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A Glimpse of Glory

Have you ever caught a glimpse of God’s glory? Maybe it didn’t cover a whole mountain top or brighten up anyone’s appearance. Maybe that brief look at something holy just made your eyes shine with awe-filled tears or made the light of hope visible amidst the struggle. Maybe God’s glory is present all the time and we just don’t recognize it or don’t notice it until the circumstances are just right.

Moses went up a mountain to spend time alone with God. The Israelites saw fire on that mountain top from their place in the valley. A fire that left Moses’ face all aglow. But think of how it is that Moses came to be on that mountain top alone with God. He had led the people out of Egypt into the desert where resources were scarce. No doubt the people were growing restless as God was working out God’s covenant with the people and Moses was the go-between. How many times did Moses go up the mountain to talk with God? There were a few and we know at least once he came back down to a people who had already turned to another god. Moses needed every sparkle, glow, ray of light that God’s glory left with him. And the people maybe should have remembered that “devouring fire” a bit longer than they did.

Yet, in spite of what would remain on Moses’ face, the people couldn’t hold onto God’s glory very long. They couldn’t keep in their minds the fact that God liberated them from Egypt and wouldn’t abandon them in the desert. They wanted God with them all the time in some visible way, but not the way that dazzled their eyes. God’s glory, when viewed directly, affects the beholder’s vision. For a brief moment, Glory is all that can be taken in. Everything else literally pales by comparison. Yet, somehow, Glory fades from memory more quickly than most things.

By the time Jesus shows up, the events on Mount Sinai were long past. Perhaps the power contained in the stories had faded a bit. So one day Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a mountain. They needed a little time away from the growing opposition to Jesus, or maybe from the crowds that gathered wherever they went. Things had been happening and Peter, James, and John could barely recognize their lives since they started following Jesus. And the debate about whether or not Jesus was the Messiah had to be exhausting, not to mention the fact that there were groups of people who wanted Jesus dead. Sure, a trip up a mountain for some alone time was a welcomed idea.

They had no way of preparing themselves for what they saw up there. Jesus transfigured (metamorphosized in the Greek) along with Moses and Elijah – glowing, garments and all, with a brightness that human hands could not produce. Peter at least recognized the sacredness of the moment and wanted to build tabernacles to mark the occasion, the holy presence. Before he could finish describing his plans, the voice from heaven had something to say. Then fear took over and they fell to the ground. I wonder if their own faces had a bit of glow about them in those moments.

When it was all over, Jesus got them to their feet and led them down the mountain. Were they silent about what they had just experienced? I doubt it. I think they were all babbling, talking over each other, trying to capture the experience with words. Then Jesus told them to stop. They could talk about it all later when it might make more sense to them. They had just had a close encounter with the glory of God and they would realize the power of it at some point.

Here’s the thing. I think we have managed to close off ourselves to the experiences of God’s glory. When we are exhausted and troubled by life’s events, we don’t necessarily take ourselves away to a mountain top or some other quiet place. We don’t necessarily think about removing some of the clutter between us and God. So when God’s glory shines, it’s filtered through a whole lot of stuff, and we might miss it. Or, more likely, call it by another name.

I’m not suggesting that we will see mountain tops devoured by holy fire or long-dead prophets hanging out with Jesus if the circumstances were right. What I am suggesting is that we will see the light of Divine Love shining in ordinary places, everyday faces, if we pay more attention. We don’t need to be able to explain everything or understand all that is. It’s okay to live in the Mystery and know that God still claims us as Beloved. Even in the midst of science and technology and so much information, the Holy is still a Mystery and sometimes that Mystery shines brilliantly on our tired, scared, confused little lives to give us hope and remind us of the promise of Love.

