Debbie and I knew of each other in High School. We could have said hi if we were so inclined and it would not have been weird. She was a band geek and I was a theater dork so a complete lack of a “cool” veneer was certainly something we had in common, perhaps the only thing we had in common, other than the fact that we inhabited the same school.
But there we were, in the same solar system without being in the same orbit, in the same crowd scene without knowing each other all that well or having any reason to bump into each other. She was someone that I knew, someone with whom I had a common touchstone in time and space, West Anchorage High School, 1981-1984 and I have the yearbooks to prove it.
I love the Dish Network ads featuring Rob Lowe that are running right now. The supremely confident and cool Rob has Dish and the terrific cast of characters; Nervous Rob Lowe, Paranoid Rob Lowe, Skinny Arms Rob Lowe and Creepy Rob Lowe, well they all have cable. One of the latest iterations of that ad series is Peaked in High School Rob Lowe, with Rob still wearing the letterman’s jacket and proudly displaying the football trophies on the furniture of his home.
I know that high School was a treasured time for a lot of people but for me at least, it was just a time, I was there, I did stuff and there are pictures to prove it in the aforementioned yearbooks, but it held no special significance, I was an indifferent student until I got to college, I had a lot of friends, but few of them persist, It was a time and then it was over and I wanted nothing more than to get the heck out of there.
And for the most part I left it all behind. This was back in the long-long ago, you know, 1984 B.F. (before Facebook) so when you left your home town you truly only kept in touch with the people you wanted to keep in touch with instead of the horde of people I have today as Facebook “friends” which includes rather a lot of the people who were not all that nice to me in High School.
But Debbie was not on the list, our connection would have been oversold if you called it tenuous.
So she remained the girl from the yearbook, Most Musical in our Senior Superlatives page, alongside Sean Topkok, just someone I knew way back when.
I am not much for reunions, you may have guessed. Since I was so willing to leave those days behind I was not exactly raring to go back and revisit them. Debbie and I, just recently, declined to attend our 30th reunion for example but it was just the latest one I didn’t attend, I doubt I was missed. But that also means that in the years after leaving Alaska, I really only had contact with about four West High folks, my best friend from school and a couple of folks who came down to Washington to go to the same college I was attending.
Debbie got farther and farther away in the corridors of my memory.
Over the years we got together only once, at the behest of Paul, who would someday be our best man, who noticed that I was in Olympia and Debbie was in Bellevue, Washington and that old high School classmates shouldn’t be less than 100 miles apart and not get in touch; that was Paul’s thinking anyway.
We had lunch, it was nice, nothing to see here, move along. It was a decade later that we ended up in Anchorage together at the same time, she having returned after quitting engineering and me having returned to the sound of the siren song of Alaska, the great land, my home.
Paul lets me know that Debbie has returned to Alaska when I am departing and suggests we should get in touch. I agree, having found myself at leisure, no attachments, not looking for any new attachments, just wanting someone I can talk to, who is of an age, who remembers the same people, knows the landmarks of the life we shared at some distance at West High.
I honestly have no idea when she was transfigured in my eyes. I do not recall a mountaintop moment like the ones that are described in today’s scriptures, I did not shout aloud like Elisha and I did not fall to my knees like Peter, James and John but without knowing when it had happened, suddenly she was something different to me, changed not in who or what she was, but in how I saw her, how I heard her, how she seemed to me.
It wasn’t like in the romantic comedies, where everything she said was suddenly funny or every moment was filled with harps and the twittering of birds but things had changed, I noticed albeit after a while and I somehow knew that they were not going back to the way that they were, ever.
Lucky me, eh?
Lucky Peter, John and James too. They were privy to a miraculous visitation, the transformative moment in their lives to be sure because, hey, you may walk around with the Lord and you may watch Him heal folks and you may listen to Him speak of the Kingdom of God and all of the abstractions like salvation and blessing and peace all the live-long day, but when Elijah and Moses show up, when the most faithful of God’s servants, one long dead giver of the law and the other a prophet having never tasted death but instead taken directly to heaven come and appear in conference with your rabbi, well that day does not pass without comment, without making an impact.
