A sermon, based on Luke 9.28-36, which I was to have preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, March 3, 2019.
However, as happens, on occasion, other words, I pray, Holy Spirit-breathed, were given to me. I would love to post the sermon I did preach, but as none of it was written, all I have to share is what I initially had planned to say.
Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray.
I wonder. What did Peter, John, and James expect when Jesus said, “Come with me”?
Perhaps they wanted, needed time alone with Jesus. He had said some disturbing things. About his suffering and dying. About denying themselves. About taking up their cross and following him. About losing their lives for his sake.(1)
Perhaps, not understanding any of it, they would have a chance to bring up their pressing questions, their poignant emotions and to have Jesus clear up their confusion.
Suddenly, his countenance glows, his clothes glisten, and Moses and Elijah appear!
What the heaven is this? An illusion? Physically exhausted from their climb, gasping for breath, hyperventilating in the thinner mountaintop air, do Peter, John, and James see something that isn’t there?
No. What they see is real. So real, they can’t comprehend how real.
Jesus, on that mountaintop, steps outside of earthly time and space into eternity to reveal unmistakably the truth of his glory and the glory of his truth: Jesus, flesh and blood, as he really appears, on that mountain appears as he really is; in the words of the hymn, “God in man made manifest.”(2)
Of all that we could say about the transfiguration of Jesus, to bring it from the mountain height to the plane of the world where we live, I suggest that it is a metaphor for our human experience. A metaphor for how life is meant to be. A metaphor for life as it really is in the face of all we call “reality.”
Human life truly appears and appears truly on mountaintops of transfiguration.
Two examples among many…
A moment in a relationship. Two people, years ago, made a commitment to each other. Now, years later, they – having lived through manifold cycles of uncertainty and clarity, expectations broken and needs met, disappointment and reconciliation, doubt and discovery, in other words, having lived life honestly, nakedly, deeply, fully – have come to a place of deepest love and greatest respect.
There is a mountaintop moment of transfiguration where they see their relationship, in becoming what it was meant to be, as it really is: A safe, sanctified space to live life’s paradox; that only through the other can each become one’s fullest self.
A moment in a job. One, having worked long and hard, discovers a calling, a vocation where one’s deepest desires and greatest gifts address a need in the world.(3)
There is a mountaintop moment of transfiguration where one beholds what was meant to be becoming what is, life and labor joined as bone and marrow, soul and spirit; distinct, yet so related as to be indistinguishable.
Peter, in his mountaintop moment had an idea: “Let’s build houses.” I don’t blame him. Who wouldn’t want to stay on the mountaintop? But mountaintop moments of transfiguration when we can see things as they are meant to be, don’t last.
Or maybe they do.
Peter, John, and James “kept silent and in those days” of Jesus’ ministry, “(telling) no one of any of the things they had seen.” Nevertheless, immediately thereafter they and Jesus came down, returning to the plain. A man, pleading that his ailing son be made whole, approached Jesus, who healed the boy.
The transfiguration of the mountaintop, where and when we see life as it is meant to be, is to be repeated, replayed in life lived on the daily plane of our human existence. Wherever, whenever you and I, through word and deed, transform enmity into love, discord into harmony, despair into hope, disappointment into forgiveness, sorrow into joy, there is a transfiguration moment when we play our part in making what is meant to be that which really is.
(1) See Luke 9.18-27
(2) From the hymn, Songs of thankfulness and praise (1862), words by Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885) and F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984).
(3) A moment when “one’s deepest desire and greatest gift address a need of the world” is a paraphrase of Frederick Buechner’s definition of vocation.
Illustration: The Transfiguration, F. Alexandre Bida (1813-1895)
5 thoughts on “Seeing things as they really are”
Paul, I’m going to carry this sermon into Lent with me. Though Tuesday is my last class, I still hope to be writing after it ends. You never know when that transfiguration moment will happen. I feel as if I had several this week alone. Maybe they happen often and I’m not always aware of them right away. They creep up on me. We all should work harder in Lent to play our parts effectively enough so we can make what is meant to be, a reality. That’s a great Lenten goal right?
Loretta, you wrote: “We all should work harder in Lent to play our parts effectively enough so we can make what is meant to be, a reality. That’s a great Lenten goal right?” Yes, amen, this is a great Lenten goal and, we also know, a great goal for any day of the year…any day of our lives.
As for moments of transfiguration, I well understand what you mean by not always being aware of them. I suspect that you, given your wonderful experiences – soul-stirring and eye-opening – of your spiritual writing class, may find yourself more keenly alert to mountaintop moments of clarity. I also suspect, as you write, “I still hope to be writing after it ends,” that you will do that. I look forward to reading and reflecting on your words.
This Lent, on Sunday mornings, I’m offering a course on prayer, covering the 7 forms of prayer: Petition, Intercession, Confession, Thanksgiving, Oblation, Adoration, and Praise. The last part of each lesson invites the participants to write prayers of their own. It seems (feels) to me that this aspect of each lesson is right in line with the work you’ve been doing in your spiritual writing class. Thanks for the inspiration!
Wow Paul!! That class sounds great!!! Wish I lived closer!!!
Do you know the name Kathleen Staudt? She’s the teacher of the writing class I’m taking and the night I shared what I wrote about you with the class she asked “you know Paul Abernathy?” And then said “he can preach!” I agreed. She asked me for my blog address and I sent it to her. She read what I wrote on Friday about the dementia tour and asked if I’d share it with the class. I said I would. One person who read the blog on Facebook said the dementia tour was too much for her and said she was overwhelmed and couldn’t complete it. I wrote her and suggested that she talk to her pastor. She said he didn’t have empathy. I felt really bad!! That was one of those moments I want to write about. I knew before I did the dementia tour that I would be emotional and it was… but I also know that I have good support around me!! In any case…. I’ll keep writing!!
Good luck with your class!!
Yep, I know Kathleen Staudt. Please say “hello” to her for/from me. These are those times when the small world is tiny when we realize there is not 6 degrees of separation between/among us, but more like 1 or 2.
I, too, as you, feel bad for the person who believes her pastor has not the empathy to be with her in her experience of grief concerning dementia. I am sorry.
I’m happy to know that you will continue writing.
Tomorrow, I’m dropping in the mail to you the course booklet I’ve prepared for the Lenten course on prayer. I want to share it with you.
YAY!!! Can’t wait to receive the booklet!!! I’ll let you know when I receive it!! Soooo sad my class is over but I’ll keep writing!!