A sermon given by Rev. Dr. Peter A. Luckey on Sunday, February 26, 2017
If you could be present at one of Jesus’ three miracle stories, which one of these three would you pick? Would you pick:
-Jesus walking on the water
-Jesus turning water into wine
-Jesus up on top of a mountain turned incandescent light, voice comes from the cloud, speaking to Moses and Elijah.
I’d pick the third one. Well, let’s be honest. I just love mountains. And I love climbing them, and I love that moment when you climb the mountain and the summit suddenly comes into view. I love that experience of being on top of a mountain looking in every direction. It feels like you’re halfway to heaven. I’d love to have been there. Wouldn’t it be cool to have been there when Jesus was talking to Moses and Elijah. Just imagine that. It is as if they just picked up this conversation where they had left off as if it was only yesterday. And here Jesus is talking to Moses and Elijah, long since dead, and now they are in conversation with each other. What would it have been like to have been there? It is like the proverbial fantasy we all have—you have a dinner party and you pick two people from the dead to come back alive. It would be a great dinner party! It would really be quite an amazing moment to have been there. There is only one problem with that encounter on the top of the mountain. There were no women there. What’s up with that? Just Peter, James and John and Jesus. What happened to the women? I don’t know if that is an oversight on Jesus’ part or somebody who wrote Matthew, but that should be corrected. You know, Peter dropped the ball, too. He had in his mind that we need to capture this moment and build some booths where Elijah and Moses and Jesus could dwell. He didn’t get it. He thought he was supposed to capture the moment. Like some people with cell phones who are so busy trying to capture the moment and put it on Facebook that they forget to just live the experience. Some things just come and go. You can’t capture it. You just have to BE in it.
I know right now you are trying to capture this sermon. You are not sure you are able to do that. You are thinking, “I’m not sure. I’m not totally bored to death yet.
Maybe the good news is that Peter hasn’t said anything about connecting the story of transfiguration with the Presidential election.” But the sermon is yet young. Trigger warning.
So, one thing I think we need to get out of the way is the story does contain miraculous phenomenon. And that’s a problem for some of us. Some of us might say, “Did this really happen this way?” “Is this story factual in a historical way?” “Can you prove or disprove the story of the transfiguration?” Friends, I can’t do that. Some scholars think it happened. Many others think it didn’t.
There is no way of knowing if it actually happened this way, exactly, factually.
More productive of our time together in these few moments is to say what does it mean to us? What does it mean in our lives? For all of us, the teaching ministry of the church is to say what do these ancient texts mean to us, now, today in our lives. We believe that God is still speaking through these ancient stories, but it just doesn’t come. You have to work at it. And that is what the educational process in the life of our church is about. It is trying to breathe new life into these ancient texts and to make sense of them. So, we celebrate the teaching ministry of Plymouth Church. It is so vital, so critical.
Here is what I want to tell you in a nutshell about the story of the transfiguration.
What is important about this story is that it talks about transcendence and holiness. And it lifts holiness and transcendence before us all. Now, why does that matter? Why is that important? I believe that many of us in our lives today are feeling bruised and wounded—and, even, in some ways, broken. In some way we are all looking for something that can heal us. CNN is not going to heal us, my friends. It is not going to do the trick. What we need that can touch the depths of our beings and ground us in who we are in our relationship with God and one another is that we need some transcendence. We need beautiful music.
We need prayer. We need scripture. We need this sacred time together to mend ourselves with a sense of holiness and transcendence.
Now, transcendence works by scrambling time. We think of time in our lives as linear—there is past, there is present and there is future. That’s not how time works. We don’t live our lives in this chronological way. For us, time is scrambled. The past is completely, and always, impinging upon our present.
And, sometimes, we get a glimpse of the future that impacts our daily lives. So, past, present, and the future are intermingled. That is part of the transcendent piece of this story. Jesus is up there with Peter, James and John and, suddenly, the voices of Moses and Elijah are also there. There is a sense of a continuous and ongoing conversation that these are all leaders of God and they feel this deep connection with the past that speaks to them in the present.
