The Path to Transfiguration
February 19, 2023
I am on a snowy path in the woods. It is the day after Ann Nagy preached last month. I am at a clergy retreat at Bellwether Farm in Wakeman. There is a river to my right. Wooden ruins are on the opposite bank. The snow broken by what appears to be rabbit tracks and the occasional deer prints that bisect the trail I’m on.
It stopped snowing hours ago, and the sun is starting to come out, but the trees didn’t get the message. The snow falls silently around me from the covered branches. Black branches highlighted by whipped cream topping.
I am alone. I have tricked myself into thinking that I’m the first human to be on this path! At least, today. Someone, long ago built that shack that is now in ruins across the river. Someone had to blaze the trail I’m currently walking. I’m alone, but I’m surrounded.
The boots I have on were a gift from Kate and the kids this past Christmas. I’m thinking of you, church. I’m surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses. I’ve tricked myself into thinking that I’m alone, but I’m out here in the cold seeking Jesus in the silence.
I’d rather not be out here. I’m a creature of comfort, and it’s cold. Give me a warm blanket and a book and I’ll watch the snow fall from inside preferably by a fire, not be out in the elements. Back in my construction days, a customer looked at me and said, “You remind me of someone.” Turned out who I reminded him of was his dog. When I asked what kind of dog, he said, “A greyhound.” I was a bit insulted. Was it because I have a short hair and a long snout? My customer smiled and said, “No. It’s that you’re chill. But when you move, you move fast and efficiently.”
Greyhounds are creatures of comfort. They’re 60 mile-per-hour couch potatoes. Our first dog Sonny was a greyhound, the dog that greeted Eve and Sam when we brought them home from the hospital. He was a great dog, one for the ages. He’s walking with me on this trail now. I’m surrounded. These unbidden memories come amid the birdsong, the silent snow fall, and the babbling river to my right.
I remember that the disciples were also on a path. A little over halfway through Matthew’s Gospel and six days after telling his disciples “If any want to follow me, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me,” Jesus takes Peter, James and John on a retreat. He led them up a high mountain. I wonder what the disciples were thinking. I wonder what they were expecting.
“Here goes Jesus again,” they might have grumbled internally. “More praying in deserted places. More cryptic parables with multiple meanings. More disturbing teachings that make the laws harder. And why a mountain? We’re fishermen. Why can’t we go to that new beach resort at Caesarea Philippi?!”
Maybe they were worn out. Their teacher just foretold his death and resurrection. This disturbed Peter so much that he took Jesus aside and rebuked him. Now Jesus is taking Peter aside. Up a mountain. On a retreat. Like I am. I started this walk tricking myself that I was alone, then realized I wasn’t, and now I’m pretending I’m walking with Peter, James and John as they are led up a mountain on a retreat.
A retreat that was transfigured. Jesus shone like the sun, his clothes dazzling white. And then Moses and Elijah were talking to him. How did the disciples know it was Moses and Elijah? There were no pictures or depictions of them, their culture outlawed graven images. How did they recognize them?
Maybe they spent so much time in the scriptures, they just knew. Maybe having been raised in their synagogues and hearing their parents and grandparents talk about these heroes of faith, they knew them on sight. It was baked into their DNA.
And Peter wants to stay there. This divine inbreaking happens, and Peter’s hospitality is on display. He says, “I will make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” No mention of making a dwelling for himself. Maybe Peter needs more credit than I am often willing to give him, for here he has denied himself and is trying to follow Jesus; even in this unbelievable experience Jesus is having.
Maybe that’s what I’m doing with this sermon; I’m building a dwelling place. On this walk, I realized that I’m not alone. On this walk I found peace. I spoke to God. I wondered about the Transfiguration. I have given this sermon before you see. On that walk, I gave it to the squirrels and the birds and the trees and the river out there in Wakeman. Y’all were with me every step of the way.
But we can’t stay there. The voice of God came to them and repeated the words Jesus heard at his baptism, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” The disciples fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. Then they looked up and it was just Jesus. Just normal, everyday Jesus who said, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
He always seemed to be saying that to his disciples. Then coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them not to talk about this experience. The disciples asked about Elijah, and how he is supposed to herald the coming of the Messiah. Jesus said Elijah has already come, and the people didn’t recognize John the Baptist.
How frustrated I get with folks who look past what is right in front of them, expecting some big flashy display from God. I believe the Bible not because it happened exactly like this, but because it is still happening.
How often do we look past Jesus in our midst thinking he’s just another homeless beggar off the streets? How often do we look past all the Elijahs and John the Baptists announcing our redemption and restoration right here, right now?
Did you not see Jesus weeping with the grieving as Christopher Waite and Kelly Poole spoke to us about grief? Did you not feel the restoration of Stephanie Robinson on her path of recovery and how she is like a new Moses leading those people with addictive personality disorders to a new promised land at Hope Recovery Community and the new farm from which milk and honey shall flow? The milk might be goat’s milk, but it’s milk nonetheless.
Did you hear the yearning for community and the salvation in Ann’s story? Did you hear the plight of our caregivers from the Rev. Dennis Wendling, our hospital chaplain? Those who deny themselves, pick up their cross, and follow their calling in a caring profession just need a small bit of thanks and support returned to them. Your Pastor Meghan saying from the pulpit that your anxiousness is not a moral failing nor proof that you need more faith. That message from the pulpit! Alicia sharing her story… I mean with her and all our speakers from the Heavy Burden series… TRANSFIGURATION!
I saw God in our powerful Heavy Burdened worship series. I felt Christ’s presence. The Spirit was moving, and it was powerful. I want more of a transfigured view for all not just for a few. The transfigured view where the Christ in me sees the Christ in you. Where our sacred stories come alive. We can point to them! We heard the voice of our ancestors of faith in Christopher and Kelly, Stephanie and Ann, the Revs Dennis and Meghan, and Alicia. We saw something of the divine spark in them and felt the Spirit stir within their words and within our chest. Yes! I want the transfigured view where the divine in me sees the divine in you.
No more of this, “God is totally absent from this whole group of people!” No, God is with us. All of us. Even those who are like human sandpaper to us. Even with those who run off and squander and live with swine in squalor. God gives a party for those prodigals!
God is not some sky-miser who has a list and is checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. God is love. God is the voice saying to you gently, “Get up and do not be afraid.” The good news is that the bad news is wrong! God is not distant nor is God’s kingdom lightyears away, but here in this place that new light is shining. Change your view and believe the kingdom has come near! God is with us! Right here! Right now!
I want this transfigured view here where we might not have the chapter and verse on the tip of our tongue, but we recognize Moses and Elijah when they unexpectedly drop in for a second. Just like how I thought I was alone on a hike in the bleak midwinter, but I was carrying you with me, church. And the Christ in me sees the Christ in you. Get up! Do not be afraid! We have work to do. Work of feeding the hungry. Work of building affordable housing. Work of raising funds and sending our teens to Back Bay Mission. The work of checking in on each other and sharing life together and maybe playing some board games and grabbing coffee a few times a month. When someone is sick, take them food. When a name you know lands on the prayer list, drop them a line, a message, an email. We’ll bring food to those in grief and mourning a sudden loss. When we don’t know what to say, we’ll say it with a casserole.
All of this and more are steps on the path of transfiguration. The work of doing justice, loving kindness, and walking humbly with your God. Where the divine in us sees the divine in everything, and transfiguration is not just something that happened on a mountain a long, long time ago in a Galilee far-far away. Instead, transfiguration can be a daily occurrence for those with the senses to perceive. Thanks be to God. Amen.
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