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    Feb 23, 2020

    The last Sunday after Epiphany

    Passage: Matthew 17:1-9

    Preacher: The Rev. Nathan M. Finnin

    Series: Year A 2020-2021

    Category: Epiphany

    Detail:

    Jesus is kind of weird.

    I think sometimes we don’t talk about that,

    because it sounds like something that maybe we shouldn’t say.

    But he’s kind of weird, right?

    I mean, this morning’s story is not one that screams “normalcy.”

     

    Jesus has just taken Peter, James, and John up a mountain,

    and transfigured before them.

    His face lights up,

    his clothes becoming blindingly white,

    and all of a sudden, he is joined by Moses and Elijah.

     

    But here’s what I want to suggest this morning.

    What if it wasn’t Jesus who was transfigured.

    What if, and bear with me,

    what if it was the disciples who had been transfigured.

     

    What if it was the disciples’ experiences

    leading up to this scene this morning,

    that ALLOWED them to see who Jesus really was.

    And what if it is possible, as Herbert O’Driscoll suggests,

    that nothing at all actually happened to Jesus on that mountain top.

    That whatever happened, it was within and to the disciples.

    That Christ continued throughout this episode,

    to be what he always was,

    the incarnation of God in human flesh,

    but that for a fleeting moment the eyes of the disciples were opened,

    and they were able to see the blazing light- the glory of that incarnation.

     

    Driscoll goes on to say:

    “ every now and then there come moments when the blindness is lifted, and, like the three disciples, I encounter my Lord transfigured. I assume it is not he who has changed, but in some mysterious way, I who have been changed, and at least for a fleeting moment, I am able to see him as he really is, to see this divine reality as it really is, to see the creation and at the same time see the light of this divine reality as it really is, to see the creation and at the same time see the light of the Creator shining in and through creation.”

     

    And so that’s what I want to talk about this morning.

    I want to talk about those times and places,

    where we are changed.

     

    The Celtic tradition calls those “thin places”

    A place where the veil between the material realm and the spiritual realm,

    the veil between earth and heaven is very thin,

    in some places paper thin;

    and in such places it becomes possible to see things whole.

    To see things as they really are.

    To see creation,

    and at the same time to see the light of the God shining in and through that creation.

     

    To piggy back off Greg’s sermon last week,

    they are the places where we are,

    even if only for a moment,

    able to live not in the flesh,

    but in the spirit.

    Aware of the presence of God.

     

    That’s where the juice is.

    And If moments like that aren’t real,

    if moments like that don’t exist,

    then I’m out.

    If that’s not what it’s is about, then why are we here?

    I’ve got other things I could be doing on my birthday!

     

    Fortunately,

    I can tell you that moments like that are real.

    Moments where you are reminded of who you are, and whose you are.

     

    For Jesus, it happens at his baptism.

    A few weeks ago we read the passage…

    Jesus is baptized in the river Jordan by John,

    and as he comes up,

    we are told,

    “the heavens were opened to him and he saw the spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

     

     

    For Peter, it happens right before the story we read this morning in the Gospel of Matthew.

    Jesus is talking with the disciples and Jesus is asking the disciples who people say that he is,

    and Peter replies “you are the anointed, the son of the living God.”

     

    And in response to him, Jesus says

    “You are the Rock, and upon this rock I will build my assembly, and the gates of Hades shall have no power against it. I shall give you the keys of the Kingdom of the heavens, and whatever you bind on the earth will be bound in the heavens, and whatever you unbind on the earth will have been unbound in the heavens.”

    Here, Peter is told who he is.

    He is told by Jesus that he is being handed the key to the Kingdom of Heaven.

     

    For me, it happened as I sat in a recovery center (doesn’t that sound so much more distinguished than “rehab?”….rehab is for junkies…I went to a “recovery center..).

     

    Not knowing if I was going to make it.

    Not knowing if my marriage was going to make it.

    Not knowing if my vocational call…was going to make it.

    And I remember God telling me I didn’t have to hide anymore.

    I could rely on him.

    And in that moment,

    I was invited to take off my mask.

    I was invited to shed all the things that I thought made me who I was.

    I was invited to simply be a beloved child of God.

    And in that invitation, I was given tools that allowed me to experience a change.

    Simple things like spiritual practices.

    Meditation and breath work.

    Forgiveness and humility.

     

    And what that did was not only change the way I saw myself,

    but it changed the way I saw God.

     

    It changed the way I experienced the reality of God’s presence and love and grace and power in my life.

    It allowed me to have a transfiguration experience.

    NOT because God changed,

    but because I changed.

    Because I was reminded of my true identity.

