Sermon February 7, 2016
Exodus 34:29-35, Luke 9:28-43a
“The View from Up Here”
Today is the day some of us have been waiting for. Others have no idea what today is. I’m not referring to a liturgical day, though it is that but I’m guessing most of us haven’t been waiting for the Transfiguration. Today is the day that the Broncos and the Panthers meet to determine who is the national champion football team. We call it the Super Bowl. For some it is about football, but for others, it is commercialism at its best. A 30 second commercial for the Super Bowl costs $5 million and is expected to generate as much as $3 billion per year. We are talking big time here!
When you think about it, it is interesting what gets our attention. For example, do you ever think about what we are doing when we gather for worship each week? It is possible to just show up and sing the hymns and pray and drop something in the basket without thinking too much about what it means or why we do this. For some, church is a lifeline and we leave recharged each week. It is possible that we are depleting or charging our spiritual batteries every week without even knowing it.
On the other hand, I know very few people who are unaware of the charge on their cell phones. If you have not experienced it, you have witnessed it in others…the panic when our cell phone has died and we don’t have a way to charge it in the moment. One of those 5 million dollar commercials was sponsored by Mophie last year. In it, there are clear signs of the apocalypse. There are crazy weather patterns and animals are loose in the strangest places including the newsroom. It ends with a man who is disturbed to see that his phone has lost its charge and the words: “When your phone dies, God knows what can happen.” As if we needed anything to raise our cell phones to a higher cosmic place in our personal universes!
It is funny how deeply attuned we are to the charge on our cell phones and how easily we can ignore our own spiritual batteries. One of the functions that worship serves is to charge our spiritual batteries each week. It’s not a bad thing to be reminded about why we gather. The acolytes are a visible reminder of what we are doing. They come in carrying the light to remind us that God is in our midst. At the end of the service, they put the candles out and carry the light out of the sanctuary to show us that we are taking God out into the world.
The two stories we heard this morning help us glimpse those two aspects of faith – encountering the glory of God and carrying that light into the world. We are well known in the community for our social justice work. We are the church that feeds people, stands with people, and works to create an inclusive world where all are accepted and whole. But something must ground us for that work. We must be steeped in God to be equipped to bring healing and hope to the world.
In the story of the transfiguration, Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain to pray. Jesus is praying and his face changes and his clothes become dazzling white, oh and Moses and Elijah show up too. Does this seem like the biggest show you have ever seen right there in 3D?? This is big!! What is funny is that Peter, James and John are struggling to stay awake. They almost miss it. They have witnessed some big stuff before now, but this is the ultimate…Jesus has just changed before their eyes and two amazing historical figures show up…and they nearly sleep through it!
Can you picture this scene? Can you imagine the glory of God coming in a way that is undeniable and sleeping through it? I think it may happen more than we know. One of the tasks for those of us who follow Jesus is to train ourselves to notice when God is here. We may be looking for special effects – strobe lights, fog machines, loud dramatic music and disappointed that we haven’t seen it yet.
Have you ever considered that you are seeing it daily and you may be dozing through it? One of the great gifts that artists and poets give us is calling our attention to the awesome presence of God (whether they call it that or not) and helping us see what we might miss otherwise.
Gerald Manley Hopkins said, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
And only he who sees takes off his shoes—
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aurora Leigh, bk, VII, line 820
I really believe that transfiguration is a spiritual practice. We don’t make it happen. It comes to us as a gift, but we need to be awake when it shows up. That’s our practice…being awake. Years ago, I led a 26 week spiritual practice group called Companions in Christ. I started the group by asking where they had seen God that week. The first few weeks, all eyes went to the floor and stayed there hoping I was looking at someone else. Then, they knew the question was coming each week so they began looking. They would show up eager to tell where they had seen God that week. It got to the place that we spent so much time talking about where we had seen God that week that we struggled to find time for that session’s topic. What a problem to have!
Jesus and the disciples climbed a mountain. Mountains are amazing places to see God’s glory. The view is mind-boggling and we get a sense of perspective that we miss from the ground. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s amazing speech “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” delivered on the night before his death described being on the mountain and looking out onto the Promised Land. He knew that he might not live long enough to see it, but he believed that all who have lived under the reign of oppression and violence would see Promised Land. How many have been sustained by those words and that promise? The mountain is the place where we are given the dream of God’s vision for the world.
But we don’t have to be on top of the mountain to see God’s glory. This week, I was standing in my driveway talking to my neighbor as the sky was turning pink. Two sand hill cranes flew over us and into that pink sunset. As I was writing this, I stopped to run an errand and the Sandias were covered in a cloudy fog, but there were two places where the light shone brilliantly on them. When I watch the kids acolyte and the way they carry the light into the service and out into the world, I see God. The thing is, God is shining in our midst all the time. We just need to learn to look for it.
I am really excited that we are going to read Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life by Philip Simmons during Lent. I’m excited because it is an exquisite account of the spiritual practice of paying attention in the midst of devastation. Philip was diagnosed with ALS at age 35. He was married with two young children. What happened to Philip is that he learned to see the eternal in the ordinary. As his body began to fail, Philip’s awareness of the holy in the ordinary was heightened. He said, “Our responsibilities to the world are many and complex, yet they seem to begin here, in this simple yet arduous act of seeing the world and responding—renewing our promise—to it. I sometimes imagine that if the creator of the universe wanted to take another shot at communicating what was most important, she might replace all of sacred scripture with the words, “Pay Attention!” (p. 100)
Philip goes on to describe our task in a way that seems to summarize the two scriptures we heard. He says “our first act upon entering the world is to draw breath, to take some of its substance into ourselves. And with our first exhalation we give something of ourselves back to the world.” (p. 104) It seems like that is the rhythm in the text today…being drawn so close to the holiness of God and then carrying that back into the world. I like Philip’s use of breathing to describe this because that is what it is…something that natural…we drink in God and we share God with the world. That is the rhythm of our lives. We may know it or we may be oblivious, but it is why we exist. It is why we come to the table to receive communion – to taste God’s glory and to share it with a world that is hungry for hope.
Many people want to leave out the second part of the reading from Luke. But it reminds us why we come down from the mountain. It shows us our task after we have encountered the goodness of God. We exist to bring healing to others. We take that beauty that we call God and we spread it around. We feed people. We spend the night with homeless families at Family Promise. We visit those who are sick. We care for Jefferson youth and women who are seeking a fresh start. That is what happens in the transfiguration…God shines through us into the world.