2 Corinthian 6: 16-21
Will you pray with me, 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
Two years ago, I traveled with the church to Nicaragua. That year, my lodging was a home stay and I had the good fortune of residing in the home of a wonderfully hospitable woman named Salvadora.
We were several days into the trip, when before breakfast one morning, I asked Salvadora if it would be alright if I washed out some clothes. She said that would be fine and so I rolled up my sleeves and began scrubbing my dirty clothes which among other things, included a white blouse. After scrubbing and rising, scrubbing and rising, I hung them on the line and then headed out with the group for a day of work.
When I returned to the house later that day, I saw that Salvadora had taken the now dry clothes off the line and had left them folded for me on my bed. But the white shirt was not among the other clothes. Before I had a chance to ask Salvadora about where the white blouse may have gone, she came up to me with it in hand and asked if I would be willing to let her wash it for me.
I was a bit confused by her request. I had just washed that shirt and surely she would have known it for it had been hanging with the rest of the clothes. But Salvadora, though kind, has a commanding presence and is a woman of few words, and so I just nodded and said that I would be very grateful if she were willing to do so.
The next day, when we returned from our work, there was my white blouse folded on my bed. At first though I did not recognize it as mine. I thought there must have been a mistake because the shirt lying on my bed, was whiter than white. It looked brand new. That white blouse was dazzling.
Seeing that shirt in its new condition, I realized how dingy it must have seemed to Salvadora even after I had thought that I had done such a good job washing it. What looked white to me must have looked down right beige to her. That is why she stepped in because she did not want me to go around not looking my best. She stepped in to show me what that blouse actually could and should look like. Even if one was not much of a laundry enthusiast, it would be hard not to be impressed by how she had transformed that shirt of mine.
In our scripture passage for today, it is Jesus who is suddenly dazzling. It is Jesus who appears to the disciples in a way that they had never seen before and never thought possible. They had been walking with Jesus for quite some time now. They knew his particular gait. They could pick him out from a distance. They knew the way he held himself and how he inclined his head just a bit when talking with someone. They knew his cloak and his staff, his sandals and belt like they were their own. They knew Jesus, but they had never seen him like they were seeing him now.
This passage that is known as The Transfiguration appears in all four Gospels and marks an important apex in the story of Jesus with us. This passage for today is the one of only two times in the Gospel account where the identity of Jesus is unequivocally revealed by God’s in-breaking. The first is at the river Jordan upon Jesus baptism. And today’s passage is the second. Here not only do the disciples hear a voice claiming Jesus as God’s own, but Jesus’ very visage changes.
Now what I love about how Mark’s Gospel recounts what happened that day, is in a little throw-away line that the author tosses in there right after telling us how dazing white Jesus’ clothes appeared. Did you catch it?
“And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.”
Here we get a glimpse into the minds of the disciples, how they were processing what was unfolding in front of them. Their first thought upon seeing Jesus dazzling white was to wonder at his laundry technique. I can just hear them, in that split second, wondering what kind of bleach he must have used for they had never seen someone able to get all of the Galilean dust and dirt out of a tunic like Jesus seems to have done.
Then deciding that was just impossible, that no bleach could have possibly produced that kind of dazzling results, they have no choice but to give themselves over to the realization what they were in the midst of something (w)holy outside of their experience. Something entirely new was breaking into their midst. What they were seeing was not the result of some serious scrubbing and some particularly powerful bleach. What they were seeing and experiencing was from a different source all together, from the very hands of God. For those miraculous moments, they glimpsed and heard how God was at work in the world in and through Jesus and how they too were to listen and to be a part of it all.
Jesus was dazzling not because of the good work that he may have done. Jesus was dazzling because of the ways that God was fully at work in him and through him. It was God’s radiance that they were seeing. It was God’s radiance shinning out through Jesus that dazzled them that day.
We are on the threshold of Lent. This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. In the Christian tradition, Lent is a time of self-reflection and examination where we are invited to contemplate what it means for each of us to be a disciple of Jesus, what it means to be a Partner in Christ’s service. And for many of us, we tend to head just where the mind of those disciples went, we tend to head into trying to figure out how we can best make ourselves as bright and shiny as possible. What bleach can we get our hands on, how can we scrub ourselves up? We tend to make a project of ourselves so that we will finally be good enough, dazzling enough for God. Problem is, as those disciples came to realize, there is no human bleach that can do that. Only God can.
And the Good News is that God has! If we put ourselves in God’s hands, God can do with us than we could ever imagine or do for ourselves.
That is the message that Paul is preaching to the church in Corinth, and that we are listening in on in our first scripture passage for today.
Again there is a line in this passage that I find riveting. After all this gorgeous language and imagery of how God is making all things new and that as we are in Christ we are a new creation, Paul says something rather astonishing. He says “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” “Be reconciled to God!” Paul is not saying, “scrub yourself up and make yourself worthy.” He is not saying “Hope that someday you will get to know the love of God for yourself when you are good enough and ready.” He is saying that God wants to be in our lives right now. God is ready and waiting to enter in and illuminate our very beings right now. Paul tells us that God has already said “Yes” to us. God has already claimed us as God’s beloved. It is up to us now. Do we want to, are we able to say “Yes” to God? Do we want to be called God’s own?
I have come to understand that this “Yes” is not proclaimed once, at a moment of profound conversion or revelation, but is whispered over and over, a thousand times as we make our way through the demands of our days and the challenges of our times. It is a “Yes” to rise above the rancor and hate to try to live instead with a forgiving and grace filled heart. It is a “Yes” to serve and love our neighbor whether that means traveling to Nicaragua or to the Waban Health Center, to Dorchester or across your own street. It is a “Yes” to the building up of each other in love, affirming each other’s goodness, supporting each other in times of challenge and forgiving each other when we fail to do so. And in this time of our capital campaign, it may also be a “Yes” to caring for this building and nurturing this community so that this church can continue to be a place of encounter with God, with each other and with our most dazzling selves.
So as we prepare to enter into the season of Lent, let us not be dismayed at the grit and grime that we carry with us. Let us not worry about needing to scrub ourselves up or become someone we are not. Let us instead enter in with open and willing hearts. Let us say Yes” to God and give ourselves over to God so that she can work her miracles in and through our lives as well. For from where I stand, it is clear God is already well at work. You are dazzling! For when we open ourselves to the mystery and power of God’s love and grace, our very lives will reflect the dazzling light of God which is most certainly beyond bleach. Thanks be to God, Amen.