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The Rector’s sermon for February 11, 2018       


                                                                                                                           

2 Kings 2:1-12; Psalm 50:1-6; 2 Corinthians 4:3-6; Mark 9:2-9



 

Three gospel passages: Matthew 17:1-9, Mark 9:2-9 and Luke 9:28-36…  They all have something in common.  Each one is read on the Last Sunday of the season of Epiphany—one in Year A, one in Year B and one in Year C.  But more importantly each of the three passages reports the same event:  the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain.    Now you’ve heard me explain to you how our Sunday Lectionary is set up.  Over the three years of A, B, and C, the “meat” of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation is read, so that over a three-year period one has basically heard the entire bible.  But on an occasional Sunday in each of those three years, the reading is the same.  Each comes from a different writer, but the message is the same; it is that important that it must be repeated, readdressed, reiterated.   Today is one such Sunday; the story is that of the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain.  

 

As I looked back on previous sermons for this day, I found that more often than not I did a first person sermon.  The very first “first person” I did was shortly after I had arrived here.  I launched right into the first person from the beginning, and I learned after the service that I had frightened the former Search Committee and Vestry to death.  You see, right from the start I called myself “a woman of the night,” and the congregation didn’t realize at least at that point, that I was playing the part of Mary Magdalene!   Some of the facial expressions were priceless!

 

Anyway, back to the first-person sermon.  When a story presents itself in such a way that you long to be in that story, there seems to be no other way to preach it.   It’s called a meditation; the person listening has the opportunity to go deeply into a spiritual realm and be open to whatever God has to give you.  At the Vestry Retreat yesterday, we shared two such meditations, and we opened a whole new realm of prayer for some. 

 

The event of the Transfiguration is indeed such a story where we should enter into it, and we will do that today.  But instead of just a “first-person” event, I want you to come with me into this story.  I want you to hear it with me, see it with me, and more importantly feel it with me.   “We” will be the first person narrative…you and me.  As I said a moment ago, entering into a story in the way I suggest is called meditation, and to do that you can either close your eyes and relax, or you can fix your eyes on an object of worship, such as the cross or the altar or the sanctuary lamp over the altar or there might be something else within the sanctuary that catches your eye…, anything that will take you away from this world and all its distractions, even if it’s only for 5 minutes.   So choose your method of relaxation: eyes closed or fixed on an object of worship.   And together … let’s go to the mountain…

 

It’s a day like any other day.  Jesus and his disciples have been walking from town to town, preaching, teaching, healing.  You and I have been following the little band of men because we have seen what this Jesus can do and we want to see more.  We’ve come to a place of shade trees and brush and the band has decided to rest awhile.  The space is somewhat secluded.   We see a remnant of a fire, perhaps from a previous traveler.  We sit, talking about the day’s events, and Jesus offers us—you and me—an invitation.  He says he’s going up that nearby mountain to pray and he wants us to go with him.  I wondered why he can’t just pray here—I’ll bet you’re wondering the same thing.  But we do feel honored that he wants to take us with him.   So, of course, we accept his invitation and we walk up the mountain path beside Jesus.

 

It’s a beautiful night, the sky is bright with stars.  I think of Elijah on a similar mountainside, waiting for God to pass by.    You think of Moses walking up the mountainside following an unusual sight—a bush that appears to be burning… yet it is not consumed.  We both think about the holiness that seems to accompany mountains and pathways to the top—a particular holiness that seems to be in the air this very minute.  As we grow closer and closer to our destination, the sky becomes more and more glorious as if… in expectation.  And then something incredible happens.  Jesus, who has been wearing a worn, dusty garment is all of a sudden aglow like the sun.  His robe is sparkling like new fallen snow.  And His face… his face… there are no words to describe his face.   You and I look at each other in utter disbelief, yet we know in our hearts that what we see is true and that we are meant to see it.  It is the heavenly glory of God.  The Hebrews call it the shekhinah glory of God.    We are so overwhelmed with this awesome glory, that we drop to our knees in praise and fright.   And almost as instantly as it began… it’s over, except for the startling intrusion of a voice—a powerful, heavenly voice—This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!   

 

We have seen the glory of God.   We have heard the voice of God.  In the name of God, how can we retrace our steps down this mountain to what was there before we left?    In the name of all that is holy, how can we put one foot in front of the other, day in and day out after we’ve seen and heard the glory that awaits us at the end of our mortal lives?   

 

+ + +

 

So, here we are, back in real time.   And now what?  The “what” is change and our own limited transformation.   Think of it as if you were an astronaut and your shuttle is on its way home after a long mission in outer space.   The crew has had experiences that are awesome.  They have seen sights that are beyond words.  But toward the end of the flight, there is something called “re-entry.”   And it’s not just those three minutes where earth and shuttle have no communication.   It’s a re-entry back into the world that is the same world that the crew had left behind before their journey.  And re-entry has a double meaning.   For the folks in Houston and Cape Canaveral, re-entry is a time of prayer, of concern, of resignation that the safety of the shuttle is totally out of their hands for a few minutes until, with a collective sigh of relief, they hear a voice from the shuttle; all is well; for ground control, the re-entry is complete.   But for the astronauts, re-entry is just beginning.  They are coming back to a way of life that will never be the same again because they have experienced a form of transfiguration.  They have seen things that testify to the glory and power of Almighty God!

 

This faith community of St. Francis has a deep and abiding faith in God.  We are always in the throws of transfiguration, of seeing the glory of God in ways that are totally unexpected.  We have seen transformations of mind, body and spirit.  We have witnessed the power of the Holy Spirit in his special gifts among us, in awesome displays of the fruit of the Spirit.   Joy in the most unusual places, tears of healing from a soul in need of the hand of God, love freely given to the most unloveable, patience in times when anger and hand-gestures would feel oh so much better!   Celebrations like today…blessings of ministries, renewed marriage vows, the gift of heavenly organ music this afternoon…we are so blessed, and such blessings give us power and drive to share that message of transfiguration. 

 

But lest we get so caught up in the rapture, we are still a faith community in all its humanness.  What does that mean?  It means while many of us have been to the mountain, we actually live in the valley.   Our re-entry into everyday life is not usually a mountaintop experience; it is more likely to be a valley experience, some days without water or any other nourishment.  Those are the days when we reach higher, when we must stretch our faith, when we should retreat into that place of transfiguration, and draw strength from the God who not only lives in the place of transfiguration, but who lives here in the valley—with us—even when—and especially when—there is no water and no nourishment.

 

There’s a story of little four-year old girl named Micaela.   When she began to ask questions about Jesus and where he lived, she was told that Jesus lived with God, but that he would live in her heart if she believed and trusted him.   Her family noticed a real difference in her after that day, and when her grandfather came to visit a few days later, she greeted him with a smile and a big hug and the first words out of her mouth took everyone by surprise.  She said, “Papa, Jesus lives in my heart now.  Does he live in yours?  He will if you trust him.”   At age four, Micaela got it.  She had been to the mountain, and she came back into the valley to share the Good News with those she loved.

 

That’s the real message of the Transfiguration.   Go to the mountain, as often as you can.  Receive what God has to give you, what he has wanted to give you from the moment of your conception.   Bask in the glow of those gifts, but it’s only for that moment in time.  Why?  Because your task is to return and inhabit the valley and share those gifts with the people of God. 

 

We end the season of Epiphany on the Mount of Transfiguration.  And on Wednesday, we take up residence in the valley of Lent—a six-week re-connection with the incredible story of salvation and love that God has for each one of us.   So, be watchful, be alert.  There is no time or place for a temporary disconnect between you and God before that final re-entry into the world that never ends.

 


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