Transfiguration: Between the Way It is and the Way It Could Be

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An autumn view from Mt. Tom.

Exodus 34:29-35
Luke 9:28-36

There’s a William Stafford poem that reminds me what the view is like from Mt. Tom. This is the first place I’ve ever lived with such nearby mountains, and I treasure it. The poem goes like this. This is only the first half:

“Sometimes you look at an empty valley like this,
and suddenly the air is filled with snow.
That is the way the whole world happened —
there was nothing, and then…
But maybe some time you will look out and even
the mountains are gone, the world become nothing
again. What can a person do to help
bring back the world?” 

Those passing moments, when everything stands in dazzling clarity. The first thing we want to do is act. Today we remember how Jesus took the three disciples and they, too, climbed a mountain.

Perhaps tired from the climb, the disciples got sleepy. If you’ve read the Gospels at all, you know that the disciples always seem to be a sleepy bunch, especially when it’s time to pray. That gives me comfort. 

And suddenly, the air was filled with — not snow, but light. There was nothing, and then… 

Jesus. Dazzling. Face changed. Moses. Elijah. (Who, by the way, are supposed to be very dead.) Peter can’t help himself.
“Master,” Peter says in the Transfiguration story, “it is good for us to be here! Let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 

I think Luke is generous. He adds, “not knowing what he said.” 

The rest of us, and I imagine the other two disciples, meanwhile, have reactions similar to just this: “shut up, Peter.”

Stop talking and take it all in. It is good for us to be here. Not so we can do, but so that we can see. 

It is good for us to be here. Not so that we can do, but so that we can see. 

Instead of shouting at Peter, see what happened in the story: some sleepy disciples stayed awake barely long enough to see God incarnate standing between human representations of the Law, Moses, and the Prophets, Elijah. Between the established order that keeps us safe and the voices that call out for change. Between those two is Christ: God incarnate, love incarnate, grace incarnate. Between the way it is and the way it could be, there’s grace and love. 

Last Saturday, we retreated together to think about our future as a congregation. We talked about finding our why and leading with that. We played a little game to help us discover our values. What we came up with was five things: we are sacramental, we are inclusive, we are generous, we are a family, and we are joyful. It was something of an epiphany. A sacramental, inclusive, generous, joyful, family-style atmosphere. I don’t know about you, but that’s a church I want to go to. 

I do love it when a plan comes together. We are beginning to see with dazzling clarity who we are and why we’re here and how each of us fit as we close the aptly named season of Epiphany. But it was only the beginning.

Before we jump to doing, I invite us to pause and take it all in. Between the way it is and the way it could be, there’s grace and love.

Over the course of Lent, I’m tackling one of each of our chosen values per Sunday. We have five values, and Lent has five Sundays, and the readings happen to work with all our values. Like we’re biblical or something.

I do love it when a plan comes together. 

After those five Sundays, it’ll be Palm Sunday, and Holy Week, as we take in the story of Jesus again, and we will be busy, me most of all, with services and dramas and food and fun. And then we’ll set to continuing to figure out where God is taking us. 

But today, we are on the mountaintop with Jesus. Let’s stop planning, stop working, and take it all in. The children, the flames, the ashes, the donuts, the story of Jesus on a mountainside. And Jesus here, among us.

Between the way it is and the way it could be, there’s grace and love. Let that grace and love nourish you and make you strong. 

William Stafford’s poem ends like this: 

We have to watch [the world] and then look at each other.
Together we hold it close and carefully
save it, like a bubble that can disappear
if we don’t watch out.
Please think about this as you go on. Breathe on the world.
Hold out your hands to it. When mornings and evenings
roll along, watch how they open and close, how they
invite you to the long party that your life is.” 

Together let us take all of this in. Let us watch, and then let us look at each other. Together we will figure out who God would have us be in this moment, at this time, in this town. 

This week, we begin another journey, together, from ashes to fire. From the ashes of Ash Wednesday to the fire of Pentecost. Let us watch it, and then, let us look at each other, for Christ is where we have been, and Christ is where we are going. Thank God. Amen.

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