Sermon on the Last Sunday after Epiphany + 26 February, 2017 + Transfiguration
What are you afraid of?
As a child, I was afraid of the usual things that kids dread: the dark, dark houses, the high dive at the swimming pool, swimming in water where I couldn’t see the bottom, going to bed at night with my closet door left open and worst of all—my bedroom totally dark with no nightlight. As a child, I used to jump—leap actually—almost a good two feet to get into bed because my ankles would tingle with fear if I got too close to that space—the OPEN space between the floor and my bed. I KNEW that a hairy claw would reach out and grab me. I was sure of it. I should confess that I actually leapt into bed probably well into my teenage years. Even today I have to admit that if I think about it too much, my ankles will tingle with fear near an open under-bed space.
I’ve learned to be less afraid of these kinds of things and my fears today are different. Now, my grown up fears are less and less about the darkness outside of me and more about the darkness inside of me.
Ash Wednesday is this week. Lent is coming. During the forty days before Easter, we are expected to take a fierce moral inventory of the darker things within ourselves; to peal open the eyes of our hearts to look closely at the things in ourselves we are afraid to see. We are expected to examine our habits, our behaviors, and take an honest look at those parts of our soul which most of us are afraid to admit that we have–even privately.
I could talk about that hairy claw all day / and we can laugh about it. But talk about my sins, my inconsistencies, my angry moments? No way. What is it we wouldn’t want anyone to know; what is it that we would be afraid to share publicly? What is it that we are afraid of? That’s the journey to the place where Lent is meant to lead us.
Lent is calling us down into the Valley of the Shadow of Death where we are called to confront our innermost fears, our secret selves. Then, at the end of Lent, on Good Friday, those sins are most shamefully exposed on the Cross, where, if we are honest about the real journey of Lent, none of us would want to go.
Christ doesn’t ask us to enter into this darkness without a vision and a promise that reveals what the fearful journey is all for.
Today is Transfiguration Sunday—a day of complete light on the height of the mount before we be begin the journey into the Valley of Shadows. This vision of Christ in fully transfigured light provides us an assurance that the journey down the mountain will not be in vain and has a holy purpose.
Today we have Jesus, the Light of the world, shining on a mountain. Here on the heights and in the clouds, in a private revelation with the three closest disciples-Peter, James and John-, and showing up from the past—Moses and Elijah, Jesus is transformed.
The story of the Transfiguration predates the written Gospels; it’s among the earliest memory stories that were told about Jesus, especially just after the crucifixion. It’s a memory story for the disciples; it’s like one of the living stories about the deceased that’s often told at a funeral; a memory story that comes back just now that the person is gone; it’s a memory that must be shared. After the crucifixion the disciples remembered and shared this story of the Transfiguration; as they told this story it helped the shameful darkness of the cross make sense. The memory of the Transfiguration put the painful, fearful journey to the Cross in perspective.
Matthew’s Gospel shows us how the vision of Light in the Transfiguration is a both a mirror and a promise. As a mirror the Transfiguration provided great comfort after the Crucifixion. As a promise it pointed to the communion of saints who continue in the presence of the living God and the promise of holy light yet to come. And yet, at the time of revelation, as a promise, it was less than comforting. In this great moment of revelation about who Jesus was, named Son of God by the voice of the Father, robed in full light, the disciples were cowering in fear.
Why, at the time of the great revelation of light, were the disciples afraid. What were they afraid of?
The disciples fear on the Mount of Transfiguration was as much a fear of their being called to witness to the true light; it was the fear of being called to be light.
Jesus said that we, his disciples, were to be the light of the world. And here he is, showing his disciples on the mountain exactly what being Light meant to look like. Being the Light to the World can and should make us deeply afraid.
This kind of fear is the beginning of wisdom; it’s a genuine fear of being whole and holy. When all our sins, shames and fears are behind us, we are shown that we will shine.
Transfiguration, being transformed to be light for the world carries in it the promise and the fear of being whole. We are often so familiar with our fragmented, broken selves that the promise of wholeness is foreign and fearful. Imagine if we were to share our deepest shames and exorcise, be released of, our darkest secrets and by doing this, reveal our most authentic self. The real me. That is becoming all light and it is worthy of fear. Even as we wonder whether that is even possible, Jesus comes to us, as He did to his disciples, Jesus touches us, speaks di-rectly to us, “Relax. Don’t be afraid. Don’t panic. All shall be well. It’s not going to be easy for you, but watch me.” Then Jesus continues, “There’s resurrected life after the shame, sin, and secret fears are gone. Darkness is not dark to me.”
Rest assured Jesus will come. He has already come. He has shown the fullness from Light to Dark in Himself. He has risen and ascended beyond darkness to light.
We could be all light. We could be whole and holy–healed and risen with light shining in our resurrected faces.
Jesus told us not to be afraid
What am I afraid of?
What are you afraid of?
What are we afraid of?