I’ll be honest, I have never liked this text. This story of Jesus’ Transfiguration. First, I have no idea what it is about. The only thing I get is that I don’t get it. But it also seems so out of this world. It seems like it launches off the face of this earth to another land where magic and angels glow like the sun and old dead guys come back. And too often, I think religion does enough of that. Causing us to want to leave and abandon this world for some other pristine, cleaner, easier world, which we have labeled heaven.
So often we have been taught to seek God not in the sinful world out there, but in the sacred sanctuary right here –through prayer, scripture, and sacraments. Too often we’re told the work of God in here is meant to protect us like laminant from the work of the devil out there. And this story of Jesus’ transfiguration, where he glows like the Las Vegas strip on the top of a mountain, only reinforces that idea. It seems so out of this world and disconnected from any real part of my life that I have never liked it, let alone preaching on it.
But then I took a second look at this text. And those words, in verse 36 – and they kept silent – lept off the page like gospel medicine.
How I long for silence in my life. And how I am my worst enemy.
Do you find yourself in silence much anymore? For a couple of us, I imagine silence is too often a constant companion. But for most of us, silence is an endangered species. Hard to find. With all of the touching of our ipod touches and our singing cellphones, talking tvs, winding wind farms, and sports practices. Silence. We’re losing it.
I may long for silence, but I avoid it like the plague. You can ask Lauren – I constantly make noise at home. I’m either drumming my hands on the coffee table, or making up songs with Elliot or yawning really loudly. Most mornings, when I get ready for the day, I always have some sort of noise in the background, whether it is the news, one of my friend’s sermons, or the melodies of Eddie Vedder. One day last week, Lauren challenged me to get ready in silence. At first, it felt like she was taking all of my toys away and forcing me into a time out. But I did it. And all I know is that afterwards, my shoulders weren’t so tight and that constant dull ache in my head had melted away.
Silence. The way Peter, James, and John finally found silence in their life was on that mountain with Jesus when they came face to face with the very presence of God. That’s what can happen when you have an encounter with God in your life- you’re moved to silence. But did you notice? Even Peter avoided the onset of that silence at first too.
Peter was more interested in capturing and keeping the glory of God seen on that top of that mountain than actually experiencing it. While Jesus was glowing with light and meeting with Moses and Elijah, Peter had his face deep in blueprints to build a tent there so that they might never leave. Peter was too busy trying to make this holy moment permanent, that he was missing the holy moment itself.
We do the same, don’t we? We want to hold on to moments and make them permanent that we end up missing them. Sometimes I think digital cameras are a detriment to our society. No longer do we simply stand in awe and silence of the glory of God we see around us. Instead, we rush to grab a camera out of our pockets and purses, only to discover that we were too slow and we’ve missed it. And as a result, it seems we no longer capture memorable moments, we create and craft fabricated ones.
As new parents, Lauren and I love to take pictures of Elliot. We always want to catch that cute face or that funny laugh. But then when we miss it, what do we do? We recreate it. A couple of weeks ago, Elliot was being really funny because he had a bunch of food on his face. But by the time we grabbed the camera to capture the moment, he had already licked it off. So what do Lauren and I do? Dip our fingers in his food, and reapply it to his face so that we can get a picture of it. And suddenly, you step back realize how ridiculous that is.
When my parents gave me my first digital camera for Christmas, about 10 years ago now, I’ll never forget what my dad said to me: Don’t spend so much time behind the camera that you miss what you came to see. That’s guidance for life, right there. Don’t spend so much time trying to capture the moment that you miss the moment itself.
We want to capture moments. We want to hold on to them. Claim them as our own, post them on facebook and hope they get a lot of ‘likes’. Peter was kind of like that. He was so ready to capture this moment with Jesus, God, Elijah and Moses that he was measuring angles on A-frame tents instead of letting the full glory of Jesus shining in front of him sink deep into his retinas.
But finally, the experience of God got so intense that Peter couldn’t ignore it anymore. He couldn’t help but put down his blueprints, his camera, his to-do list, his iPhone, or whatever else we use to distract ourselves – and finally, not only could he see light of God, he could feel it like a rushing wind across his cheek. And he could hear it like a voice right beside him. God did not show up on that mountain in things that were out of this world, but in things of this world. Peter, James, and John were moved to silence because for the first time they saw the world itself, in all of its glory and light, as the very place where God comes. Like on dirt and rocks that build a mountain to climb. In simple things like light and wind and spoken words. No ones’ feet ever left the ground in this story. No one was lifted up in the air. Not even Jesus. Even Moses and Elijah came as men, with flesh and bones, not as feel-good ghosts. The glory and grace of God is rooted right here. The light of Christ shines in this world, if we stop long enough to look for it in the very people and places around us.
For it is after this encounter with God that Jesus leads Peter, James, and John back down the mountain. To the messiest parts of the world where God promises to find us. To a world where children have seizures and foam at the mouth and panicked parents plead for help. To a world where 18-year-olds die much too young from asthma attacks. It doesn’t get much messier than that.
If there is good news to be found in this text it is that the light and glory of God found in Jesus continues to shines despite our sleepy eyes and distracted plans. Too often religion seems to want to take us out of this world, but Jesus and the God won’t let that happen. If anything, they send us deeper into this messed up world – to the places where the light of God glows. It glows when we are sent to our neighbor’s house with a pizza bake because life has just delivered cancer right to her doorstep with no return address. It glows when the unlikely Good Samaritan who lives across the street, who seems so suspicious and scary, dusts ice salt on your driveway so you and your family don’t slip. It glows when high school students who knew and didn’t know Colin light up Facebook with prayers for him and his family. Jesus doesn’t want you to leave this world, he wants to put roots down into it. Anchoring you here, where God needs you to be.
That glory and light of God seen by Peter, James, and John that day is all around you. You receive it. You give it. Don’t try to preserve it or bottle it up. Don’t try to save it to your hard drive. Just watch for it. And if we can do that, if we can look up long enough…then we will find ourselves moved to sacred silence, for the glory of God has come near.
A couple of weeks ago, after the story of the wise men who went home another way after visiting baby Jesus, I invited all of you to live out your faith by going home another way.
In the same idea, as a way of living out your faith, I invite you to go home in sacred silence. When the whole family piles into the car, no one say a word for the six minutes it takes to get home. Or if you came solo, quiet your mind of whatever chatter is going on inside that brain of yours. Just for that time, see what it’s like. Maybe it will be a witness to the hope that you have just encountered God somewhere in the last hour of your life. Whether it be in the melody of the music or the warm welcome of a neighbor or in the praying for precious people.
It is a feeble attempt at the hope that if experiencing the very real presence of God leads us to sheer silence. Then maybe the opposite is true. Giving ourselves some silence might help us to see the very real presence of God that stands before us. May this be so.