Sunday, August 6, 2017

Transfiguration

August 6, 2017

+ As most of you might know, I am a huge film fan. I LOVE films. It’s my escape. Some people have alcohol. I have movies. And I especially love those Technicolor spectaculars put out by MGM in the 1940’s and 1950s.  Talk about escape from reality. I always say, my idea of heaven is like a scene from an Esther Williams film from 1951.

Well, today, we get a Technicolor scene from the Bible. Today in our Gospel reading we hear the story of Jesus’ being transformed on the mountain top.   Actually, we more than just hear it. We get to see it.  It’s a very vivid description of what happened.  And it’s truly one of those incredible moments in the Bible.

It’s incredible because, for one holy moment, the veil between our world and God’s world is pushed aside.  On that mountain top, Jesus seems for a moment to have one foot in each world—one in this world, in which he is a human being just like the rest of us, and one foot in the next world in which he is much more than just another human being.

That would have been, in and of itself, enough.  But Jesus is also seen standing between Moses and Elijah—a sign obviously that what they foresaw in their prophecies, in their visions of what was to come, is fulfilled in Jesus who stands between them.  Jesus is the fulfillment of what those great prophets foretold. He is a fulfillment of the Law. 

The presence of Moses and Elijah shows us that—in a sense—their mission is complete.  Here, in this glorified person they flank, all that they foretold—all that they looked forward to—has found its completion.

Everyone who witnesses this vision is affected by it.  The Apostles who witness it—Peter, James and John, that inner sanctum among the Apostles—don’t quite know what to make of it.  They have been roused form their tired state by this incredible experience.

They are obviously baffled by what they saw.  And in doing so, they do the only thing they can do—they offer to build three sanctuaries there—to worship what they see as divine.  Finally, they seem to come down from the mountain in what I’m sure was a dazed state.

But why is any of this important to us? Why is this story that seems so strange and so exotic—so much like a Technicolor scene from a 1950s Biblical epic—so important to us—in this day and age? We have a hard time wrapping our minds around these images of dazzling white light and booming voices from clouds. We don’t experience God like this in our lives.

I suppose the question could be: why not?  Certainly, we are longing and searching for God in our lives, aren’t we?  We hear about it all the time. We hear of people searching for God.

But, to search for God means that, somewhere along the way, we seem to think God got lost. We know better than that. We don’t worship a lost God. And we don’t come to church on a Sunday morning to search for God.   We come to church because we long for God—we long for an experience similar to the experience those apostles encountered on the mountaintop.

So then, what is this story of the Transfiguration saying to us?  Do we too need to be crawling around on top of hills to find a place in which the veil between this world and God’s world is lifted?

Well, to some extent, that is exactly what we do every Sunday. In a sense, when we come together today, here at this altar, we too are coming to a place every much like the mountain top experience we heard about in this morning’s Gospel.

In the scriptures we have just heard, we have heard God’s voice, speaking to us.  When we celebrate Holy Communion together at the altar, when Jesus comes to us in the Bread and the Wine—for a moment, the veil between this world and God’s world is parted, as you hear me say over and over again.  We too are able to come close to Jesus our God, and see him—truly see him, without a cloud—if only under the appearance of Bread and Wine.  We too get to hear him, in our scriptures readings.  And we too get to experience him in each other—in all of us who are gathered here together.

But I think the interesting thing we need to remind ourselves of is this: it’s all right to seek out these experiences of God’s presence in our lives.  But why our searching and longing for God is different than others is that, in our case, as Christians, our God is not evasive or elusive.  

God is not playing hide-and-seek-with us.  God is here.  All we have to do is ask.  All we have to is look.  All we have to do is seek.  And we will find.

We have never lost our God. God has come to us as dazzling Light, yes.  God has spoken to us—at least through the scriptures—with a booming voice from heaven, yes.

But God has also come to us as one of us. God has come to us in Jesus. God comes to us in the Jesus we share with each other here at the altar, in the Jesus we share with each other in our own very presence as the people of God and the Body of Christ in this world.

God is no further from us than right here, in our midst, when gather together to worship, to hear the scriptures and to break the bread that is Jesus’ body.  And like those disciples, we must, when we’re done, go from here.

