to mark the place and spread the news, but it wasn’t time. He didn’t have it right just yet, but what didn’t he have? What about Jesus being transfigured into full glory before them isn’t enough to verify his status as Son of God?

Because God already spoke from above when Jesus was baptized. Peter already said Jesus is the Messiah, and Jesus shushed him then, too. Jesus has been performing works giving witness to his authority and to the glory of God. Surely this mountaintop transfiguration is just the thing to bring around all those on the fence about believing. Now we’ve even got Moses and Elijah for certain on our team. We’re ready to hit “send” on this press release now.

But in this account of the transfiguration according to Matthew, the apostles heard the voice from the cloud, repeating the baptismal approval and adding what I’m sure had to be a booming “listen to him!”, and they hit the ground. Well, it says, “they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear,” but if you’re covered in a cloud and hearing the voice of God, you’re most likely going to hit the ground because your time has come. The apostles were afraid.

In Mark’s gospel, Jesus doesn’t know what to say to their fear. In Luke, they all keep silent. Here, in Matthew, Jesus comes to them, touches them, and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.”

The apostles look around and see that the moment of transfiguration has passed, along with Moses and Elijah. It’s only Jesus with them now. As they make the trek down the mountain, Jesus orders them not to tell about what they’ve seen until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead–basically until what he’s already told them will happen has actually happened. He’s going to be captured, and he’s going to die and rise again.

Why wait? Jesus continues to perform miracles. Crowds still seek him out. He’s working as one with authority. Why wait? Because there’s more. Epiphany is a season of light, focusing on Jesus’s ministry in the world, how God manifests Light in our world through the Incarnation, but that’s not all of Jesus’ story. The Light of Christ gets overshadowed not by the cloud of God but by our brokenness, not just the nonbelievers and traitors of Jesus’ day, but by our brokenness, too. Jesus’s story continues to be our story because the gospels don’t end with the transfiguration or even the crucifixion.

Jesus’s story is our story because he goes through suffering and death yet rises again. His friends betray him, but he comes back to them, allowing them to profess their love and ascertain their faith. Jesus’s story is our story because he sent those first apostles out to make more disciples, and people’s lives have been touched by God throughout our history, giving testimony to the many ways we suffer, fail, and rise again. Jesus’s story is our story because He continues to be revealed to us, showing up as “a lamp shining in a dark place.”

And I don’t like it, but sometimes we have to wait. We have to wait on God’s time. We have to wait while we discern the next best move, and by “best move” I mean move in accord with God’s will, not mine, and most of the time that’s hard to understand or to have a concept of a bigger picture. Sometimes we wait because we’re afraid, and our first response is not one of compassion or respect, let alone love. The voice from the cloud told the apostles to listen to Jesus. Jesus tells them to “Get up and … not be afraid.”

In an interview, civil rights activist and Congressman John Lewis, reflected on his childhood and young adult life. Listening to him talk, it’s hard to believe that his man was at the front of the march on Bloody Sunday in March of 1965. This man who admitted that he probably cried too much and lamented that we don’t tell one another “I love you” enough, led a nonviolent protest straight into the mouth of hell, where it seemed if one wave of violence didn’t kill them, another one waited at the other side of the bridge.

He didn’t wake up one day and decide to protest. He grew up wanting to be a preacher. He grew up asking questions. He grew up with an unshakeable faith and  persistent love. He believed that things could be better, that we could be better people.

He and the many others who joined Dr. King studied nonviolence. They studied Gandhi’s nonviolent efforts and read Thoreau’s civil disobedience. They dramatized situations, taking turns assaulting each other with horrible insults, learning how to fall and protect the head, practicing maintaining eye contact so that they could show that their spirit was not broken. But they would not retaliate with violence. They would resist the urge to strike back and lash out, knowing that something bigger than themselves was at stake. They studied and practiced nonviolence until they were ready to go out and do when discussion, when civil discourse failed. Being ready meant that they were also willing to face death for what they believed.

