Transfiguration Year A
Matthew 17:1-9/2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9/2 Peter 1:16-21
Long ago, a wise old rabbi lay on his deathbed. So he called for his disciples and said to them, "I have acted as intermediary for you, and now when I am going you must do this for yourselves. You know the place in the forest where I call to God? Stand there in the place and do the same. Light a fire as you have been instructed to do, and say the prayer as you have learned. Do all these and God will come." Shortly afterward, the rabbi died. The first generation of followers did exactly as he had said, and sure enough, God came as always. After this generation passed, the second generation had forgotten how to light the fire the way the rabbi had instructed. Nevertheless, they faithfully made the pilgrimage to the special place in the forest and said the prayer they had been instructed to pray. And sure enough, God showed up. A third generation came along, who had forgotten how to light the fire and no longer remembered the place in the forest where they should stand. But they said the prayer as the rabbi had instructed. And again God showed up.
God showed up.... that’s what happened in the story we have today, the story of the transfiguration. God showed up in Jesus in such a way that his presence was unmistakable to the three disciples who witnessed the event. God showed up and gave them a glimpse of the truth – the truth about who their friend Jesus really was. God showed up in blinding light and in thundering words. And it was a glimpse of glory that they would carry with them in the dark days to come – and a story they would tell for generations to come. For years and for generations they would tell the story about the blinding light and Moses and Elijah. They would tell the story about poor Peter and those dwellings he wanted to build. They would tell the story about the cloud and the voice that they heard, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him." They would tell the story of the mountain where they went with Jesus, not suspecting what they would see and hear there.
It’s true, they probably forgot some things, as well: where was the mountain, exactly, where they saw the dazzling light? And what were Moses and Elijah talking about on the mountain? How long were they there? A moment? A long time? And how can they make something like that happen again? Is there a special prayer they can say that might bring the glory back? If there were, they are long forgotten. But they continue to tell the story, these eyewitnesses, because just telling it brings a kind of light of its own. And as they tell the story, God shows up... "like a lamp shining in a dark place..." as the author of 2 Peter puts it.
‘You will do well to be attentive to this,’ the apostle advises us today, ‘until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.’ It’s like a lamp shining in a dark place, he tells us. The author is remembering the brightness of that day, the transfiguration so long ago – the blinding light – and recognizing that he doesn’t have that kind of a bright, blinding light any more. That was a momentary vision they had, and they saw that God showed up on the mountain, and in their lives. But he’s also recognizing that even though they don’t have the vision any more, they need something, they need some kind of light, because the world is a dark place, and they something to walk by, something to follow by, so that they can know the truth. And it seems to me that we need a lamp just as much as the people who are reading the this letter need it. Because the world is still a dark place, where we long for God to show up. There is war and starvation in the Sudan, and there is unrest in many parts of the world, including Kenya and Afghanistan and Iraq and Iran. There are hungry people even near to us. There are people losing their homes, and people who are cold. When I meet with people one to one and have the privilege of hearing some of their stories, I’m often touched by the things that people will share with me: personal tragedies that people have dealt with in their lives: the death of a child or a parent, a chronic illness, a time of deep doubt, an abusive parent. And I’m often amazed as well at how some people continue to persevere and even to overcome – to believe that God shows up in their lives, and that God works through them to bless the world. I’m amazed at people see the darkness of injustice, or grief, and who band together to overcome it. It’s not a blinding light. But more like a lamp shining in a dark place. Like the disciples of the rabbi, they continue faithfully to say the prayer, to worship God with their lives, and God continues to show up. And that is what is most important.
So, the apostle advises us today, "You will do well to be attentive to this, like a lamp shining in a dark place?" But just what is it that he would like us to be attentive to? The blinding light and the cloud? The appearance of Moses and Elijah? Peter’s misguided attempt to build three dwellings and preserve the experience? What is it that we need to be attentive to, the lamp shining in the dark place?
A long time ago my uncle told me of an experience he had as a young man. I call him sometimes a "born again Lutheran" just because he loves being a Lutheran so much. He told me once that if he had to name a moment in his life when he "got it", he would name a session of his confirmation class, when they were studying the Apostles Creed, and they got to the second article. When he read and heard this, "I believe that Jesus Christ – true Son of the Father from eternity, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary – is my Lord" he said, "aha! Yes. I get it now." Anyway, as a young man he worked in a warehouse alongside another young man, who was from a different faith tradition. And this man kept asking my uncle if he was saved. My uncle said, "Yes," but this wasn’t enough for his friend. He kept asking and asking, "but how do you KNOW you are saved? How do you know?" And of course, he was thinking my uncle didn’t have a particular time when he prayed, or a particular emotional experience, so he wouldn’t know he was saved. But finally, the young man asked, "How do you know that you’re saved?" and my uncle turned around and said, in a Loud Voice, "Because Christ Said So."
As the Voice from the cloud said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him." "Listen to him." Because he is the lamp shining in the dark place, and his word help us to see that, even when there is no vision, and even when there is no blinding light, God shows up. Until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.
"This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased. Listen to him." We do well to be attentive to these words, as we leave the season of Epiphany and enter the season of Lent, and as we look at a face that is no longer shining in glory, but is darkened by pain and suffering. We do well to be attentive to these words from the cloud, as we follow him on his path to the cross. We do well to be attentive to these words, as we see him now, standing up for, and staying with the poor and the lonely and the outcast. This is my beloved son – the one who fed the hungry, the one who healed lepers, the one who befriended the outcast, the one who forgave sins – the one who was crucified. This is God’s son. Listen to him. Trust him. Follow him.
Every Sunday we come here to hear a story. It begins, "On the night when he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks...." Every Sunday we come here with open hearts and hands, to remember the story of his love, and to share his body and blood with one another. And he shows up. Not in brightness and glory, but in bread and wine, and in words of forgiveness. And he shows up in us, too. Not because we have remembered so perfectly the prayer and the place, not because we are such shining examples of his love. He shows up in us because he promised to, and as we pay attention to his words – words of mercy and justice and healing – we too become lights shining in a dark place.
Someday he will show up in brightness and glory, and there will be no more weeping and no more dying, no more hunger and no more darkness. Until that day we trust his word, "Do this for the remembrance of me" and we trust that he shows up – here and in our lives so that we can go out to follow him into the world, bringing light and hope, bringing justice and peace until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.