February 11th, 2018
Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
“Let us now open our hearts as well as our ears as we now hear the words from the gospel according to Mark, chapter nine, verses two thru nine.”
2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” 8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them anymore, but only Jesus. 9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.
“If we allow ourselves to stay open, to this ancient writing, this miraculous story of Jesus, we may yet be able to see how it pertains to modern Christians like ourselves.”
“Be Transformed with Compassion!”
In the neighborhood, in which I live, there are many new homes being built. Each, in a different state of preparation. I have been observing one property which was nothing but a jungle of tangled bushes and assorted old trees. First the sign appeared naming the contractor involved. The lot is about the size of my own, 10,000 square feet. Then the bulldozer began clearing the land. Big trucks came and were filled with the debris which they took away to some unknown destination; probably some sort of landfill of sorts. I stopped and spoke with a truck driver this past Monday morning. Weeks have passed since they had started. The land was stripped, and the ground dug up. The top soil is in the front right corner in a huge pile. They have spread the new foundation, the first new layer of ground soil. He explained that it took 38 truckloads for that first layer. They were now beginning the task of bringing in the second layer of a different soil which would bring the lot up a good two or three feet from the road way. He estimated it would take another 35 dump truck loads to complete the job.
Down the street from that site is another. They have already poured the concrete for the base of a new home. The truckers had delivered the pallets of concrete block for the walls. A couple blocks away is a home where the walls have been built and the roofers are putting down that first layer of tar paper. About a mile away is a new home that has been painted and the shingles of the roof are all in place. Further down, a couple blocks from there, a new home looks complete, the concrete driveway has been poured, as well as the sidewalk to the front door. The pallets of fresh turf are being spread around by a team of laborers. There is a beautiful new home over by the baseball fields off from Barbara Street. There are cars in the driveway. A family now lives there starting anew in a new community and home. Back in August it was just an over grown patch of tangled trees and bushes where all sorts of creatures beneath its canopy made their homes. Transformations of this type seem to take about six months.
Transformation can take place slowly… like clearing a piece of land. Then building it up with something new, which takes a lot of effort to accomplish. Yet, in the end result, real change, real transformation has occurred. To the rooted old trees and overgrown bushes and shrubs the change is disruptive, harsh even. The work of that first bulldozer could even be described as violent to the environmentalist. Without arguing the points, either pros or cons, one must accept the fact, transformation, makeovers, renovations and even revolutions bring about change by altering what is and making something new! It has been this way since the beginning of time. The first volcanoes and earthquakes changed the contour and surfaces of the earth in which we live. In the process things were destroyed and both plants and creatures of all sorts were uprooted, and many died. It is believed that events such as the Ice Age, probably brought about by the impact of asteroids, brought with it the end of the age of dinosaurs. It was only after these things occurred that humankind and smaller animals began to flourish on the face of the earth.
In the Old Testament we were introduced to the man Moses. His story is long and fascinating. Ultimately, he is known for leading the Hebrew slaves out of bondage from Egypt. Later as they wandered in the desert for a long, long time, Moses went up into the mount of Sinai and there where he encountered God, he was altered and changed; through that transformation he was led by God to do many things. On several occasions it is said that Moses took on a new appearance; his face glowed and his hair turned white. The most amazing part of these stories, of his encounters with God, is that he was able to come and go, from the presence of God, a number of times. In the book of Exodus, in the Old Testament one can count perhaps seven times he encountered God in the mountains. Each event was transforming for Moses and for the people he leads out of Egypt and through the desert and finally to the promised land. I bring this to our attention to point out, for all of us to reflect upon, transformation has been occurring throughout the ages since the beginning of time. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that the process of transformation will cease.
“Transforming lives and saving souls” is what an old retired pastor once told me was what we clergy folk were called to facilitate, as I was beginning my journey of ordained ministry. Easy to say, hard to do. And just to be clear on this point, I have never saved a single soul nor transformed a single person. Whomever was transformed or found salvation in my presence or within the communities I have served, that was done by the almighty power of God! Yes, these things do occur, and I have been used by God to help smooth the way for a few. But the real work of transformation is through each individual’s personal interaction with God’s divine grace and love. Most of the time, these events occur in situations where we need to look hard and long to discern and recognize that it was God’s handy work. Just like in the transforming of a vacant lot into a new home takes time, so does most of human makeovers and conversions. Even when events like the sudden decline in financial markets, as seen this past week in the Stock Market, the true effects will take time to trickle down into the society we live within. Every such sudden manifestations in our society, shall take ‘real time’ to see what the true effect will be.
