Year A — Transfiguration Sunday

Commentary for March 6, 2011

Click here for today’s readings

Exodus 24:12-18

This text gives us the context for Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain. Clearly, the Christ is “Moses Plus,” greater even than the great lawgiver. His glory will shine like that of the Lord on the holy mountain.

Taking another tack for a moment, notice that Moses and Joshua are summoned before the Lord and that, upon arrival, Moses waits for six days in the presence of God before a word is ever spoken. Talk about preparing for worship!

Most congregations would find it intolerable to wait for six minutes without some type of “action” in worship these days. We are busy, busy, busy and we don’t want to waste any time in worship just sitting around. What’s the old saying — “You get out of it what you put into it?” 

Maybe we would feel a bit more transformed after worship ourselves if we took a little more time to prepare and just “wait on the Lord.”

Psalm 2 and Psalm 99

The psalm texts also lend “thickness” to the gospel text. In Psalm 2, God speaks through the generations the words affirmed of Christ: “You are my son, today I have begotten you….” Psalm 99 sets the proper tone of respect when one is called to the mountain to worship God: “The LORD is king; let the peoples tremble!

2 Peter 1:16-21

The Apostle Peter gives his “eyewitness” account of the events that transpired on the mountain that day. He is like any person asked to repeat an incredulous tale — “No, I swear to you, I heard it myself! I know it sounds crazy, but there was a real, out-loud voice that spoke from heaven. We knew it was God!”

Our worship traditions give validity to the “personal testimony” to various degrees; Peter’s is certainly a powerful word. As preachers, what is the place in our own speaking for “personal testimony?” We never want to take center stage from the gospel, certainly, but is there a time for our people to hear from our own lives — or from the lives of others within our congregations — what we know to be true from our own experience?

Matthew 17:1-9

You will find no shortage of commentary material on this familiar story of “The Transfiguration.” Wrestle with it, as you no doubt have and should. Dr. Chilton sets forth the idea, in the sermon that follows, that this story is, among other things, about the holiness that resides in the everyday experiences of our lives. 

We are called to pay attention — snap out of it and quit looking for “the next new thing” or the “mountaintop experience” that will change our lives. Perhaps, by the very presence of the Christ among us and the Spirit in us, God IS changing our lives if we are willing to open our hearts and eyes in order to see.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer Chilton

The Hidden-ness of the Holy

Almost every Saturday afternoon, I listen to the opera on the Public Radio Station.

Don’t look so surprised. I like opera; not as much as I like Lynard Skynard or ZZ Top, but I like opera.

Well, actually I don’t like opera, but I do like the idea of liking opera; deep down inside I fell like an educated person SHOULD like opera, and sooo….

On Saturday afternoons I listen to opera, kind of on the same theory as your mother had when she kept feeding you liver and asparagus, hoping that one day you would come in and when she said, “What would you like for dinner?,” you would say, “How about some yummy liver and asparagus?”
 Not gonna happen, but hope springs eternal in the human breast.

Anyway, I listen to opera in the vague hope that someday I’ll like it and can then count myself as a genuinely educated and cultured person. Every once in a while, I find myself liking a piece, nodding along and getting into it and thinking, “Gee, I beginning to like this opera stuff.”
But then I realize that the opera pieces I liked were the ones they used as soundtracks for Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd cartoons, and I was back to square one.
I still didn’t like opera; I was just engaging in nostalgia about my childhood.

It seems to me that many people are seeking after Spiritual Enlightenment in much the same way that I have been seeking Musical Enlightenment. It’s something they’ve heard about, many of the better people have had these experiences, so they believe they ought to have them too.

So, they go seeking after the next new thing; the latest prayer techniques and the different churches and the praise bands and labyrinth walks and Alpha Bible Study and the Men’s drum-beating Sweat Lodge, and I don’t know what all.

Whatever they’re looking for, it isn’t where they are, it must be over the hill or around the next corner.

Some of this can be traced to biblical stories like today’s scripture lessons, which tell us about extra-ordinary spiritual events.

In our First Lesson, Moses goes up on the mountain and meets God in cloud and devouring fire.
In the Gospel lesson, Jesus goes up the mountain with Peter, James and John — and while there is TRANSFIGURED, whatever that means.
And in our Second Lesson, Peter talks about his own memories of that day on the mountain.

Somehow, some people are always looking for something more, something electric and kinetic and spine tingling to happen to them religiously. Which is okay, those things do happen, sometimes, to some people.

What is not okay is when one believes that such experiences are what religion in general and Christianity in particular are all about.
What is not okay is when people think that unless one has had such an experience, one has not really encountered the HOLY.

The truth of the matter is that religion is NOT about seeking after the extraordinary, not about the quest for the next new spiritual high, not about looking for an experiential fix of the Holy to carry one through another drab and ordinary week.

NO! Religion is about seeing, and feeling and hearing and respecting the Holy in, with and under the ordinary-ness of our daily lives.

To be religious is not a matter of being otherworldly; to be religious is to be uniquely grounded in this world, seeing the very stuff of life as the very stuff of God.

Where are we to find the Holy? On Mountaintops and in Sweat Lodges?

Where are we to look for God’s presence in our lives?
Well, you don’t have to go to the mountaintop; it’s all around you, all the time. We know this. It’s shown to us in our sacraments.

The water in the font, the water in which we baptize. It’s ordinary water. It’s the same water that goes into the drinking fountain, the same water that flushes the toilet.

It’s just water.

What makes it holy? The use makes it holy. We use it to baptize a child, we speak the promise of Christ, and in with that water we bring a new child into Covenant with God and into Community with us.

Look at this wafer. It’s just a little whole-wheat flour and water. We buy them by the thousands. It’s not very good to eat; if you’re not careful, it will stick to the roof of your mouth.

And this, it’s just wine, grapes fermented and bottled and sold at  the liquor store along with Budweiser Beer and Jack Daniel’s Whiskey.

It’s good wine, good with dinner, but it’s nothing special or extraordinary, not until we make Eucharist out of it.

What makes it holy? What turns this ordinary stuff into the Body and Blood of Christ? Not me, I don’t have magical powers, and neither do any other pastors.

It’s us and God together; God promising and acting and our believing and celebrating which reveals the Holy within the ordinary.

That’s what happened to Jesus up on that mountain.

Jesus was a man, just like every other man; smarter, holier than most perhaps, but still very much a fully human person.
Even though the disciples called him Rabbi, Christ even, they still saw him as a man. And then this thing happened. And they knew — Peter, James and John knew that here was the Divine, the Holy, in human form.

And we too are ordinary people, doing ordinary things. We too, as a church, as a community of faith, as the Body of Christ in the world, we too carry in, with and under our human-ness, the brightness of the Holy-ness of God.

We don’t have to go looking for it; we don’t have to struggle after extraordinary spiritual experiences. God is here with us in all that we do.

Our calling is to pay attention — to listen, look, feel and know that God is here, in this place, and in all our places: at home, at work, at church, at school. God is present with us in the world.

All we have to do is lift the veil and look for the Holy with the eyes of the heart.

One thought on “Year A — Transfiguration Sunday

  1. Pingback: Year A: The Sunday of the Transfiguration (March 2, 2014) | The Lectionary Lab

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