Lightcap-2The Last Sunday after Epiphany
The Reverend Torey Lightcap, Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Kansas
Luke 9:28-43

 


Seeing things God’s way takes work.
Growing up, reading and hearing the story of the Transfiguration, probably most Gospel stories,
I suppose I found it a little too easy to see and identify with Jesus.

It’s a common problem: we’d all rather side with Jesus than stop and take time to consider the experiences of the other people in the story, even if we desperately need those perspectives. We like to be on the right side of things, and after all – who could be more right than Jesus ?

Now that I’m a bit older, though, I’m starting to get the experiences of the disciples. Seeing the world through their eyes takes work: their folly, their trepidation, their boasting, their constant miscalculation. I’m finding this to be so, in my 40s, almost with a sense of delight and relief – the sense that after all, because of the disciples, the Bible shows us that God perfectly comprehends the human situation. We may be limited, but we are seen and understood and loved.

It takes work and time and prayer and perspective and maturity to be able to see things for what they really are; clarity often comes at a high price.

Just so: for much of Luke leading up to this point, Peter and James and John haven’t exactly been on vacation; they’ve been recruited by Jesus and shown his miracles and given to hearing his teaching. You might say they have sacrificed, whether or not they were aware of it, to have keener sight.

Now on the evening in question, they’ve been dragged up a mountain and kept awake before being able to see the truth of the situation –and then – then , the revealing: Jesus as the theophany, the self-revealing of the Lord. If they’d had any doubt that this person Jesus was special, here, finally, was new and compelling evidence to send that doubt on its way, at least for the moment.

So we may malign the disciples as clueless and bumbling, and sometimes in Scriptures maybe they really are . But it isn’t for comic relief. We laugh because they are familiar. The disciples are us – they witness these things and bring them to us. And we can find in their cluelessness and clumsiness some of our own faith story: I know I do – my limited imagination, my unlimited questions, my finite patience with God.

The older I get, the more I see Peter and James and John holding up a mirror, trying to get us to see our own reflections inside each one of these very fallible men – and then, with a greater sense of our place and purpose, then to cast our eyes upon Christ in his moment of transfiguration, and to understand that the truth was always there, waiting to be beheld.

We go up the mountain; it’s a long trip; it’s dark; we get hungry, thirsty, cold; we fight off sleep. And then, cutting through the fog, we witness the unmistakable truth about Jesus, look upon his real identity; apprehend, for a moment, what’s at stake; and even then we can’t really comprehend it or even bring ourselves to quite believe that it’s happening.

I must be tired … I must be delusional from hunger …
No, Jesus really stands bathed in impossible light, holy glory, conversing with our fore bearers in the faith – those old bedrock patriarchs: Moses … Elijah. And then, when it comes time to say something (Or thinking we need to fill up the silence with words as we so often do), we say precisely the wrong thing.

Peter spends quite a bit of the Gospels with his metaphorical foot in his proverbial mouth. Constantly fighting off his own best self, feeling around in the dark: ready , fire , aim. He is all compulsion, it seems – the raging id of these stories –but even by his standards … this time, with his idea about having a Kodak moment, he is way off: He says, Lord, this is great! Let’s make it last. We’ll create a place for you all to stay. And in case we haven’t figured it out by now, the writer tells us, with very plain words, that Peter had not the slightest idea what he was talking about. I think he was just talking, to talk , because maybe that’s just what he did when he got nervous.

In any event, seeing clearly now needed a little something more to back itself up if it was really to hit its mark with these men: seeing clearly would become hearing clearly. Anything necessary to comprehend the identity of Jesus in the gravity of this moment is made available to human understanding.

God will do whatever God needs to do to get our attention! The Divine voice booms like cannonade: “This is my Son , my Chosen ; list en to him!” Sometimes the voice of God is the still, small voice in the quiet of the night, a voice of pure silence; Sometimes it comes in the sensible words of another; and sometimes it’s clear, loud, and unmistakable. We’re in the third category here.

The twenty-ninth Psalm might help us in a moment like this:
“The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; ….
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness ….
The voice of the Lord makes the oak trees writhe, strips the forests bare.”

Listening to the voice takes a little work. Doubtless the voice of the Lord in this moment is within range of the disciples, and us, and of great volume. Hearing it is no problem. Listening to the voice, however, and then heeding what the voice commands us to do, is another matter.

The first command is clear. The words are right there: “This is my Son , my Chosen ; listen to him!” We are to listen to Jesus – which is to say, know the content of his speech; know it out of deep familiarity from having come to it over and over with our lives; know and understand what those words are trying to tell us even in the midst of our brokenness; and then live out of that understanding.

It naturally takes us to the second command. The second command is implied. It is to listen to Jesus’ life and to spread good works in the world. They all come off the mountain, and next thing we know, the scene shifts to a story of the healing and restoration of a boy, a nameless only child. God points to Jesus, an only son. The truth is laid bare – the identity of Jesus is clear to us now – and the Lord says, Listen to him.

A few hours later, a man points to his only child. He lays the truth bare – the boy is deeply afflicted – and he says to Jesus, Can you heal him? And so it happens. The boy is healed. “And,” we’re told, “all were astounded at the greatness of God.”

All were astounded, it says: Even those disciples ( us! ) who the only night before saw things we could not explain and who had heard the voice of divine commandment so bold it split the trees in half; and who are still so finite and muddy-minded and frankly dumbfounded by the light that it would take generations of storytelling to begin to sort it all out.

But we are not too far gone; God looks at us and figures, Hey, I can work with that. God is all patience and love. God comes to us, at night, in our lives and shows us God’s real self and God’s real nature – and God tells us, reminds us, a lot, because it’s hard to see and hear sometimes – that the mission of a follower of Jesus is to be an unstoppable force for good in the world: that to see and to hear the truth is to listen and to understand and to participate in healing whatever is broken, diseased, or unjust in the world.

Praise the Lord, Jesus has led us to the mountain this morning, then led us back down. We cannot possibly remain; there is much to do. We’ve seen what we need to see, and heard what we need to hear, and it’s time to put the hand to the plow and commit it to good use. Thanks be to God!