Last Epiphany Yr A Feb 26 2017
Last Epiphany Yr A Feb 26 21017 Audio
Today marks our departure from the Sermon on the mount, or the teaching on hillside, whichever you prefer. We hear this story, Jesus’ face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white, each year at the conclusion of the Sundays after the Epiphany and as we launch into Lent. As I hear the story of Jesus' changing appearance this time, this transfiguration, I see in my mind's eye a trailer for a new movie. This is the stuff of pyrotechnic extravaganza. Our main character calls his friends to gather around him, and all of a sudden he dazzles before our eyes. Blazing and shooting and appearing with him are Moses and Elijah. There is so much happening in this trailer we hope it is not all the best stuff of the movie itself. The computer generated affects are big and loud and wild. The significance of the ancestors appearing is not lost on those in the audience watching. The appearance of Moses and Elijah bring us soaring in on that place where time is transcended, and those who came before us are side by side with us in the present and our attention is pointed to the future, but what kind of future will that be. If this is the trailer, what's the rest of the movie like? Oh, the stuff of movies that I love.
Oh, but wait. This trailer in my mind's eye is much like a story already told, at the conclusion of Star Wars, The Return of the Jedi. Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, and Obi-Wan appear amid the fireworks of celebration as Luke Skywalker looks on and wonders, hmm, this is important, this means something.
Well, this is important. This does mean something, but what is it, I wonder. What does this story of transfiguration have to say to us 21st century people? In the midst of this pyrotechnic extravaganza, with Moses and Elijah in attendance, I think it means that freeing people from slavery and wandering in the wilderness, is still God's mission. Healing and reconciliation, wholeness and forgiveness, is still God's mission. God's victory over death doesn't mean we don't die, Moses and Elijah indeed have died, Anakin and Obi-Wan indeed have died, but God does something more. God’s love never fails, God's love wins. God picks up the fragments of our lives and makes us whole. God loves our dark side and our light side, and puts us back together.
This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. These are the very words we heard at Jesus' baptism, these are the words we hear on this mountaintop. Jesus has gathered his friends, Peter and James and John, and they hear these words, they are witnesses to this statement, this claim, that God's love is transforming, that God's love is transfiguring. So beside being an amazing story, we hear it on this last Sunday before Lent, because it points us in the right direction. Lent is really a baptismal journey. We begin on Ash Wednesday with the ashes that highlight the cross that has been traced on our forehead at baptism, when we were marked as Christ's own forever. The journey of Lent calls us to the wilderness, the journey of Lent calls us to die to that which is killing us, so that we may be raised to new life with Jesus, so that we may be transformed and transfigured by God's amazing and abundant love and grace. So that we may live fully and completely the life we are given as God's delight.
A part of this story I love, is that Peter wants to make the experience last forever by erecting three tents. Peter is one of my favorite people, probably because I am so much like him. When something wonderful happens, don't we want it to last longer? Don't we want the next time to be as wonderful as the first time? Don't we want to pack it all up so that we can do it exactly the same way the next time? I think this is where the expression "mountaintop experience" first came from. But you and I know that's not the way of life. You and I know that you can't stay in that place of pyrotechnic extravaganza, and in the end, Peter realizes it too. And that's where God meets us, in the midst of our humanity, in the midst of who we really are, where we believe we cannot be loved, but are loved, because God's love wins.
And maybe that's what is so important about this story. In the midst of the fullness of our humanity, on the mountaintop, as well as in the depth of our pain, and when we miss the mark, and in all the places in between, God comes to us and claims us. God's claim on us, God's love for us, sets us free. God's claim on us, God's love for us, transforms us, not into perfect people, but into people whose imperfections make us compassionate. God's love remembers our brokenness and makes us merciful. God's love seeps into the cracks of our hearts and we are forgiven.
Jesus touched them saying, "get up and do not be afraid." God's love for us transforms us and makes us fearless, so that we can go out and be about God's mission. Continuing in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; persevering in resisting evil, and, whenever falling into sin, repenting and returning to the Lord; proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves; and striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being. These are our baptismal promises, this is the discipline by which we live our lives and follow Jesus.
On that mountaintop, during that pyrotechnic extravaganza, our ancestors Moses and Elijah remind us that we are a part of the timelessness of God's amazing and abundant love for us in particular as well as for all of humanity. Peter and James and John show us the truth of our humanity, both our desire to possess the glitz and glitter of a mountaintop experience, as well as our tendency to be afraid of the vulnerability of being known by God. They show us that we need not be afraid of the dark. Jesus shows us that we are beloved, God's delight.
Listen to Jesus, get up, and do not be afraid. These are words that are not bound to that mountaintop experience, but animate our lives today. Following Jesus in this culture of fear today is hard. What do we do? What do we say? There is so much around us that causes us to want to put our heads in the sand. But we know better. In a world torn apart by anger, hatred, and conflict, we have the privilege of being living signs of a love that can bridge all divisions and heal all wounds. We began our Epiphany season with “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.” We end our Epiphany season with “listen to Jesus, get up, do not be afraid.”
These are important words, for times such as these. You are God’s beloved, with you God is well pleased. Amen.