Monday, March 31, 2014

Impressions on a Sunday

Sunday's sermon at St. Thomas was different than the normal fare.  Instead of the usual exegesis of a Scriptural passage with a look at how such Scripture is relevant to us in 21st Century USA, Fr. Varas decided to keep it simple: talk briefly about the Gospel of John, the language of John's Gospel and then invite us to listen, again, to this very lengthy passage in which we hear the story of Jesus giving the blind man his sight.  

I have written a couple of times on the blind man receiving his sight, and the ridiculousness that ensues from there with people unwilling to believe that this is the same formerly blind beggar.  The Pharisees demand to know who gave him his sight and how did this happen.  He tells them the whole story of how Jesus spat on the ground, made mud, spread it over his eyes, and then told him to go wash off the mud at the River Siloam (which means "Sent").  The Pharisees demand that his parents tell them the REAL truth about what happened to their son.  Even they say, "I don't know.  He was blind, and now he sees.  His old enough to answer for himself."  Again the Pharisees badger this guy, and when he asks them, "Do you want to become his disciples?" well.... it starts to get ugly:

Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.  Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."  They answered him, "You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?" And they drove him out. 

To put some historical context on this: the Johannine community, to whom this Gospel was written, were primed to be sensative to this idea that the disciples of Moses would drive out a man who professed that Jesus did Godly works.  This was the tension occuring at the time, 100CE, when this Gospel was written.   What was interesting is that in the next passage, Jesus goes to find the blind man who had been turned out for professing what Jesus had done for him:

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind."  Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, "We see,' your sin remains. 

Thinking on this passage in my own life, it comes at a time of discernment and when I am attempting to follow a call which I think is a call to ordained priesthood.   And I think about what that has cost me so far: it has strained some friendships, and it has resulted in me having to leave behind the church community where many had discerned my call before I even uttered a word about it to anyone.  Heck, the church's discernment committee is made up of many people I have been with in Education for Ministry.  And yet, because of prejudice against openly-gay and partnered people entering "the process," I have been forced to leave.   All of this at a time when, in EfM, we've been reading a book called, "Living on the Border of the Holy," which is about reclaiming the power of priesthood among the laity.  The book also highlights many of the dysfunctions and pitfalls that ordained priests of today find themselves having to struggle with as they live out their own priesthood.  So much of the book talked about the sin of excluding those who are openly-gay and partnered to the ordained, or as the author preferred, the "sacramental" priesthood.  Reading that was like somebody tore the scab off my wound as I replayed some of the discussion I had with the bishop of Florida in Jacksonville.

A line from the First Samuel reading captured a core belief that I have about God:

"...the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart."

I can only hope that one day the "mortals" who are blind will see as God does: looking and studying the heart, and not my flattop or what I might do in the bedroom. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

For the Love of Phelps

One of the most hateful, homophobic, nasty, mean, miserable and despicable people in the United States passed away yesterday.  And I did not rejoice.

Fred Phelps, Sr., the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church famous for picketing funerals with signs that read "God Hates Fags" has died.  He was 84.  Ironically, the family will not hold a funeral.  His widow says they don't worship the dead, so "there'd be no public memorial or funeral to picket if a member died."  Obviously, they must have had some concern that there would be those who would want to do some payback for the hurt this group has inflicted on so many.

No doubt, there are those who harbor hatred in their hearts for Phelps.  I very easily could.  But something strange happened to me on Tuesday while leading Morning Prayer that I had not expected.  There is a point in the service, after offering many petitions and collects, that the prayer leader invites the congregation to "pray for our needs and those of others either out loud or silently."  The first words that popped into my head were, "Lord God, I pray for the repose of the soul of Fred Phelps."

What?!  Seriously?!  I found myself stopping to do an internal double-take.  Did I really just pray for this horrible person, the bigoted Baptist pastor?

Answer, yes.  I really did just do that.  And I realized that, of course, it was the thing to do if the man was near-death as was being reported.  As the prayer leader, and as a matter of personal practice, I recite the Prayer for Our Enemies every day.  It is my constant reminder that while I cannot change the person who hates me, I can change my heart and how I respond to their hatred.  If I ground myself in Love, I can better deal with those who insist upon hate and the spread of fear.  So, I had already recited these words:

"O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth; deliver them and us from cruelty, hatred and revenge, and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen."

