Pastor Barbara Thrall
In the name of God, the voice that speaks to our hearts, the bright light of all creation. Amen.
Good morning and Happy Valentine’s Day to you, whatever that means at your house and in your family. A day to celebrate love. Nice. I hope it will be a sweet, happy day for you.
Today is also the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany and so we turn to the stories the Church has given us and to this one about Jesus and three of his disciples atop a high mountain. Now, the Bible never says which mountain that is, but tradition has chosen Mt. Tabor in Israel, up north near the Sea of Galilee, as the spot. Early in 1981, forty years ago, my mother-in-law asked me to go with her on a trip to the Holy Land. We flew over together and joined an American tour group which proceeded to run through a lot of sacred sites with our guide, a Palestinian Christian gentleman. On the day I’m remembering our bus had driven slowly up the Mt. Tabor to the summit. There before us was an enormous church, fairly modern by Holy Land standards, the Franciscan Church of the Transfiguration, completed in 1924 and sitting atop both the ruins of a third century building and one from Crusader times. Inside there is a massive nave and high soaring windows to let in plenty of light, and a magnificent mosaic over the altar, depicting Christ in dazzling white, beside Moses and Elijah, with Peter, James and John below them, beholding the entire spectacle. Then in a small chapel under the main altar there is another worship space. This one has a stained glass window with two peacocks facing one another. I wonder now if this was some Tiffany conceit of that era (could be). On that day long ago our tour guide asked us what we thought the two large teal and green birds were doing there? Nobody had a clue, so he provided an answer, perhaps his answer, but one that works. He said, “A peacock is a symbol for the Transfiguration because with a peacock, when the tail or the fan goes up, all things change.”
It’s true, isn’t it? With God in your life, all things change. Isn’t that a kind of mantra for how life is? All things change. For my mother-in-law, Eileen, her husband’s death four years before our trip when she was 57, meant she would have to do some serious recalculation if she wanted to go on with her life in the ways she had hoped. An inveterate traveler, she embarked on a number of journeys, mostly to Europe, with friends, and in my case, family, and discovered a lot about the world, and about her own resources and capabilities. For me, all things changed when I married her third son, and we set upon our journey of discovery and adventure that has taken us to some pretty interesting places, literally and figuratively. For you, I’m sure you can think of moments, incidents, decisions, revelations when the peacock’s tail went up, as it were, and in God’s way for you, all things changed.
For the disciples, all things changed in that time with Jesus atop the high mountain, when his appearance changed and before them he became dazzling white. It was a sign, a symbol of the glory to which he was pointed, and they were seeing him in a new way. He was not transformed substantially, not changed into a different person, but was revealed to be more than what met the eye, and in essence, he was still who he was and now he was more. They were beholding a glimpse of what was to come for Christ and for them, in God’s good time.
In addition to the visual at the Transfiguration, God provided an audio experience. God spoke, as he had done at the beginning of this season at the time of Jesus’ baptism and offered again, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him!” I’ve always thought this was remarkable, since God could just as easily have said, “This is my beloved son. Pay attention to him. Follow his example. Be like him, do what he does.” Instead we get, “Listen to him”, as the prophet and the Man of God that he is. He will tell you about God-ness, he will tell you about life and its deeper meaning. Be engaged in conversation with him and speak and listen to him and see what you will hear. More than a prophet, more than a law-giver like Moses and Elijah, Jesus will direct your path and give you what you need to keep going. Listen to him.
Now of course, if we think about it, and this was not lost on us as tourists years ago, there is a supreme irony in being inside a gigantic church atop the Mountain of the Transfiguration. This was “three booths” in spades, standing for thousands of years, and yet we, and everyone else who visited that church that day or any day, or anyone who has heard this story or somehow encountered a moment of Christ in his glory, we have to come down from the mountain and go on with our lives. Hopefully we come down that road with new insight, new direction, new awareness, new understanding of who and what Jesus is and what he means for us and for the world.
That insight and new direction – what might that lead us to? The light emanating from our Lord, that revealed how special he was among the greats of the historic Jewish faith, that light fell on his disciples and illuminated them as well. That light shone forth their dignity and the ways in which they were being chosen, taught, healed and drawn into the new life Jesus was offering. Shaped by time with Jesus, shaped by their experiences of his nearness and his radical god-ness, they could not help but be affected, any more than we can by being his faithful people. I think, especially in the year that we have just had and this new year we are now encountering, we are especially listening for what Jesus has to say to us and are looking for his light to illumine our path. We want to behold his glory and as the Transfiguration may be a celebration of sorts on this Sunday every year, really, its essence is something for every day. Listen to him, stand in the light, take it all in and let yourself be changed.
There are those among us, right here today and right now, in whose lives God’s light shines, and who cast that light upon others so that their inner beauty, their inherent worth, their profound dignity shines forth. We know them. These people are in our families, among our friends, maybe at school or at work, certainly in this church, in our neighborhoods, in our country. They take soup to a sick family. They make brownies and macaroons and hot chocolate to give away to other people. They deliver groceries to a food pantry. They contribute to a burned-out church. They minister to the forgotten women in jail. In a way they, like us, have been given the chance to stand with the three disciples and behold the greatness of Jesus and what his power and his love can do. That power was never intended to remain on that mountain-top forever, contained in one or two or three booths, crystalized in time and space. That power and love were meant to be shared, as a lesson, that the power of God, if we listen, with our ears and eyes open, might fill us and propel us to faith and goodness in Christ’s name. That power was meant to change the world and in many ways it has, but God is not finished with the world, or with us, yet.
My prayer this day is that the Transfiguration of Christ may lighten our darkness and may guide us to strength and courage. My prayer is that we will listen to that beloved Son and know how much we mean to him. All things change, and sometimes for the better. The only thing that does not change is God, and his love for us is here right now. So happy Feast of the Transfiguration. May the glory of God shine forth for you on this Valentine’s Day, and every day. Amen.