Sermon Preached at St. Mark's Episcopal Church
Transfiguration Sunday - March 6, 2011
My New Testament professor at Boston University, J. Paul Sampley, referred to the period of time in which we live as Christians – that time between the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and the long-awaited Second Coming - as a period of “walking between the times.” Over the past two weeks, as I have been transitioning from being the Vicar of St. Barnabas by the Bay, Villas and Assistant to the Rector at St. Mary’s, Stone Harbor to becoming the ‘priest-in-charge’ and, God willing and the people consenting, the next Rector of St. Mark’s, Evanston, I have had a micro-level experience of this “walking between the times.” A living in the “already, but not yet-ness” of our future together at St. Mark’s while still processing and sorting through the experiences of my recent past. Which of my “lessons learned” from southern New Jersey should I file close-at-hand and which can I safely place in long-term storage?
At St. Mark’s, you also know something about “walking between the times” – for you, a period that has lasted several years now. Along the way, you also have been making storage decisions. Which aspects of your life together must come with you in this new time? Which aspects of your life together should be placed in storage – or have, indeed, already been placed in storage? And what has been and shall be the basis for those decisions? What is central to who you are as a gathered community – who we are to become as a gathered community? What are some of those central tenets of St. Mark’s that make us who we are as a 21st century community of faith living out the gospel here in Evanston, Illinois?
Today we celebrate the last Sunday of Epiphany, perhaps better known or recognized as Transfiguration Sunday - a day in which we, along with those early disciples – Peter, James and John – are catapulted out of the everyday “between the times” world in which we live into a glorious and awesome vision of the promise, a vision of what shall be. “And [Jesus] was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.”
Have you ever witnessed a beautiful sunset or sunrise? Can you think of a time when you’ve found a place at dusk or dawn where you could just be and witness the sky’s transformation over the course of about 30 minutes? Last spring, Andrea and I were vacationing in Acadia National Park and went up to the top of Cadillac Mountain just before sunset to sit and wait. We were not disappointed. The sunset was as spectacular as any I have witnessed. And, like Peter who suggests that three dwellings might be made for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, Andrea and I wanted to capture our moment of amazement. So, 15 – 20 photos later, Andrea and I managed to memorialize the event in a way that is sure to never come close to reminding us of what it was really like. Transformative moments are often like that – profound yet beyond capturing in word, photo, or monument.
But for Peter, James, and John the moment extends beyond the magnificent vision. Matthew’s account continues, “[S]uddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’” The same words spoken at Jesus’ baptism, repeated now for the three disciples to hear. Overcome by fear, the disciples fall to the ground and Jesus’ touches them and says, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And just as suddenly as the vision and the voice appeared, so suddenly it all ends and they remain on the mountain alone with Jesus. And isn’t that typical of transformative moments as well? They simply don’t last long enough.
On Wednesday, a small group gathered for Bible study in the Volunteer Office and considered this passage. A question that guided our conversation was, “What does the glory of God look like to you today?”
• A beautiful blue-sky day when the forecast calls for dreary and drab
• The birth of a 3rd great grandchild
• Just being together
• The people of St. Mark’s
• A child’s 1st birthday
Things that delight us. Things that surprise us. Things that inspire us. Things that change us. All of them, manifestations of the glory of God. Each of them a transfiguration moment in its own right. Moments that we cannot prepare for in any way except by being open to them, by expecting the unexpected, by being open to Jesus’ touch in our lives.
And as we continued to explore the text, we read again the last verse of the pericope: “As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’” For a while we struggled with this. Why would Jesus want them to keep it a secret? Was it not the right time? Was Jesus afraid that the cosmic plan would unravel if word got out about who he really was? I suspect those are questions many of us will be struggling with for the rest of our lives – which is one of the reason that reading and studying Scripture together is such a great pleasure – it is filled with surprises and unanswered riddles.
“Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” Wait just a minute. That’s us. We are living “between the times” – it is now - today - after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead. We can and must tell people about this vision, about this promise, about this future that has been and daily continues to be revealed to us and through us. And it is through this lens of faith – through the knowledge that Jesus is God’s Son, the Beloved, to whom we are to listen - that we are called to live out our faith as disciples of Jesus.
Which aspects of your life together must come with us into our future? Which aspects of your life together should be placed in storage – or have, indeed, already been placed in storage? What are the experiences, the ministries, the hopes, the questions that are central to who we are as a gathered community? What is God inviting us to do, to be or to change in light of the Transfiguration? How can and does the revelation that Jesus is God’s Son, the Beloved, change or inform the way in which you live your life? How does that knowledge change or inform the way the gathered community of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church at the corner of Grove and Ridge lives out its faith in the community in 2011 and beyond? How will we tell others about the vision? How will we invite others to be a part of the Jesus movement?
Jesus, touch us, we pray, so that we might get up and not be afraid. AMEN.