The hard part is seeing the hand of God in violent and traumatic events. First, we need to be clear about this point. Events which are caused by human forces are not God’s doing. For example: When a school of fish die off the coast or even in a large lake, we may find their deaths were caused by pollution of that regions water supply by improper dumping – by the hands of humans! Conversely, it is true that sometimes Mother Natures the cause. Take for instance a severe winter which kills a number of our manatees, here along our coastline. Yet, at the same time, we must acknowledge that more manatees die from injuries received from the boats that run over and into these creatures. Is it not the hand of God which motives people to take action to save these big gentle creatures when they are seen in distress! Isn’t it the hand of God which motives conservationist and wildlife experts to speak out against the wrong actions and attitudes of we citizens whom cause many of these such problems?
Let us look to this transformation account recorded in today’s gospel lesson. We have read this accounting together several times in the last few years. Let’s look at it yet again. This time we need not dwell on the details of this miraculous event. True, it is difficult to get our arms around such a dramatic vision as this one portrays. Yet, this is only one aspect of this account. The disciples were made aware that Jesus was one with the likes of Moses and Elijah. It seems that Jesus was trying to prepare them for what was yet to come; meaning of course his death and his resurrection. It would not be till long after these events occur that the disciples would begin to realize what Jesus had done for them within this miraculous vision. As we look deeper, we can see that this vision was way more than that! Like Moses’ encounter with God atop Mount Sinai, these disciples would come back down from this fantastic mountain top experience to face their destinies upon this earth within the limitations of their human lives!
We are human just as the early disciples were. We too, must come down from our mystical experiences and face our all too human lives. What is crucial for us to hold onto is the ‘visions’ and ‘those moments’ when we know we were in the presence of the Divine One. Transformation takes time. Usually, as this is occurring something else in our lives is changing and has perhaps been removed from our sight. Change and transformation go hand in hand. Change is often not easy. It can bring up the worst in us, or it can cause us to turn more deeply to our faith and bring us closer to God. This is why times of change are so trying! I have heard it said: change can break us or make us stronger! “We know that Moses, was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” /Exodus 3:1-3/ That was the beginning of tremendous change in the life of Moses. He needed to cherish that ‘God moment’ as the harsh challenges of facing the bondage of the Hebrews in Egypt awaited him. If he did not keep God’s vision alive in his heart the enormity of his journey, his humanness would have overwhelmed him!
One scholar wrote this inspiring sentence: “Every once and so often, something so touching, so incandescent, so alive transfigures the human face that it’s almost beyond bearing.” /Frederick Buechner/
I was lying in bed while watching the new game show called the’ WALL’. Within the context of the show I witnessed a father breakdown as relief and joy overwhelmed him. But that moment of joy only came after his agonizing decision to discard the contract that he thought was worth over 35 to 55 thousand dollars. (He had never seen that much money at one time in his whole career.) He did not know that his daughter had accumulate one point four million dollars on the WALL. As the screen captured his agonized facial expressions – “he went from agony to overwhelming joy” – it was priceless! It was virtually impossible to not experience his anguish and see the depth of his love and devotion to his daughter and family. To him, this decision was clearly tearing apart his emotions. To ‘we’ the viewers, it was so exciting to anticipate his joyful response as he learned of the over ‘one point four million-dollar winnings’ he and his daughter would leave with.
These are the types of moments we need to carry in our hearts. If we can find room in our hearts for the mercy and compassion of God’s love for each one of us, we have a real chance that we will be able to make life changing choices; choices which will ultimately change our lives and the lives of those around us. We, like the disciples, must decide what we shall do with these miraculous visions and events which we read and encounter in scripture. Likewise, we must decide what we shall do with the events that personally occur for us as individuals and as a community. Shall we have the courage of ‘faith’ to hold onto these moments, as life pulls us further and further away from that last twinkling when we felt God’s ever-present love and compassion? Amen.