We must leave the mountaintop experience and go back down, to share our experience, to live out what we have learned and seen and felt here. We are compelled—by the words we hear in the scriptures, by the spirit of Christ we take with us from this Holy Communion—to live out that experience out in the world.

We do that be by being, honest, humble, authentic Christians. Being an authentic Christian means being loving and compassionate and accepting people.   It means walking in love.

Of course, we will fail in that.  I fail in walking in love—in being compassionate and loving—all the time.  I get angry at the guy who cuts me off in traffic or at the injustices in the world around me. I complain.  I grumble.  I can tell you, I am not always a walking talking billboard for the Christians faith.

But hopefully, our experience here—our encounter with God in this place on this day—can make enough of a difference in our lives that we will be able to carry it with us throughout our week and into our very day-to-day lives.  Hopefully, we can go from here glowing with the experience we have here. That glow might not be a visible glow, but hopefully it is one we can feel within us.  That glow—that aftereffect of our experience of God—is what we can carry with us and cherish within us long after we leave here.

Of course, we also need to face the facts about not only the story we have heard in today’s Gospel, but in what we have commemorated here at the altar. The Gospel reading begins ominously: “About eight days after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection…”   The Transfiguration is a foretelling of the glory that awaits Jesus--it is a foretelling of the Resurrection--but it is a glory that comes with an awful price.  It comes only after Jesus has been tortured and murdered.

Today is also the anniversary of another bright light. It was on this day in 1945 that the Atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima.  Now, not a lot of people know this, but I actually know a fair amount about Hiroshima, because I actually wrote a book about it. I know. You have probably not read it. Not many people have.

My little-know third book, Cloud, published twenty years in 1997, is a long (166
page), two-act poem (verse play) about Hiroshima and its after-effects in the lives of five people.  I think three people read the book, including my mother, who, I don’t think, “got it.” It’s  out-of-print now. I did see that a copy of it is currently for sale on Amazon for $49.99 (trust me, that 50 bucks I’m never gonna see) The theme of the poem is the Light of the bomb, and how that light illumined more than just the event of that day.

We, in a sense, are still living in the afterglow of the Light of that event.  It changed all of us and transformed us in ways we could never imagine.  In that white light, a violence like we have never known was unleashed upon the world.

What we celebrate today at the altar, is a remembrance of the violent death of Jesus and his triumph over that death.  And not just over his death. It is a triumph over the death that was brought upon Hiroshima and all those people who through violence.  It is a triumph over our deaths as well.

As I’ve shared with you before, I have been a big fan of so-called Indie Music for many, many years, back before it was even called “Indie.” One of my favorite Indie performers, whom I’ve mentioned in sermons before is an incredible singer and song-writer by the name of Sufjan Stevens. Stevens put an amazing album back in
2004 called Seven Swans. On the album was a deceptively simple and beautiful song called, “”The Transfiguration.” I highly recommend you find it on YouTube and listen to it (especially today) But there’s a great verse that in that song that is just wonderful:

What he said to them, the voice of God, the most beloved son
Consider what he says to you, consider what's to come
The prophecy was put to death, was put to death
And so will the son
And keep your word, disguise the vision
Till the time has come

The Transfiguration shows us that we  must “keep [the] word,” and maybe sometimes “disguise the vision/Till the time has come.” Whenever that will be.

The Transfiguration shows us that God—not us—gets the last word.  Our experience on the mountain-top—like all life-altering experiences—will fade from us eventually.  It did for those apostles who accompanied Jesus there.

All of them—Jesus, Peter, James and John—would experience much sorrow in the weeks and years ahead of them.  The experience of the mountaintop cannot be preserved.  Like all the wonderful moments in our lives, they can only be cherished.  And they can be shared.

But we have the continued opportunity to come back and to participate in it again and again.

God is here.  God is present among us—God’s people.  God is longing too.  God is longing for us—to know us and to have us experience God.

So, let us go from here—let us go back down the mountain, into the valley below, with our experience of God glowing brilliantly on our faces. Let us cherish this experience we have of God. And most, importantly, let us live out this experience in our life, as we walk in love.  






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