Sunday, February 15, 2015

Sermon - February 15

God of life, in a blaze of light on Mount Tabor you transfigured Jesus, revealing him as your Beloved Son and promising us a share in that destiny of glory. Let the beacon of that gospel pierce again the clouds enshrouding the earth, so that even in the darkness of times we may believe your day will dawn and your light will shine through us. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Why not say it was the altitude,
the hot sun, the long hike up that winding trail,
the lack of food and drink, the thin air,
wishful thinking?

Why not say we were dreaming,
seeing things, hearing phantom voices
in the warm breeze,
manufacturing convenient meanings,
telling wild tales like half-drunk sailors
of what was — or wasn’t — there?

Why not just say that we didn’t see
whatever in the world it was we thought we saw?
That would be easier.

It was late. We were young.
It caught us by surprise, and left us wondering:
without, then or now, even a clue
how to put into words what it was we wanted to be true.
That poem by Bruce Robison got me to thinking about Peter, James & John, and their experience of the Transfiguration, what might they be thinking after the event, as well as Elisha watching Elijah disappear from his sight. What to say after it all happened…
Why not just say that we didn’t see
whatever in the world it was we thought we saw?
That would be easier.

It was late. We were young.
It caught us by surprise, and left us wondering...
How to explain what they experienced? Elijah’s prophetic role was nearing its end and it was being passed on to his disciple Elisha, and the Gospel of Mark tell us of the transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor to three of his disciples. They all were witnesses to an extraordinary sight.

But what is really extraordinary about these events is not that the chariots came to take Elijah away or that Jesus became dazzling white and Moses & Elijah were with him, its how these events propeled those who witnessed the events onward.

Elisha doesn’t make a shrine at that spot, but takes up Elijah’s mantle and goes to be the prophet he was called to be. Even though Peter wants to stay in the moment and build three dwellings on Mount Tabor, Jesus guides the disciples back down the mountain to continue their ministry with all the people.

It is as if God uses those moment to do something to catch the attention of the disciples so that they understand they too need to be transformed, to do what God calls them faithfully to do…

Jimmy Liautaud was a nightmare of a high school student: he was constantly in trouble for drinking, smoking and skipping class. The faculty at his prep school had had enough of young Mr. Liautaud and voted to expel him. But he had an unlikely champion: the dean of discipline. The dean recognized Jimmy’s rebellion as insecurity and saw what others did not: a student from a financially struggling family, trying to fit in at a prestigious school among wealthier, more polished classmates. Having spent many hours with Jimmy in detention, the dean realized that this was a pretty good kid, struggling to find out who he was. The dean, who had come from a working-class family himself, put his job of the line — he told the angry teachers: “If he goes, I go.”

The talent and goodness that the dean saw in Jimmy was realized. Jimmy finished school, (college wasn’t an option), went to work and soon opened his own food business — his sandwich shop pioneered the model of delivering good, inexpensive food to college dorms. Over the next 20 years, his small Illinois shop grew into a chain of more than 800 restaurants throughout the Midwest and Southeast.

Now just about every educator has a story about a dismal student who somehow made it. But here’s the twist in Jimmy story: The school, Elgin Academy in Elgin, Illinois, recently dedicated a new building with 12 classrooms, a theatre and a library. The new upper school is the gift of Jimmy Liautaud. But Jimmy’s $1-million gift came with one condition: the building was to be named after James Lyons — the dean of discipline at the school who saw the possibilities in a troubled kid. The school accepted the gift, but insisted that Jimmy’s name be included, as well: linking both names would inspire Elgin students to persevere in working for their own dreams, and to be grateful for those who help along the way. Jimmy Liautaud reluctantly agreed. And so the Elgin School community celebrated the dedication of the Liautaud-Lyons Upper School. [From “Troublesome Student Makes Good, and Honors Disciplinarian” by Dirk Johnson, The New York Times, December 31, 2008.]
The talent and generosity that the dean witnessed in a troubled teenager and the realization of that potential is an experience of transfiguration. On the mount of the transfiguration, Peter, James and John see the divinity possessed by Jesus. That same Spirit, that same “divinity,” shines within and through them and us, as well. It is what Elisha saw in Elijah and he wanted a double share to continue his prophetic work.

The Spirit of God dwelling within us enables us to realize our own potential for generosity, compassion and gratitude — and, in the light of Christ’s transfiguration, to recognize that same goodness in others, even sometimes hidden and unappreciated. We are challenged by Christ to see our world and others in “transfigured” light: to let the Spirit of God possess us to help transform our world in grace and blessing.

As our own Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it: “God places us in the world as his fellow workers – agents of transformation. We work with God so that injustice is transformed [transfigured] into justice, so that there will be more compassion and caring, that there will be more laughter and joy, that there will be more togetherness in God’s world.”

On this last Sunday before Lent, may we remember how God has acted in the past and believe in a vision of hopeful things to come, and in that way, hear a call to help transform and transfigure the world around us now. To understand that we are the witnesses today of God’s love and glory, and that we in our own way need to help take up the mantle handed down to us by sharing God’s light in our world today. Amen.

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