Have you ever heard a voice that felt like a voice from the past that was speaking to you that was calling your name in a powerful way. The other night we were in bed. The Delta Chi’s had long given up their party and it was quiet. There was an owl, whoooo, whooo. I think it was at the Lungstroms, but I could hear it at our window. And I felt like it was speaking. It was calling from something in my past, as if there was a spirit that was still alive I needed to pay attention to. It was, if you will, a transcendent moment, a little holiness in the middle of the night that spoke to me. And I felt like I really needed it. So, as Shakespeare says, ‘the past is but prologue.’ Indeed, it’s so true. But, also, this story is about the future and how it impacts the present. It is not just about the past. Scholars believe that the transfiguration story could have been a resurrection appearance of Jesus — the post-Easter Jesus inserted back into the earthly life of Jesus. Isn’t that an interesting thought? You see,, when you read the Gospels, it is important to realize that they were written from the end back into the beginning. That is, the
Gospel writers had the experience of a risen Christ. And they took that experience of the risen Christ and they wrote a story about the earthly Jesus, but through the lens of Easter, of the resurrection. I want you to consider that the story of the transfiguration is like a glimpse of what’s to come. For the disciples to see that Jesus is going to be the one who is radiant, incandescent light, the post-Easter Jesus, and to have a glimpse of that now as they begin the valley of lent, as they go through the passion and the suffering and the pain to already have a glimpse of what is to come is hugely important for them. They would need this experience to keep going. And I want to suggest to you this morning that we, as contemporary disciples, now and then, need a scout to go ahead and see what is coming over the horizon so that we get the message to come back to us, so that we have but a glimpse of what is to come. That can actually transform how we live our lives because of the glimpse of what is yet to come that helps up pay attention and keep our eyes open.
Friends, I know I have shared with you, once or twice, my favorite play is Our Town by Thornton Wilder. It is an extraordinary play and, every time I ponder it, I come up with a new meaning. This is simply the play of a New England town called Grover’s Corners, a fictional town in New Hampshire. It takes place in the cemetery with all the people in the community who are dead. They are having a conversation with each other reflecting back on their earthly lives, thinking of how much they know now, but didn’t know then. And, in the imagination of the playwright, one of the people up on the hill, Emily Gibbs, is dying to go back to earth and relive just one day with what she knows now and didn’t know then.
The playwright gives her permission to go back and relive just one day. She chooses a happy day, her twelfth birthday. What she finds, as she relives this day, astonishes her. The people around her are just so blind to what is so wonderful and so beautiful about life on earth. It is like they don’t get it, they don’t see it. She is so astonished and discouraged by how blind people are around her that she begs the playwright to take her back up to the cemetery because she can’t stand being around such ignorance and blindness. Emily says in the play, “I can’t go on. It goes so fast we don’t have time to look at one another.” “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anyone to realize you! Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every, every minute?”
“Now you know,” Simon Stimson, the church organist replies, “that’s what it was to be alive, to move around in a cloud of ignorance!”
But, does it have to be that way? Do we not have scouts that can go ahead of us and show us a glimpse of the glory that is yet to come? And couldn’t that make a difference in how we live our daily lives? Couldn’t we see the three year old with all the peas on the floor in a big mess and, suddenly, we look at that and say, “It’s not a mess. It is the most beautiful thing in the world because this child exists!” As opposed to not exist at all. It is, as if in that moment, radiant joy all around us. And wouldn’t it be possible to hear the owl call your name in the middle of the night, at three in the morning, and realize that is the most beautiful sound you have ever heard. We need transcendence, my friends, we need a sense of what is beyond this time. Our hymns, our prayers, our scriptures, we need that to heal the deepest part of ourselves.
Wherever you were on this election in November, wherever you are, this has been the most bruising experience for us in our country. There are people in our country that are feeling very bruised and broken and vulnerable because of what’s has happened in our country. Many of us are not sleeping at night.
Wherever we are on that spectrum, we are so in need of healing. The only thing that can really heal us at the depth of ourselves, is transcendence, is the holiness of God. That we can be in touch with who we were created to be when God created us, which is to be created to be people of infinite love, to know who we are our original blessedness to be grounded in the depths of ourselves and grounded with God and grounded with our neighbors, we want to be made whole. This is what we aspire to and what we need. And the only way we can be made whole is by being in touch with that which is transcendent. CNN ain’t going to do it!
This week I went to visit a person in our congregation that I have known for 21 years. She is towards the end of her life. She is widowed. She is nearly blind, but in my little visit with her it was as if she was the one who could really see. It was me that was blind. I came into her room and we had just a moment together. We held hands and we prayed. She reached out and hugged me and said, “Oh, Peter!” And it wasn’t where have you been, it was I am so glad you are here. To me, that was a voice, a transcendent voice, reminding me that every moment in this life can be filled with incandescence if we but open our eyes and pay attention. Amen.