And he thought he was going to die that Bloody Sunday of March 7th, 1965. More than worrying about his death, he feared for those who were behind him in the march. But he didn’t die. He lived. He lived to see the day when he could meet the children of the man who beat him and meet the police department that had carried out orders to stop them, all of whom were now seeking forgiveness, seeking reconciliation, seeking freedom from a past that haunted them. Lewis met them in peace, with love. As Christians, we know that the story doesn’t end when one good thing happens, when something bad happens, or when we get scared. In fact, we know the story hasn’t ended yet because we’re still waiting for the Son of Man to come again in full glory.

In the meantime, we’ve got work to do. We’ve got to train on God’s Word. We’ve got to study and practice being in relationship with one another in true love and reconciliation. Sometimes we’ve got to wait because we don’t understand fully, and we may not be ready to give up our egos or even our lives for a greater Good. If we keep seeking God’s will and keep looking for God to show up in our lives, chances are we’ll recognize the glimpses of God’s glory when we see it. Our hearts, minds, and lives are the only thing created to capture and reflect God’s glory, so it’s okay to put down the electronics and turn to one another in love. It may just be that God’s waiting for us.

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Glory & Prayer

Exodus 34:29-35 | Psalm 99 | 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 | Luke 9:28-43a

There’s a lot of energy buzzing around with it being Super Bowl Sunday, with racing season underway, and with Mardi Gras beads all around. Even the daffodils and hyacinth are blooming around the church. There’s lively spring energy everywhere, life and light shining all around us. To top it all off before we enter the coming season of Lent, we get a glimpse of the glory of God revealed in the radiant transfiguration of Jesus, as Luke would tell it. And as Luke would tell it, “Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray” (Lk 9:28).

If you’ve been doing Bible study (especially with CB) for any length of time or have been in Christian ed these past few weeks, you know that the gospel writers usually have a slightly different account to give for the same event. Such is the case for the account of the Transfiguration. It’s mostly the same, but little things are different between them. For instance, Luke is the only one to say Jesus and all were going up on the mountain to pray and that it was while Jesus was praying that “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” In all three synoptic gospels, however, there’s the voice from the cloud that tells them to listen to Jesus.

We’ve spent these past weeks in Epiphany highlighting Jesus’s life, giving witness to the works of the Son of God, the Light of the world, in what we might call ordinary time. After all, today isn’t the Feast of the Transfiguration (which comes in early August). Today’s gospel is a glimpse into Jesus’s life at the very basic level of who he is–the beloved, chosen Son of God, full of greatness and glory–and of what is to come–his departure.

OptimisticHikeWanting to dig deeper in the text in a different kind of way, I took advantage of this beautiful weather we’re having to go for a hike . . . up a mountain. I hadn’t yet been on any of the trails on West Mountain, so I thought I’d give it a go.

First of all, I didn’t listen to the directions I was given very well, and I ended up at the trailhead on Blacksnake Road, at the Sunset trail.

Second, I had realized earlier in the morning that not only had I forgotten the rest of my coffee but I had also forgotten my water bottle on the kitchen counter at home.

Third, I had no snacks or bars with me, and it was the noon hour, over four hours since I’d eaten breakfast.

For consolation, I told myself that I didn’t have to go far, that the steps would be good for me, and that if I got tired, I could turn back.

As I walked along the uphill trail–for it starts out uphill right away–I had to watch the rocky path and pay attention to my footing, but I also imagined following Jesus up a mountain, not knowing exactly where we were going or what we were going to do. Those thoughts drifted to noticing the trees around me, tall and skeletal, the scurry of something in the dead, dry leaves, my heart pulsing in my ears, and the white hot sun.

Directly over the top of the mountain, there shone the sun, so white it made me wonder why we color it yellow when it’s high in the sky. It shone so brightly that even the shadows of the trees weren’t very dark, and I was grateful for the cool breeze that kept me from feeling too hot, though my body had already begun to sweat. The sunlight was strong and all-encompassing. I could turn away from it, but it was always there, shining all around me and drawing attention to the nakedness of the woods in wintertime.

