Sunday, February 26, 2017

What do we see?

26 February 2017 – Transfiguration Sunday

Exodus 24:12-18
2 Peter 1:16-21
Matthew 17:1-9

“Exalt The Lord our God, and worship at His holy hill; for The Lord our God is holy.”  Psalm 99:9

OPENING PRAYER: Holy God, upon the mountain You revealed Your Messiah in His fullness and glory, who by His life, death, and resurrection would fulfill both the Law and the prophets.  By His Transfiguration, enlighten our path and open our hearts that we may dare to strive with Him in the service of humanity by witness of the Everlasting Truth.  Then may we share in the Everlasting Glory of Him who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit.  One God, True God, forever and ever.  Amen.

This past week I had the privilege of speaking with another pastor whose keen insight borne of his own personal challenges has challenged me all the more to practice being in the Presence of The Lord as a means of self-care.  Along with that, another man who is a chaplain at UAMS spoke of prayer as a state of being rather than a “thing” we do.  So when we practice being in the Presence and acknowledge our own time of prayer as the state of our being as individuals and as the Church, what do we see? 

The answer to that question may be key in helping us to understand what Peter was trying to say in his second letter.  Because he was “on the holy mountain” with James and John as witness to the Transfiguration of our Lord, he wrote, “We have the prophetic message more fully confirmed” (2 Peter 1:19).  And the beginning of the prophetic message may well be this: “No prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation because no prophecy ever came by human will” (2 Peter 1:20-21). 

This means that while the human reality is that the Bible means different things to different people, the Divine Reality is the Holy Scripture as Divine Revelation can have only one real meaning; that which is conveyed by the Holy Spirit of our God and Father.  To discover that real meaning requires rigid discipline and a lifetime of devotion in sacrifice of self rather than incremental moments made only as a matter of personal convenience.

That “prophetic message” does not provide simple, concise answers to any questions we may have about the full meaning of the Transfiguration or any other mystery, but it does invite us to take a step closer to the Source.  The prophetic message challenges us especially in this regard: to learn to put aside our own thoughts, our own notions, and our own conclusions, and begin learning the practice of Being – not only being in the Presence of the Almighty but in the practice of being as learning … and all so we may see not what we wish to see but so we may see what is really before us.  Because the world we live in can be an ugly, hostile place, we as the Church need to see what The Lord reveals to His Own.

And regarding this rigid discipline, Peter wrote, “You must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.  For if these things are yours and are increasing among you, they keep you from being ineffective and unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:5-8).

Meaning, of course, that if we do not practice these things, we may never “see” nor fully appreciate the Transfiguration and all which is revealed in that Sacred Moment.

We may have faith enough to believe, and it may be the sufficient “faith as a mustard seed” (Matthew 13:31-32), but Peter is teaching this faith must be “supported”.  It must be developed.  It must be continually nurtured.  It must be disciplined, ordered in such a way that it will do much more than make us feel good about ourselves; it must move us as disciples to make disciples – for that is ultimately the fruit demanded of Christ’s Holy Church. 

When this brother spoke of his practice of being in the Presence, he did in no way make it sound easy – and he did not suggest for a moment that he had mastered the practice.  Like most of us – perhaps all of us – he is easily distracted by the slightest noise or a fleeting thought.  And we cannot make these things go away because they are reality.

But this is where his discipline and his desire to see more holds him in place; he restarts his practice each time he is distracted.  As another preacher had observed, a true moment of silence cannot really begin until there is … silence.  No page turning, no shifting in the seats, no crinkling of candy or gum wrappers.  Moments of silence are not intended as a segue to the next moment; they are Sacred Moments in themselves.  We must prepare ourselves for something awesome.

There is no “stage setting” before the Transfiguration, no apparent moment of silence.  The text (Matthew 17:1-9) only tells us Jesus took Peter, James, and John to a “high mountain” before the Transfiguration took place.  There was no prep time as we read, but we also do not know how long it took them to get to the high place or what they may have done prior to this Sacred Moment. 

We may reasonably believe there was surely some sense of anticipation on the part of Peter and the brothers.  They knew they were following Jesus as they were so willing, but we may assume they had no idea where they were going or for what reason.  There are a couple of events which had taken place “six days” prior (vs 1), however, that may help to set the stage.

In Matthew 16:13-20, we are told of Jesus asking His disciples what people were saying about the Son of Man.  It was Peter who answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (vs 16).  And by that confession, Peter was blessed.  Then after Jesus had begun teaching them about His impending death and resurrection, Peter again stepped up and denied that such a thing should take place.  And Peter was sharply rebuked, referred to as “Satan” and a “stumbling block” to Jesus – “for you are setting your mind not on Divine things but on human things” (vs 23).

And this is our own “stumbling block” as well.  The season of Lent is a very hard practice for most Christians because it is that season which must lead us to Calvary before we can look upon the Empty Tomb.  We must endure the ugliness before we can witness the blessedness.  Our “stumbling block”, however, is our human desire and the “human things” we are most often focused on.  Our minds are set according to the world before us and our relentless “pursuit of happiness”, and we are thus unable to see anything beyond the horizon. 

Our desire must be to see that far because we know it is where our Lord, the Great Shepherd, is leading us.  But we must also understand this endeavor is not about Jesus “taking the wheel” as the popular song goes nor is it about Jesus serving as our personal “co-pilot” as the common bumper sticker suggests. 

It is entirely about our willingness to be led, our willingness to follow Messiah on the road less traveled, the path which leads to righteousness and blessedness.  We are cautioned by The Word that it is not an easy path, though we try our best to make it as easy as possible.  We are cautioned about the many risks, but we take measures to diminish any chance of risk.  We are warned that our willingness to follow Christ Jesus into the unknown may cost us our worldly treasures, but we more often hoard our worldly treasures in order to hedge our bets.  There is no faith in these things.

We are assured along the way, however, that the worldly treasures we may lose are those things lacking everlasting value.  We are assured that the Eternal Reward outweighs any risk, and we are assured the Journey in Christ which begins now is our first step into Eternity and the Life which never ends.  We do not have to wait until we are buried to begin this Journey.

When we begin this Journey, we will see the Treasure the world cannot take from us.  Then we will see what our Lord has intended to reveal all along.  All we have to do is follow Him up the high mountain, for it is the Journey of Faith to the Transfiguration of Christ and of self.  So let that Journey begin today as we continue to celebrate our Lord and the Life we are called into.  Amen.

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