March 2nd, 2014
The Rev. Rob Fisher
St. Dunstan’s, Carmel Valley
Last Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A: Exodus 24:12-18; Psalm 99; 2 Peter 1:16-21; Matthew 17:1-9
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
There is a story that I heard a long time ago that I will roughly paraphrase for you. I don’t recall exactly where or when this happened, but here is basically how it went.
There was once a terrible event where hostages were taken. The hostages were held for long enough that they grew profoundly fearful.
After a very long time, their rescuers prevailed over their captors, and these rescuers entered the place where the hostages were waiting. Sadly, instead of leaping for joy when these strong and brave men came in to liberate them, these scared hostages were too frightened to come forward. They crouched and hid. They obviously could not relate to the fact that these men were here to save them; it was so far from anything they had known or seen for so long.
One of the rescuers suddenly had an insight, and he decided to get down on the ground. He got down on their level. From this humble place, he crawled toward them, and only then could they see who these rescuers really were, giving them the courage to come forward and finally become free.
Today is the very last Sunday of Epiphany, and we hear about the Transfiguration. It is when Jesus takes only a select few of his disciples up to the top of a mountain, and when they arrive something amazing happens. It is called the “transfiguration” because Jesus’ figure changes from having the appearance of any other carpenter/rabbi of his day, having his face shine like the sun, and his clothes become dazzling white. Other heroes of the faith, Moses and Elijah, appear and talk with him. And then a bright cloud overshadows them. From the cloud comes the voice of God, saying “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
Notice that what happens next. Notice what the disciples do. They become filled with fear, and they fall to the ground, trembling!
But Jesus tells them to not be afraid and to stand up, and now when they look up they see no one except Jesus himself alone.
It is a little like the other places in the Bible when people realize all of a sudden that God has been present in this place, in their midst, and they just didn’t even know it. It is like the sudden discover that you have been standing on holy ground all along.
This moment is one of the great epiphanies for Jesus’ followers, where the glory of God in Christ becomes manifest.
I wonder why Jesus choses to reveal his Transfiguration in such a selective way, to only a few of his disciples. And then of course he warns even them not to reveal it to the others yet.
I suppose it has to do with the overwhelming nature of the good news. To paraphrase William Sloane Coffin from one of his favorite sayings, “It turns out God is not too hard for us to believe, but God is too good for us to believe, especially as we are so far from such goodness.”
Like the hostages, we cannot handle such goodness, because we have become too familiar with things that make us have cause to fear.
Perhaps that is why God chose to be incarnate in a regular human being like us in the first place, to be on our level, so that we could look upon his face and see not a blinding light but rather our own likeness. When we really behold Christ truly, we realize that in fact he is a figure of light, and this light is familiar, too, because it burns within each one of us.
Theologically speaking, he has come down to raise us up, like the compassionate rescuer who got on his hands and knees in order to help others stand.
If you know her you know that my wife, Sarah, is a true extrovert. She happens to be a journalist who seems most of the time like she’s not afraid of a conversation with anybody. Many of you know that she edits a magazine about local food right now, but she used to write about hedge funds. When she was a financial writer, she dealt with egos that are as big as egos get.
Knowing this about her, I never thought I would see her star struck. But one day, not long after we moved her, we took an out-of-town friend to Mission Ranch, which is a restaurant near the Carmel Mission that faces sheep pastures and the ocean.
We were sitting outside, but all of a sudden there happened a familiar old man inside the restaurant, standing by the piano. You may have guessed already, but it was the former mayor of Carmel and the owner of the restaurant, Clint Eastwood.
Suddenly, this fearless woman was reduced to a jumble of nerves! I had never seen this reaction in her before. She actually pretended to have to go to the bathroom just so she could walk by him. I couldn’t believe it.
The phenomenon of being star struck is really remarkable when you think about it. Really, what is it about that particular old man with messy gray hair that makes him so different from all other skinny old guys on the Monterey Peninsula? We know what he is capable of, how talented he is as an actor and director, but why does that make him any more special than the equally amazing people that we meet every day, but whose greatness just has not been revealed to us yet?
What if we valued everybody like we value celebrities in our culture?
(I may sound like a grumpy old man myself to say this, but it seems like, thanks to reality T.V., many in the new crop of celebrities are famous without even having any particular talents!)
Being star struck is not a new phenomenon at all. It happens to the best of us, obviously.
But instead of choosing to be in awe of certain celebrities, we were in awe of every person we met? What if we could simply see every face we met as a child of God, which is what our faith and our baptismal covenant tells us to do. Nobody would be valued out of proportion to the rest, because all our of immeasurable value in God’s eyes.
Jesus came not as a celebrity, but as a reconciler.
When the light shone on Christ at the Transfiguration, it shed light on his identity.
And it promises that whatever it is that blocks us from God—whatever it is that shields us from God’s light—ultimately God’s light will shine through.
Christ himself is the break in the barrier. He is the brightness and warmth that restores the knowledge of God’s love for the world, something we are often to afraid to behold.
He is the light shining in the darkness, which no darkness can overcome.
Remember, we are still in the season of Epiphany, which is the season of light, and today is the last Sunday before a new season begins.
If you remember, this season began with a guiding star, which led the wise men, and now it culminates with an even brighter light.
One that may be for us our guiding star.