Each of us shines with God’s light – March 3, 2019

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Sermon preached by the Reverend Louise Kalemkerian
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Last Sunday after Epiphany

In God’s most holy name, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier.  AMEN.

Why do you come to church week in and week out? It’s not a trick question, and there are no wrong answers.  I confess I ask myself that question on occasion, why am I here.  Yes, of course, it’s my job to be here, and yet there’s more to it than that.  I too, like many of you, am seeking answers to life’s questions.  And a personal experience of the Holy One, an experience kind of like these that we hear today, to have a face to face with God.  To have my socks knocked off, to be awed and overwhelmed and amazed by God.  20th century theologian Rudolf Otto said that we are both drawn to God and at the same time terrified of holy encounters.

In the first lesson we read of Moses’ skin shining after he had an experience of God.  What happens in the illumination of Moses’ face and the conversation between God and Moses and the people is this — God comes close. God is present and close to God’s people. This is how the Biblical writers explained Moses’ shining face.  It spoke of an intimacy, a relationship, a connection between God and God’s people. Which God wants with God’s people, all of us, in every generation.

Which is why, I think, the Sunday of the Transfiguration is such an important one for the Church.  We see the life-giving, transformational experience the disciples had, in the encounter of God coming close, and wanting one too. At the same time, it’s a little hard to wrap our heads around.  It’s a little like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland believing six impossible things before breakfast every day.

Still, every year on the last Sunday after the Epiphany, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, we hear an account of Jesus’ Transfiguration as we prepare to enter Lent. The story appears in Matthew and Mark as well. This year we have Luke’s version. The Transfiguration event is a pivot or hinge in the Gospels which turns us from Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing to the beginning of his journey to Jerusalem and his death.

Jesus takes his three best buds up the mountain to pray. They see the towering Old Testament figures of Moses and Elijah, the giants of their faith, talking with Jesus! They see Jesus’ appearance change and his clothing glow.  They see his glory, majesty, grandeur. I’m sure they didn’t really understand what they were seeing. They hear words about departure and Jerusalem that they don’t comprehend, words which point to Jesus’ death and resurrection. They think they’re dreaming this all, and realize it’s wonderfully real.  And so want to pitch tents and stay forever.

Then they hear a voice affirming Jesus, calling him my Son, my Chosen, listen to him, so similar to the words heard at Jesus’ Baptism. Could this really be the voice of God? It must have been both exhilarating and terrifying. No wonder they didn’t talk about it afterward. Who would believe them?

Meanwhile, in the valley below, a boy is writhing in the dust.  He drools, he cannot hear, and his eyes — wide-open, feral — see nothing but darkness. He screams.  He is convulsing.  His father begs the left behind disciples to heal the boy, “please,” he must have implored, “this is my beloved son, my only son, do something! Make him well!” And the disciples are unable.  They must have been frantic too, ashamed that they could not heal, despairing of Jesus’ absence, afraid of the angry crowd’s reaction.

When Jesus comes down the mountain, the father realizes his last chance.  He beseeches, begs Jesus to “look at” the child, which he does.

Throughout his Gospel Luke shows us that Jesus sees the people others don’t see, people on the fringes like the Widow at Nain or Zacchaeus.  Jesus looks with compassion on the boy and heals the him, lamenting that even those closest to him don’t have the faith and understanding of who he is and what he is about. Maybe those words are addressed to us 21st century disciples as well.

The story of the ill child is an “add-on” to this story, that is optional verses, to the Transfiguration event.  I’d never much thought about it until this year.  This time I saw that there were two beloved sons in this text, both of whom were affirmed, both of whom were upheld, both of whom are valued by God.  You and I are also those beloved sons and daughters, cherished and treasured.  Every human life is precious to God.  When Jesus healed the child, it underscores that the glory of God’s Presence and the pain of a broken world cannot be separated. Faith and action go hand in hand.

In this text Luke is inviting us to see the world as Jesus sees, to see the wounded and hurt and marginalized, and to reach out and touch them, to show love and compassion. And to understand that the Transfiguration experience needs to be lived out in our daily actions.

In the words of Bob Dannals, “We might ask how each of us might be a “shining example” this week. There are dark places in our world – we don’t have to look too far. You and I are prompted by God’s transfiguring presence which illuminates our lives, to go into those dark places and provide a dispelling light… it could mean addressing a broken relationship, an addiction, a dull routine, severe and crippling fear, a fit of rage, an illness, a dying relative. In those places your voice, your touch, your compassion could be God’s very hands, feet, voice and presence.”[1]

I believe we saw such an example of transfiguring presence and illuminating light this week from Congressman Elijah Cummings at the end of the Michael Cohen hearing on Wednesday. If you haven’t seen the video, I encourage you to do so.  I believe that Elijah Cummings is a churched person. He seems to look at life through the vision of the Gospel.

Our country is in pain these days, I think we’ll all agree. No matter which partisan perspective any of us hold.  Congressman Cummings, in acknowledging the pain in the room, Cohen’s, his family’s, the country’s, tried to lessen the tension, telling Cohen, and to all of us “I’m just saying to you… I know that this has been hard. I know that you’ve faced a lot. I know that you are worried about your family. But this is a part of your destiny. And hopefully this portion of your destiny will lead to a better, a better, a better Michael Cohen, a better Donald Trump, a better United States of America, and a better world. And I mean that from the depths of my heart.”[2]

I heard these words as words of hopefulness and light.  I heard these words as an effort to shine the light of God’s love – God’s love for everyone in the whole world, no strings attached – into our country’s brokenness.  I heard these words as a reminder that no matter what any of us does or has done, we are always God’s beloved children. And nothing will change that.

The word transfiguration means radical change, metamorphosis, transformation. While Jesus was transfigured, its impact on the disciples, on us, is also meant to be transformative.  For Jesus, the event was an affirmation, a strengthening, as he headed to Jerusalem and the Cross, even if he didn’t know the totality of what was before him.

For us it’s a reminder that each of us is beloved of God and empowered to be bearers of God’s compassion, love and hope for the world.  A message this Gospel call us to embrace.  It’s a reminder that each of us shines with God’s light.  It’s a reminder to look for the light and beauty of God in all whom we meet.

In the words of Brother James Koester, SSJE, “In those moments when God’s glory shines in the face of another, we see them as they truly are and always have been, with unveiled faces, the beloved of God being changed from one degree of glory to another. And the same is true for us. For then the transfiguration is not an idea… not a story… It is a lived reality.”[3]  Always.

[1] eDevotions from The Rev. Bob Dannals, February 28, 2019.

[2] The Baltimore Sun, 2/28/19.

[3] Brother Give Us a Word, August 6, 2018

Categories: Sermons