First Congregational Church
February 10, 2013
Last Sunday after/in Epiphany/Transfiguration
"How Are We Glowing Today?"
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Somehow, I missed learning about Madam Curie. I don't know if it was because I took an independent music theory class in high school instead of an additional history or science class. Maybe it was that I had little interest in writing the word science back in those days, much less learning about the people behind the sciences. In the ever so slight chance that someone else may have been that boat with me, it seems that she was pretty phenomenal.
Born to a Polish family that lost everything in the political uprisings of the nineteenth century, Marie Curie found her identity at the University of Paris. She was married to Pierre, a man who treated her as an equal in scientific investigations, and together they shared a Nobel Prize for the discovery of the causes of radioactivity. When Pierre was killed in a traffic accident, Marie was invited by the university to occupy his chair - making her the first female professor of the school. Marie went on to distinguish herself in many other ways, including naming two newfound elements (polonium and radium), achieving another Nobel Prize, raising a daughter who would distinguish herself in scientific investigations and earn a Nobel Prize of her own, and founding or equipping several research schools, all while running on the edge of personal scandal and international political intrigues.
But Madame Curie died in 1934 as a direct result of prolonged and unprotected exposure to the very substances she "gave" to the world. She loved to carry around with her test tubes of radioactive materials, remarking often about the lovely bluish-green glow they emitted. The oxymoron with Madame Curie and this morning's glowing scripture passage comes in the fact that while her "glow" brought death, Jesus' glow was about bringing life.
28 About eight days after Jesus said this, he took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. 29 As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. 30 Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31 appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. 32 Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him. 33 As the men were leaving Jesus, Peter said to him, “Master, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what he was saying.)
34 While he was speaking, a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and they were afraid as they entered the cloud. 35 A voice came from the cloud, saying, “This is my Son, whom I have chosen; listen to him.” 36 When the voice had spoken, they found that Jesus was alone. The disciples kept this to themselves, and told no one at that time what they had seen.
Thank you, MaiKou. There are so many goofy things about this passage, and yet The Church - capital C - has given us a special day in recognition of it - Transformation Sunday. Still, theres' some good soul food in that passage.
In the Bible, when a story takes us up to a mountaintop, it’s a fair bet that something dramatic is going to happen—a fair bet that something deeply revelatory is going to happen. Wandering through the desert for forty years, the Israelites were lead by a pillar of fire by day and a pillar of ___ (cloud) by night. When they were hungry or lost or even scared, all they had to do was to look at the cloud.
Moses received the Ten Commandments from God - obscured from the people in a ___ (cloud) on the mountain top of Sinai. When they constructed the portable Tabernacle, God filled the tent with God's presence in the form of a ___ (cloud.) Later, when Solomon built the permanent temple, God once again filled the sanctuary in a ___ (cloud.) What's really goofy about this whole cloud thing is that clouds generally don't bring more clarity, they obscure. And they are places in which one can hide.
In one sense, we are good with hiding - especially when it comes to the "bad" stuff in life - sins, skeletons, and stuff like that. In another sense, we want to know things. Even without Google at our fingertips, we want instantaneous knowledge, and perhaps we transfer that desire to God. We want to know how this story or proverb or parable applies to our lives - tangibly and real-ly - and now, thank you.
So maybe we need this account to remind us that God is a mystery, and we cannot rush God. A guy name Rick Morley said, "As Christians, we need to learn how to sit in the cloud." We learn patience and how to be okay with-out knowing about something when we sit in the cloud. Rick went on to say that Peter, James and John are changed on the mountain - forever - not because they learned a bunch of fun-filled facts. In reality, they probably came down with more questions than answers. But it was in meeting the Living God that changed them. That's why it is so important to come together, to sit in those silences - alone or together each week - because those are pregnant moments of God-meeting.
As Jesus made his way to Jerusalem and the events of his last week, he spoke more and more about suffering, betrayal and death. As much as it weighed on his mind, the disciples seemed lost in a fog of cluelessness. When Jesus needed all the support he could get, the disciples are simply unavailable to him in any meaningful way. Sometimes that happens in life - the people we were counting on helping us just aren't available to us - for whatever the reason. It doesn't make them bad people, but the reason why an ever-available, always present God is so important.
