So Peter and John and James, maybe they were the first of the Modern Christians. They came down from the mountain where they had seen the Lord transfigured before their very eyes, His clothing made startlingly, impossibly white in an age before Clorox, they had heard the voice of their God speaking to them as clearly as I am speaking to you today urging them to peace – and they went home and said nothing in those days to anyone.
They didn’t fear embarrassment, which may as well be the plague the way people try and avoid it in the modern era. People claimed a new messiah had arisen, or followed a new spiritual path all the time in this odd little nexus of travelers and caravans that was and is the Holy Land. There was no particular reason to hold it in, the ministry of Christ was still just beginning to get under the saddle blanket of the Roman Empire and cause an irritation.
But, witnesses with their own eyes to the Glory of God, the mercy of God, the elevation of the Christ above them, the living symbol of hope and a light for their pathway, literally, they went along and spoke nothing of this word to anyone in those days.
In those days. Those words themselves speak of some future time when the disciples would indeed speak, maybe when they were assembling the Gospels, preparing the voyages that they would take to spread the word, maybe then they would speak of the things that they saw on that day, of the love that they felt on that day, of the wonder that flowed all around them on that day, in those days.
Because, just by reading it, this was no ordinary day. It was a day that filled them with hope, that filled them with fear, that filled them. This was a momentous day and still, for reasons that escape us, they said nothing to anyone in those days.
Even in the midst of our worship it is easy to start to think of this place as just another of the things on your schedule, the thing you do on a Sunday as opposed to the things that you do on every other day, say Wednesday. You sing at home, you sing at church.
You pay for the things that are important to you in the rest of the world; you pay for the things that are important to you in church.
You gather and chat with friends, less than you used to but you do it from time to time out there in the world and you gather, more regularly to be sure, with friends and family here in the church.
It would be easy to mistake this for almost any other outpost of the world around us if it were not for one thing. Like Sunday School, like the children’s sermon, the answer is always Jesus.
In all of the other places we go each and every day of each and every week there are a lot of things to attract us. Most of those things are on display to their best advantage this very day in San Francisco, which has been for the past week and will continue to be for the next nine hours of so, the epicenter of human distraction worldwide.
Lights will flash and speakers in such amazing number will blare forth the sounds of excitement, music and choreographed voices all competing for what appears to be the limited attention span of the ordinary American, all clustered around their television sets to see the Mighty Broncos gallop toward the Equally Mighty Panthers.
The news said as I was driving to the grocery store, that it was difficult to move around in the city yesterday what with all of the Super Bowl week festivities and the only thing that popped into my head was “Who in their right mind is trying to get into the city, or around the city right now?”
But then I have never been a fan of big crowds. We went to New Years in New York City one year while we were there and because we were not inclined to stake out territory six or seven hours in advance we eventually found a place to celebrate at the south end of Central Park, which if you know NYC is a little over ¾ mile away from Times Square and the road is not straight so you cannot see the ball drop but it was an event and you ought attend some of these things just to know how much you either love them or in my case, not so much.
But we seem to love the distractions. We seem to crave the distractions, the things that keep us from noticing that this is an ordinary day in an ordinary place and that we are just ordinary people.
In the face of all of that, you might see how church might begin to feel like just another thing that happens, just another day on the calendar. Here the lights do not flash and the speakers do not blare and it would be easy to leave here and remain silent in these days.
It would be easy because it is easy to mistake the flashing lights and the dazzling white clothes and the blaring voice of God for the holiness in this passage. It is easy to mistake the transfiguration for a light and sound show produced by God to show us the majesty of God, the Power of the Most High, the awesome might of the arm of the Lord.
But the awesome might of the Arm of the Lord is not in the flashing lights not the sound of the voice of God echoing from the hillsides. This passage is not containable in grand strokes but instead in smaller gestures.
God’s mercy shines through when Peter, meaning well, tries to build the church right there and then, tries to build three dwellings for the power and majesty and might we spoke of just a minute ago. He cannot think of anything else to do and so he tries to do what he knows, to build with his hands the things that seem right.
But if the dazzling white didn’t tip him off I don’t know what would have. Nothing wrought of human hands can contain the majesty of God, the power of the Most High or the mighty of the arm of the Lord and no matter how fine a building they made, it would still be a shack, like putting the Hope diamond in a burlap sack.
