Sunday, March 2, 2014


Long, long ago, back when I was a parish priest,
            a new family began attending our church.
After awhile, they said to me,
“We’d like to make this our church home.
 But there’s one problem.
  You just go on about Jesus too much.
  Every prayer you say has Jesus in it.
Every Sunday, it’s all Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

It was like telling someone you loved everything about them
            except their heart and their soul.
Being a Christian is all about Jesus.
Jesus in the morning, Jesus an the noontime,
            Jesus at the close of day.
Our lessons for Transfiguration Sunday
            express the very point of Christianity.
The revelation we have been receiving throughout the Epiphany season
            comes down to this: It’s all about Jesus.
The point is absolutely simple.
But explaining why it’s all about Jesus
            takes a little going into
      starting with the mountains and the mountain men.

Moses was a mountain man.
He climbed Mt. Sinai.
It had the law on top.
It had God’s moral standards.
Moses climbed the mountain of ethical living.

Elijah was a mountain man.
He climbed Mount Carmel.
It had prophesy on top,
            the awesome silence of God’s voice,
            the voice we hear in contemplation.
Elijah climbed the mountain of spiritual experience.

 Figuratively speaking, St. Paul was a mountain man too.
He climbed both mountains – ethics and spirituality.
As a Pharisee he practiced the moral life to perfection.
As a Mer-kobah mystic, he experienced the most advanced
            states of spiritual contemplation.

But one day Paul,
            like the disciples on the Mount of the Transfiguration,
            had a vision of light shining from Jesus
            – and that vision changed everything.
20 years later, he remembered all his ethical living and his mysticism,
and he said,
            “Whatever gains I had, these I count as loss
             because of the surpassing value of knowing
                        Christ Jesus my Lord.”
He no longer billed himself as a just man or a mystic.
He didn’t bill himself at all.
He said, “It is not ourselves that we proclaim.
            We proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves as your servants
                        for his sake.”

Paul tossed aside every prize he had claimed
            at the top of every mountain and said,
                        “I’d rather have Jesus.”

Jesus was a mountain man.
He led his disciples up there mountains
            – the one where he taught them the Beatitudes
                        and to turn the other cheek
            – the Mount of the Transfiguration
-- and finally the Mount of Olives.

There’s a lot of mountain climbing in the Bible
because there’s so much mountain climbing in life.
We can spend our whole lives climbing mountains
-       the career mountain, the money mountain,
the mental health mountain,
the happy family mountain,
even the religion mountain.
There are so many mountains,
            each with a prize on top.

 The disciples in our Gospel lesson had climbed their mountains
            and collected their prizes.
But by the time we get to this story,
            they had already left most things behind.
They’d given up homes, families, careers.
But they still had their religion.
They had the Law of Moses and the spirituality of Elijah.
So when they saw their rabbi talking on a mountaintop
            with the father of ethical religion
            and the father of Jewish spirituality,
                        it all came together.
And Peter said to Jesus, “Let’s build three dwellings here
            – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

He meant it as a compliment, to put Jesus on a par with those giants.
But Peter had missed the point.
So God showed up as a “bright cloud” and thundered,
            “This is my beloved Son . . . . Listen to him.”
And the disciples were afraid.

They were afraid because they had rashly answered
            life’s ultimate question
            – the question of what really matters
            – and they had gotten it wrong.
They had  pushed the existential Jeopardy buzzer too soon.

In a multiple choice question,
            with the answers being morality, spirituality, and Jesus;
                        they’d answered “all of the above.”
But that wasn’t’ God’s answer.

They failed to see what blind Paul saw so clearly
            – that the ultimate value of God’s own self
                        was fully present in this human person, Jesus.
All of morality and all of spirituality lead to this point,
            what Pierre Teilhard de Chardin called “the Omega Point,”
the destination of everything.
The notion that the final answer is not
            the moral order or a transcendent experience
                        but a person – that’s a lot to swallow.
But it is the key to intimacy with God.
The story of the Transfiguration shows us why.
The disciples thought the terrifying cloud was the Epiphany.
They thought the voice from heaven was the divine revelation.
So they fell on the ground and hid their faces.

But the real epiphany was what happened next.
The real epiphany was Jesus.
It happened when he touched them and said,
            “Get up and do not be afraid.”
God is most perfectly seen and heard not as a thundercloud
            sending us diving to the dust in fear,
            but as a brother saying “Get up and do not be afraid.”

John Calvin, a man who could be so very wrong, got this right.
He said, “(A)ll thinking of God, apart from Christ,
                        is a bottomless abyss
                        which utterly swallows up our senses . . . .
            In Christ, God . . . makes himself little,
                        in order to lower himself to our capacity;
                                    and Christ alone calms (us)
                        so that (we) . . . dare intimately approach God.”
Jesus makes it possible for us
            to be intimate with God.
In Jesus, we can embrace the perfect value
            from which all good things derive their value
            as we might embrace a friend.
Jesus brings divine love into the flesh of human life.
God can touch us only with a human touch.

A  surgeon named Richard Selzer tells a story
            from his medical practice that
                        explains what happens for us in Jesus.
He writes:
            “I stand by the bed where a young woman lies
             . . . her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish.
            A  . . . facial nerve has been severed . . .
            (T)o remove the tumor in her cheek,
      I had to cut the nerve.
“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, “It will because the nerve is cut.”

She nods and is silent,
      but the young man smiles,
                  “I like it,” he says.
                  “It’s kind of cute.”

He bends to kiss her crooked mouth,
      and I, so close I can see
      how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers,
      to show her that their kiss still works . . . .
(I)            hold my breath . . . .”

Just so, “Jesus touched them, saying,
                        ‘Get up and do not be afraid.’
And when they looked up,

            “they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.”