Sunday, February 11, 2024

Epiphany Last, 2024: Trust, listen, and receive the change

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

En el nombre de Dios, que es Trinidad en unidad. In the name of God, who is Trinity in unity. Amén. 

For years, I have taught a spirituality workshop in which I discuss our spiritual growth in relationship with God and neighbor in terms of breathing. Breathing is a perfect choice for this because it is a biblical term: God breathed (inspired) life into humanity in Genesis and continues to breathe life into us now. The term ‘Spirit’ itself in Hebrew is ruach, which means wind, and in Greek is pnuema, which means breath.

As we grow in our spirituality, we must establish balance in our breathing. If we only breathe in, that is, if we focus only on drawing into ourselves knowledge and experiences of God, and don’t breathe out the grace of God into the world, we will die. Likewise, if we only breathe out, that is, if we spend our time and energy breathing God out into the world without breathing God in, we will die.

Like our physical life, our life in the spirit is dynamic and requires a balance of breathing in and breathing out; breathing God into ourselves, and breathing God out into the world.

Life is constant change, from the daily cellular changes in our bodies to the global earth and cultural changes happening all around us. We can’t “put a pin in it” as the saying goes, and stop the constant changes in life, and anyone who suggests we can or should is lying to us.

When we live a life of faith, we move into every change trusting in God. We flow with God in the living waters of life. Attempting to dam the river or pushing against the current won’t make any real difference, but it will wear us out. That’s why we must heed the gospel and listen to the Beloved.

The story of the transfiguration is a wonderful way to wrap up the season of Epiphany – the season of light, of enlightenment. During this season we have experienced the revelation of Jesus as the light that casts out the darkness of the world through amazing things like healings, exorcisms, and the voice of God authenticating him as the Son, the Beloved - twice.

Today, the focus is on how the transfiguration of Jesus happens for us. To do this, let’s look at the movements in this gospel story. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up a high mountain (which is Bible-speak for the place we encounter God).

On that high mountain, the disciples do encounter God – in Jesus himself – in a way that is both physically real and impossible at the same time. Their rabbi, Jesus, is suddenly emanating a light so bright it dazzles them. The writer ensures us that this whiteness is nothing we humans can produce. This is their breathing in moment.

Then they see Moses and Elijah, Israel’s two greatest and long-dead prophets, chumming it up with Jesus. Peter, thank God for Peter, responds in a very faithful and traditional way, suggesting they build three dwelling places there and mark the spot as holy.

It was also traditional to locate God in a place. When the people were moving around, God was in a tabernacle, the Ark of the Covenant, which they carried around with them. When they settled in Jerusalem, they built a temple. Within that temple was a room called, the Holy of Holies, which housed the ark. Only the chief priests could enter the Holy of Holies.

Then the disciples, like Mary before them at her annunciation, were overshadowed by a cloud. From this cloud, they heard a voice say, “This is my son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

Overall, this experience was so overwhelming that Mark says the disciples were terrified. When it’s over, Jesus leads them down the mountain with a warning about not sharing this with anyone yet. Essentially, Jesus is telling them to hold their breath until after he rises from the dead.

There are three important teachings in this story we don’t want to miss. First, Jesus doesn’t build three dwellings to mark the spot as holy. Knowing the rest of this story, we know why: because God isn’t located in an ark, or a temple, or a church. Because of Jesus, God dwells in us. We are the tabernacles of God. Jesus was moving the disciples into a new way of knowing and experiencing relationship with God. He was also opening access to God to all people, not a select few.

The second is the command to listen. God is asking them and us to do more than hear what Jesus teaches. God is asking them and us to be changed by it. There is so much we hear and believe, but it doesn’t change anything for us. The disciples heard Jesus tell them they shouldn’t share this experience until after he had risen from the dead. He told them he was going to die and rise again on several occasions, yet it still came as a surprise when it actually happened.

The third is this: when the disciples were terrified and being broken open to a new understanding and experience of Jesus and God and everything they knew about spiritual life, God responded, overshadowing them in the form of a cloud, which symbolizes the immediate presence and power of God. God spoke to them and reminded them to be changed, to let go of what was and move into this new revelation.

The final movement in this story is that the disciples come down from the mountain. They left the presence of God and re-entered the world changed by their experience. What the change was and what it would mean would develop over time. The same is true for us.

The transfiguration of Jesus for us today is the revelation that happens within us, when the Jesus of Nazareth we read about in Scripture and learned about in Sunday school, becomes Jesus the Incarnate God whose own Spirit lives and dwells in us, changing us and sending us to share the love.

We may see a brilliant light with our eyes when this transfiguration of Jesus happens for us. Some have. Some still do.

More likely, we will have an interior enlightenment, an infusion of transforming energy we feel in our bodies and know deeply in our souls. We’ll experience an excitement combined with terror at what is happening and what it will mean for us.

God will speak to us too and show us how to go. We hear the voice of God when we are open to hearing it, when we are willing to let go of what we think we know and move in faith in response to God’s revelation to us.

In the end, like the disciples, we’ll walk away from our mountain-top experience carrying the seed of something that will begin to grow and develop in us. This takes time – and the season of Lent, which starts next Wednesday, is when we do this with intention.

As we live our lives of faith, individually and together as a community, we move into every change trusting in God. We flow with God in the living waters of life. We know that attempting to dam the river or push against the current will only wear us out, so instead, we relax, heed the gospel, listen to the Beloved, and receive the change within us that comes from God, change that leads us from glory to glory into the full stature of Christ.  Amen.

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