Sunday, March 2, 2014


The Transfiguration of Our Lord
Holden Village
3.02.14 Year A

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!’ 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’ 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, ‘Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.’  (Matthew 17:1-9)

This night is about hearing the testimony from others who have stood in the inexpressible presence of God.  Moses on the mountain, Jesus, James, John and Peter on the mountain – they all experienced the glory of God and we get to peer in.

The appearance of the glory of God at Mt. Sinai is described as being “like a devouring fire” and “a cloud covering the mountain”, which Moses himself entered into.  Moving forward to the day of Jesus and the appearance of the glory of God is found in Jesus himself with his face shining like the sun and his clothes a dazzling white.  The Scripture writers give a good effort to paint the scene, but there is certainly much to both of these experiences that we are missing out on.

Last summer a couple of villagers returned from a long weekend of hiking up to Image Lake and beyond, I asked them that perfunctory question, “How was your hike?”.  They said that in all their time in the village they had never heard anyone adequately describe the beauty that was up there.  It was like a veil had fallen on this side of the lake and all the hikers who had gone before could not speak of such grandeur and awesomeness upon returning to the village. And that is just speaking of the location – the question of “how was your hike” does not allow for the hiker to replay the difficult miles, the wear on the feet, the miracle of the tiniest wildflower, the fear of the wildlife, the relentlessness of the sun or rain, the relief of arrival, the sweet satisfaction of the after-hike meal.   Even the best writer among us cannot bring us along, not fully, to the glory there is to behold on such an experience.

The glory of God is greater than the glory of this creation, it cannot and will not be regulated to our vocabulary and it cannot and will not be confined to the tiny box we like to put the Divine Presence of God into. 

The transfiguration of Jesus is a glimpse into God’s glory – beyond reason, beyond description, beyond doctrine or denominations – God’s glory came to the mountain top for Moses and all the Israelites travelling with him to witness and God’s glory came to the mountain top to be revealed in Jesus for the disciples to witness. 

In all of the drama and revelation of these stories, there is not a lot of action.  Contrary to the action packed and commandment giving Scripture readings of the last six weeks, this week the stories of Moses and Jesus simply play out on the mountain top.  Moses enters a cloud and stayed there for forty days and forty night.  Jesus and the disciples were simply hanging out on the mountain and the disciples ended up falling to the floor in the face of such glory.  There is no “go and do” there is no “hurry up and bring forth the kingdom” – tonight, the texts invites us to simply be in the presence of the glory of God.

This week we will distribute the Lenten Devotion book, which is a compilation of writings offered by about thirty village staff.  All of the writers this year were prompted by Scripture verses from Matthew’s gospel and they all had to do with prayer.  I have had the honor of previewing the book – and a major theme throughout is that of being together.  What an unexpected thread to be woven through a book on prayer!  Not the intimate, one-on-one portrayal of prayer we often think of…it turns out quite a few references to prayer in the Gospels point to communal prayer and taking the time to dwell with one another and with God long enough to be truly present and really listening.

What kind of God will be found in this kind of stillness and dwelling? The beauty of such encounters is that they are not mediated.  I will not be telling you about the God you have encountered, nor will any church doctrine or polity.  Your parents’ faith is not the standard in your personal awareness of God’s glory, how do we come to such places of revelation? Through prayer?  Through creation? Through glory-gazing? God so splendid, so beautiful that the disciples wanted to set up camp and stay awhile.

Like the majesty of the creation at Image Lake and like the glory of God on the mountain, the faithful practice of prayer is a holy mystery.  Words fail us in trying to contain or restrict the power and practice of prayer. Yet dwelling seems to be a common piece to it all – one does not hike to Image Lake, take a quick peek and then run back to the village, there is a dwelling, a simple gift of just being in such beauty for a good long while.  So it is with the glory of God, I suppose, that such experiences are not ones we can run away from quickly, Moses stayed for 40 days and nights.

 We read these stories from the Living Word of God, which means they do not stop on the page, but our contemporary stories intersect and are defined and shape by the Living Word still today.  So, I wonder of us gathered here tonight…does God’s glory continue to appear in this world? Could we be so presumptuous as to claim the glory of God in the experiences of our own earthly lives?