RCL – Year A – Transfiguration – February 23, 2020
Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2 or Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Photo: CC0image by Johannes Plenio

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Musings Sermon Starter

Leaving the Mountain

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Transfiguration is here again. The story brings with it an invitation to follow Jesus up a mountain, sit, pray, and expect God to show up. The trick is that we have to allow God to be God and not comply with what we think is appropriate. Peter, James, and John were likely dumbfounded when Jesus started to glow and two others showed up with him. They might have understood that Jesus was up to something when he invited them to go mountain climbing, but they could not have imagined what they experienced on the top of that mountain. They were so enthralled that they wanted to build tabernacles and stay for a while. Isn’t that what we have done?

We have built tabernacles to our image of church and we have overstayed our usefulness. At one point in time, our buildings were a reflection of where God was in the lives of followers. We had religious and spiritual experiences and we honored those with dwelling places for God Most High. And we have failed to hear Jesus calling us away from the mountain top. It is highly unlikely that God is going to show up in the same way again. Our buildings, our traditions, reveal where we have been. Seeking to maintain them as they are prevents us from seeing where and how God is transfiguring those around us. Our dedication to the past also keeps us on the mountain top where we can ignore those who are in need of healing and inclusion in the Body of Christ.

This week’s vote by the United Methodist Church to deny full inclusion to LGBTQ+ folx is a vote to remain tabernacle on the mountain top, expecting repetition from a God of new life. It’s heartbreaking to see a church divide while holding onto archaic biblical interpretation which leads to excluding people whom God loves. In this case, the small majority of UMC voters failed to hear Jesus call to hike down the mountain and heal those in need of Divine Love. Of course, this stance is not limited to the UMC. Across all denominations there are people who believe the tradition of judgment and exclusion is more important than embracing LGBTQ+ folx with Christian love.

LGBTQ+ folx being welcomed by the church is not the only place where we insist on staying safe in our dwelling places. We have also failed to offer welcome to persons with mental health concerns and persons with physical disabilities. Our biblical understanding has gone unchallenged and has confined us to the past. The tabernacles built by our ancestors were not meant to define the limits of the Body of Christ. Every day we have opportunities to bear witness to the power of transformation, if not transfiguration. Transfiguration, Jesus shining with glory, is present every time the Body of Christ extends genuine welcome to those we have previously excluded.

We can no longer afford to sustain the tradition that tells us that being an LGBTQ+ individual is a sin. Nor can we keep telling ourselves that having a mental illness is a punishment for sin, a sign of a character flaw, or demon possession. So, too, we cannot think of physical disabilities in a similar way. The Bible was written long before science could explain any of these things. It was written at time when people believed that all things were either a sign of God’s blessing or God’s displeasure. Surely we know better now. Surely we know that all human beings are made in the image of God and, at any moment, can shine with Christ’s glory.

It’s time we come down off the mountain and offer healing to all who suffer. After all, my friends, the Body of Christ is queer. The Body of Christ has mental illness. The Body of Christ has disabilities. These are facts. They will not change. Let’s leave our tabernacles where Jesus’ glory has shined in the past and turn our attention toward the valleys of people in need of healing and welcome. We never know where or when or in whom God’s glory will next be revealed. Yet, it isn’t likely that God will return to the mountain top after telling us to hike back down…

If you are looking for more sermon help, try here.

RCL Year C – Transfiguration Sunday – March 3, 2019
Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2
Luke 9:28-36 (37-43)

Photo: CC0 image by Adam R

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Musings Sermon Starter

T-Fig: Terror, Tabernacle, & Travel On

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The trudge up the mountain can be exhausting. After feeding four thousand people, witnessing Jesus open the eyes of a blind man, a startling recognition of Jesus as Messiah, and some teachings about what it means to be a disciple, climbing a high mountain seems daunting. Peter, James, and John must have wondered what Jesus was thinking as they followed him up the mountain.

