THE REV. ROBERTO DESANDOLI
2nd Sunday in Lent
Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18
Philippians 3: 17-4: 1
Luke 9: 28-36
Have you ever found yourself “struck dumb” by a powerful experience or an encounter with God?
Have you ever been so close to the divine, so close to God, so close to Jesus that you were “struck dumb” and couldn’t find any words to speak?
Or, like the disciple Peter in today’s reading, have you merely wished that you had been?
In Luke’s story of the transfiguration that we have just heard, we encounter not only Jesus (illumined on the mountain top) but also our own humility in Peter.
Peter, along with James and John, had gone with Jesus up the mountain and had stopped to pray
As Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.
30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Peter, upon witnessing this moment of transfiguration; upon seeing his beloved Master Jesus engulfed in the true light of God, somehow standing with both the Lawgiver Moses and the Great Prophet Elijah, Peter blurts out “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah (v. 33).” Immediately afterward, Luke explains to us that Peter did not know what he was saying.
If only poor Peter could have been “struck dumb” and saved himself an embarrassment that would be recorded in Scripture for all time.
Whether or not each of us have encountered God in a way that caused us to be “struck dumb,” we all have—I am sure—done or said something before God and one another that made us feel a little foolish.
We have all, like Peter, James, and John, found ourselves exhausted and “weighed down by sleep.”
We have all encountered the God who does not wait for us to be well-rested before coming into our lives and the God who does not modify His revelation to us when it is clear that we are not ready.
God does not wait for us to be “prepared,” or “well-rested,” or free from other tasks when He comes into our lives.
For the disciples and for us: there is never a perfect moment when we are “ready” to experience God.
God doesn’t ask us if we’re free for a revelation at 3:00 on Tuesday.
God doesn’t ask us if it’s “ok” to send a witness of the Gospel to interrupt the routine of our lives, when it’s convenient for us.
God doesn’t “check to make sure” that we are “rested and ready” to receive Jesus in our lives in new and unexpected ways. God just comes, and sometimes, like in today’s reading, He comes very close indeed.
One thing we can each do to prove we are not alone in experiencing God on God’s terms through our lives is to share our encounters with God with one another. Find a friend beside you in the pews, make a friend in coffee hour downstairs, invite a stranger out during the week.
and share with one another your Peter experiences, your experiences of experiencing God when you were exhausted, when you were overwhelmed, when you were weighed down by sleep.
Each of us who has come to know Jesus, each of us who has had our hearts “strangely warmed” by the Gospel, each of us who has had an experienced of God that was more embarrassing than heroic knows what Peter felt like that day. The Good News of Christian fellowship is that we can share these experiences with one another. To know we’re not alone.
Now, in the same way that God does not call ahead, God also does not adapt his revelations based on our reactions to them.
If the first thing is essentially that God interrupts us whenever and however He chooses; regardless of convenience, the second thing is that God doesn’t come when we say “come,” God doesn’t “stop,” when we say stop, and God doesn’t stay when we say “stay.”
At the risk of some light heresy, God is a little like a husky I had growing up, but only in that way J
Just like the lion Aslan in CS Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Jesus is not “safe,” but he’s “good.”
For some reason, in this era of the church, Christianity has somehow gotten labelled as “boring” as “predictable” as “nice” and “harmless”, but that’s not who the Jesus of the Gospels is. Throughout the Gospels Jesus is interrupting, He is challenging, He is bringing God’s Truth to those who want to hear AND to those who don’t.
We know that the Jesus of the Gospels is one who took little children on His knee and said sweet and beautiful things, but in Lent we should also remember that Jesus pointed his face toward the cross of Jerusalem and told His disciples the only true path was to pick up their own cross and follow Him!
Just like the disciples in this story, all of us know that following Jesus is not some light or easy or predictable thing; we are called not just to come to church, not just to meet friends, not just to share in the Good and comforting news, but also to pick up our cross, to lay down our lives for our friends, to give of ourselves for the hungry, and to humble ourselves before the God who interrupts without asking.
My friends: share these stories with one another as well! Do as Paul instructs and encourage one another in faith! Tell each other about the times that you were frightened by God, about the times you were confused, the times when following Jesus took more than you were capable of giving. This is what discipleship means. This is what a relationship with the risen Christ looks like. None of us are alone in this!
God interrupted Peter, James, and John on the mountain, and how does Luke say they reacted?
In reaction to seeing Jesus becoming illuminated and glorified and standing with Moses (the Lawgiver) and Elijah (the Great Prophet), Luke tells us that he reacted by saying:
“Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah (v. 33).”