So God steps in to provide other voices for Jesus to hear. Moses: representative of the Law and Elijah representative of the Old Testament prophetic voices come together in symbolizing the whole of the Old Testament pointing to Jesus' fulfillment. If you think about it, there are only a million things that the three could have talked about. But instead of a great theological discussion, they encouraged Jesus in the direction he needed to go - to encourage him down that path on which the salvation of the world lay. I wonder if sometimes we are reluctant to "talk" to God, thinking that we'll get some theological lecture, when God really wants to give us encouragement.
By-the-way, how did the disciples recognize Moses and Elijah? I doubt they had those "Hello! My Name Is ____" stick-on name badges. And it's not like Moses had his face on the one denarius coin or that Elijah has his face plastered all over the place in Israel the way we do it with Abraham Lincoln's face - to the point we even recognize his silhouette - and there's no judgment in that truth. The disciples didn't grow up with the names and faces of presidents lining their elementary classrooms. How did they know?
How ever it happened, the whole dazzling event seemed to be one of encouragement for Jesus: God sensing Jesus' apprehension, sent some big reinforcements to help him make the finish line. That Jesus needed such a boost would be testament to his true humanity. That he went on to suffer and die would be testament to his true divinity. That he would eventually rise again in body gets at both aspects of Jesus' character. If Jesus would need encouragement from God, how much more are we needful of God's encouragement? We can tough-out various parts of life on our own, but martyrdom isn't what it used to be.
And speaking of us - back to the disciples. One of the parts of this passage that popped out at me this time was that they "very sleepy." Now if I had been there, preaching, I could understand. But guys - wake up - you're with Jesus! And Luke says his appearance was as bright as a "flash of lightning." Being so scientifically minded, I globbed on to Scott Hoezee's offering that a bolt of lightning discharges a trillion watts of electricity at a temperature of 20,000 degrees centigrade (considerably hotter than the surface of the sun) or something like that. And true science or not - the guys were sleepy. It's a good thing that we don't get caught up in our day-to-day lives, worried about this or that, overwhelmed by fatigue, depression, grey skies or whatever takes our attention - oh look, shiny.
And get this - in that cloud, what does God tell the disciples? Not to look - but to "listen to him." Listen, and not “Look”? Why go through all this razzle-dazzle, bright-as-lightning stuff if the whole incident ends up being more about ears than eyes? It’s not exactly what we might expect God to say. Maybe the sleepiness is symbolic of how often we all - throughout time - miss the glory of Jesus when it shines right in front of us - day in and day out.
Jesus' glory shone when he talked to lonely prostitutes and outcast lepers, saved wayward tax collectors and offered forgiveness to people who had never heard a forgiving word in their whole lives. Christ's glory still shines, in the delights of the world, in moments of compassion and risk-taking for the betterment of humanity. It's still there - here and outside these walls - if we just don't sleep too much through it.
Perhaps, too, we are so easily distracted visually that we find it hard to listen and not look. In the midst of my writing, this challenge came to mind. The next time you're standing in line at the store, instead of reading the headlines of the gossip-rags, determine to pray for someone. It can be any someone - someone you know, someone you don't know, someone with whom you have issues, someone you love dearly. And as long as you are considering taking up this espionage prayer, why not try another one? Every time you drive by a school, why not pray for the teachers or children or principals or staff or parents? The next time you enter a school, pray for the first person you see. Pray for the coaches while waiting for the game to start. Who says we can't pray in schools?
I wonder if we somehow compartmentalize our lives - this is my spiritual part - this is my other part. Maybe a piece of this morning's passage is about the holy in the ordinary. Someone recently made a comment about how the folks around here seem to feel free to talk about God and God in our lives. I know that's not everyone's comfort zone, but I wonder if that isn't what God has been wanting for all of us - to bring all the parts of our lives together. As I thought about that idea, I thought about rather than having just one brilliant flash of light in our lives, we may glow with the light of Christ in the length and breadth of our lives.
What ever the message for you from God today, we would do well in going out with prayer. God of Light, shine in us, so that we might show Your love to the world. Kindle the fire in us, so that we might be inspired to make a difference in our world for the oppressed and the downtrodden. Awaken the sparks of hope when the darkness creeps in, and help us to share this holy fire with others. Cleanse us from old fears and haunts, so that we might glow brightly of Your everlasting love. Help us to share Your light with the world, and help us to shine always without fear. In the name of Christ, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.