The Transfiguration

The Rev. Leslie E. Chadwick

2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 sildenafildosage Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

 I got a phone call at 7 AM from an 85-year-old 8 o’clocker asking if we were going to have church today.  I said,  “Well, Brad and I will be there, but I’m not sure you should venture out.  I haven’t been out to see what the roads are like yet.” He said, “We’ll, I’ve been out to get the paper.” I asked, “Was it slick?”  He replied. “Crunchy.  But then again, I was barefoot.”  I said, “Alright.  You are made of something tougher than this South Georgia native.”  And so are all of you who made it here in ice, snow, and single-digit cold!  That’s what today’s sermon is about:  What we are made of.

Two different friends who had gone through difficult years told me recently,  “Times like these  give you a chance to see what you are made of.”  The phrase “what you are made of” stuck with me.  It made me wonder, “What am I made of? “  “What are we as a Church madeof?”

Difficult times are not the only times that give us a chance to see what we are made of; times that are sheer gift can do the same thing.

I would like to tell you about two mountaintop experiences I had in January.  One was during the Eucharist at Annual Council. I sat next to our delegates from St. Timothy’s surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses from the Diocese of Virginia, singing, praying, listening to the good news and basking in the radiance of God’s presence.  Brass thundered from the balcony; candles flickered; the choir sang a piece called “How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place” from A German Requiem. Brahms had written this piece when his mother died and I knew the music backwards and forwards from performing it in college and graduate school. I knew how it had helped heal others in their grief. As the choir sang it, I felt as if time were compressed, suspended, that past, present, and future were together all at once.

The second mountaintop experience was a pilgrimage I took to Sewanee, Tennessee where I had gone to college.  Sewanee is a holy place for me.  I had not been back there for 17 years.  As I hiked through Shake Rag Hollow with my family and biked through campus by myself, I was filled with the joy of God’s presence in nature and in layers of memory.  I worshiped at Evensong in All Saints’ Chapel where I’d been a sacristan; at Morning Prayer in the seminary chapel; and in Otey Parish for the Eucharist. I felt as if time were compressed, suspended, that past, present and future were together all at once.

At times like these, we glimpse what we are made of as individuals and as the Church—we are more than the physical, yet deeply rooted in time and place. God has put something of the eternal in us and we are tethered to that even as we move from place to place and from experience to experience.  Letting go of one particular way we’ve known God does not mean we lose it.  God integrates all of our encounters with him, past, present, and future deep within us and within Himself.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul reminds the Church in Corinth just how deep their connection with God is.  He gives them a glimpse of who they are as the Church.  This community has felt disconnected from Paul, and the way they used to know God through him.  A lot has happened since Paul wrote his first letter to them. He had promised to visit them but it didn’t work out.  Once Paul finally made it there, his visit was painful and he followed up with a harsh letter.  He now urges them, “Therefore, since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry, we do not lose heart…We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.”

In refocusing them all on Jesus, Paul moves the community beyond petty bickering.  He lifts their minds back to what is eternal.  Seeing Jesus reminds us what we are made of: we are dust and more than dust. Paul continues, “Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.  For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen.”

In today’s gospel, Peter and James and John get a glimpse of that eternal weight of glory.  They get to see for an instant what cannot be seen when we have our noses pressed flush up against life:  Their vision is not just that all shall be well, but that all is well and whole and right. The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near. Past, present, and future are together; time is suspended; Law, Prophets, and Gospel stand together in perfect harmony. In order to see this vision of God’s holiness, the disciples have to be led by Jesus up to a high mountain, apart, by themselves.  This is not a vision they can achieve on their own or while they are caught up in the drama and stress of their daily lives.  They have to let Jesus take them away from all that.

As they watch, they see who Jesus really is.  He is dust.  Man.  Human.  Just like them. And suddenly, his clothes become dazzling white such as no one on earth could bleach them.  He is wholly other, almost pure light.  And there with him Moses and Elijah show up, the great holy ones of Israel who represent the Law and the Prophets.  They talk with Jesus as if they are old friends.  Peter interrupts and blurts out, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let’s keep this moment going as long as we can.”  If Peter had had an I-phone, he would have been snapping pictures in “burst” mode and trying to capture the entire thing on video.  But the Evangelist excuses him, “[Bless his heart].  He didn’t know what to say—for they were terrified.”  As often happens on mountaintops, a cloud covers them.  And from the cloud there comes a voice.  God affirms what he had proclaimed at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”  Then it’s all gone in a flash.  Law, Prophets, the dazzling white, the idea of making 3 tents, everything.  As if it had never happened.  “They saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.”

I asked my 6-year-old old after I told him this story, “What do you think Jesus is trying to show his disciples?”  He answered, “That he’s going to die.”  He’s right. The disciples are about to have to let go of the way they’ve known God. It may seem at times as if what they had experienced with Jesus never happened.  But the last phrase of the story gives me hope.  “Suddenly, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus.”  When the radiance and joy of a mountaintop experience fades, what we are left with is “Jesus.”  And Jesus is enough.  If we listen to him, he leads us through the mire back into the radiant glory of God’s love, from death into resurrection.  He does that for the disciples and he does that for us.

As we come down from the mountaintop today, we descend back into the unknowns, uncertainties and drama of our lives.  We walk straight into Lent to journey the way of the cross. God shows us who Jesus is and orders us, “Listen to him!”  This is what we hear, “You are setting your minds not on divine things, but on human things.  Take up your cross and follow me.  Lose your life for the sake of the gospel, and save it. Whoever wants to be first, must be last and servant of all… Your sins are forgiven.  Do not fear, but only believe.”  [I say to the wind and waves, “Peace, be still.” To the demons, “Shut up and come out.”  To the sick and weak, “Go in peace, your faith has made you well.”]

This Lent, may we stay focused on Jesus.  He shows us the truth about what we are made of:  “You are formed of the earth; you are dust and to dust you shall return.”  And you are more than dust; you are, by my grace, God’s beloved; the God who called light into being, calls forth radiant light from your being and shines new light and strength into your hearts.  Jesus shows us the truth about who we are as the Church.  As we eat the body of Christ and drink his blood, past, present, and future come together all at once.  We lift our voices with Angels and Archangels and all the company of heaven as we cry, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”