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Preacher: The Reverend Dr. Cathy S. Gilliard

Transfiguration Sunday

Exodus 24:12-18

Matthew 17:1-9

Today in the liturgical calendar is Transfiguration Sunday.  It is always the Sunday before Ash Wednesday as we end the season of Epiphany and begin to ask ourselves what needs to die in order that we might live.  I have to ask myself that and you are invited to ask yourself as well.  What needs to die in me so that I might be fully alive, open and present to the love being offered and also to be able to give love away authentically, generously, graciously to whoever needs it most?  We ask ourselves about those truths that we need to come to grips with once and for all, our heart’s desires and deepest longings, our goals and ambitions, fears, anxieties – all those wounds and assaults both given and received.

How do we declare our own Independence Day to those things we no longer need to carry as we begin that long and lonely trek with Jesus toward Jerusalem so that when he is nailed to the cross he takes all of who we are with him so that on Resurrection morning, we rise to victorious new life – whole and forgiven and ready to take on the promises of our faith with fresh hope?

It’s Transfiguration Sunday.  Jesus goes up a high mountain and invites us to come along as he takes his other close friends: Peter, James, and John.  The Jordan River of Baptism is behind him and the cross of Calvary lurks before him.  Jesus must get away.

It seems like an ordinary day but it is not.  No day is ordinary, my friends.  Every day that we have breath is a special day and we ought to treat it is as such – no matter what.  Every day has possibility for transformation.  Jesus attempts to get away from the daily grind, away from the busy-ness of everyday life and goes up on a mountain to worship, pray and be renewed.  Jesus tells his friends and us:  come with me; stay a while.

Have you ever had a mountaintop experience – a moment that registered so deeply within your spirit that it took your breath away? Perhaps it was almost unrecognizable, fleeting.  No words could explain or contain it – that moment when you realized that you were hopelessly in love – insane out of your right mind – or that someone – anyone – truly loved you somehow.

Or perhaps that time when, alas, you were convinced that there is indeed another presence in the universe – him or her ­or the Almighty – mystery or wonder.  There is an energy force out there somewhere larger than life; larger than your own finite self.  Have you ever had such an experience where you encountered the holy?  I’ll bet we’ve all had a few; maybe many.  And if not, just hang on – pay attention.  Watch and wait.

Matthew tells us that Elijah and Moses (those ancient prophets) appear before Jesus, James, Peter and John. I wonder what they tell him about going through hard time.  I wonder how they encourage him to hold on, to be steadfast, unmovable, and unrelenting about the work ahead.  I wonder what words of wisdom they impart to this Beloved who carries the weight of the world.

And Jesus is praying.  His face changes and his clothes became dazzling white – brighter than anyone on earth could bleach, according to Mark’s gospel.

Peter and the other disciples are amazed; can you imagine?  Peter says, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings places; one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” [1]

Peter speaks for all of us who want to build memorials that are at best fleeting.  He speaks for those of us who would rather live in the present and the past rather than look ahead to the future, tough and unknown as that may be.  He speaks as one gripped by fear – fear of his leader being taken away, fear of what might happen to him and to them, and the movement in the next moment and also the weeks ahead.  He speaks for all of us who are sometimes afraid of the amazing thing that is happening right now – that we cannot fully understand nor explain nor control.  It’s happening – and it’s eerie – and we are afraid of our capacity and what we are to do and yet, we just can’t seem to shake it – come what may.  Peter is afraid – like all of us are afraid sometimes when the world seems overwhelming and we are unsure and vulnerable.  And let’s not forget the reality of all those enemies we talked about last Sunday and Jesus’s call on our lives to love them any how – such hard work, so near impossible.

What Peter does not understand is that Jesus cannot be contained in a building, in wood and stone and brick.  Jesus cannot be held in the kind of dwelling that Peter has in mind.  Jesus can only be contained in flesh – in your heart and my heart, in your spirit and my spirit.  Jesus is  embodied in our flesh that continues to push us out into the world – out and far, wide and deep, among our families and friends, changing them and us, transforming us, setting our souls and our lives on fire – bit by bit by bit – until we can no longer help ourselves.