I would like to turn to all of you, and invite you in popcorn style to share a word or a phrase, or a morsel of a time or place or person in which you saw the glory of God revealed to you. *In big moments, in little gestures, in dwelling during holy moments…where or how have you experienced the glory of God?   
[at AA meetings, in the body of my paralyzed husband, in prison, visiting my friend in prison, on the sea, closely encountering an elk in the northern Alps, Cloudy Pass, Holden Lake, hugging a homeless man, in the embrace of a friend…]

On God’s mountain we dwell with Jesus who says “do not be afraid”.  Just as Moses stayed in God’s cloud of glory for 40 days, we will begin our own 40 day dwelling.  This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday which is the first day of the 40 days of Lent.  This holy season is often marked by Christians of all traditions as a time of introspection and discipline, fasting, alms giving and prayer.  Perhaps your time of Lent could be marked with such practices as dwelling longer in the presence of God, dwelling with one another in prayer, or seeking out the glory of God in the world around you. 

With Jesus we approach God’s glory and it carries us through this life, especially in our least glorious states, it carries us all the way to the cross and into new life.

How good Lord, to simply be here.  Amen.  

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Being broken is enough

from this past Christmas season...

In the beginning…begins Genesis. 
            “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless voice and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said…let there be light.”
In the beginning darkness and shapelessness was all there was. If you have tried to navigate your steps on our icy village before or after the sun is here to guide you, you have known darkness and shapelessness.  Expanses of ice taunt our attempts to remain upright and proper individuals, we find ourselves at the mercy of sanded paths that bring a slight shape to our movements and the only hope we have of arriving without bruised bodies or egos. And with the rise of the morning sun we exhale, knowing, because we can see it, that God has once again said “Let there be light”.

From my beginning I have been afraid of the dark.  I knew this shapelessness when I was a young mother; awake all night with a hungry or crying infant. I sat in our little house in a run-down neighborhood in Tacoma certain that all bad things would happen at night…except I never saw sight or heard sound of another human during those hours. I was also certain I was the only person in the world awake in those moments; feeling left behind or profoundly separated from others. I would sit, in the darkness, more sure of my solitude and darkness than anything I had previously known.  It was a path toward despairing, except that every morning, without fail the sun would rise and within that majestic moment I was no longer in the dark…but so much more assuring, I was rejoining the rest of my world in the proper awake hours of daylight.  I was not alone in the dark anymore.

In the beginning…begins John
            “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.”
The unseeable Word was there at the beginning.  God created all things from nothing.  And there, in the created dirt of the earth, in creation coming into being with a Word is our connection to our Creator, the Divine Word that is life and light and for all people.

Both Genesis and the gospel of John are in poetic agreement of the Divine Word present in creation, in the beginning.  But it takes the Christmas story and John’s telling of it to move the Divine Word from creation to creature of creation. The Word was with and was God…yes, and now this Christmas as has been since the first Christmas two thousand and some odd years ago The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory.

The gospel writer is writing to a people who, actually, have not seen.  His gospel account is thought to be the latest of the four canonized gospel books, not much later than Matthew and Luke, but late enough that most of the first disciples have died and much controversy about the identity of Jesus has been stirred and wreaking havoc on the Jewish and Roman communities. They had not seen the flesh with their own eyes, faith was a new idea and possibility and too scary to be taken up with ease.

The same is true for us, of course. We have not seen.  We were not there at the creation, we were not in the stable or following the star and we have not seen.  We have not personally witnessed this Word becoming flesh or living, or giving signs of his Divinity, or dying and resurrecting…we have not seen.  Doubt and faith, belief and unbelief have always been a part of the Christmas story of faith.

I have a hunch the gospel writer knew this, that most people who would be hearing his story would not have had an eye-witness experience.  John’s gospel is grand and poetic, which can also mean vague and difficult to understand – yet, it is equal parts earth-bound and tied to the Divine embodiment of Jesus. With the mystery and opposition of light and darkness we also have the flesh of God living in our midst…and the gospel writer gives us John the Baptist who, we are told, is testifying to the light.  A human, bound by mortality and brokenness, skin and frailty is the one pointing to, teaching about, and experiencing the light of Christ.