Besides, the Majesty, Power and Might do not need a package, they speak for themselves.
But God’s mercy shines upon Peter in this passage when the messiah is revealed to him, not in words or in miracles among the people, but in the very presence of God. Peter is shown that where Christ is, God is, and where God is among God’s people, there can be only peace, there can be only hope.
Paul is blinded on the road to Damascus but Peter, flawed, stumbling bumbling Peter is allowed at last to see.
It is an ordinary place, on an ordinary day but the presence of the Lord transfigures everything, making it dazzlingly white and pure, making every day and every place a holy day and a holy place because God’s mercy and love reside there, in us.
We want it to be about the dazzling light show but the story of Moses tells us that if we were to actually see the Glory and Majesty and Power, we would be slain. We simply could not handle the juxtaposition of our sinfulness and the Lord’s purity. The immense truth of it would destroy us.
It is God’s mercy, therefore, that even this transcendent scene is tempered, Elijah and Moses return to show the disciples that this is an event that is beyond death, but close to them, about them but even more about God, this is God, kissing the creation and leaving blessing behind as a sign.
In the transfiguration God demonstrates to us that the veil is lifted, that holiness is available and present and close enough that you can reach out and touch it, run your fingers through its hair, know and love it instead of fearing it.
Holiness is no longer a reminder of how far you have fallen, it is the promise of how far you will go.
It is the sign of how far God has gone to reach you, to reach into you and to change you. You too will be dazzling white, you too will know Elijah and Moses and all who have gone before, there is no veil, there is no anchor holding your feet to this earth. There will be more and it will be glorious.
I don’t know why, then, they kept silent and in those days and told no one any of the things they had seen. This was no ordinary day, why let it pass without comment?
I don’t know why then, we keep trying to build little dwellings, little booths for it to live in and insist that that is where it is and then, when the worship is over keep silent and in these days and tell no one any of the things we have seen.
I work in a church and I understand that it is necessary, or at least it seems like a good idea for us to build them and to use them as places of gathering, as places of assembly so that we can come together and worship the Lord. But I get a little worried when we make of them dwellings, little booths for the Lord as if to say “This is where God lives,” and to try and contain God, the Majesty, the Power and the Might within its walls, or to try and dress it up with light shows and blaring sound.
It is a distraction from the truth. This <point to chest> is a dwelling place for the Lord, and not one made by human hands, hewn from the rock or split for the tree, it is the dwelling God made for us and as such it is suited to receive the mercy and love of God.
Why is it that we fight so hard against being transfigured ourselves? It is, after all, our destiny. We have been changed forever by the grace of God, given the faith in Christ that sustains and sanctifies us, the faith that guarantees that in the end we will be blessed and holy, so why are we still building containers for the Lord? Why is it that we do not speak of the glory of God, the Majesty of God, the Power of God, the mighty arm of the Lord outside of this dwelling? Why are Peter John and James our role models instead of Jesus Himself?
Well, sin, naturally, and fear, and pride, wait, those are just sins, so yeah, Sin.
Every second of every day is filled with the concerns of what we make, and how we live and what we have and what we do. We are immersed in the works of our hands every second we are not turned toward the Lord so it’s not actually a surprise we get this wrong, that we focus on the mountaintop and not on the Word, we mistake the dazzling for the Holy.
This is not the only place in the world you can share a cup of coffee with a friend, I’m certain that Starbucks would love to have your money and your time. But church is the only place you can go and have ashes smudged onto your forehead as a reminder of your mortality and the preciousness to God of every second of your life.
This is not the only place you can sing songs of faith with people you know. The Sonoma County Chamber Singers could use a couple more tenors and another bass and we sing beautiful music if you are interested. But Church is the only place where bread and wine stand in for the flesh of God, the blood of God the love of God offered to you, from across the veil of death so that you might live.
This not the only place you can take a bath, but in this place, when the water touches your forehead you join a long line of the faithful, joyously living their lives in the light that shines from the garments of Christ on this transfiguration morning, the light of the Lord that needs no veil because it is no longer merely justice, it is the promise of life and light eternal.
How can I keep from singing? Says the Hymn, how could they not speak asks this morning’s Gospel. How can we live this life of light every day, and make every place we go, a mountaintop to the Lord?