And then came my own petition to God for the safe return of Fred Phelps' soul.  Obviously, the words of the above prayer are becoming embedded into my being.  Not that I am perfect.  Not that I don't find myself giving in at times to the powerful pull and allure of hatred, cruelty and revenge.  But to follow that path, a road to Hell which Fred Phelps and his family seemed drawn to go down, is not a place I want to go.  And wherever Fred Phelps' soul has gone from here, I leave it to God to deal righty and justly with those details.

Interestingly, Phelps' death occurred on the same day that Lisa Kurts-Crume, president of the PFLAG Memphis chapter, passed away.  In my imagination, what better spirit companion guide could Phelps have than a dedicated and loving PFLAG mom as they entered into the next realm.      

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Needling Nicodemus: Second Sunday in Lent

Another Sunday.  Another time apart from my church community due to illness.  I am on the mend.  But, in light of having had to miss a whole week of work (which, for the self-employed, is financially devasting) I thought it prudent to stay home,  and stay focused on rest and recupriation.  

And so I am left to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the Scriptures at home again.  Perhaps there is really something in this for me as I strive to be reconciled to God.  To be separated from community, and the communion of the Eucharist, and why this is important to me, and how can I carry on without receiving the sacrament on Sundays.  I once thought that perhaps a Lenten discipline for me would be to stay away from church on Sundays during Lent.  Now, I'm getting that experience, although not because I so choose, but because I don't want to inflict my sniffling, hacking self on other people.  Separated from my church community, yes.  Separated from God, no.   Hmmmm....

OK, so let's have some fun together and follow the pathways of my brain as I looked at the sum of today's lectionary.  First, let's frame things with the Collect of the Day:

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

I'm going to take this collect and race ahead into today's Gospel lesson, which was John 3:1-17.  This chapter is where Jesus receives a visitor in the night, Nicodemus, who has come to talk with this intriguing new rabbi.  Nicodemus, a Pharisee, has to go to Jesus at night; otherwise, somebody might see him covorting with this one who isn't like other teachers, and is just a little bit too radical for some people's tastes.  While some knock Nicodemus for his going to Jesus "at night," I resonate with this strategy.  It isn't too unlike me in so many ways.  Coming out to myself as a lesbian, especially in mid-Missouri which was Assembly of God and non-denominational evangelical Christian country, required me to approach that identity in an undercover way as well.  I didn't exactly waltz into the campus gay student union group with a big ol' "Heeeyyyy!"  Quite the contrary: I used a class reporting assignment to attend an off-campus Women's Music Fest.  And that's where I found "my people" and my identity.  In a similar vein,  coming out as lesbian who is Christian in a community that really has no use for the church has also been something that I initially had to do "at night." Not literally, but figuratively.  My circles are not ones that welcome the notion that there is a force called God that is all around us.  When belief in God isn't being mocked as believing in "an invisible sky wizard" then it's dismissed because it can't be proven using math and science.  Slowly, cautiously, I have been making myself known as one of those who do believe in God and have reached this belief through Jesus Christ.  It has come at the cost of some friendships and that saddens me.  Others have remained engaged, even if they are a bit leary of this "belief thing" that I have.  All of this to say, I appreciate Nicodemus' cautious approach to meeting with Jesus.  So, let's get back to that.

According to John's Gospel, Nicodemus starts the conversation this way:

"Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God."  Jesus answered him, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above." 

Uh-oh.  You can almost see Nicodemus looking at Jesus with a cocked head and furrowed brow as he puzzles to make sense of what he just heard.

Nicodemus said to him, "How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother's womb and be born?" 

Before we laugh at Nicodemus for saying this, or get too caught up in the whole notion of what it means to be "born again," consider that this man is a Pharisee; hence learned in the law and all the laws that have maintained the people of Israel, and he is working from that place.  I read his response to Jesus as being one that is attempting to make sense of what was said to him in light of his own experience and understanding.  But that's the thing: Jesus is taking Nicodemus to a "new frontier" and a place where this Pharisee has never gone before because he has been looking to the law all this time.

Jesus answered, "Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, "You must be born from above.' The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."  Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

Ow!  This portion of the conversation, for me, is like sitting with a spiritual director.  The directee, Nicodemus, can't wrap his mind around this analogy of what is required, the ascent of the spirit to the Spirit, to enter the kingdom of God, and so he naively says, "How can these things be?"  And Jesus, the SD, fires back, "Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?"  Talk about a knock down!

