Sunday, February 11, 2018

Razzle Dazzel'em

What gets folks attention? Sparkling brightness, thats what...and that’s what we find in our scripture today. This is about as close as the Bible gets to the lights of Broadway or the Vegas Strip.

Jesus has been teaching his disciples for a whole week about the suffering that would come at following the cross, and then he decides to go on a fieldtrip, a cub scouts hiking and camping trip to the top of a mountain.

I wonder what Peter, James, and John were all thinking as they followed Jesus up this mountain? Jesus had fed the 4,000, and opened the eyes of a blind man….and now they were headed up a mountain?! Seriously?!

Some argue the Transfiguration is “the” epiphanal moment of the entire season of Epiphany.  On the mountain top a dazzling, sparkly Jesus, or as I like to refer to him Razzle Dazzel’em Jesus shows up with cosmic force. And even Moses and Elijah appear and begin talking with sparkly Jesus. Jesus his teacher, and these two revered fathers of the faith. Can you imagine what was going through Peter’s mind? OMG! OMG! OMG! <squeals, pinches self> Peter terrified and also completely overwhelmed by what he was witnessing suggests building tabernacles for Sparkly Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, tabernacles were tent like dwelling places, built by the ancient nomadic cultures of woven layers of curtains, as a way of marking the space as holy, and inhabited by God.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, "This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!" If this was the Vegas Strip there would be a “HUGE” flashing sign, saying “He’s the Real Deal” Sometimes God knows we need some razzle dazzle to make us pay attention.

But just like Jesus breaks down Peter’s suggestion to keep Jesus in a tabernacle on the mountain, like a special shrine you can go and see in the same way every time, once Jesus shows him his glory he knows nothing will be the same. This is why people call it a secret. Sure sounds like Jesus doesn’t want the world to know how awesome he is. That is one way of reading this story: Jesus hiding his razzle dazzle on a mountain. But I see it differently. I see it differently because I’ve walked up mountains in my own life and I know how they can change you and show you things in ways that you just can’t describe to people who haven’t been on that journey yet.

The day had been rainy. Not just a light sprinkle. A downpour. This is not what we had expected when our family planned a trip to Lake George in New York for the weekend. We had wanted to go out hiking up a mountain that day. But once we saw the torrential waters and mud, we opted to stay inside and play board games; all except Gabby. Although she regularly claims that it is the Bahr part of the family which is particularly stubborn, my partner Gabby can be extremely persistent when she sets her mind to something. All I knew was that even with the rain, she was determined to go up the mountain. She was gone for about two hours. When the door to the cabin opened to reveal thoroughly drenched Gabby covered up to her knees in mud. “Well? Was it worth it?” “Yes!” Taking off her sticky boots. “You have to see what’s up there.” We asked what it was that was so worth it. “You just have to see what’s up there.”

Well the next day was drier, no rain, and a little less muddy so this time the four of us were geared up and ready to hike. Almost immediately, once we hit the mountain itself, the climb seemed daunting. I mean, as straight up as you can be without having to crawl with your hands. The kids right away wanted to bail. “But you have to see what’s up there,” she said, “let’s go.” And once we put foot in front of foot, we started to fall into a rhythm which made things feel doable if unpleasant for a while. Most of us did. Our youngest Nora was not having it. She found a spot, parked her feet, and refused to go. With parental prodding, I got her moving but slowly and with deliberate defiance. “Carry me,” she would say. You can walk, we would tell her. “What’s so special up there anyway?” she would argue. Eventually we traded off and Gabby took her turn. By this point there was no more arguing with this child. “You will see,” is all she would get. She was forced by collective will to take the lead of the group. With constant and consistent prodding she made it up the steepest part of the climb.

Around the middle of the hike, she found that rhythm we had promised and the way became easier,and the complaining stopped for a minute.

Then the road got really steep again and this time very winding. Hitting this rough patch made her want to walk all the way back down. Or to just sit where she was. Smothering her in encouragement and challenge, yeah, you know... “You’ve gone this far, do you really want to surrender all that work for nothing?” “Yes,” she said defiantly. “You will miss what’s up there,” we repeated. “What’s so special about it?” She asked again. “You just have to see!” Well, she eventually heard us and let go, accepting the new challenges, --the logs, the streams, the jutting rocks -- all seemed kind of exciting. She began jumping and leaning and climbing up faster than all of us.

Then suddenly the way bent out of sight and the way got suddenly a lot easier. Turning around this bend of trees, we finally saw it. It was as if the mountain, the land and the sky broke open. On this outcropping of rock was a sheer cliff and in all directions we saw what felt like the whole world but the whole world as we hadn’t seen it before. We felt like we were momentarily in a kind of heaven space. A holy place. Everything we saw, we had seen before, but not like this. Our point of view had changed. We had been moved. We followed a way on faith. And on the road we had been changed. Now looking back, everything looked new. The world was more beautiful, more good, somehow even more true because we got to see this view into and across it. Even now, putting it into words is difficult.

I imagine each one of us has one of these moments, your own mountain-top experience. And a part of me understands another reason why Jesus told the others not to tell others what they saw on the mountain. But another way of thinking of the mystery is that Jesus showed them a truth that they could only ever understand after heeding the call to “follow me” and walking up all that way, by pushing themselves up the path of cynicism, through the trials of habit, and beyond the challenges of exhaustion and despair.

Caroline Lewis argues that the transfiguration isn’t only about the changed and glorified, Sparkly Jesus. This story is about our own transfiguration.
“Jesus gets this. What will it be that gets you to move, to come out of your tent, or maybe even not to want pitch one in the first place? Rather than blame Peter for his myopia, maybe we admit our own. I am guessing that not much about human nature has changed in the two thousand years since Jesus’ earthly ministry. Transfiguration means exposure. I mean, look at Jesus. You can’t miss him. Vulnerability is less than comfortable but it seems absolutely essential for life and thus for a life of faith. At least Jesus seems to think so. When we exchange vulnerability for certainty all we do is live the lie that authenticity does not matter. That the truth of who we are can be absconded by our denominational structures, doctrinal commitments, and dogmatic insistences, that is, our tents that we secure, pounding stake by stake into the ground. Tents are not just about shelter. They repel the forces of nature. They keep out that which might harm. They keep as much in as they keep out. And Transfiguration will rip our tents into shreds. Transfiguration means change.”

Only then can one turn around, look back at the world from which you came with special knowledge. Because the razzle dazzle of the holy truth, the special mystery, the beautiful truth is not just a thing you can point to and say “see, there.” The Way and Truth of Christ is a not just something to be seen but a way of seeing. And that way of seeing truth requires us sometimes to hike up our own mountains of faith. It may feel like we are leaving our comfortable dry world behind but if we give up all those things, we will eventually be given back those things like a world made new again. We will not just see the razzle of the mountain but the mountain will frees us to follow Jesus to let go, and be changed.

On this last Sunday of Epiphany, as we prepare to begin our Lenten journey, we are reminded to listen, we are invited into transformation. That’s what Lent is about. It’s an invitation to listen for God’s voice, to journey into the darkness and be transfigured by shining the light in our lives.

“Give them the old razzle dazzle, razzle dazzle’em…”

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