February 15, 2015

Epiphany IV-B

2 Kings 5:1-15ab; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; Mark 1:40-45; Psalm 42 or 42:1-7


I remember the first time I went up Interstate 70 west of Denver to Georgetown, CO. This was my first look at and first step into the Rocky Mountains.  I had flown to the city the evening before for a job interview that, if successful, would mean a promotion, relocation, and a significant turning point in my secular career. My prospective manager picked me up at the hotel and drove into the mountains on a beautiful May day where we would have a meal and talk. It was perfect Springtime in the Rockies with dry, thin air that revealed a deep blue, cloudless sky and wild flowers popping out of the rocks that made the mountains. Having spent most of my life in SE Texas, at sea level I was agog at the majesty, beauty, and power of the mountains and it took my breath away in more than one way. By the time the conversation arrived at the part where you are supposed to negotiate terms, I nearly forgot all I had researched, all I had been coached on, and all I knew. At that point, I think I might have agreed to move and work without pay just to be there. You might say I was, in a sense, transformed by the experience of just being in that space.

In today's Gospel story, we find some other people on a mountain with Jesus. Peter, James and John are treated to an experience filled with majesty, beauty, power and brilliance as the authentic Jesus is revealed to them. In a way, they forgot all he had done in their presence and all he had said to them before this moment. The light, the presence of Elijah and Moses, the exhilarating emotion overtook their ability to comprehend what was happening. Perhaps Peter was a bit like I was in Georgetown that day, as he did not know what to say and so started rambling about building booths or tents for everyone  so they could stay there on the mountain -  Such a happy place.

This episode is often referred to as the Sinai Theophany, a visible manifestation of God on Mount Sinai. And the writing itself as well as every artistic rendition I have ever seen of this is filled with light, indicating that transfiguration, or transformation, in the Christian journey is enlightening, brings light, sheds light. In the creation story God first says into the dark void, "Let there be Light", so that the universe's first encounter with God includes light. In the Prologue to John's Gospel and in several other places in the Scripture we find Jesus referred to as "The Light of the World." In the first reading today, when Moses spends time with God on the mountain, his face takes on a glow that is so blinding to the people he comes down to, that they cannot bear to look at him. He must cover it with a veil.

Now during all this, Jesus does not speak and just as at his baptism, it is God who is acting and it is God who speaks. "This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him." Only when they are coming back down the mountain does Jesus speak to the disciples.  So here we have Jesus' friends accepting his invitation or command (we only know he "took with him") to follow him. In so doing they find themselves in the presence of Almighty God, and of two great prophets, and they witness the authentic Jesus, affirmed so by the Father. And they do not really understand what they have experienced. Jesus is transfigured, and they are transformed in ways they will understand only much later. But then the Preacher, teacher and theologian Frederick Buechner said, "You do not need to understand healing to be healed and you do not need to understand blessing to be blessed."

Now, I have had other mountaintop experiences, as I imagine you have also had. These are really exceptional moments of great joy, overpowering beauty, etc. Perhaps when you first fell in love or saw your new infant child or had a deeply spiritual experience. In most cases, we may be like Peter and want that feeling, that light, that time to last forever. Let's build a place to stay here. Yet as Christians, we must continue to follow Jesus back down the mountain.  He will remain authentic with us and within us as we do. And as the Son of Man has died and is risen we, like Moses, are commanded to tell everyone what we know of him. Paul says to the Corinthians, "We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord."

And this reminds me of something I really want to say to you as deacon. Each Sunday at this service I have the duty and great privilege of proclaiming the gospel by reading to you the gospel lesson, prefaced by a musical introduction. I attempt to make the reading relevant through appropriate inflection, accent, etc. At the end, I gladly announce, "The Gospel of the Lord." Nearly all of the time, this is what I hear back: "Pra-es to -o you-u, Lord Christ." That is not proclaiming or praising. Could we just this once sing this short and simple phrase like you are really glad to be a follower of Jesus? Come on, now, let Jesus smile......

Brother Mark Brown  of the Society of Jesus writes, "But I imagine that most of the time, the face of Jesus was a face of love in the full spectrum of its colors: joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, humility, compassion. I would guess that above all else, Jesus' face radiated joy, an infectious joy that delighted in the presence of other human beings." For it is in absorbing that joyful  light of Christ, taking it into the world and shining it on others that we ourselves are transformed. It is in the midst of the shared light of his love, in acts of love in his name, that we are made new, made real, authentic, made who we are created and meant to be.

So, my friends, I invite you to come with me to Lord of the Streets to serve the homeless. I invite you to come with me to Heights Interfaith Ministry Food Pantry to share food with hungry neighbors. I invite you to come with me to Heights House and Heights Towers to visit the lonely. I invite you to not only share your abundance of things with other who can use them, but to meet the recipients of those things and learn their names, hear their stories and share your stories with them. I invite you to come with me to train to sit with the elderly, the sick and the dying. I invite you to come with me to work with the Common Mission Team to discover additional ways we can be Jesus Followers, the church, in our community, to both the physically impoverished and those who are spiritually hungry and thirsty.

When I dismiss the congregation at the end of each service, I am not saying, "Now ya'all go on home and watch TV." I am saying, "Go into that world out there and love on a bunch of folks who are dying to know Jesus and just don't know it. Go shed his light on those folks walking around in the dark of their poverty of spirit and pain of their wounds." Unveil the good news for them. But I warn you: You Will Be Transformed. You will Never Be The Same! AMEN.