Sermon Preached for the Transfiguration of Our Lord + Year A + March 6, 2011
This Little Light of Mine
How often do we know someone, or at least think that we do, and yet are still surprised by them? Something they say, or something we experience with or about them, that changes how you see them. Suddenly you see them differently, in a new light, they are somehow changed, or more than you had perceived.
The Transfiguration is like that. The disciples have been walking and ministering with Jesus for some time and it is not until today, this experience that they catch a glimpse, perceptions brighten, the fog lifts and understanding is illumined about who this Jesus is. God speaks from a mountain top again:
- not in the form of a burning bush to Moses, or in a passing fire to Elijah,
- not in a booming voice giving the Law to Moses, or in a whisper giving comfort to Elijah,
but in the radiant form of Jesus, and in the familiar words heard at Jesus’ baptism: “This is my Son, the beloved; with him I am well pleased.”
It is this mountain top experience that marks the transition between Epiphany the season of light and the illumination of Jesus, and Lent the forty day journey toward the Cross. So you could say that the Church through this festival day goes mountain climbing.
- We climb to get above the tree line of our lives, and to get perspective as the great prophets Moses and Elijah did.
- We climb hoping to lift ourselves out of the messiness of our lives.
- We climb hoping to get closer to God, hoping to have a holy moment, catch a glimpse of God, or hear God whisper to us.
So here we are on the mountain, hoping… seeking… looking… We hear the story of how when Jesus arrives at the mountain top his figure changes from being ordinary like ours, to shine as brightly as one can imagine, to be unlike ourselves and beyond our human understanding.
- Jesus shone with the same divine brightness that caused Moses to shine on the mountain when God gave the Ten Commandments.
- Jesus shone with the same divine brightness that carried Elijah up higher than any mountain, away from this human world, but alive in the next.
Today the season of Epiphany ends as it began with a shining star. Jesus shines as our bright morning star. Jesus shines on the mountain top of Transfiguration just as the divine light of the Bethlehem star shone above his cradle. And so today we follow the star of God, Jesus. We follow that star up the mountain…
- to reflect on it and our past as followers of Jesus, to experience how Jesus shines in our lives today, here in this moment,
- to look out as Moses did for a glimpse of the future and the Promised Land, and to where we ourselves are headed.
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Mountains can be magical: the view, the beauty, the majesty… the journey to get to the top. It doesn’t matter whether your mountain top experience is real or imagined, a physical workout, or created metaphor, we long for and relish the feeling of accomplishment and for a moment, as fleeting as it may be, not being in the many low places of our lives:
- the drudgery of daily life…
- the depths of depression…
- the swamp of sin and suffering…
- even the valley of death.
We live for these mountain top experiences whether you call them that or not:
- for the bell to ring marking lunch or the end of the school day,
- for the weekend and a day or two off away from deadlines and demands,
- for vacation time spent away, or just away from everyday routines,
- for the day our child will be baptized and sealed with the cross of Christ forever,
- for the event that changes how we see things, a relationship, or how we live.
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There are lots of ways to climb mountains and we often try to plan and script those experiences. In our rush to get from the low places in life to the top, we often miss much along the way. I’m reminded of one mountain top experience that happened on a dream vacation Kay and I took with our parents to Hawaii. We had planned an adventure to the top of Mount Haleakala, at 10,023 feet, one of the world’s largest dormant volcanoes.
The mountain’s name in Hawaiian means House of the Sun and the volcanic base of the mountain forms 75% of the island of Maui. There are many ways to the top from hiking to horseback to driving up the National Park road built in 1935. It was on the Haleakala Highway, not a highway at all but a series of switchbacks, blind turns and steep drop-offs. It is a road where local animals including cattle are often encountered on the roadway and thousands of bicyclists ride down the same roadway as individuals or part of tours.
So imagine a big white Ford rental van with Kay and I in the front, our mothers in the middle seat, and our fathers in the back. Now our back seat drivers were not used to being passengers and regardless of the fact that neither wanted to drive, they still complained constantly about their driver. They were so engaged in a running commentary on my driving that they missed the magnificent views along the way. From children playing, foliage and flowers unlike any I’d seen, to mountain vistas, incredible rock formations and ocean views.
We got to the top and our breath was taken away. The altitude, the wonder of God’s creation, the shared experience with beloved people, the feeling of God’s majesty, the wonder and awe of it all… a bright mountain top experience in so many ways.
But God’s presence in our lives, tangible and illuminating can take place in the obvious and in the hidden… In valley moments, on the plains of daily life, and when we find ourselves on those magical mountains. God is present in the obvious and in the hidden and so we go mountain climbing each day in hope like Peter and James and John did, following Jesus.
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These moments where we experience of God, feel changed, or have a transfigured sense of God are powerful. They can also be a challenge because we want to have that experience again and again. We want to replicate it, bottle it up and be able to access it when we are in the valley moments, wilderness experiences, or dark places. Life and God are not like that, but we can gather together with each other, fellow believers who long for God as you do. Gather around God’s Word of love, hope and promise, God’s table and bath of forgiveness where the earthly tangible is transfigured, where God meets us, washes us, and feeds us.
It is here on this day in the clouds and rain of the mountaintop, gathered in worship and to witness the bath of baptism that we get to share a glimpse of transfiguration. Here on the mountain top of this chancel, God is present, seen, heard, and tangible in a bowl of earthen pottery, water and oil, people and action. Here God is present, sensed and felt, a part of each of us, and intangible in the promise, breath, mystery and great cloud of witnesses unseen.
Today we welcome Belle Olivia, child of God as part of that cloud of witnesses…
- A cloud that at times, is a thick fog that surrounds and supports us.
- A cloud that reminds us of God’s love and presence in our lives.
- A cloud that at times is a misty wind that cannot be seen.
- A cloud that reminds us that we need each other, fellow witnesses to walk with each other pointing out and to God who is both tangible and intangible.
God gathers us to share God’s story of love and for each of us to be reminded that we are all a part of it. We may have different experiences, higher mountain tops, or lower valleys, but we share a common washing and welcome into a cloud of witnesses… some seen gathered here today, some unseen gathered around the world, some gathered on mountain tops, some in deep valleys, and some gone on before us… now radiant in the divine light of the eternal promised land.
We like Peter, James and John are eyewitnesses this day. We share something that happened in the past. We share God’s tangible and intangible presence and acting in through and among us today. We are given the means of grace, Word and Sacrament to illumine our lives, sustain our journey, and prepare us to witness what God is going to do tomorrow, the day after that, and the day after that, forever and ever. Amen.