February 19, 2023
Transfiguration (Last Sunday of Epiphany), Pastor Lois Pallmeyer, 2/19/23
Dear Friends in Christ, God’s grace and peace be with you. Amen.
I remember showing my sister a photo of my kids when they were probably between about 3 and 8 years old. It was just that cherished, adorable moment in time — three great ages with three great personalities, smiles that could light up a room, eager, bright questions, contagious laughter. Just precious. “I want to freeze them,” I told her.
My sister’s children were nearly grown by then, probably in their early twenties, off to college or beyond. She just smiled and said, “Oh, don’t freeze them. The next stage of the journey will be wonderful too. It gets even better to watch them grow up.”
It is good for us to be here; the disciples prayed. How about if we make dwellings and freeze things like this?[i] Maybe they had seen a foreshadowing of the Super Bowl halftime, hearing Rihanna singing from that ridiculously high platform. What if we just keep shining bright like a diamond?
It’s an understandable wish — to hold on to life as we have known it, to make time stand still, to cling to a way of living, a season of our lives, a beloved church staff even, and not see things ever change. It seems so shiny and beautiful – like a diamond.
But it doesn’t last. It never does. Jesus doesn’t even encourage us to imagine it lasting. There’s more work to do. Once the shadow lifts, we’ll need to move back to ongoing demands and changing needs. Even Rihanna must have come down from that platform eventually. We’ll have to come down from the high, too, and back into a world of challenge.
Our text ends before we see the next scene, but you can read ahead if you want. As soon as Jesus and the disciples descend back down into the valley, they will be faced with life’s needs and challenges, called into conflict, called into service. They’ll meet a distressed parent, begging for Jesus to heal their child. They’ll encounter people who have different theological ideas about civic engagement, and who will argue with them about Jesus’ political opinions. And they’ll be reminded that Jesus will suffer. The glory from the mountain doesn’t seem to last – it gets drowned out by the demands and hopes of those in trouble, the divisiveness of political quarrels, and the reality of pain and struggle.
Maybe like our own moments of glory or joy. So much of life isn’t ever lived in the fleeting moments of bliss, but in the day-to-day reality of change and frustration, of laughter mixed with sorrow, gratitude with worry, chores and loss, doctors’ appointments, homework, laundry, carpools, deadlines and disagreements.
Most of it doesn’t feel very shiny or God-filled. Those intensely holy moments on the mountains seem restricted and out of reach.
Can’t we stay up here? Jesus’s disciples plead. Wouldn’t you like to stay frozen in glory? But of course, he didn’t. Jesus has never been willing to stay in a static place of brilliance and might. He has always, even from the beginning, been sharing God’s majesty and mercy with the world.
From the start he’s been bringing grace and wonder into lives of everyday people, carpenters and fishers, tax collectors and taxpayers, criminals and foreigners.
Throughout the gospel he’s been hinting that God’s love is right there in front of us, like treasure in an open field, like a priceless pearl in reach of the regular laborer, the yeast of heaven, kneaded into daily bread, right on the counter in front of us. Whether he’s out on the sea, or with hungry people on a mountain, or facing death itself, Jesus keeps showing up with love and mercy, calming waves, restoring life, spreading a feast with baskets of leftovers. Even into the very mundane moments of our lives, God shines grace and lovingkindness to meet the needs at hand.
Get up and do not be afraid, he tells the disciples when they collapse in fear. This grace, this voice of love, this glowing truth you’ve seen here on this mountain has never been hidden from the world. God has been claiming us as beloved children since the psalmists sang about it thousands of years ago[ii]. In fact, you carry it with you. Though you may not fully understand it yet, you will learn that you are wrapped up in this shimmering splendor. You take its life-giving power, its wonder wherever you go.
Maybe Jesus doesn’t need Peter to build a shelter for the light on the mountain, because he had no intention of leaving the glory of God up there. He was sparkling in the assurance that God’s love, along with God’s messages of righteousness and hope, had never dimmed.
Maybe he once again was inviting his friends to let their lights so shine, repeating that they had the power to bring light to the nations, again calling them the Light of the world. Maybe he was reminding them that people who sat in darkness would see in them a great light.
Or maybe it was even better than that. Maybe he was convincing them that God’s realm, God’s love would continue to shine, even when they couldn’t see it. Maybe he was inviting them to cultivate an ability to see God’s grace in harder moments. Maybe Jesus could lead the disciples down from the mountain because he knew they would find God’s glory and goodness even in shadowy places, in the places of doubt or longing, in the places of fear or abandonment, in times of transition and struggle, in broken hearts, and in empty tombs.
This week, we turn from the resplendence of Epiphany light to the season of Lent. Here we will remember how God meets us not only in experiences of grandeur and purpose, but even in sorrow and loss, not only in an Easter garden, but even on the cross.
Some of us might feel that Lent started a little early this year.
Difficult changes here at church. Violence in our schools. The earth cracking open and claiming 40,000 lives, and leaving hundreds of thousands displaced. Nations in uproar, people longing to take the words of the psalmist literally, crushing opponents like pieces of pottery. We’ve already sensed Jesus calling us into the valley of humility and service, into renewed commitment to care for our neighbor, deeper compassion for the stranger. Maybe Jesus is inviting us to see that the grace and glory he has come to share with us remains with us even in the coming season of renewal, forgiveness, and growth. Even as we respond to the pain of the world, love and goodness really do still shine bright like diamonds. We too are claimed as beloved children of God, and called to be Light for the World.
My sister was right, of course. We decided not to lock the children in a single moment of sweetness, but let them grow. The good days blended with the hard ones, full of purpose and full of struggle, marked by both successes and setbacks. And somehow, in the blink of an eye, they became adults, shining their own special lights in ways we had never imagined. Not frozen, but flowing in the waters of baptismal promise and life.
Like all of us. None of us remain stuck in one shining moment, but we are set free, we are opened to all that life offers – hurt and loss, love and change, challenge, and grace unbounded. All of us are allowed to realize that God’s presence and power remain with us not only in moments of transcendence, but in the struggles, and in the mundane of every day in between.
Get up, and don’t be afraid, Jesus calls to us. It’s time to head back down the mountain. We have work to do. Thanks be to God. Amen
[i] Matthew 17:1-9
[ii] Psalm 2