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Bible Search
Sermon for the Last Sunday after Epiphany - February 11 2018

Sermon for the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Year B
February 11, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

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

I’m quite fond of the transfiguration.  It’s so incredibly mysterious!  I don’t really understand it at all.  It’s completely outside the ordinary course of my life.

It’s what most folks call a mountain top experience, and who among us spends much time on the mountain top?  Maybe volcanologists and glaciologists and astronomers, and of course, in popular imagery, great and wise gurus.  But not most of us.  One can drive to the top of Mt Washington in New Hampshire or Mt Equinox in Vermont; one can take a ski lift up lots of mountains all over the country, but most of us don’t just stay there.

Going up a mountain is a bit like going closer and closer to the north pole – the tree species switch from deciduous to evergreen, and they get shorter and shorter the higher you go.  Higher up, or more north, and they are dwarf species, and bare rock and ephemeral grasses and flowers become more and more common.  The climate gets more extreme, the winds pick up, and the sky seems both closer and more clear – and at night it feels like you can actually touch the stars, which are all around you in numbers never seen in lower elevations amidst more habitations.

Throughout the Bible, the mountains were places to encounter God.  Elijah in his cave, Moses on Horeb, and Jesus on the “high mountain apart” that we hear about today – all went up the mountain and encountered God there.

Both Elijah and Jesus went up into the hills for another reason – to get some peace from all the people who pursued them.  In Elijah’s case it was King Ahaz and his soldiers, who wanted to kill him.  In Jesus’ case it was the crowds of people who came seeking healing. 

We think of mountains as unchanging, far away, and, always, different.  We go to the mountains for fresh air and clear skies, for skiing or rock-climbing, or hiking or hunting, for quietness and peace, or for fun and challenges. 

In my own mind, mountains are set apart, special places, holy spaces, “thin” places where the divine seeps through. 

Which is how Peter and James and John found their mountain to be.  They didn’t know what to make of the experience of seeing Elijah and Moses, or Jesus in his dazzling garments.  Perhaps they thought the glory of the Messiah revealed here meant that now was the time for God to make all things new.  And obviously the prophets would need a place to rest and prepare before setting out into the world.

It’s too easy to scoff at Peter because it’s so hard to put ourselves in his place.  We know what happened next; we’ve heard the story before.  And we are still living in a world that seems to need a lot of restoration and renewal.  In fact I think it can be very hard to distinguish how things are different since Jesus’ resurrection from the way they were before.  Aside from the passage of time and a lot more history along the way – are we any different from our distant ancestors? 

Yes, yes we are.  Because of Jesus, we know that God can be found in our neighbor, and because we know that God is most intimately aware of what it is like to be human.  So God is more approachable and less distant – and the mountain tops of God may be found in our work places or our homes or at the coffee shop.

We also know that God’s true home is in our hearts, and not in some tent or dwelling on a remote mountain halfway across the world.

And what are we to do with this knowledge?

Listen.

Listen to Jesus. 

But, since listening can be interpreted as a completely passive act, then, I would submit, God intends that listening also entails following in his footsteps – with Peter and James and John, as they followed him back down the mountain.  We don’t live there; we live here.  So did Jesus, so does God the Holy Spirit, in our hearts.

Bruce Epperly, who has written extensively on healing and spirituality, recently wrote on his blog, “A full life leads us from contemplation to action, and from mysticism to dirty hands in bringing heaven to earth.  We find this interplay of mysticism and social transformation – dare we say transfiguration – in the lives of Gandhi, Day, Romero, and Thurman.  We must move from prayer to protest, and meditation to movement.”[1]

Episcopal priest Jim Melnyk wrote a year ago, “When we make a conscious decision to listen to Jesus as we meet him in the gospels, and in people of faith all around us, we find ourselves more than just worshipers of God in Christ.”

Remember that the voice from the cloud didn’t say “Worship him.” It said, “Follow him.”

Melnyk continues, “We find that the dream of God has become our dream as well, as we live our lives as followers of Jesus.  we begin to realize that as followers of Jesus we are called to be [citing Verna Dozier] … ‘citizens of the kingdom of God in a new way, the daring, free, accepting, compassionate way Jesus modeled … being bound by no yesterday, fearing no tomorrow, drawing no lines between friend and foe, the acceptable ones and the outcasts.’”[2] 

The Transfiguration, and in fact the entire life, death, and resurrection of Jesus teaches us, in Howard Thurman’s words: “The commonplace is shot through with new glory – old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting.  A crown is placed over our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear.  Despite all the crassness of life, despite all the harsh discords of life, life is saved by the singing of angels.”[3]

We go to the mountains to meet God, and find that God has come down to meet us and be with us.  And thus, we live in God’s light. 

 

[1] “The Adventurous Lectionary – The Transfiguration of Jesus” – February 18 2018, Bruce Epperly, http://patheos.com/blogs/kivingaholyadventure/2018/02/adventurous-lectionary-transfiguation-Jesus-february-11-2018.  February 1, 2018.  Accessed February 9, 2018.

[2] “Transfiguration and the Dream of God.” Jim Melnyk. February 26, 2017. http://jmelnyk.blogspot.com/2017/02/transfiguration-and-dream-of-god.html.  Accessed February 9. 2018.  Emphasis added.

[3] “Words of Wisdom.” Howard Thurman. http://michaelppowers.com/wisdon/thurman.html. Accessed February 9 2018.