In reaction to the moment of transfiguration, in reaction to seeing His Master become illuminated and transformed into a dazzling white image; Peter reacts by trying to hang onto it.
Peter reacts to the transfiguration by suggesting that he and his fellow disciples make three tents at the top of the mountain so that they can hang onto this experience, so that they can hang onto the presence of Moses and Elijah, so that they can hang onto this sense of awe and wonder.
One interpretation of Peter’s suggestion is that it represents our human desire to contain (or to somehow domesticate) the glory of God for ourselves; that our human nature causes us to fumble for a manageable experience of God, one that does not completely overwhelm us.
And we can identify with Peter in this desire:
We can picture Peter; bleary-eyed with fatigue, being struck by the pure, uncreated light of God, reeling to understand the glorious light and the three figures before him.
“It is good for us to be here”; it is good that Moses and Elijah are here too! It is good that my Master has been transformed by God’s radiance before my very eyes, now if we could only please pause here, because I am overwhelmed and exhausted.
But of course, because God is God and we are not, God does not pause his revelation, God does not pause the glorification, God does not pause the transfiguration, God doesn’t give us a manageable experience of Himself, one that is convenient for us.
One wonders if Luke felt slightly badly for Peter, hearing and recording the story later on, for he adds that that Peter “did not know what he was saying” when he suggested they stop to build these tents.
Luke, as a good friend, as a fellow disciple of Christ, is charitable to Peter; he feels for Peter in his inability to hold onto this experience. He gives Peter the benefit-of-the-doubt that he was “speaking without thinking.”
Luke is kind to Peter, but this kindness is merely a shadow of the kindness and the love shown to Peter by God Himself on the mountain a few moments later.
The text says that while Peter was suggesting they set up the dwellings
a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud.
35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen;listen to him!”
Can we even imagine how overwhelmed, how exhausted Peter must have been by this point?
Peter has, to put it lightly, had a long day:
-He has followed Jesus up the mountain
-He has listened, he has prayed
-He has struggled against sleep
-He has seen Moses and Elijah, the heroes of his Jewish culture in person!
-He has not only seen them but he has embarrassed himself before them, suggesting they stay for a sleep over J
-He has been struggling with his human limitation all day: his physical strength, his energy, his devotion, his faith, his ability to believe what is not possible, his fallibility, and now he finds himself, terrified, entering a cloud.
What a day. What a day of exhaustion. What a day of struggling to get it all right and falling short.
And yet look what God says to him through the cloud:
“This is my Son, the Chosen; Listen to Him!”
In the first words Peter heard directly from God the Father he hears a message—not a message of correction, not a message of judgement, not a message of the Law, but a message of Love.
“This is my Son, the Chosen; Listen to Him!”
Listen to him, Peter.
Lay down your exhaustion and struggles
Lay down your anxieties about your call
Lay down your wonderings about what all this might “mean”
Lay down your attempt to manage this revelation
Lay down your awareness that it is all too much right now.
Law it all down and listen to my Son. The Chosen.
This is what the season of Lent is all about: it’s about following Jesus’ example to spend forty days in the wilderness, wrestling with the meaning of his life and coming death and resurrection, struggling with our place in this great story, and giving thanks to God for our opportunity to participate in the Christian life.
The Good News here is that God loves us in our struggle. When God spoke through the cloud to Peter, John, and James, He did not smite Peter for his shocked suggestion, He also did not FORCEthem to understand anything, He only pointed back towards His Son Jesus Christ and said: “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him! (v.35)”
It is clear that God loved Peter, John, and James in their struggle to understand, just as God loves us in OUR struggle to understand our lives as Christian witnesses. While this experience was no doubt challenging for the disciples, it is permeated by God’s love. God has gone to great lengths to show these three the importance of their Master and His message. God knows that it is challenging for them, just as God knows that it is challenging for US.
God loves us in our struggle.
-God loves us not for our perfection, but through our imperfection.
-God loves us not because we are perfect ambassadors of the Gospel, but because our humility and—like Peter—our humiliation are what God chooses to use in us to tell others the Good News.
-God loves us as we struggle through Lent, as we struggle to follow Jesus into the desert and up the mountain.
-God loves us in an infinity of ways that only God knows.
And the proof of this love is that God sent His Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ to show us the way to Salvation.
A man who, like Elijah, was a prophet and yet not merely a prophet.
A man who, like Moses, was a lawgiver and yet not merely a law giver.
A man who, like Peter and each of us, was a human being, and yet not merely a human being.
As to how we should approach this man, this Jesus, the lesson from God is clear:
This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him.