Quite honestly, I often wonder what Jesus is thinking as I follow him, up mountains and back down again. As I look at my calendar for the next few days, there is, quite literally, not enough time. Yet, somehow, come Monday morning, I will have done all the things needed. Right now, though, it looks like a huge mountain, one that I’m not sure I can climb. After a week of meetings, emails, conference calls, deadlines, grief counseling, hospital visits, and all the usual business of being church, getting ready for what lies at the top of the mountain (and what awaits in the valley below) feels just a little overwhelming.

Whatever Peter, James, and John were expecting as they followed Jesus upward, Transfiguration was not it. Imagine the shock of Jesus all dazzlingly shiny chatting with Elijah and Moses. Who wouldn’t be terrified? It’s the proper reaction to seeing that your teacher is next in line to the great prophets of old and is filled with the power of God in a never-seen-before kind of way. Who wouldn’t be stunned into silence, grasping for words, for breath?

Peter interrupts his hyperventilating to suggest that they build three tabernacles and hang out for a while. This idea has quite a long history. All throughout the Hebrew scriptures, folks build tabernacles in places where they have encountered the Holy. Surely, that would be an appropriate thing to do when Jesus reveals his true nature to a few trusted disciples. Right?

Nope. Not it. Guess again, Peter. You can’t stay in this terrifying, holy space. Now that you know who Jesus is and the power that he carries within himself, you have to go back down off the mountain, immediately. There’s no time to spend building dwelling places for a God who is not interested in hanging out with the high and mighty. It’s traveling on back down to the everyday places with the meek and lowly that Jesus is after. Bring the dazzling power with you and share it with all in need.

It’s a great story! One of my favorites, really. It touches a yearning within me to see God’s power so dazzlingly displayed. On the other hand, I’m content not to experience the terrifying Transfiguration so directly. I wouldn’t need to build a tabernacle to protect and prolong the holy encounter because I would be unconscious. I might even need CPR. What could stop a heart beating if not immediate, divine, dazzling revelation? I’m okay without the special effects, mostly. Though I would like to catch a brief glimpse maybe like Moses did, just seeing the back side of God…

So here we are. At the foot of the mountain where God’s glory will be revealed once again. We’ll want to linger here where we can celebrate radiant holiness in Jesus, in us as the Body of Christ. We might be tempted to build those tabernacles after all, because we know Wednesday is coming and we will be reminded of our fragile humanity. It would be so nice to linger on the mountain top, especially considering all that happened before and during the climb.

We can’t stay, though, no matter how tiring the journey. Jesus didn’t linger in the dazzling moments. He took a breath and went back down into the valley with villages full of needy, broken, lost folks, folks who need a bit of the brightness from the heights to provide hope in the depths. With the journey into the wilderness of dusty, drowsy humanity waiting for us on the other side of the mountain, let’s take a few minutes to brave the terrifying Transfiguration. Let’s soak up some of the power and light on display. Jesus wasn’t Transfigured for his sake; he undoubtedly knew who he was. He was transfigured for our sake, to remind us of the glory and power we carry into the world as we follow him.

May the terror of the Transfiguration awaken us to the wonder, glory, and promise that we carry within us as we travel on into the deep needs present in our communities and in the world. May the dazzle of the moment shine through us as we seek to be the Church, the Body of Christ, bringing hope and healing wherever we go. There’s no time for tabernacling in the aftermath of radiant holiness; there’s only time for touching others with the sparkling power of the Holy Spirit awakening holiness in all whom we meet.

RCL – Year B – Transfiguration Sunday – February 11, 2018
2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

Photo: CC0 image by Joachim Mayr

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You Know, That Mountain Top Thing

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I have come to love Transfiguration Sunday in spite of the complexity of the texts, partly because I get to anoint people with glitter to remind them that the Holy Spirit lies within us all and waits for those moments when it shines brightly for all the world to see. This year the day seems to take on a deeper, more hopeful meaning than it has before. When I read Matthew’s account of what happened on that long-ago mountain top, I understand it to be a culmination of all that has come before and all that could be.

