Thursday, March 9, 2017

Glory Be!

2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, Illinois
February 26, 2017
Christina Berry

Our first reading, from second Peter, comes from a letter that was written at least one generation after Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is a reminder to the Christian community that the stories of Jesus are our family stories, and they are true stories. These stories are told and retold, like any family stories, until we ourselves feel like eyewitnesses to the events they describe. Like all true stories passed down from generation to generation, these stories must be repeated so that their power is not lost to time. The interpretation of them comes through the power of the Holy Spirit, and so they are never individual stories, but truths shared by the community of those who follow Jesus. This story is a reminder to us of the glory we now share, and the glory that is yet to come. Let’s listen for the Holy Spirit speaking to us in 2 Peter 1:16-21:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, "This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain. So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.

Our second reading comes from the Gospel of Matthew, the 17th chapter. This is Matthew’s account of the transfiguration. We’ve been noticing for several weeks Matthew’s intentional parallels between Jesus and Moses, and this account is no exception. We’re intended, as we hear this, to recall Moses on Mount Sinai, when he had encountered the very presence of God, and his face shone with such glory that he had to put a veil over his face, because no one could look upon him.

This Sunday of the transfiguration marks the end of one season and the beginning of another – we leave the season after the Epiphany and now move into Lent. The transfiguration is like a bookend, marking the start of the season of Lent with a demonstration of the glory of God. Of course, Lent ends with Easter, when we again become eyewitnesses to God’s glory in the resurrection o f Jesus. We have this glimpse of glory just before we come to have our foreheads marked with ashes this coming Wednesday.

We have this glimpse of immortality just before are reminded once again: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. So let’s listen now, and be attentive for God’s presence and glory in Matthew 17:1-9

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah."

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!"

When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.

But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid."

And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, "Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."

The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Eight years ago, almost to the day, I stood before you on Transfiguration Sunday and preached what’s called a “candidating sermon” – a kind of audition to see if you wished to elect me as your pastor. Of course, I’d been in conversation with the search committee for many months prior to February 22, 2009 – this was the final event of the process. I don’t know if you remember much about that sermon – I didn’t! but it started with one word: WOW!

And I’m starting again this morning with that: WOW!

The transfiguration story is a WOW moment. Up there on that mountain top, everything changed, radiant, glistening, transfigured in an instant, right before our eyes. One of the things I love about the lectionary is that every year, we come to this WOW moment of the Transfiguration Every year we climb this mountain, on our way upward with Peter, James and John, following Jesus to the mountaintop. There, while we watch, Jesus is transfigured.

Joined by Moses and Elijah, symbolizing the law and the prophets, 
Jesus is overshadowed by divine presence.
Whiter than any white.
Right there before our very eyes.

We are eyewitnesses to this Majestic Glory of Jesus, shining like the sun. We’re overcome with awe, but we want to preserve this moment. We want to stay on the mountaintop, or maybe be able to come back to this experience. So like Peter, we try to save this glorious moment, in a little tabernacle of our own making. (If this happened today, we’d all pull out our cellphones.)

And then, before Jesus can even answer we are overshadowed once again, and we hear a voice from the cloud, saying: "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!" For many of us, like Peter, it’s too much. But then Jesus is there, to touch us, to lift us to our feet, saying “Get up, and do not be afraid.”

Wow! What a moment!
But the moment passes.
Now at this point, the preacher starts leading you back down the mountain. That’s what I did, eight years ago. I said, “They walk back down the mountain. We, walking along with them, move into the season of Lent, and the reality of the coming of the crucifixion. We lose sight of that splendid, shimmering vision. We can empathize with Peter longing to sustain that rapturous moment, But it’s the nature of epiphany that those moments can’t be preserved.”

That’s what I said. And it is true.

We can remember such moments, hold them lightly in our hands, like a mayfly wing, but we cannot re-create the transcendent, because we did not create transcendence to begin with. So those awe-inspiring experiences are not something we can preserve in amber.