NotQuiteThereWhen I got to the sign that said I had 1 ¾ mile left to get to the lookout, I was thirsty and tired and wished I had been better prepared. I risked a glance at the sun, and then with spots in my vision, I turned back the way I came, downhill all the way.

No, I didn’t have any grand epiphany on my partial-mountain hike, but through the bare trees, I took in some beautiful views. Up on the trail, the air was fresh and cool, and there was a sense of clarity of thought and vision, helped along, I’m sure, by the bright blue sky. It makes perfect sense why Jesus would go to a mountain top to pray, putting for the effort to escape the crowds that surrounded him below.

It also makes sense that Jesus brought three of his apostles with him, to witness what happened, even if they didn’t understand it, and to hear the voice command them to listen to Jesus. For Jesus had already told them once that he would be killed and rise again. He would tell them again, more than once. He had already told them to take up their cross and follow him at great cost. He would reiterate the cost of discipleship and continue to tell them more about the kingdom of heaven. More than tell them, he would show them, and he would continue to pray with them.

Jesus doesn’t become some esoteric hermit in a mountain top cave. He does everything he sets out to do, with us and among us, before us and beyond us.

And he tries to get it through our thick skulls and our hardened or broken hearts that all of His life here on Earth is to bring us into the glory of God, to bring us into the kingdom sooner or later. I think Luke gives us a hint here today that prayer is a surefire key to tap into the glory of God, which is all-encompassing and strengthens us to make it through the peaks and valleys of our lives. The glory of God gives us strength because it is assurance that love and life prevails.

A great crowd was anxious to get to Jesus when he got back from the mountain top. One of them was a father who had a child who needed to be rid of a demon. Luke shows us an annoyed Jesus who even then is able to heal the boy and show the greatness of God. In Mark’s account, though, which has a kind of private debriefing with the twelve, Jesus tells his bewildered disciples that the kind of demon the boy had could “come out only through prayer” (Mk 9:29).

When darkness descends, when the demons fill our mind, sometimes our only recourse is prayer. Prayers our faith has taught us. Prayers we speak spontaneously. Prayers we repeat again and again because they give voice to our deepest longing, our greatest hopes, and biggest fears. It can be the words of prayer or our place of prayer or our very mindset that we have when we are deep in prayer that recall for us the real presence of Christ in our midst. Prayer can be a soothing balm for our souls or a suit of armor as we live into that hardest prayer of “God’s will be done.”

I think it is in times of prayer that Jesus aligns himself with God’s will. We might like to think he’s going apart to find a little peace and quiet, to get away from the loud and demanding masses. I imagine he is seeking peace and quiet, the kind of stillness that comes from being fully aligned with the will of God. As humans, living into God’s will is our ongoing struggle, one we persevere through with unceasing prayer.

The former admissions coordinator for Sewanee had a saying: “Stay prayed up.” She told me in her Tennessee twang, “If we’re all prayed up, we’re never far from His will.” If we’re prayed up, we realize we don’t have to hike to mountain tops to witness the glory of God. If we’re prayed up, we have the assurance of faith to see us through the valleys. If we’re prayed up, we are ready to traverse some darkness and do some soul clearing and renewing before reaching the Easter Light. Even if we know the glory of God is with us all along, we keep praying.

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Light Revealed

A Sermon preached by Sara Milford at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Fayetteville, Arkansas, for the Northwest Arkansas Women’s Community Correction Center Baptisms on July 29th, 2012.

The Scripture Texts for the Feast of the Transfiguration:

Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:13-21; Luke 9:28-36


 Open our hearts and still our minds, O God, that we might hear you in both word and silence.

We are blessed – those of us here in this place this afternoon.  Together, in a time intentionally set apart, we get to witness transfiguration.