The disciples want to mark the day, the place, to cement it in their memories and to build something that they can show to other people so that when they tell the story they can point and say “over there, that is where it all happened!”
“Let us make three dwellings,” they say, “one for each of you.”
They were terrified but they knew that God would not bring them harm, not from Moses and Elijah, right? This is a good thing, scary though it be and they wanted to be a part of it.
Scary as falling in love. Scary as seeing someone with new eyes.
But they knew that the Lord had done marvelous things but that the message had not yet penetrated into the world, that the kingdom of God come near was still just out of reach, out of the sight-lines of the people, even though it was there they could not see it, even when Jesus passed by on the street they were blinded to the living Gospel, the living Good News of God’s grace and light coming to them so they wanted to build something that would endure because this moment, this blinding moment was their proof.
This is why there are trophies, like the ones Peaked in High School Rob Lowe shows off in the commercial. They mark the high points, the mountaintop moments in our lives.
But will Caitlyn’s kids, or grandkids care that she won a medal in a chess tournament when she was nine? Or a trophy from a soccer tournament when she was eleven? After a while the shine fades and it just becomes the bric a brac that the kids have to sort through when we die.
So too with the monuments we erect to any moment, the monuments of this age have not yet fallen and so we convince ourselves that they never will but look around and see how many of the ancient world’s monuments still stand as they once did, untarnished or undamaged by time. Think hard and if you come up with one, think harder because nothing lasts as long as we think it will. The Colossus of Rhodes is no more but it was one of the seven wonders of the world, standing 120 feet tall at the entrance to the harbor at Rhodes in the ancient world.
The disciples’ eyes have been opened and they have seen the Lord transfigured before them and they want to place dwellings for the heavenly beings there at that spot in the hopes that people will see and believe because of the monument, the marker that they have placed.
I have often wondered why people never ask themselves why, if God was looking for a monument, God didn’t simply build one? Are the mountains not monumental enough? Or the Grand Canyon, or the vast, unfathomable oceans? It is we who build the monuments and as much as we tell ourselves that they are for God, they are mostly for us, so that we will not be forgotten, what we said and what we did.
Not to say that god does not build monuments, that God does not erect fabulous constructs that are to endure forever.
God does, but God’s materials are a little different.
Just as the measure of the transfiguration of Debbie before my eyes is not the ring that she wears or the wedding that was held or even the child that we created together, the change in us is not in the church that we build and worship in, or the sacraments that we enact because Christ told us to do so, or even in the ministries that we participate in.
I am forever changed because of her, because of what she became to me sometime I know not when, it just happened and I was changed and apart of her lives inside of me now and you can learn something about her by talking to me, by knowing me.
Just so with the disciples, not just the ones in this morning’s Gospel but also the ones in this morning’s worship, yes, I am talking to you. Peter, John and James are the monuments built on that day even though they did not fully understand what was going on. They were fundamentally changed by what they saw and what they heard and they could never go back to the way that they were before.
And to know them was, from that moment on, to know something about Christ, about salvation and about the grace of God.
When we get too busy trying to build something, to create something to write or sing or paint something that will communicate the grace that God has shown to us in Christ we overlook the fact that we have been transfigured also, that God in Christ Jesus has built a monument, not for their sake but for the sake of the whole creation and that they have built it in the flesh of the disciples, in their minds and in their eyes and in their voices.
In our minds and in our eyes and in our voices.
How good Lord to be here, the living monuments to the love of God in Christ, the ones who bring His word, His Gospel of the kingdom of God come to us all to the world that longs for peace but doesn’t know the path, that longs for joy but has to settle for happiness instead, that hopes for a better tomorrow but struggles to take its eyes off of today.
If they are to know Christ it is likely, that their best chance is through you, or me, or any of the others who has heard the Lord transfigured, seen their own lives irrevocably changed and felt what it means to carry Christ in them forever.
It doesn’t have to happen on a mountaintop, it can sneak up on you like love sometimes does. But once you catch a glimpse, you are changed forever, a monument for all time and the path for others to come and to see.