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March 3, 2019

“Encounter, Reflect, Engage, Repeat”

By Rev. Katrina Pekich-Bundy

Acts 10.34-43

Luke 9.28-36

March 3, 2019

Usually it feels like Lent creeps up on us right after Christmas, but this year, Lent begins later in the year. Wednesday will mark the first day of our forty-day journey, meaning today is the last Sunday to prepare our hearts and minds for this season. We can determine how we want to spend those forty days – fasting? Praying? Reading scripture? Giving up something? Adding a practice? Today we take a trip up the mountain with Jesus and his friends and prepare for the unexpected, unfamiliar, and the uncontained love of God that we will experience during Lent. Usually this liturgical season is seen as a somber time – and it is, but we often find God in our most vulnerable moments.

The Gospel reading is the Transfiguration story. Jesus takes some disciples up a mountain. After a long journey they are tired and begin to close their eyes. Suddenly, Jesus changes – he is completely transfigured. The disciples wake up and Peter is amazed – or, at least, he pretends to be to cover his panic. This would have been an exciting and frightening sight. He suggests that they build three dwellings for Jesus and Elijah and Moses. This was typical for a festival. Yet, his motivation might have been beyond a celebration. He also wants to contain this moment in time – to capture the event. Staying safe on the mountain with Jesus and Elijah and Moses can offer some security. If he can capture that moment on the mountain, perhaps he can feel safe. He can know that this is a real moment. Almost like capturing Tinker Bell or some mythical creature – if he can contain them, he can prove it to others and himself, and hold on to that moment.

There is a reason that we call great encounters with God and faith a “mountain top experience.” This is the idea that we encounter God much like the disciples on the mountain, but when we go back down the mountain, we can lose that feeling and forget what it was like. If we can capture that moment, we can go back to it and revisit that feeling.

Yet, there is no mason jar, box, or container big enough for us to capture those moments of faith. Whatever Peter’s intentions, this just isn’t going to work. This isn’t about Peter, or the disciples, or wanting to stay and be secure. This is about Jesus. After he suggests the tents, a voice comes from the cloud demanding that they listen and recognize Jesus as messiah. Peter has somehow understood the importance of the situation. God is showing the disciples that God has worked through history of humanity.[1] From the time Moses led the people out of Egypt, God was there, guiding God’s people. God continues to offer exodus, a departure from the oppression and norms of society that harm others.[2] God offers an exodus from the way things have always been done and the ways of the world, so that God’s people may be liberated.

After this amazing encounter, the people are told to stay silent. Imagine how they must have felt, seeing this fantastical sight, but having to keep it to themselves. Not only is this a secret, but perhaps it is a way for them to prepare. This is the beginning of the journey, in many ways. Jesus tells the disciples that he will die. Many of them cannot accept or comprehend this. Jesus offers them information at a stunning rate. We don’t know how long his ministry was, exactly, but over the course of perhaps a year or two he is telling parables and teaching and they are absorbing information. Imagine that we go through the cycle of the church in three years, and he is tossing new information at them each day. Sometimes we need to be silent to process, and I imagine this enforced silence was not just a way to stop word of mouth, but to prepare their hearts and minds. Fred Craddock writes: “Silence following extraordinary experiences makes more powerful the words that eventually break that silence.”[3] People listen when someone has been silent. In our world today there is so much noise – traffic, social media, television, music – constant noise. If we cut out some of that noise, not only would we be able to hear one another more clearly, but we also could think before we spoke.

Many times, Jesus told the disciples to stay silent and to keep the story to themselves. This was also because of his own safety because he knew that when authorities heard about what he was doing, it would be the beginning of the end of Jesus. He was trying to contain the stories as best he could, while educating them about who he was and what the future held. Of course, they could not be contained because the story has been told over and over. Eventually they engaged with the community, as we all do.

Jesus’ story is one that we do tell over and over. Our liturgical seasons remind us of different parts of the story, and Lent leads us to his death and resurrection, and offers hope from despair. To prepare ourselves for the difficult season, we read the Acts story, which is often read on Easter. This is like our manna before Lent – one more “Alleluia” before we close the vault for forty days.

We are told that God does not show partiality. This is a relief as we enter a season that focuses on our sinful nature and our dependence on God. We will mess up, but God still loves us. God loves us – no matter our mistakes, no matter our appearance, no matter our abilities or disabilities. God is there for us through all of it. In the darkness of Good Friday, when the tomb is filled with our sin and shame, God is there, too. When we wipe the ashes upon our faces, God is there as we remember that we are dust, and we will return to dust. This Sunday is our moment on the mountain – the time in which we glimpse God before the season of Lent, when it might feel as if God is far away. This is the time we remind ourselves that God does not show preferential treatment. We remember that God cannot be contained, no matter how much we try.

How will you practice Lent? Is there a spiritual discipline you are looking to add to your routine? Do you need to remove a practice or habit that separates you from God? Perhaps we try silence. Maybe we add just a breath of silence before we respond to someone. Perhaps we take a few moments of silence each day. Whatever your intention is for Lent, don’t give up. If you miss a day, that’s ok. If it helps, tell someone else your intention so that they can challenge you and encourage you. Perhaps find someone else to read scripture with you or pray with you.

Transfiguration Sunday contains the patterns or rituals of faith. We encounter God, we pause to reflect with silence and contemplation, we engage in the community, and then we do this all over again. Sometimes we can do all of this in one day, and sometimes these steps are over a season, or years. Since we cannot contain our faith experiences, we must go back up the mountain and encounter God over and over. Where are you now? Are you encountering God? Are you in a place of reflection? Are you ready to engage?

Wherever you are, may we be strengthened by God’s appearance through the season of Epiphany, especially today, the Transfiguration story. May we cling to God and recognize our need for the Holy One. May we remember that God is with us, all of us, and that God does not show partiality. Let us especially remember that we cannot contain God, with our words, our expectations, or our actions. Thanks be to God, who is bigger than we can imagine. Amen.

 

[1] Jeffery L. Tribble, Sr., “Luke 9.28-43” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 454.

[2] Kimberly Miller van Driel, “Luke 9.28-42” in Feasting on the Word: Year C, Vol. 1. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 457.

[3] Fred B. Craddock, John H. Hayes, Carl R. Holladay, Gene M. Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year: C (Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1994), 126.