During this Epiphany season the texts have been full of directives and declarations. Everything from “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God” to “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world.” Epiphany this year has been a call to action, a call to bring Christ into the world by loving our neighbors as ourselves. I suppose that even my understanding of these texts has been heavily influenced by the political climate here in the U.S. However, I do believe this call echoing through this season is real for all of us.

And Transfiguration is the culmination of this call. If we go out and actually do justice, love kindness, and walk with humility, then extraordinary things become possible. We might just find ourselves in an out of the way place witnessing the intense and overwhelming glory of God. The brilliance of the Holy Spirit might sharpen our vision and cause our hearts to beat a bit faster. We might even hear God affirming that the neighbors and strangers for whom we are seeking justice are, in fact, God’s beloved children. It’s possible that radical shifts in perspective happen when we respond to God’s call.

Maybe you haven’t had such an experience as you’ve worked for justice and you assume that this story is just metaphor, pointing toward some mystery of faith. Perhaps you’ve missed an experience of transfiguration because you were the one transfigured. If you have been working for justice for your neighbors or creation, it’s possible that someone has caught a glimpse of the Holy in you, and you were completely unaware. It’s possible that you were in the right place at just the moment when someone needed Light and they saw it in you. And they were like Peter, James, and John – grateful, fearful, amazed, and humbled. We just never know.

It doesn’t matter which side of transfiguration you’ve been on, really. Because it’s engaging in the work of justice that really matters. It’s responding to God’s call to love one another that makes the difference. When we work together to embody Christ, to be Church, then that Holy Light shines to remind us that we are not alone in the struggle to overcome suffering and oppression for all God’s people.

RCL – Year A – February 26, 2017
Exodus 24:12-18
Psalm 2 or Psalm 99
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

Photo: CC0 image by Demitri Vetsikas

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Musings Sermon Starter

It’s a Both/And Kind of a Thing

2014-09-27 11.32.28I’m not a very good mountain climber. I always end up at the back of the group and sometimes I don’t even make it to the top. On the occasions I do make it to the peak, I often experience waves of vertigo as I am not particularly comfortable with heights. Yet, there’s nothing quite like the view from the top of a mountain. The world looks so peaceful, picturesque, perfect even. If I’ve made it to the top to enjoy the view, I need to sit a good long while before I can begin the climb back down. And sometimes, if the view is particularly good, I don’t want to leave. It would be so nice to just stay.

When I hear Peter’s desire to stay on the mountaintop in the presence of Jesus, Moses, and Elijah I understand. If I am enthralled by the landscape views, how much more so by the view of the Glory of God? While building tabernacles and hanging out on a mountaintop isn’t exactly what God wanted for the long term, Peter endeavored to respond to the spectacular, incomprehensible events unfolding before his eyes. And it isn’t like the voice from heaven was scolding Peter. There was a command to listen without comment on anything else.

It’s also, at least in Luke’s account, likely that they spent the night on the mountain. Perhaps this was purely practical in terms of resting. Maybe it was also imperative. Maybe they had to stay put long enough to soak up some of those remaining rays of glory so they would have what they needed for the coming days. Capturing the Glory of God in a permanent dwelling wasn’t a good idea, but taking time to sit still and rest in the aftermath of divine radiance was the best possible response.

Peter, James, and John probably had no idea what they would encounter after they came down from the mountain. Likely, Jesus did. The crowd that gathered there with their ignorance, fear, and needs is the same crowd that always seemed to gather around Jesus then and now. They didn’t grasp that God was in their midst, but they knew that Jesus could do something for them that they couldn’t do for themselves. He could calm, quiet, and cast out their demons. And he did. And people saw the glory of God yet again. However, no one was suggesting building any tabernacles where the demon had been cast out. Funny how that is.

