Exodus 24:12-18 (NRSV) and Luke 9:28-36 (NRSV)
For the last several weeks, we have been thinking together about what makes for a faithful life. We have remembered the teaching of Karen Armstrong that reminded us that for much of human history, religion had more to do with how one behaved than it did with what one believed.
And we have been following Jesus through the Gospel of Luke, watching how he behaves and learning from his example. We have seen how Jesus had compassion, loved his neighbor and forgave especially those who thought forgiveness could never come. Through these practices of compassion, service and forgiveness, we have seen how Jesus carved out a faith filled, God aligned Way of walking in the world; a Way that transformed lives and brought salvation; a Way that we too, are to share in.
This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday and the doorway into the season of Lent. Lent is a time of preparation, repentance, renewal and recommitment. In Lent we are invited to stand before God with full humility, acknowledging our need. And in Lent we are invited to conform our lives to that of Jesus and to walk faithfully in the Way of Jesus.
But before we step into the Gospel today and learn more of what Jesus may be calling us to, let us pray.
Holy one. We give you thanks for not just telling us but showing us through your living how it is that we are to live. Be now in our listening that we may hear your word for us. Be in our hearts that they may be opened wider to your teaching. Be in our hands that we may have the strength to carry all we learn out into the world. And may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you, O God – our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I have always wondered if Jesus knew about who he really was and when he might have suspected it? Do you think Jesus knew he was special from the get go or did he come into adulthood very much like the rest of us, wondering about who he was and what he was supposed to do with his life.
For much of my life, I have read this passage from our Gospel today, thinking that Jesus knew exactly who he was and what he was to be all about. For much of my life, I have read this passage known as the Transfiguration as being more for the disciples than for Jesus. I have seen this passage as being a kind of crash course for the Peter, James and John to get them clear on who Jesus is and what Jesus’ mission is all about. I have seen the transfiguration as orchestrated for their benefit so that they will get the clarity they need to hang in there through the challenges are coming once Jesus walks through the gates of Jerusalem.
This passage for me has been akin to Jesus taking the junior staff up the elevator to the executive offices on the top floor in order to get them up to speed on the master plan, and to get them to sign on to what is about to transpire.
And I have to say, I had always found this way of reading the passage comforting. It was comforting to know that God was in charge and even if I was so bold as to consider myself a head disciple and not one of those left to doze down below by the fire, what was being asked of me was to simply follow along, try to stay awake and to listen to Jesus the best I could. It was comforting to know that Jesus was in complete control of the situation.
But lately I have come to see this passage in a new light.
Maybe it is because of the uncertainties of our times. Maybe it is because of my wonderings about how am I best to live in them. Maybe it is because I see the power and hope that fills this vessel we call church, and I wonder how God may be calling us to be light for the world. Maybe it is because all of these things, but lately I have started to see something new in this passage.
I have begun wondering what it would mean for us if the transfiguration was not for the disciples benefit but was actually for the benefit of Jesus. What Jesus instead of being completely clued into his divinity, Jesus actually did not yet fully know who he was and what he was to be all about. What if Jesus actually had no idea about what was going to happen when he went up that mountain that day. What if all that Jesus knew was that he had slept poorly the night before and woke troubled in spirit. While the disciples faded off to sleep as the fire burned down to coals, what if his heart was troubled? He knew he was to go to Jerusalem. He knew that the confrontation with powers and principalities would be what he would find there. I wonder, was he worried about what would be asked of him and whether he would be up for the task.
What if that morning, was not preordained as a spectacle for the weak in spirit, but what if it began as a day just like any other. Jesus arose before the sun. He woke Peter, James and John, asked them to come with him, and went out to pray.
I am coming to see that Jesus may have gone up that mountain, not because he needed to show the disciples something, but because he needed God to show him something. It is his uncertainty and need, not his clarity or certainty that sets him off that mountain that day. It was his need for prayer. The need to put himself in the presence of God that brought him up the mountain. Prayer initiated all that was to come and in this light the transfiguration becomes not something expected but instead something gifted to Jesus in the midst of his need.
Seeing Jesus and thinking about the passage in this way may make it more accessible and meaningful for us today. For nothing is certain in life, we really do not know what the future will bring. A diagnosis comes out of the blue and our life is turned upside down. A baby is born and suddenly it a huge challenge just to get through the day let alone take a shower! An election transpires and things start changing at such a dizzying speed that we find ourselves staggering to find sure footing. The only thing we can be sure about is change. Nothing is certain. We do not know what the future will bring — but it turns out that is OK.
It is OK because of what we see in the passage this morning. It is OK because Jesus goes up the mountain in the midst of his need. In our times of uncertainty and the changing landscape of our lives, we need not wait until we feel capable and in control to act. Instead we can take our worries, doubts and uncertainties into the presence of God. God invites us in. We are not incidental bystanders to the unfolding of God’s plans but can actually be active participants in it. We are not to wait around for God to enact God’s master plan for the challenges of our times, but instead we are to join with God in the creation of it.
Our experience of what comes and our ability to cope with it unfolds out of what we are doing with each other and with God right now. When we practice compassion, service, and forgiveness, when we practice placing ourselves in the presence of God through prayer, we develop a capacity, a resiliency to be able to handle whatever it is that the future will bring.
But it is more than just handling it. I believe there is also some degree in shaping it. When we align ourselves with the Way of God, when we walk in the way of compassion, service, forgiveness. When we put ourselves in the presence of God through prayer, we participate in, help shape, become co-creators with — the future is unfolding out of the moment that we share in — now.
In the Exodus passage today, Moses goes up the mountain. Moses goes up the mountain today, because Moses made a decision way back in his youth that he would indeed take up God’s call and partner with God in the deliverance of God’s people. Moses goes up the mountain today, because Moses had made the decision that he would partner with God in bringing God’s people out of slavery to empire and into freedom with God. Moses goes up the mountain today, because Moses made the decision that he would stick with the people, and love them, and advocate for them, and help solve their problems regardless of how stiff necked and troublesome they may be. Moses goes up the mountain today because Moses made the decision that he wanted to be a part of the unfolding of a new future that only God could imagine but that he could surely participate in and help make happen.
It is a curious thing this interplay between God’s omnipotence and our human agency. It is a curious thing this partnership we have been invited into with God our Creator who asks that we share in creating the world that God envisions.
I wonder. If Jesus was not in touch with the needs of his heart that day. If he had not cultivated a practice of prayer. If he had not surrounded himself with people he knew loved him and would support him, would he have ever ventured up the mountain that day. And if he had never ventured up the mountain that day, would Jesus have had the clarity, courage, conviction, support and assurance he needed to be able to walk into Jerusalem and all that would face him there. If Jesus had not gone up the mountain that day, would resurrection have happened? I wonder.
So let us arise. Let us take whatever it is that may be on our hearts into the presence of God. Let us take up the practices that carve out the way of Jesus, practices of compassion, service and forgiveness and let us not fear what tomorrow may bring but share in the shaping of it.
And may God’s glory and grace shine upon us and through us, now and forever. Amen.