You, Nicodemus, have forgotten what was in our First Lesson of the day, which was from Genesis in which God tells Abram, "I will make you a great nation and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing." (Genesis 12:2).  Abram didn't play 20 questions with God over this idea, even though God was telling him to strike out into the unknown.  He went, and he took Lot with him.  His trust was in God... much as the psalmist says in Psalm 121 when he asks and answers this question: I lift my up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come? My help comes from The Lord, the maker of heaven and earth (vv 1-2).  Nicodemus has become so ingrained in the letter of the Law, and the literal understanding of the Law, that he has lost the intention of the Law, which requires faith and trust in God, not words and interpretations of God.  

But before we again get so high and mighty about Nicodemus, maybe we should think about how this same scenario might play out today.  Is it not possible that Jesus could look at any one of us, and when our cloudy vision of the kingdom leads us to narrowly drawn conclusions about God, our Savior might challenge us with a "Are you a believer, and yet you do not understand these things?"  Can we really believe in the all-powerful, unconditional Love of God, and really believe that God's grace and love is limited only to those who think and believe just like us?  Aren't we more comfortable with our pocket-sized God and our own personal relationship with Jesus instead of realizing that we cannot possess or hold the Almighty as our very own?  Indeed, we sometimes might need to be body slammed in the same way the very learned Nicodemus was schooled by Jesus.

Which brings me back around to the collect of the day.  Because we all in our own ways and at different times in our lives and walk with God are apt to go astray, and allow absolutes and literal intrepretations get in the way of us actually living into the Spirit.  And that fog of our own certitude is often what keeps us from seeing the kingdom of God.  What better time than Lent to let go of our own certainity and return to the trust and faith in God.  


Saturday, March 15, 2014

Don't Try This at Church


My wastepaper basket overflowth...  evidence that I have not been in good health this First Week of Lent.  Every night, I would go to bed in hopes that maybe the next day, I'd feel better.  Then, that night would be interrupted with a coughing fit, and I'd be up for two-to-three hours, hoping that I'd get back to sleep.  Just as my body would finally allow me to close my eyes and settle into my pillow, the alarm would ring.  Time to get up?  Really?

Sadly, yes.  It would be time to get up.  We are doing daily morning prayer for Lent at St. John's, and while I am no longer a member there, this is a ministry I have been allowed to continue, and am happy to make it possible.  It's been my practice for a number of years, and I find it to be that "out-of-the-ordinary" that gives me one avenue to remain in touch with God.  Lent is a time when we normally pick up some new participants, and we have.  In fact, we were nearly doubled in our modest congregation by the end of the week.  But leading prayers when you are sick is not ideal, as I quickly discovered.  On my assigned date, I needed to duck into the sacristy to get a glass of water, so I could complete offering petitions.  On Thursday, when the prayer leader didn't show up, I stepped in.  Same scenario: I got to certain point in the service, and could just feel a coughing fit coming on.  I marshaled my way through it, but not without straining my voice. I mustered up just enough strength to belt out the concluding prayer at the end:
"Glory to God whose power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.  Glory to God from generation to generation in the church and in Christ Jesus. Amen!" (All the while staring up at the Corpus Christi almost in a plea to please make your power work to get these words out of my vocal box!)

Friday, I was scheduled to serve as a Eucharistic Minister.  I engaged in the mantra, "I think I can! I think I can!"   I had rested for an hour before the service.  I had put my head over a pot of steaming saltwater.  I popped a lozenge in my mouth to help coat my throat with lots of good herbs.  And I grabbed a big cup so I could place my water in the lectern ahead of time.  I wasn't going to have to read as much as at Morning Prayer, so I figured I would be OK.  And I was.  No problem with the lesson from Ephesians.  Led everyone just fine in the psalm.  But when it came time to offer intercessory prayers for the bishop, I could feel the tickle in the back of my throat.  And then the coughing fit began.  I chugged some water.  That only managed to catch something in my throat so as to make it near impossible for me to talk.  I coughed again, cleared my throat, and strived womanfully to get through the prayers.  My eyes began to water, which then was making my nose drip.  I pushed through, got us to the end, and then made a quick exit through the sacristy door to cough. And cough.  And cough some more.  I drank more water.  Blew my nose.  Washed and disinfected my hands, and re-emerged to take my place on the other side of the altar to set the table.  I was grateful that I no longer had to say anything, besides the words to administer the chalice, which I was able to do just fine, thank you.

