a sermon for the Last Sunday after the Epiphany
Bright shining faces. A warm smile. These tell us something about a person. They tell us that they are happy. They tell us that they are healthy. And they tell us that they have a relationship with God.
Have you ever noticed how smiles are contagious? When someone is smiling at us, we just can’t help but smile back. It’s how we’re wired. Our brains just want to sync up with the other person, putting us on the same wave length. So when someone smiles at us, we smile back. (Of course, the same thing happens when we’re frowning, but that’s for another time.) When I used to travel on business, I would come home dog-tired. The trips were almost always grueling – traveling from airport to airport, renting cars, sleeping in strange hotel beds, getting up and going to long meetings. And travel isn’t very glamorous it’s hard work. But when I got home, and opened the door, my daughters would come running to meet me. Their faces were shining. “DAD!” they cried. And all at once, I would be smiling, too. Their love and excitement was infectious. All I wanted to do was to stay right there… all the time. Bright shining faces. A warm smile. These tell us something about a person. They tell us that they are happy. They tell us that they are healthy. And they tell us that they have a relationship with God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus went up on a mountain top with his friends, Peter, James and John. And while he was there, he had a conversation with God. Or, in the words of the Gospel, he prayed. And while he was there, he was transformed and his face shined. He was radiant. Mountains are pretty important in today’s readings. The Old Testament reading recounts Moses coming down off of Mount Sinai after receiving the commandments, the covenant that God created with God’s people. Moses had been on the Mountain with God for 40 days and nights – as long as it takes. And when he came down from the mountain, from this time spent with God, Moses, too, had been changed – and, he didn’t even realize it until his brother and others looked at him a little strangely. Moses’ face reflected the light of God’s glory. Mountaintop experiences, thin places, “aha” times, epiphanies – these happen on very special and veru rare moments in our lives. These are moments when that which is really important in the scheme of things is made dramatically clear. These are moments when, for reasons that we don’t really grasp, we fully know that we are standing on holy ground. These are moments when we know without a shadow of a doubt that we are loved by God. Of course, Peter wanted to build a house and hang out there for a good while. Lap it up, luxuriate in it, make it last longer. After all, it’s only human nature to want the good times to last longer, to hold on to them very tightly. But sometimes, our efforts to hold on to the “good old days” start to suffocate our experience of the Holy One. Sometimes, we’re so focused on preserving our mountain top experience, that we miss the new ways God is speaking to us. A woman wrote about her visit the Holy Land. And while she was there, she took a side trip to the Mount of the Transfiguration. First she took a tour bus on a long trip to the base of Mount Tabor. Then she had to get into a cab and follow a road with many switchbacks and hairpin turns. Now Mount Tabor is just a few miles west of the Sea of Galilee and is nearly 2000 feet in elevation. It’s easy to spot because it’s the only mountain in an area that is rather flat. So she imagined the vista she’d see when she got to the top, standing on the ground where Jesus was transfigured! Up to the top she went – and what did she see when she got there? The Church of the Transfiguration – a multi-story structure with three chapels and altars representing the three dwellings that Peter wanted to build. Do you see the irony? This woman’s experience of this place of mystery and transcendence – this place where Jesus was seen in his divinity, this place where the very voice of God spoke to Peter and James and John – “This is my Son, the Chosen one. Listen to him.” – this vista was obstructed by a building! This is probably a pretty good definition of “Religious, but not Spiritual.” When we’re more concerned with preserving what happened once, than in experiencing what God is doing in our lives today, we’re being religious, but not spiritual. When we build things that block our view of God, we are being religious, not spiritual. What barriers that block us from experiencing holy ground? What noises around us drown out the voice of God, the voice that urges us to LISTEN! Yesterday, I read an article about a twenty-seven year old woman named Megan Phelps-Roper. She is the granddaughter of the leader of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, the church that protests the funerals of soldiers and children with signs that say things like, “God hates America,” or “God hates Gays.” Megan was raised in Westboro Baptist, and she was something of a celebrity, because she was well-spoken and could talk to the press. But about a year ago, she met a stranger whose questions caused her to rethink what they were doing at the church, and rethink her association with he. Finally, after much prayer and “talking with God,” she and her sister were transformed. The realized that WBC couldn’t have a corner understanding the mind and will of God. Even though they knew their family would never see them again, they decided to leave the church, and find their own way to God. Both Moses and Jesus spent a lot of time praying. They spent a lot of time just talking, and listening, to God. And as they prayed, they were transformed. They were changed – physically and spiritually. Moses is he didn’t know realize he had been transformed, until his brother saw it and told him. Transformation happens all the time, if we are open to it. It happens next door at the AA and NA meetings, and at the parking lot where we feed the homeless. It happens in the grocery store when the person next to you notices the light of Christ in your smile. It happens on the highway, when that driver who cut you off notices that you didn’t give him the one-finger wave. All of these places, you are the face of God for people you don’t even know. Holy Ground, mountain tops, thin places. There are times and places when we feel closest to God and something happens to us. We are changed by the encounter; we are transformed. We might not even be aware of it, but others are. They can see it in our bright shining faces. And they are transformed because we are. We shine with the light of Christ, as we are filled with the love of God.