Last Sunday after the Epiphany - Matthew 17:1-9
Listen To Him
Epiphany begins with the Magi at the manger, Jesus' baptism and the voice declaring, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased, and ends with the brightness of the Transfiguration. The season of light - starlight, the light of Christ, the transfiguring light of God.
Jesus takes us, his disciples, up a high mountain to be with him by ourselves. It is an historical invitation - "the mountain" can only be one mountain - Sinai, that cosmic location high up where one Moses could meet with God face to face and receive the covenant - those pronouncements, those principles that transform a rag-a-tag disparate group of runaway slaves into a people.
Just before this Jesus has made it clear that once in Jerusalem he will be arrested, suffer, die and then be raised up. There can be no doubting that these pronouncements of his made little sense until afterwards. And at the very least, these predictions of his would be an initial source of embarrassment for his closest followers who were no doubt expecting and hoping that he would be the one to defeat and dismiss the Roman occupation. (Which ironically he does, just a few hundred years later!)
But a Sinai experience it is! As Jesus appears to physically become the light of the world, dazzling white, his face shining like the son, as had the face of Moses when he came down off the mountain, suddenly there are Moses and Elijah. The narrative is sparse. We are simply told that they are "talking with him." Wouldn't we want to be listening in on that conversation?
Moses, giver of the Covenant, the Law, Torah, the minimum daily requirements for being a person of God - the God of Sarah and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, Rachel, Leah,Jacob and Jesus. Elijah, the prototype prophet, social critic, tasked with reminding the people of God what the minimum daily requirements are to be for all time. Jesus, where, between them? Being prepared for his upcoming Exodus? Getting helpful hints on how to manage religious and secular officials who have no time for God or neighbor?
Evidently Peter, James and John are not listening in. What an astonishing missed opportunity! Instead Peter interrupts the conversation and announces that he wants to build some dwellings, some booths or tents. It is an idea that is not so strange as it seems. Every fall God's people build booths to remember their forty year time of testing in the wilderness - to remember that once we were no people, once we had no home, once we were aliens in a strange land. Once we had enough, dependent on God for Manna each day, daily bread. It is a festival, Sukkot, meant to remind us that we come from rather humble origins and perhaps we should remember this when confronted by people who are homeless, strangers far from their home, hungry and in need of some neighborly love.
God has something else in mind it seems than starting Habitat for Divinity! As Peter interrupts the Holy Three on top of the mountain, God interrupts Peter "while he was speaking" to remind one and all, "This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!"
Be silent, and quit flapping your gums about God. Be still, be silent and listen to him. For God is at home. It is we who have gone out for a walk. Stop talking, stop building, be still and know that I am God. Listen to him - because when you listen to him you are listening to me.
They fall to the ground, overcome with fear. What is it in our society today that prevents us from falling to the ground overcome with fear? There is so much of which we ought to be ashamed. All we have gone astray from the very principles the Law and the Prophets sought to place in our hearts, in our minds, in our every action every day. How much narcissism and hubris can one society sustain before it finds itself back in the wilderness? Back in exile? In desperate need of a new Exodus?
Falling to the ground looks somewhat like falling to our knees to confess our faults - those sins that separate us from one another and from the love of God. It is a good place for us to listen.
Look what happens when we listen.
Jesus, God incarnate, God made flesh and blood, comes to us, the very one who is God's Son, God's Beloved, the one with whom God is well pleased, comes to us, touches us and says, "Get up and do not fear." He, God, comes down to touch us and dispel our fear.
Then the Beloved continues: "Tell no one the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."
So here we are. He has been raised. We can and do tell people about the vision. We do tell people about our Jesus!
The whole vision is astonishing! That God would become small for our sake - to get our attention - to invite us to listen to him once and for all. The God who cannot be contained in this chapel, not even this whole magnificent church we call Mount Calvary! The God who cannot be limited or contained by all of the heavens and all of the earth becomes small for our sake. The God who cannot possibly be contained in morsel of bread and a sip of wine, but by some mysterious calculus of faith, out of some mysterious vision of our own, he is.
He who came to us in our likeness invites us to be transfigured into his likeness. The word here, by the way, is metamorphosis, suggesting that whatever we are now is not what we are destined to be just as a caterpillar is not destined to remain a caterpillar.
Behold the light of his countenance. See him with Moses and Elijah. Stop doing whatever you are doing and listen to him.
There is no more important human task than this - that we listen to him and be changed into his likeness.
That there even is a season of Epiphany all began with a young woman - a teenage girl, really. When asked to bear God's Son, she was fearful. But the angel said do not be afraid, and she responded, "Yes, according to your word." Her "yes" is why we are here at all.
As we listen to him today, he touches us and says, "Get up and do not fear."
To be changed into his likeness can seem like a daunting task and responsibility. But each time a piece of his body is placed in our outstretched hands, each time the chalice shimmering with his blood is passed to us, trembling we say, "Yes!"
It is our "yes" that combines with Mary's "yes" that gives hope for the whole world and everything and everyone therein.