But what I said is also not true. Because the glory of God is ours, even in the forty days of Lent. It’s not something we can whomp up in worship. Even though our worship team is very talented, we can’t manufacture glory: Imagine: “let’s put a moment of transcendence here, right after the offertory…”

This sort of glorious moment doesn’t come from us. It doesn’t emerge from our expectations or our programs, or my sermons. It comes from God, at God’s own bidding, in God’s own time.

Now, we Presbyterians sometimes have a little trouble with this idea. We get a little anxious about the idea of anything that seems, well, mystical. Especially when it sounds, so, welll… so much like, well, like…..CHANGE!

You remember the jokes?
They were old back then – they’re even older now!

How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?
None. God has predestined when the lights will be on.

How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb?
Well, it should require one committee to review the Biblical scholarship regarding change, light, illumination and darkness.

A second committee will discuss the essential tenets
of the Reformed Tradition as they relate to change and light bulbs.
We need another committee to consider polity requirements
for change to take place decently and in order.
A fourth to formulate the report and related overtures to General Assembly.
And a fifth committee to plan the potluck afterward.

How many Presbyterians does it take to change a light bulb? 
Change?!? Change? My grandmother donated that light bulb and now you want to change it?!

We suspect, and rightly so, that our own transformation may not be as easy as changing a light bulb. In our culture, opening ourselves to transformation can be risky. It can leave us feeling vulnerable, and out of step with everyone around us. It is dicey, this business of being transformed. We are afraid.

Maybe we’re okay with the abstract concept of metamorphosis, but we’re not so sure that we want it for ourselves. “You go on ahead and change; I’d rather not, thanks. I’ll just wait here.”

Marianne Williamson, in an oft-quoted passage, says “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. … We are all meant to shine, ... We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us…. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”[1]

Maybe we are open to metamorphosis, but we’ve learned to close our eyes to the mystical visions that God offers. Maybe we’ve stopped seeing, or stopped looking. It’s possible that we have stood on holy ground and pushed that knowledge away from our awareness.

And it’s probable that many of us have had mystical experiences, but we’re embarrassed to tell anyone – what would people think? People who see visions and hear God talking to them are, well, not, um normal, right? In our culture, such people are called crazy – in other cultures, other times, such people are called prophets.

If you’ve had a mystical experience – a vision, an overwhelming sense of God’s presence, a dream that is more than a dream, you are not alone, nor are you crazy. The winds of the Holy Spirit still blow through our lives, and every now and then we see that wind moving in the world, or we feel the brush of angel wings on the backs of our necks, if we are willing.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Sonnets from the Portuguese, writes:
“Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes -
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

We may not even be able to identify our own moments of glory, or our own transformation, until later, after the moment has passed. And then, one day, we wake up and walk out to the kitchen, stand at the window staring out at the back yard, watching a robin in the apple tree, listening to the morning news, smelling the coffee that’s brewing, we just stand there, and WOW! Glory, glory be.

One afternoon, we’re coming back to work after lunch, and there’s just this moment, walking in the door, when we feel a deep sense of peace descend. Nothing we were looking for, exactly, but all we were hoping for.
Wow! Glory be!

Some evening after supper, the dog lays his head on the rug and sighs, the kids are all clean after their baths and snuggly in their jammies, And there’s an almost audible “click”, a silent joy, a smile that comes from inside, down deep.
Wow! Glory be!

This is the glory of God, even in the season of Lent, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts. The glory of God not only amazes us, it transforms us. 

God’s glory shines forth from us through our acts of compassion, 
transforming the world though our voices of advocacy, 
dazzling our hearts with passion for Christ’s work,
surprising us with unexpected joy,
transfiguring our homes, our neighborhoods,
the world, through our resolve for peace
through our actions for justice.

God’s glory shines through our hands and feet and voices in prayer that transforms our hearts, Scripture that challenges our minds, fellowship that changes our attitudes, worship that reorients our viewpoint, away from ourselves, and towards God.

That’s a Christian life that reflects the transfiguration
A life of commitment
A life of joy in service
A life that leads to glory.

Glory be!
Glory be to God!


[1] Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love

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