John the Baptist cannot eradicate the doubt and the unseeing, but in hearing another person testifying, witnessing to or simply standing in the light – suddenly the light comes closer.

As all Lutheran seminary students, I did a unit of chaplaincy, which I have shared a few stories with this community before.  During my time of visiting patients and sitting with families, primarily in the NeoNatal Intensive Unit or high-risk pregnancy patients I struggled, mightily, with never having the right words.  Should I be advocating, or listening, do I report what I’ve heard or bury it pastoral confidentiality?  And really, all these questions were based on the real basic question of who the hell do I think I am to offer an sort of comfort based on a faith I feel shaky at best about? My scars were too bright, I was not good-enough or faithful-enough to be the light they needed in the hospital.

My mentor, an older man who had served the NICU unit for over twenty years told me that I was assigned to his unit because of who I was.  I was the only member of my chaplaincy group who was a parent and I was a young woman which balanced his older, male presence on the unit.  I did not have to walk around as the supremely wise mother of all…but my being a mother and my being broken and fragile was enough.  I began to lean into his counsel…I would find a commonality and say things like “my baby had a full head of hair just like yours” or “oh, I felt shaky after an all-night when my girl was an infant too”.  And these simply phrases would bring us together, not that I knew all they were experiencing, I did not.  But I had been in the neighborhood of this darkness and I could testify to the light.  The greatest awakening I had during these six months was visiting with a young women on the psychiatric ward.  She was trying to escape her abusive boyfriend through a bottle of pills and I sat and listened and listened and listened…she was skeptical that this new stranger in her room had any clue of the things she shared – sitting in arraignments, fearing in the night, trying to leave and feeling bound to the one who hurts with some sort of invisible tie.  I whispered that I knew all those things; I am on the other side of where you are.  In my scarred flesh and my deep darkness I could testify to the light.  It was the first time I saw my flesh-bound experiences as one that God was all over, using, transforming, dwelling in and bringing light.

The Word of God became flesh, our same flesh and has known us and all we’ve been through and the great gift of this flesh with flesh is grace upon grace.

"If the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us, that is, if the Word of God came out of the birth canal of a woman's body, grew, ate, went to the bathroom, sometimes bathed, struggled against demons, sweated, wept, exulted, transfigured, was physically violated and rotted away in a tomb just before being gloriously resurrected, then the Bible must have flesh on it. If a valley of dry bones can live again, then bones and blood and bread and flesh and bodies should never be left behind when we are trying to understand the grime and glory of Scripture. Any interpretation that denounces the material, created order, including our own bodies, should be suspect. From birth to death our bodies swell and shrink, are wet with milk, and sweat, and urine and vomit and sex, and blood, and water and wounds that fester and stink and are healed and saved and redeemed and die and are resurrected. If you can't glory in or at least talk about these basic realities in church while reading Scripture, then how can Scripture truly intersect with or impact life? We might as well just go read a Jane Austen novel; though I doubt we'll ever be transformed or made whole or saved by it."1

The gospel writer said that “we have seen his glory” and it is full of grace and truth.  We do not see as those first witnesses saw, but because they shared their stories and shared the light and that light has continued to shine on and on and on through people as scarred and broken as you and me…now we testify to the light.

I do not see the flesh of the child born in the manger.  But I see your flesh, your earth-bound and broken life and I see the light of God shining all over. When we whisper our stories, share our brokenness and confess the darkness…God is there, bringing the light and we suddenly are transformed to one who shares the light, too.

Not freed from our flesh, but joined together with the one who took on flesh and lived and dwelled and a spread a tent to stay awhile on this very earth…the shapeless earth of Genesis, the shape of the Christ child, the Word made flesh among us now.

Thanks be to God for all who testify to the light of life and to Jesus, the Word among us tonight.  Amen.

1 Jaime Clark-Soles, Engaging the Word: The New Testament and the Christian Believer (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010).