Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Feb. 19, 2023

Posted by on Sun, Feb 19, 2023 in Epiphany, Sermons

The Last Sunday after the Epiphany

Feb. 19, 2023

We call the gospel you just heard ‘The Transfiguration of Jesus’ and in leading Peter, James and John up the mountain with him means we get to tag along as disciples ourselves in this scene. Picture being one of four people on that mountain as evening descends; how strange to see the light appearing to surround Jesus, did it come from him? We watch it changing and becoming brighter and brighter, almost unbearably so. Where will it stop? Jesus radiates a dazzling brightness they’ve never seen and before any of this makes sense, he is talking with two men who did not come up with them nor did the disciples hear them arrive. As they speak and move in this strange light, we see it is Moses and Elijah. 

Peter manages to speak finally, as if searching for what to say or how to respond he only knows this is a glory he wants to stay with, continue and never end! He offers to make dwellings for these three literal ‘luminaries’ as if to capture the moment like fireflies in a jar. Before he can finish his words the light changes again, this time descending as a bright cloud over the scene, and is heard what can only be the voice of God. Placing yourself in the moment you find yourself with Peter and the other one, suddenly on the hard ground, tumbling, backing away from the light, now stunned, terrified. Can you see yourself there as Jesus comes towards you, hand outstretched, touching you.“Get up and do not be afraid.” 

This is a moment that gets me. Peter has already said to Jesus, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus’ transfiguration confirms it for him and also shakes him. This bewildering blend of awe, joy, confusion, fear, uncertainty of self—and certainty of the Son of God. This is one of the scriptures voicing the expression ‘a mountaintop experience’—because God, on a mountain, reveals himself to people. This is their transfiguration too, the light wasn’t shining on Jesus but from him, and they too stood in the midst of that light. It had to have lit up their lives, lit up the darkness they had known and illuminated their hopes and dreams. They wanted it to last, wasn’t this a once-in-a-lifetime experience? So far it was, yet they will know it again at his resurrection. How to respond? “They fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.”

When you or I fall to the ground and  someone kindly reaches out to offer their hand, (usually while asking if we’re alright) — what’s the first thing we say? ‘I’m fine, really, I can get up.’ I can see myself waving off their help and clumsily getting to my feet, likely red with embarrassment. My hope is that it would be different if Jesus were the one offering that hand up. My hope is that I’d entrust my bruised self-conception to the one I just heard declared God’s Son, the Beloved. Jesus came and touched them. His touch is all about healing and blessing, and he responded to their fear. What do you say as he helps you up? Do we want to accept his help and risk the vulnerability needed to take his hand? What questions beg answers? It is a moment without words for you and the others, only Jesus speaks on the way back. 

Is their fear about the unexpected transfiguration or the changes that so powerful a vision might bring? Jesus invites us, like those core disciples, up that mountain to reveal himself to us. He cares about our fears and responds with his touch, inviting us to stand  with him even in our uncertainty or bewilderment. We follow him up that mountain of our own free will and are ourselves transformed on that mountaintop. Many icons of the Transfiguration show it in three sequential vignettes; first Jesus is leading them up the mountain, then he stands in brightness at the top flanked by Moses and Elijah with the disciples tumbling to the ground before them, and third we see Jesus with the disciples going back down the mountain—but this time the disciples go ahead of Jesus. They too are changed, and their relationship with Jesus has been changed.

God wants to be known and reveals his Son the Beloved to us, and it didn’t end that day. God continues to be revealed in ways that astonish and unsettle us! This sacred space is one of the ‘mountaintops’ on which that happens. Revelation need not be blindingly bright—sometimes it begins in small or quiet ways. A person comes needing a holy place to pray or heal or just be quietly present with God—and finds that and more here. They walk down the mountain with him. 

Melanie Violette captured a sign of it in an exquisite picture of sunlight coming through the window over the altar, filling the space with light so brilliant it made the window appear mostly white. The colors all reflected inside onto the very spot where we and generations before us receive Communion, and where in a few days we will receive ashes on our foreheads. We might find ourselves surprised by emotions welling up, overwhelming peace or great joy or tears we didn’t know were coming. God is revealed; in this sacred space, in this community, in us and to each other. 

At times we feel powerless to effect world’s ills, messes, disasters. We are bombarded with unsolicited messages, ads, pings, rings, and notifications, but in here we silence all of that to seek nearness to God. Instead of listening to all that noise and all of those words, we hear The Word, which comes only from God. “This is my Son, the Beloved” God says, Listen to him! And we do. We try. Though it might be easier to discern if the message came by text or with a notification ping or even a blinding bright light. Someone recently said this is the high point of their week, even via livestream. The high point—sounds like perhaps a small mountaintop, doesn’t it? We find we must stop and breathe in the Spirit with intension, find ourselves dwelling in the loving presence of Christ. From such moments we learn to seek, hear, feel, trust, and know God. We experience the touch of his hand telling us to rise up. 

Transfigurations which reveal Christ are powerful. They may not shock, disturb, and unsettle us, nor knock us to the ground as in today’s reading, but God is undoubtably present in both great ones and small quiet ones. I have an unusual Lenten discipline to suggest this year: Look for the small ones. Participate in them. Then at day’s end pick your way down the mountainside and call those moments to mind. God is there. God is still speaking. We are invited to a different sort of “Reveal Party” and it’s up to us to show up and to notice what is being revealed. The gift we bring is our attentiveness and participation, ourselves.

Last week Mother Ann and I talked about having both noticed a similar phenomenon; people enjoying talking to each other! Strangers conversing and prolonging it. Have you noticed this too? I began naming them as I wrote this until their abundance made the sermon far too long. I’ll share just one. When Bishop Hampton called me to mark my ordination anniversary we just kept on talking together. I learned that on Ash Wednesday he offers ‘open door’ hours at his unit of the senior living place for people there to stop in, receive the cross of ashes and pray. Many who come are staff people, others are residents who can no longer make it to their churches. Small reveals of Christ and transfiguration get to happen more often than the big ones. 

In the season of Lent we take up spiritual practices or disciplines to help deepen and strengthen our relationship with God—it is a time of sacred reflection and preparation, to quiet the din of the world and listen to the voice of God in our hearts and with our lives. As a sign of that intention, at the end of the sermon we’ll have time to write on your Alleluia! paper a few words of what this is for you. Perhaps something you want to let go of that’s an obstacle in your faith, a spiritual practice you long for, or something you invite God’s healing and presence into by your self-giving. We make a prayerful commitment for Lent. When we come up for Communion we’ll place them in the glass box, and at the end of services today we will ‘bury the Alleluias’ in our Memorial Garden. It is a symbolic way to embody our closing this season of Jesus’ nativity light and walking with him to Jerusalem. We will dig them up again after Lent and Holy Week. On Easter Eve we begin in the dark by burning them to create the fire to light our new Paschal candle just before carrying it into the church as the light of Christ and proclaiming his resurrection.

Trust the life and light of Christ within you. We breathe it in and it fills us, transforms us, so his light shines from your generous grace. It can emanate from our words, our actions, our listening, and our being lovingly presence. From Jesus and through the disciples and outward through Christ in our lives; this is how the world will know the transfiguring power of Christ Jesus.

© 2023 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

Post will be removed at 8:00 AM on Wed., Feb. 19, 2025.