Let us build a dwelling place to hold the three of you.  But the antithesis of transformation is that things remain as they are; as they were.  We are being transformed from glory to glory; from one degree of grace into another.

Matthew tells us that the clouds opened up and voice was heard:  “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!” [2]

Remember when we heard those words before at the beginning of this season?  We began with it at Jesus’ baptism. The heavens open and God declares his Son; I love him!  Oh my brothers and sisters, if you really want to be transfigured, listen to the voice of God calling to you, calling your name over and over and over again.  Listen to the love language of the Most High:  you are mine just as you are.  I am pleased with you.  So pleased in fact that I am withholding nothing – not even my own Son for your sake.  You are mine!  If we can only internalize that and live into it in good times and bad; through ups and downs, for the present moment and for future concerns – so loving, so wonderfully wrapped up in this truth.  “My beloved, I will never leave you nor will I ever forsake you.”

We hear these words just before Ash Wednesday when we take ashes from last year’s palms and make the cross remembering that we are dust and to dust we are returning.  When we put all of it into perspective held right there for a season of days and weeks: dust  and to dust returning.

You and I know what Peter, James, and John do not know.  We know that the Transfiguration is a preview of what is to come.  That Jesus will one day be taken up again on another high mountain in just a few weeks: a mountain of dread and calamity; but it is necessary.  There will be no other way.  Jesus will go there to remind us that no matter what the world seems like, all is not lost – life will come after death.

We know that this glory that the disciples see is a prediction that underscores the glory of the cross; the final victory over death of which we are all a part.

 

Worship at its best is like going to a holy mountain; at least I hope so.  We get to do it every week; sometimes multiple times – the music, prayers, words, in baptism, the breaking of bread and sharing the cup, the communion with one another.

But holy ground is not limited within these walls.  Holy ground can be in the kitchen,  or on a bus or a subway, at work, at one’s desk, walking in the park, beside a hospital bed, or sitting alone waiting for the phone to ring.  If God enters the threshold of your awareness, that place is holy ground.  The ground upon which we stand is the ground of opportunity bursting forth right here; right now.  It is holy ground and it is the place where God meets us, comforts and also confronts us – fills us up, shakes us loose.

What are you asking God for this Lenten season?  How do you want to be transformed?  What are you giving up in order to gain?  How do you start fresh?  Join us these days of lent beginning with Ash Wednesday and each Wednesday until Holy Week.  Read the daily reflections so beautifully written by our members – sit with the readings, get to know the writers, open yourself us to the transforming presence.

I’m going to also ask you to pray.  Pray for me – and our staff – and for one another.  Pray for what God wants to do with us.  You see, I believe that God is here.  I’ve never felt it more strongly than I do right now.  God is here and God wants to do something in this place if we are willing and able to receive it.  The times are calling to us.  The moment is ripe and pregnant with possibilities.  How shall we embrace it?  Let’s pray about it together as a community.  Pray for your role in it all.  What might God be leading you to do or be?  Perhaps you are just tired and you just need to come in and be loved on for a while.  You just want to sit and receive and be baptized in good love.  Or perhaps you have gifts that you want to bring.  Hands for service; a personality for hospitality – something is burning inside and you are looking for a place to share it.  Let’s pray about it during these days and  offer it up to Jesus and let him carry it to the cross.  Let’s pray for our country and our world – for peace on earth, good will toward one another, healing in our land, love for our neighbor.   Let’s see what might happen by Easter Sunday morning and how we might be transformed to move forward from there.   I’m going to ask you to set aside some time – 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. or whenever your schedule allows.  Isaiah and I will be at the back and we have the red dot.  Put it on your phone or watch or something that you see on a regular bases and when you look at it may it be a reminder to pray.

Did you notice the last verse of the hymn we just sang: “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”?  It is actually a prayer:

 

Finish then, thy new creation; pure
and spotless let us be. Let us see thy
great salvation perfectly restored in
thee; changed from glory into glory
till in heaven we take our place, till

we cast our crowns before thee lost
in wonder, love, and praise. [3]

[1] Mark 9:5

[2] Matthew 17:5b

[3] Charles Wesley, 1747 Love Divine, All Loves Excelling, United Methodist Hymnal #384