In this very familiar text the glory of God is revealed in spectacular fashion  – twice. The brilliant radiance on top of the mountain was the first. The exasperated casting out of a demon was the second. The former has become a metaphor for the mythic search for intense spiritual experiences that are coveted by so many and rationalized as rare and fleeting. The latter has become a metaphor for “real life,” the valley in which we should be living and working. We are told so often that we can’t stay on top of the mountain because there is work to do. Really, we can’t stay on top of the mountain because it isn’t practical. God doesn’t live in tabernacles built by human hands in a particular place, no matter how beautiful or sacred the place.

Similarly, that crowd that was ignorant, needy, and demanding isn’t necessarily everyday life and work, either. Sometimes we are crowd. Sometimes we are the confused disciples. Sometimes we are the one possessed. How often do we notice when Jesus has cast out one of our familiar demons albeit less literally than that described in the Gospel account? We might notice later, when we are moving on to somewhere else.

Somehow, over the centuries we’ve managed to twist this Transfiguration story into an either/or and life is almost always a both/and. We don’t always live on top of the pristine, radiant mountain nor do we live constantly with messy crowds and demanding demons. Mostly, we are in between. The point of the story, though, is that God’s glory is revealed in both places. Yes, differently, but God is there in all God’s glory on top of the mountain and down in the crowd. And for all those in between times, God is there, too. Remember that Jesus traveled with his disciples – up the mountain, on top of the mountain, down the mountain, and in the midst of the crowd.

Maybe the real point is to look for God and listen to the voice that claims us wherever we find ourselves and not linger too long as we soak up the glory because there are other mountains, other roads, and other crowds and God is waiting for us there, too.snowman-1115425

RCL – Year C – Transfiguration –
February 7, 2016
Exodus 34:29-35
Psalm 99
2 Corinthians 3:12–4:2
Luke 9:28-36 (37- 43)

Top photo by Rachael Keefe. Bottom photo from Pixabay. Used by permission.

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More Reaction than Sermon…

winter-610894_1920Jesus wouldn’t shoot anyone. He wouldn’t shoot anyone over a parking space whether the person was Muslim or not. Jesus wouldn’t shoot a person because they had black skin. Jesus wouldn’t shoot anyone over land, oil, religion, or politics. So if you are going to commit violence with your actions or your words, please stop using Jesus to say that you are justified or that someone else’s horrific actions are justified. Jesus was not violent and did not advocate for violence against anyone else. Those of us who call ourselves Christians need to stop saying that Jesus would approve of shooting, of war, of any kind of hatred or violence.

I think of what happened on that mountain top centuries ago with Jesus and his disciples. Then I think about all the violence and hatred supported in the name of that bright, shining light, God’s own beloved, and it makes me sick. I know I am not alone. I will not remain silent. I’m tired of those who spread nothing more than hatred in Jesus’ name having all the say. I don’t know if Craig Stephen Hicks had any religious motivation for killing three people. But I have heard others justifying his behavior because his victims were Muslim. They were human beings, young adults who had so much life ahead of them. Nothing can convince me that there is any good reason for them to be dead. And saying that they were Muslim so that somehow makes it okay, just makes the tragedy of their murders that much worse. For those of us who have witnessed the Light and have heard the voice of Love, to remain silent is a greater crime.

The outrage after President Obama’s reference to the Crusades shows just how much we aren’t willing to consider the violence throughout Christian history. The problem is that it has not ended. No, we are not declaring a religious war against another nation or people. But violence is pervasive in our society where Christianity still holds the religious majority. Too many of us or our friends or neighbors still think Christianity makes some kinds of hatred and violence okay.

Who really thinks that Jesus would not want LGBT people to marry? Who really thinks that Jesus would want poor people to remain hungry and thirsty and without medical care? Who really thinks that Jesus thinks differently, feels differently, about people based on the color of their skin or their country of origin? It’s time we stop this foolishness. Christians today may not be as bad as ISIS, but we have been in our sordid past. And some of us aren’t all that much better even now. If fear and hatred guide our words and deeds, then we are still committing violence and, likely, using Jesus to justify it.