I don't know that I really did anyone a great service by being there.  But it was too late for me to find someone to take my place.  The weekday Eucharists are tough enough sometimes to find clergy let alone the Eucharistic Ministers.  And I really believed that I was going to be fine.  And, as it was, I was fine.  I did survive the event.  I did managed to squeak out the prayers.  But I think these events also are meant to tell me something else: I am weak, and I need rest.  God will bolster me up, but I also need to give my grieving body a break.  Grief has knocked the wind out of me.  And clogged up my sinus cavity.

At one point late Thursday, I had the feeling that my only answer was to really surrender and acknowledge that this virus (and the doctor's blood and oxygen tests point to it being a virus) is simply going to run its course no matter what I do, or think, or will, or want.

I'm weighing whether to make the trek to Thomasville in the morning, and the choir rehearsal, and the lunch date that I'm supposed to have after that.  I'll see how my body is doing.  Thus far, it's a real toss up.  

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The First Temptations of Christ (and Us): First Sunday in Lent

I couldn't go to church today.  A nasty head cold that has settled into my chest made me think twice about getting up early, showering, and driving the 45-minutes it takes for me to get to St. Thomas.  I figured it was better for me, and everyone that would have been sitting around me, if I stay home today, and simply do the readings in my sick bed.  

But doing lessons and such at home on Sunday feels so incomplete to me.  So, dear reader, you get to do church with me!  Isn't that fun?  

Let's start with the Collect of the Day... aptly called, "The First Sunday in Lent"

Almighty God, whose blessed Son was led by the Spirit to be tempted by Satan: Come quickly to help us who are assaulted by many temptations; and, as you know the weaknesses of each of us, let each one find you mighty to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The collects are just what they sound like: the collective prayer that encompasses what we are going to hear in the readings that make up the Liturgy of the Word.  And I suppose this is why today we started with the second creation story of Adam and Eve, in which our first couple fall prey to the temptation to eat of the tree in the middle of the garden, the very tree that God said, "Don't get near that tree."  This account of "the fall" is then paired with the Gospel lesson from Matthew of Jesus' temptation out in the wilderness.  Bridging these two stories is St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, in which he does what I might call a theological reflection on both of these accounts.  Paul argues that while Adam's (and by the same token Eve's) acts of disobedience and using their free will to do the one thing God said not to do resulted in sin and death for all, Jesus' ability to resist temptation and ultimately follow God's lead to the cross has resulted in righteousness and life for all.   This isn't the order of how these things get presented in church, so we get Paul's synthesis before we hear the Gospel.  But it still seems to me that this is the over-arching theme: free will gives us the choice of eternal life or eternal death.  And, as God said to the Hebrew people through the words of the Deuteronomist, "Choose Life."

Jesus' moment of temptation happens very early on in the Matthew account of his life and ministry.  Remember that just moments before this event in the wilderness, Jesus was at the Jordan River being baptized, and hearing in his ears, "You are my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased!"  It is after this moment with the Holy Spirit descending on him like a dove that Jesus is led by this same Spirit into the wilderness where he faces the temptation to take this power from the proclamation and use it for his own satisfaction.  I think it's important to put this in context because I think it says something powerful to anyone who strives to walk with God: the minute you make that conscious commitment, there will be much to test you on how sincere you'll be in that commitment.  

Out in the wilderness, Jesus is hungry.  Here comes Satan to say, "You're hungry?  Then why don't you, Son of God, turn these stones into bread and feed yourself ?"  Think of what it's like for us sometimes when we're hungry.  How easy is it for us in America to eat empty fast-food calories instead of something home-made and more nutritionally sound?  Jesus responds to this temptation with "Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God."  We are challenged to feed our bodies, the temples of our soul, with something more balanced than a McDonald's hamburger.

