Monday, February 27, 2017
"Glory be to God!"
The Feast Day of the Transfiguration
The appearance of God was like a devouring fire on Sinai
Jesus face shone like the sun, his clothes dazzling white.
A Voice said; “this is my Beloved Son, listen to him”
You rulers of the earth, be wise; be warned!
On the summit of Mount Washington and right here on Great Blue hill there are weather stations. The winds, the temperatures, the clouds, the views up there are all impressive up there. The climb, the rarified air, the exertion, the view, the very journey can change your life. To appreciate the experience, you had better dress appropriately. And you also better respect what can happen up on those mountains. There are many who have found that mountains can be dangerous places and can surprise them with uncompromising and unmerciful reality. Tuckerman Ravine, for instance, is notoriously risky for even for the well trained and experienced climber.
In Sacred History, the mountain has figured significantly in the experience of God's people. At Sinai, for instance, God spoke to Moses and said; “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written.”
I have been to the mountain of God. In fact a dear friend, Esber Tweel, an Episcopal priest of Arabic origin and I took a busload of high school kids on Pilgrimage to Jordan, Palestine and Israel twice. I’ve also taken kids on Pilgrimage to France and in this country to New York City, Washington, DC and to Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
It was an amazing experience to walk in the footsteps of Jesus in the Holy Land. Several times we made our way through the desert to Mount Sinai. It is also known in Scripture as Mount Horeb. I’ve seen what scholars believe is the “burning bush” because of the way it shimmers in the sunlight; it looks like it is on fire, and yet is not consumed. The location of this “burning bush” is at the foot of Mount Sinai at Saint Catherine’s Monastery, one of the oldest religious communities in Christendom. One wonders if that’s what Moses saw when God revealed his Holy Name to him, to us. "I AM", God told Moses. That is my Name. The God of ALL BEING where the very Name itself is so sacred that it must not be spoken out loud because all beings are sacred, all creation is sacred. It was in this sacred place that we encountered and remembered what happened there. The whole experience, I can assure you, transfigured us all, even a bunch of teenagers and their chaperones. I believe teenagers need such adventures. I call it the "Outward Bound" of our spiritual encounter with God.
My son Michael rose early in the morning, somewhere before 3am and with the others they climbed the mountain. I was not so ambitious and stayed behind. The experience of that climb changed Michael that day. He told me that it was as if Moses himself walked with him along the way. These kinds of experiences happen on Pilgrimage. I remember celebrating the Eucharist on the Mount of the Beatitudes. That experience changed my life that day.
Way up on that mountain God gave the Law to Moses written in stone. That Law, is now written not just in stone but in every human heart. You and I know what is right. We know what is wrong. Insofar as the Law transfigured the people of God in the wilderness, so too we; the Law transfigures us.
You know from your reading of Scripture that Ahab and Jezabel surrounded themselves with a priesthood that told them what they wanted to hear. This is often the case with politicians. Jezabel was a priestess of Baal as were the priests who surrounded her and Ahab. Baal was a nature god of Canaanite origin and reflected the common nature gods of the Ancient Near East. Baal was in charge of the weather, earthquake, fire and the whirlwinds, what we might call tornados. This reminds me of those who tell me that if they want to go to church they go for a walk in the woods or golf. Sounds too much like the Baals to me!
Elijah the prophet told Arab and Jezabel the truth; God is a God of history, a God of Justice especially for the poor and the alien among us. It was God who acted to bring the people up out of slavery in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. Again and again, God has acted to bring people up out of the rod of oppression into a land of freedom. God still acts decisively in history. And to do so God needs a Moses or aMartin Luther King. God needs you!
We know that Elijah confronted Jezabel’s priests and revealed them for their falsehood. They came to an unpleasant end, we’re told. Jezabel pursued Elijah to kill him. Elijah fled in terror and fear for his life. Up on the mountain once more, he seeks the shade of a bush which withers and dies while Elijah likewise withers in spirit and asks God for death. God wants to know what the prophet is doing on the mountain when he is supposed to confront Ahab with his wrongdoing. Elijah was afraid for his life and well he might be. Jezabel was a fierce woman according to the biblical account.
Then in a most compelling encounter God reveals something of transfiguring power. A terrible wind passes, but God is not in the wind. A great earthquake shakes the mountain, but God is not in the earthquake. Then a fire passes before the mountain, but God is not in the fire. Then a "still small voice" or a "sheer silence", as the Hebrew might have it, comes to Elijah in his heart of hearts and asks, "What are you doing here, Elijah?” You see, God is not "in" any of the natural elements of wind, earthquake and fire. God is in your heart telling you what is right and wrong. God wants you to act in history to reveal God's love, compassion, and justice. Elijah then goes on to confront Ahab once more until he finally repents and returns to God. Jezabel however, not so well!
In today’s Gospel the Law and the Prophets; represented by Moses and Elijah appear by the side with Jesus on the Holy Mountain. And then they were gone and only Jesus is left. We are told that Jesus face shone like the sun. This blinding encounter changed the lives of the disciples and left an indelible mark on their lives as they came to the realization that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets!
How does Jesus’ face shine into your life? We are told in the Gospel that a voice from heaven declares that Jesus is God’s Son; listen to him. What do you hear when Jesus speaks to you? When you read the Sermon on the Mountain of God as we have been throughout this Epiphany season; what do you hear Jesus say to you, to this church, to this nation?
What changes is God looking for in your life? In this church In this community? In the nation? And in a world so much at conflict, at war and in terror in so many places. God is speaking clearly to each of us and all of us; "What are you doing here?" Hear it? That still small voice? That sheer silence in your heart of hearts?
“Why are the nations in an uproar” the Psalmist says. And then goes on to say; “and now, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Submit to the God with fear, and with trembling bow before him.”
As I look over the news in recent days I’m astounded that the attack on the freedom of the press by the current administration. The media always shines a critical light on politicians. That's just the way it is when you get into the public arena. In a democracy debate and disagreement goes with the territory. I could have much to say about this in the tradition of the Prophets, and will at the appropriate time.
But I believe that our more immediate task is to take a look at our life here at Trinity Church in Canton. Your vestry is meeting after church today to share some time together seeing what we can discern of God’s call to us over the next few months and years. What is God’s call? What is our mission? Who are we to be for one another and for the community in which we are set? How shall we make provision for the needs of this congregation and for those who do not yet belong?
All in God’s good time. I look forward to this time together. We have much to learn about one another as we seek God’s will for us here.
The Guiding Star in all this is the One whom we encounter on the Holy Mountain. We know what he said. We know who he is. This is the one of whom the voice from heaven said; “This is my Beloved Son. Listen to him.” May God grant us grace to listen to that Sacred Voice here at Trinity.
In the Name of the God; the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.