Sunday, February 11, 2018
Transfiguration of Our Lord / Last Sunday after Epiphany
Prayer of the Day
Almighty God, the resplendent light of your truth shines from the mountaintop into our hearts. Transfigure us by your beloved Son, and illumine the world with your image, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalm
2 Kings 2:1-12 Elijah taken up to heaven and succeeded by Elisha
2 Corinthians 4:3-6 God’s light seen clearly in the face of Christ
Mark 9:2-9 Revelation of Christ as God’s beloved Son
Title: Seeing in Faith
What are you seeing these days? Some of us who have been on vacation tried to see only sun and sea creatures and the words of the books we were reading, but there were just too many distractions back here in the real world. What are you seeing these days? For some, the rollercoaster ride of the stock market is seen as a correction, others are seeing it as a portent of what is coming. Looking to Washington, some are seeing threats to our democracy, some are seeing threats to their own ability to stay in this that is very much their homeland, some are seeing threats to their protection under the law; while others are seeing a strengthening of what they believe are our nation’s values. What do you see? Friday night, during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, some saw great hope as the two Koreas marched into the stadium as one, under a unifying flag. Others, stayed seated, refused to applaud, refused to see something other than the fear-filled picture that they are painting and promoting.
The prophets harassing poor Elisha didn’t ask what he was seeing, they were demanding that he see what they all knew was coming. “You do know that your master and teacher is about to be taken up into heaven, don’t you? You do see this, right?” They shout at him wherever he goes. And he responds with a blind-eye turning, a trying hard to deny the truth response of: “Yes, I know, now leave me alone.”
Faithful Elijah, seeing clearly all that is to be accomplished, is trying to make it easier for Elisha. “Stay here,” he keeps inviting his disciple and his successor. He’s trying to save him from seeing his impending departure. Encouraging him to go and hide his eyes and mourn this loss alone, quietly. But Elisha insists on proving himself worthy of the mantle he is about to take on. If he is about to replace his master as top prophet, he knows he needs to see clearly, keep his eyes open to the truth, gaze on the mighty power of God, even in the midst of the sorrow and fear that comes in the face of loss and separation. He doesn’t want to see it, but he knows he must. This is looking with the eyes of faith. Elijah knows that keeping those eyes of faith open, watching, seeing what is, taking in the awesomeness of God will grow and strengthen the faith of his young heir.
Now the disciples of Jesus, up on that Transfiguration mountaintop rejoiced to see what they were seeing. Sure they were terrified. Who wouldn’t be? Seeing two long time dead guys talking to your friend. But they are not turning away, they are not running down the mountain to hide. They are seeing with eyes wide opened. In fact, Peter wants to hold onto the moment. He wants to keep seeing it. No cameras back then, let’s build a little monastery up here and hold on to this moment. If Peter was seeing heaven coming to earth on that mountaintop, he wanted to keep seeing it. Forever.
Now whenever you hear this wonderful story of the Transfiguration, the gospel text that always provides our Epiphany culmination, on this Sunday that always precedes Ash Wednesday, whenever you are on that mountaintop with Jesus and the three, you are wise to remind yourself that in all three gospels that report this event, immediately before this amazing experience, we read the story of Jesus asking his disciples: Who do you say that I am? Or in the language of today’s lectionary: What are you seeing in me? And of course, Peter speaks his great witness “You are the Christ.” But then Jesus goes on to ruin Peter’s moment by offering his first prediction of the suffering and death that await Jesus in Jerusalem. To which Peter tells Jesus he refuses to see that as the inevitable, and Jesus speaks the famous “Get behind me, Satan.”
It is important to remember this context of the Transfiguration to understand what Peter is seeing and what it is that he wants to keep seeing. Jesus has just showed him a picture of the suffering that is his because that is how the world reacts when truth is spoken to power, when power is told there is more than what it sees and holds, when narcissists and tyrants are told that they are not the all-powerful ones they see themselves to be, and demand others see without question. Peter did not want to see the suffering that will come, that always comes, when the self-serving kingdoms of earth are confronted with the self-sacrificing kingdom of God. But he was more than happy to see and hold on for dear life to this image of Jesus glorified, gleaming, hanging out with the great ones, high on the mountain and far from the suffering to be found in the valley.
What do you see, Peter? What are you willing to open your eyes to, Peter? The walk of faith invites us to continually ask these questions of ourselves. We are certainly in a time when dominant voices and trends in American Christianity are busy trying to build dwellings on that gleaming mountaintop, desiring only to see that vision of glory, all the while Jesus is calling us down, to walk with him the way of the cross, to open our eyes to the truth of this world, to see the work that God is calling us to. William R Inge, in the 1920’s wrote: “A generation which wishes for a religion without tears must find it difficult to adjust it beliefs to the teachings of the New Testament and to the facts of life.” What do you see, American Christians of the 21st century? What are we willing to open our eyes to?
Even Paul is asking those Corinthian Christians of the first century the question of the day: What are you seeing? He reminds them and us that our sinfulness causes the truth of the gospel to be veiled. We can be blinded from seeing the truth about Jesus who is the image of God. With our eyes we see darkness, we see fear. But it is God, who in the beginning, in the midst of nothing, could see all the glory and beauty and complexity and diversity and evolving wonder of creation. It is God who said “let there be light” so that all can see what God is seeing, what God is doing.
What do you see? What do you see in the face of loss? What do you see in the glory of the mountaintop? What do you see in the suffering of the valley? What do you see in the mundane of daily demands? What do you see in water in the font? In the bread and the wine at the table? What do you see in the face of the other, be they friend or stranger, neighbor or foe? What do you see in the profound suffering of our time/
As we come down from today’s mountaintop encounter with our Lord who is present in the water, the meal, and our fellowship. As we anticipate our Lenten journey, let our prayers be that our eyes of faith might be opened anew by the work of the Holy Spirit to see the light of Christ in all things, at all times, transfiguring us into the new creation of God’s redeemed children, Christ’s disciples, and the Spirit’s instruments in this world, so that others might see not us, but see in us the God of light and life, glory and grace.
The Rev. Mark Erson,