Year B Last Sunday of Epiphany, 11 February 2018
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Revealed Glory and Stardust”
Collect: O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 2 Kings 2:1-12 Psalm 50:1-6
2bGod reveals himself in glory.
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
I have been blessed to have lived a good life. I have seen much, and I have travelled far. Uncountable are the times when I have turned a corner or gone over a rise to see a stunning sight of overwhelming beauty, and it gave me pause to just stop and glory in the moment. I am sure my students, or fellow pilgrims, or my poor kids, have had to put up with me saying, “Oooh, look at that! Thank you, God!” Because that is where my mind goes when I am overcome with the impressive, the majestic, or the beautiful. And so it is with God.
One of my favorite professors in seminary put it this way, “The only response we can have in a true encounter with God is…” At this point his jaw would drop open and he would stand there for a few moments. Unadulterated AWE can be the only human response to the Divine. As I have lived my life, all I can do is affirm Dr. Hinson. Repeatedly I have sung my song of silent praise. [Hang jaw open in awe.]
Psalm 50:2b “God reveals himself in Glory.”
I truly believe that. I have seen it time and time again.
Often silently, miraculously, with no trumpets or fanfare, God slips in and beauty beyond belief appears. We do not see it happening, nor did we expect it. But there it is.
There have been dark nights of my soul when I saw no way out or through or under or over. The door has been locked and barred and bolted. And then I notice the window open and a fresh breeze blowing through the still and silent room. Glory be!
Because, you see, “God reveals himself in Glory.”
When you encounter the Beautiful beyond Belief, God is there. When you hear angels sing in the middle of Handel’s Messiah, “God reveals himself in Glory.” When after hours a pain and anguish, you hear your newborn’s inaugural cry of life, “God reveals himself in Glory.” When you stand beneath the Jüngfrau in Grindelwald, Switzerland and see the majesty and might of God’s creation stretching around you in every direction, “God reveals himself in Glory.” When you find that you are at the end of your rope, and you hear a still quiet voice above the thumping of the adrenaline, and it says to you, “Let go,” and you do to find yourself on solid ground, “God reveals himself in Glory.”
Too often in those moments, as the world is spinning around us we forget to utter the words Meister Eckhart said is the prayer that is enough, “Thank you!” We err, by calling it coincidence or happenstance. We err by wanting to set up monuments or stay in that moment when we recognize them. The Wisdom of Life is having the glorious-God-revealing moment, and recognizing God’s presence, and staying on the journey. The momentary miraculous subsides.
When Jesus invited his closest disciples to join him going up the mountain, little did they realize the event that was about to take place. It says nothing about the set up. Were they praying? Were they just walking along? It says Jesus was transfigured, his appearance was changed. That is all it says. His clothes became so WHITE that it hurt their eyes to look upon him. “No one earth could bleach it” so white. That is white, and no, unlike the SuperBowl, this is not a Tide ad.
Then, as if that were not enough, Elijah and Moses show up. Moses, the Law-Giver, the Deliverer of God’s People, the writer of the Pentateuch, the epitome of the Law, shows up to see the fulfillment of the Law, Jesus. Elijah, the quintessential prophet, Proclaimer of the Will of God, who called down fire from heaven on Mt. Carmel, who was taken up to heaven in the angelic chariot, the prophet’s prophet, shows up to see the fulfillment of all the prophets’ promises. And there is Jesus, the Fulfiller of the Law and the Prophets, the Messiah the Lord.
We, along with the three closest disciples, are able to see him for who he is, the long-awaited Messiah. Every year we finish the season of the Epiphany, the season of God’s Revelation in the Christ, with the Transfiguration because after this moment in the Gospel, Jesus turns his face to Jerusalem, he turns his face and predicts his own Death. He turns and walks to certain doom. But that is not all, in faith he walks with the Promise of the Resurrection. As do we all. “God reveals himself in Glory.” And there he is, out for a stroll, two tremendous heroes of faith join with him in pray, and Peter, James and John are able to see him for who he is.
And immediately, Peter, and have you ever noticed how often Peter sticks his foot in his mouth, (Never trust anyone nicknamed Rock…) He wants to set up memorial booths as a remembrance of this event. When we have mountaintop experiences, how often do we want to do the same thing. Even Shrine Mont, which so many of us adore, the Shrine is truly named, the Cathedral Shrine of the Transfiguration after this very event. And, yet, as much as I love it, it seems, we may have set up our own booth. And let that be a cautionary tale. As wonderful as it is, we are called back to the valley of life.
We cannot create God’s Glory. It is only revealed. Now God’s Glory may be revealed in something someone does, maybe something you yourself do. But it cannot be manufactured, manipulated, nor manifested apart from God.
One of the biggest heartbreaks of the life of faith is that what may be apparent to one is hidden from another. It just is impossible to see for some. A story is told of 5 blind men who were stumbling along together in India. On their path they sense on obstacle. The first blind man reaches out and says, “I feel what must be a wall.” The next says, “No, I feel what must be tree trunk!” The third reaches out, and says, “No, it is some type of rope!” The fourth, thoroughly confused reaches out, and says, “No, it is some type of palm with a leaf so large as this!” And lastly, the fifth screams and shouts, “Run, we have surely found a snake!” The blind men, scattered across the path were not delusional, they had just all reached out and touched a different part of an elephant. One his side, one his leg, one his tail, one his ear, and finally, one his trunk. From their limited perspective, they saw a version of the truth, some benign like a wall, others terrifying like a snake. Those outside the faith may think we are the ones with limited vision, and we may say the opposite. With the eyes of faith we may see things that those cannot without.
This is what St. Paul was getting at when he said those outside the faith were “blinded [in] the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)
And with our eyes opened, we come to the end of Epiphany. We have seen Christ’s Glory in its fullness. “God reveals himself in Glory.” And with the truth in our hearts, we turn ourselves towards Jerusalem, and its inevitable, foreboding outcome. Will we walk the path, taking up our cross along with Christ, knowing its outcomes. Pain, suffering, death, and inevitable Glory?
Let us not delude ourselves, for that is what Lent is. This Wednesday as we mark ourselves in the sign of the cross, outward, visible, obvious, for all the world to see, we claim that we are merely dust and that we recognize our finitude. We mark ourselves with burnt remnants devoid of life, Ash, the substance of which we are made. Stardust, cosmic ash, living, breathing, loving, dying stardust. The miracles we are, filled with the breath of Life from the Giver of Life. Lent calls us to this awareness. And whether we recognize and claim it or not, it does not stop it from being true. Whether bidden or unbidden, God is present. As is the spectre of Death. It is the constant elephant in the room. We may allow ourselves a moment to be like the blind men from our story and see it differently for a time, but when our eyes are opened we cannot deny it.
So let us speak and hold tight to the truth, but likewise, embrace that God is with us before, during, and after, all the days of our lives. Jesus promises us, “I am with you always, even to the end of the earth.” God reveals himself in Glory. And as we leave God’s revelation in the Transfiguration, and we move into this holy Lent, we follow the one who leads our way. Amen.
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