Tuesday, February 12, 2013


Luke 9:28-36, (37-43)
28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

[37 On the next day, when they had come down from the mountain, a great crowd met him. 38 Just then a man from the crowd shouted, "Teacher, I beg you to look at my son; he is my only child. 39 Suddenly a spirit seizes him, and all at once he shrieks. It convulses him until he foams at the mouth; it mauls him and will scarcely leave him. 40 I begged your disciples to cast it out, but they could not." 41 Jesus answered, "You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you and bear with you? Bring your son here." 42 While he was coming, the demon dashed him to the ground in convulsions. But Jesus rebuked the unclean spirit, healed the boy, and gave him back to his father. 43 And all were astounded at the greatness of God.]

If you have the unhappy luck of being in a group of clergy-types, and trust me, I hope that this is not ever the case, you might hear these pastors gushing on and on about how much they love St. Peter.  The reason for this, as one who is a part of the St. Peter fan club, is pretty simple: in his unfailing humanity, he often gives voice to what is the most natural response in any given situation.  One minute he is proclaiming Jesus to be the Christ, God’s Messiah, and in the next minute, he is trying to direct Jesus on a different path. He proclaims his undying devotion to Jesus, and then in a scene that is heartbreaking because it is so true,  denies ever knowing the guy so as to protect his own skin, and what makes Peter so compelling is that this all feels entirely sincere.  He truly believes that he would follow Jesus to death, and therefore is utterly surprised when he denies knowing Jesus in a fit of self-preservation.  Peter may be wrong a lot of the time, but he is wrong with heart. 
And today, before us, is one of my favorite Peter scenes, the transfiguration.  After Jesus has proclaimed that his Messiahship will be one of suffering, one of pain and desolation and communion with all the downtrodden and ignored, yes, after he says these thing, he takes with him Peter, James and John to the mountain to pray.  And then, just then, the miraculous happens.  That thin veil which separates heaven from earth is burst through by the divine light of God’s love.  Jesus’ face begins to shine in eternal splendor, the very brightness of his clothing now a testament to things not of this world.   And then, as though this weren’t enough, Elijah and Moses, the two most important figure of the Hebrew Scriptures, manifest as out of nowhere.  And they come to this Christ in glory, that is in the dazzling light of the eternal Father to whom they had drawn so close all the days of their lives. 
            And as clear as it is that Peter’s response, “Master, it is good for us to be here” probably doesn’t quite capture the gravity of the moment, I am entirely certain that I would not have been able to do any better.  What words are given to humans that can witness to such things?  But here’s the interesting thing, if we want to think of Peter as speaking without thinking, of giving the natural and human response in any given situation, it is what he says next that is keeps things moving.   “let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah,” with Luke the Evangelist not being able to stop himself from editorializing that Peter did not know what he was saying.  The problem for Peter is not in his accurate if understated observation of the goodness of this moment.  No, the glory of God is finally the only lasting goodness that we may know.  Instead, the problem is that Peter wants to capture this glory, wants to contain and master it, so as to finally control this glory.  To build a dwelling place for the glory of God, after all, is finally an attempt to domesticate this glory, to experience it within the limits of human ambition and desire and boundary.  And this is Peter’s mistake, this is perhaps why the cloud overshadows him and the voice of God, both ancient and still just beginning, breaks into the midst of Peter’s earnest plotting and effectively tells him that rather than speaking so much, maybe a little more listening would do the trick. 
            Because here’s the thing.  Peter is right that it is good for them to be there.  Why else would Jesus take the disciples with them, and what other possible response is there to such divine nearness?  But the problem is that Peter wants this event to be good in isolation from everything that is happening; Peter wants a self-sufficient spiritual high.  And this is where he misses out on the true goodness of this event.  Did you catch the conversation that Jesus is having with Moses and Elijah?  They appear in glory and begin speaking with Jesus about his departure, more accurately his exodus, yes his exodus, to Jerusalem.  And what awaits this Jesus in Jerusalem, you might rightly ask?  Well the things that he had talked about eight days before this event.  The rejection by the elders and the chief priests, the farcical trial and the inglorious death, all of this that sin, death, and hell might themselves be defeated.  And this, is the fundamental link that Peter seems to miss.  As good and glorious as this event, as this transfiguration is, it is not the final resting place, not, finally, the point, at least not this side of heaven.  No, the goodness of the event is not that is can be contained, not that glory may find a resting place up on the mountain apart from all human misery and pain, but that, in being found by this glory, Jesus is himself strengthened for what is coming.  For the shame and fear and pain and suffering that he will endure, all for the sake of a broken and frightened humanity. 
            To be certain, we are convicted by Peter’s role in all of this.  Too often, it seems, we want to make a dwelling place of the glory of God; we want to have God’s goodness and love on our terms.  That way, we can limit what this glory might ask of us, and I dare say, act as the gatekeepers for this glory.   We can do this in all sorts of ways, deciding that the present will never match up to the past, and thus our memories become the only place where God can actually live.  Or when we encounter a stranger, so very different from us, and for whatever reason, determine them to be unfit for God’s glory.  Or when we seek a spiritual high that does not then transform us, does not send us into deeper love of God and neighbor, no matter the manner in which we encounter them. 
            Though honesty about such things is required, please, dear people of God, do not allow this to become a chance for despair, for that is the devil’s work.  For as much as we, like St. Peter, would wish to capture this glory for ourselves, God simply does not work that way.  For Christ does not stay on the mountain.  No he returns to the crowds who need mercy and forgiveness lest all be lost.  Which is, of course, to say, that he returns to me and you.  And he does not keep his glory to himself, but in the cross to which he is headed, he will pour out this glory on all flesh, so that you and I may receive all that he shares with the Father, that you and I may now live out of the fullness of God’s mercy which spills over from age to age.  Yes, that you may become children of the heavenly Father.  And this is why the glory cannot be kept on the mountain, because Christ is too intent to come down and give it to you.  To give it to you in the kindness of his presence, in the goodness of the body broken and the blood poured out. These gifts given so that you may know God’s eternal love for you.  But, oh dear people of God, do not expect this glory to leave you as you are.  That is just not how God works.  For when Christ comes into your midst as he has again this morning, he brings with him all those he loves and pleads with us that we would do the same.  That in this space, the poor and the lonely and the fearful might find comfort and sustenance, that the despised might find dignity and hope.  That those whose tremble with emptiness might know the fullness of God’s mercy.  For it is in this humanity that the glory of God now dwells.  And it is to this humanity that we are called in love, hope and joy.  Get out there.  For the glory of God awaits.  In Jesus’ name, amen. 

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