Sunday, February 7, 2016
"Revelation: Up and Down the Mountain": a sermon
“Revelation: Up and Down the Mountain”
Transfiguration Sunday, Year C
St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, Richmond
The season of Epiphany is one of Revelation, where the hidden is revealed, the skipped-over is finally seen, where God breaks through and bonks us on the head. And sometimes we need it.
“The stone the builders rejected became the chief cornerstone.” This quote from Psalm 118 was quoted by Jesus, as told in Matthew and Luke, and then was quoted by Luke in Acts and by Paul and Peter in their letters. It could be the theme of the season of Epiphany, as we finish up this week. What was a hike for the closest disciples of Jesus, became a Revelation.
Think of it. When you have something big happen in your life who do you reach out to?
When you get good news, who do you call first?
When you are going to go through something big, who shows up?
The ones we love of course. Some things are for public consumption. Many things are not. There are times and places for things to be revealed, and the Mount of the Transfiguration was such a place.
Jesus chose his Intimates, those he was closest to to join him in his hike up the mountain. Was it just supposed to be time away with friends, and like with Moses seeing the burning bush, Jesus was stopped in the midst of something else and had God break through? Or did he know? Either way God’s glory was revealed.
Jesus, walking with Peter, John and James stopped atop the mountain to pray. And in the midst of his prayer Moses, the lawgiver, arrives. And Elijah, a prophet so beloved he was taken straight into heaven.
In my mind I love to think that in prayer Moses had Elijah and Jesus show up at some point, just that no one was there to see it. In Elijah’s prayer, Moses and Jesus showed up. Imagine that. What if Elijah’s “still small voice” he heard in the cave was Jesus whispering all would be okay. What if Moses on the Mountain discussed the Ten Commandments with the bringer of grace. Time, we are learning more and more, is nonlinear, and our most modern science is saying this could be a possibility. Then the Past is Now. Then the Future is Now, too. Confusing, yes. Fun to think about.
It must have been beautiful and beyond words. Luke tells us that Jesus’ face changed, and his clothes became a dazzling white.
But Moses went up alone, Jesus brought along disciples, and in his bringing them along his transformation was not private and he opened an opportunity to miss the point of revelation.
You see we go up a mountain to come back down.
We learn so that we can use the learning.
We are blessed by God to be a blessing.
In the economy of God’s Grace, nothing is wasted.
Peter, in a moment overcome by the revelation of Jesus in his holiness, thinks that it is good that they were there. Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." This is when God breaks in. And in a voice from Heaven, as if these three did not already know the holiness of Jesus, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.”
And here is our Epiphany. We get caught up in the clothes turning white and the glowing of faces, but the important thing in all of this is the declaration of God that Jesus is the One, God’s Son, God’s Chosen. And when one is Chosen in Israel, like young David with the prophet Samuel, he is Anointed. And that is where we get the term Messiah. God’s Anointed. God’s Chosen. This is the important part and the key to today. This is the Revelation.
The temptation to hold onto revelation is the ultimate temptation and the saddest response possible. Peter thought that he was saying something good. But Jesus knew, God knew. and deep down I trust Peter knew. he had to go down the mountain.
From years and years of camp ministry I am used to people having the mountaintop experience. The take themselves out of the normal and get away. They sleep well. They eat well. They exercise. They take care of themselves the way they should all year round. The reason why all of this is provided and given to them is so that they have the space to focus on what is most important, their relationships. With God. With their families and friends. More than once I heard, “I wish this could last forever.” In fact, I have heard it every session of camp for 25 summers of working at summer camps. But we have to go down the mountain. We have to go home.
And what about Jesus? What was going on with him?
I think the parallels with Moses’ cannot be missed. That is obvious and why that was included in our lectionary reading today. But I think it is more. I think it can be more subtle and more real than we want to give it credit for.
Stephanie and I have been married just over 23 years. We know each other so well she can walk in a room and I can read her. Not a word spoken. Not a glance made at me, but in a glance I have learned most of her clues. Our dear friends are the same way, they know us so well they can finish our sentences.
While I was in college I got some much needed help to deal with the death of my father when I was young. And let me do a pause here and put out an advertisement, there is nothing wrong about getting help when you need help. It is not stoic, or brave, or manly. I put it off too long and paid some dear prices because of that delay. But when I did seek out help, it made a huge difference. One day, after some really hard and gut-wrenching work, some of the real issues broke through. I was crying. The therapist was crying. It was a catharsis. Like a boil bursting open and all the nastiness finally getting out, that day was a turning point for me.
After the session, and after I had some space to collect myself and walk back across campus I ran into a good friend. I was just going to say hi, and get back to my apartment as fast as I could, but he stopped me and asked, “What’s going on? You are glowing.” Glowing, his exact word. My good friend knew. I couldn’t hide it. I had a profound, cathartic, and I would even see Holy experience in that therapist’s office. I say Holy because it was healing and healing is a holy act. Was light coming out from me? No, of course not, but those that know us well can sense a drastic, dramatic and positive change. It is “enlightening.”
Every year, the last Sunday of Epiphany focuses on the Transfiguration of Jesus. Every year we are reminded of this turning point in Jesus’ life. Turning point? Yes. This is turning point in the Gospels when Jesus begins the end of his earthly ministry and “turns his face” to Jerusalem. After this point he begins the end. He starts telling his disciples about how the Son of Man must be turned over, beaten, killed and crucified.
And Wednesday, we join in the journey. We turn our faces not to the physical, earthly Jerusalem, but rather the events of Jerusalem are in the forefront of our mind. We impose ashes in the sign of the cross upon our forehead and we are marked as Christ’s. (Please join us at 8, Noon or 7 this Wednesday, by the way.)
And that is how we come down the mountain. I mentioned earlier that we have the mountaintop to prepare us for the valley. We have the Transfiguration to prepare us for Lent. Our beloved Shrine Mont, remember its full name, the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration. We have a Shrine Mont so we can come back to Richmond.
As we end our time of Enlightenment and turn into the Shadows of Lent, what are you thinking of doing to prepare your heart, soul and mind? Last year I spoke of my daughter’s mis-statement about what she was going to “forget for Lent” and I spoke about removing something from our lives so much that we actually “forget-about-it.”
But I was deeply moved this week, in an article from Time Magazine speaking about Pope Francis’ Lenten admonition about Fasting from things:
But Pope Francis has asked us to reconsider the heart of this activity this Lenten season. According to Francis, fasting must never become superficial. He often quotes the early Christian mystic John Chrysostom who said: “No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So, no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good to others, you do nothing great.”
But this isn’t to downplay the role of sacrifice during the Lenten season. Lent is a good time for penance and self-denial. But once again, Francis reminds us that these activities must truly enrich others: “I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”
So, if we’re going to fast from anything this Lent, Francis suggests that even more than candy or alcohol, we fast from indifference towards others.
In his annual Lenten message, the pope writes, “Indifference to our neighbor and to God also represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”
The temptation to hold onto revelation is the ultimate temptation and the saddest response possible. This lent, during this time of Shadows extending from the Cross of Christ, let us reach out to those that live there in the shadows of this life, and reach out, invite, console and encourage them so that they too may come to the glories of Easter on the other side. Let us go down the mountain, taking with us this Revelation, and turn our faces to Jerusalem.