Satan isn't done.  He takes Jesus to the pinnacle of the Temple and tells him, essentially, "Jump, Son of God!  The angels will catch you and bear you up, so that no harm comes to you."  Again, consider what this is like for us.  How are we tempted to take chances with our lives in the belief that we are immortal, invincible, the Gods of our own destiny?  I know for me, I have done some things that, in retrospect, were dangerously stupid.  When I was a teenager, I could have easily thrown myself from a footbridge on my prep school campus.  As a young adult, I didn't always do a cost-benefit analysis of my actions when I got behind the wheel of a car.  And I certainly didn't give much thought to accepting the reporting assignment to witness an execution.  Jesus answered the Tempter with, "Do not put The Lord God to the test."  He knew that he was a mortal, and throwing himself from the pinnacle of the Temple was testing God to step in and make a dramatic save.  Not gonna happen, and Jesus knew it.

Satan, determined to make Jesus succumb to his human ego, then shows him all the cities of the world.  This could all be yours, says the Tempter, if you will fall down and worship me.  Key word in this statement, I believe, is that Satan wants Jesus to worship "me."  Me, meaning the ego: that sense that we can live apart from God and be the Kings and Queens of all the world.  This is a huge test for the humaness of Jesus, just as it is in our own lives.  Worship "Me" and believe that all that you accomplish is because you are so smart.  Worship "Me" and amass a fortune to satisfy "Me".   Worship "Me" and forget about you.  Or you.  Or you.  This is all about "Me."  We are always tempted to follow self-serving interests.  Just look at the state of our health care, elder care, day care.  If you have means, you might be OK.  And if you have means, then the last thing you might want to do is help out the person who is less financially able.  That wouldn't be all about "Me" now, would it?  Jesus, who I can imagine is quite weary at this point, blasts at his Tempter to get lost, "Away with you, Satan, for it is written, 'Worship The Lord your God and serve only him.'"   What do we do when faced with this temptation to follow the will of the ego?

Now, we can always say, "Oh, well, but he's Jesus.  He won't sin because he's God."  But I believe the reason this event occurs in the Gospel following his baptism is that Jesus, the human, must come to know for himself the types of temptations that are always before humans, the very things that will pull us away from God.  This is all part of the refining of Jesus in preparation for his ultimate task, so that he can set his face toward Jerusalem and not be afraid.

The diviners of the Lectionary begin our Lenten season with this collection of Scripture to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.  Perhaps the purpose is to highlight for us that choice that still is with us: we can choose the path of Adam and Eve, or we can choose the path of Jesus.  We can fall into the temptation of sin and death or we can live into the free gift of righteousness and life.   Both of these choices are always with us.  Choose life.

And now I must go prepare my own Liturgy of the Table: cinnamon toast and a plastic cup of Robitussin.  You're invited to a better meal to remind you of the goodness of God!        

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Be Reconciled to God": Ash Wednesday, 2014

"So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God"-2Cor.5:20b

Tonight, I will be at St. John's serving at the altar, and have been given the assignment to read the epistle lesson from 2 Corinithians.  I've done this assignment before, so there's nothing particularly new and different in what I'm doing.  But as I looked over the lesson this morning, and weighed for myself this Lenten season, the opening line of this Scriptural passage seemed to be "the message" for me on this Ash Wednesday.

"Be reconciled to God."  I was saying to someone yesterday when the inevitable question came up of "What are you gonna give up for Lent?" that I don't sit around coming up with material things I can give up.  I've tried fasting from tangible stuff, like chocolate bars, when I was a child.  But that whole approach to Lent doesn't really work for me.  For me, I often have to wait until Ash Wednesday, and then, pretty much on cue, something will present itself to me, usually during the worship service, that sharpens the focus and gives me the necessary, "A-ha!" to know what I must do as a Lenten discipline.  

The purpose of Lent, and keeping a Holy Lent, is to evaluate what it means to be a child of God, and shine some awareness in the dark corners of my head and heart on those things or mental blocks or action or even lack of action that have kept me from being in right relationship with God.  Or, to put it in the words of St. Paul, I see what I need to "be reconciled to God."  The more I become aware of my shortcomings in this relationship, the more opportunity I have to make amends.

That seems to be the charge for me in this Lent.  And that raises the question of "How?'  

I think it begins with my dealings with others.  To put into practice a ministry of reconciliation, I need to become conscious of my words and my actions.  Do they build up another or tear them down?  If I desire for people to see the Christ in me, shouldn't I be looking for the Christ in them?  How am I really loving God, who I can't see, with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my strength, if I am stepping over the brother or sister in need who I can see?