So I repeat myself. Jesus would not shoot anyone for any reason. Jesus would not exclude anyone from the rites and sacraments of the church. Jesus would not hate anyone. It’s time to make it stop. Wherever you are, make the violence stop in your life and let the transfiguring light of God shine through you so that other lives may change.

The Crusaders of long ago didn’t know better. We do. Let’s do better. Now.

RCL – Year B – Transfiguration – February 15, 2015
2 Kings 2:1-12
Psalm 50:1-6
2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Mark 9:2-9

Photo from Pixabay.com. Used with permission.

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It’s a Mystery

RCL – Transfiguration – 2/19/12

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

Let me say at the outset, that I find these mystical texts to be both fascinating and disturbing. Elisha’s vision of fiery chariots and Peter’s, James’, and John’s vision of a glowing Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah are so far from my daily experiences they leave me speechless. I like to believe that I have a deal with God: These things will not ever happen to me. Thank you. I am willing to take them on faith because the idea that they could happen, really scares me enough that I don’t want any proof. However, there is more to the story than the scary stuff. There is a message here, particularly in the gospel, which deserves attention.

There were several events in the news this week that I can’t quite let go of. I listened as people gave their views on the soccer riots in Egypt where 74 people died on Feb. 2. It seems that most people blamed the police or military for not preventing the riots. After that I heard about rioting and looting in Athens that left ancient buildings in ash. These riots were a response to the passing of  more “Austerity Laws” that are an attempt to bolster Greece’s floundering economy and draw support from the European Union. The voices I heard were filled with anger and despair. Then I heard about the bombing in Bangkok which led directly to a story about the tensions between Israel and Iran.

And if these international stories were not enough to make me wonder about the state of humanity, there were some national stories that also had me puzzled. I don’t feel the need to elaborate much, but politics are almost more of a mystery to me than Transfiguration. It seems politicians seldom remember that there are lives attached to the dollars in the budgets. When cuts are made to healthcare, people suffer. When cuts are made to social services, people suffer. When policies don’t take health and safety into consideration, people suffer. The politicians seem to continue to live their lives unaffected.

When I think of these news stories juxtaposed with the Transfiguration story, I find hope. I realize that holding these news articles and the scripture together are not typical and my conclusion is probably not what is expected. But let me attempt to explain my thinking.

Jesus took Peter, James, and John up to the top of a mountain to have time away from the crowds and busyness. I think it was also to give them what they needed. Perhaps they were still confused about Jesus’ full identity. Perhaps they were so busy managing the crowds that they had yet to pay full attention. Jesus revealed to them his full glory as the Christ to make it abundantly clear to them. They were terrified and probably didn’t know whether to worship, run away, or faint dead away. Whatever else happened on that mountain, they had a deeper knowledge of the Christ in their presence. They left that place changed people.

This is where the hope is for me. What if all of us who call ourselves Christians, seek out transfiguration in all our relationships? What if we took time to look for the Christ, the sacred, the image of God, within every other person? I know it seems impossible and beyond our grasp. But if we at least try…

Maybe no one would have died in Egypt because the crowd would not have lost control and blame would not need to be assigned if people saw one another as sacred beings. Maybe Athens would not be smoldering if resources could be freely shared between nations because all are holy and none should live in the despair of economic depression. Maybe Bangkok would not have been bombed and Iran and Israel could be at peace with each other if they stopped seeing enemies and started seeing each other as beloved.

And much closer to home, maybe hatred wouldn’t be spewed from the mouths of presidential candidates and budgets would be adjusted to support the weakest members of society if those who claim to be Christians sought out the Christ in others.

Transfiguration remains a mystery to me as it occurred on that long-ago mountaintop. I’m fine with that, really. But I take it as a challenge to invite the Christ into all my relationships and watch for transfiguration. It won’t change anyone, but it could change me. And isn’t that the point, anyway?