By The Rev. Sherry Crompton
February 14, 2010
Read: Luke 9:28-43a
Today we stand as onlookers with Peter and John and James on a special experience – a mysterious experience.
Jesus and three of his disciples had gone to a mountain to pray. The weary disciples at some point fall asleep – but Jesus continues in prayer, he continues to prepare himself for the events that lie just before him, his trip up the road to Jerusalem, his trip towards the cross that he has told his disciples awaits him in the Holy City.
As Jesus prays something we cannot explain happens to him – his face and even the robe he is wearing, begins to glow until it is a dazzling white. As the disciples struggle back to consciousness they see Jesus shining, and with him they see two men – Moses the law-giver, and Elijah the prophet – talking with him, and they are full of fright, full of awe, full of joy at what they see.
Peter tries to capture the moment – “Master,” he says, “It is good for us to be here, let us make three dwellings for you and for Moses and Elijah – three tents…” but even as he says this a heavy cloud sweeps over the mountain, obscuring his view – and the view of the other disciples – and plunging them into fear once more.
And in this cloud – in the midst of this roiling obscurity, this damp and forbidding darkness, Peter and James and John hear a voice; a voice as clear as the light that had just moments before filled the mountain top; a voice as awesome as the thunder that shook Sinai when Moses went to receive the Torah: “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him.”
And then the moment is over. The cloud vanishes. The sun shines. The birds sing. Jesus stands alone – near to them. The valley below where the other disciples are waiting for them is once more visible…
The scriptures record that the disciples – that James and John and Peter – are told by Jesus not to speak of this experience until after he has been raised from the dead – and presumably they did not.
But the experience that they witnessed, the experience that they were part of, remained with them, until eventually it was recorded in three of the four gospels. It remained with them – and it shaped them – and it became part of them, part of their testimony -part of their witness to who Christ was – to who Christ is.
In the Second Letter of Peter – Peter writes these words:
We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour 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.”
So, here we stand today, witnessing this mysterious event through the power of the scripture. What do we make of it? Notice that Luke writes, ‘Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory…” Barbara Crafton has this to say:
Well, which was it? Were they asleep or awake? It sounds like the writer isn’t quite sure. Maybe Peter and his companions weren’t absolutely certain, either. Visions are like that — when they have departed, we are not sure just what they were. In my dream last night, for instance, I was mightily concerned about Denny because Bruce had just died. I sought to comfort him, wondered what would happen to him now, wondered how I might be of help to him. It was some few minutes after awakening that I remembered the truth: it is Denny who has died, not Bruce. And it was twelve years ago, not recently. Both of them are fine now, each in his own way. How strange, I thought as I lay there, returning by degrees to the world we call “real.” The one in my dream was real, too, real to me, anyway — and the ancients would have said that it contained a message from God. I am not disposed to think that it does not: dreams are rich with hidden things, things the reasonable light of day does not reveal. Pondering them has often yielded me a treasure. This one will, too: at the very least, it will prompt a phone call to Bruce to see how he’s doing.
Things like the Transfiguration confound those who are unfortunate enough to believe that what we see before us is all there is: that a dream is just a dream, never “real;” that a vision is a fraud, and can contain nothing of value; that a sign is at best a coincidence and at worst a delusion. For them, the knowable world is quite small, a box that must fit into the cramped quarters of the human cranium and derive its validity solely from what can be found there.
The truth is far more complex: there are dreams and visions and signs, and they have information to offer us. And there is reason and sense, and they have information for us as well. Human ways of knowing, and of expressing truth, arise from many quarters, and sometimes they collide – if it seems that they do not, it is only because we’ve overlooked something. A certain amount of confusion is an important part of the spiritual life, not a sign of its absence. It spurs us to observe, ponder and pray. Life in Christ is always more productive of further wonder than of answers. Notice that the very next thing that happens, after the Transfiguration party comes down from the mountain, is a healing. It’s a boy possessed by a demon, the first century’s understanding of a serious seizure disorder. No firm answers are given us — or them — about exactly what happened on that mountain.
When one sees what is real, but what is not obvious for anyone else to see, there is a kind of strength that comes with it – a kind of power. Jesus came down from the mountain into the ordinary events of human life. He is with us in our everyday struggles. He is desiring for us to connect and find the strength that comes from a relationship with Christ. He desires for us to “transfigure” our reality. Do we see that of Christ in our neighbor? do we see God’s footprint in our world? Do we transfigure the vision in front of us? On this Valentine’s Day can we reach out to transfigure a relationship – to reconnect or make stronger a relationship in our life?
Once, there was a poor man who had a dream. And his dream was his vision. And his vision was his dream. And his dream was of a heavenly city where everything was perfect. Growing very weary of his living, he decided to go in search of his heavenly city of his dreams. Gathering what few belongings he had, he started on his journey and he walked. All day long he walked. And as he walked, he had but one thought: the heavenly city of his dreams – how perfect it was going to be when he arrived. All day long he walked with this one thought and it was evening time. He had not yet come to the heavenly city of his dreams. He decided to make camp right where he was. Taking out his crust of bread, he gave thanks to the god of the universe and he ate his crust of bread. And then just before he went to sleep, he took off his shoes and he put them in the path facing them in the direction that he would continue his journey the next day. And, then, the man went to sleep.
Little did he know that in the middle of the night, trickster came along, picked up his shoes and turned them around, facing them back in the direction from which he had come. Early the next morning, the man awoke. Taking out his crust of bread, he gave thanks to the god of the universe, ate his crust of bread, and then he walked to the path, and he slipped on his shoes. And he began to walk in the direction that his shoes were facing. All day long he walked, and as he walked, he had but one thought: the heavenly city of his dreams and how perfect it was going to be when he arrived. He walked until it was almost evening.
He looked off in the distance and he saw it! The heavenly city of his dreams! It wasn’t as large as he thought it was going to be, and it looked strangely familiar. The poor man walked until he found a strangely familiar street, and he turned down the strangely familiar street, and he walked until he found a strangely familiar house. And he knocked on the door, and when the door was opened, he was greeted by a strangely familiar family. The poor man went inside and lived happily ever after in the heavenly city of his dreams.
A new awareness, a new appreciation, a new power. Any time our consciousness is raised to the next level, it is a born-again experience, and we become like children once more. “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child,” said Jesus, “will never enter it.” Heaven is not a place, a geographical location. It is not coming with signs to be observed so one can say, “There it is!” in the parking lot or on the street corner. Rather, heaven is in the midst of you.
With our newborn curiosity (our transfigured curiosity), everything becomes a new experience and we become as fascinated with the box as with what’s inside. The right hemisphere of our brain is open to accept the unexplainable, the unexpected and the unpredictable.
Thank God for the mystery of God’s divine love in our lives. Amen.
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