Exodus 24:12-18 and Matthew 17:1-9
Will you pray with me? Radiant God, use the words that I speak and the meditations of all of our hearts, we pray, to lead us into your presence this day. Amen
When my kids were small, it was the bottom step.
That was where “time-outs” were taken.
Are “time outs” still part of the parenting repertoire?
If they are, then you know that a well timed “time out” can make the difference between salvaging the day or in having it be completely decimated by the fury of a toddler’s temper tantrum. So, as soon as the pitch in the playroom began to rise, or as soon as whining began to crescendo, or when I saw that little chin start to tremble so acute was the frustration, — I knew it was time for the bottom stair.
And the way time-outs worked in our house was that there was not a prescribed length of time for a time out. One simply stayed there on the stair until one was “ready.” After a moment or two, I’d ask — “Are you ready?” And either my little one would woefully shake her head and sit for while longer or she would brighten up and go dashing back to whatever it was she had been doing.
Time outs, I had always assumed, were for my kids, to help them re-gather themselves when they were starting to fray. That is — until the day when my daughter who was no more than two or three at the time, marched over to me, took me by the hand and then took me to the bottom step.
I must have been starting to lose it, for she was adamant that the time had come for me to take a time out.
I was so taken aback, that I actually did take that time out. I actually did sit down on that bottom step for a while. I took time sitting there with my knees to my chin to re-gather myself, to regain some perspective, and to remember who I was and how I wanted to be as a mother to my children. When I finally did get up from that bottom step I cannot say that I was radiant, but at least, I was ready to be again who I knew I was and wanted to be.
The place of our ‘time-out’ was the bottom step, but in the Bible, it is the mountain top. Now things happen in time outs, whether that be on the bottom step or on the mountain top that do not happen when one is enmeshed in the thick of things.
Things may be messy and murky down in the valley, or in the kitchen or playroom, but on that bottom stair, on the top of the mountain, there is clarity and vision. But what sets the mountain top off, apart from the bottom stair is that mountain top ‘time outs’ are more like ‘time-ins’, actually. “Time-ins” of clarity and vision and revelation. ‘Time-ins’ of God.
So maybe that is why he woke them up early and took them up the mountain that day. Maybe Jesus knew that James, Peter and John needed some clarity and vision and maybe they needed revelation and an encounter with God. Maybe Jesus knew that he needed it too!
After all, their ministry had been overwhelming. They had just fed five thousand from no more than few fish and loaves of bread. They had been dealing with a lot and now with Jerusalem on the horizon, Jesus knew that there was not much time left.
And then there was that flare up. Just before the passage read for us today, Jesus had told the disciples the news that he must undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. But Peter would have nothing to do with it. And so pulling Jesus aside Peter rebuked Jesus. And this put Jesus over the edge for rounding on Peter, Jesus blows up calling Peter “Satan” and a “stumbling block.”
Maybe that is why he woke them up early and took them up the mountain that day.
There comes a time, when we could all use a time out.
There comes a time when we could all use a time out of all that is messy and murky down here in the valley and a time in for clarity and vision, revelation — a time into God. And for many of us, I think that time. is just about now.
It has been a rough last couple of months, hasn’t it? With all the cold and the snow; with all the respiratory infections and flu; with many of us loosing loved ones; and many others walking with loved ones through illness and disease; with many feeling overwhelmed, and many others grappling with shame, pain or hurt – with all of this don’t you think we could use a time out right about now? T.S. Eliot said that April is the cruelest month, but I’m not so sure about that. I am thinking that January and February are.
Now, I don’t really think that we actually have to go to the top of a mountain, or to some equally challenging and out of our regular routine kind of place – to find clarity, vision, and revelation and God. I don’t think that God is only in rarefied places. I think just the opposite actually. I think that God is present to us always and that all of us and all that is — is radiant with the presence of God if we have eyes to see.
But sometimes, I think, it takes getting away from the familiar to shake us enough and wake us up enough so that we can see it. Getting out of our comfort zone or into a new space can serve to sharpen our senses and heighten our perception.
Ask any of our Nicaraguan travelers, or those who went to Zambia last summer, or any of those who volunteered at the Russell School’s literacy night last Thursday, or any who worshiped last Thursday morning with the good people at the Waban Health Center. Ask any of us who have sat at bedside of the one we love. Or who have walked with those we cherish into the unknown. When we step into a reality that is different from what we have known, not only can we be startled by new clarity, vision, and even revelation about the world, but we can also be startled by new clarity, vision and even revelation about ourselves and our God.
I can remember so vividly stepping out of the plane onto the tarmac as the sun was just dawning in Zambia, I can remember how different the air tasted, a smoky, earthy, slightly acidic taste of the air on my tongue. And it made me wonder what the air tasted like at home and why I had never noticed it before.
Dislocation from the familiar can sharpen our senses and heighten our perception. So it took climbing to the top of a mountain for Peter, James and John to see their friend in a new light. There on that mountain top, Jesus is as they had never seen him before. And I am so curious, was it he that was changed or were they?
We don’t know for sure but we do know that there on the mountain top they saw Jesus’ radiance. They saw his face shining like the sun and his clothes dazzling white. And not only that but they see Moses and Elijah too! These great heroes of their faith are there conversing with Jesus as if it is the most normal thing in the world. And then as if that isn’t enough, a bright cloud overshadows them and they hear a voice, the voice of God say “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
And Moses? Well not only does he spend 40 days in the cloud of the glory of the Lord but his experience is so intense, so affected is he by it, that when he finally does descend, his face is glowing, as if some of the radiance of God is now shinning through him! (Exodus 34:29).
For many of us, the last couple of months may have been rather rough. But the good news is that it is our turn for a time out.
For the next forty days, we are being invited to climb that proverbial mountain and take a time in with God. For that is what I believe Lent ought to be all about. Lent in my mind is not so much a deprivation where we are to give up some of the things that we most enjoy, whether that is a good cup of coffee in the morning or a bit of dark chocolate before bed. Instead, Lent, in my mind, is a “time in” a time set apart to step out of that which may be messy and murky in our lives; Lent is an opportunity to re-gather ourselves, regain some perspective and to remember who we are and whose we want to be. To remember that we too are beloved children of God in whom God is well pleased.
So how are you going to spend this precious gift of these forty days of Lent, this our mountain top time, our “time-in” with God? Is there a practice you can engage to help sharpen your senses, to gain some clarity, vision and perhaps even revelation of the glory of God shining in the world? Are there conversations to be had, journals to be written in, prayers to be prayed, songs to be sung, labyrinths to be walked, miles to be run, yoga poses to be held that will help you catch a glimpse of how it is that you are and those around you are shinning even now?
Couldn’t we all use a ‘time out,’ or perhaps better said, a ‘time in’ just about now? Couldn’t we all use a time to ready ourselves again and to be reminded of what it is to have been made to shine? May these next 40 days be that time. May these next 40 days set our face’s aglow, may we shine with the presence of God that is all around us.
Thanks be to God and to this remarkable life we have together. Amen