Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Transfiguration: a new way to hear it?

For the last several weeks,
we have been reading stories
of healing –
Peter’s mother-in-law,
everyone in town,
the leper.
If Epiphany were a few weeks longer,
we would also
read the story of the four men
who brought their paralyzed
friend to Jesus and lowered
him through the roof
so that Jesus might heal him.
Today, though,
we jump ahead several
chapters and read the story
of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
What if this, too,
is a healing story?
In the previous chapter of Mark,
which we will read later in the year,
Jesus feeds the 4,000
and then sails away.
The Pharisees demand a sign,
he refuses to give one
– sighing deeply in his spirit -
and again sets sail
for somewhere away
from the demands being made upon him.
As he and the disciples are in the boat,
he teaches them the odd lesson
about the yeast of Pharisees and Herod.
The poor disciples,
still stuck on the feeding event
and the fact that they have once again
come away with very little to eat,
decide Jesus is chastising
them because they don’t have enough bread.
And seeing that they still
don’t understand,
still haven’t realized who he is
and what he is about,
he reminds them of how each time
thousands were fed, there was lots left over.
When they arrive in Bethsaida,
some people beg Jesus to heal a blind
man and he does
but he cannot heal him with a simple touch.
He has to touch him twice.
And finally,
Jesus asks the disciples,
“who do you say that I am?”
and Peter blurts out the truth,
“you are the Messiah”
and then turns right
around and rebukes Jesus for daring
to speak of crucifixion and resurrection.
Is it any wonder
that Jesus is tired,
discouraged and low in spirit?
Is it any wonder
that the disciples,
who have lived with one notion of Messiah
all of their lives,
still don’t understand,
still can’t figure Jesus out?
And so Jesus does what he has done before.
He retreats to a quiet place
away from the demands of those who come after him.
But this
time he takes three of the disciples with him.
Peter and James and John
are invited to go up the mountain, too.
We cannot know
whether Jesus knew or suspected
what was going to happen
on that mountain.
Certainly, the disciples hadn’t a clue.
I think it is most likely
that Jesus needed time away,
time to be quiet and pray,
to renew his spirit
so that he could carry on,
so that he could face
what he knew was coming.
And God responds
with transfiguration.
God affirms and renews Jesus
for the journey ahead.
The disciples are terrified!
You see, they had no idea
that they also
needed time away,
needed renewal and fresh vision
in order to endure the journey ahead.
In other words,
the disciples needed to be healed.
In their fear,
Peter makes the clumsy request
to memorialize the event,
building booths for Moses, Jesus and Elijah
so that they and the disciples can remain
right there in that place and moment.
It’s not a bad
idea but it is one rooted
in old ideas,
old liturgical ways
and the Transfiguration cannot
be contained in the old.
It requires a new
a new heart
that is willing to live
in the mystery of transfigured healing.
And Jesus tells Peter, James and John not
to tell a soul
what they saw until after
he has risen from the dead.
For the very first time,
Jesus command for silence is obeyed.
The disciples have only begun
to heal their hardened hearts.
They have had a mere glimpse
of what the new way of being Messiah is.
There’s not a chance
they are going to tell anyone
because they are still trying
to believe they saw it themselves.
Do you blame them?
Would we have dared to speak of it?

It seems to me
that we have come to expect
that we will have mountaintop experiences
in our lives.
Perhaps you have been to a conference or class
that has left you renewed and excited.
Perhaps there is a song
or even a brief encounter with someone
that has lifted you up,
refreshed your faith.
Most of us immediately
want to share
that experience with others.
And when I have tried to do
that, those I talk to smile,
sometimes look vacant,
and say something innocuous like,
“that’s nice.”
If my idea of mountaintop events being healing ones
is even close to truth,
then we really have to hear
the rest of that story.
The last thing the disciples heard
on that mountaintop was,
“Listen to him.”
God did not demand that they speak
or share their experience with others.
God told them to listen.
I don’t know about you
but I find it hard to listen
if I am busy talking.
And then Jesus tells
them to be silent.
Listen and be quiet.
In order for healing to happen,
we have to listen
with all of our being.
And then we have to be quiet.
The healing of our spirit,
of our heart,
is not like trying to come up
with a new program concept.
We don’t need to bounce ideas
off of one another.
We need to listen
and sit in silence.
There will be a time to talk,
a time to share,
but it will be far more effective
if we have given God and ourselves
time to complete the healing.
Peter was on the right track
when he called Jesus Messiah
but his healing had only begun
with that revelation.
I’m sure no one was more stunned
than Peter when those words
came out of his mouth.
When Jesus then began to speak
of the upcoming events,
of crucifixion and resurrection,
Peter responds out of a heart
that has only begun to heal,
from an understanding this is still
Peter needed to listen
and be quiet.
We are entering the season we set aside
for those very tasks.
Lent is a time to examine our hearts,
confess our faults
and then listen
for the Lord to heal us.
It is a time to contemplate how
we have failed to be faithful
and contemplation is best done in silence.
All too often,
we hear stories like the Transfiguration
and get comfortable in the familiar,
assuming we know what it’s about,
that there is nothing new to be learned.
That was my first
and even my second reaction
upon realizing it was the gospel for today.
But an offhand comment
made by one of my sisters during a phone call
changed all that for me.
I have been guilty
of not listening to Jesus.
My hope for Lent and beyond
is that I will begin to listen with new ears
and then be silent for awhile so that I can really hear.
Alas, my job is not to stay silent
but my prayer is the ancient one:
May the words of my mouth
and the meditations of my heart,
be always acceptable in your sight,
O Lord my strength and redeemer. Amen.


Pastor Joelle said...

Nice job. Isn't nice to go to sleep knowing you have it done?

bythesea said...

I hope you're feeling better. Looks like you quickly got inspiration for a sermon today. I too have a class tomorrow with folks who will be received soon.