Faith United Methodist Church
February 11, 2018
Rev. Kristabeth Atwood
Scripture: Mark 9:2-9, 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
Prayer of Illumination:
O Lord, in the light of your presence we turn our attention to your teaching, seeking what you have to say to us. Bless, O God, the words of my lips and the meditations of our hearts as we reflect upon your word. May your message to us inspire us and may the light of your love shine through us. We pray this all in the name of Jesus the Christ. Amen
Sermon: Light for our Days
You may have noticed that it’s winter in Vermont. The snow, the negative degree temperatures or the wind chill may have tipped you off! Usually winter doesn’t bother me. I’m a hearty New England girl. But something about this winter has made me envious of our friends who’ve left for warmer climates.
Lately, though, I’ve noticed the days are getting longer. Have you noticed that, too? I don’t have to turn on the porch light to let the dogs out in the morning. And when I get home at 5:30pm it’s still daylight – ish. It’s nice not to feel hemmed in by a cover of darkness all the time.
In his letter Paul reminds the Christians in Corinth, “For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” God who gave us light also gave us Jesus whose presence we experience as light to illumine our lives.
During the weeks of Epiphany ~ which is the liturgical season that takes us from Christmas to Lent ~ we talk a lot about light. Epiphany starts with the star that the Magi followed to find the Christ Child. And it ends with the glorious light that radiated from Christ on the mountain where he was transfigured. Throughout his ministry Jesus shed light through his healings, his teachings and the lives of the disciples he called to follow. Jesus was a walking epiphany, a manifestation of the divine. Jesus ~ the light of the world.
On the day we celebrate today, the Day of Transfiguration (and last Sunday of the Season of Epiphany), I wonder what the disciples thought when they witnessed Jesus transformed before their eyes. The Scripture tells us, “…his clothes became a dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.” And this epiphany included not only a shining Jesus, but a visit from Moses and Elijah as well.
Moses and Elijah represent the faith of Israel. Moses the Law and Elijah the Prophets. Both of these men experienced mysterious deaths. (Moses died alone with God in the land of Moab. Elijah was taken up to heaven in a whirlwind and chariot of fire.) It was believed that, in the last days, God would send them back ~ Moses and Elijah ~ to usher in the Kingdom of God.
And, as if a shining Jesus and a visit from Moses and Elijah wasn’t enough, there was also the voice from heaven. “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” The Transfiguration was an epiphany to beat all epiphanies. Yet, coming down the mountain Jesus instructed the disciples, “… to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” The power of the Transfiguration wouldn’t be fully realized until Jesus was crucified and raised.
Some have described the Transfiguration as a ‘thin place.’ In the Celtic Tradition a thin place is a place where the divine and the ordinary touch. It speaks to the mystical element of Christianity. When we encounter a thin place we find that the line that divides the holy and the mundane ~ the physical and the eternal ~ lifts or thins. Thin places are encounters with the sacred. Thin places are glimpses of God’s glory. The thin places that we experience might not be as spectacular as the Transfiguration, but they are there. We just have to notice them. As our Seasons of the Spirit puts it, “The challenge is to be present in those thin places moments that are given to us.”
After Jesus and the disciples descended the mountain, we can see a change in the focus of Jesus’ ministry. He left his ministry in the lowlands of Galilee and began his journey to Jerusalem. The disciples didn’t understand the significance of this, but Jesus knew that in Jerusalem he would meet his death and everything ~ including life and death ~ would be changed. At this point in the story, as James Boyce puts it, the question becomes, “….whether we who have heard Jesus’ call and followed him through these series of ‘Epiphanies’ will be just as eager to follow him where he leads us on this way to the cross.”
It’s true that the Transfiguration is a little ‘out-there.’ Dazzling brightness. Moses and Elijah. A voice from heaven. The Transfiguration pushes the limits of our imaginations and stretches our sense of the possible. It’s a little sci-fi. It’s beyond our human understanding. So it is with epiphanies! Epiphanies aren’t meant to be understood, they are meant to be experienced. What is clear about the Transfiguration is that it was an experience of the glory of God.
The Transfiguration invites us to consider our own experiences of the divine. When you have experienced a thin place? Do you recall a time when you felt the closeness of God? These thin place experiences help to stretch our imaginations and expand our sense of the possible. I believe that is what God was trying to do for Peter, James and John on the mountain with Jesus. Even when they saw Jesus nailed to the cross, they would be able to look back to their mountain-top experience and know that there was still hope. They were given a glimpse of the light that would shine out of the darkness.
Today the light still shines out of the darkness. It may not seem like it sometimes. There have been times in my life when I’ve wondered, times when I felt hemmed in by darkness. I can also recall times when the light has shined unexpectedly. I felt the presence of God in a desperate moment when a friend offered to come over and simply be with me. I experienced God’s light in the moment that my father died and knew, after a difficult illness, he was at peace. We never know when God’s presence will be revealed in our midst, but it always changes us.
“For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The light of the world is among us and it is not just because the days are getting longer. I pray for you thin places and epiphanies and experiences of God’s presence. I pray for us encounters with the divine and enough hope to sustain us through the journey of Lent. I pray for all God’s children a sense of the possible that comes from living in the light of Christ. The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not over come it. Thanks be to God. Amen.