Sunday, February 26, 2017
Christ Lutheran Church – Manchester, PA
Last Sunday was the end of the season of Epiphany – where we study how God’s light is revealed to the world. Next Sunday will be the first Sunday in Lent where we will journey into the wilderness for 40 days –not counting Sundays – and take that time for self-examination and preparation for the events that lead to Easter. Today – Transfiguration Sunday – lies between the two. This Sunday we go from the season of light to the season of darkness, which seems ironic since the season of Epiphany is during the darkness times of the year, and Lent is during the time when the days are getting increasingly longer. Yet, that makes perfect sense. We need to see where God’s light shines in the darkness, and we need to spend time in the darkness in order to see the light. This Sunday, however, is a pause between the two. It is a pause between the light and the darkness. And this pause can feel quite uncomfortable. It certainly did for Peter, James, and John that day centuries ago on that mountain.
They went up with Jesus to a mountain – most likely Mt. Hermon or Mt. Tabor – so they could all be together by themselves. Peter had just proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God, but he didn’t really understand what that meant. He certainly didn’t understand the implications. Because after Peter made that statement, Jesus told him about his upcoming arrest, death, and eventual resurrection. Yet, Peter didn’t want to hear anything about Jesus dying, so Peter resisted. He said, no, you can’t die. We’ll make sure that doesn’t happen. Jesus then said, “Get behind me Satan. For you are setting your mind on earthly things not on the things above.” It’s after that conversation that Jesus invites Peter and the other two disciples up to the mountain. Yet we don’t hear any lesson from Jesus. There’s no new sermon on this mountain, no new words or lessons. Instead, there’s a pause, a pause in the conversation. And God transfigures or as the Greek says, metamorphos, changes – right before them. Jesus is changed and reveals God glory in him. We’re told his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. It shocked the disciples. They didn’t want to move. They didn’t want Jesus to move. Peter even offered to set up a booth or a tent so as to make sure Jesus and the other two prophets remained there just like that. They wanted that moment – that vision of God – to last forever. If Peter had a camera he would have taken a picture, and captured Jesus’ glory for all to see.
We’ve all experienced moments like that. Moments when things are going so good that we just want time to stand still. We want to savor every moment. Often we’ll reach for a camera if we can to memorialize it – to make it last forever. But sometimes we’re so caught up in the moment that we don’t do anything. We stop everything and stay present in that moment, careful not to lose even one precious second. At such a time we’re lost in such amazement and awe that we are at a loss for words.
But then the clouds roll in, and they don’t always look like fluffy, white, light, cotton candy-like puffs of sugar. They don’t even look bright. Like yesterday afternoon, they are dark and foreboding and elicit in us a sense of fear and dread wondering what will come next. It’s the unknown that makes us uneasy. It’s the uncertainty that causes us to worry and panic. The uncertainty of questions we long to have answered, but the answers don’t come. These clouds signal change, and like Peter we don’t want things to change. We want them to stay the same. Peter and the other disciples didn’t want Jesus to have to suffer and die, yet in order for resurrection to happen, the dark cloud of death had to overshadow him. That dark cloud of death is again overshadowing this congregation as we grieve the loss of our dear Lauren, and yet, that is what this Transfiguration Sunday is all about. It is for us – as it was for the first disciples -a glimpse of the resurrection. We need that glimpse, especially in times such as these. We need to hear God’s voice speaking words of promise from the clouds.
Strangely enough however, that voice isn’t always comforting at first. It’s alarming. When the Israelites heard God’s voice from Mt. Sinai, they told Moses to speak for them because they didn’t want to hear God’s voice again. It was too challenging. It called them to change. When Peter, James, and John heard the voice of God from the clouds, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” they too were terrified. Why do people run from God’s voice? Maybe because we’re not used to hearing that voice. How can we? With all the noise going on around us every day from every different direction including our own internal voices, we never seem to be quiet enough to hear God’s voice. And it’s easy to get confused after a while to even distinguish God’s voice of truth from what is not true. We need a space to be still, to be quiet, to be open to hear God’s voice. It’s one of the reasons we gather together each Sunday. When Jesus led the disciples up the mountain that day, he was giving them an opportunity to learn through silence, something we’re all not accustomed to doing. What we usually here is “Don’t just sit there; do something!” Here God is saying, “Don’t just do something; sit, be still, listen. “Listen to him!” Listen to Jesus.
Listening is a skill that needs to be learned. Active listening takes time. It requires deep attention. It means we need to let go – of our own thoughts and responses – in order to really hear what the other person is saying. It means letting go in order to receive. That is perhaps the hardest lesson of all for us to learn. The caterpillar does it instinctively. It enters into the cloud of the cocoon where it waits silently while being transformed finally emerging as the glorious butterfly. Lau Tzu said, “What the caterpillar calls the end; the rest of the world calls a butterfly.” Metamorphosis –transformation – transfiguration – happens in the silence. God calls to us in the silence and says, “Listen to him!”
God calls us to enter into the silence where one can hear the flickering of a flame. In the silence one can hear the beating of one’s own heart, and soon the beat of the other’s heart. In the silence we hear God’s voice of compassion and mercy. Soon we hear the collective heartbeats of those all over the world. We feel their pain; we hear their prayers. Finally, in the silence we hear the heartbeat of the Holy Spirit; we feel that breath of life. The Spirit calls us to enter into the clouds and not run from them. The Spirit invites us to go deeper into the silence in order that we can hear Jesus’ voice and feel his touch. The touch that removes the fear, the pain, the hurt, and the sorrow. The touch that tells us to “get up and do not be afraid. In the silence we learn to distinguish Jesus’ voice from all the other voices. His is the voice of love, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, and resurrection. His voice changes us, so that we too can reveal God’s glory.
Today, on this Transfiguration Sunday, let us pause between the season of Epiphany and the season of Lent and be still, be silent, and feel the Spirit calling us closer to Jesus. Listen to his voice. Jesus’ voice will comfort, and sooth, it will be balm for our pain, and warmth for our journey. His voice will lead us through the clouds, into the wilderness, to the cross, and to resurrection. Amen!