The sermon for week February 15, 2015
Just One WordMark 9:2-9
When the late theologian Marcus Borg was here at Sylvania UCC, he recounted a mystical experience that happened on an airplane. He was sitting near this very ugly man. But then he felt something come over him. The light changed, everything seemed to be illuminated from within with this golden glow. Everything became beautiful, even this ugly man. Everything! From the fabric of the seat in front of him to the coach-class meal, it was all beautiful, all his anxieties disappeared, and he found his face wet with tears of joy. Because of this, Marcus Borg experienced a paradigm shift from a scholarly skepticism to an eyes-open mystical experience. He advocated for what he called an “emerging” vision of “wholehearted” Christianity, one that involves loving God and loving what God loves, and letting go of self-preoccupation in favor of a life centered in the sacred.
If you’ve ever had an experience like Borg, you know you wanted to stay there forever and experience these times of what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement.” Yet these experiences are fleeting, impossible to describe, and happen on accident.
If you’ve never experienced a mystical experience like Borg, then I have a more practical story.
I recently heard a story of a man at another church who would always complain about his church's nursery. He complained all the time about everything. The snacks, the job done by the attendants, the security of the room, the placement of the room, the temperature of the room, the wall color. He seemed very unbalanced.
Everyone was pretty much annoyed with “nursery guy” (DISDAIN) until one Lenten program. At that Lenten program, they studied family systems and “nursery guy”(DISDAIN) told the story of how his own child had been abused by someone else. He told this story of being the father, the protector of his child and how he failed and how he has never felt safe again. Then the church understood the man as not just “nursery guy” (DISDAIN) but “the man who loves kids and is concerned about their safety.”
We never know what will bring about a transfiguration. When all pretenses fall and we see someone for who they truly are.
Our Chidester lecturer in January, Nancy Duff, reminded me that Peter is often a metaphor for the church. What Peter does in the Gospels, the church does now. Peter is part of the mystical experience of the Transfiguration, where Jesus is shown in his glory; who he really is. And Peter speaks out of his fear and offers to build three dwellings. Peter wants to stay there forever and make the moment last, even though he is terrified. But Peter is interrupted by a voice saying “This is my son, the Beloved; listen to him!”
Jesus is standing with Elijah and Moses. A prophet and the law giver. It was a holy vision that came on suddenly and without warning, and then it passed and only Jesus was left. Peter then comes down off the mountain, and Jesus orders them to tell no one about what they had seen. I think Jesus tells Peter this for two reasons: The first is that Peter wouldn’t know what to do with this experience. And the second reason is that other people wouldn’t understand it. And WE still doesn’t understand it because the church has been fighting over this experience for centuries. What does this mystical experience mean?
Jesus unites the law and the prophets! Jesus is indeed God’s Son, yet coming off the mountain Jesus utters a cryptic phrase about suffering and being treated with contempt. Many of us want to stay on the mountain and talk about Jesus in glory. It’s warm and fuzzy and gives confirmation to how we feel about Jesus. The church still doesn’t get it. This vision, the transfiguration shows that glory and suffering cannot be separated. The church is very much like Peter, we want to build shrines around glory and not deal with suffering. Even our lectionary stops at verse 9 and doesn’t go on to the verses about coming down off the mountain. Isn’t that telling? We don’t want to hear that in losing, we are actually winning. Dying to ourselves, we truly find ourselves and live abundantly. God will be with us through our suffering and crosses we must bear and will bring us again to the mountain.
Marcus Borg immersed himself in the historical details and context of Jesus’ world. He was a scholar who journeyed to the holy land and turned over every single stone there. He suffered the details, so much so, that it almost led him out of faith. But mystical experiences like his airplane one confirmed for him the presence of the divine sacred. That this presence was real and active and loving. Marcus Borg knew you can’t separate suffering and glory.
And that other church with the “nursery guy”? They learned his story and learned that you can’t separate suffering and glory.
Glennon Doyle Melton who will be with us on March 21. In her book Carry On, Warrior she points out how Mother Teresa knew you can’t separate suffering and glory. Glennon writes that Mother Teresa “worshipped Jesus as God, and she figured she should probably go help him, because it didn’t make a lot of sense to worship God in church while he was dying alone in the streets. And she believed that it was silly to weep when thinking about Jesus being crucified two thousand years ago, yet not weep while watching Jesus crucified today, on the streets of Calcutta or Haiti or D.C. or in the high school hallway. Mother Teresa saw God in every human being, and when she held a dying leper and dressed his wounds, she did not imagine that she was helping Jesus die with dignity, she really was helping Jesus die with dignity.” (190)
Glennon knows the message of the transfiguration--you can’t separate suffering and glory. Peter struggled with this concept in the Gospels, and the church today struggles with it. We want the mountain top, not the cross. We want the glory, not the suffering. We want to build shrines to the good moments and stay there until they become rotting ruins, but Jesus says no. Jesus says that if you want to get to the glory of Easter Sunday, you first must go through Good Friday.
I think many of us have. I think we have all had that moment, each of us. The loss of love or love withheld. Words spoken or words left unsaid. Hurt and pain, these are things we collect in our lives. We know suffering. But there’s also glory. As Glennon often states, life is brutal and life is beautiful, life is brutiful. So hold out for those moments of transfiguration; where someone is transformed in front of your eyes, and you glimpse the divine spark in them. Listen for this in their stories, ask after it, get into situations where this happens. If you’re thinking you should really have someone over for dinner or go out to eat or have coffee with them; do it. This is a chance for transfiguration. Is there a small group you’ve wanted to join or start here at church? Start it, this is a chance for transfiguration. We don’t do this alone, not even Jesus did. These moments are a gifts from God that others unlock. Jesus had Peter, James and John.
Because in the end, there’s one word we should say in moments of transfiguration. When that veil drops and we see with clarity, there’s just one word. When we stand in that place of radical amazement, we shouldn’t offer to build dwellings like Peter, we should say just one word.
The ancient rabbis tell a story of when we die and we’re all on our way to heaven, we will look at one another and say that one word. When we die and we know fully as we are fully known and are making that ascent together, we will turn to one another and say, “Oh.”
We will say that because we will see one another, scars and all, and know one each other’s full story and fall madly in love. May we bring heaven to earth and transfigure it now with how we live our one wild and brutiful life.
Melton, Glennon Doyle. Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on life unarmed. Scribner 2013. Page 190