Transfiguration, indeed, is “Christ’s appearance in radiant glory” to Peter, John, and James, as accounted in three of the Gospels.  More generally, it is “a complete change of form or appearance into a more beautiful or spiritual state,” “an exalting, glorifying, or spiritual change.”

Consider those moments when you have seen for yourself a transfiguration in those you love.  Have you beheld a bride and groom in a quiet moment after their marriage ceremony?  Have you seen the face of a mother or father as they gaze at a newly born child?  Think of the child who suddenly realizes they can ride a bike by themselves or a person of any age who realizes they can actually put letters together to make words as they read on their own. What about the women who complete their time at the correction center and walk through the doors to the other side?  Are they the same women who entered only months before?

Can we witness such moments and not be affected?

What is our responsibility, having seen such a gift?

Peter, John, and James just happened to be awake and saw the Transfiguration of Jesus while he was praying, when “his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.”  And then they see Moses and Elijah with him.  Moses, whom we heard earlier, whose face was ever shining, so long as it wasn’t veiled, because he had spoken with God.

God is there.

Peter wants to make dwellings to honor the place. “Not knowing what he said”?  Wasn’t what he saw a good, amazing thing?  Doesn’t Peter want to glorify and exalt the Lord, marking this holy place?

Then the booming voice from the clouds.  “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!”  Now Jesus was alone, and they were silent.

They saw Moses and Elijah with a radiant, dazzling Jesus, and they told no one.  Silence.

You women know a thing or two about silence.  I think we all know that even when words aren’t spoken, volumes can be revealed.

It doesn’t say Jesus told his disciples to be quiet.  But hearing the voice of God telling them to listen to Jesus, you bet they did.  They knew what they had seen.  Perhaps the Light of Jesus, the Christ Light, shone brighter for them than ever before, and as they listened to Jesus, it transcended all words.  They listened in silence.

From Second Peter, we’re told “to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”

“…be attentive to this…”  “This” meaning, I believe, that Christ is God’s son, God’s beloved, as the Spirit proclaimed upon his baptism.

The Light of Christ, the Love of God is real and true.  Hold onto this until you have it in your own heart . . . until you realize it’s been there all the time.

There’s a quote attributed to St. Ignatius:

A thick and shapeless tree-trunk would never believe

that it could become a statue, admired as a miracle of sculpture,

and would never submit itself to the chisel of the sculptor,

who sees by her genius what she can make of it.

We are all children of God.  In our baptism, we, too, are transfigured.  We take the opportunity to wash away the barriers the block our Light so we can be who God created us to be.  As a prayerbook I have concludes St. Ignatius’ quote, we can “ask for the grace to let (ourselves) be shaped by (our) loving Creator.”  I am God’s beloved child.  You are God’s beloved child.

Witnessing moments of God’s revelation in ourselves and in others, we are affected.  If you’ve ever seen the glory of God in any circumstance, you cannot un-know it.  We can forget.  We can turn away.  We can re-build those barriers.  But it doesn’t change the fact of what is, the evidence of God’s great beauty and love — even in the midst of hatred and fear.
What’s our responsibility?  I asked earlier.  Be awake.  Peter, John, and James only saw Jesus because they were awake, but they were tired.  They could have been asleep, but they weren’t.  What do we miss when we let our minds wander and our attention wane?  Who do we miss?  Where have we missed seeing Jesus in our lives.  Be awake.

And listen.  Obviously they weren’t silent forever, or we wouldn’t have this story.  We need the story, though, because we weren’t there.  As they were listening to the living Christ, we, too, need to listen for the Living Christ, often described as that still, small voice.  Probably a lot like the voice, the pull, the desire, that brings you today to your own transfiguration.

There are very few people

who realize what God would make of them

if they abandoned themselves into his hands,

and let themselves be formed by his grace.

Again, St. Ignatius.

A prayer:  “I ask for the grace to trust myself totally to God’s love.”

And may you know how brilliantly you shine.

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