This is my son, with whom I am well pleased. This may sound familiar to us, we heard very similar words at Jesus' baptism. And these are the words we hear today at this showing, this epiphany. God shows up in each of these stories and claims Jesus as the son, the beloved, God has marked Jesus with love, and God instructs all those who are there to listen to Jesus. Time has come back around on itself. And yet, soon Jesus and the disciples will be off to Jerusalem, on the road of suffering, death, and resurrection.
I think these are stories that show forth the presence of God, they show us God's inbreaking kingdom. They are stories that give us glimpses of incarnation, glimpses of glory. And, these stories show us an interruption in life as we know it. Peter, James and John are witnesses to inbreaking, incarnation, interruption. And we, as we overhear these stories, and reread these stories, we too are witness to inbreaking, to incarnation, to interruption.
These are stories that show us that God has everything to do with us. God's glory, and God's kingdom, and God's love breaks into our lives, in surprising times and places, we get glimpses, and sometimes we recognize those times as God's presence, like Peter did. And like Peter, when that happens we want to make it permanent, we want to build a building to contain it, and we want to keep God in that place. But it doesn't seem like that is the way God would have it.
Peter, James and John have heard their entire lives the stories of Moses and of Elijah. We just heard part of the story of Elijah from the book of Kings. Moses and Elijah are the prophets, the heroes, the rock stars. Their stories live in the realm of legend, it’d be like coming face to face with Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi, or Madeleine L’engle. Or Yoda, ObiWan, Anakin Skywalker? Who wouldn’t wish for them to stay, to bask in the glory of their greatness, their wisdom?
This is truly a glimpse of glory. A mountaintop experience. Peter, James and John are witnesses and participants in this amazing time out of time. You may have had an experience that you may describe similarly, a particularly meaningful experience of worship, with music and people who helped you to transcend time. But this story also says, Jesus came down the mountain.
We get glimpses of glory, but we also come down off the mountaintop and deal with life in our world of ordinariness. You may say as Peter says, let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah. You may want as Peter wants to hold on to that experience, to be able to revisit it whenever you want, to come back to it whenever you need a shot in the arm, or even to escape to it when the world just seems too hard to handle. But the experience won’t be put into a box. And yet that doesn’t stop you from striving to replicate it, and measuring every subsequent religious experience by it. But that can’t be done, not only can’t it be done, it prevents us from experiencing God in the moment, God in the mundane, God in the ordinary, which is where each of us live most of the time.
The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration is ultimate glory. It is wonderful, it is exquisite, and it is not where we live or where we are to stay. In the transfiguration we see that what we think about time and how God acts in time are different. Peter, James and John, and you and I as we look in, see time all at once, like God sees it. If we were to construct a time line, the story of Moses takes place somewhere around 1500 years before Christ, Elijah about 850 years before Christ. And yet, at this event they are all there together. God shows forth God’s glory, God shows that life with God is without limits. It is like the Eucharistic moment, it may be comfortable and calm, it may be nourishing and refreshing, it may be inspiring and illuminating. It is filled with the people we love and who love us. We really want to stay, but we can’t stay in it, and we can’t repeat the exact moment. But it will give us the ability to persevere, from it we are sent out into the world to do the work we are given to do. We are sent out into the world to live our lives and to bring peace and reconciliation and healing to a broken and fragmented world.
The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration is a touchstone. We may return to it, but we can’t control it, and that can be rather disquieting, actually terrifying as reported in this story. We come to worship and sing God’s praises; we come to find stability in an unstable world. We come to hear the story of our faith that has not changed over time. And yet God’s word and our worship are not comfortable, they are not static. God’s word and our worship are growing and changing, becoming the creation that God has intended for it. The glory that is shone forth should cause us to be terrified, to go down the mountain and confront the comfortable and disrupt the status quo. The glory that is shone forth results in the casting out of demons, the reordering of social status and kinship, the arrest and torture of the one who bears the Good News, the inauguration of God’s kingdom on earth with Jesus Christ God’s son.
The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration promises to accompany us into our mundane and ordinary lives. We carry that glory into our work and our school and our play. It becomes the spirit that inspires and creates us; it becomes the life that gives us life. It is that which is in the eyes and souls of those whose paths we cross, it is in the respect and dignity with which we treat everyone we meet. It is why we stand with those who have been discriminated against.
The glory that is shone forth in this story of transfiguration pushes us out into the world so that we may get going with God’s mission in this world. God’s mission is of healing and reconciliation. God’s mission is about putting fractured souls back together in this broken and fragmented world. God’s mission is about loving and serving your neighbor, especially when we don’t feel like it, especially when it is uncomfortable, even when it seems impossible and down right scary.
Following Jesus is not about being on the mountaintop, but being in the mundane and ordinary, and looking and listening for God’s presence in all of the ordinary parts of our lives. This week, after we eat our pancakes, we come back on Wednesday to begin our journey of Lent. I encourage you to take the time out of your routine, to take the time out of your work and your play, to be present to God's movement in your life, to experience God's amazing love for you. Amen.