God became reconciled to us through the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Becoming reconciled to God, I reflect on the Gospel lesson for today from Matthew with Christ's warnings about practicing your piety in public, disfiguring your face when you're fasting, and going into your room and praying in private. Empty public displays of religion are not what God requires in this reconciliation.  What God asks for, as the psalmist says, is a "broken and contrite heart."  Despite this invention of the church to impose ashes on the forehead and remind us of our mortality, it seems that the overwhelming message coming at me from the Gospel is that the reconciliation that I must do involves not an outward display of devotion, but an inward rebooting of the hard drive of my heart.  This will be necessary if I am to join in the walk to Jerusalem.

What is that Jerusalem?  Where must I go?

As always, for me, observing a Holy Lent is an unnerving moment of realizing I have a long walk ahead of me.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Those Transfiguring Ch-Ch-Changes

We've reached that last Sunday after Epiphany which could alternately be called, "The Last Sunday Before Lent."  I'll talk about Lent at another time, but right now I'm focused on what are the traditional readings at this particular Sunday.  This is the time when Jesus goes up the mountain with his disciple friends, Peter, James and John.  A light shines down upon Jesus, making his appearance a dazzling show of brightness  and with him appear Moses and Elijah, talking with him.  Peter, who I always think of as the most well-meaning extrovert, thinks this is the time to start talking about booths and isn't great that we're here with you, Jesus.  That's when the cloud of God surrounds them and booms out a message:  This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him!

Peter stops his rambling.  And the three disciples fall to the ground.  The Scripture says they were afraid, and who can really blame them?  I tend to think of this particular fear as one that is akin to an unanticipated and life altering event happening to a person.   It's a mixture of first shock and then that bone-rattling fear as the body attempts to shed itself of the intial trauma.  Jesus goes to them and tells them not to be afraid, and peeking up from under their eyebrows, they see him, and nobody else.  And he warns his friends not to talk about what they've seen until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.

Wow!  Let's pause here.  Take a deep breath.  Because that's some freaky stuff that just happened!

This moment on the moutain sounds very similar to the time way back at the beginning of this "after Epiphay" season, where the readings were about Jesus' baptism. Jesus comes up out of the Jordan River and the light of the Holy Spirit descends like a dove as the booming voice says, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased!"  This time, however, there is the additional command to "listen to him!"  Between these two events, in the telling of Jesus' life by our evangelists narrators of the synoptic gospels, Jesus was driven out into the desert where he would face the temptations of all those things we are always tempted by: a chance to have power, a chance to have lots of material wealth, a chance to be immune from any danger.  We aren't privvy to know Jesus' inner struggles as he is in a place of going one-on-one with these various temptations.  But we can imagine, from our own experiences, what that had to feel like because we've all had to make choices, and face the possibility that this choice or that one would be a betrayl of who we are.  So, in this desert experience, Jesus went through some refinement and found his complete reliance on God.  Now, he has his disciples with him as he ascends the mountain, and we have a moment in which not only is Jesus bathed and glowing in brilliant light, he's got Moses, who represents the Law, and Elijah, the Jewish prophet, in communication with him as we have the cloud repeating that phrase from his baptism.  It's almost as if this moment is Jesus' confirmation.  And the command to the other three is for them to listen to him.

Like at baptism, we don't usually have a bright light beaming on us with a cosmic voice announcing us as the Beloved.  Same thing with confirmation.  But what is happening here, as I read it, in this transfiguration is what happens when we move into closer contact with the Divine.  For Jesus, it is the last piece of opening him to his own Divine essence and the confirmation that he is the one who is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.  For the disciples, it is a moment of change as well.  One can only imagine that witnessing this event, and living through it, dramatically altered their own understanding of who their teacher was.  They are commanded to "listen to him!"  And Jesus then says to them, "Do not be afraid," a mantra he will have to use over and over all the way through to the end, and even when he is resurrected.  Do not be afraid of this change in yourself.

The same thing can be said to us now.  I know I have had many changes occur in my life recently that have given me pause and stirred up my world.  And I have had my own mountain-top moments, too, that have left me a little shaken and moved me from what I thought was absolute knowledge of myself to a place of realizing that there's a lot I don't know yet.  But as revelation occurs, as my understanding broadens and deepens, the key is to approach the changes without fear.   

This is probably why the lectionary diviners always want us to hear this transfiguration story as that last bit before we reach Ash Wednesday and Lent. This is the season of changes.  Do not be afraid.