    Because I was reminded who I was, and whose I was.

    And it wasn’t because I thought something new or different,

    it was because I EXPERIENCED something new and different.

    And that changed everything.

     

    And I believe those are the experiences into which God calls us.

    Those moment of grace when we are reminded that

    worthiness isn’t something you get from the outside.

    It’s something implanted in your soul.

    And I want to point out,

    that most of the time, these moments don’t occur because of something we’ve achieved.

    Jesus’ identity as the beloved son of God in his baptism

    was revealed before he’d even begun his ministry.

     

    Jesus’ pronouncement of Peter’s identity wasn’t because of the success of anything Peter did.

    In fact, a few scenes earlier in this Gospel, Peter almost drowns trying to walk on water like Jesus.

    I certainly wasn’t on a winning streak when I had my transfiguration experience...

     

    And that’s both the beauty and the challenge of it.

    the presence of God isn’t something you can achieve,

    because we’re already immersed in it.

    The identity as beloved children of God isn’t something we earn,

    it’s the core reality of who we already are.

     

     

    And the invitation we have, through Christ,

    is to wake up and live into the soul we’ve forgotten-

    this good and beautiful thing we were

    before life started convincing us we were something else.

     

     

     

    As Susan Andrews writes,

     

    “It can happen slowly over time, or it can happen in an instant.

    It may be a moment in worship when the veil is removed

    and you suddenly see the bread and wine as much more than JUST bread and wine.

    It may be a human moment, simply holding a child in your arms

    and feeling immensely blessed and immediately grateful.

    It may be a moment when the beauty or emotion of music

    pushes you beyond the limits of your thoughts and suddenly uncovers within you God’s own heartbeat.

    It may be in the midst of grief or depression,

    when all of a sudden, your battered soul is lifted by an angel and touched by a spirit from another realm. It may be at the deathbed of a loved one,

    when the deep ridges of living pain finally relax into the peaceful healing and release of death.

    It may be a moment of contemplative prayer,

    when the boundaries of your own mind and body melt into an unspeakable oneness,

    a communion with the Divine Source of all life.” (1)

     

    And if you notice,

    these moments are not about building up or achieving,

    they’re about letting go and unbracing.

    these are the experiences that transfigure us.

    …these are the moments that open our eyes,

    and allow us to see God as God truly is.

     

    Those moments are often overwhelming.

    Sometimes they’re even confusing.

    And when we have those moments,

    our instincts are the same as Peter’s this morning.

    We want to stay there.

    We want to hit pause.

    But we can’t.

     

    Because inevitably we are led back down the mountain.

    The world is too vulnerable for us to stay up there.

    The world is too broken for us to stay up there.

    The world needs us far too much for us to stay up there.

    God has endowed us with far too many gifts this world needs, for us to stay up there.

    So we come down.

     

    The process of transfiguration is central to spirituality.

    It takes what can be just an intellectual idea and allows us to experience it in the body.

    It is one thing to think about detachment from our anxiety

    and yet another to have divine energy take over our body during a meditation.

    It is one thing to believe in the power of love,

    another to feel it in one’s body as one gets caught up in worship of the God of love.

    When we invite these energies to become present in our bodies

    they subtly alter the way we habitually respond in the world.

    This is the power of being a people with a spiritual practice.

    It helps move our lofty spiritual ideals

    from our imaginations into our everyday experiences.

     

    And I believe that every time that we have one of those experiences,

    every time we are able to move from the head to the heart,

    the trail becomes a little clearer.

    I believe that every time we are transfigured,

    the path back up the mountain….

    the opportunity to see God as God really is,

    becomes just a little more accessible.

    And so does the opportunity to show others that reality.

    That’s our call.

     

    I know some of us get nervous when the word evangelism starts getting thrown around,

    but friends, that is what we are called to do as people who claim to follow Jesus.

    We are called to carry Jesus’ invitation of transformation to all people.

    and that might feel weird. And people might look at us weird.

    But guess what. Jesus was weird.

    I can’t point people to all the possible paths that lead to transfiguration,

    but I can point people to the path that lead me there.

    And you can point people to the path that leads you there.

    And if you’re not doing that, start.

    Please.

     

    And if you have forgotten where that path is for you, ask for help.

    Please.

    Because that’s the only way we’re going to make it.

    That’s the only way we are going to live into the reality of who and what God has called us to be.

     

    it’s not about thinking the right things,

    or achieving the right things,

    or pretending to be the right things.

    it’s about allowing ourselves to become eyewitnesses of God’s redemptive power..

    And the only way to do that is to allow ourselves to be transformed.

    To be transfigured,

    over and over again.

     

    Amen.